April 16, 2007

NASA's Mars Global Surveyor Has Been Lost

The Mars Global Surveyor was launched in 1996, and had operated four times as long as it had been intended. After a series of events including on board computer memory and ground commands, the spacecraft was unable to orient itself due to battery failure. Last communicating on November 2, 2006, it succumbed to this fate 11 hours after this. This article on NASA's website reports what had happened:
On Nov. 2, after the spacecraft was ordered to perform a routine adjustment of its solar panels, the spacecraft reported a series of alarms, but indicated that it had stabilized. That was its final transmission. Subsequently, the spacecraft reoriented to an angle that exposed one of two batteries carried on the spacecraft to direct sunlight. This caused the battery to overheat and ultimately led to the depletion of both batteries. Incorrect antenna pointing prevented the orbiter from telling controllers its status, and its programmed safety response did not include making sure the spacecraft orientation was thermally safe.
The Mars Global Surveyor has given us a wealth of information about the red planet, including evidence of water on Mars.
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