In June 2008, a lander mission called Phoenix could deliver tools to search for habitable zones and the history of water on Mars.
NASA today announced that the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory's Phoenix mission has been selected as one of four candidates to fly NASA's first Mars Scout Mission, cost-capped at $325 million, planned for launch in 2007.
Peter H. Smith of the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory heads the Phoenix mission.
NASA is to select the winning Mars Scout proposal in late summer 2003. If the University of Arizona wins, the $284 million project will be the largest ever awarded in the university's history.
When NASA Mars Project Scientist Jim Garvin called Smith at 8:30 this morning (Tucson time), Smith, who currently is in San Francisco for the American Geophysical Union meeting, said, "I started dancing around the room. I felt like flying over the San Francisco Bay - without an airplane!"
"This will be a mission reflight of Mars Polar Lander, but to the northern plains of Mars, and first flight for 2001 Mars Surveyor Lander instruments that were built but never flown," Smith said. "We will be able to make a very accurate analysis of what promises to be some of Mars' more habitable terrain, a place where organics may have a stable environment," he said.
Smith, who is a science team member for NASA's next mission to Mars, the Mars Exploration Rover (MER), scheduled for launch in June 2003, was principal investigator for the Imager from Mars Pathfinder, the last successful lander mission to Mars in 1997.
He and UA planetary scientist William V. Boynton, who is a co-investigator on the proposed Phoenix mission, both had science instruments on the ill-fated Mars Polar Lander of 1999. The lander was equipped with Smith's cameras and robotic arm, and Boynton's thermal and evolved gas analyzer to measure the composition of Martian soil. However, communications were lost as the lander began its entry into the Martian atmosphere on Dec. 3, 1999.
Boynton heads Mars Odyssey’s Gamma Ray Spectrometer experiment, and will be talking at AGU this weekend on new evidence of ice at Mars’ north pole.
When he learned that the Phoenix mission was in the running as the first in the new line of Mars Scout Missions, he said, "Fabulous. I can't wait to get to Mars and try (the lander experiments) again."
"We propose to land at the high northern latitudes to follow up the exciting discovery of near surface ice by the Mars Odyssey team," the Phoenix team said in its proposal. "This zone is one of the few places on Mars that presents the possibility of the periodic presence of liquid water as orbital dynamics change the regional climate."
The team will use a robotic arm to excavate a trench and retrieve samples for geological and chemical analysis. "Instruments sensitive to minute quantities of organic molecules will enable us to assess the habitability of the icy layer for microbial life, past and present," their proposal said. "Climate studies will provide information on the present-day environment, including the local water vapor flux in and out of the surface layer. Past climates can be inferred from clues in the trench walls."
The Phoenix mission maximizes science value while minimizing cost and risk by flying improved 2001 Mars Surveyor Program Lander instruments, which include two instruments delivered for that previous launch and two "build-to-print" Mars Polar Lander instruments (Smith’s stereo imaging camera and robotic arm, and Boynton’s thermal and evolved gas analyzer).
The Phoenix mission will fly on the Mars’01 lander, "a highly reliable means to soft-land on Mars by virtue of the extensive review and the resultant planned modifications that followed cancellation of its intended mission," the researchers said. "Inherent in the lander design is the capability for guided entry and hazard avoidance that will both reduce Phoenix risk and benefit future Mars exploration," they said.
Collaborators and co-investigators include:
- Raymond Arvidson, Washington University
- Diana Blaney, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
- William Boynton, University of Arizona
- Allan Carswell, Optech Inc., Canada
- David Catling, University of Washington
- Benton Clark, Lockheed Martin Astronautics
- Eric de Jong, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
- William Feldman (collaborator), Los Alamos National Laboratory
- Michael Hecht, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
- John Hoffman, University of Texas at Dallas
- Horst Keller, Max-Planck-Institut fur Aeronomie, Germany
- Samuel Kounaves, Tufts University
- David Lawrence, Los Alamos National Laboratory
- Mark Lemmon, Texas A & M University
- Michael Malin, Malin Space Science Systems
- Wojciech Markiewicz, Max-Planck-Institut fur Aeronomie, Germany
- John Marshall, SETI Institute
- Christopher McKay, NASA Ames Research Center
- Douglas Ming, NASA Johnson Space Center
- Richard Morris, Johnson Space Center
- Nilton Renno, University of Michigan
- Urs Staufer, University of Neuchatel, Switzerland
- Carol Stoker, Ames Research Center
- Leslie Temppari, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
- Aaron Zent, Ames Research Center