News Articles

Mars photos spark excitement for OBU prof with NASA ties

SHAWNEE, Okla. (BP)–The photos from Mars being sent back by NASA’s Spirit Rover are more interesting to Albert Chen than to the casual observer.

Chen, professor of physics at Oklahoma Baptist University, has spent his summers doing research for NASA, most recently studying the Red Planet’s dust. The Spirit Rover may or may not bring much light to bear on Chen’s research, but the success likely will fuel momentum for the research needed to someday send a manned flight to Mars.

From his research, Chen noted that Mars has a high concentration of dust that is of “a different size and mass” than known on earth.

Chen, who has been working with NASA at the Kennedy Space Center since 1996, has conducted research on problems a build-up of dust can cause on solar panels, as well as other dust-related hazards, including charges that can come from the particles.

“When the wind blows the dust, there can be a static charge that can be very troublesome,” Chen said. “It tends to stick to the instruments.”

NASA’s Spirit Rover is starting to examine its new surroundings, revealing a vast flatland well suited to the robot’s unprecedented mobility and scientific toolkit.

Chen said the terrain looks different from any of the sites examined by NASA’s three previous successful landers — the two Vikings in 1976 and Mars Pathfinder in 1997.

Spirit arrived at Mars Jan. 3 after a seven-month journey. Its task is to spend the next three months exploring for clues in rocks and soil about whether the past environment on this part of Mars was ever watery and suitable to sustain life.

Spirit’s twin Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity, will reach its landing site on the opposite side of Mars later in January to begin a similar examination.

Chen, who has been on the faculty at OBU’s Shawnee campus since 1986, said he is optimistic that a manned flight to Mars might be undertaken someday but a lot of work still has to be done to ensure success, including the human element of spending more than a year in a confined space.

Chen will return to work for NASA at the Kennedy Space Center this summer under another research grant to study the dust of Mars, trying to determine more of its characteristics, hoping to be one of the men behind the scenes of the next era in space exploration.
Ray Fink is director of media relations at Oklahoma Baptist University. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title:

    About the Author

  • Ray Fink