Mars Global Surveyor  

Twenty years after Viking, NASA's latest Mars mission is the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS). Its task is to orbit the famed "Red Planet" and conduct an extensive survey of the planet's surface. MGS will take pictures for two years, as well collect data on the planet's atmospheric conditions. Once it has completed its mapping tasks, it will remain in orbit as a communications relay for future missions to Mars.

MGS was launched on November 7, 1996, on board a Delta rocket. After liftoff, MGS took 10 months to reach a highly elliptical orbit around Mars. On arrival, a carefully planned aerobraking maneuver was used to reduce the ellipse to a more regular, mapping orbit. This process took four months, eventually bringing the spacecraft to a fixed altitude of 378 km above the planet's surface.

As soon as it was in position, MGS began to beam back an unprecedented volume of highly detailed images of the Martian surface. Never before had images with such high resolution been available for scientific study. For the NASA team, MGS has been and continues to be an outstanding success.