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R o g e r  G i b b s
Deputy Project Manager, 2001 Mars Odyssey
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA / Caltech

Just how risky is getting to Mars?
Well, I think the team has adopted the feeling that we have to make this work, because so many people are relying and depending upon this. With a spacecraft like this, you've got to do a thousand things right and any one thing can kill you. It's traveling 150 million kilometers to get to Mars, and we can be off by about 50-70 kilometers, and lose the mission. So it is very tough, it is very challenging, but what we have done is we want to make sure that we have done everything that is reasonably possible, that is humanly possible, to make sure that this has succeeded.

Why is it so hard to get to Mars?
There are a number of challenges in getting to Mars. There are the physical, tangible challenges. What we have in a spacecraft like this, we have propulsion, systems, we have thrusters and pressure regulators and tanks, and if they were to rupture or break or leak the mission would be over, and so we go test those things physically. We have the electronics on board where if they're not radiation-hardened, they're sensitive to single-event upsets. Right now, today, we just ended about a three day solar storm, and the solar storm has sent high energy protons and the electronics is kind of lighting up, and it's working just fine because it was designed for that, but we have the electronics that has to work.

I think the more challenging aspect of this is to get the information flow back and forth; we have navigational designs, we have to get into Mars orbit, we have to understand what the atmosphere is doing, and so in addition to the tangible, physical aspects of this thing having to work, we have the need to coordinate those other aspects, and so the paper and the Meeting-Makers (scheduling software) are, at least at my level, the tangible things that I do, and the tangible things that these teams here do to make sure that at a lower level, the physical aspects are going to work properly, and the physical aspects, when they work properly, will be part of a successful return and get us into orbit around Mars.

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