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Mars Pathfinder Rover Exits Rock Garden To Begin Long Trek



Douglas Isbell
Headquarters, Washington, DC                  September 26, 1997 
(Phone:  202/358-1753)

Diane Ainsworth 
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA 
(Phone:  818/354-5011)

RELEASE:  97-217

MARS PATHFINDER ROVER EXITS ROCK GARDEN TO BEGIN LONG TREK

     After 83 days of atmospheric, soil and rock studies, NASA's 
Mars Pathfinder is moving into extended mission activities that 
will take the rover on its longest trek yet, while the lander 
camera completes its biggest and best landscape panorama.

     "The lander and rover performance continues to be nothing 
short of extraordinary," said Brian Muirhead, Mars Pathfinder 
project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), 
Pasadena, CA.  "We have proven that we know how to design robust 
robots to operate in the hostile environment of Mars."

     The rover has just completed its last alpha proton X-ray 
spectrometer study for a while, taking compositional measurements 
of a rock nicknamed Chimp, located just behind and to the left of 
an area scientists call the Rock Garden.  Once data from the 
spectrometer have been retrieved, Sojourner will begin a 164-foot 
(50-meter) clockwise stroll around the lander to perform a series 
of technology experiments and hazard avoidance exercises.  

     Meanwhile, the Pathfinder lander camera is continuing to 
image the Martian landscape in full-resolution color as part of 
its goal to provide a "super panorama" image of the Ares Vallis 
landing site.  Each frame of this panorama is imaged using 12 
color filters plus stereo. 

     "The super pan will be our biggest and best imaging data 
product," Muirhead said. "It is made up of 1 gigabit (1 billion 
bits) of data, of which we've received more than 80 percent. Given 
our limited downlink opportunities, we should have the full image 
by the end of October." 

     The 22-pound (10.5-kilogram) rover has survived 10 times 
longer than its primary mission design of seven days, while the 
lander has now been operating 2.5 times longer than it was 
originally expected to operate, according to Richard Cook, Mars 
Pathfinder mission manager.  

     Both vehicles are solar-powered, but carried batteries to 
conduct night-time science experiments and keep the lander warm 
during the sub-freezing nights on Mars. Normal usage has fully 
depleted the rover's non-rechargeable batteries, limiting it to 
daylight activities only.  The lander battery, which packed more 
than 40 amp-hours of energy on landing day, performed perfectly 
during the 30-day primary mission, but is now down to less than 30 
percent of its original capacity. 

     "We expected to begin seeing this type of degradation on both 
vehicles and, of course, designed both the lander and rover to 
operate without batteries altogether," Cook said.  "If everything 
else continues to operate properly, we could continue conducting 
surface experiments for months."

     About once every two weeks, the lander battery is used to 
perform some night-time science experiments, he added.  The 
primary activity is acquiring meteorological data and images of 
morning clouds, as well as images of Mars' two small moons, Phobos 
and Deimos. 

     Despite the lack of battery power, the rover has continued 
taking successful spectrometer readings during the day.  In the 
next two weeks, engineers will drive the vehicle back to a 
magnetic target on the ramp from which Sojourner first touched 
Martian soil. 

     "This analysis of the dust on the ramp magnet is a very 
important science measurement," noted Dr. Matthew Golombek, Mars 
Pathfinder project scientist. "The results should give us a clue 
about how all this magnetic dust was formed."     

     Recent images and movies from Mars Pathfinder activities 
continue to be posted to the Internet at the following URL:

                http://marsweb.jpl.nasa.gov

     The next media briefing  on science results from Mars 
Pathfinder is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, October 8, at 1 
p.m. ET at JPL.

     The Mars Pathfinder mission is managed by the JPL for NASA’s 
Office of Space Science, Washington, DC.  The mission is the 
second in the Discovery Program of fast track, low-cost spacecraft 
with highly focused science goals. JPL is a division of the 
California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA.

                         - end -