Pathfinder is doing better than expected

By Gloria Chang
 ...3:10p.m. PST

To a cheering crowd of international media, NASA announced that the first digital data transmission shows the Mars Pathfinder is doing better than they expected.

"I am absolutely ecstatic, we are on the surface of Mars," said Brian Muirhead, deputy project manager of the Mars Pathfinder. "This is way beyond our expectations, the whole day has been just extraordinary."

Mission control started receiving the first digital data transmission through its low-gain antenna at about 2:20PM PT today.

The digital data - still being relayed through Pathfinder's low-gain antenna at 40 bits per second - will give us the health of the lander and rover.

As of yet, "We know we're down, we know we're very healthy," said Muirhead. Pathfinder landed in the center of its targeted landing site at the mouth of an ancient water channel, but NASA won't know exactly where until the data is analyzed.

The transmission will also give us the first science data from the surface of Mars in over 20 years. Information like the peak deceleration of Pathfinder, how hard it hit the surface and perhaps most entertaining, the number of bounces Pathfinder took to finally settle on the ground will be sent to Earth. (No camera was on board to tape this bouncing sequence).

Once the scientists have successfully received data, it's time for Earth to send commands to Pathfinder on Mars. Mission control will ask Pathfinder to deploy its high-gain camera, which will take the images of the lander. Soon after, it will send back panoramic images of the Martian surface.

The Pathfinder team will present its data analysis in about an hour.