Peter Smith

Principal Investigator and Project Leadership,
University of Arizona

Peter Smith

Peter Smith graduated in 1969 from the University of California Berkeley in physics and later continued his education at the University of Arizona Optical Sciences Center graduating with a master's degree in 1977.

Smith has been employed at the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory since 1978, starting as a Research Assistant and progressing step-by-step to a Senior Research Scientist. During this period, Smith participated in many of the seminal space missions that have explored the solar system.

During the Pioneer Venus mission in 1978, Smith created models of the energy sources that heat the surface of Venus to nearly 1000 degrees. Pioneer Saturn, in 1979, initiated nearly a decade of study of outer-planet atmospheres, particularly for Jupiter and Titan. Mysterious, cloud-enshrouded Titan became the focus for Smith's research which led to observations and mapping of the solid surface of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, using the Hubble Space Telescope in 1994. Working with Dr. Martin Tomasko, Smith became the Project Manager for a descent camera for the Huygens mission to the surface of Titan that landed in early 2005 and returned the first close-up images of Titan's surface.

In 1993, Smith started his association with the Red Planet after his Imager for Mars Pathfinder camera proposal was accepted by NASA for the Pathfinder mission. As the first lander to reach Mars since the two Viking missions in 1976, there was tremendous public interest as the camera returned the first images from the Martian surface on July 4, 1997. Day-by-day images of the alien landscape explored by the Sojourner Rover were featured on the front pages of newspapers and on the TV news networks. Since then Smith has built cameras for the Mars Polar Lander mission that crashed on the Martian surface in December 1999. Later, the 2001 Surveyor mission was cancelled because of the loss of Mars Polar Lander, grounding more UA-built cameras.

Despite these setbacks, Smith has continued to associate with Mars missions and is serving on the science team for the Mars Exploration Rovers that landed in January 2004. He also helped build the microscope for Beagle 2, a European lander that failed to return data upon its arrival to Mars in December 2003. Smith spent nearly two years managing the building of the 2005 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRISE camera for which Dr. Alfred McEwen of the UA is the Principal Investigator.

In fall 2003, after one and a half years of proposal development, Smith's Phoenix project was selected as the first Scout mission to Mars after a competitive NASA selection process. The Phoenix mission is valued at $420 million, and Smith is fully responsible for all aspects of the mission. The spacecraft launched August 4, 2007, and will land in the northern polar region of Mars on May 25, 2008. The lander will conduct science experiments for 3 to 5 months as part of NASA's search for life in our solar system. The Phoenix name recalls the mythological bird that rises from the ashes of his predecessor. The Phoenix mission uses the mothballed 2001 lander with instruments delivered for both that mission and the failed Polar Lander mission.

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