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Pathfinder Lands on Mars!

Week of July 7, 1997

Unless you've been under a rock the past few days, you've heard that the Mars Pathfinder landed safely on the surface of Mars on Friday night. The probe used the atmosphere of Mars to slow its initial velocity down to safely use a parachute. When it was about 30 or so meters above the surface, the probe, now encased in giant airbags, cast off the parachute and fell freely for the last few meters. It bounced repeatedly as it hit the surface, rebounding as high as ten meters in the Martian gravity, about half that of Earth's. Finally, after it had stopped and deflated its airbags, the pyramid-shaped probe opened up like a terrestrial flower, exposing its instruments, and, most importantly, the small robotic rover called Sojourner, named after an American suffragette who fought to give women the vote. The rover can be seen in the image above, taken by the probe. You can also see the deflated airbags surrounding the probe. Below is a similar shot which has been enhanced to be a bit brighter and to show color.

color image of rover

After a small delay caused by airbags that were impeding the access to the surface, Sojourner was allowed to move down the ramp and await further instructions. Before that happened, however, the cameras on the probe took a long series of images, which the people at Mission Control put together into an unprecedented 360 degree view of the Martian surface.

This view can be seen by anyone with web access. When the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 hit Jupiter a few years back, the web server commissioned to carry the images got slammed by a million hits. The Hale-Bopp pages have over a million hits as well. NASA learned from this, and has over a dozen mirror sites where you can access the images from Pathfinder. Below is a list of pages, provided by the Pathfinder web page, which have the capability of taking quite a blow from the 'net: as of Sunday afternoon, July 6, they had received over one hundred million hits. I was able to get in easily, but in case you haven't been able to, the list below is provided.

A personal note: The landing site of the Pathfinder has been officially renamed "The Sagan Memorial Station". Those of you that have read my Bad Astronomy pages know how I feel about that. I wish Dr. Sagan had lived long enough to see all this. He would have been very pleased.

Corporate Mirror Sites

Site Site Address Load Capacity
Silicon Graphics, Inc. - USA 15,000,000
CompuServe - USA 10,000,000
SUN Microsystems, Inc. - USA 6,000,000

Mirroring the JPL Mars Pathfinder site is open to all U.S. firms that qualify.

Public Sector Mirror Sites
Location Site Address Load Capacity
NASA, AMES - USA 5,000,000
NASA, JPL - USA 5,000,000
NCSA - National Center for SupercomputerApplications - USA 4,000,000
Cornell Theory Center - USA 4,000,000
National Center for Atmospheric Research#1 - USA 4,000,000
San Diego Supercomputer Center - USA 4,000,000
NASA, KSC - USA 2,000,000
NASA, JPL - USA 1,000,000
National Center for Atmospheric Research#2 - USA 1,000,000
Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center - USA 750,000
NASA, Lewis Research Center - USA 500,000
Hawaii Institute for Geophysics and Planetology- USA 500,000
The Catlin Gabel School - USA 500,000

International Mirror Sites
Location Site Address Load Capacity
ESO - GERMANY 3,000,000
NASDA - JAPAN 2,000,000
Web2Mil - URUGUAY 2,000,000
Aalborg University - DENMARK 1,500,000
Visuanet - FRANCE 1,500,000
CNES - FRANCE 1,000,000
IKI - Moscow, RUSSIA 250,000

©2008 Phil Plait. All Rights Reserved.

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