When the Pathfinder spacecraft lands on Mars on Friday, Southern Californians can witness the first live images to be transmitted from the planet's surface in more than 20 years.
Thanks to a satellite link with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, visitors to Planetfest '97 at the Pasadena Convention Center will be among the first members of the public to see the historic images as they are projected onto a giant 25-foot screen. Live updates on the mission will be broadcast all weekend during the Planetary Society's celebration of space exploration Friday through Sunday.
"This is a chance for the public to witness landfall on another world," said Louis Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the exploration of the solar system.
"We can partake in the excitement, the risk and drama of landing on Mars. We can share with the scientists that are actually conducting [the mission]," he said.
For those who cannot attend the Pasadena event, KLCS-TV Channel 58 will offer live coverage originating from Planetfest. Also, live video and audio feeds of many of the festival events will be available over the Internet at the Planetary Society's Web site at www.planetary.org
When Pathfinder lands on Mars, it will release a 22-pound, 1-foot-high robotic rover named Sojourner, which will explore the planet's surface, examining soil and rocks for traces of chemical elements as well as other tasks. Pathfinder's cameras will take pictures and send back information on such things as temperature and atmospheric pressure.
Planned to coincide with the spacecraft's arrival, Planetfest '97 will feature presentations by Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Donna Shirley, manager of Mars programs at JPL, and Story Musgrave, who last year at age 61 became the oldest astronaut in space during a Columbia space shuttle mission.
Programs featuring astronauts and scientists, displays of space technology, science fiction authors, special programs in Spanish, educators workshops and a host of interactive exhibits for children and adults are among the events planned for the three-day festival.
A preview symposium tonight will include Shirley, NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin, JPL director Ed Stone, Bruce Murray, president of the Planetary Society, and Ann Druyan, wife of the late Carl Sagan, discussing the significance of Mars exploration and the Pathfinder mission.
"Each day there will be something different, one or two keynote activities, as well as all the ongoing [events]," said Susan Lendroth, a spokeswoman for the Planetary Society.
A special area for children will be set aside where they can make comets out of glue and glitter, learn how to launch rockets (water-powered) or make "splooshy" mudholes to learn about planetary cratering.
In "Red Rover, Red Rover," children--and adults--can learn to build and operate robotic rovers, similar to the Sojourner, in a simulated Mars base and a Red Rover Mission Control room.
In the Hall of Technology, space age technology and technical demonstrations will be on view. Computers with links to the World Wide Web will be available, as will information about upcoming missions to Pluto and the sun.
Illustrating the intersections of art and science will be panel discussions featuring science fiction writers and scientists. A tribute to "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry, continuous showings of science documentaries and science fiction films and television series round out the offerings.
For more information about Planetfest '97, call (800) 969-MARS, or (818) 793-5100, or access the Planetary Society's Web site at www.planetary.org Tickets may be purchased through Ticketmaster or at the door. Adult prices range from $25 for one day to $37 for a three-day pass; children 3-17, $11-$19; seniors over 60, $13-$25. Today's preview symposium prices are $4-$6. The JPL Mars Pathfinder Web site is at http://mpfwww.jpl.nasa.gov