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Software glitch suspected in silence of Mars craft

January 13, 2007|From the Associated Press

NASA is investigating whether incorrect software commands may have doomed the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft, which abruptly fell silent in November after a decade of meticulously mapping the Red Planet.

The space agency said that theory was one of several that might explain the failure of the probe, the oldest of six craft exploring Mars. NASA announced Wednesday that an internal review board would investigate why Surveyor lost contact with controllers during a routine adjustment of its solar array.

John McNamee, deputy director of solar system exploration at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge, said a preliminary investigation pointed to incorrect software commands uploaded in June.

The software was aimed at improving the spacecraft's flight processors. Instead, bad commands may have overheated the battery and forced the spacecraft into safe mode, McNamee told scientists gathered Tuesday in Virginia to plan future Mars missions.

Records show software loaded incorrectly, which could have resulted in a battery's cooling radiator being pointed at the sun, said Doug McCuistion, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program.

"It may have overheated and lost the battery, which then would not allow us to have adequate power to operate the spacecraft," McCuistion said.

"We're declaring it most likely dead," he added. "I doubt we will see it again."

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