Mars Pathfinder - Faster, Better, Cheaper?
23 October 1998A seminar will be given in the Space Science Department of ESTEC on Friday 23 rd October by dr. Nicolas Thomas of the Max Planck Institute fur Aeronomie, Lindau Germany, entitled "Mars Pathfinder - Faster, Better, Cheaper?". Dr. Thomas was actively involved in the mission as a member of the Imager team.
Mars Pathfinder was originally conceived as a technology demonstration mission. The spacecraft was to use an innovative landing strategy with a small payload complement (but including the first rover to survey another planet) while remaining under a rigorously enforced cost cap of $175 million (2% more than it cost to make the movie, Waterworld). The landing on 4 July 1997, and the subsequent 83 days of operations was technologically completely successful. Also, from a public relations point of view, the mission became the most successful since the manned Moon landings. But did we really learn anything scientifically about Mars itself? The presentation will provide a brief overview of the mars Pathfinder mission and will, of course, show some of the spectacular images of the surface (including in 3-D) returned by the Imager for Mars Pathfinder (a surprisingly close relative of the DISR camera on ESA's Huygens probe). However, a major fraction of the presentation will be given over to presenting some of the scientific results from the mission. In particular, the importance of dust in the atmosphere will be discussed. It will be shown that studies of the spectral characteristics of the surface are far from trivial because of the magnitude of the diffuse illumination. Models will be presented quantifying these effects. Finally, some of the consequences of the Mars Pathfinder mission will be briefly discussed within the context of ESA's present programme.