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Just after Election Day, the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft (Figure 1) will embark on a journey to Mars to examine the surface and the seasonal variations of the atmosphere over an entire Mars year. Mars is an extremely rich mission target because the scientific questions it poses touch on geology, geophysics, geochemistry, atmospheric physics, climatology, biology, and—most of all—comparative planetology.

Researchers will use data collected from this mission to compare the planet's formation and evolution with that of Earth, to understand the evolution of climate and water on Mars, and to determine if life has ever existed on Mars. Mars Global Surveyor will acquire a basic global understanding of the planet as it exists today, provide a framework for understanding its past, and help shape a series of small missions to Mars that are being planned for the next 10 years.