Public Invited to UA's Phoenix Mars Mission Open House May 5 - 'Cinco de Mars'
The University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory will open its Phoenix Mars Mission science operations center (SOC) to the public from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 5, for a “Cinco de Mars” celebration.
The Phoenix Mission SOC is the base of science operations for NASA’s upcoming mission to the red planet. The Phoenix Mars Lander will be launched in early August from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida for a May 2008 touchdown.
This public open house will be the last before the mission is launched.
After the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., flies the spacecraft to Mars and verifies that the landed spacecraft is healthy, NASA will turn mission control over to UA in Tucson. UA is the first public university to lead a mission to Mars. Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) senior scientist Peter H. Smith is the principal investigator.
Highlights of the May 5 open house will include a series of presentations by UA scientists outlining UA's major role in Mars exploration:
The must-see highlight of the open house is the full-scale mock Phoenix Mars Lander, complete with working engineering models of the science instruments, in the science center's Payload Interoperability Testbed, or the "PIT." Scientists already have begun using the model lander to practice how they'll command their science instruments during the mission. They'll continue to use the mock lander and the engineering instruments once the Phoenix Mars Lander is operating on the surface of Mars. What happens on the surface of Mars during the actual mission will happen first at the SOC in Tucson.
- 11 a.m., Victor Baker, Regents Professor of hydrology and water resources, planetary sciences and geosciences. Baker and colleagues proposed in 1991 than an ocean repeatedly formed over the northern plains of Mars. Since, Baker has developed a model for how this could happen.
- Noon, William Boynton, principal investigator for the Gamma Ray Spectrometer (GRS), an instrument on the 2001 Mars Odyssey Orbiter. Boynton's team made world headlines in May 2002, when the GRS found enormous quantities of subsurface water ice on Mars. The idea for the Phoenix Mission was born from this discovery. Boynton leads the Phoenix Mission Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA) experiment. TEGA is a combination high-temperature furnace and mass spectrometer instrument that scientists will use to analyze martian ice and soil samples.
- 1 p.m., Alfred McEwen, principal investigator for the High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The HiRISE camera, which began its science mission last November, is the most powerful telescopic camera ever sent to another planet. HiRISE has so far taken more than 150 images of candidate Phoenix Mission landing sites. And it has found evidence that liquid or gas flowed through cracks in underground rock on ancient Mars.
- 2 p.m., Peter Smith, Phoenix’s principal investigator. Smith describes the Phoenix Mission as "a stepping stone on a path of missions that search for habitable zones on Mars and then probe for life signatures."
- 3 p.m., Alfred Quiroz, UA professor of art. Quiroz and his students designed a giant mural for the Phoenix Mission, then painted it over a 20 x 60 foot area on the exterior south wall of SOC last fall. The mural is the largest in Tucson.
Visitors will also see scale models of NASA spacecraft currently orbiting Mars, stunning images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRISE camera, meteorites from the UA Southwest Meteorite Center, and an exhibit about the Phoenix Mission prepared by the Pima Air and Space Museum. There will be guided tours of the Science Operations Center, hands-on activities for children and prizes.
The Phoenix Mars Mission, the first in NASA’s “Scout” Mars exploration program, will be the first lander to dig beneath the Martian polar surface in search of water ice, clues to climate change and habitat that might support life.
Phoenix’s payload includes a nearly 8-foot-long robotic arm for digging through soil into ice, a robotic arm camera, a surface stereo camera, a descent camera, a meteorological station, a high-temperature oven and mass spectrometer, a powerful atomic force microscope and a miniature wet chemistry laboratory.
Free parking for the open house is available at the UA’s Second Street Garage, 1340 E. Second St. (near the UA Student Union.) Free shuttle service will be provided between the UA Student Union Circle and the Phoenix operations center. Limited handicapped parking is available at the operations center at North Sixth Avenue and East Drachman Street.
The Phoenix mission is led by Smith, with project management at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and development partnership with Lockheed Martin Space Systems. International contributions for Phoenix are provided by the Canadian Space Agency, the University of Neuchatel (Switzerland), the University of Copenhagen, and the Max Planck Institute in Germany. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.