WASHINGTON (AP) - The loss of the Russian mission to Mars is a serious blow to planetary exploration, but it will have no effect on U.S. plans to send craft to the red planet, a NASA official said Sunday.
"It is a real disaster for the Russians to have lost this mission and it is a real loss for Mars exploration," said Wesley Huntress Jr., NASA's chief space scientist. "But the loss of this mission will not change or deflect our plans in any way."
The U.S. launched a craft, called Global Surveyor, toward Mars on Nov. 7 and plans to launch a landing craft, called Mars Pathfinder, on Dec. 2.
Huntress said the U.S. craft were to help the Russian scientists by relaying some radio signals from their craft back to Earth. But he said that effort was only "supportive" and that the absence of the Russian craft will have no impact on U.S. plans.
"The Russian mission would have given us complementary information, but not enabling or critical information," he said.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration plans to launch surveyor craft toward Mars in 1998 and in 2000.
"That will complete the mapping of the planet that we need to procede" said Huntress. The agency's eventual goal is to send spacecraft to Mars and return with rock samples. That effort, he said, is still on schedule, despite the Russian loss.