Mars Express to learn lessons from Polar Lander loss
7 December 1999"Our hearts go out to our colleagues at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory over the probable loss of Mars Polar Lander," Rudi Schmidt, Mars Express project manager said today. "But risk will always be part of any space mission. We at Mars Express will forge ahead, taking on board all the lessons that we can from the polar lander failure."
Mars Polar Lander was due to land near the red planet's south pole last Friday. The spacecraft appeared to be on target and functioning well until entry into the Martian atmosphere when radio contact was lost, as expected, during the descent. Contact, however, was not re-established after touchdown and all attempts to establish it since have failed. NASA will continue attempts for another two weeks, but as time passes, the chances diminish of finding the lander and its two probes in tact Mars Polar Lander was built in line with NASA's "faster, cheaper, better" philosophy which aims to cut the cost of, and increase opportunities for, space exploration. Mars Express, due for launch in June 2003, is also being built more quickly and cheaply than any of ESA's previous comparable planetary missions. "If one does a mission cheap and fast then risk goes up," says Schmidt. "But we are taking steps to reduce it by choosing the simplest possible design, performing a lot of system level testing, using existing designs and hardware, maintaining a conventional quality assurance programme and reducing flexibility and services to the scientific payload." Mars Polar Lander, like Mars Express, is part of an international effort to explore Mars during the first decade of next century. "Its loss may cause a dip in confidence among the many international partners involved in exploration of the red planet. But we must learn from the recent failures and work even harder to safeguard the future missions," says Marcello Coradini, solar system manager at ESA and former chairman of the International Mars Exploration Working Group.