The following letter was sent out by "snail mail" to educators on our current mailing list in February 1994.

Mars K-12 Education Program


Department of Geology, Box 876305 TEMPE, ARIZONA 85287 USA (602) 965-1790; FAX (602) 965-1787

22 February 1994

Dear Educators and Friends of TES,

The Mars Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES) project at Arizona State University is moving forward. As you probably know, the NASA Mars Observer spacecraft carried TES out to Mars. TES operations were conducted from the campus of Arizona State University. In addition to the science TES would facilitate, we also have a vigorous education outreach program for the K-12 community in Arizona.

Communications with Mars Observer were lost just 2 hours after we concluded our second K-12 educator's workshop on August 21, 1993. Mars Observer is now lost forever. You can read more about this in the enclosed TES News issues we printed after the spacecraft was lost.

The TES project received sufficient funding from NASA to continue operations through 1994, although we did have to lay off several staff members. The purpose of the continued funding is to prepare for building a new TES for a new mission to Mars.

The uncertainty in our lives at the ASU TES facility has begun to clear up a bit. On Monday, February 7, 1994, just 2 days after our third K-12 educator's workshop, President Clinton's Fiscal Year 1995 budget proposal was released. NASA held a press conference and outlined its portion of the FY '95 budget. In this request, there are funds to begin building a new orbiter for launch to Mars in 1996. (See NASA/JPL Press Release information). The 1996 orbiter is hoped to be the start of a new Mars exploration program, Mars Surveyor, which would send a lander and an orbiter during every launch opportunity in the next decade (1996, 1998, 2001, 2003). A lander, Pathfinder, is already funded and being constructed for the 1996 launch window.

The 1996 orbiter and all of the proposed 1998-2003 missions are not currently funded. When the new orbiter was announced on February 7th, we at the ASU TES facility were excited. We had cleared the first hurdle. The second hurdle-- would TES be an instrument selected to fly on the 1996 orbiter?

On Thursday, February 10, Philip Christensen, professor of geology at ASU and the TES principal investigator, went to a meeting at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena, California. All of the principal investigators from the original Mars Observer instruments and experiments gathered to present the case for inclusion of their instrument on the 1996 mission. The new orbiter will be considerably smaller and less expensive than Mars Observer. Unfortunately, this means that not all of the original contingent of Mars Observer instruments will go on this mission.

Late on Friday, February 11th, we received a fax from JPL announcing that TES would be one of the instruments recommended to NASA for inclusion on the 1996 orbiter. NASA needed to know what instruments to include so that by February 16th they could announce to the aerospace industries an opportunity to bid on building the spacecraft.

The next hurdle for TES and the 1996 Mars orbiter: Congress. While Fiscal Year 1995 begins on October 1, 1994, it is common that Congress will not have completed its budget package until after that date. It may not be until late October or November before we know for sure whether the new mission is funded. NASA is facing a tough year in Congress and much attention is focused on the Space Station program. Considering the scientific and educational value of Mars exploration, we hope the new orbiter will be funded. Meanwhile, some parts for the new TES will be purchased this year, but actual assembly at the Santa Barbara Research Center in Goleta, California, will not begin until FY 1995.

If all goes well, the new Mars orbiter will launch in November 1996, reaching Mars in September 1997. It will take about four months to circularize the orbit, then it will begin mapping the Red Planet in January 1998.

As the TES team gears up to build and calibrate a new TES, the education outreach program is also continuing. The post-Mars Observer situation offers teachers and their students a chance to see something they don't usually get to witness- the process of preparing a mission to another planet. The process of acquiring funding, choosing instruments, building instruments, building a spacecraft, integrating the various components, and launching the spacecraft, are activities that occur all the time in the space business. The TES project provides an opportunity for people in Arizona to have a local window into this process and the people involved. It likewise can serve as an example of teamwork and science investigation for K-12 students.

Here are some additional things regarding education that we'd like to draw to your attention:

To Mars!

Ken Edgett

Director, ASU Mars K-12 Education Program

This on-line version: 22 February 1994