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  sci-tech > space > story pagecorner  

NASA delays thruster firing for Mars lander

Mars Polar Lander
Illustration of Mars Polar Lander  

Orbiter loss still under review

October 21, 1999
Web posted at: 4:11 p.m. EDT (2011 GMT)

(CNN) -- Flight controllers for NASA's Mars Polar Lander have decided to postpone the spacecraft's next thruster firing, which had been scheduled for Thursday, until October 30, NASA said in a statement.

The delay will allow mission engineers to continue their evaluation of all spacecraft systems and operational procedures following last month's loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter due to a trajectory correction error.

The thruster maneuver is used to fine-tune the flight path of the spacecraft, currently en route for a December 4 landing on Mars' southern polar cap.

Destination Mars

The spacecraft is healthy and the team is continuing to test and train for the early surface phase of the mission, NASA said.

Mars Climate Orbiter
Illustration of Mars Climate Orbiter  

Mars Polar Lander is currently 18.8 million kilometers (11.7 million miles) from Mars, approaching the planet at a speed of 4.8 kilometers per second (10,740 miles per hour) relative to the planet.

Meanwhile, members of the NASA review board investigating the loss of the Climate Orbiter began meeting this week at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

"We want to understand what was the root cause of this failure," board chairman Art Stephenson, director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, said in a statement. "Based on that understanding, we will recommend actions the JPL/Lockheed Martin team might take regarding the Mars Polar Lander spacecraft."

MarsDestination Mars
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In an initial review finding announced last month, NASA said the $125 million orbiter was lost because one engineering team used metric units while another used English units for a key spacecraft operation,

The board's final report, due February 1, 2000, will address root cause, lessons learned and recommendations for NASA process improvement to reduce the probability of similar incidents in the future.

Mars Climate Orbiter and the Polar Lander are part of a series of missions in a long-term program of Mars exploration managed by JPL.

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October 2, 1999
NASA's metric confusion caused Mars orbiter loss
September 30, 1999
Three panels investigate Mars orbiter loss
September 28, 1999

Mars Polar Lander Official Website
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
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