Three Mars Missions to Launch in Late 1996

From: (NASA HQ Public Affairs Office) (by way of Jan Wee <>)
Subject: Three Mars Missions to Launch in Late 1996
Date: Wed, 16 Oct 1996 13:44:44 -0500

Dear discuss-lfm members,

Did any of you catch today's NASA Press Briefing on
the Mars Missions?  Would love to hear your comments!

Here is the latest press release....

Jan Wee

PS -- I enjoyed hearing about the CU-SeeMe session with
Chris McKay, Marilyn.  Chris will be in Madison, Wisconsin
next month for a program at the UW. I will share more
details as they are released by the organizer of this
public lecture.


Douglas Isbell
Headquarters, Washington, DC                October 16, 1996
(Phone:  202/358-1753)

Diane Ainsworth
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA
(Phone:  818/354-5011)

RELEASE:  96-207


     The United States and Russia return to Mars this fall 
with the launch of three missions destined to explore Earth's 
planetary neighbor in greater detail than has ever before 
been accomplished.

     NASA's Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Pathfinder and 
Russia's Mars '96 mission are scheduled for three separate 
launches in November and December 1996. Mars Global Surveyor, 
an orbiter carrying six scientific instruments to study the 
atmosphere, surface and interior of Mars, will be launched 
Nov. 6. It will be followed by Russia's Mars '96, an orbiter 
carrying 12 instruments plus two small landers and two 
penetrators, which will lift off Nov. 16. Mars Pathfinder 
will carry a lander and small rover robot when it is lofted 
into space Dec. 2.

     Launch of the NASA spacecraft marks the beginning of a 
new era in Mars exploration and an ambitious new initiative 
by the United States to send pairs of spacecraft to the red 
planet every 26 months through the year 2005.  NASA's new 
decade-long program of robotic exploration -- known as the 
Mars Surveyor program -- takes the next step in expanding 
scientists' knowledge of Mars. The program is focused on 
three major areas of investigation: the search for evidence 
of past life on Mars; understanding the Martian climate and 
its lessons for the past and future of Earth's climate; and 
understanding the geology and resources that could be used to 
support future human missions to Mars.

     The unifying theme of the Mars exploration program is 
the search for water, which is a key requirement for life, a 
driver of climate and a vital resource. Early missions will 
thus focus partially on finding and understanding the past 
and present state of water on Mars. Mars Global Surveyor and 
Mars Pathfinder will be the forerunners in this quest, 
becoming the precursors to a series of missions that may 
culminate in the first few years of the next century with 
robotic return of a Martian soil sample to Earth, followed by 
eventual human exploration.

Continuing Exploration Program

     NASA's 1996 missions to Mars further the global 
explorations of the planet begun in 1965 with the Mariner 4 
mission to Mars and continued in the mid-'70s by the Viking 
lander missions.

     From earlier investigations, scientists have compiled a 
portrait of Mars full of stark contrasts. Mars' surface 
features range from ancient, cratered terrain like Earth's 
Moon to immense volcanoes that would dwarf Mt. Everest and a 
canyon that would stretch across the United States.

     Mars' atmosphere is less than 1 percent as thick as 
Earth's, but there are permanent polar caps with reservoirs 
of water ice. Closeup shots of Mars' terrain resemble that of 
an Earthly desert, with surface features that look like river 
channels carved long ago by flowing water.

     The next step in Mars exploration, according to 
scientists, is to obtain an overview of the entire planet and 
to verify remote observations with measurements taken from 
the ground. Mars Global Surveyor is designed to study the 
atmosphere, surface and interior systematically over a full 
Martian year. The Russian Mars '96 orbiter has similar 
objectives, but will also characterize the uppermost 
atmosphere and its interactions with the solar wind.

     To obtain "ground truth" -- observations on the surface 
verifying those made from space -- the Russian Mars '96 
spacecraft will deploy two landers that will touch down in 
the northern hemisphere in a region called Amazonis Planitia 
and two penetrators that will impact and lodge themselves 
anywhere from 3 to 20 feet (1 to 6 meters) underground. These 
probes will furnish details of the atmosphere and surface at 
the specific locations in which they land. NASA is 
contributing two experiments to Mars '96: the Mars Oxidation 
Experiment, which will measure the oxidation rate of the 
Martian environment, and the Tissue-Equivalent Proportional 
Counter, which will study the radiation environment in 
interplanetary space and near Mars.

     Mars Pathfinder will deploy a mobile rover that will 
characterize rocks and soil in a landing area over hundreds 
of square meters (yards) on Mars. Pathfinder's instruments 
and mobile rover are designed to provide an in-depth portrait 
of Martian rocks and surface materials over a relatively 
large landing area, thereby giving scientists an immediate 
look at the crustal materials that make up the red planet.

Pathfinder Arrival in July 1997

     Although the last to leave Earth, Mars Pathfinder takes 
a shorter flight path and will be the first of the three 
spacecraft to arrive at Mars, touching down in Ares Vallis on 
July 4, 1997.

     Pathfinder is designed to demonstrate an innovative 
approach to landing a spacecraft and rover on the surface of 
Mars. Pathfinder will dive through the upper atmosphere of 
Mars on a parachute, then inflate a huge cocoon of airbags to 
cushion its impact. The spacecraft will collect engineering 
and atmospheric science data along its descent to the ground.

     The primary objective of the mission is to test this 
low-cost method of delivering a spacecraft, science payload 
and free-ranging rover to the surface of the red planet. 
Landers and rovers of the future will share the heritage of 
spacecraft designs and technologies that evolve from this 
pathfinding mission.

     Once on the surface, the lander's first task will be to 
transmit engineering and science data collected during 
descent through the thin atmosphere of Mars. Then its camera 
will take a panoramic image of its surroundings and begin 
transmitting the data directly to Earth at a few thousand 
bits per second. Much of Pathfinder's mission after this will 
be focused on collecting atmospheric and surface composition 
data, and supporting the rover by storing and transmitting 
images captured by its cameras. Pathfinder's nominal mission 
lifetime is approximately 30 "sols," or Martian days (about 
the same number of Earth days).

     Pathfinder's rover, Sojourner, will be carried to Mars 
in a stowed configuration with its chassis and wheels folded 
up like an accordion. Once its solar cells are exposed to the 
Sun, the rover will power up and stand to its full height 
before leaving the lander. Driving off onto the floor of an 
ancient flood plain believed to contain a wide variety of 
rocks, Sojourner will explore the surface independently, 
relying on the lander primarily for communications with 

Mars Global Surveyor and Mars '96

     Two months later, NASA's Mars Global Surveyor and 
Russia's Mars '96 orbiter will arrive at Mars on September 11 
and 12, 1997, respectively.

     At first, Mars Global Surveyor will be in a highly 
elliptical orbit and spend four months dipping lower and 
lower into Mars' upper atmosphere using a technique called 
aerobraking to bring it into a low-altitude, nearly circular 
mapping orbit over the poles. By March 1998, Surveyor will be 
ready to begin data collection, compiling a systematic 
database as it surveys the Martian landscape and photographs 
unique features, such as the polar caps and Mars' network of 
sinuous, intertwining river channels.

     Mars '96 carries a dozen instruments and a dozen smaller 
devices designed to study the evolution of the Martian 
atmosphere, surface and interior. In addition to 
meteorological and seismic instruments, the spacecraft 
carries instruments to image the Martian surface, explore the 
chemistry and water content of rocks and attempt to detect 
and measure the Martian magnetic field.

     The Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the Mars 
Pathfinder and Mars Global Surveyor missions for NASA's 
Office of Space Science, Washington, DC. Lockheed Martin 
Astronautics Inc., Denver, CO, is NASA's industrial partner 
for development and operation of the Mars Global Surveyor 
spacecraft. Russia's Mars '96 is managed by the Russian Space 
Agency. The Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia, is 
responsible for the Mars '96 science payload.

                       - end -

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