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Background Information

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This section includes a description and history of Mars, including Mars-related missions and projects.

Description of Mars

mars Mars has long been fascinating scientists the world over even before it was first described by Aristotle in 356 B.C. Later, in 1610, a man named Galileo Galilee observed its gibbous phase through his newly invented telescope. Researchers now know enough about Mars to believe that it may hold the key to answering questions about the history of the Earth. It is still unclear as to whether or not any type of microscopic life form existed on Mars.

Nicknamed the "Red Planet," it is a primary focus of future space exploration. Toward NASA's goal of producing the next generation of cheaper, better and faster spacecraft to Mars, in November 1996 NASA plans to launch the Mars Global Surveyor whose investigations include studying the global weather on Mars as well as the terrain.


About Mars

  • Mars Glossary - definitions of common terms
  • Mars Trivia - test your Mars knowledge in this short true/false quiz
  • Where is Mars? - finding Mars in Earth's sky
  • Terraforming Mars - how to terraform Mars

Life on Mars

The August 6, l996, announcement by NASA of the possible discovery of early life on Mars is cause for speculation and further inquiry. The following information and links are provided to get you started in your own investigation of the evidence:
  • Remarks by President Clinton with Regards to the Announcement
  • Mars Meteorites Exposed by Ron Baalke of JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

Mars Global Surveyor

mars global surveyor The Mars Global Surveyor mission will be an important one. Scheduled to launch November 6, 1996, on a Delta II launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral, Florida, Surveyor should arrive at Mars 10 months later on September 15, 1997. In late January 1998, the spacecraft will explore the atmosphere and terrain of Mars to produce maps of surface topography, mineral distribution and climate. It will also relay signals from other landers and probes for three more years.

Scientific Instruments

The wide range of instruments on Mars Global Surveyor reflects the various objectives of the mission. Their tasks range from imaging Mars to searching for an ancient magnetic field. Four of the instruments are attached to the side of the spacecraft that always faces the surface of Mars: the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC), the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA), the Electron Reflectometer (ER), and the Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES). The Magnetometer (MAG) is attached to the ends of the solar arrays which are always pointing toward the sun. In order to maintain the proper temperature, the instruments will be covered in thermal blankets.

Mars Pathfinder


Mars '96


Mars Together Project

Years ago, even back to the time of the Apollo missions, the United States and Russia were competing in a space exploration race. As time has passed, other countries in Europe and Asia have developed space programs of their own.

With today's shrinking space science budgets, it has become increasingly clear that it will be difficult for any one country to take planetary science solely upon themselves. Rather, international efforts will allow researchers to take the most advantage of each spacecraft that is launched. Mars Together, an international space exploration program, is an example of such an effort.

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