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Mission to Mars finalist includes atmospheric instrument

Press Release From: University of Toronto
Posted: Thursday, December 12, 2002

image Proposal under consideration for 2007 Mars Scout mission

By Nicolle Wahl

A Mars mission proposal incorporating an atmospheric instrument developed at the University of Toronto is one of the four finalists that will be considered for the 2007 Mars Scout mission, NASA announced last Thursday.

The proposal, called the MARs Volcanic Emissions and Life Scout (MARVEL), includes a Canadian atmospheric imaging instrument called MICA. The Mars Imager for Clouds and Aerosol is a multi-band imaging camera that will support the search for evidence of life and active volcanism through a sensitive survey of the atmosphere.

U of T physics professor James Drummond, who is the principal investigator on the MICA instrument, is excited about the opportunity to survey the Mars atmosphere. "The Pathfinder mission revealed a Mars atmosphere rich in cloud and dust," says Drummond. "MICA will record images of cloud and dust using the light available during a Martian sunset. In addition to showing us the full glory of a Mars sunset, these images will give us information about cloud layers important for understanding the water cycle on Mars."

The MARVEL mission is headed by Mark Allen of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and its goal is to detect evidence of life and active volcanism through a sensitive survey of the atmosphere. MICA was developed by a consortium of Canadian universities and industrial partners including the universities of Toronto, Waterloo, New Brunswick, York University and COM DEV Ltd.

Researcher Vicky Hipkin is a U of T physicist and a MICA co-investigator. "Our present success reflects international recognition of the valuable contribution Canada can make to the Mars Exploration Program," says Hipkin. "MICA has been evaluated alongside top U.S. proposals and has been selected against extremely stiff competition for the excellence of its science and engineering."

A finalist from the four Mars mission proposals will be chosen after each undergoes six months of study. The 2007 Mars Scout mission is designed to be a highly targeted, low-cost mission to search for detailed answers to questions raised by the last decade of Mars exploration.

[Nicolle Wahl is a news services officer with the department of public affairs.]

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