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NASA fails in attempt to contact Lander


Associated Press
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Richard Cook, project operations manager of Mars Polar Lander, looks exhausted during a news conference on the situation of the Mars Polar Lander-Deep Space 2 mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Sunday. NASA sounded increasingly gloomy about the chances of ever contacting the $165 million Mars Polar Lander, after scientists again listened in vain this morning for a signal during the most recent of seven chances to communicate with the spacecraft.

By Blake Smith
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
December 7, 1999
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After trying to make contact with the Mars Polar Lander six times since it touched down Friday, NASA scientists said they feel that this morning's failed attempt was their best opportunity to contact the missing craft.

The seventh attempt, which occurred this morning at 1:21, was much different than previous attempts to reach the MPL, according to University of Arizona planetary sciences professor Bill Boynton.

At 2 a.m. today, NASA officials announced that the attempt to contact the Lander failed.

Instead of trying to establish a direct connection between Earth and the craft, scientists used an orbiter, which is hovering around Mars, to send signals to the Lander.

Boynton added that scientists attempted to establish contact with the MPL one other time using the orbiter, but failed, possibly because the Lander was "asleep."

"If no contact is made after Tuesday's post-midnight attempt, the probability of making contact in the future will be considerably reduced," according to a NASA statement.

Since this morning's attempt to reach the Mars Polar Lander failed, there is another window of opportunity to contact the craft at 12 a.m. tomorrow.

Boynton added that if the early Wednesday attempt fails, scientists "will not give up hope," and will continue trying to make contact, though he conceded that at that point, the probability of making contact is further reduced.

The $165 million Mars Polar Lander was launched on Jan. 3, and traveled 157 million miles to the Red Planet. The craft is equipped with a $4.4 million UA-built instrument - the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer, which is designed to test the surface of Mars for the presence of water and gases, namely carbon dioxide.

While hope diminishes that contact will be established with the MPL, Boynton said the UA is currently working on a gamma-ray spectrometer, which is expected to be placed on the next Mars explorer.

The spectrometer will be placed on an orbiter instead of a lander, a change from the current mission. Unlike the Lander, the 2001 orbiter will circle the planet and never make contact with the surface, according to 2001 Orbiter team member Heather Enos, a senior program coordinator with the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

The gamma-ray spectrometer will map the planet of Mars and give scientists a better perspective on the "substances of the soils" of the Red Planet, she added.

The possible loss of the Mars Polar Lander and the loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter in September could put future Mars exploration missions in question.

Because of the similar design of the Mars Polar Lander and the craft being designed for the 2001 mission, NASA may step back and figure out how to increase their chances for successful future missions.

NASA is expected to release a report Feb. 1 to address the issue of future missions.

The orbiter is scheduled to take off March 31, 2001.

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