News of the WeekPlanetary Science

A System Fails at Mars, a Spacecraft Is Lost

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Science  19 Nov 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5444, pp. 1457-1459
DOI: 10.1126/science.286.5444.1457

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NASA investigators have wrapped up their inquiry into the loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter spacecraft in September. Confusion over units of measurement used during mission navigation set the craft on its fatal course into the martian atmosphere, investigators announced last week, but the failure of mission team members to fully follow existing checks and balances turned a correctable snafu into a disaster. Why spacecraft operators broke the rules remains unclear, but NASA's new "faster, better, cheaper" approach to planetary missions is taking some of the blame.