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Web Site Will Revolve Around Mars

January 03, 2004|Charles Piller | Times Staff Writer

The Internet is bracing for a Martian flood.

NASA's Web site at marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov will provide the latest news about the rover Spirit, which is scheduled to land on Mars today, and its twin, Opportunity, which is expected to arrive on the Red Planet on Jan. 24.

To cope with the expected deluge of interest, NASA is relying on 1,300 Internet servers around the world to provide information on the missions.

The Web site will provide daily images from each rover. With a cheap set of glasses available at comic book stores, viewers can see 3-D images of what the rovers see.

Also online will be computer-generated videos of the landers' progress, updates of scientific findings and daily diaries from scientists and engineers.

Mars junkies will also be able to create a personalized Web page through the main NASA site at www.nasa.gov that will automatically update when new Mars information is available.

The two rovers will send back pictures about four times sharper than those taken in 1997 by the last NASA rover to visit Mars, Sojourner.

At that time, the World Wide Web was in its infancy. Mars became its biggest sensation.

Sojourner beamed back thousands of pictures from the Red Planet's surface, and Internet users flocked to NASA's Web site to see the strange vistas of rock and red soil.

On July 7, 1997, the site recorded about 80 million page views -- quadruple the record set by the Atlanta Olympics a year earlier.

NASA handled the mission and the Internet demand with aplomb -- although some users experienced delays as the agency's Web servers strained to meet soaring demand.

This time, many users have faster connections and NASA's equipment is vastly more powerful, said Jeanne Holm, the agency's Web administrator.

During peak periods, users looking for older content on NASA sites may have to wait, as the agency's Web capacity is stretched to deliver up-to-the-minute Mars updates.

The network, set up during the Columbia shuttle disaster last year, handled 220 million page views in the 48 hours after the accident. The Mars network is prepared for four times that volume, Holm said.

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