Live From Mars was active July 1996-December 1997.

Meet: Ken Edgett

Director, Arizona Mars K-12 Education Program
Mars Global Surveyor Thermal Emission Spectrometer
Team Affiliate
Editor, Mars Underground News, The Planetary Society
Arizona State University, Phoenix

Who I Am

I am a planetary geologist and I have two main jobs--I do Mars research and I direct an outreach program that shares the excitement of Mars exploration with kids, teachers and communities throughout Arizona and across the world. I am also the editor of a quarterly newsletter, Mars Underground News for The Planetary Society, and another one, TES News for the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES) project.

Besides all of that, I have many other projects underway--I have coauthored a children's book about Mars that will be published in 1999 (my coauthor is Peggy Wethered, a kindergarten teacher in Idaho), I write lots of articles about Mars exploration, and I am working on some television projects.

What I Do

I work at Arizona State University in the same facility that controls the MGS TES instrument. For the TES project, I am working with a combination of old Mars data and the new data to develop a good understanding of the geology of specific regions on the planet. I also support the TES effort by doing the outreach program.

My boss, Phil Christensen and I started the Arizona Mars K-12 Education Outreach Program in 1992 as a way to share the excitement of the Mars Observer project. The outreach program grew and grew. In 1992, I was still a graduate student.

I do not have a typical work day. Each day is vastly different. I travel and write a lot. The education outreach program conducts teacher workshops, tours for kids that visit our lab and much more. I sometimes go to schools and talk about the Mars missions and sometimes I get to be on radio and TV to talk about these things.

I have a staff of three people, all are college students, who help me with the outreach program. They edit our grades K-8 kids' newsletter, Red Planet Connection, plus help me with a lot of the creative and fun education work that we do.

My research is mostly about the geology of Mars. I have studied impact craters, volcanoes, channels and sand dunes on Mars. I contributed to the process of helping the Mars Pathfinder team select a landing site, and did some research about the Ares Vallis region that helped in deciding whether to land there. (I didn't pick Ares Vallis though, I had proposed landing in the Cerberus region south of the Elysium volcanoes. I also advocated a site in the dark wind streak coming from the crater Trouvelot in western Arabia).

Besides Mars, I have done research and field work on sand dunes near Moses Lake, Washington and in Christmas Lake Valley, Oregon. I enjoy doing field work and being out of the office, but I don't get to do it as often as I'd like.

As I said, I don't have a typical day. Some days, I do research. Other days, I write articles or visit a classroom. Or I might be travelling. Sometimes I get to do radio interviews or be on television. One of the television projects I really enjoyed a lot was done in 1996. I taped six, two-to-three-minute segments about Mars science that aired on a Saturday morning show for kids called "Whats Up!" The show airs in the Phoenix, Arizona area on channel 15 (KNXV-TV). I also had a lot of fun in July 1997 as a "Mars Expert" guest on the cable television network, MSNBC. They had me there for several days to answer lots of questions about what was happening with Mars Pathfinder.

How Did I Get Here?

I am barely old enough to remember the first Apollo Moon landings. I started kindergarten in fall 1970. I can remember some of the later Moon landings (gosh--the last one, Apollo 17, will be 25 years ago in December 1997!). My sister and I used to pretend we were Moon astronauts. We would take paper grocery bags and cut them to make our own space suits (large bags for the body, smaller bags for the helmet). We would decorate our suits and we would jump off of chairs to simulate the high bounces that the astronauts would make when they were walking around on Mars.

I really got interested in Mars when I was in 4th grade. When my teacher, Mr. Loguidice, gave us our spelling homework we had to practice our spelling words before each test. To practice the words, he encouraged us to write stories with our spelling words, using all the words in a single story. So I did. I wrote really weird stories about "Joe the Martian." To make my stories better, I would read about the planets from books in the school library. I got really psyched about Mars because my character, Joe, was from Mars. That was in 1975.

The next year, 1976, two spacecraft landed on Mars. It was AWESOME. I thought the pictures sent back by Viking 1 and Viking 2 were the coolest things I had ever seen. I would stare at the pictures for hours and hours and imagine myself walking around on Mars, picking up the rocks and kicking at the little drifts. It was neat!

I grew up in Rochester, New York. This is in western New York, about 60 miles east of Buffalo (yes, where Buffalo Wings come from). They get some pretty mean winters up there. The winter of 1976-1977 was especially exciting for me. I was in 6th grade. We had a humongous blizzard that year. Very huge. The snow drifts reminded me of the pictures of drifts at the Viking 1 site on Mars. It was so cool. I would go outside and play in the snow and pretend that it was Mars.

That was it. I was hooked. First "Joe the Martian," then the Viking landings and the Blizzard of '77.

When I was in high school, NASA and the National Science Teachers Association had a contest. It was called the "Space Shuttle Student Involvement Project, SSIP". Kids could write proposals for experiments that would be flown on the Space Shuttle. Some kids actually got to see their experiments fly in space! I tried this competition three years in a row (10th, 11th, 12th grade). In 10th grade I only got a "certificate of participation." But in 11th and 12th grade, I was a "Regional Winner" two years in a row. As a regional winner (my region was New York and New England), you and your teacher would get to go to a NASA center for a week and explain your proposal and tour the facilities. We got to go to Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. It was awesome. Neither of the projects that I proposed to fly on the Shuttle were ever selected to actually GO, but the experience I had was very inspiring.

When I was in high school, I already knew that I wanted to go to college and get a bachelor's degree in Geology. I started looking for a college to attend when I was in 10th grade. I wanted to study geology because my two passions were planets and fossils. I actually found a college that looked cool. There was a professor there that worked with fossilized star fish, so "fossils" was the direction I leaned when I chose to go to Earlham College.

Earlham College is a small Liberal Arts college in Richmond, Indiana. (For those of you that live in the midwestern U.S. or get Chicago's WGN on cable TV, Richmond, Indiana, is the place where Tom Raper's RV store is...). The college has an excellent geolgy program; I learned all of the basics and learned them well because the professors spend a lot of time with the students to help them learn. Going to this college was a fantastic experience.

When I was a junior (3rd year) in college, something terrible happened; I was watching it live on television, as it was happening. The Space Shuttle Challenger blew up. Seven people were on board, including a school teacher. I had never experienced anything like this before. It was very devastating for me. The explosion put the whole space program in doubt for a few months. But this explosion helped change my direction--back toward planets rather than fossils. I was determined to be a part of the space program and determined to play a role in exploring the planets.

During the summer of 1986 I managed to get an internship at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas. The shuttles were still grounded. Living near the Johnson Space Center that summer was an incredible experience. Meeting astronauts, seeing Moon rocks, talking with various experts on space and planetary geology--it was great. That was where I started to do Mars geology research. I worked with photos and infrared observations from the Viking orbiters.

A year later, I started graduate school at Arizona State University. ASU is one of a small handful of universities around the U.S. that offer the opportunity for people to study the planets. ASU is particularly good for students that want to focus on the geology of planets, because there are lots of opportunities to explore real landscapes on Earth that are similar to those on planets like Mars.

I started a master's degree program in Geology in 1987 at ASU and I am still at this university today. I finished the master's degree in 1990, then decided to pursue a Ph.D. It was not an easy decision to make, but I decided that it would open lots of doors for me; if I left, many of these doors would close. My Ph.D. research focused mainly on sand dunes on Mars and Earth. I also started the K-12 outreach program during this time. I completed my doctorate in 1994.

Personal Stuff

I was born in November 1965 in Buffalo, New York. I spent most of my childhood living in the Rochester, New York area, only a few miles from Lake Ontario. I have two brothers and three sisters. Two of my sisters and my two brothers are from South Korea. They were orphans and my parents adopted them in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Our family took many camping vacations when we were kids so we got to travel a lot. My favorite trips as a kid were to Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta, Canada; and to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Canada. We also did many trips to Vermont in the summertime to go fishing and canoeing.

I am the oldest kid in my family. My next youngest sister has her own child now. Both of my brothers are U.S. Marines, one of them was in peacekeeping force in Haiti a few years ago. My youngest sibling, a sister, turned 21 in 1997, so I guess now we aren't kids anymore. I am very proud of my parents and brothers and sisters, but I don't see them much because I live in Arizona and they all live in the eastern U.S.

I live in Tempe, Arizona, and I really like living in the western U.S. because it has a lot of wide open spaces. I drive a Saturn (it's a planet, after all), and one of my favorite things to do in my free time is to drive, especially long drives through the desolate parts of Nevada and west Texas. I have never been married and I don't have any pets (I travel too much to be able to take care of a pet). I enjoy reading and writing. I like watching NHL Hockey, and on TV I usually watch CNN, MSNBC, TV Food Network and Independent Film Channel. I also like some shows such as "Simpsons," "Frasier," "X-files" and of course MTV (when they are showing music, not stupid game shows).