Peter SmithThomas R. Brown Distinguished Chair in Integrative Science
Peter Smith went through fire to get to ice. That explains the extra buoyancy to Smith’s step following the enormous success of the Phoenix Mars Mission.
In 1999, his career appeared to literally go up in flames with the crash of the Mars Polar Lander mission. That failure prompted the cancellation of the 2001 Mars Surveyor Program mission.
Smith devoted more than 9 years to those projects. He soon went from a staff of 35 down to one. But he didn’t give up. In 2003, NASA accepted his proposal to deploy the Phoenix Mission using the 2001 lander with instruments delivered for both that mission and the failed Polar Lander mission.
That connection is partly why two weeks before landing day Smith was named the first Thomas R. Brown Distinguished Chair in Integrative Science.
“My father, Tom Brown, dedicated his career to advancing new technologies that improved the quality of our lives,” said Sarah Smallhouse, president of the Brown Family Foundations. “Exploring the solar system not only helps us understand our planet, but also inspires humankind to push the boundaries of imagination and innovation to new heights. Both endeavors were important to my father.”
The Brown Foundation funded a $2.5 million endowment for the chair, which will rotate within the UA College of Science every five years to reward top faculty for transformational achievements in their respective fields.
“It’s wonderful to be honored with this distinguished chair and to be linked to an extraordinary person such as Tom Brown,” Smith said. “Throughout my career, the UA has provided opportunities I don’t think I could have gotten anywhere else.”
Smith’s curiosity of the universe was sparked by reading science fiction novels as a child. He attended Tucson High School and graduated in 1969 from the University of California, Berkeley in physics. He later earned a master’s degree from the UA’s College of Optical Sciences.
“We developed a facility that is useful in bringing new opportunities to Tucson and turning new technologies into spin off ventures,” Smith said.
The $420 million Phoenix project injected more than $50 million into the local economy.
“This is only the beginning,” Smith said.