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Faint whisper from Mars could be lost lander


January 27, 2000
Web posted at: 11:09 AM EST (1609 GMT)

From staff and wire reports

PASADENA, California (CNN) -- NASA will send commands to the Mars Polar Lander again Thursday after a mysterious faint signal was picked up by a radio dish at Stanford University the day before.

Mission scientists warned that in the unlikely event that they find the lost lander alive and operating, the spacecraft would never be able to carry out its mission to search for water and ice near the red planet's south pole.

"The signals that were received were like a whisper among a lot of static," Mars Lander project manager Richard Cooke told reporters Wednesday.

Mars Pathfinder enlisted in search for lost Polar Lander
Destination Mars


"The circumstantial evidence indicates that the signals came from Mars, and if that is the case there is a good chance they came from the Lander," he added.

Processing of data collected by the Stanford dish was expected to take days, said Mary Hardin, a spokeswoman for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Mission controllers 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.

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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.

A set of radio signals was sent to Mars on Tuesday. They instructed the spacecraft to send a signal to the antenna at Stanford on Wednesday.

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," a 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

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