Human error doomed Mars Global Surveyor

Posted on Wednesday, Apr 18 2007 @ 08:21 CEST by Thomas De Maesschalck
NASA reported last week that a human error is to blame for the loss of the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft in November.

The investigators say ground controllers in Denver send a computer command to the wrong computer address, this caused the craft to mistakenly think its solar panels were stuck. The Mars Global Surveyor tried to free its solar panels, but during that operation one of its batteries overheated, resulting in a loss of power.
Although the command error apparently originated in Denver, a spokesman at JPL said the team shared the credit for the spacecraft's successes and the blame for its loss.

Fuk Li, manager of the Mars exploration program at JPL, said an "end-to-end" review of all missions would be undertaken to make sure the mistakes made with the spacecraft were not repeated.

Mars Global Surveyor was launched in 1996 on what was expected to be a two-year mapping and science mission. Its mission was extended four times by NASA.

The spacecraft discovered that Mars' surface was made up of large amounts of sedimentary rocks, suggesting a more complicated geological history than had been previously thought. It also found that carbon dioxide ice was disappearing from the planet's south pole, raising the possibility that a new round of global warming was underway on the planet.

Its most exciting find was announced in December, just weeks after it was lost. Scientists presented evidence that water still flowed on the Martian surface from small springs.

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Thomas De Maesschalck

Thomas has been messing with computer since early childhood and firmly believes the Internet is the best thing since sliced bread. Enjoys playing with new tech, is fascinated by science, and passionate about financial markets. When not behind a computer, he can be found with running shoes on or lifting heavy weights in the weight room.

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