Destination: red planet

Destination: red planet neil armstrong had described his landing on the moon as "one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind". Thrill-spilling Hollywood movies like Independence Day, Contact, Men in Black and Mars Attacks , has romanticised this leap by depicting how mysteries of a different world come virtually true. On July 4, coinciding with the Independence Day of the us , a spacecraft from the earth called the Mars Pathfinder landed on our nearest neighbouring planet Mars. "Sci-fi became Sci-fact," said a scientist with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ( nasa ), us .

The Pathfinder landed on the Red planet's boulder-stricken terrain after bouncing wildly three times in the Martian atmosphere. It is now named as Carl Sagan Memorial Station after the world famous cosmologist Carl Sagan.nasa administrator Dan Goldin said that it was only right to remember Carl Sagan, who served as a consultant for all nasa's spacecraft and whose television show Cosmos retraced 15 billion years of cosmic evolution. The mission which was launched last December, has thrilled millions of sci-fi fans not only in the us but also in other parts of the whole world.

Ninety minutes after the Pathfinder landed successfully on the red planet, Scientists at nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, were in the seventh heavens after the first data started coming. Brian Muirhead, deputy project manager, said, "This is the first interplanetary celebration of the birth of our nation. So it is a proud moment. And its nirvana for us space guys." nasa scientists described this phenomenal scientific endeavour as a "success". After 21 years of the landing of the Viking 2 spacecraft on the Mars on September 3, 1976, the Pathfinder's quest is being highly lauded.

The route of the spacecraft was so fine-tuned that the Pathfinder was headed for a 100-km-by-19.3-km ellipse in the southwest part of its original 160-km-by-97-km target. That could give the Pathfinder a view of a 16,000-ft (488 m) Martian island carved out by an ancient flood -sheer delight for geologists. The spacecraft entered the Martian atmosphere at an angle of 14 degrees. At an altitude of less than 11.2 km, the parachute unfurled. Then airbags inflated, descent rockets fired for a few seconds and the Pathfinder dropped to the surface at a velocity of 37 km an hour.

It was still night while the Pathfinder landed on the rocky, dusty plains of Ares Vallis. The Ares Vallis landing site was selected after geologists studied photographs taken by the earlier Viking orbiters. The site appeared to be a flood plain where a variety of ancient highland rocks have been deposited most probably after catastrophic floods.

Six hours after landing on the red planet, the spacecraft transmitted its first three-dimensional images from the Mars. Muirhead said, "We are on the surface of Mars and have received our first telemetry." The first transmitted photographs showed the spacecraft and its attached roving vehicle in the foreground, upright, as well as a broad field of rocks and sand stretching to hills on the far horizon.

An analysis of the pictures reveals a hitch that would almost certainly delay the deployment of the six-wheeled rover, Sojourner, but the delay would be not surprising and should not reduce the mission's research, feel scientists. The 10-kg Sojourner is the first mobile vehicle to operate on another planet and is a test model for more advanced roving vehicles to be used on future missions to Mars.

Although the Pathfinder and its rover are not fully equipped to identify signs of life, there is a device on the rover called an :lpha proton x-ray spectrometer' to determine the mineral content of rocks scattered around the landing site. It is believed that the rocks were washed on the plain from the ancient highlands nearby and that their mineral composition should provide clues to the planet's early environment.

Moreover, it is believed that the rover will give detailed data on the geology, seismology, mineralogy, meteorology and half a dozen other sciences of the planet Mars. Besides, the Pathfinder is equipped with instruments for recording weather conditions, a two-lense camera (which can rotate 360

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