Search for Mars Polar Lander
NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Search for Mars Polar Lander
ESP_014423_1040  Science Theme: Future Exploration/Landing Sites
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Somewhere in this patterned landscape less than 1,000 kilometers (about 600 miles) from the south pole of Mars, a treasure may be hiding.

In January 1999, NASA launched a rocket containing the Mars Polar Lander (MPL), an exploration vehicle with a weather station and a subsurface probe designed to search for water ice, towards the layered terrain near the Martian south pole. The layers are thought to be a sequence of alternating dust-rich and dust-poor ice deposited by the seasonal advance and retreat of the south polar ice cap and could be an important record of climate on the Red Planet.

On 3 December 1999, just before the lander entered the Martian atmosphere, MPL went silent. Investigations propose the most likely cause of the mission failure is that the spacecraft’s computers misinterpreted the release of the lander’s legs in preparation for descent as touch-down on the Martian surface, causing descent engines to shut off when the lander was still 40 meters (130 feet) above ground. However, no one knows for sure.

An immediate search began for the remains of the MPL using images from Mars Global Surveyor. HiRISE is continuing the search with high resolution images of the area in which MPL is most likely to have landed.

Written by: Andrea Philippoff   (23 December 2009)

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Acquisition date:24 August 2009 Local Mars time: 3:02 PM
Latitude (centered):-76.047° Longitude (East):165.644°
Range to target site:249.0 km (155.6 miles)Original image scale range:24.9 cm/pixel (with 1 x 1 binning) so objects ~75 cm across are resolved
Map projected scale:25 cm/pixelMap projection:Polarstereographic
Emission angle:4.9° Phase angle:64.3°
Solar incidence angle:67°, with the Sun about 23° above the horizon Solar longitude:326.7°, Northern Winter
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North azimuth:103° Sub-solar azimuth:52.9°
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North azimuth:75.64°Sub solar azimuth:26.57°

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All of the images produced by HiRISE and accessible on this site are within the public domain: there are no restrictions on their usage by anyone in the public, including news or science organizations. We do ask for a credit line where possible: Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
For information about NASA and agency programs on the Web, visit: NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems is the prime contractor for the project and built the spacecraft. The HiRISE camera was built by Ball Aerospace and Technology Corporation and is operated by the University of Arizona. The image data were processed using the U.S. Geological Survey’s ISIS3 software.