Live From Mars WebChat

Date: November 12, 1997

Featuring: Richard Cook
Pathfinder Mission Manager
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

[ Sandy/NASAChatHost 07:50:45 ]
Today's "Live From Mars" Web chat will take place at 10 a.m., PST. Our guest today is Pathfinder Mission Manager Richard Cook from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. Read Richard's bio BEFORE coming to the chat: Chat with you in 2 hours!

[ MrsDabbs/1stgrade/WestView09:47:28 ]

[ Sandy/NASAChatHost 09:50:31 ]
RE: [MrsDabbs/1stgrade/WestView] test
Welcome Mrs. Dabbs 1st grade class! So glad you could make it! Richard Cook will be back in about 10 mins (10 a.m., PST). Where is West View?

[ Megan/Denver 09:56:03 ]

[ Oran/Sunnyvale - 8 - 09:57:07 ]

[ Sandy/NASAChatHost 09:58:54 ]
RE: [MrsDabbs/1stgrade/WestView] Hello Sandy. WestView is in Burlington, Washington.
Is it raining or snowing up there today? Also, do you have an Internet connection in your classroom or are you in a computer lab with your kids? And, how many kids in your classroom?

[ Sandy/NASAChatHost 10:06:15 ]
RE: [MrsDabbs/1stgrade/WestView] Sandy: No, it is sunny here today, but very cold. We had frost on the ground. We have internet in our classroom and we have 21 students in our class.
From the looks of today's weather report it looks like both of our states will be getting more rain tomorrow! Richard will be here in just a minute--have your questions ready :)

[ Michael/Ashbrook 10:07:44 ]
hello from Oregon--also sunny here

[ RichardCook/MissionManager 10:08:04 ]
Hi everyone, I'm here and ready to answer your questions.

[ Sandy/NASAChatHost 10:08:46 ]
Good Morning Michael! Glad you could join us!

[ RichardCook/MissionManager 10:10:19 ]
RE: [Megan/Denver] What is the status of Pathfinder today?
The status of Pathfinder now is that we haven't been communicating with the lander since October 7. As of last week, we decided to end the mission and focus on doing science data analysis.

[ RichardCook/MissionManager 10:11:41 ]
RE: [MrsDabbs/1stgrade/WestView] Yes we are ready. Our first question is: What is the main reason that the pathefinder was sent to Mars?
Pathfinder was sent to Mars for several reasons. First, we wanted to demonstrate new technology for landing on Mars. We also wanted to show NASA and the US public that inexpensive missions are possible. Finally, we had some exciting science objectives involving the geology and atmospheric properties of Mars.

[ RichardCook/MissionManager 10:13:44 ]
RE: [MrsDabbs/1stgrade/WestView] Hello Mr. Cook!! Our second question is do you believe in the 10th planet?
It's really hard to know whether there is another planet beyond Pluto. The way planets are usually discovered is by watching the behavior of other planets to see if they wobble or move slightly in their orbit. Pluto doesn't appear to move erratically, but it's not out of the question that a small planet could still exist.

[ RichardCook/MissionManager 10:15:35 ]
RE: [Megan/Denver] Does that mean that you're no longer going to send messages to PF? Could it just automatically send one to you someday if you aren't listening regularly?
Even though we said the mission was over last week, we are still going to periodically send commands to see if we can reawaken the lander. The next time we plan to do that is on Monday, Nov. 17. The lander won't communicate with us without us asking it do to so.

[ RichardCook/MissionManager 10:16:27 ]
RE: [Michael/Ashbrook] Hi..Our first question is: We heard that the rover was programed to return to Pathfinder after 5 days of "no commands". Is this correct?
The rover was programmed to return to lander after six days. We did this in case the rover couldn't communicate with the lander.

[ RichardCook/MissionManager 10:18:49 ]
RE: [MrsDabbs/1stgrade/WestView] Mr. Cook do you believe that there is life on Mars?
We don't really have any evidence that life exists on Mars right now. As you probably know, we did find some evidence in the Allen Hills Meteorite that life may have existed on Mars in the past, but that's still being debated. One reason why we are sending robotic missions to Mars is to try and figure out if life ever existed. Eventually, we hope to bring samples back from Mars which we can study to see if fossils or other evidence of life exist.

[ RichardCook/MissionManager - 31 - 10:20:35 ]
RE: [MrsDabbs/1stgrade/WestView] Mr. Cook: How do the different rocks on Mars get their names and could we help name one?
The rocks at the landing site were named by members of the Pathfinder team and by suggestions from the public. I think that there are still rocks to be named, so send me your suggestions at I'll reply if we use your name.

[ RichardCook/MissionManager 10:22:11 ]
RE: [Megan/Denver] So what's going on with everyone on the PF team-- how many people are actually left working on the team-- or have most people moved on to new Mars-related jobs/projects?
Most of the Pathfinder operations team have started working on other missions. The scientists are still here studying the data they have received.

[ RichardCook/MissionManager 10:23:38 ]
RE: [Michael/Ashbrook] Mr. Cook, did you have to be concerned about meteors, or other debris when calculating PF's trajectory to Mars?
We didn't have to worry about big meteors because we know where most of them are. We did have some concern about micrometeorites, and put special materials on the spacecraft to protect it. Fortunately, space is really big and micrometeorites are very small so we didn't run into any.

[ RichardCook/MissionManager 10:25:09 ]
RE: [Michael/Ashbrook] How will the rover "refind" the lander? Is the lander "talking" to the rover, but not to us?
The lander and rover are probably capable of talking to each other, but will not unless we tell them to. The real problem, though, is that we can't get the lander to respond to our instructions.

[ RichardCook/MissionManager 10:26:41 ]
RE: [MrsDabbs/1stgrade/WestView] Mr.Cook: What is the wind like there compared to the Earth. Could wind or storms harm the Pathfinder?
The wind on Mars can reach speeds similar to winds on Earth (particularly during dust storms when hurricane speed winds are possible). The Martian atmosphere is really thin, though, so the winds don't have much force. As a result, we really aren't worried about wind damage.

[ RichardCook/MissionManager 10:32:39 ]
RE: [Megan/Denver] How long will you remain the PF Mission Manager? Or, have you already started working on other projects? If so, what else are you interested in besides Mars? Or, are you doing some Mars science yourself?
I'll be the Mission Manager for another month or so while we work on our End of Mission Report. Then I will start working on a mission to fly an optical interferometer around the Earth. An optical interferometer is a type of telescope which will hopefully allow us to see planets around other stars some day. The first mission is a technology demonstration, so we won't actually be able to see other planets yet. It's sort of like another Pathfinder, except it will be harder!

[ RichardCook/MissionManager 10:33:43 ]
RE: [MrsDabbs/1stgrade/WestView] Mr. Cook Are there any plans to send rovers to other planets?
We are working on sending rovers to the moon and to several asteroids.

[ RichardCook/MissionManager 10:36:01 ]
RE: [Megan/Denver] Realistically, it sounds like PF and Sojourner are dead as they have already outlived their projected lifetimes. How long will JPL try and communicate with PF and does the PF team generally believe the "party's over"?
Pathfinder and Sojourner were much more successful that we could have imagined, so we are not unhappy. It's always a little sad to see something this good end, however.

[ RichardCook/MissionManager 10:38:36 ]
RE: [Megan/Denver] What has been the most exciting event for you, personally, on PF?
July 4th (landing day) was very exciting, but I actually enjoyed launch more. It may have been because we could watch it on TV (seeing a rocket go up at night has to be one of the most awesome and beautiful sights I have seen) or because we were finally sending our baby off on it's long trip. July 4th was also great, but I was so busy I didn't have that much time to enjoy it.

[ RichardCook/MissionManager 10:39:38 ]
RE: [Megan/Denver] I hope you don't mind me asking, but how old are you? I saw you in last week's press conference and you look soooooo young? I'm in 9th grade and love everything about space science and am trying to figure out how long I will have to go to college for! How many years did it take you to get your degree(s)?
I don't mind you asking, and I am 32. By the way, I grew up in Denver and went to Heritage High School and CU-Boulder.

[ RichardCook/MissionManager 10:41:02 ]
RE: [MrsDabbs/1stgrade/WestView] Mr. Cook Do you think we will ever send people to Mars? When do you think it could happen?
We will definitely send people to Mars. I think it will happen sometime in the next 10-20 years. NASA needs to finish the space station first, but then can start working on sending people to Mars.

[ RichardCook/MissionManager 10:42:41 ]
RE: [RichardCook/MissionManager] I don't mind you asking, and I am 32. By the way, I grew up in Denver and went to Heritage High School and CU-Boulder.
I forgot to answer all of your question. I went to college for four years at the University of Colorado and got a Bachelor's degree in Engineering Physics. I then spent two years at the University of Texas getting a Masters in Aerospace Engineering.

[ RichardCook/MissionManager 10:45:13 ]
RE: [Shannon/PVHigh] In your opinion, how do things look for the future of Mars exploration in light of Global Surveyor's problems?
The future of Mars exporation is very bright. Mars Global Surveryor has had some problems, but will still be very successful if it can get down to it's mapping orbit. Even if it doesn't, however, the Mars program will still go on. One of the things that we learned from Mars Observer is that we shouldn't put all of our eggs in one basket. Space missions are inherently risky, and we're going to have periodic (hopefully infrequent) failures. By having a continuing series of missions, we can quickly recover from the loss of any one mission.

[ RichardCook/MissionManager 10:46:56 ]
RE: [Jason/5thgradeLincoln] So if you could hop on the next spacecraft and go to Mars would you?
Unfortunately, the next spacecraft we are sending can't really take passengers! Once we get done exploring Mars using robotic spacecraft and prove that it's safe for humans, I'd love to go. I'll probably be too old, though, so it's more likely to be someone like you!

[ RichardCook/MissionManager 10:49:21 ]
RE: [MrsDabbs/1stgrade/WestView] Mr. Cook: We have heard that the government is questioning the need for NASA. What can we do (students and teachers) to support NASA?
Although there are periodic attempts to cut NASA's budget, I think that support for space exploration is pretty high. Still, we can always use help. Things you can do include writing to your congressional representatives and senators, joining space advocacy groups like the Planetary Society, and starting careers in math and science.

[ Megan/Denver 10:50:11 ]
I have to get back to class now; thank you very much Richard for answering my questions! It was great having the opportunity to chat with you today!!!! Good luck in your next job.

[ Shannon/PVHigh10:52:01 ]
Thanks Richard. This was my first chat and I learned a lot from you. I have to go back to class now too. Bye everyone!

[ RichardCook/MissionManager 10:52:14 ]
RE: [Shannon/PVHigh] What do you think PF's most significant contribution was to humankind?
That's a hard question. Clearly, we have learned new things about Mars which will help us understand where we have come from and what our universe is like. In addition, we have demonstrated several new technologies that may have eventual applications in every day life. The biggest contribution to me, however, was that Pathfinder has helped to reinvigorate the space program and get people excited again. I think we all have real desire to explore and see what's out there, and this mission helped us feel what it is like to be on Mars.

[ Sandy/NASAChatHost 10:57:04 ]
EVERYONE: It's time for Richard to get back to his "real" job now. Thank you very much for coming to the chat today and for your excellent questions. I hope you can join us again for next week's chat. And a very special thank you to Richard for spending time with us today! I think this was a learning experience for everyone! All the best to you on your new project :-)

[ RichardCook/MissionManager 10:59:27 ]
Thank you Sandy. Thanks also to everyone who asked such great questions. Pathfinder has been really exciting for all of us here at JPL, and I'm very happy to be able to share my experiences.

[ Sandy/NASAChatHost 11:01:14 ]
RE: [Michael/Ashbrook] Thank you Mr. Cook [students at Ashbrook]
Goodbye students at Ashbrook! Thanks for joining us today. Come back for next week's chat with David Mittman on November 18 from 10:30-11:30 a.m., PST.

[ Sandy/NASAChatHost 11:03:04 ]
RE: [MrsDabbs/1stgrade/WestView] Mr. Cook thank you so much for taking time to answer our questions! We learned a great deal. We hope we can talk to you soon and we will be sending our name ideas to you.

Thanks again from Mrs. Dabbs' first grade students!!!
Goodbye Mrs. Dabbs and to all of your 1st grade students, thank you for your great questions. You did a good job! I especially liked the question about how you as a class could name a rock on Mars! I have a few ideas myself that I am now going to send to Richard! Hope you can chat again next week!

[ Sandy/NASAChatHost 11:04:35 ]
RE: [Michael/Ashbrook] Sandy, my students want to thank you and NASA (and others) for providing this opportunity.
Michael, you and your students are MOST welcome :-) Connecting kids with the people at NASA is what we're all about and we love doing it :-) Hope to chat with you again in the future!

[ Sandy/NASAChatHost11:05:58 ]
RE: [MrsDabbs/1stgrade/WestView] Thanks Sandy! My students really enjoyed this!
Mrs. Dabbs: You're very welcome! Please bring your kids back again!

[ MrsDabbs/1stgrade/WestView - 70 - 11:11:37 ]
See you next week!