Shop Windows to the Universe

Dig into Montana Before History: 11K Years of Hunter-Gatherers in the Rockies and Plains by D. H. MacDonald, Ph.D. See our online store book collection.
The Mars Polar Lander was lost on December 3, 1999.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of NASA

Still Looking for Lander
News story originally written on January 10, 2000

Amongst reports that the Mars Polar Lander fell into a deep canyon, scientists are reporting the cause of the disaster is still unknown.Organizers of the mission also pointed out they knew the canyon was near the landing site. A recent article in the Post suggested scientists didn't know the canyone existed. This huge 'hole' is 30 X 8 miles with slopes greater than 20 percent. Scientists say that slopes greater than 16 percent could cause the Lander to topple over.

“It’s closer than we wanted to be,” said Richard Zurek, the mission’s project scientist. “We knew about this deep valley and the crater right from the beginning of our site selection. We knew this was an area we didn’t particularly want to set down in.”

Still, Zurek says it was the safest possible landing site. Strong winds of 75 miles per hour would be necessary from the surface to 30 miles in altitude for the spacecraft to be blown into the pit. Scientists are not ruling this out, but they believe it is more likely there was a failure aboard the craft.

“Definitely, the surface is one possible explanation of the apparent loss of the Mars Polar Lander,” Zurek said. “There’s nothing that points to that as the sole reason for that failure.”

The Mars Surveyor is mapping the area near the landing site, looking for any evidence. Until then, leaders of the mission are taking the blame. “I don’t think any of us are off the hook here,” Zurek said.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

Our online store includes issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist, full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science, ranging from seismology, rocks and minerals, oceanography, and Earth system science to astronomy!

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Mars Lander may be Alive

Just when everyone had given up hope, a faint signal was received at Stanford University. Scientists say it most likely came from Mars, although they won't know for sure until later this week. The signals...more

1999--A Year in Review...

It was another exciting and frustrating year for the space science program. It seemed that every step forward led to one backwards. Either way, NASA led the way to a great century of discovery. Unfortunately,...more

STS-95 Launch: "Let the wings of Discovery lift us on to the future."

The Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off from Kennedy Space Center at 2:19 p.m. EST, October 29th. The sky was clear and the weather was great as Discovery took 8 1/2 minutes to reach orbit for the Unitied...more

Moon Found Orbiting Asteroid

A moon was discovered orbiting the asteroid, Eugenia. This is only the second time in history that a satellite has been seen circling an asteroid. A special mirror allowed scientists to find the moon...more

U.S. is Fed Up with Russia

Will Russia ever put the service module for the International Space Station in space? NASA officials are demanding an answer from the Russian government. The necessary service module is currently waiting...more

More on Recent Coronal Mass Ejection

During a period of about two days in early May, 1998, the ACE spacecraft was immersed in plasma associated with a coronal mass ejection (CME). The SWICS instrument on ACE, which determines unambiguously...more

Mother Nature's Air Conditioning

J.S. Maini of the Canadian Forest Service has referred to forests as the "heart and lungs of the world." Forests reduce soil erosion, maintain water quality, contribute to atmospheric humidity and cloud...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF