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Mark Adler
Mars Exploration Program Architect
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

My Job

My job title at JPL is the Mars Exploration Program architect. The Mars program is all of our Mars exploration missions starting with the two being launched this year (1996) and continuing out (we hope) for another dozen or more years. As the "architect" I am responsible for laying out, with the help of a lot of other people, the sequence of missions to Mars to accomplish in concert our scientific exploration goals, and to make sure that the actual sequence of missions really do work in harmony toward those goals (imagine the missions as your family members and you can see that that's not easy). The word architect is somewhat new in its application to space missions, but after looking it up in the dictionary, I think it's appropriate. The first definition:

one who designs buildings and advises in their construction

is the usual one and is not what I do. (I'd probably get paid more if I did.) But the second definition:

one who plans and achieves a difficult objective

is right on. At least the planning part, since the achieving part comes later. But the objective is certainly difficult, which is a comprehensive exploration of another planet on a relatively limited budget.

What I Do

So what do I actually do? Lots of different things. I talk with the scientists to understand in detail what the scientific goals of Mars exploration should be, which of course change over time as we learn more about Mars. The recent observations about the Mars meteorite ALH 84001 are a good example of a recent change in our understanding. I talk with the spacecraft engineers to understand what's possible and with the technologists to hear what may be possible in the future, and when. I talk with managers to understand what these things will cost, and what resources we have available, or what resources may become available in the future. And teaming with all these people, we lay out possible plans for consideration by the scientists and by NASA Headquarters in order to decide what our next step will be. In general we will plan out many years of exploration in order to decide the next step. And then we'll do that all again for the following step, since it's likely that a lot of things have changed since the last step, including our understanding of Mars, the available resources, the technologies, international aspects, etc.

Another responsibility I have is to coordinate existing missions in the program and where they affect each other. Examples are assuring that the proper capability is put into early Mars orbiters that may be needed to support later Mars landers to get their data back to Earth. I also help the technologists understand what our future needs might be so that they can get started early on trying to develop those capabilities. I work with other missions and programs when there is some overlap in issues with the Mars program, such as combined technology development, or deep space communications resources used by many JPL missions.

A separate, but related task I have is as the mission architect for the first Mars sample return mission, in which we're going to bring Mars rocks, dirt and air back to Earth to study. Bringing that stuff back from Mars is not as easy as it sounds (and so again the second definition of architect applies). In this job I trade various approaches to the problem and direct teams in evaluating the approaches and in attacking the "tall tent poles" or major difficulties in particular approaches to getting the stuff back.

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