A momentous occasion has been bestowed upon us. The Mars Polar Lander will try to reach its destination of Mars’ southern polar ice cap. The Lander was presumed to touch down on Friday December 3, 1999. It was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 17 on January 3, 1999 and hopefully it has finally reached the surfaces of Mars. This mission is worth $327.6 million total for both orbiter and Lander (not including Deep Space 2). Those figures come from $193.1 million for spacecraft development, $91.7 million for launch, and $42.8 million for mission operations. March 1, 2000 is the anticipated end of the Primary Mission. This truly a feat of humankind to explore and decipher the landscape of the “red” planet. “Why would we consider tampering with the planet in the first place?” a lot of people would ask. Some of these reasons are pretty obvious. It all started in the late 1870’s, when Giovanni Schiaparelli viewed what seemed to be canals. These canals started from each respectable pole and seemed as if these canals transported water to various areas of the planet. This observation sparked more exploration. Although, with the limited resources back then, there was not much they could do. Times have changed and with the available technology, the feat is possible. Exploration has expanded, and we have learned various new things about the planet. Many missions have went to Mars and explored since the first fascination with this planet and more is still to learn. Hence the purpose of the mission that is upon us. Another reason for the exploration is that Mars is the next most inhabitable planet, next to the earth, in the Solar System. We wonder if that in a couple of year that we can live there. But all that is in the far future.
The Landscape of Mars is rather treacherous, learned from previous missions. The polar regions of Mars are sometimes cold enough to freeze carbon dioxide into “dry ice”, something that never happens naturally on Earth. Scientists hope to learn about Mars’ climate by studying layers of dust and possibly ice during the 90-day mission. Instruments will measure vapor in the atmosphere, while a claw on the spacecraft will collect samples to be cooked and analyzed for water. The 3 1/2-foot-tall, 2-foot-wide Lander was to set down in a never-explored region so close to the South Pole that the sun will not dip below the horizon during the mission. Though it will be late spring, the average temperature is expected to be minus-73 degrees Fahrenheit. The probe is landing in a region that was said to be inhibited full of water. The water is believed to have made the planets rocky landscape. The geology ranges from deep canyons, and even ancient shorelines. Tectonic plates play a vital role in pushing carbonates under the surface of the earth, contributing to the active volcanoes across the earth. There has been evidence on Mars that there have been abundant volcanic activity in the past. Without tectonic plates, that has become a mystery. Two theories have been expressed to explain Mars’ geology. One is that the planet was once warm and boasted oceans, rivers and even a thicker atmosphere. The other says that the planet was always cold and was under a thick sheet of ice. Regardless, which theory is true, it proves how much we really do not know about the “red” planet.
Unfortunately, the Polar Lander has not reached its destination. The endless days have elapsed and the mission team fears that all hope is lost. They have been trying desperately to communicate with the Lander, but there is no response. The first days, but
they remained optimistic. Now as the days go by and the communications have failed. It seems they have given up hope. If they have given up hope, it will be for this mission, not for the missions to come.