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  sci-tech > space > story pagecorner  

NASA, Stanford wait for Mars lander to phone home


January 26, 2000
Web posted at: 12:43 PM EST (1743 GMT)

From staff and wire reports

PASADENA, California (CNN) -- After determining that a weak radio signal could have come from the Mars Polar Lander, scientists with NASA and Stanford University will listen Wednesday for signs that the wayward spacecraft might somehow be alive and operating.

Mission managers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena instructed the lander to send a signal to an antenna at Stanford University at about 1 p.m. (4 p.m. EST). NASA said that several days would be needed to process the data.

"This week's test is a real long-shot, and I wouldn't want to get anyone too excited about it," Polar Lander project manager Richard Cook said after the radio commands were sent to Mars on Tuesday.

Mars Pathfinder enlisted in search for lost Polar Lander
Destination Mars


NASA scientists last week officially abandoned their efforts to locate the ill-fated $165 million lander, which disappeared on December 3 as it started its descent to the surface of the red planet.

After weeks of fruitless attempts to raise the lander by radio, JPL mission controllers appeared resigned to their second major failure on a Mars mission in three months following the September loss of the Mars Climate Observer.

But they experienced renewed hopes this week after scientists at Stanford University's 150 foot (45 meter) antenna reported that a review of data revealed what might have been an extremely weak signal from Mars during tests on December 18 and January 4.

"The signal that the Stanford team detected is definitely artificial, but there are any one of a number of places it could have originated on or near Earth," Cook said in a statement released by NASA. "Still, we need to conduct this test to rule out the possibility that the signal could be coming from Polar Lander."

The latest set of radio signals were sent to Mars at 10 a.m. Pacific time (1 p.m. EST) on Tuesday. They instructed the craft, if it is operating, to send a signal to the antenna at Stanford about 27 hours later.

"The Stanford receiving station will listen again during the window on Wednesday to see if it picks up a signal that could originate from Mars," NASA said.

NASA cautioned that even if the signal were coming from the lander, there was "little hope" that any portion of the spacecraft's original scientific mission to probe the Martian surface for signs of water could be completed.

The signal is extremely weak, which would indicate a failure in the lander's primary transmitter. It is unlikely that the problem could be corrected or that data could be returned.

"However, it would give the team a few more clues in trying to eliminate possible failure modes," the NASA statement said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

NASA abandons attempts to contact Polar Lander
January 17, 2000
NASA to give up search for silent Mars Polar Lander
January 16, 2000
Silence on Mars as NASA's 'last silver bullet' misses mark
December 7, 1999
One more good chance to find Mars lander
December 6, 1999
NASA 'less confident' but won't give up on Mars Lander
December 5, 1999
Mars lander misses first chance to communicate
December 3, 1999

Mars Polar Lander Official Website
Mars Exploration Program
Mars Pathfinder
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