Mars Odyssey: Out of the Delivery Room, Into the Nursery
24 Oct 2001
(Source: University of Arizona)
University of Arizona
By Lori Stiles
Like an answer to a prayer, NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft slipped into orbit around the red planet last night.
University of Arizona space scientists and students, their families and friends, and some of the taxpaying public gathered at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory to see if Odyssey's main engine would fire to slow the spacecraft for capture into martian orbit.
Unofficially dubbed "Arizona Orbiter" for all the Arizona-built science gear it carries, the spacecraft did not disappoint. There was no flyby or crash landing.
At 8 p.m., what had been a lively program highlighting Mars exploration - and UA scientists and students can boast a big role in that enterprise - escalated into a champagne cork-popping party.
"Out of the delivery room and into the nursery," Steve Bougher saluted Gamma Ray Spectrometer (GRS) team leader Bill Boynton.
Boynton and his team of researchers and students built the GRS at the UA. It will for the first time map the amount and distribution of elements that make up the martian surface, including elements that indicate water, past or present.
Bougher, an LPL associate research scientist, and his graduate student, Paul Withers, this weekend begin around-the-clock shifts at their UA offices as part of the team working to "aerobrake" Odyssey into a circular orbit by mid-January. Aerobraking is a technique that uses the drag of Mars' atmosphere to slow the orbiter, smoothing its elliptical path into a circular one required for doing science. Aerobraking is the next important phase of the mission.
NASA missions have been extremely important to the state of Arizona and its universities, Boynton said: The missions pump money into the economy, generate national publicity that attracts good students and high-tech industry to the state, and provide unique educational opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students.
Few other universities in the nation offer undergraduate and graduate students opportunities to build and work on real space experiments as UA does, Boynton said. Often those students after graduation stay in Arizona as part of the high-salaried workforce, contributing significantly to the state's economy.
The state and the nation get their money's worth out of NASA missions - even those that fail - in terms of technological training opportunities for students, Boynton added.
Scientists led by Arizona State University's Philip R. Christensen and NASA Johnson Space Center scientists, respectively, have a thermal emission experiment and a radiation environment experiment on Odyssey. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Pasadena, Calif., manages the mission for NASA.