UA Art Class About to Complete Giant Phoenix Mars Mission Mural

Dec. 1, 2006
                UA senior art student Bonnie Streff paints the Phoenix Mars Lander that is part of the mural on the mission's Science Operations Center in Tucson. (Photo: Angela Poulson)
UA senior art student Bonnie Streff paints the Phoenix Mars Lander that is part of the mural on the mission's Science Operations Center in Tucson. (Photo: Angela Poulson)
                UA art Professor Alfred Quiroz teaches the mural painting design class that created the Phoenix Mars Mission mural on the south exterior wall of the mission's Science Operations Center in Tucson. (Photo: Angela Poulson)
UA art Professor Alfred Quiroz teaches the mural painting design class that created the Phoenix Mars Mission mural on the south exterior wall of the mission's Science Operations Center in Tucson. (Photo: Angela Poulson)
UA senior Cassidy Reis adds paint to part of the mural that has transformed the south exterior wall of the Phoenix Mars Mission Science Operations Center in Tucson. (Photo: Angela Poulson)
UA senior Cassidy Reis adds paint to part of the mural that has transformed the south exterior wall of the Phoenix Mars Mission Science Operations Center in Tucson. (Photo: Angela Poulson)

The University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory has teamed up with the UA School of Art to create a mural celebrating the UA-led Phoenix Mars Scout mission that will launch in August 2007.

UA art students in Professor Alfred Quiroz's fall semester mural painting class designed the mural, which is the largest in Tucson. Quiroz and his class will do some of the final work on their masterpiece during a 2 p.m. - 4 p.m. session Wednesday, Dec. 13.

The almost-finished mural covers a 20 by 60 foot area on the exterior south wall of the mission's Science Operations Center, 1415 N. Sixth Ave., Tucson. The center will become mission control for about 250 scientists and engineers when the lander arrives on Mars in May 2008.

The Phoenix mission is NASA's next big mission to Mars. Although the Viking landers sampled soil near Mars' equator 30 years ago, the Phoenix Lander will be the first ever to dig into Martian polar soil. Scientists hope to learn more about Martian climate, geology, and water history by examining the soil and ice at the northern plains of Mars.

Quiroz, who has been teaching at the university for 17 years, said this is the biggest mural project he's ever worked on.

And the project is also unique because it joins two usually separate departments in accomplishing a single goal.

Quiroz said that's one reason he was so glad to have the opportunity to be a part of the project.

"There's been a push in the College of Fine Arts for the fine arts to start interacting with other departments in The University of Arizona, and I thought, well, here it is."

Peter Smith of UA's Lunar and Planetary Lab, the principal investigator for the Phoenix Lander Mission, said he's excited about bringing the scientific and artistic sides of campus together. "The creative process that makes good science is the same creative process that makes good art," Smith said.

Smith said he hopes the mural will increase pubic awareness of the Science Operations Center and what goes on inside.

"Most people drive by and don't even know it's here," Smith said. "We wanted to liven the building up a bit, because when we land on Mars, it's going to be the center of our universe, and we want everybody to know about it."

Students working on the project kept this goal in mind when coming up with the mural design.

Becky Roffino said she hopes that when people look at the completed mural, it "provokes an interest into what it is, and sparks their curiosity."

Roffino said that during the planning stage, she and other students wanted to stay loyal to the truth of what the mission was about while also expressing their artistic creativity.

The mural depicts the mythological god of war from which Mars gets its name, the lander and many other Mars-related elements.

The mural includes an artistic rendering of the Phoenix, a mythological bird symbolizing rebirth. The bird is the Phoenix Mission's namesake and symbol because the mission "rises from the ashes" of two earlier missions. The Phoenix Mars Mission will undertake polar exploration, which was the goal of Mars Polar Lander, lost on arrival in December 1999. Also, the Phoenix flies some instruments built for the canceled 2001 Mars Surveyor Lander mission.

The $386 million Phoenix Mars Mission will be the first Mars mission where science operations are based at a university. UA leads the mission with project management at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and development partnership with Lockheed Martin Space Systems. International contributions for Phoenix are provided by the Canadian Space Agency, the University of Neuchatel (Switzerland), the University of Copenhagen, and the Max Planck Institute in Germany.