image title

Behind-the-scenes peek: How to build a deep-space instrument for NASA mission

Documentary on ASU space instrument to air Friday on PBS.
February 22, 2017

PBS to air documentary Friday about 1st space instrument to be built entirely at ASU, now on its way to asteroid Bennu

On Sept. 8, 2016, NASA and Arizona State University embarked on a new space mission, OSIRIS-REx. Now on its way to a rendezvous with the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, the spacecraft carries a number of important scientific instruments, including OTES, the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer.

“Project Asteroid: Mapping Bennu” is a 30-minute program that documents the construction of OTES, the first space instrument to be built entirely on the ASU campus. It airs on Arizona PBS (channel 8.1) on Feb. 24 at 7:30 p.m.

The program, in the making since 2012, takes viewers behind the scenes as it follows the efforts of a team of engineers and scientists led by the School of Earth and Space Exploration's Philip Christensen.

A Regents' Professor of geological sciences, Christensen is the designer and principal investigator for OTES, which was "born" in the laboratories, workshops, and cleanroom of SESE's home, Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building 4 on the Tempe campus.

Christensen and his colleagues are no strangers to space exploration, having played a critical role in mapping the surface of Mars. To build OTES, he reassembled key members of his Mars team and added new members as well, including several outstanding ASU students.

“Project Asteroid: Mapping Bennu” follows the OTES team as they count down to the mission launch date. The program also profiles selected team members, who give their personal perspectives of the challenges and rewards of this high-stakes undertaking.

View a preview here.


Top photo: Engineers William O'Donnell (left) and Greg Mehall prepare the completed OTES instrument for shipment to NASA. When OTES arrives in 2018 at target asteroid Bennu on NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, it will map Bennu's mineralogy and surface temperature. This data will help mission scientists choose a site to collect a surface sample to be returned to Earth in 2023. Photo by Philip Christensen/ASU 

Robert Burnham

Science writer , School of Earth and Space Exploration


image title
High schoolers say "Hola," "Ni hao" and "Merhaba" to studying language at ASU.
February 22, 2017

School of Letters and Cultures' festival presents the 21 languages offered at the university to prospective Sun Devils

It’s 9 a.m. on the second floor of Arizona State University’s Memorial Union building in Tempe, and the sound of mariachi music fills the air, providing background noise for the constant chatter coming from all directions.

More than 2,000 teenagers, ranging in age form 14 to 18 years old, line the hallways and fill various conference rooms for Tuesday’s Language Fair, which spotlights the 21 languagesThose languages are: American Sign Language, Arabic, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Chinese, French, German, (ancient) Greek, Hebrew, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Turkish and Vietnamese. offered at the university.

“I love how there’s a lot of different languages represented here,” said Patrick Carr, a sophomore from Tempe’s Corona del Sol High School, one of 30-plus Phoenix metro area high schools represented Tuesday. “You usually don’t see that in high school, so that is nice to see.”

The fair, in its 19th year of existence, is sponsored by ASU as a way to cultivate and promote language learning, while also exposing students to more languages than the ones offered in their high schools. Events like this create a connection with prospective students while they think about the next step of their education on a more personal level.

Murphy McGary, a communications specialist for the School of International Letters and Cultures, noted that getting the students to ASU’s campus was a really special part of the event.

“It brings a lot of high schoolers together and allows them to experience a college campus,” McGary said. “I think it’s a great way to engage with the community and let them have fun.”

That fun included global activities and games at the event. A fair-wide scavenger hunt also took place, which gave the students an incentive to pick up stamps from each of the 21 locations.

A faculty member talks about Portuguese with prospective students at the Language Fair
Faculty such as senior lecturer Clarice Deal discuss the different languages offered at ASU with high school students at the annual Language Fair on Tuesday in Tempe. Deal, a native of Brazil, incorporates bossa nova music into her Portuguese classes to help improve students' memory and mastery of vocabulary. Photo by Florina Pantea

A few competitions added to the fun in the form of both impromptu and memorized acts and plays, where the students were tested on their conversational abilities in different languages.

Jacob Gabow, a Spanish teacher at Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale, liked the competitions the most because he got to see how his students compared with others from around the area.

He also noted how important the event might prove to be in the future for some of his students, which is the ultimate goal for the School of International Letters and Cultures.

“It’s good for them because they start to think about minoring in a language,” said Gabow. “That’s important, whether it’s at ASU or somewhere else.”  

Top photo by Florina Pantea

Connor Pelton

Communications Writer , ASU Now