TES News

February 1994, Volume 3, No. 1

Thermal Emission Spectrometer Project
Mars Observer Space Flight Facility                             
Department of Geology, Arizona State University
Box 871404, Tempe, Arizona 85287-1404, U.S.A.

Mars and Arizona 1894 - 1994

Arizona a Draw for Mars Science

Like Arizona, Mars has vast deserts with red rocks, drifting dunes, giant canyons, dry river beds, mountains and valleys formed by geologic faults, volcanoes, lava flows, and summertime dust storms. The scientific connection from Arizona to Mars began with Percival Lowell, who came from Boston in 1894 to build an observatory in Flagstaff. Fascinated by reports dating back to 1877 of dark, thin, straight lines criss-crossing the planet, Lowell moved to Arizona so that he could have a clear view of Mars. He interpreted the dark lines to be canals built by an intelligent Martian civilization attempting to irrigate a dry and dying planet. Lowell's theories were published in three popular books, Mars (1895), Mars and its Canals (1906), and Mars as the Abode of Life (1909). This year, Lowell Observatory will celebrate its centennial.

Arizona continues to draw Mars scientists. Today, there are research teams at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona State University in Tempe, and the U.S. Geological Survey and Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. Arizona figured prominently in the telescope exploration of Mars throughout the past century. Mariner 4 was the first spacecraft to fly past Mars in 1965. It did not find Lowell's canals, but instead a cold, dry, cratered landscape. Later missions found volcanoes, canyons, and dry riverbeds. Two landers, Viking 1 and 2, arrived in 1976 and gave us a view of Mars from the ground. Some say it looked like an Arizona desert-- but without the saguaros.

The most recent attempt to explore Mars was NASA's Mars Observer, launched in September 1992. Two of the Mars Observer science instruments, the Gamma Ray Spectrometer (GRS) and Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES) were controlled from facilities in Tucson and Tempe, respectively. But Mars Observer was lost in August 1993.

Mars 1993.

This picture was taken by the Mars Observer Camera at the end of July 1993. The large dark feature is the region Syrtis Major. Syrtis Major is a low, broad shield volcano probably covered by dark windblown sand.

Several images were taken by the Mars Observer Camera enroute to Mars. These are available from Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS) of San Diego, California. Michael Malin of MSSS is also a member of the TES science team.

What Happened to Mars Observer?

What ultimately caused the loss of Mars Observer on August 21, 1993, may remain a mystery forever. Mars Observer is probably following an elliptical orbit around the Sun and will continue to do so indefinitely. When it was lost, there were no communications from the spacecraft that indicated a problem. Thus, the people who were asked by NASA to figure out what went wrong had no spacecraft data to help them. An independent review panel headed by Dr. Timothy Coffey of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory reported to NASA on January 5, 1994. The Coffey report concluded that no single cause for the failure could be determined. Instead, they reviewed a variety of possible explanations and found that it was most likely the result of a rupture in a fuel line which would have caused the spacecraft to spin out of control. The review identified several other problems which could have caused a failure, including an electrical short circuit which would affect the onboard computers, an accidental rupture of the fuel lines when valves were opened using tiny explosive devices, or a malfunction in the system that regulates fuel pressure. The report was also critical of NASA's management of the Mars Observer assembly and design, but the Coffey commission was set up to look mainly at the technical causes of failure. NASA said it would review the lessons learned from the report and incorporate relevant changes in future Mars missions. Similar reports and conclusions were issued by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of Pasadena, California, which controlled the spacecraft after launch, and by Martin Marietta, the company which was ultimately responsible for the assembly of Mars Observer.

What's Next for Mars and TES?

Today, Mars researchers in Arizona and elsewhere are looking toward the future of Mars exploration. To recover the Mars Observer mission objectives (see box), scientists are proposing that two spacecraft should be sent to orbit Mars, one in 1996 and one in 1998. These would carry duplicates of the instruments originally flown on Mars Observer. The next big hurdle will come in early February 1994, when President Clinton submits the Fiscal Year 1995 budget request to Congress. Mars scientists are hoping for $100 million to start building the proposed 1996 spacecraft called Mars Geoscience Orbiter. If the new mission appears in the President's budget, it will then have to pass Congressional approval, a process which may take most of this year. Readers of TES News might consider writing to their representatives if they have an opinion on whether NASA should try to recover Mars Observer science.

Mars Science Objectives for the 90's:

Meanwhile, two other Mars spacecraft are being built. Both of these missions were planned long before Mars Observer was lost, thus neither is intended to replace or recover the mission objectives of Mars Observer. The first is is a small lander, Pathfinder. This lander includes a roving vehicle, and it will be launched by the U.S. in 1996. Pathfinder is designed to test a variety of concepts for landing payloads on Mars and has only a few science instruments. It will land (location to be determined) and provide pictures and soil analyses. The other spacecraft is Mars 94, being prepared in Russia for an October-November 1994 launch from Kazakhstan. Mars 94 includes an orbiter and several small landers which would, if launched on time, reach Mars in September 1995. This mission has been planned for more than 5 years and is based upon the design heritage of the Phobos spacecraft which the Soviet Union launched in 1988.

Mars and Arizona 1994 - 2094

What will the next century of Mars exploration be like? And what role will Arizonans play in that exploration? Apollo astronauts who visited the Moon between 1969 and 1972 trained at Arizona's Grand Canyon, Meteor Crater, and amidst the volcanic cones surrounding Flagstaff. Will people again come to Arizona to train for a human flight to Mars? One hundred years ago, Percival Lowell had a vision of an inhabited Mars. Perhaps before another hundred years pass, Mars will indeed become an inhabited world.


Mars K-12 Education Program

The TES research group at ASU continues its education program with a Teacher Workshop on February 5, 1994. Another workshop is being planned for late August 1994. " The Story of TES," slide set will be available for educators to borrow and/or copy beginning in February 1994. Work is progressing on a second slide set, "Mars and Arizona." Also, the TES group is soon to come "on line" with a variety of educational materials and infrared data from the Mariner 9 and Viking Mars missions available by computer through the Internet system. K-12 student groups can visit the TES facility on the ASU campus to learn more about Mars and the prospects for new missions to the Red Planet. For more information about educational opportunities, call the ASU TES Project Office, (602) 965-1790, or write to the address at the top of this newsletter.

Read All About It!

Check your local library or bookstore for the following:

(1) The Coffey Report

The press conference held by NASA on January 5, 1994, was reviewed in most major newspapers across the U.S. the next morning. Check your local newspaper or see the article by J. N. Wilford, "Costly failure of mission to Mars is tied to rupture of fuel system," The New York Times, p. 1, January 6, 1994.

(Information about the loss of Mars Observer is also available from Malin Space Science Systems.)

(2) Tarzan Man Writes on Mars and Arizona

Edgar Rice Burroughs, the famous author who created Tarzan, also wrote a 12-part series about Captain John Carter, a Civil War veteran who had all kinds of adventures on Mars. The first novel, A Princess of Mars (1912), opens in the desert of Arizona Territory in 1866. These books are still in print. Discover how John Carter gets from Arizona to the Red Planet.

(3) Face the Face

You've seen it in the tabloids at the grocery store check-out stand. The "Face on Mars" is one among thousands of mountains, knobs, and buttes in the Cydonia region of Mars (something like Monument Valley on a grand scale). The "face" has been examined in two articles written for teachers and K-12 students:

Stephens, S., "The Face on Mars," The Universe in the Classroom, no. 25, Fall 1993. (From Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 390 Ashton Ave., San Francisco, CA 94112).

Sprungman, B., "What's that on Mars? Let's Face it!" Odyssey, p. 34-36, December 1993.

(4) Moon Astronauts Trained in Arizona

How will people prepare for a human mission to Mars? The past is the key to the future. See what it was like to train astronauts who went to the Moon by reading: To a Rocky Moon: A Geologists History of Lunar Exploration, by Dr. Don E. Wilhems, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1993.

(5) Mars in the Years 2171 to 2184 A new fiction novel explores Mars almost two hundred years hence. Moving Mars, by Greg Bear, Tor Books, New York, 1993.

(6) Special Mars Issues

The National Space Society (NSS) recently featured Mars with seven articles in their November-December 1993 issue of Ad Astra. Mars was also covered in the September-October 1992 Ad Astra. For more information write to the NSS at 922 Pennsylvania Ave., SE, Washington, DC 20003.

A new TES News is available approximately 
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K. Patoni and M.A. Presley helped edit this 

Text by:  

K. S. Edgett
Original Text:  January 21, 1994
This On-line version:  January 27, 1994