A vehicle just about golf cart size has been exploring the surface of Mars for NASA these last seven years. It is sending back thousands of up-close photos of the mysterious red planet, along with lots of information.
What if there were a guidebook, a travelog, a tour guide?
There is. Robert Benada, a retired NASA physicist, will speak at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 7, at the Waupaca Area Public Library.
Benada will prepare his listeners for a virtual visit to Mars in a Winchester Academy program titled “Going to Mars: What to Pack and What You’ll Find There.” The program is free, open to the public, and will be preceded by coffee and cookies.
Benada earned his doctorate in physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1981, and spent 22 years with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., before retiring to Waupaca to run a bed-and-breakfast.
He refers to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as “my” spacecraft. It and two others are currently orbiting Mars, and there are two high-tech surface rovers – one active and one “sleeping” that are responsible for the most detailed pictures of any other planet.
In addition to lots of pictures, Benada said, “We’ll talk about what it would be like to travel to Mars, what to take for the trip, and what you’ll want when you are there. For example, Will you want a compass to help find your way as you stroll around? Will your earthling watch be any good?”
Benada grew up in southwestern Louisiana, and earned his undergraduate degree in chemistry and physics from Louisiana State University. In Pasadena, he was the software engineer and manager for Earth’s ocean observing satellites, TOPEX and Jason, and for QuikSat, a high-speed Internet satellite, before working on the Mars Reconnaissance Observer.
There will be no Winchester Academy program on Valentine’s Day. The following week, Feb. 21, UW-Madison professor of history Jeremi Suri will review important lessons learned from the Cold War. Suri last spoke to the Winchester Academy in February 2006 on the history of the United Nations.