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Mars sites still drawing crowds

One week after the Mars mission commenced, traffic on the multitudes of Pathfinder Web sites shows no signs of slowing down.

    One week after the Mars mission commenced, traffic on the multitudes of Pathfinder Web sites shows no signs of slowing down.

    Although initially overwhelmed by millions of Netizens wanting access to images and reports of the Mars probe via the Net, the official NASA Mars Pathfinder site, as well as its numerous "mirror" sites, are now handling the traffic quite comfortably.

    Professional and amateur astronomers were overtaxing NASA's Web page in search of information and pictures of the historic mission on the red planet. The space agency's site was jammed and Netizens were locked out.

    Rich Pavlovsky, a spokesman for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is maintaining a Mars page and helping maintain NASA's page, conceded that the sites were initially ill-prepared for such traffic but emphasized that most users were happy with their online Mars experience.

    The site has since installed a new server and has received a total of 320 million hits since July 4. Because of the overwhelming interest, the JPL has plans to keep the site up at least through the end of the mission and perhaps even longer.

    Pavlovsky was upbeat this morning. "We have the server, we have the space, there's no reason to take it down in the near future," he said.

    The traffic has far surpassed the past record of 5 million hits on December 7, 1995, when the Galileo probe was broadcast over the Web.

    Photos of the Pathfinder are available on several sites, with some offering special features such as 3D panoramas of the Mars landscape, interviews with NASA engineers, live video and audio feeds, and a virtual reality journey on Mars.

    The information offered on NASA's Mars page, as well as corporate "mirror" sites, are virtually identical. But those produced by such companies as Silicon Graphics, Sun Microsystems, and Digital Equipment typically offer more elaborate features.

    Digital's site, for example, offers live Webcasting of the mission, as well as a virtual recreation of the Mars surface that Netizens can explore with the Sojourner rover.