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For Release: Nov. 25, 1996

Catherine E. Watson
(757) 864-6122

Release No. 96-176


NASA Langley's Contributions to the Mars Pathfinder Mission

When the Mars Pathfinder probe enters the Martian atmosphere in the summer of 1997, it will do so using information provided by engineers at NASA Langley.

On Monday, Dec. 2 the Mars Pathfinder probe will be launched from the Kennedy Space Center towards a July 4, 1997 landing on Mars. When Pathfinder reaches Mars, it will use the Martian atmosphere to slow down in a process called atmospheric deceleration. Deceleration uses the friction of the atmosphere flowing past a probe to slow the probe down.

In addition to providing valuable information for the entry phase of the Pathfinder mission, NASA Langley engineers also helped develop the flight software and design Pathfinder's heat shield. The heat shield will protect Pathfinder from excessive heat, caused by friction, during its journey through the Martian atmosphere. In addition, Langley engineers calculated where the Pathfinder probe would land on Mars based on its entry point into the Martian atmosphere. As a member of the Pathfinder team, a NASA Langley engineer will be in the control room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on July 4, 1997 to oversee the entry phase of the mission.

NASA Langley was chosen by JPL to provide these essential services due mainly to its expertise gained during the Viking missions to Mars in the late 1970s. Interviews with the NASA Langley engineers who devised the Pathfinder's entry into the Martian atmosphere are available. Pathfinder animation and illustrations are also available.

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