Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

Attempts to recover Mars Polar Lander end today
Posted: Jan. 17, 2000

Artist's concept of Mars Polar Lander near Maritan south pole. Photo: NASA
The Mars Polar Lander flight team expect to end attempts to recover the spacecraft today. The team has continued efforts to regain communications with the spacecraft since the planned landing on December 3.

The final set of planned commands were transmitted late last week to place the spacecraft in UHF safe mode. A series of relay communications sessions have been scheduled with Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) over the last week to listen for the lander around the clock. These attempts will end today.

Mars Global Surveyor continues to perform special targeted observations of the Mars Polar Lander landing site in hopes of imaging the lander or the parachute. The team has started in depth analysis of terrain hazards within the landing footprint in support of the investigation being led by John Casani.

Meanwhile, the Mars Program Independent Assessment Team, appointed by the NASA Administrator to review the agency's approach to the robotic exploration of Mars in the wake of the loss of Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander, has concluded a two and a half day meeting at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA.

The Assessment Team heard detailed reports from JPL senior management about the Laboratory's overall Mars Program management structure and about the history of the Mars Program. They also heard from members of several Mars projects, including key people from the Mars Polar Lander and Mars Climate Orbiter projects.

"Our team is at the beginning of our fact-finding mission. We are asking a lot of questions and JPL is cooperating by giving us detailed answers," said Thomas Young, chair of the Assessment Team. "Our job is to look at NASA's overall approach to the robotic exploration of Mars."

The team will evaluate several recent successful and unsuccessful NASA missions to deep space, including Mars Pathfinder, Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Climate Orbiter, Mars Polar Lander, Deep Space 1 and Deep Space 2. It will analyze the budgets, content, schedule, management structure and scientific organization of these missions. It will then assess how these roles and responsibilities are related to mission safety, reliability and success.

During the next few weeks, the team will be meeting at Lockheed Martin in Denver and at NASA Headquarters and will return to JPL for follow-up discussions.

The JPL Mars Polar Lander Failure Review Board, chaired by Casani, is meeting concurrently and will present their findings to the Assessment Team. Both the JPL Review Board and the NASA Assessment Team are due to issue their final reports by mid-March 2000.

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