Three-dimensional, computer-rendered images of Mars and its surfaces are featured in a free screensaver now available on the Internet. Scientists used these very images to decide where they will land the Sojourner microrover this summer.
This imaginative screensaver also features an animated version of Sojourner, launched last December on the Mars Pathfinder spacecraft, as it climbs over or navigates around Martian boulders.
The rover animation sequence depicts the 60-centimeter (23-inch)- long microrover that will drive out onto the surface of Mars to explore the composition of rocks and soil after landing in the mouth of Ares Valles, an outflow channel, early this July. Sojourner, which is able to scale rocks up to its own size and to steer around larger ones, features miniaturized electronics and such innovative technologies as a six-wheeled "rocker-bogie" suspension system. It will be the first rover ever to land on Mars.
The screensaver was designed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as part of an effort to educate the public about the Mars Pathfinder mission and the Mars Global Surveyor orbiter. Both missions, rocketing into space last fall, heralded the debut of a decade-long NASA program of robotic exploration of Mars.
In addition to the rover sequences, the screensaver features a second module devoted to the Mars Global Surveyor orbiter, launched last November. Surveyor, which reaches Mars this September, will orbit for one full Martian year, or 687 days, taking new images while measuring the red planet's atmosphere and surface. Circling Mars every two hours, it is designed to provide global maps of surface topography, distribution of minerals, and monitoring of global weather.
Depicting the very regions of Mars that will be photographed by Surveyor, the screensaver zeroes in on the planet, depicting increasing detail of such prominent features as Olympus Mons, a towering volcano, and Valles Marineris, a huge canyon. The closing sequence shows a Viking photograph of Pathfinder's targeted landing site, Ares Valles, an ancient flood plain.
The screensaver, titled Mars Exploration Program: A New Trail to the Red Planet, is available on the Internet in versions tailored for those with Windows '95 or Macintosh software. It can be downloaded from the JPL Mars home page at: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/mars
To complete the download, users will need Version 4.0 of the "After Dark" screensaver software produced by Berkeley Systems, Inc. "After Dark" can be downloaded from: http://www.berksys.com/
The images seen in both of the screensavers' modules were created at JPL on its CRAY T3D parallel processor, part of JPL's Supercomputing Project. The screensaver, a joint effort of JPL and Berkeley Systems, was developed by the Mars exploration program and JPL's Supercomputing Project, with support from NASA's Office of Space Science.
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