March 11, 1999
[The Happy Face Crater, pictured this week by Mars Global Surveyor.
Photo: Malin Space Science Systems and NASA.]
NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft began its prime mapping mission
this week and one of its first things it saw was a smiling face. NASA
is hoping this new image isn't as controversial as the last face on
Mars picture which led to theories that an alien civilization had
carved it out of the Martian rock.
The Happy Face Crater, as it is known, was imaged by the Mars Orbiter
Camera (MOC) on the first day of Global Surveyor's mapping mission.
"The MOC team's happiness is perhaps best expressed by the planet Mars
itself," Malin Space Science Systems, which built the camera, said in
a caption accompanying the "happy face" image.
The start of mapping has been delayed by over a year by technical
problems and scientists are delighted to start their imaging work in
Mars Global Surveyor was launched to the Red Planet in November 1996
and arrived the following September. A damaged solar array slowed
efforts to lower the spacecraft's orbit and postponed the start of its
The next major activity for the Mars Global Suveyor team will be the
deployment of the spacecraft's dish-shaped high-gain antenna on a
6.6-foot-long boom. The antenna has been folded against the side of
the spacecraft since launch to avoid contamination from rocket
Currently, Mars Global Surveyor has to stop taking pictures and data
to turn around and point its antenna back at earth. Once the antenna
is deployed it will be able to transmit data while the probe's camera
and instruments remain pointed at the Martian surface.
The antenna is due to be deployed at the end of the month.
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