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CNN Today

NASA Says Mars Polar Lander Mission Officially Over

Aired January 17, 2000 - 2:48 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The Mars Polar Lander mission is officially over. NASA made what it says its last attempt to communicate with the craft this morning with no success. The Polar Lander should have touched down December 3, but something went wrong with the $165 million mission.

Here's CNN Miami bureau chief John Zarrella.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): For six weeks, NASA engineers waited and hoped for a long-distance call from Mars. It never came. The last communication with the Polar Lander was December 3, just before it entered the Martian atmosphere. Repeated attempts were made to contact the lander, but with each failed try, hope faded.

RICHARD COOK, POLAR LANDER PROJECT MGR.: I'm not going to tell you otherwise -- we're less confident. But at this point, we're -- you know, we still have a lot of things we can try and we're going to keep doing that.

ZARRELLA: Within the first week, NASA's self-described best chance to contact the vehicle came and went just as the other attempts had gone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sorry to report that all we have is HKTM at this point. It seems to have been a nominal no contact MR pass.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Copy that, Mark. Thanks for hanging in there with us.

ZARRELLA: Since then, the Polar Lander team continued to listen for a signal, but the real focus has shifted.

ROB MANNING, MARS 2003 MISSION MGR.: We're going to have a document this thick, just chock full of lessons learned, of how we do these kinds of missions, how we build them, how we test them, how we validate that what we build will work.

ZARRELLA: Following the losses of the last two Mars probes, the Climate Orbiter and the Polar Lander, two independent investigating teams are reviewing NASA's Mars program. Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory say there are basic questions to be asked. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would ask, you know, where do you think -- where was this system not as robust as you would have liked it to have been. Where would you have had additional tests? You know, ask that question. If you had another $10 million, where would you have spent it?

ZARRELLA: One answer was clear from the beginning. Polar Lander was not equipped with a means of communicating to Earth as it descended through the Martian atmosphere. NASA engineers say future probes will have that ability. But because Polar Lander didn't, it may never be known whether the lander burned up in Mars' atmosphere or crashed on the planet.

John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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