Journey to the Martian Arctic with space explorer April 16
Peter Smith, principal investigator of NASA's Phoenix Mars mission, which explored the Martian arctic for the building blocks of life. Photo courtesy of University of Arizona
Artist's representation of Phoenix Mars Lander touching down on the Red Planet. Courtesy of NASA
A telescopic camera in orbit around Mars caught a view of NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander suspended from its parachute during the lander's successful arrival at Mars Sunday evening, May 25, 2008. The image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter marked the first time one spacecraft photographed another in the act of landing on Mars. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Image of ice just below the surface of Mars, taken by the Phoenix Mars Lander in June 2008. During five months of operations, the probe confirmed the presence of frozen water just below the planet’s surface, found minerals that form in liquid water, identified potential nutrients in the soil, and observed snow in the atmosphere. Courtesy of NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.
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10:44 a.m., April 9, 2009----Peter Smith, senior research scientist at the University of Arizona and principal investigator of NASA's Phoenix Mars Mission, will highlight the novel spacecraft's discoveries in the “The Journey of the Phoenix,” a public lecture on Thursday, April 16, at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Delaware's Roselle Center for the Arts.

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Register for the free event at this Web page.

The ceremony will be Webcast live at this site and made available after the event on the UD podcast Web site.

The lecture also will be simulcast into the University of Delaware's virtual world in Second Life, at this location. You must have an avatar in Second Life to visit using this link.

The Phoenix Mars Lander, the first in NASA's Scout class, was launched August 4, 2007, and touched down in the Martian Arctic on May 25, 2008, to search the soil of the Red Planet for the building blocks of life.

During five months of operations, the probe confirmed the presence of frozen water just below the planet's surface, found minerals that form in liquid water, identified potential nutrients in the soil, and observed snow in the atmosphere. Phoenix's cameras captured more than 25,000 pictures, from grand landscapes to nanoscale images using the first atomic force microscope ever used outside Earth.

Throughout the mission, which ended in November 2008, Smith and his team controlled the lander from the University of Arizona's Science Operations Center, working closely with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver. An international assembly of scientific institutes in Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, and Switzerland also was involved.

Smith holds a bachelor's degree in physics from the University of California Berkeley and a master's degree from the University of Arizona Optical Sciences Center. He will receive his Ph.D. in optical sciences from the University of Arizona next month. He has worked at the university's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory since 1978. In 2008, he was named UA's first Thomas R. Brown Distinguished Chair in Integrative Science.

Smith has participated in many of the seminal space missions that have explored the solar system. His association with the Red Planet started in 1993 after his camera proposal was accepted by NASA for the Mars Pathfinder mission. As the first lander to reach Mars since 1976, there was tremendous public interest as the camera returned the first images from the Martian surface on July 4, 1997.

In fall 2003, Smith's Phoenix project was selected as the first Scout mission to Mars after a competitive NASA selection process. Valued at more than $420 million, the spacecraft was named after the mythological bird that rises from the ashes of its predecessor. It made use of the mothballed 2001 lander with instruments delivered for both that mission and the failed Polar Lander mission.

Smith will receive the American Geographical Society's prestigious Cullum Geographical Medal on Wednesday, April 15, at the Center for the Arts.

Together, the award ceremony and public lecture mark the culmination of the University of Delaware's William S. Carlson International Polar Year Events.

Presented in cooperation with the American Geographical Society of New York City, the series of public lectures, seminars, receptions, exhibitions, and films celebrated William S. Carlson, UD's president from 1946-1950, who was an Arctic explorer, and the University's significant polar research in the world's fourth International Polar Year, which began in March 2007 and concluded in April 2009.

Campus sponsors included the Office of the Provost, Center for International Studies, Research Office, Office of Graduate and Professional Education, Office of Communications & Marketing, the UD Library, and UD's seven colleges -- Agriculture and Natural Resources; Arts and Sciences; Lerner College of Business and Economics; Engineering; Health Sciences; Human Services, Education and Public Policy; and Marine and Earth Studies.

The steering committee for the series was co-chaired by Frederick Nelson, professor of geography, and Lesa Griffiths, associate provost of international studies.

Article by Tracey Bryant

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