. RCA ASTRO RECEIVES CONTRACT FOR MARS OBSERVER . The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has select

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. RCA ASTRO RECEIVES CONTRACT FOR MARS OBSERVER . . . . . The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has selected the Astro-Electronics Division of RCA, located in Princeton, New Jersey as spacecraft contractor for the Mars Observer mission. This is the first of the Planetary Observers, a series of low cost missions for the exploration of the inner solar system. . . In order to achieve the requisite economies, a new procurement philosophy is being utilized. Rather than "reinvent the wheel" by designing a new vehicle from scratch for each mission, JPL's approach emphasizes use of existing, production line spacecraft designs and technology, particularly platforms originally designed as Earth-orbiting communication or weather satellites. These will be refitted for the contemplated mission by the addition of scientific instruments, chosen to fit within the constraints of the existing spacecraft design, and whatever engineering modifications may be appropriate to transform an Earth-orbital satellite into a spacecraft capable of traveling to and conducting experiments at other bodies in the inner solar system. In the case of the Mars Observer, the spacecraft selected after a competitive procurement process will be based on RCA Astro's SATCOM communications satellite. The electronic subsystems will use proven designs from the TIROS and DMSP series of meterological satellites. . . Present plans call for the spacecraft to be launched on an August 1990 Space Shuttle mission. An upper stage will then be used to inject it into an interplanetary transfer orbit. The upper stage which has been selected for the mission is the Transfer Orbit Stage (TOS) which has been developed by Orbital Sciences Corporation of Vienna, Virginia as a privately financed venture. After approximately a one year transit flight, the spacecraft will arrive in the Martian vicinity and go into orbit around the planet. The initial orbit will be adjusted into a nearly circular, sun-synchronous, low altitude polar orbit. The probe's mission is to last for one Martian year, slightly less than two Earth years. Scientific objectives are modest and well defined. The principal purpose of the Mars Observer mission is to flesh out knowledge gained by the Mariner and Viking missions of the 1960's and 70's. The spacecraft will gather geoscience date by repetitive mapping of the Martian surface and climatological data by observation of the seasonal variation of the planet's atmosphere. It is hoped that this will resolve still unanswered questions about the Martian surface and atmosphere and how they interact. . . Mission operations for the Mars Observer as well as future planetary observer missions will be conducted from a new multimission operations facility at JPL called the Space Flight Operations Center. . . . . . . . . . AN EXCURSION INTO HISTORY . . . . . The Mars Observer program is in way a reminder of just how far we've come in a relatively short period of time. Mars makes its closest approach to the Earth, about thirty-five million miles, once every seventeen years. (The last such event occurred in 1971, and the next will be two years from now in 1988.) These used to be eagerly anticipated by astronomers who, on each such occasion hoped to unravel some of the mysteries of the Red Planet. . . The excitement began in the Nineteenth Century when the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli reported he had observed some dark lines on the Martian surface which he called "canali." In Italian this simply means "channels." However, the coincidence with the English word "canal" immediately fueled speculation that Mars supported not only intelligent life but an advanced civilization capable of undertaking a planet-wide engineering project, the construction of a vast irrigation system to bring water from the planets polar caps to its arid desert regions. (Today it is theorized that what Schiaparelli actually saw may have been chains of craters on the Martian surface. In his relatively small telescope these appeared to be linked together to form a continuous line.) . . The possibility that Mars might be inhabited inspired, among other things, H. G. Well's classic story The War of the Worlds, which depicted a Martian invasion of the Earth. When produced as a radio program by Orson Wells in 1938, this created panic among listeners who thought they had tuned into a newscast instead of a drama. On a more serious scientific level, some reports say that during Mars 1937 approach the Navy ordered its ships to confine their radio traffic to essential messages so as to enhance the likelihood of picking up possible Martian transmissions. Not to be outdone, the Army had team of cryptoanalysts headed by William Friedman (who on the eve of the Second World War would break the Japanese PURPLE code) standing by to decipher any messages received. . . The 1954 event was likewise eagerly awaited. This would be the first occasion on which Mars could be observed through the 200 inch Mount Palomar telescope. It was hoped that this instrument could not only confirm the existence of the "canali" but determine if they followed great circle tracks, which would be evidence of artificial construction. One writer looked beyond 1954 to the 1971 apparition and stated that it was not too much to expect that there might be a telescope outside the Earth's atmosphere by that point, although even he did not venture to predict that by then spacecraft from Earth would have flown by the planet.

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