Saturday, November 11, 2006

Farewell, Mars Global Surveyor?

Mars Global Surveyor was launched ten years ago, and has been sending back data on the Red Planet ever since. Now NASA's mission controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have lost contact with the probe. A variety of things, from a power problem to a meteorite strike, could be to blame. The original mission, scheduled for one Martian year, has been extended many times, the MGS has mapped the entire planet, studied possible landing sites, and added greatly to our knowledge of the planet's past and the possibility of remaining water sources. The MGS may yet be revived, but, even if not, it's an example of how superbly a spacecraft can be designed, engineered, and operated to greatly exceed expectations. FOr those interested in costs, the mission cost $150M to build, $65M to launch, and costs about $7.5M a year to operate. Planetary scientists consider that one of the great bargains of the Space Age.

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