NASA plans to return to Mars with launch of pair of spacecraft


  • Randy Showstack


NASA hopes to land a one-two punch in gleaning more information about Mars with the launch of the Mars Climate Orbiter to the red planet in December 1998 and sending the Mars Polar Lander in January 1999. As follow-up missions to the Mars Global Surveyor and Pathfinder, the new duo will focus on mapping the planet's surface, profiling its atmosphere, and discerning details about the planet's climate and water and geological resources. These sensors could help to determine the possibility of whether living organisms have ever existed on the planet.

The Mars Climate Orbiter will start circling Mars in September 1999. When the Lander arrives that December, the Orbiter will serve as a radio relay system, beaming data to Earth. After the completion of the Lander mission, (expected to last about 60–90 Martian days through the planet's southern summer, until seasonal polar frosts may disrupt the craft's operation), the Orbiter will monitor the atmosphere, surface, and polar caps for a complete Martian year of 687 days.