Mars news: good and bad

Contributed by
Jan 12, 2007

After that last post, you may not want to hear more bad news, but I have both good and bad from NASA.

First, the bad: Mars Global Surveyor, the workhorse orbiter that has been circling the Red Planet since 1997 and recently failed, may have had bad software uploaded. According to SpaceRef, John McNamee from the Mars Exploration Program said that the new software tried to synch up two processors, but some data got overwritten. This doomed the spacecraft, McNamee said, pointing it the wrong way. Eventually the battery overheated and that was that.

This is not yet official (I'll note it's not on the NASA site, but they sometimes take, ah, quite a while to post news -- the NASA MGS site still says the spacecraft is operational) but it sounds legit. However, my friend James Oberg, who knows quite a bit about this sort of thing, told me he has his doubts that this is the whole story. We'll find out more soon. For now, do not accept this version as being correct.

Now the good news: HiRISE has imaged the landing site of the Mars Pathfinder Mission! That's cool. Pathfinder, with its Sojourner rover, put NASA back on the surface of Mars in 1997 for the first time since Viking. The rover lasted much longer than expected, and even though it was designed as a technology tester, it returned a lot of solid science.

That's a small bit of the whole image, of course-- click to see more. They have not positively identified the rover yet, which is too bad, but it's in that image somewhere!

On the HiRISE images page they also have a topographical map of the landing site:

That's not from HiRISE data, it's from Pathfinder itself. Again, it's only a small piece of a much larger and much cooler image, so click it to see the big one.

HiRISE has previously spotted the Viking and MER landing sites as well. It's important to get orbital images of these spots, since we have what is called "ground truth". What's seen from orbit can then be compared to what's seen from ground, allowing cross-calibration of the two, and also helping to get context for the images.

Also, of course, it's just cool. Don't let anyone fool you, either: that's a fine (though secondary) reason to do it.

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