Mars live: NASA set for flood of Net traffic

NASA expects a flood of people to hit its World Wide Web site looking for real-time images, video and audio from the Mars Polar Lander, which is scheduled to land tomorrow. But the space agency has created scores of mirror Internet sites to ease the congestion.

The Mission

The $327.6 million Mars Polar Lander, launched Jan. 3 from Cape Canaveral Air Station, Fla., will search for near-surface ice and possible surface records of cyclic climate change. It also will characterize physical processes key to the seasonal cycles of water, carbon dioxide and dust on Mars.

Piggybacking on the Mars Polar Lander are two small microprobes, called Deep Space 2. Separating from the lander prior to entry into the Martian atmosphere, the two microprobes will slam into the surface of Mars at 200 meters per second. The shell on each probe will shatter to release the science package that will penetrate up to 2 meters into the soil to determine if water ice is present in the Martian subsurface.

The Data Dump

NASA partnered with universities, organizations and companies to provide 80 mirror sites where data received from the polar lander—equipped with a microphone, a camera and probes to collect Martian soil samples—can be accessed as quickly as the agency can make it available.

If the main NASA Mars page (mars.jpl.nasa.gov) becomes congested, Internet users automatically will be redirected to one of two mirror sites maintained at NASA or can choose to use one of 20 other mirror sites that will be updated frequently. Organizations that also are operating sites to contribute content to NASA's site are:

  • The Planetary Society, which provided the microphone for the spacecraft;
  • Malin Space Science Systems, a company that provided the descent camera on the lander;
  • NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Deep Space 2 program, which provided the two probes that will penetrate the surface of Mars; and
  • the University of California at Los Angeles

NASA maintained 20 mirror sites during the Pathfinder landing, said Kirk Goodall, the Mars Web engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., who managed the Internet sites for the Mars Polar Lander and helped coordinate Internet activities during the Pathfinder mission. Two NASA mirror sites, which will be able to handle a lot of traffic, will be maintained by Silicon Graphics Inc. and Excite Inc., Goodall said.

"We were caught off guard last time," he said. "It woke up the importance of the Internet for bringing NASA missions to the public in real time."

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