Focus on Fostoria - Sept_7_03

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Fostoria Focus - September 7, 2003

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Elmwood Grad Searching for water – on Mars
By Leonard Skonecki

Jennifer Harris is at it again.

Jennifer, an Elmwood High grad who is now Jennifer Harris Trosper, wan an engineer on NASA's Mars Pathfinder mission in 1997. The Focus carried several articles on that mission. Today she is the lead systems engineer on the Mars Rover Project at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

The Mars Rover Project launched two spacecraft this summer that will reach the Red Planet in January 2004. Each spacecraft will deposit a golf cart size rover on the Martian surface.

The rovers, named Spirit and Opportunity, cost $800 million each. Their job is to search for evidence that there was once enough water on Mars to support life.

Scientists have concluded that there was once water on Mars, but the rovers will collect data that scientists hope will enable them to determine how much water there was and in what quantities.

Spirit and Opportunity are equipped with panoramic and close-up cameras, drills and communications equipment to send their geologic data bach to earth. The rovers roll on six wheels and can cover100 meters per day.

One problem Jennifer and her fellow engineers face is that making the course corrections necessary so that the launch vehicles will put the rovers down on the right sites, places chosen specifically because they are likely to contain evidence of water.

In order to accomplish that, Jennifer organized a test in which the rocket's star scanner and attitude control software are activated by pulses of light simulating the position of the sun and stars as the spacecraft will "see" it as it approaches Mars.

It's a tremendously complex piece of engineering and it has to work exactly right. NASA has had two unsuccessful Mars missions recently followed by the Columbia shuttle disaster in February. NASA and the Jet Propulsion Lab are determined to succeed.

"It has to work. Everybody is looking at what we are doing because we failed the last two missions to Mars," Jennifer told her alumni magazine. USC Engineer, "From a risk point of view, it is high risk because we are moving so fast, but it has to work."

One person who's praying hard for that success is Jennifer's mother, Mary Harris, who went to Cape Canaveral to see the first launch on June 10.

The Focus got a nice letter from Mary. Even though she lives in Florida now, she still wants her friends to know how Jennifer's career is going.

"The Fostoria community and surrounding area have been so supportive of Jen's career," she said. "I just wish to give a little back once in a while to update them on what is going on in her life."

Jennifer has other things besides space exploration going on.

She became Jennifer Harris Trosper when she married Air Force pilot Randy Trosper. They have a son, Ryan.

The Focus wishes Jennifer and everyone connected with the Mars Rover Project every success.