Mars Global Surveyor conducted global mapping of 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, relayed surface telemetry, and identified potential future landing sites.

The spacecraft contributed to meeting the four main science goals of the Mars Exploration Program by achieving the following science objectives during its primary mission:

  • Characterize the surface features and geological processes on Mars.
  • Determine the composition, distribution and physical properties of surface minerals, rocks and ice.
  • Determine the global topography, planet shape, and gravitational field.
  • Establish the nature of the magnetic field and map the crustal remnant field. (A crustal remnant field is evidence of magnetism within the planet's crust or rocks, produced by the planet's own magnetic field at the time of formation.)
  • Monitor global weather and the thermal structure of the atmosphere.
  • Study interactions between Mars' surface and the atmosphere by monitoring surface features, polar caps that expand and recede, the polar energy balance, and dust and clouds as they migrate over a seasonal cycle.
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. Jan. 19, 2007
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University

​​Extended Mission Principal Goals

  1. Continued weather monitoring to form a continuous set of observations with NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which reached the Red Planet in March 2006.
  2. Imaging of possible landing sites for the subsequent Phoenix lander, and the Mars Science Laboratory rover.
  3. Observation and analysis of key sites of scientific interest, such as sedimentary-rock outcrop sites.
  4. Continued monitoring of changes on the surface due to wind and ice.
This Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) image shows a 1.5 meters per pixel (~5 ft/pixel) view of three aligned meteor impact craters on the floor of a much larger crater in the Noachis Terra region. The craters may have formed together from a single event in which the impactor (the meteor) was broken into three pieces. July 24, 2005

Science Instruments

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

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Illustration of spacecraft over Mars.
An artist's concept of NASA's Mars Global Surveyor at Mars.Full Image and Caption ›

Science Highlights

Mars Global Surveyor contributed a multitude of findings, including signs of past, persistent water such as an ancient delta and currently active water features in the gullies of canyon walls.

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An overhead landscape the looks like a painting covered in thick globs and spots of paint – a field of light blue-green in the upper right quarter, with a lavender spot in its middle, the lower half is a light olive green, with smudhes of white, and blue-green, and the upper left quarter is mostly shades of purple and very light gray, with smudges of green encroaching. Text at the bottom left shows the bottom edge of the scene is 50 miles across.
Data from the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiter are coded here as white and purple for lower elevations, yellow for higher elevation. The elevation information is combined with a mosaic of images from the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter, covering an area about 120 miles (about 190 kilometers) wide.
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