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Next Stop: Mars

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Fall 1999
Next Stop: Mars
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Salyards became hooked on the space program as a child in the late 1960s, when his grandmother, who knew people at JPL, fed him a steady diet of Mariner educational kits. Last January, when Salyards took his 7-year-old son to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to witness the Mars Polar Lander launch, he was able to re-experience the miracle of space travel through innocent eyes.

Ashwin Vasavada remembers being about the same age as Salyards' son during the Viking landing on Mars. "Ever since I saw those first pictures of a different planet from eye level, as if you were standing on it, I was inspired to go into this field," he says. Vasavada, who graduated from UCLA's Department of Earth and Space Science in 1992, hoped at the time he'd be able to return one day to help Paige with this mission. After completing his Ph.D. studies at Cal Tech, he was asked by Paige to join the MVACS team.

"It's a very profound experience, being involved in pushing the limits of knowledge of our environment and existence," says Pierre Williams, a first-year Ph.D. student in geophysics and space physics at UCLA, who worked with Vasavada and Paige on the selection of the landing site. Williams stumbled upon the position as an undergraduate, when he took a class taught by Paige and approached him one day for advice. Paige offered Williams a job with MVACS on the spot. "I experienced a true natural high," Williams recalls.

Updating the Web sites as the data arrives will be another major challenge. "There's going to be so much coming back," says Kelly Zito M.S. '98, who was hired for the task immediately after completing her graduate studies in meteorite science at UCLA. "We're going to have to sift through the data to decide what people will be interested in seeing, present it in a voice that will make sense to a general audience, and then put it on the Web as soon as possible."

Despite the insane workload and not-enough-hours-in-the-day schedule that McBride shoulders, make no mistake: McBride, a former staff research associate of Paige's at UCLA who went on to serve as a JPL science coordinator and sequence engineer on the Galileo mission to Jupiter, is having the time of her life.

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