Phoenix Mars Mission Tour

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A friend of my father, Dr. Urs Staufer, invited us all down to Tucson to see the Phoenix Mars Mission Command Center. Unfortunately the place isn’t open to the public for tours and what not as they are working and on an odd, rotating schedule due to Mars being a longer day than Earth (24.6 hours to a day). He met us all in the visitor entrance and took us around the building showing us the operation by giving us an idea of what a normal day is like. We got to see where Dr. Staufer and his team do most of their work (Linux workstations ). He then showed us the main meeting area where the team leaders meet each “morning” to go over what came in the night before and what the plan is for Phoenix that day. Hanging on the walls around the various cubes and offices were large printouts of pictures of various things related to Phoenix’s tasks (e.g. maps of the ground with the various rocks labeled with their fairy tale names). A few of the cubes had stuffed Martian dolls near pictures of Mars landscape. Most of the place was empty as their “day” had ended about an hour before, so we were allowed to go up and look at the various pictures without disrupting anyone. Dr. Staufer then took us around to the most important area of the building, the kitchen. Everyone’s gotta eat and don’t have time to go out anywhere while trying to meet their deadlines. Then it was off to his lab where they worked on the various atomic force microscopy (AFM) devices. One unit was working doing tests and several other disassembled units were around the area. He showed us a video that compressed the 1 year launch and flight to Mars to just 5 minutes. It was an interesting combination of actual footage and CGI (think the Apollo 13 movie launch of the Saturn V). It was interesting to see that the craft is spun about its axis (longitudinal) before firing its main engines to exit Earth orbit. After it was done firing its engines some sort of cable was spun out from the body of the craft that brought the spin down to nothing (conservation of angular momentum put to interesting use). After the movie we were shown, from the outside area, the uplink center and the museum area that had been setup for things like grade school visitors.