Four members of the University of Arizona's Phoenix Mars Mission team on Tuesday were presented with NASA's most distinguished awards for their contributions to the mission.
The awards, announced during a ceremony at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, went to:
Peter H. Smith received NASA's Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal for significant scientific contributions toward achievement of the NASA mission. This award is given for individual efforts that resulted in a contribution of fundamental importance or that significantly enhanced understanding of the field. Smith's contributions to planetary science through the discoveries of the Phoenix Mars mission include the confirmation of water-ice beneath the Martian surface.
Smith, principal investigator of the Phoenix mission, 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 several of the seminal space missions that explored the solar system. He became the project manager for a descent camera for the Huygens mission to Saturn's moon Titan that landed in early 2005 and returned the first close-up images of Titan's surface.
William V. Boynton received NASA's Exceptional Public Service Medal for extraordinary performance leading the Phoenix Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or TEGA, science investigation of volatile materials on Mars. This instrument was used to analyze soil samples of the Martian surface. The public service award category is given to individuals who were not government employees during the period in which the service was performed.
Before joining the Phoenix team, Boynton studied meteorites and the origin of the solar system using elemental abundances in meteorites. The results provided a strong observational basis for both high temperatures and brief energetic events in the solar nebula that fundamentally constrain the way we think about the formation of the solar system.
Heather L. Enos was awarded NASA's Exceptional Public Service Medal for exceptional service as the TEGA instrument manager. Enos, who studied business administration at Washington University in St. Louis, followed up with accounting at the UA and has been employed at the UA since 1991, starting in university administration, and later moving to Arizona Research Laboratories – Biotechnology, and finally joining the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in August 1997. According to her own account, the excitement of the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission lured her to join the Lunar and Planetary Lab.
Christopher R. Shinohara, the Phoenix mission's science operations center manager, received the Exceptional Public Service Medal for his exceptional service as the leader of the development of the mission's Surface Stereo Imager, or SSI. This instrument took spectacular pictures of the Martian landscape surrounding the lander.
A UA graduate, Shinohara has had an exciting career working on instrumentation that has been sent to Mars since he came to work at the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in 1991. He worked as the lead software / instrument engineer on the Imager for the Mars Pathfinder, or IMP, mission. The IMP was to provide a 360 degree panorama of the Martian surface as well as radiometric and atmospheric information. The Pathfinder mission was a huge success, with the IMP camera bringing back stunning surface images and science data of the Martian surface.
During its mission, Phoenix confirmed and examined patches of the widespread deposits of underground water ice detected by Odyssey and identified a mineral called calcium carbonate that suggested occasional presence of thawed water.
The lander also found soil chemistry with significant implications for life and observed falling snow. The mission's biggest surprise was the discovery of perchlorate, an oxidizing chemical on Earth that is food for some microbes and potentially toxic for others.