Originally created 01/18/00

NASA ends Mars Polar Lander search



PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA on Monday gave up trying to contact the missing Mars Polar Lander, confirming what had been suspected for more than a month: The $165 million spacecraft was dead on arrival.

Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory listened for the spacecraft one last time and heard only silence.

"It is closure in the sense that I think we did everything we could to re-establish contact, and, yes, it's time to get on to other things," said project scientist Richard Zurek.

The spacecraft vanished Dec. 3 while trying to land on Mars. It was to have studied the atmosphere and dug for ice during a 90-day mission.

Among the possible explanations for its failure to call home: The three-legged lander burned up in the atmosphere, crashed on Mars or tipped over on the rugged surface and damaged itself.

An internal JPL board and a team of independent investigators are looking into the failure and the loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter, which apparently burned up in the atmosphere last September because of a mixup between English and metric units.

The investigators will also take a hard look at NASA's entire Mars program.

At least some answers are expected by mid-March, about a year before the next Mars orbiter and lander are set to launch.

Each failed contact attempt eliminated a possible explanation for the silence. The final effort assumed the spacecraft's clock was scrambled and it didn't know when it was supposed to listen for a signal from Earth.