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Peter Smith
Camera Designer and Spectroscopist
Lunar and Planetary Lab, University of Arizona


I work on many projects at the Lunar and Planetary Lab at the University of Arizona, but right now my main focus is sending cameras to Mars. I designed the Imager for Mars Pathfinder (IMP), which will land on Mars this summer on July 4! The camera will not just take one kind of picture. It contains 24 filters that will allow it to examine the geology, the dusty atmosphere and even the weather on Mars. Some of the pictures of Mars will even be stereoscopic, or "3-D," because this enables us to calculate the distance to objects in the picture. I am also working on another Mars camera, the Surface Stereo Imager (SSI), which will be launched in January 1999.

How I Got Here

While majoring in physics at the University of California at Berkeley in the late 60s, I became fascinated by optics. Optics is the study of light and its interaction with matter. Have you ever wondered when you turn on the electricity to a light bulb, where the light comes from and where does it go when you switch off the light?

I studied the way light is separated into its composite colors and become a spectroscopist. I got a job in Hawaii helping to build an instrument to study ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Ultraviolet light does not penetrate to the Earth's surface, so we flew the instrument on an Aerobee rocket outside the Earth's atmosphere. Each launch took place in White Sands, New Mexico, and a mission lasted less than 20 minutes. We would find the broken shell of the spacecraft 50 miles away in a remote area of the New Mexico desert near the White Sands monument. Then we would recover the special film from the instrument to obtain our spectral data for future analysis. Although we had high hopes of learning some new secret about the energy sources powering the structures in the sun's outer layers, in fact, after many years of effort, little knowledge was gained. These secrets are just now being discovered, 25 years later, from the SOHO mission now in orbit monitoring the sun's atmosphere.

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