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Longtime rivals ASU, UA collaborate on space science research

February 27, 2012

Editor's Note: Arizona State University basketball will take on the University of Arizona this week. The men’s teams will play at 1:30 p.m. in Tempe, Ariz. on March 4 and the women’s teams at 2 p.m., March 3 in Tucson, Ariz. Read more about ASU's collaborations with Pac-12 schools.

Longtime rivals Arizona State University and University of Arizona are known for fierce battles on the basketball court. When it comes to collaborations between the two schools on space matters, however, their contributions are significant and often groundbreaking.

Project examples include:

• Both universities are involved in the Mars Rovers project. Rovers Opportunity and Spirit utilize technology such as School of Earth and Space Exploration Regents’ Professor Philip Christensen’s redesigned Thermal Emission Spectrometer that was made smaller for the NASA project. Each rover was outfitted with one of his “Mini-TES” instruments to aid in the identification of rocks and soils.  

• Another project involving ASU and UA is NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover, dubbed Curiosity. The rover is scheduled to land at Gale Crater on Mars in August of 2012. Carrying an advanced suite of scientific instruments, Curiosity will explore a gigantic “history book” in the form of sedimentary deposits in Gale, seeking evidence of Mars’ past and present.

• In 2008, the Phoenix spacecraft – a joint NASA-UA project, traveled to Mars. ASU aided the mission in part by helping establish a suitable landing site through the Thermal Emission Imaging System. The imaging system also provided mission controllers with data on how dusty the Martian atmosphere was, helping to bring the craft to a safe landing.

• The universities are partnering on a NASA mission to collect an asteroid sample and bring it to Earth.  An ASU instrument will analyze long-wavelength infrared light from the asteroid to map surface minerals. The new asteroid sample-return mission is called OSIRIS-REx, an acronym standing for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, and Regolith Explorer.

• ASU and UA as well as Northern Arizona University are members of the highly regarded, NASA-sponsored Arizona Space Grant Consortium, which offers outreach, research and training in space exploration to prepare a highly specialized work force.