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New NASA Orbiter Sees Details of 1997 Mars Pathfinder Site

January 11, 2007

The high-resolution camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has imaged the 1997 landing site of NASA’s Mars Pathfinder, revealing new details of hardware on the surface and the geology of the region.

The new image from the orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment is available on the Internet at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/MRO/multimedia/pia09105.html and at links from http://hirise.lpl.arizona.edu .

The Pathfinder mission’s small rover, Sojourner, appears to have moved closer to the stationary lander after the final data transmission from the lander, based on tentative identification of the rover in the image. Pathfinder landed on July 4, 1997, and transmitted data for 12 weeks. Unlike the two larger rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, currently active on Mars, Sojourner could communicate only with the lander, not directly with Earth.

The lander’s ramps, science deck and portions of the airbags can be discerned in the new image. The parachute and backshell used in the spacecraft’s descent lie to the south, behind a hill from the viewpoint of the lander. Four bright features may be portions of the heat shield.

Rob Manning, Mars program chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, said, “The new image provides information about Pathfinder’s landing and should help confirm our reconstruction of the descent as well as give us insights into the landing and the airbag bounces.”

Dr. Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson, principal investigator for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, said “Pathfinder’s landing site is one of the most-studied places on Mars. Making connections between this new orbital image and the geological information collected at ground level aids our interpretation of orbital images of other places.”

For more information on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mro .

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is the prime contractor for the project and built the spacecraft. The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment is operated by the University of Arizona, and the instrument was built by Ball Aerospace and Technology Corp., Boulder, Colo.




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