ITHACA, N.Y. -- Following a real-life space odyssey to Mars in 2001, alate-model lander and rover, equipped with a Cornell University scientificinstrument package called Athena, will roam and study a large corridor ofthe Martian highlands and ancient terrain, the National Aeronautics andSpace Administration (NASA) announced today (Nov. 7, 1997).
The mission, to be launched in April 2001, will seek out the geologicalrecord of ancient Martian waterways and possible biology, according toSteven Squyres, Cornell professor of astronomy and the principal scienceinvestigator for the Mars 2001 Lander mission.
The Cornell portion of the mission is being funded by NASA at a cost of $17million.
James Bell, Cornell senior research associate of astronomy, will joinSquyres as one of
20 science team members from the United States, Germany and Denmark for theAthena project.
Squyres begins work on the project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory inPasadena, Calif., on Monday. "We're starting fast. We're going to hit theground running," he said.
The Athena rover payload on the Mars 2001 Lander/Rover has four scientificobjectives:
-- to provide sharp, color stereo imaging of the planet's surface;
-- to determine the fine-scale textural properties of the Martian landscape;
-- to identify the elements and minerals of the dusty Martian countryside;
-- to collect and store surface samples in the hope that the samples willbe retrieved later in the mission.
Autumn has been nothing but gilt-edged for Cornell's role in space sciencehistory, as today's NASA announcement follows close on the heels of otherimportant space projects.
On Oct. 21, NASA announced that Cornell will lead and direct a $154 millionmission to conduct close-proximity comet fly-bys, scheduled for launch in2002. On Oct. 31, two Cornell astronomy professors announced the discoveryof two new moons orbiting the planet Uranus.
"We are delighted that NASA has once again affirmed Cornell's leadership inspace studies by appointing Steve Squyres to lead Project Athena," CornellPresident Hunter Rawlings said. "Athena is the ancient Greek goddess ofwisdom and guardian of the city of Athens, of whose enlightened citizensPericles wrote, 'We throw open our city to the world.' Today, we can saythat we open our city -- our campus -- to the stars."
Athena is designed to be larger and to last longer than Sojourner, whichsent back detailed images of the Martian surface this summer.
Rover Athena is part of two Mars Surveyor 2001 missions. The first mission,to be launched in 2001, will be the Mars 2001 Orbiter, due for launch inMarch of that year. Athena is part of the second mission, called the Mars2001 Lander/Rover, which is scheduled for launch in April of that year.
Prior to the Mars Surveyor 2001 missions, NASA will launch two otherrobotic Mars missions, now scheduled to blast off in late 1998 and early1999, the space agency said.
Both of the Mars Surveyor 2001 missions are part of an ongoing series ofMars exploration spacecraft, which began with the 1996 launches of the MarsGlobal Surveyor and the Mars Pathfinder lander. All the missions arecomponents of NASA's long-term exploration of the red planet, in which twomissions are launched approximately every 26 months, according to the spaceagency.
An integrated science team from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and LockheedMartin Aeronautics, Denver, will develop the missions.
Cornell's Athena rover payload is an integrated suite of scientificinstruments designed to conduct onsite analyses of the surface. Thoseinstruments include an imager and infrared spectrometer, giving theinstruments the ability to see through dust coatings that normally wouldobscure spectral analyses of the surface.
Athena also will feature an Alpha-Proton-X-Ray spectrometer (APXS), aMossbauer spectrometer and a Raman spectrometer, all of which gathermineralogical data. The microscopic imager will reveal surface compositioninformation in detail.
Rather than collect loose pebbles and Martian dust, a low-poweredmini-corer will drill through the Martian rock to accumulate intact samplesof rocks and boulders. The mini-corer can drill at an angle and has beendemonstrated to cut through dense, basalt-type formations, according toSquyres.
In addition to Athena, the Mars 2001 Lander will carry an imager to takepictures of the terrain during the lander's rocket-assisted descent to thesurface. The images will render geologic information, important for therover's initial operations and traverses by the Athena rover. NASA saidthat Michael Malin of Malin Space Science Systems Inc., San Diego, Calif.,will be the team leader for the Descent Imager science team.
Materials provided by Cornell University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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