[This story is based on a NASA press release dated March 26, 1998, plus additional information provided by Professor Stanley McDaniel (http://www.mcdanielreport.com)]
According to a public announcement from NASA on March 26, the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft is about to begin a summer-long set of scientific observations of the red planet from an interim elliptical orbit, including several attempts to photograph the Cydonia region, which contains unusual landforms known as the "Face" and "Pyramids" of Mars.
In November of 1997, independent Cydonia researchers Professor Stanley McDaniel, Dr. Mark Carlotto and four colleagues met with NASA officials in Washington, D.C. and received, for the first time, unequivocal assurances that NASA would attempt to reimage the controversial Cydonia landforms "at every opportunity." It now appears that NASA will try to make good on that promise soon.
"Global Surveyor will have three opportunities in the next month to see the Cydonia region," said Glenn E. Cunningham, Mars Global Surveyor project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA. "The site will be visible about once every eight days, and we'll have a 30- to- 50-percent chance of capturing images each time."
The spacecraft suspended aerobraking on March 27 and shortly thereafter turned on its payload of science instruments including the high resolution camera which, it is hoped, will capture pictures of the Cydonia region at least several times sharper than those taken by the Viking orbiter in 1976.
Aerobraking, a technique that gradually lowers and circularizes the spacecraft's orbit around Mars, will resume in September and then continue until March 1999, when the spacecraft will be in a final, circular orbit for its prime mapping mission.
NASA said that several factors limit the chances of obtaining images of specific features with the high-resolution mode of the camera on any one pass. These factors are related primarily to uncertainties both in the spacecraft's pointing and the knowledge of the spacecraft's ground track from its navigation data. In addition, current maps of Mars are derived from Viking data taken more than 20 years ago. Data obtained by Global Surveyor's laser altimeter and camera during the last few months have indicated that NASA's knowledge of specific locations on the surface is uncertain by 0.6 to 1.2 miles (1 to 2 kilometers). As a result, the locations of the specific features in the Cydonia region are not precisely known.
However, the Cydonia landforms are quite large, and NASA officials are fairly confident that the camera should be able to capture some of the features in that area this summer.
In a statement posted to the internet, Stanley McDaniel says that he received a personal phone call from JPL's Glenn Cunningham on March 26. Cunningham wanted to give McDaniel advance notice of NASA's intentions to reimage the Cydonia landforms.
"When asked if Dr. Michael Malin, the MGS camera operator who is an outspoken opponent of Mars anomaly research, would be cooperating with the new priority given to imaging the anomalies, Mr. Cunningham assured me that he [Malin] will do so," McDaniel says.
McDaniel was also told that the Mars Global Surveyor would be maneuvered to optimize the chances of getting good images of the Cydonia landforms. "Cunningham assured me that the MGS will be 'rolled' or tilted by means of the onboard momentum wheels, so even if the craft does not fly directly over the area, images may still be obtained," McDaniel says. "In addition, it is expected that lighting conditions will be good on these passes."
Addressing the widely held belief that the Cydonia landforms are of artificial origin, Dr. Carl Pilcher, acting science director for Solar System Exploration in NASA's Office of Space Science in Washington, said, "Most scientists believe that everything we've seen on Mars is of natural origin. However, we also believe it is appropriate to seek to resolve speculation about features in the Cydonia region by obtaining images when it is possible to do so."
Pilcher was one of the two NASA officials who met with McDaniel, Carlotto and other Cydonia researchers last November.
CNI News comments: The potential importance of new Cydonia pictures can hardly be overestimated. Mars Global Surveyor's high resolution camera is capable of returning images at least three times and, ideally, more than ten times sharper than the images from Viking. Even at three times better detail, it should be possible to determine with certainty whether the Cydonia landforms were formed by natural geological and erosive processes, as claimed by most NASA scientists, or necessarily required intelligent construction, as surmised by McDaniel, Carlotto, Richard Hoagland, Vincent DiPietro and others.
Either way, the pictures should put an end to a controversy that has lasted nearly twenty years.
But if the pictures prove artificial origin, paradigms will shake and crumble. Based on the strength of existing Cydonia analyses, NASA officials cannot have failed to consider this possibility. Their willingness to announce the upcoming imaging opportunities may be more than just a conciliatory nod to public curiosity. The summer of 1998 may prove a very memorable one indeed.
NASA says that new images of the Cydonia region taken by Mars Global Surveyor, when available, will be posted on JPL's Mars news site at:
and on the Global Surveyor home page at
These sites will also carry detailed schedules of the imaging attempts once they have been determined. Images will also be available on NASA's Planetary Photojournal web site at:
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