On its 256th orbit of Mars, NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft successfully observed the vicinity of Pathfinder's landing site.

On its 256th orbit of Mars, the camera on-board the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft successfully observed the vicinity of the Pathfinder landing site. The images shown above include a Viking image at roughly 30 m (100 feet) scale, and a portion of the MOC image reproduced at a scale of 6.6 m (21.5 feet) per pixel.

The resolution of the MOC image that covered the Pathfinder landing site (MOC 25603) was about 3.3 m or 11 feet per pixel. The Pathfinder lander and airbags form a roughly equilateral triangle 5 m on a side. Noting that the camera has not yet been focussed (it needs to be in the stable temperature conditions of the low altitude, circular mapping orbit in order to achieve best focus) and the hazy atmospheric conditions, the effective scale of the image is probably closer to 5 m (16.4 feet). Thus, the scale of the image was insufficient to resolve the lander (more than one pixel is needed to resolve a feature). In addition, the relatively high sun angle of the image (the sun was 40° above the horizon) reduced the length of shadows (for example, only a few boulders are seen), also decreasing the ability to discriminate small features. Work continues to locate intermediate-scale features in the lander and orbiter images in the hope of identifying the precise landing site based on these comparisons.

Malin Space Science Systems and the California Institute of Technology built the MOC using spare hardware from the Mars Observer mission. MSSS operates the camera from its facilities in San Diego, CA. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Mars Surveyor Operations Project operates the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft with its industrial partner, Lockheed Martin Astronautics, from facilities in Pasadena, CA and Denver, CO.

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