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Mars Global Surveyor Arrives

Week of November 3, 1997
MGS image of Mars I learned something new this week and what better forum to share it with my Bad and Bitesized readers than right here? The Mars Global Surveyor is the second in a series of probes sent to map, survey and eventually return samples of Mars to the Earth. Launched on November 7, it actually left Earth before the Pathfinder lander, but was sent in a slower orbit. The MGS entered Mars orbit September 12, 1997, and began a long series of aerobraking maneuvers: it started in a highly elliptical orbit, and at the bottom end of each pass it actually dips a bit into Mars' atmosphere. This slows the probe down, both lowering and circularizing the orbit.

What I learned is that the probe is actually taking images while it does this. I thought it was only going to start imaging next July, but it turns out they are already taking pictures. You can find some of these images at NASA's data archive web site which has lots of info about MGS and other Mars probes.

Incidentally, I also learned that a problem with a solar panel is going to slow the mission down somewhat, delaying the mapping of Mars. The martian atmosphere was higher than expected, and a solar panel started to "flap". Engineers don't expect it to be a huge problem, but are playing it safe and slowing things down. You can check out the link above to find out new information on the mission.

©2008 Phil Plait. All Rights Reserved.

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