NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) orbiter has emerged from a self-imposed software “safe mode” and can now attempt to image the site where the US space agency’s Mars Polar Lander (MPL) is believed to have crashed on 3 December 1999.

The MGS, which has been orbiting Mars since September 1997, went into safe mode, shutting down all its sensors, a week ago after an onboard processing system fault.

Because the orbiter is old, NASA feared the sensor shutdown could be indefinite and it would not be able to image the MPL site.

In 2001 photo analysts at the US National Imagery and Mapping Agency claimed that MGS images of the MPL site showed the lander sitting intact on the surface.

But NASA rejected the claims and no comment has been made on further MPL landing site imaging.

However, the mystery could be solved by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which is due to arrive at the Red Planet in March 2006. Its 200-300mm (7.87-11.8in)-resolution camera should solve the mystery once and for all.

MRO and MGS imaging work will also help to select a north polar site for the 2007 landing of the Phoenix spacecraft, previously known as Mars Scout 1.

It will take soil samples and perform in-situ analysis.


Source: Flight International