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Summary of the Mars Probes

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Summary of the Mars Probes




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NASA lost radio contact with its Mars Observer spacecraft on Saturday August 21, 1993, just days before it was expected to enter into a circular orbit 400 km above the surface of the planet. Orbit insertion was supposed to have occurred on Tuesday August 24th at about 1:30 PM Pacific Daylight Time. The spacecraft was expected to begin global surface mapping of Mars on December 16th that would have lasted an entire Martian year of 687 Earth days.


Various attempts were made to re-establish contact with the spacecraft, but so far the Mars Observer has remained silent. NASA engineers believe a transistor in the satellite's clock failed, rendering the Mars Observer "brain-dead" and radio silent. It seems improbable that the spacecraft automatically entered into orbit around Mars, and probably missed its destination completely.


The Mars Observer was launched on September 25, 1992 on a Titan III rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. On July 26, 1993 at 8:52 PM PDT, the Mars Observer returned its first image of Mars when it was 5.8 million kilometers from the red planet. That image was taken using the spacecraft's high resolution, narrow angle telescopic camera.


In 1976 an unmanned NASA Viking spacecraft successfully photographed the surface of Mars from an altitude of approximately 1700 kilometers. The objective of the Viking mission was to search for evidence of intelligent life on Mars, either now or in the past. Image 35A72 taken by Viking-1 and received by the Jet Propulsion Lab showed a mile-long, 1500 foot high humanoid "face" staring into eternity on the surface of Mars. It was later dismissed without investigation by NASA as a "trick of light and shadow" and filed away. Frame 70A13 taken over the same area with a higher sun-angle showed the same feature in addition to a pyramid-like structure approximately 16 kilometers southwest of the "face".


In 1980, Vicent DiPietro and Gregory Molenaar, imaging engineers under contract to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center on another project, stumbled across these Viking images. After further investigation they discovered folds and horizontal stripes on the "headpiece" or "helmet" of the face which resembled those of Egyptian Pharaohs, symmetrical cheekbones, an eye socket, eyeball, and pupil, nose, mouth, and teeth. The facial proportions were found to be similar to those of early man. DiPietro and Molenaar published their findings and conclusions in 1980 and were stonewalled by the planetary science community for doing so.


In a feature article in "Soviet Life" magazine published in 1984, the Russians revealed their own fascination with the Martian "sphinx" and five-sided pyramids found in the Viking photos.


In an effort to carry out their own investigations, the former USSR launched Phobos I and Phobos II, two unmanned satellites to the planet Mars on July 12, 1988. The reason for launching two craft was for redundancy in case one malfunctioned. Phobos I was lost after it received a bad command during its journey to Mars and fell silent when controllers tried to re-acquire it on the way. Phobos II arrived in January 1989 and entered an orbit around Mars as the first phase towards its real destination, a small Martian moon called Phobos. The mission was flawless until the craft aligned itself with Phobos. On March 28, 1989, an elliptical object was detected to be moving towards the satellite seconds before it failed. All indications were that the elliptical object had collided with the satellite which was now dead and left spinning out of control.


On March 28, 1989 Tass, the official Soviet news agency stated: "Phobos II failed to communicate with Earth as scheduled after completing an operation yesterday around the Martian moon Phobos. Scientists at mission control have been unable to establish stable radio contact."


The next day a top official of the Soviet Space Agency (Glavkosmos) stated: "Phobos II is 99% lost for good." It is important to note that he stated the entire satellite was gone and not that just radio contact was lost with it.


On March 30, 1989 at 4:41 PM EST, the Associated Press released the following statement: "Soviet research centers are now trying to interpret so far 'unexplained optical phonomena' on the pictures of the Martian surface. The pictures show an inigmatic strip 23-25 miles wide and a large spindle-shaped formation."


On March 31, 1989 headlines dispatched by the Moscow correspondents of the European News Agency (EFE) stated: "Phobos 2 Captured Strange Photos of Mars Before Losing Contact With It's Base. Vremya revealed yesterday that the space probe Phobos II, which was orbiting above Mars when Soviet scientists lost contact with it on Monday, had photographed an unidentified object on the Martian surface seconds before losing contact." Scientists described the unidentified object as a thin ellipse 20 kilometers in length. It was further stated that the photos could not be an illusion because they were captured by 2 different color cameras as well as cameras taking infrared shots.


One controller at the Kaliningrad control center concluded that the Phobos II probe was left spinning out of control, a result of being struck or shot. In the October 19, 1989 issue of Nature Magazine, Soviet scientists concluded that the craft could be spinning because it was impacted.


Not since the NASA Viking missions in 1976 has there been a successful unmanned mission to Mars. NASA's Mars Observer is simply the latest in a series of spacecraft destined for Mars that failed unexpectedly just prior to reaching the planet.


The mystery continues.



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