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Mike Malin
Mars Global Surveyor and Surveyor 98 Cameras

My Job

I am the principal investigator on three camera systems that will be sent to Mars over the next four years: the high- and low-resolution cameras (one system) on the Mars Global Surveyor 1996 mission, the medium- and low-resolution cameras (the second system) on the Mars Surveyor 1998 Orbiter, and the descent camera (the third system) on the Mars Surveyor 1998 Lander. As principal investigator (or PI for short), I am responsible for each of these entire experiments, from start to finish. This includes coming up with the idea for each camera, putting together a team of engineers to design and build it and scientists to use it and interpret the pictures, watching over the development of the hardware and software, operating the camera (determining where and when to take pictures, and of what features), analyzing the pictures, and preparing them for distribution to other scientists and the public.

My job right now is mostly managerial, but exactly what I do varies greatly from day to day. Sometimes I spend most of my day talking on the telephone to various engineers or managers at the companies working on the cameras, or at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (which oversees my work for the government), or at Lockheed Martin Astronautics (the company building the Surveyor spacecraft). Other days I spend writing reports of our progress, or plans for the next phase of the project. Since I am also the president of my own company, I also have to spend some time talking or meeting with bankers, lawyers, accountants, and other people important to my business. Since the Mars Observer project began, I have had little time to devote to scientific studies, but that will change when Mars Global Surveyor arrives at Mars and I can study the pictures being received.

The most interesting part of my job today is thinking up new instruments for future missions. There is tremendous competition to provide instruments for upcoming spaceflights, and the things that limit what we can do (size, weight, power and cost), added to the intensity of the competition, make for an exciting challenge.

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