The Mars Global Surveyor was the first successful Mars mission in 2 decades. When it launched on November 7, 1996 it created an intense moment for NASA and the American people since 3 prior missions, USSR’s Phobos 1 and Phobos 2 and the US’s Mars Observer, were failures. Many were excited when the Mars Global Surveyor arrived in Mars on September 12, 1997 but the intensity was still there, for 1 and a half years the Mars Global Surveyor would loop around Mars until it achieves a circular orbit and begin its mapping process. The mission could still fail anytime during the process, only when the MGS is fixed on a circular orbit can the scientists and the people rejoice and start celebrating success.
Thankfully, on March 1999, the Mars Global Surveyor achieved a circular orbit and began the mapping process. It observed everything through its Mars Orbital Camera. The atmosphere, weather changes, surface and even the interiors of Mars. It captured images everyday in order to build a daily global map. The maps were then used by scientists to observe meteorological conditions in Mars as well as understand the changing weather patterns on the red planet.
The Mars Global Surveyor mission was to last 2 years but the orbiter didn’t stop communicating until November 2, 2006. After 9 years and 52 days the Mars Global Surveyor finally succumbed to battery failure and got lost in orbit. The MGS is by far the longest ever mission to Mars, long enough to last 3 mission extensions.
- Monitor the Martian atmosphere and volatile systems on a long term basis to understand their variability and cycle.
- Characterize the Martian surface and improved knowledge of its internal structure.
- Map out future landing sites for Mars landers, provide communications relay and aerobraking activities.
- Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) – Used to produce wide-angle and narrow images images of Mars. Just like a weather image of Earth. The camera produced 250,000 images of Mars during its mission. These images were used to understand the Martian weather patterns and help choose future landing sites for rovers.
- Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) – This instrument measures the height and depth of Martian mountains and valleys. The MOLA provided an accurate topography of the Martian surface which helped scientists identify previous pathways of water as well as the location, volume and sizes of water sheds.
- Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES) – This instrument studied the Martian atmosphere and identified the composition of the Martian surface. It discovered the accumulation of the mineral Hematite, which can only form in standing bodies of water. The findings of the TES directed the Mars Exploration Rovers to the Meridiani Planum and Gusev Crater.
- Magnetometer – Studies the Martian magnetic field in order to help scientists understand the interior of the red planet. They found out that Martian magnetic field varies on different areas of the planet which suggests that magma cooled very quickly as it came up through the crust.
- Radio Science – Used to map variations in the gravity field and determine atmospheric pressures at specific location.
Upon arriving in Mars the orbiter used an aerobraking technique in order to achieve a circular orbit. This process, which uses the Martian atmosphere to slow the orbiter down, lasted for 1 and a half years. Upon achieving low altitude and near polar orbit, the Mars Global Surveyor began its successful observation and mapping of Mars.