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Mars 2, Earth 1, 2 to go.
Sunday, December 28, 2003
Well, if you've been following the news from Mars, you'll notice that it looks like the martians have been winning this round. All hope was lost of putting the troubled Japanese Nozomi spacecraft into orbit around Mars, and it was instead sent into deep space to prevent planetary contamination. The British Beagle 2 probe also seems to have been lost, for although it may be too early to give up all hope, it hasn't contacted Earth in the three days since it would have landed.
There is one sign of good news, the European Mars Express orbiter seems to have made it to Mars intact. Bully for them, it's quite the accomplishment.
Mars is hard. Of the 34 spacecraft sent on Mars missions before this year, only 11 made it. (The success rate increases a tad if we count Viking as 4 missions rather than 2, as the system consisted of 2 lander/orbiter pairs, all of which worked.)
One nice feature of the MER mission is the use of beacon tones to notify Earth about the progress of the mission. The radios we have may not be powerful enough to pick up data from the rovers until they deploy their antennae, but they are powerful enough to determine the presence or absence of a carrier wave. This will let the rovers send progress information back to Earth during their landing.
Unlike the agonizing wait for communications during the Mars Polar Lander and the Beagle 2 missions, we should know instantly (well, modulo the speed of light) if the Mars Explorations Rovers landed.
Spirit lands January 3rd, and Opportunity lands on the 24th.
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