Home > Space Exploration > What is it with NASA & Mars anyway?

What is it with NASA & Mars anyway?

03-Sep-07 01:19 pm EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

The title of the above article should be "How a third of all Mars probes die"….what is it with NASA & Mars, anwway?  If it’s not hurtling probes into the Martian atmosphere causing them to burn up due to a mistake between metric and imperial measure (the Americans really need to finally go metric like everybody else), then it’s an engineer, or a team of them, that cause some fatal accident.

Oh I know – it’s hard work.  Believe me – as a software developer, I’m only too conscious of the ease with which one can issue commands to a machine with unintended effects.  But by the time you spend $377 million getting the thing developed, launched and in-orbit – you’d hope processes would exist to eliminate these kinds of little accidents.  Especially when there are so many of them that have happened previously.

Add to this that such problems don’t seem to plague the JPL when running probes out to Jupiter or Saturn…and it just makes Mars seem all the more mysterious.  I mean, imagine if Cassini suddenly went silent just after launching its Huygens probe down to the moon Titan.

Maybe it’s the number of probes being sent to Mars.  After all we haven’t filled Jupiter’s sky with "the Jupeiter Surveyor" and "Ganemeade rovers"…not yet anyway.  Mars is inevitably one of the most studied planets (next to Earth) in the solar system.  It invites more probes becaause – well – we’re more interested in it.  But even so, one can’t help but wonder why Mars is such an accident-prone place.

One more question that got left unanswered by the article: wasn’t the now dead Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) being used to help communicate with the rovers on the surface?  There was mention in another, earlier related article that the newer Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter (MRO) was used to try to take long-distance images of the failing MGS but failed.  Will MRO take on MGS’s duties in NASA’s deep space network?  Will there be any impact on the other missions to the red planet?

These questions weren’t addressed in either article…despite otherwise decent coverage from ABC’s website.

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Categories: Space Exploration
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Terry Glavin

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