Philip Christensen recollects his childhood dreams for K-12 teachers who visited SBRS on January 13, 1996. TES is in the plastic box behind Dr. Christensen. SBRS Photo 96-1-103(23). Click on above to see full image.
by Tricia Dieck, College of Education, ASU
In the next several issues of TES News, I will be highlighting some of the people who have been working on the TES project. Building a spacecraft instrument requires a dedicated team of patient, experienced people. One of the challenges of building the TES is that it has to survive in space for many years. It launches on Mars Global Surveyor in November 1996 and still has to be sending back data from Mars until at least January 2000-- thus it has to function in a space environment for at least 3 years.
Many students and their teachers have asked me questions about what kinds of things kids should study if they want to be involved in space exploration. It is my hope that by sharing the diverse fields of the people involved with TES, it will help shed some light on this question.
TES would probably not even exist without Dr. Phil Christensen. Christensen is the principal investigator of the TES. That means that he is the person ultimately responsible for the whole TES project. He is also a professor of geology at Arizona State University (ASU).
As a child, Phil was fascinated with the Apollo Moon missions and space exploration in general. When he went to college at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), he intended on eventually going to medical school. As a freshman in a pre-med program, Phil took a geology course as an elective. He realized that this was where his true interests were, and changed his major.
At UCLA, Phil completed a bachelor's degree in Geophysics and Space Physics. While working at UCLA, he met Hugh Kieffer, who was the principal investigator for the Viking Infrared Thermal Mapper (IRTM) instruments that began orbiting Mars in 1976. He found the Mars work to be very stimulating, and went on to do a Ph.D. at UCLA, also in Geophysics and Space Physics. Using the temperatures that the two Viking IRTM's obtained of the martian surface, Christensen was able to map differences in particle sizes (dust, sand, pebbles and rocks) on Mars. This work had important implications for how scientists now understand what causes the light and dark markings on the Red Planet (distribution of dust is a major factor, he found).
After completing his Ph.D., Phil went to ASU as a research assistant. During his first two years at ASU, he wrote the proposal for TES-- and it was accepted in 1985 by NASA to be built for the Mars Observer mission. Phil soon became a professor at ASU. Mars Observer was launched in September 1992. It was to reach Mars on August 24, 1993, but communication with the spacecraft was lost on August 21st. In March of 1994, Phil received word from NASA that a new TES would be built for Mars Global Surveyor.
Phil stresses the importance of exposing students to the various career opportunities available in space exploration. It does not take an astrophysicist to become involved with the space program. Students should be encouraged to pursue their interests and talents. If interested in space, he thinks there are many ways that they can become involved with space projects such as Mars Global Surveyor.
There are many people who provide support for the TES project. One of them is Theresa Fortuna. Her signature is among those on a plaque that will be affixed to the TES before it is sent to Mars in November. Theresa works at Hughes Santa Barbara Remote Sensing (SBRS) in Goleta, California. She is the Production Administrator for TES.
She has a job that I do not envy! She is responsible for ordering and keeping track of all the parts that go into TES. She had to look at the blue prints (drawings and plans for how to build TES), and then order all of the parts. Once the parts (thousands of them!) arrive at SBRS, she coordinates the movement of these parts through the various departments at SBRS: Receiving, Inspection, Testing, and Stock. When a part is needed for assembly, Theresa fills out the necessary paperwork to remove the part from the stock (supplies). All of this information, including the name of the company that made the part, is recorded on an Assembly History Record (AHR). Theresa has over eighty-four large binders on her shelves that hold the AHRs for the TES.
Theresa also worked on the Mars Observer TES, and has found that this experience made working on the second one a lot easier. She has worked at SBRS (which used to be called SBRC; see Greg Mehall's article) for eight years. When she started at SBRS, she was at an entry-level position in the Production Control department. After receiving several promotions, she reached her current position. Her job is very important and requires a lot of responsibility because spacecraft instruments are high-quality products that need the kind of careful record-keeping that she does. Before joining the work force after high school, Theresa took several business classes at a community college.
Theresa is nearing the completion of her responsibilities on TES. She is now working on MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer), an instrument that will be on the Earth Observing System (EOS) platform launching in 1998. There are hundreds of thousands of parts that Theresa will keep track of on MODIS. Theresa, like Phil Christensen, agrees that determination and a positive attitude are essential to reaching one's goals.