Late Wednesday afternoon, the Mars Orbiter Camera aboard the Surveyor spacecraft imaged the red planet for the first time during the mission. This image was obtained by rotating the spacecraft into a position that pointed the camera directly at Mars for a period of one hour.
Communications with the spacecraft during the imaging opportunity was not possible because the Mars-pointed orientation resulted in pointing the high-gain antenna away from the Earth. Consequently, all of the data from the camera was stored on Surveyor's solid-state recorders. This data was transmitted back to Earth approximately five hours after the image was taken. The playback of camera data required 55 minutes to complete. During that time, Surveyor transmitted more than 250 megabits of data at a downlink rate of 85,333 bits per second.
The image, taken from a distance of 17.2 million kilometers, shows a global view of the planet centered on the Mars Pathfinder landing site at Ares Valles. Although Mars appears at lower resolution in this image as compared to those that will be taken from orbit later this year, the image allowed the Pathfinder team to ascertain that a recently detected dust storm brewing in the Valles Marineris canyon system will not affect weather conditions for today's scheduled landing.
After a mission elapsed time of 239 days from launch, Surveyor is 175.03 million kilometers from the Earth, 16.72 million kilometers from Mars, and is moving in an orbit around the Sun with a velocity of 21.96 kilometers per second. This orbit will intercept Mars 69 days from now, slightly after 6:00 p.m. PDT on September 11th (01:00 UTC, September 12th). The spacecraft is currently executing the C9 command sequence, and all systems continue to be in excellent condition.
The Mars Global Surveyor flight team would like to take this opportunity to extend our best wishes to our Mars Pathfinder colleagues for a safe landing today and a successful mission. The image of the Mars taken from Surveyor may be downloaded at:
Happy Independence Day!
Status report prepared by:
Office of the Flight Operations Manager
Mars Surveyor Operations Project
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of Technology
Pasadena, CA 91109