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Pathfinder Resumes Research After Problems Are Resolved

By K.C. Cole
Los Angeles Times
PASADENA, Calif.

After a weekend of "troublesome" communications snafus, the Mars Pathfinder appears to be back in sync with its ground controllers, Mission Manager Richard Cook said at a news briefing Tuesday at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The combination of new software beamed up to the spacecraft, along with the leisure to plan ahead, should prevent future miscommunications, he said.

During the first weeks of the Pathfinder's adventures on the red planet, mission controllers had to continually alter its instructions to NASA's Deep Space Network, the antennas in Spain that pick up the spacecraft's signals. These signals shift frequencies as Mars drifts away from Earth, and as the type of data being sent down changes.

Until now, the network's antennas have had no advance notice of such changes, because JPL has been too busy reacting to events on Mars to think more than one day ahead. "We ask the DSN to do different things every day," said Cook.

Monday night, however, JPL was able to plan the activities for Pathfinder two days ahead, "a major accomplishment," he said, allowing the antenna network to make the frequency shifts necessary to stay in tune. The Monday transmission appeared to work perfectly, he said.

Meanwhile, the one-foot-high rover Sojourner wandered through a rocky field called the Cabbage Patch and took chemical analyses of soil. The data that couldn't be sent over the weekend was stored in Pathfinder for transmission at a later date.

Rover scientist Henry Moore reported that Sojourner said "she was having a ball" on Mars, but that it was "beginning to get the itchies" to go and explore.

On Monday, Sojourner sent back its analysis of Scoobie Doo, a rock with a white crust on top, like a frosted cake. The same whitish material is seen in places where Sojourner has dug its wheels into the fluffy Martian soil, exposing rock underneath.