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Mars Lander Lost - Windows to the Universe

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The Mars Polar Lander during tests. It made it to Mars, but failed to make contact with Earth.
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Courtesy of NASA

Oh No, Not Again!
News story originally written on December 9, 1999

It appears that disaster has struck yet again. The Mars Polar Lander, which landed on the Red Planet on December 3, 1999, has yet to regain contact with Earth. Scientists have watched six chances for contact pass by, leaving many to believe the spacecraft was lost.

Another failed mission will put NASA under more scrutiny. The program lost the Mars Climate Orbiter in September because of a math error. The estimated cost of the Polar Lander program is $165 million, which is actually cheap in terms of space projects. The Climate Orbiter is part of the new line of cheaper, faster, better spacecraft. But now it seems that NASA may be ahead of its time.

To make matter worse, the two probes aboard the Lander have also failed to contact Earth. Scientists say that even if the probes were working, they would no longer be sending signals because the batteries should be dead. The probes were supposed to crash into Mars and burrow into the ground to look for water.

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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