UMass Amherst Grad Works as Rock Czar on Mars Pathfinder Mission for NASA

AMHERST, Mass. - A recently graduated geologist is one of two scientists with University of Massachusetts degrees who are working on NASA''s Mars Pathfinder mission. Nathan Bridges earned his doctorate in geology this past April, before being hired by NASA''s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., for a postdoctoral position.

Bridges is a participant in the mission''s mineralogy and geochemistry science group, compiling rock properties from all the instruments being used in the hope of building up a general geologic data base of the site.

"As a consequence of this, I have become the ''Rock Czar,''" Bridges said, "responsible for ''officiating'' all rock names." He is also writing and verifying imaging sequences for the spacecraft camera (IMP, the imager for Mars Pathfinder). Finally, he is helping to post material on NASA''s Pathfinder World Wide Web site, which has received extremely high numbers of visits: one estimate put the number at approximately100 million "hits."

In his doctoral research, Bridges compared unusual volcanic land formations on earth with similar structures on Venus. His earlier research included work focused on the planet Mars. He studied under professor emeritus George McGill in the department of geosciences. Bridges earned his master''s degree at Arizona State University at Tempe, and did his undergraduate work at the University of Colorado.

The mission''s chief scientist, Matthew Golombek, is also a UMass grad. He earned his master''s and doctoral degrees in geology from the University in 1978 and 1981, respectively.

McGill conducted NASA-funded research on planetary and lunar geology for about 25 years, and served on the science team for the Pioneer Venus mission in the 1970s, and for the Magellan mission to Venus completed four years ago. He has conducted a number of research projects on Martian geology over the years, and is currently funded to prepare four geological maps and interpret the geological history of a portion of Mars.