The Search for Mars Polar Lander Continues – From Mars Orbit

By Keith Cowing
January 25, 2000
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MPL search grid

[25 Jan 2000] Last week NASA announced that it had ended its search for the Mars Polar Lander when the last in a series of listening sessions failed to detect a signal from the Lander. Although some additional listening is going to continue at Stanford University in the next week or so, JPL expresses little hope that these efforts will be any more successful.

Meanwhile, according to a press release from Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS), “since mid-December 1999, the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) onboard the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft has been taking pictures of Mars Polar Lander’s landing zone near 76°S, 195°W, in hopes of finding some evidence as to the fate of the spacecraft.”

To enhance the possibility that the lander, its aeroshell, or parachute might be located, the MGS was oriented a bit off of its normal straight down viewing angle so as to get better lighting angles within the search area. Even with these enhanced lighting adjustments, finding the spacecraft, is according to MSSS “daunting. The lander is most likely to consist of only a few square pixels within one of these images. Thus, the MOC team is basically trying to distinguish one or two pixels from nearly 150 million. One team member has remarked that
this is like “trying to find a specific needle in…a haystack-sized pile of needles.”

The results to date from these visual efforts has been as disappointing as the radio signal searches have been. To show just how difficult locating an object the size of MPL is on the surface of Mars, the MSSS team also released some new photos of the Mars Pathfinder landing site. Even though there is considerable “ground truth” known to a rather high degree of accuracy with which to triangulate the location of the lander, the team has still been unable to find those one or two pixels that actually represent Pathfinder itself.

° Revised Hopes for Mars Lander, Denver Post 25 January 2000

° Mars Polar Lander: The Search Continues, MSSS, 24 January 2000

° MOC’s Highest Resolution View of Mars Pathfinder Landing Site, MSSS, 24 January 2000

° Mars Polar Lander: The Search Begins, MSSS, 21 December 1999

° Mars Global Surveyor Status Report, NASA JPL, 19 January 2000

° NASA Concludes All Attempts to Communicate with Lander, NASA JPL

° News from Mars, The Whole Mars Catalog

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