This artist's concept shows NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission over the red planet.
The project scientist for NASA's next mission to Mars, Dr. Richard Zurek, will share information and pictures about the upcoming mission during a free public lecture at Brevard Community College Planetarium, Cocoa, Fla., on Friday, July 29, at 7 p.m.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is in preparation for launch on Aug. 10 atop an Atlas V launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Zurek, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., coordinates the international team of scientists preparing to use the orbiter for gathering more data about Mars than all previous Mars missions combined.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will examine landscape details as small as a coffee table with the most powerful telescopic camera ever sent to another planet. One of the spacecraft's six science instruments is designed to identify some types of water-related minerals in smaller deposits than detectable by earlier orbiters. "Instead of looking for something as big as the Bonneville Salt Flats, we can look for something on the scale of a Yellowstone hot spring," Zurek said.

The lecture is the second in the Brevard Planetarium's "Florida: Gateway to Mars" series, which features scientists and engineers from NASA's Mars Exploration Program. Seating will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

The opportunity to launch to Mars occurs approximately every 25 months. The upcoming Mars mission follows NASA's highly successful Spirit and Opportunity rovers, which are still operating on the red planet. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will lay the groundwork for later Mars surface missions in NASA's plans: a lander called Phoenix planned for launch in 2007, and highly capable rover called Mars Science Laboratory being developed for a 2009 launch opportunity. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's telescopic instruments will aid in the search for the best landing sites for these missions.

Zurek graduated from Michigan State University, East Lansing, with a bachelor's degree in mathematics in 1969 and received his Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences from the University of Washington in Seattle in 1974. Following one-year post-doctoral appointments at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and at the University of Colorado in Boulder, he went to work at JPL, where he has been employed since 1976. JPL manages the NASA Mars Exploration Program.

The Astronaut Memorial Planetarium and Observatory is located on the Cocoa campus of Brevard Community College, 1519 Clearlake Rd., Cocoa, Fla., 32922. The planetarium is at the extreme northwest of the campus, across Clearlake from the library and adjacent to the athletic fields of Cocoa High School.

Additional information about Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is available online at . The mission is managed by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is the prime contractor for the project and built the spacecraft.

News Media Contact

Guy Webster (818) 354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Suzanne Leslie (321) 433-7372
Brevard Community College Planetarium, Cocoa, Fla.

Dolores Beasley (202) 358-1753
NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.