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Mars Polar Lander touchdown scheduled today

By Maya Schechter
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
December 3, 1999
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After almost a year of ancipation, UA scientists are anxiously awaiting the landing of the NASA Mars Polar Lander, which is scheduled to touch down today at 1:15 p.m.

"We're expecting fabulous pictures of Mars that have never been seen before," said Peter Smith, UA senior research scientist. "We're honored to give the world these images."

Mars Volatiles and Climate Surveyor, an integrated scientific payload instrument onboard the Polar Lander, will search for water and other gases to determine the behavior of water's role in the weather and climate of Mars.

The research tools that will be used in today's mission were designed and built at the University of Arizona by researchers, students and international colleagues at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

Smith heads the UA group that built the Surface Stereo Imager. This group also designed the Pathfinder camera which brought back images of Mars in July 1998.

William Boynton, planetary sciences professor, built the instrument that will be looking for ice underground on Mars. He heads the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer group at the UA.

"TEGA will look for water and carbon dioxide and then heat up the soil sample to see if there is ice and find out what happened to all the water on Mars," Boynton said.

The last Mars mission - Mars Climate Orbiter - burned up in the planet's atmosphere from a navigational error Sept. 23., prompting scientists to say they are worried about the survival of this craft, which launched Jan. 3.

"I think they've worked out all of the problems that took place last time, so we're hoping this one will work out," Boynton said.

A UA camera team also built two cameras for this mission and is in charge of the collection of images. The team will be posting the new images online.

A press conference to release the images will be held at 2 p.m. today. The spacecraft will then be "put to sleep for a few hours," Smith said.

At midnight, the spacecraft will be awakened to take more pictures and another press conference will be held at midnight to release the new images.

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