Brian Muirhead, manager of NASA's innovative and highly successful Mars Pathfinder mission, has been named 1998 Engineer of the Year by the readership of Design News, which represents a national audience of engineers and aeronautics specialists.
Muirhead was cited by readers of the magazine for his leadership of a high-risk, low-budget mission, developed on a fast track, which demonstrated a novel approach to landing a spacecraft on the surface of Mars. The Pathfinder mission, developed and managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, landed on Mars on July 4, 1997, and returned a phenomenal amount of data and images of the surface, atmosphere and weather on Mars.
Muirhead, 46, will receive a $25,000 educational grant, to be designated to his alma mater, the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, from the magazine's Engineering Education Foundation. He will also share an additional $10,000 educational grant with other winners of the magazine's Special Achievement and Quality awards. Both grants have been earmarked for economically disadvantaged engineering students attending Caltech, where Muirhead earned his master's degree in aeronautical engineering in 1982. He also holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of New Mexico.
In its March 2 issue, Design News reports that the Mars Pathfinder mission was an engineering demonstration and a radical departure from the billion-dollar-class spaceflight projects of the recent past. Operating on a skeleton budget of $170 million - - a small fraction of the cost of the Viking missions of the mid- 1970s -- Pathfinder dove directly into the Martian atmosphere and landed with the aid of a parachute, airbags and retro-rockets. The spacecraft also delivered the first microrover ever to photograph the surface of another planet and the first vehicle to measure the chemical composition of Martian rocks.
In addition to its unique entry, descent and landing, the Mars Pathfinder mission introduced more than 25 new technologies and broke new ground in the application of commercially derived hardware that could be used in the extremely harsh environment of space, the magazine says. For example, Pathfinder relied on a single radiation-hardened flight computer derived from an IBM RS6000-series workstation.
Pathfinder also became a model of teamwork and an inspiration for future missions by providing proof that NASA's goal of faster, better and cheaper missions was a reality, the magazine reports. New space missions of the 21st century -- destined for Mars, the outer solar system and asteroids and comets -- will build on the legacy of Mars Pathfinder. Muirhead himself will be moving into a managerial role on one of these new missions, the fourth deep space technology validation mission to be flown under NASA's New Millennium program, known as Deep Space 4/Champollion. This mission will attempt the first-ever rendezvous and landing on the surface of a comet. Once on the surface, the 100-kilogram (220-pound) lander will analyze the surface composition and gather a sample for return to Earth.
Mars Pathfinder was exemplary as the first of these new- generation, fast-track missions -- able to meet its development schedule and cost constraints through the skill and dedication of a tightly knit team, the magazine notes. Muirhead's leadership as flight system manager was critical to the development of the Pathfinder spacecraft and the spectacular success of this very challenging mission.
Muirhead will be honored at an awards ceremony to be held March 17 at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, Chicago. Contact David Salyers of Salyers Carman & Associates, 312-346-3131, for additional information about the banquet. For information about Muirhead's grant to Caltech, contact Robert Tindol at the Caltech Media Relations Office, 626-395-3631, or Diane Ainsworth at the JPL Media Relations Office, 818-354-5011.
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