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East Tennessee Mars asteroid expert gets tapped into ultra-rare science order

Now that his career is nearing sunset, Hap McSween wants to be known – not for awards – but for blasting geology past Earth.
Mars One is a Netherlands-based nonprofit that wants to establish a permanent human settlement...
Mars One is a Netherlands-based nonprofit that wants to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars. Five hopeful astronauts on the one-way mission express their thoughts and theories about leaving planet earth forever in a new digital short.
Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 10:36 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Hap McSween has done a lot of things over his 75 years: he’s been a professor, mentor, Air Force pilot, a Harvard grad, nearly an astronaut in his younger days and now he’s on the Mount Olympus of scientist.

Dr. McSween was recently invited into the prestigious National Academy of Science. Fewer than 3,000 Americans can say that.

That’s a big deal for the Big Orange – with an assist from the Red Planet. And he was there when all the biggest discoveries were made.

“The opportunity to explore the solar system comes to one generation realistically,” McSween said.

Henry “Hap” McSween is the man NASA comes to when they want to know about rocks on Mars.

“This is just so much darn fun, you know,” McSween said.

He may be professor emeritus – retired – but he’s not slowing down. A chance meeting decades ago whet Hap’s appetite for a very dry planet.

“There was a gateway moment... I had this job at UT lined up but I had a summer to kill,” McSween said.

He got to study ultra-rare meteors that were blasted off of Mars.

“It requires five kilometers per second, so that’s FAST,” McSween said.

Dr. McSween once dreamed of being a NASA astronaut. He even went though their battery of tests to qualify. NASA now counts him among their advisors for the Mars rovers.

“{They} Optimize the chances for finding evidence of ancient life, if ever there was life on Mars,” McSween said.

All of the ingredients are there, he says. Plus, things are big on Mars, including the solar system’s largest volcano. It is big enough to stretch across the state of Tennessee, long-ways.

Now that his career is nearing sunset, Hap McSween wants to be known – not for awards – but for blasting geology past Earth.

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