Mars Polar Lander is part of the Mars Surveyor program whose main goal is to study the climate and atmosphere in Mars and of course search for water and possibility of life.
Mars Polar Lander was launched on January 3, 1999 at Cape Canaveral air Station in Florida. Unfortunately the lander got lost when it arrived in Mars in December of 1999.
- Observe the atmosphere and radiative balance of the polar regions in order to understand the weather and seasonal changes in Mars.
- Observe the behavior of Martian dust and of volatile materials, such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, and water ice, for 1 full year.
- Determine how dust and volatile materials behave from season to season. Characterize the composition of the surface of Mars and how it changes over time and search for near surface water ice in the polar region.
- Understand how dust storms happen and how it affects the Martian atmosphere.
- Understand the history of the Martian Climate.
- Deep Space 2 Microprobes – Was supposed to be the first probes to penetrate the surface of Mars. The Microprobes carries ten experimental technologies and was supposed to punch through the surface of Mars. About half of the probe will be about 2 feet under the surface of Mars while the other half will be on the surface communicating with the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft. Unfortunately, the probes failed to communicate upon landing on Mars’ surface and was considered lost.
- Mars Volatile and Climate Surveyor (MVACS) – The MVACS will be searching for water vapor and ice and determine how it behaves. Searching for water is the main goal of Mars missions and is therefore very important. The MVACS is composed of 5 instruments:
- Meteorological Package (MET) – Observes the atmosphere and determines its temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, pressure, atmospheric oxygen and sub surface soil temperatures.
- Surface Stereo Imager (SSI) – Takes color surface images.
- Thermal and Evolved Gas analyzer (TEGA) – Studies the amount of water, carbon dioxide and water bearing minerals in the Martian soil.
- Robotic Arm (RA) – Digs and collects soil samples to be delivered to the TEGA.
- Robotic Arm Camera (RAC) – Captures images of the trenches and soil samples.
- Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) – Will provide images as the Mars Polar Lander descends on the Red Planet. Pictures will provide excitement to those watching the landing and provide the sense of being there as well as provide scientific evaluations of the Martian Surface.
- Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) and Mars Microphone – Will be used to determine how dust storms form and to learn more about the Martian dust particles and atmospheric structure.
The Mars Polar Lander would have contributed greatly on our quest to find water on Mars and to understand the Martian climate. Questions like “Is there water on Mars?”, Is there or was there life on Mars?”, “What is the climate in Mars?”, “How does the weather change?” could have been answered by the Mars Polar Lander only if it had the chance.
Unfortunately, that is how space exploration missions go. Some fail while some succeed, but surely there was a lesson learned on this mission and it will only make us wiser in the future.
Here is a great animation of how the Mars Polar Lander would have landed in Mars and began its mission.