Archive for August 4th, 2008

Arizona: way to go! Mars Lander: you’re all wet!

Posted on August 4, 2008. Filed under: Culture, Science, Travel |

I’m taking a moment to gloat about the local University’s role in space history! I’m not involved in the science department at the U at all, (drat!) but have been eagerly following the latest Mars mission since it launched last year. I could hear cheers from Tucson the day the Phoenix Lander made a near perfect landing on Mars in May. I watched as the first exciting pictures from Phoenix graced the pages and pixels of worldwide news media.

Would they find water? They found sticky stuff. They found what might have been water, but it evaporated before they could test it.—Oh no, they were running out of test kits! One more chance. The scraping of Martian soil on Wednesday was perhaps the last chance, for a long time, to determine that:

“We have water,” said William Boynton of The University of Arizona, lead scientist for the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or TEGA. “We’ve seen evidence for this water ice before in observations by the Mars Odyssey orbiter and in disappearing chunks observed by Phoenix last month, but this is the first time Martian water has been touched and tasted.”

Yippee! This means:

“…the science team is trying to determine whether the water ice ever thaws enough to be available for biology and if carbon-containing chemicals and other raw materials for life are present.”     [full story here]

I’m so excited. And so proud that our university is at the forefront of this research. Here is a link to a virtual tour of the laboratory and offices of the space center at the university. The 15 minute tour was filmed before the actual landing, which somehow makes it more poignant to watch now. The first couple of minutes show the buildings and desks, but if you hang on, you can see models, lab equipment, and how the lander’s arm performs in different gravities. At the very end is something special I have seen, and which particularly touches my heart regarding this project. 🙂

There is a lot to explore at the project’s website, too, about Mars, Space, Education, and the Love of Learning. Enjoy, and thanks for indulging my local pride. I have a post coming up in a couple of days about why this science is useful in these times, as well as another local connection. Stay tuned!

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