Published: June 23, 1996

A team of scientists that includes two Colorado researchers will take images of Mars June 27 with the Hubble Space Telescope to check the weather conditions in preparation for the July 4 landing of NASA’s unmanned Pathfinder spacecraft.

The team includes Steve Lee of CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, Todd Clancy of Boulder’s Space Science Institute, Phillip James of the University of Toledo, Mike Wolff of the Space Science Institute and Jim Bell of Cornell University. The researchers will take high-resolution color images of the side of Mars harboring the landing site in the early morning, mid-morning and early afternoon to see how cloudy the region will be on July 4.

HST and microwave observations taken by the team in March, April and May indicated the planet was cold and cloudy, said Lee. Those climate conditions are in stark contrast to the relatively warm and dusty conditions that existed when NASA’s unmanned Viking and Mariner 9 spacecraft visited Mars in the 1970s.

The team anticipates having the images processed and ready for release just prior to Pathfinder’s landing, said Lee. The team will continue to monitor Mars with HST for several months following the landing.

Pathfinder, which consists of a stationary lander and a tricycle-sized surface rover, will descend on the planet with the aid of parachutes, rockets and airbags. Both the lander and rover will carry a variety of scientific equipment and cameras and beam images back to Earth beginning July 4.

The lander will touch down in an ancient floodplain known as Ares Vallis, some 500 miles southeast of where the Viking 1 spacecraft landed in 1976.