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Space History Photo: Mars Climate Orbiter

space history, nasa, mars
The Mars Surveyor Climate Orbiter undergoes testing to simulate launch conditions in preparations for its mission to Mars in 1998. (Image credit: Lockheed Martin.)

In this historical photo from the U.S. space agency,  the Mars Surveyor '98 Climate Orbiter is shown here during acoustic tests that simulate launch conditions.

The orbiter was to conduct a two year primary mission to profile the Martian atmosphere and map the surface. To carry out these scientific objectives, the spacecraft carried a rebuilt version of the pressure modulated infrared radiometer, lost with the Mars Observer spacecraft, and a miniaturized dual camera system the size of a pair of binoculars, provided by Malin Space Science Systems, Inc., San Diego, California.

During its primary mission, the orbiter was to monitor Mars atmosphere and surface globally on a daily basis for one Martian year (two Earth years), observing the appearance and movement of atmospheric dust and water vapor, as well as characterizing seasonal changes of the planet's surface. Imaging of the surface morphology would also provide important clues about the planet's climate in its early history.

The mission was part of NASA's Mars Surveyor program, a sustained program of robotic exploration of the red planet, managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC. Lockheed Martin Astronautics was NASA's industrial partner in the mission. Unfortunately, Mars Climate Orbiter burned up in the Martian atmosphere on September 23, 1999, due to a metric conversion error that caused the spacecraft to be off course.

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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the U.S. government agency in charge of the civilian space program as well as aeronautics and aerospace research.