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NASA Turnabout, or Empty Promise?

NASA Turnabout, or Empty Promise?

Copyright c 1996 by Stanley V. McDaniel

>From :

Oct. 16 -- NASA officials stunned those interested in the Martian
anomalies by announcing that near-real-time imagery from the Cydonia
region would be transmitted by the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS).

(Near-real-time is sometimes called "live" transmission with only the
minimal delay required for travel of the signal through space and
conversion of the data to viewable form.)

What does the NASA announcement really mean?

At first glance it would seem that NASA has reversed its policy from
that in effect for the Mars Observer in 1993. At that time there were no
plans to provide near-real-time continuous data feed. Various reasons
were given as to why there could be hours of delay time even for the few
images that would be released to the public in advance of the
proprietary period of six months allocated to the Camera Principal

A summary of the previous policy may be found in The McDaniel Report,
page 23:

   "NASA's plan for Mars Observer images was that they would not be
   broadcast directly to the public as they come in. No plan either to
   take or to release pictures specifically of the AOC landforms was
   articulated; a few hard-copy photographs of "selected features" were
   to be released within weeks after transmission; in a last-minute
   decision made under public pressure, "selected" images were also to
   be made available for viewing at two or three sites around the
   country with no general release to NASA Select-TV; there was no
   guarantee that any of these images would include the AOC landforms;
   and the full data set, which under present priorities might not
   include high-resolution photographs of the AOC landforms in any case,
   could be delayed for as long as six months."

The recent NASA announcement not only appears to be a 180 degree policy
reversal on data release, but also appears to conform in part to the
recommendations from The McDaniel Report, which have been sent to NASA
officials over the past months by many readers of this Newsletter around
the nation.

Specifically, NASA not only stated there will be near-real-time data
feed to the public from both Mars Pathfinder and Mars Global Surveyor,
but also stated that scientists and the general public would be notified
in advance as the Surveyor approaches the Cydonia region, location of
the Face and other anomalous objects. This was one of the important
recommendations in The McDaniel Report.

Thus there is the impression that the main goal of the Mars anomaly
investigation, to obtain better images of Cydonia, has been satisfied.
But is this truly the case?

What Has Been Left Out

Unfortunately several important items have been left out of the picture:

Which camera on the Mars Global Surveyor will provide the near-real-time

If it is the mapping camera (which will map the entire surface of the
planet over an extended period), the resolution is too low to afford
useful information regarding the anomalies. If it is the high resolution
camera, only a very small percentage of the Martian surface will be
involved (one or two percent) and the acquisition of images will be
heavily governed by target priorities (discussed below).

How does the NASA announcement impact the proprietary contract JPL has
with Dr. Michael Malin?

Dr. Malin is a private contractor with JPL and is the Camera Principal
Investigator. By his own admission, he has control of the camera, the
target selection, and the priorities for the Global Surveyor Camera.

Unlike previous NASA missions, the camera on the MGS is not a "facility
instrument" whose output falls immediately within the public's control.
Instead Dr. Malin has proprietary rights which allow him to retain all
camera data for a period of up to six months before releasing it to the
general public.  Heretofore only "selected images" would be released by
him to the public prior to the expiration of the proprietary period.

Has Dr. Malin agreed to waive his proprietary rights to high-resolution
images of the Cydonia anomalies?

Without an account of what arrangement NASA has made with Malin
regarding proprietary rights, the NASA announcement is meaningless.

Even if proprietary rights are waived, the question of priorities
remains. Since the opportunities for high-resolution images of specific
objects are limited, and since advance preparation is necessary to
ensure imaging of high priority objects, the Cydonia structures may not
be imaged with high resolution unless high priority is assigned.

The NASA announcement said nothing about priorities, and in the previous
press conference NASA Head Daniel Goldin said, in answer to a question
from Elaine Douglas of Operation Right to Know, "you can't give priority
to everything."

Have the priorities for high-resolution imaging of the Cydonia anomalies
been increased?

In article on the NASA announcement, the Aerospace Daily for October 21
quoted MGS scientist Arden Albee as saying that NASA has done all it can
possibly do "in the framework of this mission" to deal with the Cydonia
question. What does in the framework of this mission really mean?
Presumably it means within the framework of currently existing
priorities -- but that is inadequate, as pointed out in the article
"Mars Global Surveyor Priorities" in this newsletter.

The Aerospoce Daily article points out that the MGS in its mapping orbit
will pass over any given area of Mars about 26 times during the Martian
year of 687 days, and that this includes the area of the Face. But it is
not the mapping resolution that is our concern. What has to be done is
to activate the high resolution camera on each of the 26 passes over the
region of the anomalies. The fact that the mapping (low resolution) will
cover Cydonia is not the significant factor.

On closer inspection, the NASA announcement begins to look more like a
"placebo" than a meaningful commitment.

NASA has been saying for some time now that it will "try" to get images
of Cydonia. This new announcement actually appears to be nothing new.
They will still "try" but will not tell us whether the priorities have
been changed or whether Dr. Malin has waived his proprietary rights.

Finally, we must consider how sincere NASA's interest in the Martian
anomalies really is:

What is NASA's real attitude toward re-imaging the anomalies?

The Aerospace Daily characterizes the NASA initiative as one intended
merely to satisfy "tabloid" claims of conspiracy, and then cites Arden
Albee as referring to the "vocal face-on-mars lobby." Where are the
references to the various independent scientists who have researched
this area extensively?

The purpose of re-imaging Cydonia with the high resolution camera should
be one of scientific interest, not merely a palliative for the so-called
"vocal lobby" which is still being treated with contempt and relegated
to a tabloid mentality. NASA still does not publicly grant any
legitimacy to the investigation of the anomalies as a scientific

We must repeat what we have said many times before: NASA's top priority
is for objects of the greatest scientific interest. If the Cydonia
objects are accorded little or no scientific interest (which remains
NASA's assessment), the priorities will not be adjusted accordingly. We
must recall Goldin's statement "You can't give priority to everything."


The images released in near-real-time to the public may be useless ones
from the mapping camera.

The MGS Camera operator Dr. Michael C. Malin may not have waived his
proprietary rights to high-resolution images.

There has apparently been no change in priorities, which means high
resolution images are unlikely to be obtained.

NASA's negative attitude toward the investigation appears unchanged.

There are demonstrations planned for November 6 at JPL and at the NASA
Kennedy Space Center. Their message to NASA should be:

          NASA: Raise the Priorities Now!

-- and keep sending in those recommendations!!

- end -


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