Live From Mars was active July 1996-December 1997.

Meet: Peter Thomas

Research Scientist
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

On top of Mount Hood in Oregon.

My journals

Who I Am

I am a research scientist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. I study pictures of other planets and satellites sent back by spacecraft; my particular interests in Mars are how the wind shapes the surface by moving sand and dust, sometimes in global storms, and how the polar caps have affected Mars' geology and climate.

I am a member of the science teams that plan, and will analyze images sent back by the Mars Orbiter Camera on Mars Global Surveyor, as well as the Orbiter and Lander cameras on the '98 Mars Surveyor Orbiter and Lander. I also work on other planetary missions such as the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous Mission, the Galileo mission to Jupiter, and the Cassini mission to be launched to Saturn.

My actual work varies a great deal: making detailed measurements from images displayed on computer monitors, writing programs to analyze the measurements, planning what images to take, presenting results in talks and papers, teaching the occasional class, and going to meetings of the various spacecraft teams. The most fun is watching the new images that come in...they are always different from what we expect, and it is always a thrill to see new landscapes on the other side of the solar system, even if we can't figure them out! Seeing spacecraft launched is also one of the fun parts, although often nerve-wracking.

One of the other fun parts of this work is that space missions are carried out by many people all over the country (and world) who meet and work together for a common goal. This involves learning how to get along with and understand a great variety of people. It also means traveling to places that have major planetary research centers such as California, Arizona, Hawaii, Colorado, Texas, which are all usually warmer than Ithaca, New York!

Getting Here

The launch of Sputnik 1 when I was in the sixth grade focused me on space exploration, and helped push me through lots of science study and a geology degree from Princeton in 1968. I was beginning a doctorate program at Cornell in 1975 at the time of the Viking 1 launch to Mars, and became involved with it, doing my thesis on the Martian satellites Phobos and Deimos.

Encouragement for science and space came from many sources: My cousin got me in to watch several Apollo launches (shuttle launches don't compare to the soul-rattling experience of watching a Saturn V launch!). My father didn't quite believe in space exploration but he let me launch rockets in the backyard anyway. Teachers from fourth grade up who helped many aspects of learning in and out of the classroom, and perhaps as much as anything, the national mood of the '50s and '60s, which very much encouraged exploration and science.

More About Me

I grew up in Durham, North Carolina. Graduate school was interrupted for three years by interesting (but harmless) military service in Asia and Europe. I got a pilot's license years ago, but haven't flown in a long time. My chief hobby now is photography, with the occasional tennis, t-shirt designing and fossil hunting. I read a lot of history, ranging over many subject areas, but emphasize the Civil War and exploration.

Petting a real Tasmanian Devil in Tasmania (island SE Australia).