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Phil Christensen
Principal Investigator
"Mini-TES" instrument on the Mars Exploration Rovers
Science lead for the Terra Meridiani/Hematite landing site
(& Principal Investigator, THEMIS on Mars Odyssey, and TES, the Thermal Emission Spectrometer, on Mars Global Surveyor)
Arizona State University, Phoenix

What I Do
The excitement of being directly involved with a NASA planetary mission inspired me to continue to participate in the exploration of Mars. My work over the past decade has focused on building an instrument, called the Thermal Emission Spectrometer, or TES, which has been flying successfully in orbit on the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft. This instrument was built by the Santa Barbara Research Center in California, and I figure I've made over 125 trips to Santa Barbara during its more than ten year's of development. TES is mapping the Martian surface from orbit to determine the composition of the minerals present there. A major objective of the TES experiment is the search for minerals and rocks that provide evidence for ancient water-rich environments on Mars, which may hold clues to the possible existence of past life on Mars. The announcement in 1996-97 of the possibility of ancient life on Mars found in meteorite ALH84001 has made this search even more important. The TES experiment is also providing a better understanding of the composition of volcanic rocks, weathered soils (dirt), ices, the fascinating deposits in the polar regions, and atmospheric clouds and winds.

(Phil is also the P.I. for the THEMIS instrument on board NASA's 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft now also, like MGS, successfully in orbit around Mars. But, in cutting-edge space science, not everything always goes right!)

The TES we built for the MGS is actually the second TES we've built. The first was on the Mars Observer spacecraft, which failed just three days before it was to go into orbit around Mars in 1993. That failure made me, and all of the students, scientists, programmers, and data processors who worked on Mars Observer, very aware of how complex and risky sending spacecraft to other planets can be. Fortunately, it made all of us even more determined to make future projects work and to carry on the exploration of Mars.

Dr. Philip Christensen,
Principal Investigator for the THEMIS instrument,
during LIVE FROM MARS 2002.
Image courtesy of
NASA/JPL/Arizona State University

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