Mars Global Surveyor

Mars Global Surveyor

Occurred 18 years ago




Nov. 7, 1996



Mission End

Nov. 14, 2006

Launched Nov. 7, 1996, Mars Global Surveyor became the first successful mission to the Red Planet in two decades. After a year and a half spent trimming its orbit from a looping ellipse to a circular track around the planet, the spacecraft began its prime mapping mission in March 1999. It observed Mars from a low-altitude, nearly polar orbit and operated four times as long as its originally planned prime mission. The mission's legacy includes gathering valuable science discoveries that overhauled our knowledge about Mars, and benefited future missions to the planet.

Illustration of spacecraft over Mars.
An illustration of NASA's Mars Global Surveyor at Mars.

What was Mars Global Surveyor?

Mars Global Surveyor was an orbiting spacecraft that looped around the Red Planet for a decade. The mission overhauled scientists' understanding of Mars by studying the entire Martian surface, atmosphere, and interior. Major findings included dramatic evidence that water still flows on Mars in short bursts down hillside gullies, and the identification of water-related mineral deposits leading to selection of a Mars rover landing site for a subsequent mission.
The mission continued sending images and other data until November 2006, when it went silent due to a series of events linked to a computer error likely caused by battery failure.

Quick Facts
MIssion Type
Spacecraft Mass
2,272 pounds (1,030.5 kilograms)
Launch Vehicle
Delta 7925 (no. D239)
Scientific Instruments
1. Mars Orbital Camera (MOC)
2. Mars Orbital Laser Altimeter (MOLA)
3. Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES)
4. Magnetometer/Electron Reflectometer (MAG/ER)
5. Radio Science Experiment (RS)
6. Mars Relay Antenna (MR)

Key Dates

Launch Date: Nov. 7, 1996 UTC

Orbit Insertion: Sept. 12, 1997

End of Mission: Nov. 14, 2006

Technologies of Broad Benefit

Each Mars mission is part of a continuing chain of innovation: each relies on past missions to identify needed new technologies and each contributes its own innovations to benefit future missions. This chain allows NASA to continue to push the boundaries of what is currently possible, while relying on proven technologies.

Learn More About MGS Technology
Two views of Mars show a speher on the left in multiple shades of tan, orange, and gray, with the south pole covered and white, with fine details of craters and other landforms visible throughout. The view on the right shows the sphere almost entirely covered in a uniform haze of light tan, with only some of the lighter south pole visible outside of the dusty murk.
Two 2001 images from the Mars Orbiter Camera on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiter show a dramatic change in the planet's appearance when haze raised by dust-storm activity in the south became globally distributed.


Mars Global Surveyor was a global mapping mission that examined the entire planet – from the ionosphere (an envelope of charged particles surrounding Mars) down through the atmosphere to the surface, and deep into Mars' interior. As part of the larger Mars Exploration Program, Mars Global Surveyor performed atmospheric monitoring for sister orbiters during aerobraking, and it helped rovers and lander missions by identifying potential landing sites and relaying surface telemetry.

Read More About MGS Science
Topographic Map of Hellas Planitia: A colorized topographic map of the Martian impact basin Hellas, together with its surroundings, from the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) instrument of the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University

Science Instruments

Mars Global Surveyor carried a complement of six scientific investigations to perform atmospheric monitoring for sister orbiters during aerobraking, and it helped subsequent rover and lander missions by identifying potential landing sites and relaying surface telemetry.

Read More About MGS Instruments
A long, metallic, barrel-shaped instrument, oriented horizontally, points toward the left side of the frame, on a slight diagonal toward the viewer, showing a pitch-black opening that looks like the hole of a deep well. Its sides are covered in what looks like thin, gold foil, it has a bundle of wires protruding from its base, and it's attached to a circular brown metal base at the right rear of the image.
The Mars Global Surveyor Mars Orbiter Camera.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems
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