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Mars Pathfinder Issues (Updated 9/14/2017)



              For Pathfinder (with an air access tube just 2 mm in diameter), we were initially informed that the upper range of the transducer was only 12 mbar during descent, but only 10 mbar on the surface.83

        A 10 mbar limit seems very strange given the Viking-2 10.72 mbar pressure seen. Note that the terrestrial dust storm which hit Luke Air Force Base and Phoenix, Arizona on July 5, 2011 increased air pressure by at least 6.6 mbar, and given that both terrestrial and Martian dust storms can turn day to night, the decision to reduce pressure sensitivities of Pathfinder, Phoenix and MSL landers seems highly ill-advised. Earlier we had written that "There remains the question of what happened to the second Pathfinder sensor ordered that could measure up to 1,034 mbar (15 psia) shown on Figure 10B. Perhaps NASA is not as dumb as they seem to be, and they flew that sensor with a program inserted to cut reported pressures to 1% of what it actually measured. We really need to know the final disposition of this transducer, corresponding to Tavis Dash No. 1 on Tavis CAD Diagram 10484." However, when Insight landed as was shown on Figure 10D, Tavis Corporation published a diagram for the same transducer that listed dual pressure ranges for the same transducer as was used for Pathfinder. The new diagram seemed to support an ability to toggle between low and high pressure ranges with the higher range suitable for Earth's atmosphere. This begs the question of who controlled the switch and did they indeed ever secretly throw it?

        What were the Pathfinder pressures made public? Lower than expected. MPF landed on July 4, 1997 at an elevation of -3.682 km, most similar to Viking 1 which sat at -3.627 km. For MPF it was late northern summer at Ls 142.7. As noted earlier in Section 7, Schofield et al. (1997)67 indicate that Pathfinder had no pressure data for the most crucial sol – its first operational day on Mars (JPL wiped out all pressure data for the first 9 days of MSL). The reason given by the above reference is there were “various spacecraft software reset and downlink problems.” MPF pressures are shown on Figure 45.

Figure 45: Adapted from Science. Pressures reported by MPF. None is given for the critical landing day.

       Two sols worth of MPF hourly pressures are shown on Figure 46 where they are compared to the only sol of published hourly pressure data for MSL.

       At first it seemed a bit surprising that MSL and Pathfinder displayed a similar diurnal pressure cycle on Figure 46. Pathfinder had no RTG heater on board. However, the Pathfinder battery was used to heat the probe’s electronics to slightly above the expected nighttime temperatures on Mars.95So again, at local midnight, measured pressures went up because the heater was operating at that time. What was being measured was not ambient pressure. It was just the pressure behind the (likely) clogged dust filter.

Figure 46: Adapted from Science. Diurnal pressure cycles for MSL and Mars Pathfinder.