The loss of Mars Polar Lander was a major blow to NASA’s planetary exploration program shortly after the loss of Mars Climate Orbiter. Complexities of landing on Mars and background of the mission is described along with the history and space competition for Mars. The mission status before entering into Mars did not indicate any problems after the journey to Mars. The intense complexity of the Entry and landing on to the Mars proved too much for the capabilities of the 165 Million Dollar mission, leaving the exact reason for failure undetermined. Many of the possible failure modes are analyzed along with the declared failure mode and concluded to avoid such a mishap in future.
Mars Polar Lander (MPL), accompanied with two, basketball sized, robotic penetrating microprobes headed for Mars on January 3rd 1999. This exploratory mission to Mars was aimed to study Martian climate and weather. The 2 Deep Space microprobes were first of their kind to be sent on another planet. These microprobes were intended to penetrate in to the Martian surface about one meter and perform useful experiments and send data back to the MPL to send down to earth. The Deep Space 2 mission was to span over 2 days after successful landing.
The MPL mission was planned for 90 days in which it would explore a near by ice cap of carbon dioxide with its robotic arm and send data and high resolution images back to earth station for processing.
After an 11 months of cruise it was supposed to land on the surface of Mars on December 3rd, 1999. But the Mars Polar Lander somehow did not call back Home to report its safety and existence. Valiant efforts were made until approximately 44 days after the scheduled landing before the MPL was declared lost by NASA and communication efforts were given up. Long and thorough reviews uncovered many potential failure modes, one of which was accountable for the loss.
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