Press Release

NASA and NIMA Begin Joint Review of Mars Polar Lander Search Analysis

By SpaceRef Editor
March 26, 2001
Filed under ,

NASA and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA)
today said researchers from the two agencies will continue a
joint review of the initial results of NIMA’s search for the
missing Mars Polar Lander. This analysis is extremely
challenging, and has thus far produced no definitive

NIMA researchers used high resolution imagery from NASA’s
Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft, now in orbit around the Red
Planet, in their effort to locate the lander and its
components, including a protective aeroshell, heat shield and

One of the principal challenges in locating the missing
lander using images from the orbiter is that the Mars Polar
Lander is only somewhat larger — about six and a half feet
across — than the smallest objects the orbiter’s camera can
see on the surface of Mars.

In an initial analysis, NIMA researchers reviewed and
assessed features seen in several images that they believe
could be indicative of the lander and its protective
aeroshell. An alternative view presented by NASA is that
these features could be noise introduced by the camera
system, so further work between NASA and NIMA will be
conducted to address differences of interpretation.

Both agencies intend to continue working together on the
analysis of these images and of additional images of the
landing site, which will be collected later this year.

The Mars Polar Lander was lost during its attempted landing
on Mars, Dec. 3, 1999. Within two weeks, NASA began obtaining
high resolution images of the intended landing site using the
camera onboard the orbiting Mars Global Surveyor in an
attempt to locate the lander on the Martian surface. No sign
of the Mars Polar Lander was found in the NASA searches. In
an independent search, starting about the same time, NASA and
NIMA began working together to analyze images of the planet’s

NIMA, a Combat Support Agency of the Department of Defense
and a member of the National Intelligence Community, provides
imagery intelligence and geospatial information in support of
national security objectives. Headquartered in Bethesda, MD,
NIMA operates major facilities in northern Virginia;
Washington, DC; and St. Louis, MO.

SpaceRef staff editor.