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Surfing Mars

NASA’s Web site logged an estimated 40 million hits Friday as cybersurfers followed Pathfinder’s search for life on Mars.

“We are really now in the electronic age, and I am so proud we can get this information to everyone who wants to see it,” said NASA administrator Dan Goldin, adding that the space agency’s site was deluged even before the first pictures were beamed back.

The Internet access room at Planetfest, a three-day festival coinciding with the Mars Pathfinder landing, buzzed with activity as astronomy buffs and other earthlings anxiously awaited word from the red planet.

The Web Interface for Telescience, accessible from any Web browser, shows several perspectives of the rover’s position and paths. Users can change the path and then run the rover to see how it interacts with its environment.

Red planet in B&W;

The first pictures back from the surface of Mars clearly showed a stark, Mojave Desert-like landscape of boulders, rocks and stones stretching clear to the daytime horizon of the red planet.

With crisp views of hulking, steeply angled slabs, they were hardly the grainy shots that scientists had warned reporters to expect as the Pathfinder began returning its first, low-resolution images less than seven hours after a flawless Independence Day landing.

Mission briefs

How far: Pathfinder traveled 309 million miles to Mars.

Communication: Radio signals take between 10 and 11 minutes to travel between the lander and mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Landing site: Floodplain known as Ares Vallis, dotted with boulders and believed created by a giant flood in the planet’s distant past.

Weather: Temperatures expected to range from minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit to minus 127 degrees Fahrenheit. Preliminary reading at landing: minus 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mission: Study conditions and geology, test technology for remotely operated exploration, scope out sites for later missions to collect samples that may yield evidence of bygone life on Mars.

xxxx CLICK HERE A list of the mirror sites is available at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/mpfir. Information on Planetfest’s activities is available at http://www.planetary.org.



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