Next Stop: Mars
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have, after all, always been captivated by Mars, whether it's science
fiction or science fact. In 1997, millions tuned in to watch the
off-road escapades of the Sojourner Rover, delivered to the surface
aboard Pathfinder, as it broadcast the first surface-level pictures
of the planet in more than two decades. But that was primarily an
engineering experiment, designed to test technologies such as landing
airbags and rovers planned for use on subsequent missions. This
current mission, Mars Surveyor '98 (which includes the Mars Polar
Lander and the Mars Climate Orbiter), is science driven and picks
up where the 1976 Viking missions left off, probing our nearest
planetary neighbor for clues to its past, present and future.
for the first time on a space mission of this scale, NASA has put
an academic at the helm of the design and operation of a group of
scientific instruments aboard the spacecraft. David Paige, associate
professor of planetary science, is in charge of the science package
that will return data on the Martian atmosphere, climate, meteorology
and surface volatiles — the ice, frozen carbon dioxide and liquid
water whose distribution and behavior over time can provide a window
into a planet's history. Among the most intriguing questions Paige
and his team hope to open a window on is how a planet that was once
warmer and wetter evolved to its current cold, dry state, and whether
Mars' past water-rich climate could have supported life. And in
the longer view, NASA hopes to learn whether the volatiles have
the potential to be used as a resource by future human inhabitants.
in Paige's scattershot office, the boyish, unassuming scientist
glances at his upcoming calendar. "No week or month is like the
one before," he marvels. "It's certainly not your standard academic
is standard about the role Paige and UCLA are playing on this mission.
After opening the process to competitive bidding, NASA in 1995 assigned
Paige the task of creating and operating the MVACS integrated payload.
The project, which includes major participation from the University
of Arizona, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lockheed Martin and
institutions in Germany, Denmark, Russia and Finland, fits with
NASA's resolve to carry out better, faster and cheaper space missions.
The combined initial planning cost for the two Mars Surveyor '98
missions — the orbiter was launched a month ahead of the lander
— is $193 million, or $72 million less than the development cost
of the Mars Pathfinder lander mission alone. Paige established the
integrated payload concept, in which the individual instruments
work together synergistically, with these cost limitations in mind,
and the payload's design bill came to a relatively modest $20 million.