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Mars Space Science

NASA's Mars Polar Lander Found at Last? 152

Posted by Zonk
from the better-late-than-never dept.
Ant wrote in to mention that the Sky and Telescope is running a story (with photographs and other images) that NASA's Mars Polar Lander (MPL) may have been found. From the article: "On December 9, 1999, it was supposed to touch down near the red planet's south pole but disappeared after entering the Martian atmosphere without a trace. 5.5 years later, scientists think they may have finally located the lander's wreckage and confirmed what went wrong with the mission...The search for Mars Polar Lander was hampered by inexperience: the team didn't know what a parachute should look like or how the ground would be disturbed by the landing rockets. Lessons learned from observations of the Mars Exploration Rover landing sites helped team members identify what they think are the parachute, the rocket-blast zone, and ultimately the lander itself."
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NASA's Mars Polar Lander Found at Last?

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  • by TripMaster Monkey (862126) * on Friday May 06, 2005 @08:39AM (#12450466)

    Today the Council disclosed the news that the repulsive beings inhabiting the blue planet third from our star have located the wreckage of one of their invading spacecraft near our planet's southern pole.

    Strangely enough, their newscasts mentioned nothing of the warning plaque errected alongside the downed invader.
    Some scientists theorize that the translation of our warning into their bestial language was imperfect, while others maintain that the plaque is simply too small to be imaged properly with their feeble, childish astronomical instruments.

    K'Breel, speaker for the Council, voiced another, more pesimistic theory:



    "Certainly, beings who are capable of constructing and sending such fiendishly clever little devices to spy on our world are more than capable of receiving and understanding our warning. They have simply chosen to disregard it. Clearly we can no longer ignore the predaceous advances of the evil blue planet. The Council has given the final authorization to divert our asteroid into a collision course. We now need only wait."

  • A proposal (Score:5, Funny)

    by JPelorat (5320) * on Friday May 06, 2005 @08:39AM (#12450468)
    Change the project name to

    Mars Polar Plummeter

    and call it a "smashing success"!
  • by TripMaster Monkey (862126) * on Friday May 06, 2005 @08:41AM (#12450483)

    Here's the text of the article:


    In December 1999 NASA's Mars Polar Lander (MPL) was supposed to touch down near the red planet's south pole. But shortly after it entered the Martian atmosphere, the spacecraft disappeared without a trace. Only now, 5½ years later, do scientists think they may have finally located the lander's wreckage and confirmed what went wrong with the mission. The full report, by planetary scientist Michael C. Malin (Malin Space Science Systems), appears in the July 2005 issue of Sky & Telescope, now in press.

    Malin used his company's Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) aboard NASA's Mars Global Surveyor to search for the missing spacecraft in late 1999 and early 2000, but apparently came up empty. Shortly thereafter, a review board looking into the craft's disappearance reported what might have caused Mars Polar Lander's demise. The board suggested that MPL's landing rockets fired at the right time and altitude but cut off prematurely. They were suppose to continue firing until one of the craft's landing legs touched the surface. Apparently the onboard software mistook the jolt of landing-leg deployment for ground contact and shut down the engines, causing MPL to fall from a presumed height of 40 meters (130 feet).

    Using information gained from observing the two Mars Exploration Rover landers last year, Malin reexamined the 1999 and 2000 images looking for similar features. This time he identified what looks to be a parachute located several hundred meters away from a disturbed bit of ground with a large mark in its center. The parachute-like feature closely matches the Mars Exploration Rover parachutes (which were made of the same materials), and Malin believes the disturbed ground matches what one would see if a rocket had blasted the surface from a height of tens of meters.

    "It seems that the MPL investigation board may have been correct," writes Malin in Sky & Telescope. "MPL's descent proceeded more or less successfully through atmospheric entry and parachute jettison. It was only a few short moments before touchdown that disaster struck."

    Later this year NASA will direct Mars Global Surveyor to reexamine the MPL crash site using a special technique to improve the camera's resolution to 0.5 meter per pixel. Malin hopes the new observations will provide the conclusive evidence needed to officially close the case of the missing Mars Polar Lander.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Michael Malin is an expert planetary scientist. A incredible number of discoveries in the geological history of Mars have been made by Malin and colleagues. It is unsuprising that his team was able to make this discovery. They rarely miss anything (making it hard for other planetary scientists studying Mars to find anything new--seriously!).
      • Ball-hogs on a grand scale eh? However I doubt that they're sitting on the data and not allowing anyone else to look at it. The other teams will just have to speed up their game, and soon they too will get the fame and endorsement contracts that go with being tops in the planetary science leagues.
    • Does anyone have a link to the images?
    • "Malin hopes the new observations will provide the conclusive evidence needed to officially close the case of the missing Mars Polar Lander."

      I'd say the case is closed when it's back on earth. It belongs in a museum! ;)
  • by WormholeFiend (674934) on Friday May 06, 2005 @08:42AM (#12450490)
    Photo: .

    Enlarged: o
  • Can't Wait (Score:4, Funny)

    by mattmentecky (799199) on Friday May 06, 2005 @08:44AM (#12450501)
    With businesses like http://www.marsshop.com/ [marsshop.com] selling acre tracts of Martian land, how long before we have someone claiming that the Mars Polar Lander wreckage belongs to them?

    We have [usually sunken] treasure laws, accidentally-delivered-merchandise laws but we'll need an inter-planetary-law expert to sort this out, anyone knows a good one?
    • Oblig. (Score:3, Funny)

      by Dachannien (617929)
      Leo Wong: We own entire western hemisphere. That the best hemisphere.
      Professor Farnsworth: It's the same way on Earth.

    • dibs (Score:2, Interesting)

      i don't know.

      abandoned at sea, if you recover, it's yours

      abandoned on land, on your property, it's yours

      abandoned on the side of the road on trash day, it's yours. this how where I get all my lawn equipment. mower, weedwhacker, seed spreader, wheel barrow. other stuff too, radio, tv, computer, coffee pot, couch, lawn chairs, hammock, pots and pans, dishes, building materials, ... it's about the only way to live anymore what with the damn taxes.

      abandoned on public property? I don't know.around here, aban
      • Re:dibs (Score:3, Interesting)

        by lcsjk (143581)
        The main difference between a yard sale and yard trash is the distance from the curb.(unknown)

        When you obtained your abandoned lawn mower from the roadside, was it by some coincidence still running and a lawn only partially cut?

      • Re:dibs (Score:3, Informative)

        by Vulch (221502)

        abandoned at sea, if you recover, it's yours

        Not true. Under international maritime law, abandoned at sea, if you recover, the original owner (who may now be an insurance company) must be given the opportunity to reclaim it on payment of reasonable (set by an admiralty court) expenses to you.

        In any case government property remains government property, and you must have that governments permission before attempting salvage operations. See the fun Curt Newport had recovering a sunk Mercury capsule recent

        • by MSZ (26307)
          IANAL... but there's a difference betwen abandoned and lost. Lost must be returned to owner (there may be compensation), abandoned is free for taking.
    • Re:Can't Wait (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Isnt that illegal under UN law to OWN places in space? Isnt it protected just like the Antartic, nobody OWNs it?
      • Re:Can't Wait (Score:1, Flamebait)

        by 0123456 (636235)
        "Isnt that illegal under UN law to OWN places in space?"

        So's invading countries that haven't attacked you. No government really gives a damn about what the UN thinks, unless it's acting in their favor.
        • Re:Can't Wait (Score:4, Informative)

          by HomerJayS (721692) on Friday May 06, 2005 @10:21AM (#12451283)
          To clarify a bit. Under the (admittedly impotent)1967 UN treaty. No NATION can claim ownership of space real-estate. Private entities are free to claim ownership, getting some legal entity to affirm said ownwership and enforcement are other issues altogether.

          In reality, it means that whoever gets there first (be it a nation-state sponsored colony or private entity) can do pretty much do whatever they see fit once they are there.
        • It's illegal for *governments* to own places in space.
      • Re:Can't Wait (Score:5, Interesting)

        by TGK (262438) <{Killfile} {at} {Nephandus.Com}> on Friday May 06, 2005 @10:00AM (#12451110) Homepage Journal
        Some countries have signed treaties saying they won't claim/weaponize space. Of course, some of those same countries signed treaties saying they wouldn't try to develop anti-ballistic missiles.

        Under international law (specificly the treaty of London, 1600) a settlement, colony, or claim is only valid if the country in question has the means in palce to defend it.

        In other words, should China (which didn't sign that whole "won't claim space" treaty) land on the Moon and claim it for China, it won't be recognised as Chinese property unless they bring along some effective means of keeping other people off of it.

        Functionaly this leads to an anarchical environment. Wasn't such a bad idea in the 1600s, but when you're talking about the idea of carpet nuking someone's moon base into smoking oblivion to invalidate their claim to the place... well... things are different.

        • But that's the point - unless you put in stakes to mark your claim, fence to keep people off and hire some security (or sit with that laser rifle in hand), your claim there isn't worth shit anyway.

          Really, it's not much different from how things are on Earth...

          So... the best way to own a piece of martian scenery is to organize an expedition, land there and then proclaim Republic of Mars (or kingdom, or whatever) and get your land granted by the new govt.
        • Under international law (specificly the treaty of London, 1600) a settlement, colony, or claim is only valid if the country in question has the means in palce to defend it.

          Did the Chinese sing that one too? Because, quite frankly, following it up with ...

          In other words, should China (which didn't sign that whole "won't claim space" treaty) land on the Moon and claim it for China, it won't be recognised as Chinese property unless they bring along some effective means of keeping other people off of it.

        • won't be recognised as Chinese property unless they bring along some effective means of keeping other people off of it.

          Of course since the resources that we can put on the moon are limited, a pistol might just qualify. When everyone is in a spacesuit, a gunshot anywhere might be fatal. I'm discounting missile defense since no country has the ability (beyond experimental/theoretical) to defend against anything that is delivered by an ICBM.

    • Dear NASA,

      Your probe is on my land. You have 30 days to retrieve before I claim it has my personal property.

      This notice has been made public through the New Mars Post newspaper.

      Sincerely,
      Marvin the Martian

    • I am guessing whoever gets there first gets to keep it. I am also predicting that the Mars rovers will make cool coffetables/footrests for someone someday.
    • If they're selling chunks of Mars, they're eventually going to have to deal with the Martian Embassy [folktunes.org], and that's not healthy! (A classic radio show chopped to 11m24s RealAudio and Trainspotting music added. Nice.)
    • This is the same as the guy who was selling acreage on the moon. It was ruled illegal and he got fined. Ultimately, you cannot sell what you do not own.
    • Yes, but we own the sun. http://www.weownthesun.com [weownthesun.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward
    It was also reported that NASA had to pay the local martian towing company an exorbiant amount to get their vehicle back. "The towing company just ripped us off", said the mission control head. It is learnt that the local martian city council has awarded the monopoly in towing unclaimed spaceships to 'Tow-ards a Better Future Inc'.

  • by Old VMS Junkie (739626) on Friday May 06, 2005 @08:46AM (#12450519)
    For those of you keeping score in the grand game... http://www.bio.aps.anl.gov/~dgore/fun/PSL/index.ht ml [anl.gov]
  • by Anonymous Coward
    the team didn't know what a parachute should look like?!! It is a soft fabric device made up of Cowboy Neal's worn out underwears (if he wears any...)
  • Blast zone? (Score:1, Funny)

    by Alcimedes (398213)
    If they didn't know what a blast zone looked like they could always walk down to their server room.

    Under 50 replies and the story is down. Sheesh.

    There should be a cache link requirement for a story to be accepted from now on.
  • wait a minute ... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Does my memory fail me, or wasn't there a news article back then that showed how some defense dep't. spy satellites were trained on Mars and found the thing? It was pretty much where NASA said it would be. And my memory says the pictures we're now seeing (again...) look a LOT like those that the spy cameras saw.

    This happened not long after the mishap.

    But within a VERY short while, all the news postings and pictures taken by the spy satellites VANISHED from the 'net.

    Am I the only one who remembers this?
  • They found it in a props warehouse at Paramount studios, right next to the Apollo 11 LEM.
  • The search for Mars Polar Lander was hampered by inexperience: the team didn't know what a parachute should look like or how the ground would be disturbed by the landing rockets.

    NASA Janitor 1: ...and my favorite Calvin and Hobbes of all time was the strip when the went to Mars.
    NASA Janitor 2: You mean when they see Voyager and take their wagon to meet a new alien?
    NASA Janitor 1: Yeah they just launch into outer space by riding their wagon down a hill and projecting into space!
    NASA Intern passing by
  • by CuriousKangaroo (543170) on Friday May 06, 2005 @09:07AM (#12450682)

    Here is the direct link to the Malin Space Science Systems page with the data and images.

    In addition to MPL, they have found Viking 2.

    http://www.msss.com/mars_images/moc/2005/05/05/ind ex.html [msss.com]

    Cool stuff.

  • by yodaj007 (775974) on Friday May 06, 2005 @09:38AM (#12450920)
    "the team didn't know what a parachute should look like"

    This might help. [google.com]

  • Don't stop there (Score:2, Interesting)

    by LordSnooty (853791)
    Can they can start looking for Beagle 2, so we might have a chance of understanding what went wrong with that one?
  • Testing! (Score:2, Insightful)

    If only they had a sensor that measured constant force exterted on a landing leg insted of the short impulse of landing.

    Why is there not a standard design mars landing vehicle, one that can be used to deploy any payload upto say 8^3m meters in volume, it would solve a lot of issues and reduce the overall mission costs, if designed well it could be used to land on other bodies (moon/IO/Europa) with only a slight modification to fuel levels/Paracute size/airbag preasure.
    • Re:Testing! (Score:5, Informative)

      by TrippTDF (513419) <hilandNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday May 06, 2005 @10:06AM (#12451167)
      If only they had a sensor that measured constant force exterted on a landing leg insted of the short impulse of landing.

      I'm willing to bet the team wanted to disrupt the surrounding area around the craft as little as poissible. If you wait for a an extended force, that's time that the craft is on the group firing it's rockets into the ground doing nothing but churning up the landscape.

      Why is there not a standard design mars landing vehicle, one that can be used to deploy any payload upto say 8^3m meters in volume, it would solve a lot of issues and reduce the overall mission costs, if designed well it could be used to land on other bodies (moon/IO/Europa) with only a slight modification to fuel levels/Paracute size/airbag preasure.

      There's no standard design because we're still looking for the best solution! We've only landed a handful of times. Don't forget it's not just the landing to consider, but how we get the thing there. The systems used for the Rovers did pretty well for themselves, and I bet we see more of the Bouncy-Ball design in the future. However, landing location has a lot to do with landing type. The ice caps might in general have too delicate of a surface to ensure the bouncy-ball design work well there.

      I'm sure that with continued missions, a more standard solution will come into effect.
      • I'm willing to bet the team wanted to disrupt the surrounding area around the craft as little as poissible. If you wait for a an extended force, that's time that the craft is on the group firing it's rockets into the ground doing nothing but churning up the landscape.

        From the images and the scale shown, the lander's rockets already burned a surface of approx. 450 square meters (30m x 15m) and they stopped while still 40 meters above ground. If you have your rockets burning the ground all the way down, it'

      • what about using infared, or sonar to detect the distance between the spacecraft and the ground? i'm sure there are much more accurate ways of detecting ground contact than measuring the force exerted on the landing leg.
    • I don't think we've been doing this long enough to have enough data to say what the "best" design is on which to base such a "standard" lander. There have only been four or five successful landings on Mars. When that number reaches 20 or 30, perhaps we'll have enough information that your idea will be possible.
    • Sorry, but that would make SENSE.

      With all those PhD's over there, you'd think they would have figured that one out already.
  • How far is the crash site from the mars rover? If it's close, why not send it over to investigate?
    • Re:Send in the rover (Score:3, Informative)

      by fmayhar (413222)
      Sigh. Had you been paying attention for the last eighteen months, you would know that, one, the rovers are quite close to the equator, albeit on opposite sides of Mars. Mars Polar Lander, right? Sure, compared to the distance between here and there, they're right next to each other, but that doesn't make your idea any less inane.
  • "The search for Mars Polar Lander was hampered by inexperience: the team didn't know what a parachute should look like" In another news! a team of nasa specialist all died while jumping from a plane, seems like they didnt know the difference between a pillow and a parachute. Man what a bad excuses!!
    • I believe they were talking about in regards to the atmospheric pressure. It's not the same as earth obviously.
    • I'm sure you're joking, but I've been around long enough to know there's plenty of readers out there who don't get it:

      They didn't know what a parachute would look like layed randomly upon the Martian surface, photographed from 100 km up, with a resolution of about 2 meters/pixel.
  • Is this just a case of wishful thinking ?

    Are we really seeing the best quality photos available ?

    From what I can tell, they have extrapolated the final image to the point where it almost looks like Abe Lincolns face here: http://www.balloonhq.com/highlights/hats/lincoln.J PG [balloonhq.com]

    I hope I haven't violated any rules with that link, I just did a quick internet search for itm it's not meant as a troll or a advertisment

  • We, the beings of Mars, welcome our lander overlords.
  • Right now that probe is as useful as the rusting 76 Chevy Impala out back of my future father in law's trailer.
  • Why the MPL crashed (Score:5, Interesting)

    by photonic (584757) on Friday May 06, 2005 @10:33AM (#12451393)
    I did read the failure investigation report (can be found here [klabs.org], search for polar) some time ago and IIRC the most probable failure scenario was a software error involving a single boolean:

    MPL was to land under active control (with rocket power, not the air-bag trick). To kill the moter once it had touched down the legs contained contact sensors which were constructed of a pin with a spring, a magnet and a Hall-sensor. The legs were to be extended some time before touchdown.

    The problem was the sensors would trigger some intermediate false readings during the leg extension. These false readings toggled a flag, which, once the control system first started looking for contact, immediately killed the engine, having the lander free-fall to death. Clearing the flag after the leg-extension would have saved the mission. The bug was not found because of errors in the software design documents and lack of a system level test. The intermediate false readings were found in a component level test, but its consequences somehow didn't made it in the final design.
    • Expect the investigation to be re-opened. This report suggests that there are makes like you would expect from a rocket firing on the ground. Suggesting that the rockets were operating at touchdown time.

  • by djupedal (584558) on Friday May 06, 2005 @10:33AM (#12451395)
    The two rovers now in operation are risking issues due to dust covering their solar panels. And we've been reminded over and over how dust and wind have helped shape the surface of Mars for eons, etc.

    But the parachute that has been laying around for the last 5+ years is still in one piece, just as it fell, and is as white as can be...

    ...is that what we're supposed to believe? How convenient that the raging elements didn't disturb it so NASA wonks could find it later.
    • by east coast (590680) on Friday May 06, 2005 @10:54AM (#12451687)
      But the parachute that has been laying around for the last 5+ years is still in one piece, just as it fell, and is as white as can be...

      From msss.com [msss.com] (where some images of the "wreck" can be seen):

      "Shortly after the loss of Mars Polar Lander (MPL), the Mars Global Surveyor MOC was employed to acquire dozens of 1.5 m/pixel images of the landing uncertainty ellipses, looking for any evidence of the lander and its fate..."

      These are not new images, just new finds on old images.
    • Many of these images have been processed. In press release images, the brightnesses of pixels are frequently stretched so that the lightest shade pixels are white and the darkest shade pixels are dark (sort of like changing the brightness/contrast of an image in your favorite image viewer). This allows for details in shading and brightnesses to be more apparent to the viewer. The parachute is probably covered by dust (and probably started accumulating dust as soon as it touched down). However, it's still l
  • I say we takeoff and nuke the site from orbit... It's the only way to be sure.
  • by TheStupidOne (872664) on Friday May 06, 2005 @11:02AM (#12451880)
    Somehow when they said they couldn't find it, I was reminded of the desert scene from Spaceballs. I guess they finally switched to a better comb...
  • taken from the orbiting observation platform and am unimpressed. All I can see is the outline of a vaguely humanoid face.

    - Jim
  • Any space traveller who has lost a package with parachute attached please come to Mars Lost & Found.
  • Are you going to tell me, unlike Opportunity's or Sprit's landing sites, that at the Martian poles there's no wind? I find it hard to beleive that the parachute and blast zones are still visible.

    If the Martian poles are anything like Earth's, there should've been gale force winds there at one point in time within the last 5 years to blow this away. I mean it's a parachute!!! How could it not have moved?

    How about the blast zones? It's dust! (possibly melted to glass) Why aren't there dust devil's here

  • scientists think they may have finally located the lander's wreckage and confirmed what went wrong with the mission...
    and concluded that "what went wrong" is most likely that they chose to set down in a "bad part" of Mars. Their evidence for this seems to be that photos show that the lander was up on blocks and the wheels and hubcaps were missing.

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