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Selected Articles from the
November 1998 Odyssey

Editor: Norm Cook

T-Minus Thirty-Six Years...

By Steve Bartlett

"We're going to Florida!" my wife said.

"Huh?" I replied with my usual eloquence.

"We're going to Florida in October to see the John Glenn launch," she said. "They just announced it on the news. You were seven months late for the last one, so here's your chance!"

I mustered my now-famous blank stare. "John Glenn launch? On the Shuttle? Ah, um... okay." I reached for the phone book to call a nearby psychiatric hospital. I knew that she was near the edge when she married me. This just proved it. Now to humor her until the boys in the white coats arrived.

"Yeah," she said, looking for some signs of intelligent life on my face. "We've got the parking pass. So we'll be able to see it from the five-mile limit. Oh, and here's the bill for the plane tickets!"

She handed me a credit card receipt with far-too-many zeros on it. Maybe there was space in that padded cell for two, I thought. Maybe she'd just inhaled a bit too much of the fumes in the lab where she worked. A credit card debt isn't legal if the person who made the charge was "under the influence," was it?

"Look," she said, "you've been hooked on space since you were a kid. (And sometimes I think you have vacuum on the brain.) Now's your chance to see a Shuttle launch and watch history in the making."

She did have a point, I conceded. But if she combs her hair just right....

Then she turned on the radio to the local news station. "The first American to orbit the earth... flying on the Space Shuttle in October," the announcer intoned. "Mmmm, these nouns are chewy!" I said as I ate my words.

Eight months later we found ourselves on that five-mile mark, along with a few hundred thousand other people, half the world's media, and various Florida fauna. (How close was that ėgator going to get to the crowd? Hmmm.) The Shuttle sat in the distance on launch pad 39B, shining in the sun.

On the drive in from Orlando that morning, we'd been stopped several times by NASA security and Brevard county sheriffs deputies, each of them checking for that all-important parking pass. They were on high alert for possible terrorist activity. I figured that now was a bad time to bring up my hobby of high powered rocketry and kept my mouth shut.

The NASA public affairs folks had been kind enough to provide numerous PA speakers around the parking areas, giving us all a "play-by-play" of what was happening aboard Discovery and at Mission Control. Several helicopters and T-38 jets circled the area uneasily, looking for prey. ("Do helicopters eat tourists?" I wondered.)

As the countdown approached zero, it finally hit me: "I'm here! The place where people go into space! coooollll!!!!!" (I can be a little slow at times.)

Then the Shuttle rose above the water and the vegetation, sitting on a long pillar of smoke and fire. Into the clearest, bluest sky I'd ever seen it fly. A few seconds later the sound reached us, pounding the air in our chests. ("Whoa! Great special effects!" I thought.) We watched the twin solid rocket boosters drop away. The Orbiter and external tank continued their journey and we lost track of them as the glow of the engines faded into the sky.

As we packed up for the long drive back, I asked my wife, "So, what do we do for an encore?" She smiled and said, "I came up with this. Now it's your turn!"

I knew that I had my work cut out for me.

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1998 Mars Orbiter, Lander, Microprobes Set for Launch

NASA embarks on a return trip to Mars this winter with two spacecraft launches that will first send an orbiter to circle the red planet, then follow with another to land near the edge of Mars's south polar cap. Piggybacking on the lander will be two small probes that will smash into the Martian surface to test new technologies.

Mars Climate Orbiter, scheduled for launch Dec. 10, and Mars Polar Lander, scheduled for launch Jan. 3, will seek clues to the history of climate change on Mars.

The lander carries a pair of basketball-sized microprobes that will be released as the lander approaches Mars and dive toward the planet's surface, penetrating up to about 1 meter (3 feet) underground to test 10 new technologies, including a science instrument to search for traces of water ice. The microprobe project, called Deep Space 2, is part of NASA's New Millennium Program.

The 1998 missions will advance our understanding of Mars's climate history and the planet's current water resources by digging into the enigmatic layered terrain near one of its poles for the first time. Instruments onboard the orbiter and lander will analyze surface materials, frost, weather patterns, and interactions between the surface and atmosphere to better understand how the climate of Mars has changed over time.

Key scientific objectives are to determine how water and dust move about the planet and where water, in particular, resides on Mars today.

Today the Martian atmosphere is so thin and cold that it does not rain; liquid water quickly freezes into ice or evaporates and resides in the atmosphere. The temporary polar frosts which advance and retreat with the seasons are made mostly of condensed carbon dioxide, the major constituent of the Martian atmosphere. But the planet also hosts both water-ice clouds and dust storms, the latter ranging in scale from local to global.

In September 1999, Mars Climate Orbiter will fire its main engine to put itself into an elliptical orbit around Mars. The spacecraft will then aerobrake through Mars's upper atmosphere for several weeks to reduce velocity and circularize its orbit. Friction against the spacecraft's single solar array will slow the spacecraft as it dips into the atmosphere each orbit.

Finally, the spacecraft will use its thrusters to settle into a polar, nearly circular orbit averaging 421 kilometers (262 miles) above the surface. From there, the orbiter will serve as a radio relay satellite during the lander's surface mission. After the lander's mission is over, the orbiter will begin routine monitoring of the atmosphere, surface, and polar caps for a complete Martian year (687 Earth days).

The orbiter carries two science instruments: the Pressure Modulator Infrared Radiometer, and the Mars Color Imager, a new, light-weight imager combining wide-and medium-angle cameras. The radiometer will measure temperatures, dust, water vapor, and clouds by using a mirror to scan the atmosphere from the Martian surface up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) above the planet's limb.

Meanwhile, the imager will gather horizon-to-horizon images at up to kilometer-scale (half-mile-scale) resolutions, which will then be combined to produce daily global weather images. The camera will also image surface features and produce a map with 40-meter (130-foot) resolution in several colors, to provide unprecedented views of Mars's surface.

Mars Polar Lander will arrive in December 1999, two to three weeks after the orbiter has finished aerobraking. The lander is aimed toward a target sector within the edge of the layered terrain near Mars's south pole.

Mars Polar Lander will dive directly into the Martian atmosphere, using an aeroshell and parachute to slow its initial descent. The lander will rely on onboard guidance and retro-rockets to land softly on the layered terrain near the south polar cap a few weeks after the seasonal carbon dioxide frosts have disappeared.

About 10 minutes before touchdown, the lander will release the two Deep Space 2 microprobes. Once released, the projectiles will collect atmospheric data before they crash at about 200 meters per second (400 miles per hour) and bury themselves beneath the Martian surface. The microprobes will test the ability of very small spacecraft to deploy future instruments for soil sampling, meteorology, and seismic monitoring. A key instrument will look for signs of vaporized water ice.

Mars Polar Lander will dig into the top of the terrain using a robotic arm. A camera mounted on the robotic arm will view the texture of the surface material and look for fine-scale layering. The robotic arm will also deliver soil samples to an instrument that will detect water and carbon dioxide. An onboard weather station will take daily readings of wind temperature and pressure, and seek traces of water vapor. A stereo imager perched atop a mast will photograph the landscape surrounding the spacecraft.

The lander is expected to operate on the surface for 60 to 90 Martian days through the planet's southern summer.

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Space Activities at Whitney High School

By Phil Turek

The school year is off to a good start. Students at Whitney High School are becoming increasingly involved in aerospace. In September, two dozen Whitney students took a field trip to Griffith Observatory where they hunted for the Mir space station and an Iridium flare, and they talked with members of the Los Angeles Astronomical Society.

In October, another two dozen attended a JPL public lecture on the Stardust space mission to be launched in February. Four dozen students attended the opening of the new 3D IMAX movie "T-REX" at the Irvine Spectrum. Nearly 70 students attended a stargazing evening held at Whitney HS.

On Nov 6, a psychologist visited the high school, presenting her paper on Group Behavior on Long Duration Space Missions. Her talk was a hit with the school's astronomy club and WEST (Whitney Explorations of Science and Technology) club. Nearly 30 Whitney students attended Boeing's Family Night at the Downey facility that same evening, where after a group picture was taken with Andy the Astronaut, the students were treated to a tour of the inside of Boeing's full scale space shuttle orbiter mockup.

One student was able to attend a special presentation on SETI held by The Planetary Society at Paramount Studios in Hollywood on Nov 16.

A popular activity at Whitney each year is the annual SpaceSet competition. This competition challenges teams of students to describe an O'Neill space colony and their plans for building it. It's exciting to participate in SpaceSet. Already two dozen students are interested in spending the weekend of December 5 designing an Earth orbiting space colony. If you'd like to peek in on the students as they tackle the project then contact Phil Turek at 914/842-9878. By the way, we'd love to have your support. If you have any books related to space colonization that you'd be willing to give to us, we'd greatly appreciate it. If you have a field of expertise related to aerospace and you'd be willing to serve as a guest speaker or evaluator, please contact Phil Turek. You'll find that it's a lot of fun to work with these kids. Your influence on them can last a lifetime.

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