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U.T. Dallas Space Scientist Hoffman on Team
Professor to Build Mass Spectrometer to Study Planet's Atmosphere
RICHARDSON, Texas (Aug. 4, 2003) - A space scientist at The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) is a member of a team selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to undertake the first of the space agency's "scout" missions to the planet Mars, scheduled for launch in 2007 and arrival one year later.
The goal of the unmanned mission is to conduct a variety of scientific experiments from a lander that will dig a trench in the surface in an attempt to discover where the water that ran over the surface of Mars eons ago has gone.
Dr. John H. Hoffman, a UTD physics professor and member of the university's William B. Hanson Center for Space Sciences, will receive funding of approximately $4 million to build the project's mass spectrometer instrument system, which will be connected to a series of ovens designed to "cook" materials dug from the trench to determine their water content. In addition to performing sub-surface soil studies, the instrument will analyze the atmosphere of Mars.
Hoffman is a member of a team of researchers lead by Dr. Peter Smith of the University of Arizona in Tucson. The team's concept for the Mars Scout mission - called Phoenix to symbolize rising out of the failed 1999 lander mission to Mars - won a competition against proposals from three other research teams. The selection of the winning team was announced earlier today by the space agency.
Phoenix involves placing a lander laden with sensors onto the Martian surface in the northern region where the Mars Odyssey spacecraft has observed excess amount of hydrogen that most likely comes from sub-surface water.
"The water should exist beneath the surface but not more than one or two feet down," said Hoffman. "The water is most likely frozen, but if it has melted a number of times during the life of the planet, it could provide a habitat region for microbes. Of course, finding evidence for life, past or present, on Mars is the ultimate goal of the Mars exploration program."
In addition to the trench experiment, Phoenix instruments will study the atmosphere and climate history of Mars. If Mars has had copious amounts of running water in the distant past, as channels on the surface indicate, the climate in the early times likely was greatly different from that of today.
Hoffman, who has worked at UTD and its predecessor research institution since 1966, has designed and built scientific instruments that have flown on numerous missions of exploration - both manned and unmanned - into space and to other planetary bodies and objects, including the moon, Venus and Halley's Comet.
Hoffman's work on Phoenix is one of many projects under way at UTD's Hanson Center for Space Sciences. Other significant work includes space weather research being done by Dr. Roderick A. Heelis, director of the center and chairman of the physics department, under a $10-million grant from NASA, and associate professor Dr. Gregory D. Earle's study of winds in the ionosphere, another NASA project.
The Hanson Center for Space Sciences is named in honor of William B. Hanson, a longtime professor and director of the center who died in 1994.
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