What's happening to the Mars Probes?

Someone out there knows the real answer to this. Why have so many Mars Probes failed? Mars Observer; sailed off to nowhere or shot down by advanced Martian civilization? Or did it actually work, and its findings turned out to be too dangerous for the Teeming Millions?
And the latest one…fell down a canyon? Or found something we aren’t supposed to know about?
The Face on Mars we know of, maybe they found the Middle Finger on Mars…

whispering Well, actually what happened is…wait, who is that at my door at this hour? Oh no, it’s… muffled gunshot

“Oh dreadful angel of mine, enrich me with the vastness of your being…”

It’s my understanding that NASA’s latest way of sending probes is that instead of sending up one $1 billion probe, they can shoot up ten $100 million probes and risk the chances of failure on a greater percentage of them. Therefore, the newer probes are more “garage models” in that they employ airbags to cushion the landings instead of rockets to guide them down, have less sophisticated guidance devices and in other ways are simply made cheaper. This worked out great for the first mission (Pathfinder), but since then the percentages have been catching up with them. Still, a cheap probe can transmit as much information as an expensive one, so if only 50% of them make it to Mars successfully that’s 5x more info than a single expensive probe that still might not work once it gets to the Red Planet.

“I guess one person can make a difference, although most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”

I’m not sure about the Mars Observer. The probe lost contact during a fuel tank pressurization if I remember correctly.

The two recent losses both stem from management problems as a result of trying to do to much with too little money. They were going for the “faster, cheaper, better” NASA, but you can’t really have all three. The Mars Climate Observer was lost because of a Metric/English unit confusion. But mistakes like that happen all the time. The real problem was that there was not enough redundancy to catch such mistakes. They even noticed problems while the probe was on its way, but didn’t have the manpower to investigate it fully.

The Mars Polar Landar is a similar situation. The most likely cause of the problem is that when the landing legs deployed, the vibration activated a switch which was supposed to tell the probe the legs touched the ground. So the probe shut down the engines. They never had the time and money to do a full-up test, so they tested the leg mechanism and the switch separately, and didn’t notice the problem.

Just a few hours ago I heard a disappointing news that a new astronomical satellite, HESSI, was damaged in testing. They meant to shake it at 2G to make sure it doesn’t break in launch; instead the shook it at 20G and broke the satelite. No word on the cause yet…

Once is happenstance.
Twice is coincidence.
Three times is a pattern.

Bomb Mars Now!

Don Cheadle chopped them up with a pickaxe in a fit of paranoid rage. :smiley:

This last one was supposed to do some sub-surface testing as well as the standard surface instrument package.

Shakespeare predicted it wouldn’t work four hundred years ago.

“Neither a burrower nor a lander be…”

holding his nose, runs screaming out into the night

All I wanna do is to thank you, even though I don’t know who you are…

Once again, I have to add that if they would ONLY slap a Coca-Cola symbol or some other lame advertising gimmick on these damn things, NASA could get someone else to foot the bill for these launches, or alternatively, even if we the taxpayers still get stuck with the bill, they’d STILL have the extra money to build a better landing system, com system, or whatever the “money solves all problems” issue really is…

Sorry…didn’t mean to hijack the thread…I’ll let the hostages go now…

I’ve never had a pun actually cause me physical pain before.

DrFidelius, that is a true classic.

Not every day you see an immortal pun born. Well done!
I like the Coke idea. Why not, the big corporations have more moola than the government anyway, and more to gain. Pollution-free power from orbital SPS’s, mining the moon and asteroids instead of national parks…with the current Green rage, you’d think they’d jump at the chance!
But then, they may be scared off by the hostile forces occupying Mars…

Back when the Pathfinder landed on Mars, the NASA web site was getting more hits than any other web site. That site got tens of millions of hits. I remember thinking at the time that if there was a painless way to charge people 50 cents for going to the web site and watching live video from Mars, they could have paid for the a good chunk of the mission.

Instead of advertising on the rockets themselves, perhaps NASA should solicit web site sponsors and banner ads. If we ever get a good micropayment system that allows people to pay a few cents for visiting a web site, they could get a LOT of funding that way.

Perhaps private companies will fund interesting explorations in the same way. Imagine a company that lands an autonomous rover on the moon, then charges a fee to allow people to go to a web site and look at the moon’s surface in high-resolution real-time video. How about dropping a few hundred micro-rovers, and allowing people to control them from a web interface, and actually explore the moon on their own? At $10 for a five minute excursion. With suitable AI on the rover to prevent it from being destroyed or disabled from web commands. Put a metal scribe on the rover, and for an additional $10 you can have your name written in moondust, there to remain undisturbed for thousands of years.
If space travel gets an order of magnitude cheaper, it may be possible to fund entire research programs this way. How much would you pay to have a live video feed on your desktop showing the first landing on Europa?

Smaller-budget science can be funded this way, too. How about a web-controlled telescope that allows me to be an amateur astronomer at home? I can’t afford a 15" Cassegrain telescope, and I don’t want to sit outside in Canada in the winter looking through one. But if I could have a high-resolution live video feed and complete control over a commercial telescope of this size, I’d he happy to spend 20 bucks for an hour once or twice a month to carry out my hobby. A commercial company could build 20 identical telescopes of this size for perhaps $20,000 each, and have them generate $200 in revenue every day. The telescope would break even in less than a year, and each one would generate maybe $50,000 in revenue yearly after that. A company like this would be easy to bootstrap, too. Start with one 8" commercial telescope and a homebew control system (I’d be surprised if someone hasn’t already done this). Use the revenue from that to build more and bigger ones. Charge a sliding scale for access to more powerful scopes.

I guess nowadays you don’t have be a rocket scientist to be a rocket scientist.

Cecil said it. I believe it. That settles it.

See the article in The February issue of Scientific American, page 11.

Actually, the Clementine probe was very similar in concept. A live video from the moon, controlled by users on the ground. They let schoolkids and reporters try it out, but to my knowledge they didn’t charge for it.
Something like that, made available to the public, would be a real success. Even if only because there are loons out there who want to drive over Armstrong’s footprints…