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UA scientists frustrated by failed Mars Polar Lander mission


Randy Metcalf
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Hop Bailey, project manager of TEGA, stands in front of a picture of the moon in the Kuiper Space Sciences building yesterday afternoon. At 12 a.m. yesterday morning, TEGA (Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer) was programmed to turn on and begin communication with Earth; there has been no response.

By Blake Smith
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
December 8, 1999
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While NASA and UA scientists are disappointed that the Mars Polar Lander has not yet made contact with Earth since Friday, students and professors said the loss should not deter future missions.

Samuel "Hop" Bailey, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory project manager, said the mission was a "total loss." He added that while he was frustrated by the latest NASA failure, a few changes will give future missions a better chance of success.

Bailey said he was "bitterly disappointed that there is no science data" being returned from the Red Planet. He said he considered the MPL his baby, and compared its loss to a miscarriage.

Bailey said additional scientists need to be added to the group working on the 2001 Orbiter project to increase the probability that the mission will succeed.

The Orbiter, which will feature a University of Arizona-designed gamma-ray spectrometer, will map the surface of Mars and give scientists a better picture of the planet's soil composition.

Bailey said NASA's "faster, cheaper, better" philosophy, which reduced the number of scientists working on the MPL, could have reduced the probability of the mission's success.

Planetary science professor William Boynton, who helped design the $4.4 million Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer on the MPL, agreed with Bailey's assessment of NASA's philosophy.

"Congress is in the process of cutting NASA's budget, which could account for the reduction of scientists in the Mars Polar Lander mission," he said.

But Boynton said he was not confident that adding more scientists would have increased the chances for MPL's success.

Bailey suggested that for future missions, scientists need to reduce the possibility of "single-string failures." He said there were many individual components on the MPL that, if they had failed, would have caused the entire Lander to falter.

Bailey said an example of a single-string failure is on an airplane, where the failure of one engine would prevent the plane from operating properly.

He referred to the 1976 Viking Landers mission as an example of a non-single-string failure voyage. The Viking Landers successfully landed on Mars using rocket boosters and gave scientists their first pictures of the Red Planet. Bailey said that decreasing single-string failures will greatly benefit future missions.

Boynton said a lot was learned from this mission, and he was happy that so many students got hands-on experience.

While some UA professors working on the MPL project were frustrated, many UA students support future explorations to Mars.

"There's no point in quitting now, even if we've failed the first two times," said Spanish junior Kelly Thrush.

Journalism freshman Jackie Lind echoed Thrush's comments.

"We need to take a chance," Lind said.

Both students said changes need to be made before the next mission is launched.

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