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NASA's Response to UPI's March 21 Mars Polar Lander Story
NASA's Response to UPI's March 21 Mars Polar Lander Story
22 Mar 2000
(Source: NASA Headquarters)

Peggy Wilhide
Headquarters, Washington, DC
(Phone: 202/ 358-1898)

Brian Welch
Headquarters, Washington, DC
(Phone: 202/ 358-1600)

Don Savage
Headquarters, Washington, DC
(Phone: 202/ 358-1547)

RELEASE: 00-43

James Oberg of UPI claims that NASA knew there was a problem with the Mars Polar Lander propulsion system prior to the Dec. 3 landing attempt and "withheld this conclusion from the public." NASA categorically denies this charge. Here's what NASA did and what NASA said:

  • The Stephenson report, phase 1, was released to the public on November 10, 1999 during a press conference at NASA Headquarters.
  • The report made 11 different references to technical issues or concerns involving the propulsion system and the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) sequence.
  • This issue was specifically addressed in the press conference and in "MPL Observation No. 5" and other public recommendations of the Stephenson Phase 1 report. It was entitled, "Cold Firing of Thrusters," and dealt in detail with the catalyst bed issue cited by Mr. Oberg of UPI in his March 21 story, "NASA Knew Mars Polar Lander Doomed."
  • Had UPI researched the public documents released on Nov. 10, which have been available online at the NASA Home Page, the reporter would have been able to conclude that NASA did indeed publicly address propulsion issues, and specifically, the propulsion system's "catalyst bed" temperature concern.
  • Based on this review, NASA knew about the concerns with the propulsion system, NASA took corrective action, and NASA hid nothing from the public. We made our concerns known in early November.
  • Several failure scenarios have been reported in the press over the last few weeks, including the lander legs microswitch issue. Outlets such as the Denver Post, Space Daily, and National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" have covered this angle. There is nothing new in the UPI report relating to this specific issue. The lander legs issue is among the failure modes we are studying.
  • Both the Stephenson and Casani (John Casani, retired JPL flight programs head and also director of mission assurance) teams have conducted intensive reviews relating to Mars Polar Lander, and their teams have surfaced no evidence relating to thruster acceptance testing irregularities as alleged by UPI. In fact, members of the review teams are using words like "bunk," "complete nonsense," and "wacko," to describe their reactions to UPI's charge.
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Last Updated: 5 Jun 2001