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Mars Student Imaging Project Staff: Philip Christensen

Philip Christensen
Regents Professor & the Ed and Helen Korrick Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration

Dr. Philip R. Christensen is a Regents Professor and the Ed and Helen Korrick Professor in the Department of Geological Science at Arizona State University. He completed his Ph.D. in Geophysics and Space Physics at UCLA in 1981. His research interests focus on the composition, physical properties and processes, and morphology of planetary surfaces, with an emphasis on Mars and the Earth.

A major element of his research has been the design and development of spacecraft infrared remote sensing instruments. Christensen is the Principal Investigator for the 2001 Mars Odyssey Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) instrument, and the Thermal Emission System (TES) instrument on Mars Global Surveyor. He is also a Co-Investigator on the Mars Exploration Rover missions, responsible for building and operating the Mini-TES instruments. His research uses infrared spectroscopy, radiometry, laboratory spectroscopic measurements, field observations, and numerical modeling, and has taken him to field sites in the western U.S., Hawaii, Mexico, and South America. Since the mid-1990's he has pursued the use of spacecraft observations to study environmental and urban development problems on Earth.

Christensen was selected to provide the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES) instrument for the OSIRIS-REx Mission to Asteroid 1999 RQ36. OSIRIS-REx stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security -Regolith Explorer. The ASU instrument will analyze long-wavelength infrared light emitted from the asteroid to map the minerals on its surface. The device is a modified version of the highly successful miniature infrared spectrometers carried on Spirit and Opportunity, NASA's twin Mars Exploration Rovers. Scheduled for launch in 2016, the OSIRIS-REx mission will return the first samples ever taken from a special type of asteroid holding clues to the origin of the solar system and likely organic molecules that may have seeded life on Earth. OSIRIS-REx will also investigate an object potentially hazardous to humanity. 1999 RQ36 has a one-in-1,800 chance of impacting the Earth in the year 2182.

Christensen was awarded NASA's Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal in 2003 for his pioneering scientific observations of Mars in the infrared, and was elected as a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union in 2004. He has received numerous NASA Group Achievement Awards for his work on Mars missions.