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Over its mission lifetime, Mars Global Surveyor returned over 5 terabits of data and over 250,000 images.

The near-circular, polar, sun-synchronous mapping orbit of Mars Global Surveyor was ideal for studying weather phenomena - dust storms, water clouds, carbon dioxide clouds, dust devils, sand dunes, surface frost, and wind-driven streaks on the surface. The spacecraft orbited the planet 12 times per day from pole to pole as the planet turned underneath, resulting in science measurements taken at 12 equally spaced longitudes each day or 88 equally spaced longitudes per week. Since 1997, the spacecraft instrument teams and navigators fine-tuned the predictions of exactly where and when the orbiter will fly over a specific target on Mars so well that they could pinpoint targets to within 100 yards laterally and within 30 milliseconds (a millisecond is one thousandth of a second) of the optimal time to "snap the picture." These predictions were made 10 days in advance! The scientific vitality of the Mars Global Surveyor mission in the extended science phase emphasized three major objectives:

The scientific vitality of the Mars Global Surveyor mission in the extended science phase emphasizes three major objectives:

  • Monitoring of long-term cycles and variability of the martian atmosphere and volatile systems.
The opportunity to observe a planet for multiple years with a suite of science instruments is unprecedented for any planet but the Earth.
  • Focused characterization of the solid planet, including surface areas of geological importance and improvements in knowledge of internal structure.
Mars Global Surveyor has revealed the importance of the internal dynamics of Mars in relation to the dramatic change in climate from early in martian history to the present day. Nearly a decade of orbital acceleration measurements has produced gravity models of the mass distribution within Mars' interior. Research of the present-day interior structure is a necessary precursor to a better understanding of the early climate and the volatile history of Mars. Surface areas of geological interest are now being viewed by the Mars Orbiter Camera with super high resolution using spacecraft image motion compensation to detect surface features 50 centimeters (1.6 feet) in length.
  • Support for future Mars missions, including landing site assessment, aerobraking activities, and operations support via relay capability.
During science operations, Mars Global Surveyor provided both reconnaissance and relay communications support for other Mars missions. Mars Global Surveyor's high-resolution images and mineral-finding instruments enabled the enormous success of the Mars Exploration Rovers, and helped scientists and engineers select landing sites for Phoenix and Mars Science Laboratory.
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