Fifteen years ago today — November 7, 1996 — the Mars Global Surveyor launched from Cape Canaveral atop a Delta-II rocket.
(Mars Global Surveyor. NASA image.)
The first U.S. mission to arrive successfully at Mars in 20 years — since the Viking missions — Mars Global Surveyor entered Martian orbit in September 1997. Its planned aerobraking routine had to be radically altered when one of its solar panels did not lock into position; as a result, it did not enter its final “mapping orbit” until February 1999.
Even though its primary mission was only intended to last one Martian year — 687 Earth days — MGS actually examined the red planet for seven years. Its array of instruments “collected data on the surface morphology, topography, composition, gravity, atmospheric dynamics, and magnetic field” in order to “investigate the surface processes, geology, distribution of material, internal properties, evolution of the magnetic field, and the weather and climate of Mars.” NASA lost contact with the spacecraft in November 2006, just five days shy of its ten-year launch anniversary.by
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