Glitch causes 1-year delay in Mars mapping mission
November 10, 1997
Web posted at: 9:42 p.m. EST (0242 GMT)
PASADENA, California (Reuters) -- A mechanical problem on
board the tiny robotic spacecraft orbiting Mars will force a
one-year delay in its main mission to map the entire red
planet, U.S. space officials said Monday.
Scientists had hoped to begin charting the Martian surface
next March. But they said a small fracture in a hinge or
"yoke" between the Mars Global Surveyor and a solar panel has
required a slower flight path.
"Essentially, we will begin mapping the surface of Mars in
mid-March 1999, during summer in the northern hemisphere,"
project manager Glenn Cunningham told reporters at the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory. "Originally, we had planned to begin
mapping on March 15, 1998."
Cunningham said the delay might add several million dollars
to the final cost of the mission but that the technical
difficulties came with a silver lining -- the opportunity for
scientists to study Mars' surface from new angles while
waiting for repairs.
"The bottom line message is that this is actually a far
better mission than our original mission," he said. "The
happenstance of the broken yoke has led us down a path we
never expected. It's an unexpected bonus."
Cunningham and other project scientists used a news
conference to make that point Monday, showing new pictures of
the Martian landscape taken by Surveyor.
The pictures showed canyons, escarpments and large, flat
areas that resemble dry lakebeds on Earth.
Surveyor, launched late last year, was designed to circle
Mars for two years, making a detailed map of the surface and
beaming back data about the planet's climate and weather
Eventually, the $148 million craft will produce a
topographic map of the entire planet, a tool scientists
intend to use in choosing landing sites or research
prospects for future missions.
Surveyor will also examine the terrain for evidence of water
and conditions that could have supported life in the past.
Cunningham said the craft should be able to achieve those
objectives despite the year-long delay, though scientists are
considering shortening the total length of the mapping
mission from one year to nine months.
The Surveyor mission switches the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration's attention on Mars to the orbiter and
away from the Mars Pathfinder.
Last week, scientists officially declared an end to the
Pathfinder space mission -- four months to the day that the
craft landed on Mars to unravel the secrets of the red
Scientists said the project in effect came to an abrupt halt
about six weeks ago when they lost communication with the
Pathfinder lander and its little rover, Sojourner.
Copyright 1997 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.