UA Team Takes Its Mars-Bound Experiment to Cape Canaveral

Lori Stiles
Jan. 5, 2001

A team at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) is gripped by the special frenzied excitement that comes with packing up a major space experiment scheduled to reach Mars next October.

William V. Boynton and his team started work on the Gamma Ray Spectrometer in August 1997. It is one of three science instruments to go on NASA's 2001 Mars Orbiter, scheduled for launch Saturday, April 7. If launch goes as scheduled, the orbiter will arrive at Mars on Oct. 20, 2001.

The team will begin packing the gamma ray sensor head this weekend, said Heather Enos, senior program coordinator at LPL. Senior systems engineer Chuck Fellows must attach accelerometers on the sensor head to record all shocks and vibrations during the 4-day haul in a 48-foot semi from Tucson to Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

It will take all day Monday (Jan. 8) to finish crating the sensor head and central electronics box. In addition to this flight hardware, there's another nine times as much auxiliary hardware that must be packed and ready on the LPL loading dock at 7 a.m. Tuesday (Jan. 9). Auxiliary hardware includes an elaborate, UA-built bench top cooler that simulates space environment, which the team will use at the Cape in a thorough, 10-day test needed to verify that all arrived safely.

Bob Marcialis and Rick Schmidt will drive a follow car escorting the semi truck to Florida, leaving Tuesday morning and arriving Friday, (Jan. 12). Boynton and 10 more from his group will fly to Florida to meet them. The team will unload, unpack and assemble their stand-alone lab to begin instrument verification tests Monday, Jan. 15.

They will first test the central electronics box so it can be mounted on the orbiter spacecraft on Tuesday, Jan. 16. They then begin the 10-day verification test on the gamma ray sensor head, which is to be installed on the orbiter Jan. 31.

The Gamma Ray Spectrometer (GRS) will fulfill the commitment to refly all the investigations of the attempted Mars Observer mission of 1994. Its science goals are:

  • to quantitatively determine the elemental abundances of the Martian surface, including composition of the permanent polar caps
  • to map the distribution of water and to determine its near-surface stratigraphy
  • to determine the thickness of the seasonal polar caps and their variation with time
  • to study the nature of cosmic gamma-ray bursts

The LPL team GRS web site is

Last March, the Smithsonian Institution added Boynton's Mars-mapping project to its permanent research collection on information technology in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Boynton and his group intend to build a 3-dimensional map, or globe, of the surface of the planet Mars with GRS data. The map will visually present the elemental composition of Mars' surface and near-surface so that users can retrieve information on a particular region anywhere on the global map via the Internet.

Research scientists and advanced science students -- and, later, students still in grade school -- will be able to interactively learn using the map, project team members say.

Team members who will be going to the Cape are:
William Boynton, Chris Shinohara, Heather Enos, Chuck Fellows, Carl Turner, Dave Hamara. Michael Ward, Karl Harshman, Bob Marcialis, Kris Kerry, Mike Fitzgibbon, Rick Schmidt, Mike Wiliams

Team members who will remain at UA to begin mission preparations are:
Joe Astier, Jessie Bhangoo, Glinda Davidson, Andrew Shinohara

The 2001 Mars Odyssey mission is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., for NASA's Office of Space Science. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology. Link to JPL's 2001 Mars Odyssey web site at


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