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December 6, 1996

12:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time

The Mars Pathfinder spacecraft continues to perform well in the early part of its cruise to Mars, which is about 209 million kilometers (130 million miles) away today.

Currently the spacecraft is 750,000 kilometers (0.5 million miles) from Earth, or about two times the distance that the Moon is from Earth, traveling at a speed of 3.3 kilometers per second (7,400 miles per hour).

The spacecraft is performing just as expected, with the exception of the sun sensor. The temperatures of the lander and its electronics are at their predicted levels for this phase of the mission. The cruise stage solar array, propulsion module and electronics are also at their predicted temperatures. Two of the four segments of the solar array are currently in use, producing approximately 250 watts of power, about 10 percent more power than the original predicts. The battery is charged at 75 percent of its full capacity, and is showing a temperature of 9 Celsius (48 degrees Fahrenheit), which is approaching the desired steady state of 8 Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit). The telecommunications system is performing well within its predicted range, indicating that it will be able to maintain higher data rates throughout the mission.

The JPL flight team is continuing its investigation of a lower than expected voltage reading on the sun sensor. However, since the sensor data are good, flight controllers have decided to implement a software update to compensate for this low voltage condition. The software modification has already been coded and validated in the project's testbed and will be sent to the spacecraft this weekend. The software modification will allow Pathfinder's on-board attitude control system to use the sun sensor data in its normal calculations of the spacecraft's orientation. Once the attitude control calculations are verified, the planned spin-down maneuver to 2 rpm will be performed, probably early next week.

The spacecraft is pointed approximately 55 degrees from Earth and 25 degrees off the Sun. Doppler and ranging data continue to look very good. Because the spacecraft is not pointed directly at Earth, flight controllers are able to observe the motion of the antenna as Pathfinder spins about its axis and have confirmed a spin rate of 12.3 rpm.

The latest orbital data from tracking operations at all three Deep Space Network stations around the world indicate that the magnitude of the first trajectory correction maneuver, if performed as scheduled on Jan 4, 1997, would be 29.5 meters per second (96 feet per second).

Mars Pathfinder, the second in NASA's Discovery program of low-cost, highly focused spaceflight missions, is scheduled to land on the surface of Mars on July 4, 1997, and deploy a small rover, called Sojourner, to explore the Martian landscape.

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