February 9, 98

Vol. 13 , No. 07   

View Entire Issue (Vol. 13 , No. 07)

Extraterrestrial Environment: Mars Explorer Project

The Martian environment has much in common with that of earth: the day is about 24 hours long; the axial tilt of the planet is similar to that of earth, so the sun changes angles with the seasons in the same way; there are severe dust storms that can blot out the sun; and, like earth, the weather in the southern hemisphere is more extreme than in the northern one because Mars is closer to the sun during the southern summer and farther away from the sun during the southern winter. Unlike earth, though, 25% of the atmosphere falls as snow near the south pole each winter, and the gaseous layer is not nitrogen and oxygen and water-it's C02-and, of course, Mars is colder. All of this is crucial information for the designer of a Mars probe that relies on solar energy for power.

Dale Burger, a graduate of Caltech, has worked for 20 years at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and is the engineer who determined the availability of solar energy for the Mars Pathfinder project. He then designed the systems to convert that energy into electric power to operate the highly successful exploratory vehicle and was in the control room on July 4, 1997 and for the ensuing month to troubleshoot problems.

Dale Burger comes to the Athenaeum as part of a short series on extraterrestrial environments sponsored by the Roberts Environmental Center of which he is a director. As part of this presentation, he will show 3-D slides of the surface of Mars. Glasses will be provided.