Surveyor soars toward red planet
Satellite to map Martian surface
November 7, 1996
Web posted at: 1:30 p.m. EST
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (CNN) -- NASA launched a 10-month,
unmanned mission to Mars Thursday, the first step in a
multi-spacecraft bid to determine if there is -- or ever was
-- life on the fourth rock from the sun.
(848K/19 sec. QuickTime movie)
Global Surveyor, the first of 10 NASA probes bound for Mars
the next decade, replaces one that mysteriously disappeared
three years ago.
The spacecraft soared aloft at noon EST atop a Delta 2 rocket
launched from Cape
Canaveral Air Station in Florida. The launch, originally
scheduled for Wednesday, was postponed 24 hours because of
Surveyor will take 10 months to make the 470-million-mile
trip and another six months to ease into a mapping orbit.
Later, it will dip into the Red Planet's thin atmosphere,
using its wing-like solar panels as brakes.
Surveyor will study the Martian surface and atmosphere, but
will not land.
More to come
It is the first of three spacecraft, two U.S. and one
Russian, destined for Mars this year.
The next launch is Mars Pathfinder, equipped with a robotic
ground vehicle, that is scheduled for liftoff December 2 and
will land July 4, 1997, two months ahead of Surveyor.
NASA plans to send pairs of spacecraft every 26 months
through 2005 but has no firm plans for a manned mission to
Thursday's launch comes amid controversial revelations by
scientists of possible ancient life on Mars.
"One of our goals is ultimately to return a sample of the
surface of the planet itself," NASA's Wes Huntress told CNN
in a live interview. Scientists hope the sample has
"evidence on whether or not there was early life on the
planet," Huntress said.
Observer: lost in space
Surveyor was designed and built in record time to replace
NASA's $1 billion Mars Observer probe, which spun out of
control -- for reasons unknown -- just days before it was
due to enter the planet's orbit in 1993.
Surveyor carries copies of five of the seven scientific
instruments on its ill-fated predecessor, but at $215
million is much less expensive. It was made mostly from
leftover parts from Observer.
The problem: where to look?
From an altitude of 230 miles (365 km), its telephoto camera
will see objects on the surface as small as a compact car. By
the end of one Martian year -- 687 Earth days -- 99 percent
of the planet will have been mapped by Surveyor's
The probe does not carry any instruments that could directly
detect evidence of life, but it will scout out sites for a
future robotic mission to recover samples of rock.
Scientists must decide the best places to look "before we
decide which of those interesting rocks to bring back,"
"We'll be able to identify areas that might have been
conducive to past life," said Surveyor Mission Manager Glenn
Cunningham. (288K/13 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Correspondents John Zarrella, John Holliman and Reuters contributed to this report.
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