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Douglas Isbell
Headquarters, Washington, DC                         April 8, 1998
(Phone:  202/358-1547)

John Watson
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA
(Phone:  818/354-5011)

RELEASE:  98-59


Nine researchers have been selected to be the Science Team for the Mars Microprobes, a technology validation mission that will hitchhike to the red planet aboard NASA's 1998 Mars Polar Lander mission.

Two identical probes will be carried as a secondary payload on the lander, due for launch in January 1999. Following an 11- month cruise, the Microprobes will separate from the lander before it enters the Martian atmosphere, and then hit the ground at approximately 400 mph.

During the impact, each microprobe will separate into two sections: the forebody and its instruments will penetrate up to six feet (two meters) below the surface, while the aftbody will remain near the surface to communicate with a radio relay on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiter while making meteorological measurements.

The nine selected scientists are:

  • David Catling, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA
  • Ralph Lorenz, University of Arizona, Tucson
  • Julio Magalhaes, NASA Ames Research Center
  • Jeffrey Moersch, NASA Ames Research Center
  • Paul Morgan, Northern Arizona Univ., Flagstaff
  • James Murphy, NASA Ames Research Center
  • Bruce Murray, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena
  • Marsha Presley, Arizona State Univ., Phoenix
  • Aaron Zent, NASA Ames Research Center

The scientific objectives of the Mars Microprobes include searching for the presence of water ice in the soil and characterizing its thermal and physical properties. A small drill will bring a soil sample inside the probe, heat it, and look for the presence of water vapor using a tunable diode laser. An impact accelerometer will measure the rate at which the probes come to rest, giving an indication of the hardness of the soil and any layers present. Temperature sensors will estimate how well the Martian soil conducts heat, a property sensitive to different soil properties such as grain size and water content. A sensor at the surface will measure atmospheric pressure in tandem with a sensor on the Mars Polar Lander.

The Mars Microprobes mission, also known as Deep Space-2 (DS- 2), is scheduled to be the second launch in NASA's New Millennium Program of technology validation flights, designed to enable advanced science missions in the 21st century.

"I'm delighted with the selection of this excellent group of investigators. The Mars Microprobe will give us a glimpse of the subsurface of Mars, which in many ways is a window into the planet's history," said Dr. Suzanne Smrekar, the DS-2 project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA. "The region of Mars we will explore is similar to Earth's polar regions in that it is believed to collect ice and dust over many millions of years. By studying the history of Mars and its climate, we are likely to better understand the more complex system on our own planet."

In addition to the miniaturized science instruments capable of surviving high velocity impact, technologies to be tested on DS-2 include a non-erosive, lightweight, single-stage atmospheric entry system or aeroshell; power microelectronics with mixed digital/analog advanced integrated circuits; an ultra-low temperature lithium battery; an advanced three-dimensional microcontroller; and flexible interconnects for system cabling.

"The combination of a single-stage entry vehicle with electronics and instrumentation that can survive very high impact loads will enable us to design a whole new class of very small, rugged spacecraft for the in-situ exploration of the planets," explained Sarah Gavit, DS-2 project manager at JPL.

"Slamming high-precision science instruments into the surface of Mars at 400 mph is very challenging, no doubt about it! But once this type of technology is demonstrated, we can envision future missions that could sample numerous regions on Mars or make network measurements of global weather and possible Marsquakes," said DS-2 program scientist Dr. Michael Meyer of NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC.

Further information on DS-2 is available on the Internet at the following URL:

The New Millennium Program is managed by JPL for NASA's Office of Space Science in Washington, DC. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA.

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