Daily ‘Commute’ to Mars Nearing End for LDS Man
March 2004

“Daily ‘Commute’ to Mars Nearing End for LDS Man,” Ensign, Mar. 2004, 76

Daily “Commute” to Mars Nearing End for LDS Man

Gary Anderson has enjoyed a new perspective during the past few months on the lessons he’s taught in his East Pasadena Ward, Pasadena California Stake, Gospel Doctrine class. While his lessons on Sunday have followed Nephi across the ocean to the promised land and seen the Nephites into the wilderness, during the week Brother Anderson has helped pilot two spacecraft across the vastness of space to Mars and watched the Red Planet’s “wilderness” unfold. He is one of seven NASA rover “drivers” on a historic exploration of the Martian landscape.

“I don’t think anyone can look up at the stars at night and not feel awed at the marvelous universe we are a part of, whether you are an astronomer studying the heavens or a Boy Scout on an overnight hike,” said Brother Anderson, a mission control engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

“It is fascinating to me that we are able to go millions of miles through space, land on another planet, and maneuver about … as if we were here on Earth exploring some place we had not been to before.”

The rover Spirit landed on Mars on 4 January 2004 and, barring unforeseen problems, is nearing the end of its projected 90-day mission. The rover Opportunity was set to have landed on 25 January on the opposite side of the planet. The rovers are capable of transmitting tremendous amounts of data to Earth, including measurements of radiation, magnetic fields, temperature, weather, and soil, as well as thousands of photos. It could be some time before scientists can analyze all of the information gathered during the mission. Among other objectives, scientists hope the rovers will find evidence in the rocks and soil that potentially life-sustaining water existed in the planet’s past.

As for Brother Anderson and his team of drivers, they are as close to living on Mars as they can get without being there. “We see this world through a camera’s eye, and it is as if we were there ourselves,” Brother Anderson said. “It is incredible to me that we can do things like this.”

The team is living and working on Mars time. A day on Mars is 40 minutes longer than an Earth day, which means that Brother Anderson has seen a number of Mars sunrises while at work in the middle of the night.

Brother Anderson holds degrees in psychology, electrical engineering, and astronomy. He was a mission controller for the space shuttle program and has worked more recently on projects with the Hubble Space Telescope and probes to Jupiter and Saturn.

This 360° panoramic photo of Mars is one of thousands sent back by the rovers. (Photograph courtesy of NASA/JPL/Cornell.)

Brother Gary Anderson is part of the NASA team that controls the Mars rovers.