Monday, January 05, 2004

Beagle! Here Beagle, Beagle...

Sadly, as we recede from its planned landing day on December 25, it looks more and more like we have lost contact with ESA's Mars lander, Beagle 2.

As the IKEA man would say, in the Cannes-prize-winning advert Spike Jonz produced about a lamp left out in the rain on a garbage pile: "Many of you feel bad for this spacecraft. That is because you are crazy. It has no feelings."

But Mars is a particularly harsh destination, because we have sent thirty-three probes to the planet, and eighteen have failed completely. By my reckoning, we have had ten successes, four partial successes, eighteen failures, with two missions pending (Japan's Nozomi, and the US's Opportunity). Here are the dirty details:

  • 10 October 1960: USSR launched Mars 1M (1). Launch failure.
  • 14 October 1960: USSR launched Mars 1M (2). Launch failure.
  • 24 October 1962: USSR launched Mars 2MV-4 on Sputnik 22. Launch failure (debris was thought to be initial Soviet missile attack during Cuban missile crisis).
  • 1 November 1962: USSR launched Mars 1. Failed 3 months before fly-by. Now in heliocentric orbit.
  • 4 November 1962: USSR launched Mars 2MV-3 (1). Failed to leave Earth orbit.
  • 11 November 1963: USSR launched Venera 3MV-1/A (1) (listed as a Mars probe, but name belongs to Venus series?). Failed to separate from LV.
  • 19 February 1964: USSR launched Venera 3MV-1/A (2). Launch failure.
  • 5 November 1964: USA launched Mariner 3. Launch fairing failure same day.
  • 28 November 1964: USA launched Mariner 4. First successful Mars flyby. 5.2Mb of data returned, photographing about 1% of the surface ("Craters! Mars is like the Moon!"), giving first estimates of atmospheric pressure, 4-7 mb, from radio occultation ), mass and shape constraints, and non-detection of a magnetic field. Mariner went into heliocentric orbit, and was finally terminated21 December 1967.
  • 30 November 1964: USSR launched Zond 2. Communications failure in April 1965.
  • 25 February 1969: USA launched Mariner 6 (Mariner 5 went to Venus). 20% of surface photographed ("Whoa! Mars is not like the Moon!"), surface pressure 6-7 mb, determination that southern polar cap was composed of CO2.
  • 27 March 1969: USA launched Mariner 7. Successful fly-by. Mariner 6 & 7 returned 800 Mb of data.
  • 27 March 1969: USSR launched Mars M-69 (521). Launch failure.
  • 2 April 1969: USSR launched Mars M-69 (522). Failure at +41 sec left the launch site unusable due to fuel contamination for several months.
  • 9 May 1971: USA launched Mariner 8. Launch failure.
  • 10 May 1971: USSR launched Mars M-71 (1) on Cosmos 419. Failed to leave Earth orbit (another unit conversion failure: the timer to ignite the stage was set to 1.5 years instead of 1.5 seconds).
  • 19 May 1971: USSR launched Mars 2 (M-71 (2)). Reached Mars on 27 November. Lander failed on descent.
  • 28 May 1971: USSR launched Mars 3. Reached Mars on 2 December, lander descended to soft landing same day, but operated only 20 seconds before failing.
  • 30 May 1971: USA launched Mariner 9. First successful orbit insertion around another planet. Mapped planet after global dust storm lasting from September to December. Valles Marineris canyon details. 54 Gb of data returned. Turned off 27 October 1972. Still in martian orbit.
  • 21 July 1973: USSR launched Mars 4. Martian orbit not achieved, fly-by only on 10 February 1974. Faulty computer chip. In heliocentric orbit.
  • 25 July 1973: USSR launched Mars 5. Martian orbit insertion on 12 February 1974, operated a few days before failure. Faulty computer chip.
  • 5 August 1973: USSR launched Mars 6. Martian orbit and landing achieved 12 March 1974, but data was corrupt. Faulty computer chip. Contact lost on landing.
  • 9 August 1974: USSR launched Mars 7. Premature landing probe separation - missed Mars. Faulty computer chip. In heliocentric orbit.
  • 20 August 1975: USA launched Viking 1. Martian orbit insertion 19 June 1976. Soft landing 20 July 1976. Orbiter powered down 17 August 1980. Lander functioned until 13 November 1982.
  • 9 September 1975: USA launched Viking 2. Martian orbit insertion 7 August 1976. Soft landing 3 September 1976. Orbiter powered down 25 July 1978. Lander functioned until 11 April 1980. Viking 1 & 2 orbiters mapped the entire surface.
  • 7 July 1988: USSR launched Phobos 1. Failed 27 March 1989 while in orbit before launch of probes to martian moon Phobos. Software error led to loss of lock on Sun, depleting the batteries.
  • 12 July 1988: USSR launched Phobos 2. Reached Mars 29 January 1989, failed 27 March 1989 before lander was released.
  • 25 September 1972: USA launched Mars Observer. Communications and propulsion failure 22 August 1993 on orbit insertion attempt. In heliocentric orbit.
  • 16 November 1996: Russia launched Mars 8 (M-96). Failed to leave Earth orbit and re-entered over the Pacific, Chile and Bolivia. Last Russian mission to Mars.
  • 7 November 1996: USA launches Mars Global Surveyor. Martian orbit insertion 12 September 1997. Began mapping in March 1999. Still operational (a nice shot looking back at Earth from MGS' camera).
  • 4 December 1996: USA launched Mars Pathfinder. Landed 4 July 1997. The Sojourner rover is operated. Mission terminated 10 March 1998 when communications failed. Great public attachment to little rover.
  • 3 July 1998: Japan launched Nozomi or Hope. Original plan was to arrive at Mars 11 October 1999, but swing-by orbit acceleration problems left the craft with insufficient delta-V. Additional Earth swingbys were used to get a Mars encounter January 2004. Stay tuned.
  • 11 December 1998: USA launched Mars Climate Orbiter as part of the Mars Surveyor program. Failed 23 September 1999 when an incorrect value in a look-up table caused incorrect orbit insertion (unit error, using pounds instead of Newtons).
  • 3 January 1999: USA launched Mars Polar Explorer. Reached Mars 3 December, and was to have landed between 73 and 78 degrees South, but communications were lost on lander separation. The death knell for Dan Goldin's faster, better, cheaper mantra.
  • 7 April 2001: USA launched 2001 Mars Odyssey. Achieved martian orbit October 24, 2001. Today it serves as the communications relay for the landers (this is one of the craft that have IP addresses that I mentioned in my Feb 20 post).
  • 2 June 2003: the EU launched Mars Express. Mars orbit insertion 20 December 2003. The lander, Beagle 2, was to have landed 25 December, but contact has not been made. The orbiter remains operational, with a 1 year operations plan.
  • 10 June 2003: USA launched Mars Exploration Rover A (MER-2, Spirit). Rover weighs 185 kg, over ten times what Sojourner weighs. Landed 4 January. Rover roll-off planned for 12 January. 90 day operations planned - dust covering the solar panels and a lowering sun angle will eventually kill the batteries.
  • 8 July 2003: USA launched Mars Exploration Rover B (MER-1, Opportunity). Martian arrival scheduled for 25 January 2004.

(Data from, ESA, JAXA, and NASA)

Here is a great QTVR panorama of the view from Spirit's landing site.

Here's the nifty desktop clock, Mars24, so that you too can get successively more jet-lagged like the mission control folks at JPL, operating on Mars time. Mars24 doesn't label all the landing sites for all the missions listed above, but you can center the map on whatever coordinates you want, and so see where the forlorn and freezing are. Poor things. But they have no feelings.