School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Red Planet Mission: UT Dallas Professor Contributes to Exploration of Other Worlds

Dr. John H. Hoffman, a space scientist at The University of Texas at Dallas, was on hand Saturday as the Delta II rocket carrying the Phoenix Mars lander lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base for a 10-month long journey to the Red Planet.

A physics professor and member of the University’s William B. Hanson Center for Space Sciences, Hoffman is part of team of researchers lead by Dr. Peter Smith of the University of Arizona in Tucson who were selected in 2003 by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to lead an unmanned mission to Mars.  The team, among other tasks, was asked to look for evidence of past habitability on Mars.

Phoenix, laden with sensors, is expected to land on the northern plains of the planet in June 2008.  Once there, an arm on the lander will dig a trench in the Martian surface to look for water ice and other water-related substances.  The materials will be collected and analyzed in a series of small furnaces, and the effluents from the furnaces will be analyzed by a mass spectrometer system designed by Hoffman.  The system will determine the presence of water and the mineralogical composition of soil samples.

In addition to performing sub-surface mineral studies, the UT Dallas spectrometer will analyze the atmosphere of Mars.  If the planet had copious amounts of running water in the distant past, as channels on the surface indicate, the earlier climate was likely very different from that of today.

Hoffman, who received funding of approximately $4 million from NASA to build the system, has worked at UT Dallas and its predecessor research institution since 1966.  He has designed and built scientific instruments that have flown on numerous exploration missions — both manned and unmanned — into space and to other planetary bodies and objects, including the moon, Venus and Halley’s Comet.

News Contact:Jenni Huffenberger, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4431, 8/07/2007

  • Updated: February 10, 2014