This artist rendition of the Mars Climate Orbiter shows the spacecraft in orbit about the red planet. The spacecraft was launched on December 11, 1998, but due to a navigation error it missed its target altitude at Mars and way destroyed. The Mars Climate Orbiter mission was designed to study the Martian weather, climate, and water and carbon dioxide budget, in order to understand the reservoirs, behavior, and atmospheric role of volatiles and to search for evidence of long-term and episodic climate changes.
The Orbiter had as its primary science objectives: 1) monitor the daily weather and atmospheric conditions; 2) record changes on the martian surface due to wind and other atmospheric effects; 3) determine temperature profiles of the atmosphere; 4) monitor the water vapor and dust content of the atmosphere and 5) look for evidence of past climate change. Specifically it was to observe and study dust storms, weather systems, clouds and dust hazes, ozone, distribution and transport of dust and water, the effects of topography on atmospheric circulation, atmospheric response to solar heating, and surface features, wind streaks, erosion, and color changes.