One 'marvelous' Martian week
NASA says Pathfinder already has met objectives
July 11, 1997
Web posted at: 8:20 p.m. EDT (0020 GMT)
PASADENA, California (CNN) -- One week after Mars Pathfinder
dropped onto the surface of Mars and into the public's
imagination, the man in charge of turning the mission from
concept to reality gave his verdict Friday: "Marvelous."
Pathfinder project manager Anthony Spear also had a word or
two for those skeptics who doubted that the Pathfinder team
could successfully put a spacecraft on Mars on time and
within budget, using technologies that had never been tried
"The diplomatic critics would say, 'Hey, Tony, you have
little chance of landing safely.' The more vocal would say,
'Stop this project now,'" Spear says. "Now that it's a major
success, I think back, and it's a wonderful feeling to recall
some of the conversations with these so-called experts that
told us 'Hey, you don't have any chance.'"
"But the most staggering thought I get is, what if we had
listened to them and lost heart?"
Thursday's activities scrapped due to glitch
Despite the elation of the Pathfinder team over the mission's
success to date, there have been difficulties in recent days.
On Wednesday, the rover went a bit too far and climbed part
of the way up on a rock it was supposed to analyze with APXS,
its X-ray spectrometer. That meant the device couldn't be
used until the rover was backed off the rock.
Then Thursday, a problem with timing communications between
Earth and Mars forced a whole day's work to be scrapped.
A command to turn on the receiver on the Pathfinder's lander
was given 11 minutes too late. Mission manager Richard Cook
said the mistake wasn't discovered for several hours, and
during that time the lander wasn't receiving instructions.
Cook said that because of the delay, the decision was made to
simply scrap Thursday night's activities, including
repositioning the rover. Instead, the crew was given the
"On the seventh day, we decided to rest," quipped Cook, who
said the commands would be reissued on Friday night, which is
when the eighth Martian day of the mission will begin.
Major goals met as first week ends
With the first week on Mars behind them, the scientists and
engineers who put Pathfinder on the Red Planet say they have
already met the major objectives set for the mission.
Pathfinder landed without incident, using a drop, bounce and
roll technology that had never been tried before. Its rover,
Sojourner, journeyed onto the surface of Mars and performed
scientific analyses of soil and at least one rock. A weather
station has been sending back information on temperature and
Also, imagers on board both the lander and the rover have
sent back panoramic views of the Martian surface, including
three-dimensional images unveiled at a press conference
Friday -- during which scientists and reporters donned cheap,
decidedly low-tech plastic glasses to get the full effect.
The mission has also been a public relations triumph, with
more than 150 million hits on the Pathfinder's World Wide Web
sites in the first week alone.
But perhaps the most important accomplishment of the mission,
at least when it comes to long-term Mars exploration, is that
NASA's new mantra of building projects "faster, better and
cheaper" has proven to be feasible.
"It's helped us with a huge number of steps that we have to
take for the future and the eventual [human] exploration of
Mars," said Norm Haynes, director of Mars exploration for
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California,
where Pathfinder was built.
"Besides our technical challenge to land on Mars, we were on
the hook to [demonstrate] a new way of doing business," Spear
Future missions to benefit from Pathfinder's path
Pathfinder, built in three years for about one-fourth the
cost of a single space shuttle mission, is the first of nine
probes that will go to Mars between now and 2005, when an
unmanned spacecraft is scheduled to return from Mars with the
first soil and rock samples.
At Friday's news briefing, Dr. Larry Soderblom of the U.S.
Geological Survey, who is part of the Pathfinder science
team, said the mission already has provided some key
information for planning future trips.
For instance, at the site where Pathfinder landed, the wind
has blown away sand dunes that cover much of the surface of
Mars, exposing rocks that could provide information about the
Martian past, including the question of whether primitive
life ever existed there.
Soderblom said future missions should be targeted to land in
similar sites, because the secrets contained in those rocks
will be easier to uncover than they would be in areas covered
"But it also means that we're going to land in some places
that are rougher than a cob, and that we need to start
gearing the exploration program in that direction," he said.
"The [landing] technology that we used on Pathfinder is one
way to get into these extremely rough environments."
And in those rough places, he said, it is unlikely that
rovers will ever be able to travel vast distances over such
Untested craft performed as projected
During the past week, scientists in Pasadena have been busy
analyzing data from Pathfinder's July 4 descent through the
Martian atmosphere and landing on the surface. What they have
found is that the spacecraft performed as designed -- despite
the fact that the entire system had never been tested as a
whole from start to finish.
"All of the data seems to be within the margin we designed
for. Even the surprises are within the margins we designed
for, which is very nice," said descent and landing engineer
Dara Sabahi. "It's really pleasant to finally understand how
it really worked compared to all of the different ways we
thought it would work."
Because all of the conditions Pathfinder would face could not
be simulated on Earth, Sabahi said the only end-to-end tests
of the mission were done with a computer simulation.
- Scientists call Martian rock 'a real surprise' - July 8, 1997
- Rover 'holds hands' with Barnacle Bill - July 7, 1997
- Sojourner, meet Barnacle Bill - July 6, 1997
- Tiny Mars rover set to take giant roll for mankind - July 5, 1997
- NASA gets good news on Pathfinder glitch - July 5, 1997
- NASA gets good news on
Pathfinder glitch - July 5, 1997
- Communications glitch hampers Mars rover - July 5, 1997
- Mars Pathfinder sends first snapshots - July 4, 1997
- NASA: Pathfinder has landed - July 4, 1997
- Pathfinder speeds toward Martian surface - July 4, 1997
- Pathfinder nears its destiny - July 3, 1997
- Scientists giddy as Pathfinder nears Mars - July 1, 1997
- NASA hope third time's the charm for Mars probe launch - December 3, 1996
- Pathfinder to roam Mars in search of possible life - October 1, 1996
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