Thursday, December 1, 2011

Meet the Team

My UWO MSL Team. From left to right we are Raymond Francis, Emily McCullough and John Moores. David Choi is not shown, but you can take a look at him below.
Photo credit: Mitch Zimmer.

As of last Wednesday I can say that I am a Participating Scientist on the Mars Science Laboratory Mission. That mission launched successfully last Saturday and we're now on our way to Mars. In the meantime, we have work to do. There are models to test, training for operations to complete and data reducing software to write. I won't pretend that I can get this all done by myself in the next eight months. Luckily, I don't have to. I've got a great team behind me and I wanted to help to shine a spotlight on them and what we hope to accomplish together - they deserve it!

(As a quick note of technicality, if the same system as Phoenix is in place all three will be considered "Science Team Collaborators" or "Collaborator-Level Science Team Members." I'll be able to update once I get a look at the MSL Rules of the Road document.)

David Choi you may recall from such posts as this one. Click on that link for a close-up.

First up is an old friend from Grad School, Dr. David Choi, most recently of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre. David has spent his career studying the movement of clouds on Giant Planets and we plan to build upon his work by applying this code to Mars. In doing so, we should be able to extract the wind direction in any atmospheric image that shows clouds of dust or water ice.

Intrepid astronaut, Raymond Francis.
Photo Credit: Cassandra Marion, 2011.

Spearheading this application is Raymond Francis, a doctoral student at the University of Western Ontario in Engineering. Raymond's speciality is image processing techniques and he will be looking at each frame to determine which way the wind is blowing. Beyond our work on MSL, we would also like to explore preprocessing of atmospheric data sets to allow a greater fraction of the sky to be analyzed during landed planetary missions.

But we don't need to limit ourselves to passive techniques. MSL has a powerful laser, the LIBS System for Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy, a part of the ChemCam instrument. We can aim this instrument into the sky and where there are sufficient particles, we should be able to see the light scattering back from the particles within the beam. This is very much like using a flashlight in the fog. By looking at where this "backscatter" strikes the CCDs of the MastCam cameras we can tell the range to the target and by analyzing the intensity, we can determine just how much material is out there. We can then combine this information with microphysical modelling of the formation of ice as well as what we know about the condition of the ground ice from the Russian Neutron Spectrometer, DAN, and the water vapor content of the atmosphere from the Spanish weather station, REMS.

Science Manager, Emily McCullough
Photo Credit: Barringer Lunar Analogue Mission

This application will be led by Emily McCullough, a doctoral student at the University of Western Ontario in the Physics and Astronomy department. Emily has worked with LiDAR techniques in the high arctic, so Mars isn't a huge stretch from the environments she is used to. As well, where the images being used in Raymond's investigation are multi-spectral, we will be able to determine whether those particles are icy or dusty. Ultimately, we seek to find a relationship between the spectral ratios to help determine mixing ratios of ice and dust. 

While I took courses with David, I know Raymond and Emily best from working with them over the summer and fall on three analogue mission deployments at UWO. Raymond has played the part of Science Planner/Integrator and Astronaut and was a process co-designor along with myself. For her part, Emily led the Science Back Room in all three deployments and was the counterpart to my Planning Manager position for Sudbury and Flight Director for Arizona. I purposely used photos taken of them in this context for this article. Based on their work on these "simulated missions" I have no doubts about their abilities. I look forward to the months ahead as we get ready to apply what we have learned at Mars.

Flight Director, John Moores
Photo Credit: Barringer Lunar Analogue Mission

We've been lucky in the last few days to get some good press. I'll paste some links down here for those interested and so I can find them again later on!

Western News

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