Read out The loss of the "Mars Climate Orbiter" is followed by the "Mars Polar Lander" - "Cheaper, faster, better" - this is the motto NASA used to say goodbye to their billions of dollars worth of missions with decades of planning. After the increasingly probable loss of the space probe Mars Polar Lander and the failure of the Mars Climate Orbiter a few weeks earlier, it is now speculated whether the space agency will handle its projects too fast and too cheaply. Failure? Officially, the mission will only be declared a failure after two weeks. If the probe had entered a safe mode on landing, it would have had to report during the night from Monday to Tuesday. "This is our last really good chance, " project staff had previously stated. But again there was only silence. Now the engineers hope that the Mars Global Surveyor, another NASA space probe in Mars orbit, can at least detect the landing parachute of the Polar Lander. The Global Surveyor flies over the suspected landing site several times a day at a height of about 400 kilometers.

So far, despite the continued silence, the engineers were confident that the Polar Lander had landed softly and was only prevented from communicating. Possible reasons for the failure of the mission are not yet known, and research into the causes is likely to be difficult.

At first, everything went according to plan

At the last communication with the probe, twelve minutes before the landing, everything was fine. Then the spaceship directed its antennae away from the earth to take the correct position for the landing. What happened after that is in the dark. display

Since the Mars should land Polar Lander near the South Pole of the Red Planet, the NASA decided not to emit the probe during landing, as the successful Mars Pathfinder had done two years ago. The project staff feared that when they were flying through the atmosphere, a bubble of ionized gas would form around the probe, disrupting the radio transmission and damaging the sensitive electronics.

"Maybe everything went right, and the probe has just landed in a horribly awful place, " Robert Park of Nasa suspected. "We do not know what went wrong, and we'll probably never know."

Misfortunes never come singly …

It might not have failed if the Mars Climate Orbiter had reached Mars. As the vanguard of the Mars Polar Lander, the Climate Orbiter was to serve as a communications platform during the three-month mission of the ground probe. However, because a supplier used a different system of units than NASA, the acceleration of the Climate Orbiter was not calculated correctly, so the probe would probably burn up in the Martian atmosphere instead of entering orbit.

Likewise under "loss" the Nasa must presumably register the two projectiles "Deep Space 2 Microprobes", which the polar lander should fire before its landing. Even from them no radio signal could be received. Footage from the Global Surveyor shows that they could be pitched in a 46-kilometer-wide crater. They may be buried in the dust of the crater's interior or shattered on the stony crater rim. The two soccer-sized probes were supposed to search for water in the ground and also test new technologies.

NASA's future Mars program will now need to be reviewed. In order to save money, were used in an almost finished successor probe, the "Mars Surveyor", some identical parts as the Polar Lander. They were made by the company Lockheed Martin Astronautics - at the expense of the error goes to the Mars Climate Orbiter.

Ute Kehse

© science.de

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