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Living with the Global City
When Memory Comes
Next Stop: Mars

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Fall 1999
Next Stop: Mars
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"We're part of a team that's making history," she says. "To me, that's one of the most awesome things you can do."

As you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner in November, the Mars Polar Lander will be eight days from its final destination. At 12:05 p.m. PDT on Dec. 3, a Friday approximately 4 a.m. local Mars time the lander is scheduled to touch down on the surface, unfold its solar panels and point its radio antenna toward Earth. At that point, the rehearsals will be over for the MVACS team and the real work will begin.

If all goes well, the first images of the Martian south polar region will make it back to Earth within an hour of the landing. (The video delay will be 15 minutes, the time it takes for the data to travel at the speed of light.) "Certainly the pictures will drive home the point that we have landed on an alien surface and there's something new to see," says Paige. The first images won't offer much perspective, but within a couple of days, a color panorama view of the horizon as it appears from the landing spot should be available. (Images will be viewable online at www.marspolarlander.com and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msp98.) By about that time, the lander will have settled in, and the MVACS team will be able to begin using the robotic arm to start acquiring samples from the Martian soil.

"We can't do everything in one day," says Paige. "We see this as a story that will unfold. Hopefully, the story will become more interesting as we're able to dig deeper and deeper below the surface data."

The MVACS scientists will not have long to review the data coming in, given the time constraints and the need to adjust the testing strategies based on the information they receive. But the data will also serve MVACS and other researchers long after this mission is complete. "We're still learning things from data we acquired on the Viking missions more than 20 years ago," notes Paige.

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