MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIF. 91109. TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
Mars Polar Lander Mission Status
December 7, 1999, 1:45 a.m.
Mission controllers for NASA's Mars Polar Lander acknowledge
that they hold out very little hope of communicating with the
spacecraft, but they vow to learn from the experience and
continue exploring the Red Planet.
"The Mars Polar Lander flight team played its last ace,"
said the lander's project manager Richard Cook of JPL following
an unsuccessful attempt early Tuesday morning to get the lander
to talk to Earth via NASA's currently orbiting Mars Global
Cook said the team will continue trying to communicate with
the lander for another two weeks or so, but that expectations for
success are remote. Nonetheless, Cook praised the flight team
for its heroic attempts to contact the spacecraft, even sleeping
on the floors of their offices at times. "We're certainly
disappointed, but we're extremely determined to recover from this
and go on."
The next communication attempt will take place late Tuesday
afternoon, when a 46-meter (about 150-foot) antenna at Stanford
University, Stanford, Calif., will listen for a signal from the
lander's UHF antenna. Engineers will command the spacecraft to
use its medium-gain antenna on Wednesday to begin a scan of the
entire sky. During the scan, the antenna is being asked to bend
and stretch in every possible direction, in essence "craning its
neck" in an effort to be heard by mission controllers on Earth.
Engineers are also considering a plan to command Mars Global
Surveyor to fly over the landing site for Mars Polar Lander in
coming weeks and take pictures of the area in hopes of spotting
The Deep Space 2 microprobes that accompanied Mars Polar
Lander have also been silent, and project manager Sarah Gavit
said she couldn't envision any failure scenario in which the
batteries could still hold a charge after four days on Mars.
"Just getting the probes to the launch pad was a measure of
success," Gavit said, pointing out that as part of NASA's New
Millennium program, the probes were designed to develop and test
new technologies in preparation for future missions.
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
"What we're trying to do is very, very difficult," Cook
said. "We hope people, and children in particular, will see from
this experience that the mark of a great person, or group of
people, is the ability to persevere in the face of adversity."
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 in Pasadena.