Southwest Initiative for Mars, 15-9272

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Principal Investigator
Alan Stern
Ernest Franke
Ronnie Killough
Mike Miller
Brent Nowak
Wesley Patrick
David Winningham

Inclusive Dates: 10/01/01-10/01/02

Background - The Southwest Initiative for Mars (SwIM) represents a strategic initiative by the Institute to become a leading participant in the NASA Mars Exploration Program. NASA's Mars program has increased dramatically in size and scope during the past five years. It includes multiple basic research and technology development programs, and has more than seven flight missions in various stages of development or operations. The goal of the Institute's SwIM program is for SwRI to secure a leading role in future NASA Mars exploration missions and Mars research across multiple disciplines within the Institute. Areas of opportunity include, but are not limited to: basic planetary science and astrobiology, Mars mission instrument development, robotics technology for Mars rovers, and technology development for eventual human Mars missions. SwIM is providing the impetus to move SwRI to the forefront of the Mars research community.

Approach - To meet its goals, SwIM will involve a series of large and small efforts. SwIM's two largest thrusts involve about $2M in new internal research program funding to be spent during fiscal years 2002 through 2004. First, as a part of SwIM, the Institute's internal research program will be allocated approximately $500,000 per year to sponsor annual calls for Mars-related internal resarch proposals. Selected project will be expected to be multidivisional and have a strong business plan leading to major new capability development relevant to Mars work. The first call for Mars proposals was released late in CY2001 and the second call was released in late FY02. The projects to be funded under SwIM are designed to dramatically broaden the base of SwRI expertise in Mars research and development activities. The second major thrust of the SwIM effort will involve targeting dedicated internal research resources toward newly recruited Mars scientists and technologists that the Institute expects to hire in 2002-2003. Other SwIM program activities include the development of an Intranet Mars website containing key resources and resource links, an Institute-wide Mars science and technology seminar series, development of an external Senior Advisory Group to provide supplemental program guidance, and sponsorship of focused Mars science and technology workshops in San Antonio to broaden the technical competence of the growing SwRI Mars community.

Accomplishments - Accomplishments to date include the following:

  • Kickoff/Background Information Dispersal to the Technical Staff. This was initiated with a memo introducing SwIM to the technical and management staff at the end of October 2001. A detailed set of briefings were given to interested staff on 12 Nov 2001; approximately 90 staff members attended.
  • Formation of a Senior Advisory Board (SAB). An SAB charter was written in November, and received concurrence from Mr. Downing. SAB invitations were made in November-December, and a five-member board has now been constituted. The board has assisted extensively in the evaluation of SwIM IR proposals.
  • Construction of an Intranet SwIM Web Site. The SwIM web site was initially designed and constructed in October-November 2001. The site was substantially enhanced in a design revamp during March 2002. The URL is This site is used as an information distribution channel regarding SwIM activities, Mars information, and Mars business opportunities. Regular updates are made as new events, activities, and information warrant. The site also includes a place for interested technical staff to register their e-mail addresses on a SwIM information e-mail distribution list. A second, public access SwIM web site was launched in June 2002.
  • Enhancement of the SwRI Skills Databank to Include Mars-Related Expertise Categories. This was accomplished by mid-November 2001. Over a dozen new, Mars-related expertise categories and over 60 skill-specific name-expertise links have been entered to date. Routine updates have been made on numerous occasions since.
  • Initiation of the SwIM Seminar Series. A monthly SwIM seminar series was initiated in December 2001 (see Additionally, ad hoc SwIM science seminars have also been given.
  • The First Call for SwIM IR Proposals. The SwIM IR program was initiated with a call for proposals dated 12 Nov 2001. A SwIM IR project guidelines document was written and placed on the main SwIM web page in mid-November 2001 to guide staff members as to the SwIM IR proposal format requirements and other information. Step 1 (concept) proposals were due in early February 2002. Following review by the SwIM Team, the 24 proposals received in Step 1 were evaluated and ranked; 12 proposals were selected to proceed to full proposal stage. Step 2 proposals were due on 11 March. Detailed evaluations and ranking of these proposals were conducted, and following approval by Mr. Downing, a selection announcement was made at the end of April. Six proposals totaling slightly over $0.55M were selected.
  • The First SwIM Workshop took place 7-8 August 2002 in San Antonio. This workshop, designed to focus on future Experiments and Rover Technologies involved talks and panel discussion by experts from NASA Headquarters, JPL, universities, and other organizations. The workshop was promoted within SwRI in order to provide an opportunity to significantly enhance the awareness and knowledge base of SwRI technical staff of the state of current Mars work within NASA, and to generate viable new ideas for both SwIM IR and external funding proposals. The secondary purpose of the workshop was to introduce SwRI staff and the SwIM initiative to senior Mars individuals around the United States. More than 50 SwRI employees attended part or all of the workshop.
  • SwIM First-Round IR activities. All six first-round SwIM IR proposals are underway. Meetings between the SwIM IR mentors and the PI-CoI team for all six proposals have been conducted to ensure a good start to each IR's work. These projects are now approaching their mid-term reviews. Most are expected to result in new business proposals in 2003.
  • The Second Call for SwIM IR Proposals. A second call for SwIM IR proposals was released in August. Nine proposal abstracts were received. An evaluation meeting took place on 30 Sep 2002 to select six proposals to go into full development for submission on 29 October. Selection of funded proposals is planned by 1 December 2002.
  • Initiation of SwIM-Related Mars Expert Hiring. Divisions 15 and 20 have initiated job requisitions and advertisements for new, Mars-related positions. Divisions 10, 15, and 20 are jointly advertising these positions in national journals to broaden the talent based searched. To date, eight SwIM job interviews have been held, and another two are scheduled at this time. Dr. Scot Rafkin, an expert in Martian atmospheric dynamics modeling has been hired in Division 15; he will start Jan 6, 2003, in Boulder.

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