In Remembrance: Our Man on Mars
The announcer calmly read the weather
report for the Red Planet:
"Light winds from the east in
the late afternoon, changing to light winds from the southwest after midnight.
Maximum wind, 15 miles per hour. Temperatures from minus 122 degrees to
minus 22 degrees Farenheit. Pressure steady at 7.70 millibars."
Scientists and technicians were absolutely
giddy. Here was proof positive that their precious package not only had
landed on Mars in one piece, but that at least part of it was working to
perfection. High-fives and cheers filled a roomful of jubilant faces.
The world rejoiced with NASA about
this years boffo mission to Mars. But the scene played out above happened
long before anyone had ever heard of Pathfinder, much less a rock named
It happened on July 22, 1976, in
fact. Thats when the world heard the first weather report ever done for
Mars--and at Florida State University, the cheering had special meaning
because one of its own was the first Martian weatherman.
In the wake of the spectacularly
successful Pathfinder mission this summer, veteran members of the FSU meteorology
department fondly recalled the role of the late FSU meteorologist Dr. Seymour
L. Hess in the Viking mission to Mars in the mid-70s.
During the development of the Viking
project, Hess worked closely with NASA and JPL engineers, and headed the
team that designed the crafts weather instruments. His report on July
22 was delivered roughly one Earth-day after the Viking 1 lander settled
onto the Martian plains of Chryse (525 miles southeast of where Pathfinder
landed). The report was carried by print and broadcast media around the
For his Viking work Hess received
special awards from the American Meteorological Society and from NASA in
1977. In 1978 he was tapped for FSUs highest honor, a Robert O. Lawton
Distinguished Professorship. At the time of his death from cancer in 1982
at age 61, his obituary in the New York Times said he was busy analyzing
data sent to Earth from Viking 2.
Former meteorology chairman Dr. Jerry
Stephens called Hess "a truly fine man and an exceptional teacher and scholar"
whose contributions to the Viking program were as fundamental as those
he made to Florida State. A native of Brooklyn, New York who trained at
the University of Chicago, Hess joined FSUs fledgling meteorology department
"For many years here, we benefited
enormously from Seymours teaching and research, and I think the Viking
program did too," he said. "Certainly the science that went into that program
was good enough that we felt confident we could go elsewhere."