• Recent news on Mars Polar Lander


    January 7, 2000

    The Mars Polar Lander flight team continued efforts to contact the spacecraft this week. The main effort this week focused on testing a scenario in which the spacecraft clock got scrambled after touchdown. Commands were sent to place the spacecraft in UHF safe mode, and a number of communications windows using Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) have been scheduled over the next 10 days. This is the last major effort planned to recover the vehicle, and the flight team expects to end the search next week.

    Mars Global Surveyor continues to perform special targeted observations of the Mars Polar Lander landing site in hopes of imaging the lander or parachute. The project has defined a region of possible landing sites to be imaged, including some within the large crater just to the west of the nominal landing site. MGS has imaged a significant fraction of the possible landing sites, and no evidence of the lander has been observed. Additional images will be acquired over the next few weeks.

    December 22, 1999

    Flight controllers for Mars Polar Lander are continuing to work through their fault-tree scenarios in their ongoing attempts to communicate with the spacecraft. Chances of recovering the lander remain remote.

    Team members plan to continue looking for a signal from the lander through mid-January, and at that point they will be in a position of having exhausted all possible recovery modes.

    Late last week, NASA's orbiting Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft began an imaging campaign to look for evidence of the lander, parachute or aeroshell. So far, nothing has been detected.

    The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has appointed a special review board to evaluate the apparent loss of Mars Polar Lander and the Deep Space 2 microprobes. The board will attempt to determine the possible root causes for these losses and identify actions needed to assure success in future Mars landings.

    The 12-member JPL board will be chaired by John Casani and is made up of members from JPL, Caltech, other NASA centers and industry. The findings of the board will be presented in a written report due by March 3, 2000. The board will offer its cooperation and assistance to related NASA efforts including the agency's Mars Program Independent Assessment Team.

    Mars Polar Lander is part of a series of missions in a long- term program of Mars exploration managed by JPL for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. JPL's industrial partner is Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.

    December 15, 1999

    Flight controllers for Mars Polar Lander have continued their attempts to communicate with the spacecraft so that they can be certain they have exhausted all possibilities before they conclude their search. While a recovery is still a possibility, the likelihood of hearing from the lander is considered remote at this point.

    The communication strategy in the coming week is based on the assumption that the clock on the spacecraft was reset. Commands will be transmitted to the spacecraft in the blind to initialize the clock. It will be assumed the spacecraft received the commands, and flight controllers will then proceed to command the spacecraft to turn on its UHF antenna. The 150-ft (45.7 meter) antenna at Stanford will then listen for the lander's UHF signal. If no signal is heard, then commands will be transmitted to the spacecraft to perform a number of "big sweeps" during which the lander uses its steerable medium-gain antenna to scan across the sky. Presumably, it would eventually scan across the area where Earth is and its carrier wave signal would be heard by the Deep Space Network.

    In parallel with the communications attempts, the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft will start taking high-resolution images of the landing site to search for signs of the lander. The search area that the orbiter will be looking at is an ellipse roughly 20 km x 10 km. The orbiter may be able to spot the parachute or the shadow of the lander. Mars Global Surveyor will start imaging early Thursday morning (December 16), and it will take about 2 weeks to cover the search area with its high-resolution camera.

    December 10, 1999

    Flight controllers for Mars Polar Lander continued their attempts to communicate with the spacecraft yesterday and today so that they can be certain they have exhausted all possibilities before they conclude their search. While a recovery is still a possibility, the likelihood of hearing from the lander is considered remote at this point.

    Yesterday morning at about 2:45 a.m. PST, the team sent commands to begin a lengthy "big sweep" during which the lander uses its steerable medium-gain antenna to scan across the sky. Presumably, it would eventually scan across the area where Earth is and its carrier wave signal would be heard by the Deep Space Network.

    Other communication attempts took place today at 3:00 and 6:00 p.m. PST with the 46-meter (about 150-foot) antenna at Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif., which listened for a signal from the lander's UHF antenna. An earlier attempt by Stanford that had been scheduled for Tuesday was postponed when the Stanford antenna experienced mechanical problems.

    The "big sweep" will conclude tonight. Engineers will then begin a process of sending commands to the spacecraft to switch to back-up hardware and will then repeat some of the communications attempts they have already tried.

    Mission planners are also working to implement a plan to use Mars Global Surveyor to take pictures of the landing site for Mars Polar Lander starting sometime next week in hopes of spotting the spacecraft or parachute.

    Review boards will be set up within JPL and at NASA to study the cause of the apparent loss and explore ways to prevent a recurrence.

    Mars Polar Lander is part of a series of missions in a long-term program of Mars exploration managed by JPL for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. JPL's industrial partner is Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.

    Sky & Telescope

    December 10, 1999


    NASA's Mars Polar Lander has apparently been lost during its landing near the Martian south pole on December 3rd. Flight controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory believe that the lander reached the Martian surface at 76.1 deg. south, 195.3 deg. west at 20:01 Universal Time (3:01 p.m. EST), but for several days thereafter they searched for the expected radio signals in vain. Last contact came just before the spacecraft entered the planet's atmosphere, when the lander was to separate from its cruise stage and the two small Deep Space 2 surface penetrators that were also aboard. Because Mars Polar Lander was not designed to transmit to Earth during its descent, we may never learn what went wrong. The cruise stage or the aerodynamic heat shield may not have separated; the parachute may not have deployed properly; the braking rocket engines may have failed to fire or fired erratically; or the lander may have crashed on a rough ground or sunk deeply into the planet's "layered polar terrain," which is thought to contain stacked beds of fine dust and ice laid down over millions of years.

    The Deep Space 2 microprobes, recently named Scott and Amundsen, were to slam into the Martian surface at 600 kilometers per hour about 60 km north-west of the main landing site. Although they were designed to survive the 30,000-g impact and relay information back via the orbiting Mars Global Surveyor, nothing was heard from them either. The failure of MPL and DS2, together with the (avoidable) loss of Mars Climate Orbiter last September, leaves NASA's 1999 Mars effort a complete washout. The next pair of missions are scheduled for launch in the spring of 2001, but the space agency's entire Mars-exploration strategy will now undergo reevaluation.

  • Mars Polar Lander/Deep Space 2 News
  • JPL Mars Polar Lander web page
  • Exploring Mars
  • The Mars Polar Lander/Deep Space 2 Press Kit (PDF file)
  • Mars Atmospheric and Geologic Imaging website
  • TEGA (Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer) investigation web page
  • Most current thermal and visual satellite (MGS) data to monitor the Martian polar conditions, specifically the landing site area for Mars Polar Lander.


    November 28, 1999

    Polar Lander will expand legacy of Viking, Pathfinder spacecraft

    If all goes as planned Friday, a squatty, robotic spacecraft will land on a bitter cold plain near the edge of the Martian south pole.

    Designed to taste the soil, feel the wind and gaze at the alien landscape, NASA's Mars Polar Lander will be seen as a remarkable feat of engineering by a computer-saavy generation weaned on "Star Wars".

    But few of them will know this: Polar Lander will be building on the legacy of the first successful visit to the Red Planet's surface 23 years ago by two NASA spacecraft called Viking 1 and Viking 2.

    Looking back, the success of the Vikings seems even more impressive today considering the technological advantages available on the new Mars probes.

    Ironically, though, the accomplishments of the pioneering craft are in danger of being overshadowed - and even forgotten - because of more recent missions to Earth's enigmatic neighbor.

    First there was Mars Pathfinder, which bounced onto the Martian surface with a circus-like flair, its landing cushioned by inflated bags of gas.

    The July 4, 1997, touchdown on Mars - the first since Viking - set records in cyberspace, a virtual world that didn't exist in Viking's day.

    Now comes Polar Lander - smaller, faster, cheaper and better in so many ways as it tries to find water ice in the Martian soil.

    But Viking will always stand as the trailblazer, especially to the men and women who guided the craft to Mars and had it analyze soil samples in an unsuccessful attempt to find Martian life.

    "We were the first," said Gerald Soffen, a Viking project scientist who directs university programs at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    "It was true pioneering. We had an unknown. We had no idea what the landing was going to be like and when we got down successfully, it was a joy. I was exhausted with pleasure."

    The people who launched the probes from Cape Canaveral also recall the mission's unique status.

    "It was the most expensive thing we ever launched," said John Neilon, 72, of Cocoa Beach, a retired NASA launch director. "It was the Apollo of the unmanned launches in terms of money and difficulty."

    It took NASA seven years and about $1 billion to develop, build, launch and land the Viking explorers. The project employed hundreds of NASA workers and civilian contractors

    In that respect, the Viking program was a reflection of the "old" Cold War NASA - spend whatever it takes to beat the communist Soviet Union to the moon, Mars, wherever.

    But Viking was also a harbinger of the "new" NASA where cost is as much a concern as exploration.

    In the early 1970s, with the Apollo program still consuming much of NASA's budget, Congress refused to give the agency a blank check to build its pair of Martian invaders.

    Much like today, lawmakers sitting on the committees of jurisdiction scrutinized the program's bottom line. The craft were redesigned and forced to shed science experiments to satisfy budgetary concerns.

    By contrast, Mars Polar Lander was put together by a far smaller team in much less time for a fraction of Viking's cost.

    Both the Mars Polar Lander and its sister ship, Mars Climate Orbiter, were built for $327.6 million. That includes development of the craft, and launch and operations costs.

    The 1,270-pound lander symbolizes current NASA Administrator Dan Goldin's mantra of "faster, cheaper, better."

    But the disturbing loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter in September has increased the pressure on NASA engineers, navigators and scientists to prove they can match Viking.

    "Today, the challenge is to get an inexpensive craft from Earth to Mars and have it do something useful," said Soffen. "The failure of the orbiter was a complete embarrassment to NASA and there is tremendous attention being paid to the polar lander.

    "If you lose two of them and you've been preaching 'faster, better, cheaper,' it will be a crisis for NASA."

    An independent review of the Mars Climate Orbiter's loss found a troubling pattern of undertrained, overworked and ill-supervised staff.

    In the final weeks of Polar Lander's 11-month journey, NASA has thrown dozens of extra personnel into the project to check calculations and monitor performance.

    In yet another irony, the rush to dedicate more specialists and more hours on the Martian probe as it closes in on the target planet is reminiscent of the final days of the Viking 1 cruise.

    Just 10 days before reaching Martian orbit, engineers discovered a potentially fatal gas leak aboard the spacecraft.

    After studying the problem at length, controllers executed a series of burns and maneuvers that allowed a safe and accurate orbit.

    Even worse, though, was this discovery just two weeks before Viking 1 was to land on July 20, 1976, and give the nation a dazzling accomplishment to ice its bicentennial celebration:

    New pictures of the landing site revealed a dangerous terrain etched with craters, islands and channels.

    What happened next, perhaps more than anything else, exemplifies the difference between planetary exploration then versus now.

    NASA put more than 300 people to work on certifying a new, safer landing site, including a group of summer interns.

    These 17 and 18-year-old engineering undergraduates spent hours peering through magnifying glasses and counting craters in the Martian photos sent back by a camera aboard the orbiting Viking 1.

    At NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., there were more than 700 people working on the flight team.

    They performed tasks from interpreting engineering information coming back from the distant craft to translating data for science teams to use, said Kenneth Ledbetter, currently director of Mission and Payload Development at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

    In 1976, Ledbetter was a member of the Viking flight team, working for contractor Martin-Marietta.

    "There was a lot of pressure," Ledbetter said. "It was the first time we had ever landed on another planet and it was pretty stressful. We were all at our consoles, fidgeting, nervous, pacing, waiting for the signal."

    But long before Viking turned its camera on, engineers could tell it was intact and working.

    They knew it by watching a stream of engineering information coming back from the Red Planet, information that proved they had pulled off one of the great feats of the Space Race.

    "We were watching the one channel, black and white lines on a computer monitor screen," said Ledbetter. "When the format changed (indicating safe landing), whoops of joy reverberated through the control room."


  • The Mars Polar Lander/Deep Space 2 Press Kit is now available.

    Note that the press kit is a PDF file, and you will need to have Adobe Acrobat Reader 3.0 or later installed on your computer to read the file. The Adobe Acrobat Reader is free, and you can download it from this site. Ron Baalke

    JPL News

    25 Nov 1999


    NASA returns to the surface of Mars on December 3 with a spacecraft that will land on the frigid, windswept steppe near the edge of Mars' south polar cap. Piggybacking on the lander are two small probes that will smash into the Martian surface to test new technologies.

    The lander mission is the second installment in NASA's long-term program of robotic exploration of Mars, which was initiated with the 1996 launches of the currently orbiting Mars Global Surveyor and the Mars Pathfinder lander and rover, and included the recently lost Mars Climate Orbiter.

    Mars Polar Lander will advance our understanding of Mars' current water resources by digging into the enigmatic layered terrain near one of its poles for the first time. Instruments on the lander will analyze surface materials, frost, weather patterns and interactions between the surface and atmosphere to better understand how the climate of Mars has changed over time.

    Polar Lander carries a pair of basketball-sized microprobes that will be released as the lander approaches Mars and dive toward the planet's surface, penetrating up to about 3 feet (1 meter) underground to test 10 new technologies, including a science instrument to search for traces of water ice. The microprobe project, called Deep Space 2, is part of NASA's New Millennium Program.

    A key scientific objective of the two missions is to determine how the climate of Mars has changed over time and where water, in particular, resides on Mars today. Water once flowed on Mars, but where did it go? Clues may be found in the geologic record provided by the polar layered terrain, whose alternating bands of color seem to contain different mixtures of dust and ice. Like growth rings of trees, these layered geological bands may help reveal the secret past of climate change on Mars and help determine whether it was driven by a catastrophic change, episodic variations or merely a gradual evolution in the planet's environment.

    Today the Martian atmosphere is so thin and cold that it does not rain; liquid water does not last on the surface, but quickly freezes into ice or evaporates into the atmosphere. The temporary polar frosts which advance and retreat with the seasons are made mostly of condensed carbon dioxide, the major constituent of the Martian atmosphere. But the planet also hosts both water-ice clouds and dust storms, the latter ranging in scale from local to global. If typical amounts of atmospheric dust and water were concentrated today in the polar regions, they might deposit a fine layer every year, so that the top yard (or meter) of the polar layered terrains could be a well-preserved record showing 100,000 years of Martian geology and climatology.

    The lander and microprobes will arrive December 3, 1999. They are aimed toward a target sector within the edge of the layered terrain near Mars' south pole. The exact landing site coordinates were selected in August 1999, based on images and altimeter data from the currently orbiting Mars Global Surveyor.

    Like Mars Pathfinder, Polar Lander will dive directly into the Martian atmosphere, using an aeroshell and parachute scaled down from Pathfinder's design to slow its initial descent. The smaller Polar Lander will not use airbags, but instead will rely on onboard guidance and retro-rockets to land softly on the layered terrain near the south polar cap a few weeks after the seasonal carbon dioxide frosts have disappeared. After the heat shield is jettisoned, a camera will take a series of pictures of the landing site as the spacecraft descends. These are recorded onboard and transmitted to Earth after landing.

    As the lander approaches Mars about 10 minutes before touchdown, the two Deep Space 2 microprobes are released. Once released, the projectiles will collect atmospheric data before they crash at about 400 miles per hour (200 meters per second) and bury themselves beneath the Martian surface. The microprobes will test the ability of very small spacecraft to deploy future instruments for soil sampling, meteorology and seismic monitoring. A key instrument will draw a tiny soil sample into a chamber, heat it and use a miniature laser to look for signs of vaporized water ice.

    About 35 miles (60 kilometers) away from the microprobe impact sites, Mars Polar Lander will dig into the top of the terrain using a 6-1/2-foot-long (2-meter) robotic arm. A camera mounted on the robotic arm will image the walls of the trench, viewing the texture of the surface material and looking for fine-scale layering. The robotic arm will also deliver soil samples to a thermal and evolved gas analyzer, an instrument that will heat the samples to detect water and carbon dioxide. An onboard weather station will take daily readings of wind temperature and pressure, and seek traces of water vapor. A stereo imager perched atop a 5-foot (1.5-meter) mast will photograph the landscape surrounding the spacecraft. All of these instruments are part of an integrated science payload called the Mars Volatiles and Climate Surveyor.

    Also onboard the lander is a light detection and ranging (lidar) experiment provided by Russia's Space Research Institute. The instrument will detect and determine the altitude of atmospheric dust hazes and ice clouds above the lander. Inside the instrument is a small microphone, furnished by the Planetary Society, Pasadena, CA, which will record the sounds of wind gusts, blowing dust and mechanical operations onboard the spacecraft itself.

    The lander is expected to operate on the surface for 60 to 90 Martian days through the planet's southern summer (a Martian day is 24 hours, 37 minutes). The mission will continue until the spacecraft can no longer protect itself from the cold and dark of lengthening nights and the return of the Martian seasonal polar frosts.

    Mars Polar Lander and Deep Space 2 are managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC. Lockheed Martin Astronautics Inc., Denver, CO, is the agency's industrial partner for development and operation of the orbiter and lander spacecraft. JPL designed and built the Deep Space 2 microprobes. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA.

    News Services
    University of Arizona

    Nov. 23, 1999


    Days from now, scientists will witness their experiments complete an 11-month, 137-million-mile space trip to Mars.

    On Friday, Dec. 3, NASA's Mars Polar Lander is to make a first-ever landing near a pole of the Red Planet, the south pole. Landing begins the first martian day of the 3-month mission, or "sol 0."

    The spacecraft carries a science payload package called MVACS, or the Mars Volatiles and Climate Surveyor. MVACS is to search for water and other gases that once filled a thick martian atmosphere. Scientists have convincing evidence that sometime in Mars' geological past, liquid water catastrophically flooded the planet.

    But today, the martian atmosphere is so thin that if temperatures were to reach above freezing, water would instantly boil away. What caused the climate to drastically change, and what happened to the atmospheric gases, the water and carbon dioxide -- the "volatiles"?

    Past atmospheric gases may be locked as ice, salt and other compounds in the soil. MVACS scientists will dig for the answers. Their research tools were designed and built at the University of Arizona by Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) researchers, students and international colleagues.

    Soon after landing, a UA-built multi-spectral, stereoscopic camera called Surface Stereo Imager (SSI) will begin its photographic survey of the landing site.

    Peter H. Smith of LPL heads the group who built SSI. This camera is identical to the Pathfinder camera that landed on Mars on July 4, 1997 and took more than 16,500 images for what is widely regarded as one of the most successful and publicly popular missions in NASA history. Smith is sure to be a participant in some of the first news briefings from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, which is managing the mission.

    According to current plans, which are subject to change, payload commanders will flex a six-foot, six-inch robotic digging arm on sol 4 or sol 5 (Dec. 7 or 8). A sol, or day on Mars, is 24 hours and 37 minutes.

    Smith, his team and colleagues at Germany's Max Planck Institute for Aeronomy designed and built RAC, or the Robotic Arm Camera, on the wrist of the robotic arm. It will take close-up views of the icy martian terrain. This camera is able to resolve an image of a single human hair from a distance of half an inch. Researchers will see detail in good-sized chunks of gravel down to fine grains of sand. RAC will inspect trench walls as the robotic arm digs. Lamps mounted on this camera shine in red, blue and green from several directions. Without the colored lights, the scientists would see only black-and-white images. With them, they will see color as well as structure of the soil.

    While the 1997 Mars Pathfinder camera cost $5 million, SSI and RAC together were built for $2.7 million. They and the JPL-built robotic arm are integral to TEGA, the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer investigation headed by William V. Boynton.

    Boynton, UA professor of planetary sciences, originally conceived the idea for the TEGA 16 years ago, while thinking about ways to measure ices in a comet. It features the tiniest out-of-this world ovens that ever cooked alien soil.

    On sol 5 (Dec. 8) or after, the robotic arm will begin scooping samples of frozen dirt into TEGA so scientists can learn how much water and carbon dioxide are locked in the layered polar terrain. TEGA will use electric current to heat soil samples collected by the robotic arm scoop.

    The instrument has eight analyzers, each holding two ceramic ovens, each about the size of a piece of macaroni. One oven in each analyzer remains empty, the other will hold a thousandth of an ounce (about 30 milligrams) of Mars soil. The ovens heat at a controlled rate of a few degrees per minute up to 1,000 degrees Celsius. The ovens leak heat; they are not perfectly insulated. By measuring heat loss in the empty oven and subtracting that amount from the heat in the filled oven, researchers will know exactly how much energy the soil samples absorb. A carrier gas wafts gases released during heating into a chamber that uses lasers to analyze amounts of water and carbon dioxide.

    The $4.4 million TEGA project is rare in university history because it was designed from scratch, assembled and tested entirely at the UA, without a space industry firm as major contractor. In three years, university engineers and scientists took TEGA from concept to blueprint to flight-ready science instrument with near-microscopic, delicate parts able to survive the force of 70Gs at launch (force 70 times that of Earth's gravity.) "We all gave three and a half years of our lives to the three year project," said senior LPL engineer Mike Williams.

    Smith and Boynton say their teams faced formidable technical challenges, stringent budget cost-caps and nail-biting deadlines. Soon after Jan. 3 Mars Polar Lander launch, project staff accelerated into a hectic schedule of instrument systems testing and team training.

    Months prior landing, MVACS team members held round-the-clock operational readiness tests at the UCLA Science and Technology Research Building. This building also will be their science operations center during the mission. David Paige of the University of California Los Angeles is principal investigator for MVACS.

    The planetary scientists know space exploration is risky business. But to hear them talk, the risk is no match for possible rewards.

    "Today is the Renaissance for planetary science, just as the age of da Vinci and Titian was a Renaissance for art a few hundred years ago," Smith said. "Many questions (in planetary science) are being answered for the first time now, and we are lucky enough to be alive during this time. For me, it's tremendously exciting."

    Boynton said, "For me, the most exciting (new discovery) is that Mars was very, very wet in the past, because everything we know about life says that water is an essential part of it. If Mars was always as dry as it appears now to be, then it's not very likely life could have ever gotten started. But if there really were oceans on Mars at one time, that's exciting. If life didn't get started there, we'd really have to wonder why not."

    "There are not many places in the country where students have the opportunity to participate in exciting space missions like this one," Boynton said. "The students who have worked with us have learned an awful lot. And I think as far as NASA is concerned -- as far as the country is concerned, for that matter -- educating students is probably the most important part of the space program. They will be the people we rely on for the next generation of technology that's going to keep our economy going."

    The UA camera team will post new images from Mars at the Mars Atmospheric and Geologic Imaging website

    The TEGA team will post their data at the TEGA web page
    and at the
    Boynton Group website

    For more information on Mars Polar Lander, click on the JPL Mars Polar Lander web page
    Exploring Mars

    NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA

    November 22, 1999


    NASA's Mars Polar Lander is due to set down under rocket power on layered, icy terrain near the south pole of Mars on December 3, with the first signal received on Earth that confirms the landing expected at 3:37 p.m. EST. The two Deep Space 2 microprobes that are piggybacking on the lander will impact the planet's surface at about this same time.

    NASA TV coverage of this event starts with a series of prelanding news briefings that begin on Tuesday, November 30, at 1 p.m. EST. Daily coverage, including periods of live commentary, will be provided through Friday, December 10, if early mission events proceed as planned. Daily mission status briefings generally will occur at this same time, with live coverage of mission operations primarily in the late-evening and early-morning hours.

    A detailed schedule of Mars mission briefings, periods of planned live commentary and related events will be posted and updated regularly on the following Internet sites:


    The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) site also features links to the text press kit for the mission, digital image files and updated mission status reports.

    The schedule for reception of pictures and other data from the lander is highly dependent on the spacecraft's state following landing -- particularly, how high a data rate the mission team can achieve using the lander's telecommunications system. For this reason, it is not possible to offer a firm schedule of when pictures and other data will be received and posted on the Internet. For general planning purposes, however, it is possible to note the earliest possible date for some items under an extremely best-case scenario.

    The first 45-minute communications session after landing may include a low-resolution black-and-white image. Later sessions during the evening of December 3 should include further imagery, possibly including some from the lander's descent camera. Data from the Deep Space 2 microprobes are expected to be received Friday evening, December 3, and could be reported as soon as the news briefing at 2:30 a.m. EST on December 4.

    The first sound from the surface of Mars via the lander's microphone could be released no earlier than Saturday, December 4, under a best-case scenario. A movie built up from pictures from the lander's descent imager may be released no earlier than early in the week of December 6-10. A 360-degree color panorama from the camera on the lander's deck may be released in approximately this same time frame.

    Under a best-case scenario, the lander's robot arm could perform its first dig no earlier than late Tuesday evening, December 7. The first dig will probably occupy two evenings, with analysis of the soil sample performed on the second evening.

    All of these events and data releases, however, could move later into the mission due to telecommunications factors or other conditions.

    There is minimal direct overlap between key mission events on Mars Polar Lander and the STS-103 Space Shuttle mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope, under the current schedules for the two missions. Live coverage of some Mars Polar Lander robot arm activities likely will be broadcast on a separate satellite transponder, to be noted on the schedules posted at the above Internet sites.


    Mars Polar Lander Mission Status

    November 19, 1999

    NASA's Mars Polar Lander team has spent this week testing and training for the entry, descent and landing operations of the mission that will take place two weeks from today.

    This week's test has involved a detailed simulation of the landing using the spacecraft simulator at Lockheed Martin Astronautics in Denver, Colo. Teams at JPL, Lockheed Martin Astronautics and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have also been practicing for the early surface mission.

    The next thruster firing to adjust the spacecraft's flight path is scheduled for Nov. 30. Flight navigators have been using additional tracking data to help them calculate the spacecraft's path at it approaches Mars. The spacecraft remains in good health, and the team is not working any spacecraft problems.

    Today the lander is 5.8 million kilometers (3.6 million miles) from Mars traveling at a speed of 4.86 kilometers per second (about 10,870 miles per hour) relative to the planet.

    Mars Polar Lander is part of a series of missions in a long- term program of Mars exploration managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. JPL's industrial partner is Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, Colo. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.


    A set of twenty color slides are now available on the Mars Polar Lander website:


    Ron Baalke
    Mars Polar Lander Webmaster

    Mars Polar Landing Site Status

    November 9, 1999

    What's new at the Martian south pole?

    As of Nov 5, 1999, the edge of the cap is at the MPL landing site. A TES thermal track on a Viking image image (See http://wwwflag.wr.usgs.gov/USGSFlag/Space/MGS_TES/mars_news.jpg) crosses right over the landing site. The figure shows the TES track measuring the 2 AM bolometric temperature. The transistion from blue to green marks the location of the cap edge.

    For more info, go to


    Mars Polar Lander Mission Status

    November 8, 1999

    Engineers say they are close to resolving a potential problem on NASA's Mars Polar Lander uncovered by the NASA panel appointed to investigate the recent loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter.

    The NASA investigation board, chaired by Art Stephenson, director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., found that cold temperatures could affect the performance Mars Polar Lander's descent engine, which begins firing at about 2 kilometers (about 1 miles) altitude during the descent to Mars surface. As a result of the finding, a team of engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., has developed procedures to warm up the engine system prior to firing. In addition, the team has analyzed descent engine performance at a range of temperatures to assess its predicted performance upon arrival.

    Updated operations plans call for turning on propellant system heaters several hours prior to the spacecraft's entry into Mars' atmosphere. This strategy will increase the expected temperature of the descent engines to 8 degrees Celsius (46.4 degrees Fahrenheit). Analysis indicates that at this temperature, the engines will perform as designed.

    Ground-based testing of an actual descent engine was conducted last week at the descent engine manufacturer's test facility. The initial test results suggest acceptable engine start-up performance is achieved when the catalyst bed, where engine firing initiates, is at temperatures as low as -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit). More ground-based test firings are scheduled to better characterize engine performance at various temperatures.

    On Wed., Nov. 10, NASA will release the investigation board findings on the loss of Mars Climate Orbiter and recommendations for the Mars Polar Lander mission, which lands on Mars Dec. 3.

    Mars Polar Lander successfully performed its third course correction on Oct. 30, and another maneuver to fine-tune the flight path is scheduled for Nov. 30. The spacecraft remains in good health.

    On Nov. 1, the spacecraft's landing radar system was turned on for the first time since launch and successfully performed its internal self-test. Test results show the unit's integrity is sound, and all electrical functional test results were within the expected range. The landing radar will not be turned on again until landing day. The radar system is activated just after separation of the lander's heat shield, following parachute deployment, and begins searching for the surface. Once the system recognizes the Martian surface, it must generate data for approximately 60 seconds, providing altitude and velocity measurements to the spacecraft's onboard guidance system for powered descent.

    Mars Climate Orbiter was lost as it was entering orbit around Mars on Sept. 23. The orbiter and lander are part of a series of missions in a long-term program of Mars exploration managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. JPL's industrial partner is Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, Colo. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.


    October 30, 1999

    Mars Polar Lander Mission Status

    NASA's Mars Polar Lander spacecraft successfully fired its thrusters for 12 seconds this morning to fine-tune its flight path for arrival at the Martian south pole on December 3.

    Flight controllers said the spacecraft performed as planned and that preliminary data show the desired trajectory change was achieved. The thruster firing began at 10:28 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time. Previous thruster firings were accomplished on January 21, March 15, and September 1. The next thruster firing is scheduled for November 30.

    The landing site is located at 76 degrees south latitude and 195 degrees west longitude, near the northern edge of the layered terrain in the vicinity of the Martian south pole. The lander is now about 14.3 million kilometers (about 8.9 million miles) from Mars, traveling at a speed of 4.8 kilometers per second (about 10,700 miles per hour) relative to Mars. The spacecraft is about 228 million kilometers (about 142 million miles) from Earth, and has traveled along an arcing flight path of about 690 million kilometers (about 429 million miles) through space since launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on January 3, 1999.

    More information on the mission.

    Mars Polar Lander is managed for NASA's Office of Space Science by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.


    October 30, 1999

    Mars Polar Lander course correction burn today

    Ground controllers will refine the course of a Mars-bound spacecraft today so it can reach the Red Planet at the right spot for a planned Dec. 3 landing.

    NASA's Mars Polar Lander - now 11 million miles from its target - is to fire its thrusters for 12 seconds to better point itself toward a touchdown point near the Martian south pole.

    The firing was postponed 10 days so engineers could make certain possible navigational problems were not forcing the lander offcourse.

    The concern was caused by a navigation error in September that sent Polar Lander's companion ship, Mars Climate Orbiter, into a fatal crash dive into Mars' atmosphere.

    Agency experts say all is going well with the $231-million lander, and there should be no repeat of the mistake.

    "We're all working very hard to make sure that these maneuvers are successful and do exactly what they're supposed to do," said Phil Knocke, the lander's mission engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Everyone is very dedicated to making sure there are no hiccups along the way."

    Launched from Cape Canaveral Air Station in January, Polar Lander is to study the planet's weather and soil while using a robot arm to dig beneath the surface in a search for water ice.

    While descending, it also is to fire a pair of grapefruit-sized probes into the ground to search for ice water in separate locations.

    Today's planned maneuver is among a series of firings needed to keep the craft on course during its flight to Mars.

    Its landing on the planet is among the most challenging ever attempted because engineers must keep the craft on a very narrow trajectory to land in the never-visited south pole.

    NASA knows the landing is risky, but team members are confident it can be done, said Richard Zurek, the lander's chief scientist at JPL.

    "We're working to do everything we can to succeed, not just to avoid failure," Zurek said, "but to carry out this science mission and to do what we originally intended - find out more about the water history on Mars."

    Meanwhile, a team investigating the orbiter mishap presented early findings to officals at NASA headquarters on Friday. The information could be released next week.


    October 20, 1999

    Mars Polar Lander Mission Status

    Flight controllers for NASA's Mars Polar Lander have decided to postpone the next thruster firing used to fine-tune the spacecraft's flight path until October 30.

    This delay allows mission engineers to continue their evaluation of all spacecraft systems and operational procedures after the loss of Mars Climate Orbiter. The thruster maneuver was previously scheduled for today.

    The spacecraft is healthy and the team is continuing to test and train for the early surface phase of the mission.

    Mars Polar Lander is currently 18.8 million kilometers (11.7 million miles) from Mars, approaching the planet at a speed of 4.8 kilometers per second (10,740 miles per hour) relative to the planet.


    Mars Polar Lander Mission Status

    October 11, 1999

    Flight controllers for NASA's Mars Polar Lander mission have set October 20 as the date of the next thruster firing that will fine-tune the spacecraft's path for its December 3 arrival. The spacecraft is healthy and operating normally.

    On Saturday, October 9, the spacecraft's fault protection software placed the lander in a safe standby mode in response to an errant interaction between attitude control software and the commands under which the spacecraft was operating at the time. The flight team successfully returned the spacecraft back to normal operations within the day.

    Extensive analysis of spacecraft data by the flight teams at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and Lockheed Martin Astronautics in Denver, Colo., has confirmed that the lander does not have the same unit conversion error that contributed to the loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter last month.

    The Mars Polar Lander team has spent the last several weeks planning the early lander mission that will use the spacecraft's radio transmitter to communicate directly with Earth. The team is also working on a plan to use the currently orbiting Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft as a communications relay. Project managers believe all of Polar Lander's science objectives will be met.

    This week, the team is in the process of testing and training for the early mission phase on the Martian surface. Engineers are also re-examining all of the simulations and tests used to validate the entry, descent and landing phase of the mission.

    Mars Polar Lander is currently 23.6 million kilometers (14.7 million miles) from Mars, approaching the planet at a speed of 4.6 kilometers per second (10,300 miles per hour) relative to the planet.

    Mars Climate Orbiter lost

    Mars orbiter, lander and Deep Space-2 (DS-2) microprobes


    January 6, 1999 -- 8:00 A.M. (PST)

    Mars Polar Lander (MPL)

    Liftoff occurred successfully at 12:21 PST on Sunday, Jan. 3. Following separation from the upper stage, the spacecraft initiated its onboard sequence designed to obtain knowledge of the vehicle orientation, then slew to an orientation suitable for radio contact with ground stations in the Deep Space Network. After observing several unsuccessful attempts by the spacecraft to establish attitude knowledge via its prime and back-up stellar sensors (star cameras), the MPL flight team executed its pre-planned contingency plan for this scenario. Ten hours after launch (22:20 PST), the flight team succeeded in commanding the lander into an attitude allowing stable communcation, although at relatively low signal levels. Subsequent analysis of telemetry data indicated that the spacecraft was in excellent health, the only exception being the inability of either star camera to identify a star pattern allowing attitude determination.

    During the following day commands were prepared to perform a diagnostic slew in a direction which would improve the received radio signal level. This slew maneuver was executed successfully at approximately 14:00 PST, moving the spacecraft to an attitude yielding a substantial improvement in signal level, then back to its previous attitude. Subsequently, a stored star camera image and related telemetry obtained just prior to link stabilization on the night of Jan. 3 were transmitted back to Earth for analysis. Further evaluation of telemetry data obtained while the vehicle was in the "test" attitude showed it could operate safely there, without violating any power or thermal constraints. As a result, new commands were prepared to slew the lander back to the "test" attitude and to remain there. These commands were radiated to the spacecraft and executed at 09:40 PST on Tuesday, Jan. 5.

    The flight team then went to work on three fronts. First, a series of parameter updates to the onboard fault protection software system was developed that would ensure an appropriate response to any subsequent safing events, given the current spacecraft attitude and configuration. Second, commands for several additional slew maneuvers were built that would allow more accurate calibration of the lander's orientation and further improve the reliability of the ground/space radio link. In a parallel third effort, development personnel from the Guidance and Control subsystem formed a team to investigate and diagnose star camera behavior. Preliminary analysis of the star camera telemetry indicated that the lack of pattern recognition by the camera was probably due to stray light entering the lens from reflective surfaces in its vicinity. Although each star camera lens is protected by baffles, it was suspected that the baffles were not attenuating stray light from the fringes of the field of view as well as expected. A second look at our plans to experimentally search for the planned initial post-launch attitude brought forth the realization that this attitude would also shade the spacecraft surfaces near the fields of view of both star cameras.

    The fault protection updates were uplinked early this morning (Wed, Jan 6, at about 03:00 PST. Upon re-enabling some of the fault protection software, the spacecraft unexpectly reentered the post-launch attitude acquisition sequence, in which the prime star camera successfully recognized a star pattern and determined the lander's orientation. The spacecraft then slewed itself (as it should) to the planned post-launch attitude, while the star camera continuing to indicate that it was viewing a star field and functioning nominally. The flight team then performed the complete, planned post-launch checkout of all lander subsystems, and found the lander was, in fact, healthy and operating in its intended post-launch configuration. The cause of this course of events is now understand and corrective action, in the form of completing our update of the fault protection system configuration, will be completed later today.

    Further evaluation of diagnostic telemetry recorded onboard since launch and returned this morning is ongoing. The star camera investigation team is continuing to scrutinize the available diagnostic telemetry and evaluate the orientation envelope within which the camera is not exposed to excessive stray light levels. In addition, the Guidance and Control group has determined the cause of two minor anomalies noted in the operation of lander's autopilot yesterday and today, and is working to uplink a software patch to the lander that will correct the cause.

    Mars Climate Orbiter (MCO)

    Mars Climate Orbiter continues to perform well in early cruise. The spacecraft has been in a quiescent mode of operation this past week, to allow the flight team to concentrate on MPL launch support early cruise operations. Development of the second MCO sequence will begin toward the end of this week, and is scheduled for uplink on Jan. 12

    For more information on the Mars Surveyor 98 missions, please visit our website at:



    Animations of the launch of the Mars Polar Lander have been added to the Mars Surveyor 98 home page:

    Also, new high-resolution pre-launch photos of the Mars Polar Lander have been added:

    Mars Polar Lander Fairing Fitting On The Delta II Rocket The Mars Polar Lander spacecraft was launched on a Delta II rocket on January 3, 1999. The lander is a solar-powered spacecraft designed to touch down on the Martian surface near the northern-most boundary of the south polar cap, which consists carbon dioxide ice. The lander will study the polar water cycle, frosts, water vapor, condensates and dust in the Martian atmosphere. It is equipped with a robotic arm to dig beneath the layered terrain at the polar cap. In addition, Deep Space 2 microprobes, developed by NASA's New Millennium Program, are installed on the lander's cruise stage. After crashing into the planet's surface, they will conduct two days of soil and water experiments up to 1 meter (3 feet) below the Martian surface, testing new technologies for future planetary descent probes. The lander is the second spacecraft to be launched in a pair of Mars Surveyor '98 missions. The first is the Mars Climate Orbiter, which was launched aboard a Delta II rocket from Launch.

    Ron Baalke
    Mars Surveyor 98 Webmaster

    University of California-Berkeley


    Mars Microphone, built at UC Berkeley and funded by the Planetary Society, Launched Jan. 3

    By Susan Lendroth, Planetary Society

    The Martian hills are alive with the sounds of ... what? Wind, sandstorms, lightning? No one yet knows what we may hear or even whether there will be sounds on Mars, but we may have the answer within one year.

    On January 3, 1999, the Mars Polar Lander was launched, carrying the first microphone to the Red Planet. The Mars Microphone was developed for the Planetary Society by the University of California, Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory. It is flying aboard the Mars Polar Lander within a lidar instrument built by the Russian Space Research Institute (IKI).

    The Mars Microphone is a milestone since it is the first scientific instrument funded by a public-interest organization to fly aboard a planetary mission. The microphone was funded by donations from Planetary Society members.

    The lidar is also a milestone -- a milestone in cooperation between Russia and the United States since it will be the first Russian instrument to fly aboard a US planetary mission.

    The idea of placing a microphone on Mars was suggested by Planetary Society President Carl Sagan several years ago. Sagan later wrote in a 1996 letter to NASA, "Even if only a few minutes of Martian sounds are recorded from this first experiment, the public interest will be high and the opportunity for scientific exploration real."

    Louis Friedman, Executive Director of the Society, developed the means to implement the idea by working with the Russian lidar team, the University of California, Berkeley, and the Mars Polar Lander project.

    Friedman says, "Placing a microphone to listen in on another world is a real opportunity for discovery. The interest of the public is matched by that of the engineering and science teams on the mission -- everyone wants to hear what Mars sounds like."

    The Mars Microphone can record natural sounds on Mars, such as wind, dust and electrical discharges in the Martian atmosphere, as well as noises of the moving parts of the spacecraft. The microphone can be triggered randomly by naturally occurring sounds or it can be programmed to listen to specific lander actions, such as when the arm digs in the soil.

    The UC Berkeley team of Janet Luhmann, Dave Curtis, and Greg Delory built the Mars Microphone from mostly off-the-shelf parts, including a microphone used in hearing aids and a microprocessor chip used in speech-recognition devices and talking toys. The Mars Microphone uses Sensory, Inc's RSC-164 IC (Integrated Circuit or "chip"), the most popular IC for speech recognition in consumer electronics.

    The Russian lidar is designed to examine dust and aerosols in the atmosphere. Principal Investigators of the lidar experiment are Viacheslav Linkin and Alexander Lipatov of IKI.

    Students around the world are invited to participate in a Planetary Society essay contest to predict what sounds might be heard on Mars. The Society will conduct the contest in cooperation with Arizona State University's Mars K-12 Education Program. Students will write essays about what sounds on Mars might be like now as well as a hundred years from now, imagining a future Mars that might be very different from the planet today, perhaps colonized by humans. The contest winner will receive a trip to Planetfest '99 in December. For more information on the contest, contact Linda Hyder at (626)793-5100.

    Data -- the sounds -- from the Mars Microphone will be offered to the public on the Planetary Society's World Wide Web site and in material developed by the Society in cooperation with other organizations. Educators will be able to log onto the Society's Web site for special curriculum devoted to the Mars Microphone.

    Other instruments on the Mars Polar Lander include cameras, a robotic arm, and soil composition instruments. Two penetrators (or microprobes) will also be sent to the surface on that mission.

    The Mars Polar Lander will arrive at Mars on December 3, 1999. The Planetary Society will celebrate the landing with a major public event in Pasadena, California called Planetfest '99, held December 3-5, 1999.

    Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman founded the Society in 1980 to advance the exploration of the solar system and to continue the search for extraterrestrial life. With 100,000 members in more than 100 countries, the Society is the largest space-interest group in the world.


    Mars Polar Lander Mission Status

    January 3, 1999

    Mars Polar Lander -- due to become the first spacecraft to set down near the edge of Mars' southern polar cap -- pierced through a blustery, cloud-covered Florida sky at 3:21 p.m. Eastern Standard Time today atop a Delta II launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral Air Station's Launch Complex 17B. The spacecraft, launched successfully on the first day of the launch period, is equipped with a robotic arm to dig beneath the layered terrain of the Martian polar region and two microprobes to crash into the planet's surface and conduct two days of soil and water experiments up to 1 meter (3 feet) below the Martian surface.

    Sixty-six seconds after liftoff, the Delta's four solid-rocket strap-on boosters were jettisoned. Firing of the main first-stage engine lasted approximately 4 minutes, 24 seconds. Eight seconds later, the first stage was discarded, and 5.5 seconds later the second stage ignited. Four and a half seconds after that, the nose cone surrounding the lander was jettisoned. The second-stage burn lasted 6 minutes, 44 seconds and placed the spacecraft into a low-Earth orbit at an altitude of 191 kilometers (119 miles). The spacecraft coasted over the Indian Ocean for approximately 23 minutes before the second stage engine fired briefly a second time.

    The third stage fired for 88 seconds at 3:57 p.m. EST to propel the spacecraft out of Earth's gravity and on its way to Mars. At 4:03 p.m. EST, Mars Polar Lander separated from the third stage. A set of solar panels located on the spacecraft's outer cruise stage were deployed shortly thereafter and pointed at the Sun. At 4:19 p.m. EST, the lander's signal was acquired by a 34-meter-diameter (112-foot) antenna of NASA's Deep Space Network in Canberra, Australia.

    Mars Polar Lander's interplanetary cruise to Mars will take it more than 180 degrees around the Sun in what is called a Type 2 trajectory, allowing the spacecraft to target a landing zone close to Mars' south pole at 73 to 76 degrees south latitude.

    Throughout the cruise, the spacecraft will communicate with Earth using its X-band transmitter and medium-gain horn antenna mounted on the cruise stage. During the first 30 days of flight, the spacecraft will be tracked 10 to 12 hours per day. Quiet phases of the trip will require only four hours of tracking time each day.

    The spacecraft is scheduled to fire its thrusters in a trajectory correction maneuver January 18. That maneuver is designed to remove a targeting bias intended to prevent the third stage of the Delta II rocket from following in the lander's flight path and colliding with Mars, as well as any small launch injection errors. That maneuver is expected to take approximately 5 minutes to execute.

    Mars Polar Lander is the second of two spacecraft launched to the red planet during the December 1998-January 1999 Mars launch opportunity. Mars Climate Orbiter was launched December 11, and is scheduled to reach Mars next September 23. Onboard Mars Polar Lander are two microprobes developed as the Deep Space 2 project under NASA's New Millennium Program. The Deep Space 2 probes will smash into the Martian surface as a test of new technologies for future planetary descent probes.

    Boeing Press Release

    NASA Spacecraft Begin Journey to Mars Aboard Boeing Delta II

    * CAPE CANAVERAL AIR STATION, Fla., Jan. 3, 1999 -- A Boeing [NYSE:BA] Delta II rocket roared into space today carrying two Mars-bound spacecraft for NASA. The successful launch of Mars Polar Lander and Deep Space 2 took place at 3:21 p.m. EST.

    Mars Polar Lander and Deep Space 2 are part of a series of NASA spacecraft that will make the journey to the Red Planet over the next few years. Last month a Delta II launched NASA's Mars Climate Orbiter spacecraft, which will observe seasonal changes on the planet upon its arrival in October 1999.

    Both the Mars Polar Lander and Deep Space 2 spacecraft, managed by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., move the agency closer to its goal of mounting a human expedition to Mars.

    Mars Polar Lander will spend three months digging for traces of water beneath the frozen surface of Mars and will search for evidence of a physical record of climate change. A miniature microphone will permit scientists to record 10-second sound bytes of natural sounds from the planet.

    Deep Space 2 is comprised of two microprobes designed to penetrate the surface of Mars and collect samples for testing water vapor content of the planet's subterranean soil. In addition, Deep Space 2 will validate the ability of small probes loaded with sensitive, miniaturized instruments to analyze the terrain of planets and moons throughout the solar system.

    "We're proud to be a partner with NASA in these innovative planetary missions and in furthering science and technology," said Darryl Van Dorn, Boeing director of NASA and commercial programs. Delta has a 98 percent success rate for scientific and technology development launches since 1960.

    Mars Polar Lander and Deep Space 2 are the third in the current 10-launch series by Boeing for NASA's Medium-Light Expendable Launch Services. This year Delta rockets will carry NASA spacecraft Stardust, Landsat-7 and FUSE into space.

    The Delta II is manufactured in Huntington Beach, Calif., with final assembly in Pueblo, Colo., and is powered by the RS-27A engine built by Boeing in Canoga Park, Calif. The Delta launch team at Cape Canaveral Air Station handles launch coordination and operations.

    Alliant Techsystems, Magna, Utah, builds the graphite epoxy motors for boost assist. Aerojet, Sacramento, Calif., manufactures the second-stage engine, Cordant Technologies, Elkton, Md., supplies the upper-stage engine, and AlliedSignal, Teterboro, N.J., builds the guidance and flight control system. The spacecraft were built by Lockheed Astronautics, Denver, Colo.

    NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA

    February 11, 1998


    Swirling bands of eroded, layered rock, reminiscent of the edges of Alaskan ice sheets, and an array of light and dark mottled patterns blanket the frigid floor of Mars' south pole, where NASA's newly named Mars Polar Lander will touch down in late 1999.

    The new images of the landing zone for the Mars Polar Lander, taken by the camera aboard NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, confirm that this strange, layered terrain in the south polar region represents a dramatic departure from the now-familiar Martian landscapes observed by the Viking landers and Mars Pathfinder. In December 1999, the next lander in a steady series begun by Pathfinder will set down in this uncharted territory to dig for traces of frozen, subsurface water.

    "Despite ground fog that obscures part of the surface in these images, we can see much more surface detail than we've ever seen before, which suggests that the 75-degree south latitude landing zone is quite a bit more rugged and geologically diverse than we had previously thought," said Dr. Michael Malin of Malin Space Science Systems, Inc., San Diego, CA. Malin is principal investigator for the Global Surveyor camera and the cameras on the 1998 missions, the Mars Polar Lander and its newly named partner, the Mars Climate Orbiter.

    In the current images from Mars Global Surveyor, obtained during an aerobraking orbit from about 1,700 miles above the planet's surface, objects about 48 feet across can be resolved. Once the spacecraft reaches its final mapping orbit early next year, at an average of 234 miles above the surface, the camera will be able to resolve ground features as small as seven to nine feet across. This greater clarity will enable views of objects as small as boulders or as subtle as sand dunes.

    Over the next year, the Global Surveyor images will be used in concert with other spacecraft data such as that obtained by its thermal emission spectrometer to better characterize the geology of the Martian south pole. After Global Surveyor has reached its mapping orbit, data from the spacecraft's laser altimeter, which measures the height and roughness of Martian surface features, will be combined with the imaging data to aid the final choice of landing sites.

    "We have a wonderful opportunity in the next year to study this region with data from Mars Global Surveyor, which underscores the true advantage of conducting a continuing program of Mars exploration," said Dr. John McNamee, Mars Surveyor '98 project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA. "We will be able to characterize the geology of the whole region and find the best spot to land, one that presents a balance between lander safety and scientific interest. This process does not have to be finalized until June 1999, five months after the lander has been launched and six months before it lands."

    The new landing site images are available on the Internet at JPL's Mars News web site and at the Malin Space Science Systems web site.

    The images are being studied while the 1998 Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander are undergoing key hardware integration and testing at Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, CO. The spacecraft are currently being prepared for transfer to the Lockheed Martin environmental test chambers to ensure that they can survive and operate in the extreme conditions at Mars. At the completion of this testing, the spacecraft will be flown separately to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, FL, for integration with their launch vehicles.

    The 1998 Mars lander and orbiter missions are designed to learn more about the history of Mars' climate and the behavior of related Martian volatiles, such as water vapor and ground ice. The orbiter, scheduled for launch on Dec. 10, will conduct a two- year primary mission to profile the Martian atmosphere and map its surface. The lander, scheduled for liftoff on Jan. 3, 1999, will carry out a three-month mission to search for traces of subsurface water in this frozen, layered terrain and any evidence of a physical record of climate change.

    To meet these scientific objectives, the orbiter will carry a rebuilt version of the Pressure Modulated Infrared Radiometer (PMIRR) that was lost with Mars Observer in 1993. This atmospheric sounder will observe the global distribution and time variation of temperature, dust, water vapor and condensates in the Martian atmosphere. PMIRR is a collaboration between JPL, Oxford University and Russia's Space Research Institute.

    Like Mars Global Surveyor, the Mars Climate Orbiter carries a dual camera system, contained in an amazingly compact package about the size of a pair of binoculars. The Mars color imager's one-pound wide-angle camera will return daily low-resolution global views of the planet's atmosphere and surface, while its medium-angle camera will provide higher resolution (30 feet per pixel) images. The medium-angle camera will build global and regional maps of Mars in multiple colors over the course of the mission. These maps will be used to characterize surface properties and changes in the distribution of dust.

    The 1998 lander carries three scientific packages: the Mars descent imager, provided by Malin, which will view the landing site at increasingly higher resolution as the lander descends to the surface of Mars; the atmospheric lidar experiment, provided by the Russia space institute, which will monitor the presence and height of atmospheric hazes, coupled with a miniature microphone furnished by The Planetary Society, Pasadena, CA, to record the sounds of Mars; and the Mars Volatile and Climate Surveyor (MVACS) package, led by principal investigator Dr. David Paige of the University of California, Los Angeles.

    MVACS includes a surface stereo imager based on the Mars Pathfinder camera, both built at the University of Arizona; a meteorology package, built at JPL; a robotic arm, also built at JPL, to acquire soil samples and close-up images of the surface and subsurface; and the thermal and evolved gas analysis experiment, built at the University of Arizona. JPL will oversee mission operations with the spacecraft team at Lockheed Martin Astronautics and the instrument teams located at their home institutions during the lander and orbiter missions.

    "MVACS and the other science experiments are tailor-made for the exploration of Mars' south pole," said Dr. Richard Zurek, project scientist at JPL. "The robotic arm, which is reminiscent of the Viking arm and scoop that were used to carry out biology experiments in the mid-1970s, is, in fact, much more versatile. It can reach farther out, dig up to three feet below the surface and then place soil samples in a miniature oven, called the evolved gas analysis experiment, where the samples are 'cooked' and analyzed for chemical and gas content."

    Piggybacking on the Mars Polar Lander are two small 4.5- pound microprobes provided by NASA's New Millennium technology validation program. Deployed before landing, they will penetrate and embed themselves beneath the Martian surface to study subsurface materials.

    A CD-ROM with the names of students from all over the world will also be flown on the lander. Signatures may be submitted via the Internet to:


    The Mars Polar Lander and the Mars Climate Orbiter are the second set of launches in a long-term NASA program of Mars exploration known as the Mars Surveyor Program. The missions are managed by JPL for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC. Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, CO, is NASA's industry partner in the mission.

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