High-resolution images help prepare for Mars landing
June 28, 1999
By Robin Lloyd
(CNN) -- Things aren't always as they seem on Mars.
Some of the latest images from NASA's Global Surveyor mapping mission around the red planet are making that abundantly clear, a group of scientists and engineers interested in NASA's Mars mission set for a 2001 launch learned recently.
"With the high resolution Mars Orbiter Camera images, things that look smooth at low resolution appear very rough from high resolution and vice versa," said David Spencer, mission manager for the Mars 2001 mission.
Ken Edgett with Malin Space Science Systems, which operates the camera for NASA, compared some of the newest Mars images for the group that gathered last week in Buffalo, New York, with those taken from 1976 to 1980 by the two Viking landers.
The lesson for more than two thirds of the images was that Viking images alone might have led mission managers to choose an unsafe landing site, Spencer said.
"If you had no high resolution images and you tried to go someplace smooth from Viking images, you'd probably land someplace pretty rough and dangerous from a landing standpoint," he said.
Mars 2001, which will cost about $282 million to design, build, launch and operate initially, will include a three-legged lander and an orbiter. The orbiter will carry instruments to study gamma ray and heat emissions from the planet and construct a global map of the planet's elemental composition.
The lander and orbiter also will carry radiation to study its possible effect for human missions to Mars. NASA has said missions to begin preparing infrastructure for human missions could start as early as 2013.
Currently, Lockheed Martin is building the lander and orbiter. Later this year, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will install its flight hardware in the spacecraft, Spencer said.
Mission planners have yet to select a final landing site for Mars 2001 but they have boiled it down to 40 possibilities, Spencer said. Those areas include the planet's ancient highlands, layered deposits in the Valles Marineris area, a region with a high concentration of the mineral hematite and some ancient lake beds - all near the equator.
"A safe landing is obviously the highest priority, because without a safe landing, there is no scientific return" Spencer said. "But we also want the site to have the highest possible scientific return."
The Global Surveyor pictures returned over the past four months are some of the highest resolution pictures ever taken of Mars.
The spacecraft, launched in November 1996, was designed as a replacement for a previous mission that failed to provide a massive amount of data regarding Mars' surface features, atmosphere and magnetic properties. The data will help scientists build a data set to aid in planning future missions.
From Mars, with love
Mars Surveyor 98
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