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Grad student names 2 NASA microprobes

By Maya Schechter
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
November 23, 1999
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Paul Withers, a UA graduate student in planetary sciences, named two Deep Space 2 microprobes after he won a NASA contest, beating 17,000 other applicants.

The microprobes, due to smash into the surface of Mars near the planet's south pole on Dec. 3, have been named "Amundsen and Scott" by Withers in honor of the first explorers to reach the Earth's South Pole.

"A century ago, Antarctica was the Earth's only unexplored continent. Then, expeditions led by Amundsen and Scott landed there, striving to discover its secrets, seeking knowledge and finding a land of stark beauty," Withers stated in his winning essay.

Withers earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in physics from Cambridge University in his native country, England. He came to the University of Arizona in August 1998 and is in his second year in the planetary science doctorate program, studying the thin upper atmosphere of Mars.

"I don't think the excitement has hit me yet, but I think after the microprobes land in a couple weeks, and everyone will be talking about it, I think it will finally sink in that I was able to name them," Withers said.

The winning essay was among a NASA record-high number of entries submitted in a public contest to name the ambitious space mission.

Participants in the contest were instructed to choose two people from history, characters from mythology or fiction, two places or things that are in some way associated with each other or a combination of the above elements.

"Deep Space 2's twin probes will be pioneers in the exploration of Mars's Antarctica, striving to survive in its harsh environment, seeking precious water and finding new truths about our solar system," Withers said.

In addition to winning the grand prize of naming the microprobes, Withers will also be receiving a $4,000 CompUSA gift certificate.

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