A recent analysis of images of the Red Planet may have located a lost spacecraft on Mars, according to a Department of Defense (DOD) agency. NASA, however, isn’t so sure.
On Dec. 3, 1999, NASA lost touch with the Mars Polar Lander spacecraft (SN: 3/4/00, p. 159). Controllers presume the craft crashed onto the Martian surface. However, pictures taken of the probable landing site by the orbiting Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft had not shown signs of the craft or its protective shell, heat shield, and parachute.
A more recent analysis of Surveyor images by DOD’s National Imagery and Mapping Agency may have revealed signs of the downed lander and its shell. The analysis isn’t easy because the smallest object that Surveyor’s camera can image is only slightly larger than Polar Lander, some 2 meters across. NASA remains wary, cautioning that electronic noise from Surveyor’s camera could confound analysis of the images.
New pictures, which Surveyor is expected to take later this year, should bring the search effort into sharper focus.