An image released on 09/07/98 showing the mysterious "Giant Polygons" of the Martian northern plains. These "Polygons" were first seen by the Viking Orbiters in the 1970's...they appear to be huge cracks in the surface of the Red Planet.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of NASA

Exploring Mars - Slowly But Surely...
News story originally written on September 11, 1998

The Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) reached the Red Planet in September 1997. It has circled the planet nearly 600 times so far. Unfortunately, problems with one of the high-gain antennae is slowing exploration down.

The Surveyor spacecraft will complete its aero-braking procedures, bringing the Surveyor into its final and closer orbit to the Red Planet. From this lower orbit, detailed mapping of the surface can occur. After the aerobraking is finished, the high-gain antenna could be opened allowing for speedy transfer of the mapping data. However, managers are not sure that the high-gain antenna will open correctly. In the worst-case scenario, contact could be lost with the Surveyor spacecraft. So it is likely that a conservative decision to delay antenna deployment will be made in February 1999, a month before the main mapping portion of the mission is to start. This decision will maximize the probability of overall mission success.

Now that's not to say that the Surveyor is sailing through its Martian orbit with nothing to do. The Surveyor continues to do just that - survey! It recently was exploring features called the "Giant Polygons" (in the image to the left). Without the high-gain antenna, data can still be transmitted to the Earth, but it certainly takes a longer process.

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