Mars Pathfinder to go into contingency plan

By Gloria Chang
 ...7:10 p.m. PT

After an incredibly exciting and exceedingly successful landing of Mars Pathfinder on the Red Planet today, NASA has implemented a contingency plan, delaying the deployment of Sojourner, the rover.

Sojourner is sitting on a petal that doesn't have its airbag retracted completely. That means the ramp - that will allow Sojourner to drive onto the surface - will not unroll properly. There may be a rock underneath the airbags, speculates Dr. Jacob Matijevic, rover manager.

Mission control has sent commands to move the petal up 45 degrees so that the airbags can be retracted further by high-strength cords which will grab the airbags into a compact body. Images along the edge of the petals will again be taken to assess whether it's then safe to unroll the ramps.

 The pictures will be sent down at 7:30PM PT to assess the safety of unrolling the ramps, but it's unlikely Sojourner will get to roam the Martian surface today.

"It's almost certain we will not get the rover off today," said project scientist Matthew Golombek.

Despite the delay, the Pathfinder team is in a celebratory mood, having brought down such clear pictures in such a short span of time. A signal from the high-gain antenna was sent about 2:30PM PT, and the first images came down only two hours later at 2500 bits per second. The high-gain antenna, which caused much concern yesterday, is pointed to Earth by within just one tiny degree of the Earth. The antenna is so well placed, the Pathfinder team expects that it can increase its data transmission rate to 11,000 later into the mission.

The international media were just as appreciative, applauding throughout the presentation of the first colour images at the Von Karmon Auditorium at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab.

 "There definitely could not be a happier scientist today," said project scientists Matthew Golombek, elated with the landing site. From the first images, Pathfinder seems to have landed near some elevated ranges. The twin Viking landers - the last mission to successfully land on the Red Planet over twenty years ago - both landed on flat areas.

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