Line of missing code doomed Mars spacecraft

Line of missing code doomed Mars spacecraft

Missing computer code, inadequate software testing and communications systems that lacked integration helped doom the Mars Polar Lander, according to reports issued last week.

After losing all four Mars-bound spacecraft last year, NASA officials have had to rethink their approach to using robot spacecraft. The reports by the Mars Program Independent Assessment Team and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Special Review Board will guide future mission efforts, agency officials said.

The JPL study, Report of the Loss of the Mars Polar Lander and Deep Space 2 Missions, concluded that the Mars Polar Lander probably crashed because of 'spurious signals' the lander generated during its descent, a problem that would have been fixed by one line of missing code.

No comm

'The lack of communications [telemetry] to provide entry, descent and landing data for [the Mars Polar Lander] was a major mistake,' the report said. 'Absence of this information prevented an analysis of the performance of MPL and eliminated any ability to reflect knowledge gained from MPL in future missions.'

The reports also confirmed that the Mars Climate Orbiter failed last year because navigation data was recorded in English measuring units rather than metric.

Thomas Young, a space industry executive and former NASA official, led the assessment team. The study faulted NASA for inadequate oversight, testing and independent analysis of the orbiter project.

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