Maryland would play major role in 4 missions considered to )) planets Universities, Goddard make space big industry

November 27, 1998|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Maryland institutions would play prominent roles in four of the five interplanetary science missions under final review for funding by NASA.

As proposed, the missions' spacecraft would grab samples of Mars' moons, blast open a comet, fly instruments to Mercury and study the atmosphere of Venus.

"It just proves Maryland is one of the important centers for space research in the country. You should be very proud of it," said Joseph Veverka, professor of astronomy at Cornell University.

Two of the projects would be built or managed by the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab in Laurel. Another would be led by scientists at the University of Maryland, College Park, and the other at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.

The feasibility of the five proposed missions is being studied for inclusion in NASA's Discovery series of science missions. One or two finalists will be selected for funding this fiscal year. The space agency's decision is due by June.

The four Maryland proposals represent $926 million in NASA spending. The agency's decision is expected by June.

"I think what's most remarkable is the APL put in only two proposals, and both of those got selected," Veverka said. "They did an excellent job."

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., submitted more than a dozen ideas, with two making the final cut.

Ed Weiler, NASA's associate director for space science, noted that Maryland, a small state, has a high concentration of space-oriented institutions and contractors. It has regularly finished among the top five states receiving NASA contracts related to the Hubble Space Telescope.

"It certainly shows one thing," Weiler said. "It's clear that the space business is a critical element in employment and the economy in Maryland. It's not quite Silicon Valley, but it's pretty high-tech here."

The four proposed Maryland-linked Discovery missions are: Aladdin, a $248 million mission to Mars in 2003. The Applied Physics Lab would design the spacecraft and manage its development. Aladdin would fire projectiles into the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, then fly through the floating debris and collect samples, returning them to Earth in 2006. The project would be led by Brown University scientist Carle Pieters.

MESSENGER, a $279 million spacecraft to be built and managed by the APL. It would arrive at Mercury in 2009 and spend a year studying and photographing the planet nearest to the sun. It would be the first mission to Mercury since Mariner 10 in 1974.

Deep Impact, a mission to intercept comet P/Tempel 1. Led by Michael A'Hearn of the University of Maryland, the $203 million proposal calls for the spacecraft to fire a 1,100-pound copper projectile into the comet, blasting a 65-foot-wide crater to expose the comet's pristine interior for study. The spacecraft would be built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab.

Vesper, a project led by Goddard's Gordon Chin. It would orbit Venus to study the planet's atmosphere. The proposed cost is $196 million.

The fifth project selected by NASA for final consideration is INSIDE, a $227 million mission to orbit Jupiter. Led by the Jet Propulsion Lab, the mission would provide data on the giant planet's gravitational and magnetic fields, and insights into its interior.

Pub Date: 11/27/98

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