The Mars Society  San Diego met on Thursday, November 1st at
7:30pm at the offices of Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego,
CA. We had eight members (and three proto-members) attending: Groff 
Bittner, Johnathan Butler, Bettina Davis, Kelly Jernigan, Rich
Loesch, Dave Rankin, Aurora Rupert, Shannon Rupert, Andrew Salamon, 
John Stone and Gerry Williams.

MSSS is the operator of the Mars Orbital
Camera (MOC) onboard the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft in
orbit around Mars since 1997. MSSS also fabricated the Visible-
Wavelength Imager portion of THEMIS (Thermal Emission Imaging System) 
aboard the 2001 Mars Odyssey Orbiter spacecraft. 

Our host was Dr. Michael Caplinger, MSSS Senior Scientist and
Planetary Cartographer. Dr. Caplinger was a member of TMS-SD's
"GOING TO MARS: Inspiration through Fiction" panel at
Comic-Con 2001 last summer.  Dr. Caplinger was assisted by MSSS's
Elsa Jensen.

We were first shown MSSS's official "Mission Control"
room from a glass-walled observation conference room.  The three 
Mission Control stations were unmanned, but the far wall contained a 
projection of the MGS orbital tracking and we watched as the MOC 
executed a programmed image capture of a canyon wall near the
southern pole.

We were then lead through the hallways (adorned with a myriad of Mars 
images) to their large conference room. The room had a kitchen area 
(which we quickly made use of), a large conference table facing a
wall-sized video projection system, and a computer console. There
were plenty of pictures of the red planet on the walls here, too.

Dr. Caplinger discussed the MGS/MOC image processing techniques, as 
well as displayed some of the Martian geography they've imaged.
MGS/MOC has been in orbit since September 1997 and is expected to 
continue operating for at least five more years before its fuel is 
exhausted (or until an unforeseen equipment failure) and forces an
end to the mission.  Its orbit around Mars is stable out beyond 2050. 

Dr. Caplinger also discussed MSSS's involvement with the Mars
Odyssey Orbiter and its varied missions; including the radioactive 
decay detection of hydrogen/water near the planet's surface; as
well as other remote sensing devices aimed at discovering the 
composition of Mars.  He did state that really the only way we're 
going to know for sure about the planet's structure is to send a 
geologist there with a rock hammer and a laboratory  a sentiment
we all agree with.

Elsa Jensen informed us that Malin Space Science Systems is also 
currently seeking two student interns to work with MSSS Mars imaging
staff.  Anyone interested
should apply to: .  More details will be posted about 
these positions as soon as it becomes available.

As the meeting broke up, we discussed the possible slippage of the 
start date of the MDRS Mars Desert Research Station (the Mars
Society's Southwest Habitat in Utah), and how it will affect our
MDRS Mission Control duties scheduled for the second month of
operation -- specifically when our start date would be, as well as 
when Gerry will go to Denver for the initial training period.

We also discussed the planned TMS-SD outreach at the San Diego 
Astronomy Association's "Stars in the Park" event at
Balboa Park on Wednesday, November 7th at 7:00pm.  Gerry is the 
coordinator for anyone interested in helping.

Our next monthly meeting will be on Thursday, December 6th at 7:00pm
at Gerry's Studio (23rd & Broadway just east of downtown San

And there was some discussion of possibly having a Mars Movie Night
on Thursday, November 15th at 7:00pm at Gerry's Studio.  Film
titles bandied about were "Total Recall" or "Mars
Attacks!"  Any more thoughts or suggestions about this?

I personally had a great time at MSSS, and several others have stated 
likewise.  Hopefully they'll allow us back for another visit next

--Gerry Williams


Dave Rankin


I thought the tour was great.  I was very impressed
with their generosity in spending as much time with us
as they did.  I think we should give them some sort of
gifts of appreciation.  Complimentary t-shirts or pins
would be nice maybe.  The woman had on a slogan
t-shirt and Caplinger had a pin on.  Of course, an
"It's not just for robots" shirt might not be up their
alley, but who knows.  Caplinger did say the best way
to do science on Mars would be for people to go there
with a pick and dig around.  So maybe he'd agree with
the sentiment.

I was most struck by a couple of things:

1.  The primitive nature of the spacecraft.  It's
essentially a framework, with instruments mounted on
it, all covered by a thermal blanket and held together
by special tape.  That was a big surprise.  It looked
like something somebody could put together in a

2.  The routine nature of what they are doing. 
There's this little spaceship in orbit around Mars
taking pictures on a regular basis and it's being
controlled out of a small commercial building with a
company of less than 50 people.

3.  The severe limitations on what we can learn with
the spacecraft we are sending now.

4.  The incredible beauty of the Martian landscape as
portrayed in the wall photos at their office.

That's pretty much it for now.

Dave Rankin

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