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Next Stop: Mars

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Fall 1999
Next Stop: Mars
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Several important instruments are incorporated into the lander science package. The Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) will acquire and analyze close-up pictures of the landing site during descent; a Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) experiment will utilize a microphone capable of picking up the first recorded sounds from the Red Planet; and the MVACS package will integrate features divided into four categories:

  • the Stereo Surface Imager, which will transmit highly detailed color images of the area around the landing site, which later will be converted into three-dimensional panoramas;
  • the meteorology package, which will measure wind direction and speed, temperatures and atmospheric pressure and use a sensor to measure vapor, carbon dioxide and isotopic concentrations in the atmosphere;
  • the two-meter-long robotic arm as strong and flexible as any human arm which will scoop soil from the Martian surface to be analyzed by the UCLA team;
  • the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer, a collection of eight ovens and a tunable diode laser spectrometer to heat and analyze samples.

The payload will be exploring brand-new territory, and the polar terrain that the spacecraft is targeting will surely appear dramatically different from the turf scouted by the previous Mars lander missions something like the contrast between Santa Monica and the South Pole. Paige explains that the south polar region was chosen because the colder conditions and more variable climate make it the area most likely to harbor a wealth of trapped volatiles and revealing geologic formations. Of particular interest to the scientists are the polar-layered deposits, a geologic unit that contains the type of fine-scale layering that offers historical records of climate fluctuations, just as records of the Earth's climate are maintained in the polar caps of Antarctica and Greenland.

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