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With the successful launch of the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration's (NASA's) Mars Polar Lander (MPL) on 3 January 1999,
the third of three cameras developed by Malin Space Science Systems
(MSSS) for the Mars Surveyor 1998 Project is on its way to Mars.  The
Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) will acquire images as the MPL spacecraft
descends to its landing site at the edge of the martian south polar
cap this coming December.  It joins two other cameras--together called
the Mars Color Imager (MARCI)--already en route to Mars aboard the
Mars Climate Orbiter (MCO) launched last month.

Figure 1: Mars Descent Imager During Final Cleaning
Click HERE to view full-resolution image (1.3 MByte JPG)

Figure 1 shows the MARDI, mounted on the MPL spacecraft, receiving
its final cleaning prior to launch.

"During the Mars Polar Lander descent, MARDI will take pictures
starting at an altitude of 8 km (5 miles) and continuing all the way
down to the surface," said Dr. Michael Malin, Principal Investigator
of the MARDI Science Investigation and President of MSSS. "This will
be the first time since the Apollo landings on the Moon that pictures
will be taken while descending to the surface of another planet.  The
MARDI images will show us exactly where the spacecraft landed, and
also will provide a link between the images taken from orbit and those
taken on the surface after landing."  MARDI will acquire a series of
fifteen to twenty black-and-white images, beginning shortly after the
lander's parachute is deployed.

Figure 2: Mars Descent Imager Sequence Test 1/2-scale Image
Click HERE to view a half-scale animated GIF (1.1 MByte GIF)

Figure 2 is a single image taken by MARDI during a spacecraft test.
The "alien" in the picture is an inflatable doll.  An animation of the
entire sequence of descent images acquired during the test (1.1 MBytes
in size) can seen HERE.

MARCI will provide global coverage of Mars at moderate and low
resolution at ultraviolet, visible, and near infrared wavelengths.
MARCI was powered up for its first in-flight check-out on 23 December
1998, and functioned nominally.

MARDI and MARCI incorporate an innovative electronics design that
enables high-quality scientific data acquisition in a very compact
package--each unit weighs about one-half kilogram (one pound), less
than one-tenth the weight of any previous orbiter or lander camera
sent to Mars. The design is also extremely conservative of power,
using only three watts during data acquisition.

The MARDI and MARCI instruments were developed by MSSS under a $3.5
million contract from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA.
MSSS is also providing two instruments based on the MARDI/MARCI
architecture for the Mars Surveyor 2001 mission: a descent imager for
the MS '01 lander and a visible imaging subsystem for Arizona State
University's Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) for the MS '01
orbiter.  MSSS developed and operates the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) on
Mars Global Surveyor (MGS), currently in orbit around Mars.  The MOC
has returned spectacular high resolution images of Mars over the past
year, including images of the MPL landing site near the south pole,
that can be seen at