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Emily LakdawallaNovember 14, 2006

Still no word from Mars Global Surveyor

It's now been nine days since Mars Global Surveyor was last heard from. Every passing day makes it much more difficult to find an errant spacecraft, because uncertainty builds up on mission controllers' knowledge of the spacecraft's location -- especially if the spacecraft could be taking actions like thruster firings to try to fix the problem that's causing it to be out of communication with Earth.

According to a space.com article posted today by Leonard David, they haven't given up on Mars Global Surveyor yet, but they do seem to be resorting to increasingly desperate measures to try to figure out what's wrong: Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is going to try to capture a photo of Mars Global Surveyor to pin down its location and to see if the photo can demonstrate how Mars Global Surveyor's solar panels and communications antennas are oriented in space. If they succeed, it won't be the first time that a spacecraft at Mars has captured an image of another moving spacecraft; Mars Global Surveyor accomplished that feat last year, shooting Mars Express and Mars Odyssey in orbit. Can MRO do the same thing? Its HiRISE camera has sharper vision than MGS Mars Orbiter Camera, but MRO is also newly arrived at Mars and has just begun its primary phase of mission operations; its drivers just don't have the behind-the-wheel experience that the MGS drivers had. Of course, many of the people who are driving MRO are the same people who once drove MGS, so there's plenty of similar experience to draw upon.

I hope they do reestablish contact with Mars Global Surveyor, but I have to say that things are looking increasingly grim. However, I don't feel ready to write its obituary yet -- I'll keep hoping, and await official word.

Read more: Mars Global Surveyor, mission status, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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