This is an artist's depiction of the Mars Polar Lander if it had reached the surface.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of NASA
NASA Needs to Change Mars Program
News story originally written on March 29, 2000
A panel made up of aerospace experts studied NASA's recent ventures into space, including the Mars Climate Orbiter and Polar Lander. The results of the study aren't very friendly to the NASA organization. Some of the problems found include:
- A lack of funding.
- A design flaw in the Polar Lander.
- The two microprobes weren't designed well.
- Some officials were extremely over-worked.
"They have rigorously scrutinized both successful and unsuccessful missions, shining a searchlight into every corner of the incredibly complex endeavor of deep space exploration," NASA Administrator Dan Goldin said.
The panel also concluded the most likely cause of the Polar Lander disaster was a computer error. When the probe was told to lower its landing legs, the craft thought that meant it had landed. The engines were shut off when the lander was still 130 feet above the surface, resulting in a deadly crash into the Mars surface.
NASA is already starting to correct the problems the panel found. The "bigger, faster, cheaper" approach will most likely be scrapped. "We could have probably pulled these missions off if they were a little less cheap," one official said.
However, the goal of finding water on Mars and someday visiting the planet is still within reach. Future Mars missions will probably be delayed, but the program is still going strong. "The major path to this is find the water," one scientist said. "That is not a five- or six-year program. It is a decade-long program."
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, as well as books
on science education!
You might also be interested in:
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...more
The Mars Odyssey was launched April 7, 2001, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. After a six-month, 285 million-mile journey, the Odyssey arrived at Mars on October 24, 2001 (02:30 Universal...more
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
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
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
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
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