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This is an image of a plateau and surrounding steep slopes within the Valles Marineris.
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Image from: Malin Space Science Systems

An Overview of the Mars Global Surveyor Mission

The mission of Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) is to map the surface of Mars from space, a mission somewhat akin to the Magellan mission to Venus. The MGS probe is also suppose to explore the topmost portion of the Martian atmosphere and make detailed observations of the Martian weather. Because MGS was to orbit Mars and not land on the surface, the trajectory was a little different than that of Mars Pathfinder (MPF), allowing MGS to launch before MPF, but arrive at Mars after MPF had already landed. MGS carries a number of instruments which are similar to those on the lost Mars Observer.

As part of the less expensive and more experimental premise of the Mars Surveyor Program, Mars Global Surveyor was the first to use the procedure of aerobraking. Aerobraking is when the atmosphere is used to slow the spacecraft sufficiently so that it can be placed into its desired orbit. This procedure was experimental, and was further complicated by the failure of one of the two solar panels on MGS. This complication delayed the beginning of MGS mapping, but scientists were able to work around the complication quite successfully, bringing MGS into the near-circular, low-altitude orbit required for mapping of the Martian surface.

Mapping was delayed by about a year, but MGS has still returned high-resolution images of the Martian surface and large amounts of data which will help scientists refine their models of the Martian atmosphere. Also among the important new results from the mission is the definite confirmation of the presence of a Martian magnetosphere. As of April 25, 2001, all systems on the MGS probe were functioning nominally. The spacecraft has been in space 1,631 days and has completed 9,530 mapping orbits of Mars! And MGS is still going strong!

Last modified May 11, 2001 by Jennifer Bergman.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA