Phil Christensen
Principal Investigator,Thermal Emission Spectrometer
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 will fly 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 in the past 10 years. TES will map the martian surface from orbit to determine the composition of the minerals present there. A major objective of the TES experiment will be 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 recent announcement of the possibility of ancient life on Mars has made this search even more important. The TES experiment will also provide 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.

The TES we have 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 the project work and to carry on the exploration of Mars.

I live in Tempe, Arizona with my wife, Candi and two kids, Kevan, age 8 and Alexandra, age 7. One positive note on the failure of Mars Observer - my kids were very young when that mission was launched and really weren't aware of what was going on. They will be going to Cape Canaveral again with us in November, and it gives me a tremendous amount of satisfaction to be able to share with them what we're doing; this time they can really appreciate where the MGS is headed and what it will accomplish.

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