RELEASE NO. 99-081
MARS SPACECRAFT TO LAND DEC. 3
Langley Aeroshell Design Helps Probe for Water on Mars
When the Mars
Polar Lander and its passengers, the
Deep Space 2 microprobes, enter the Martian atmosphere
later this week, it will be with the help of engineering know-how
developed at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
Langley engineers helped verify the design of the Mars
Polar Lander's heat shield, but most of their task on this mission
centered around the microprobes. Langley researchers worked closely
with their counterparts at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
Pasadena, Calif., to design and test the aeroshells that will
shield the two microprobes during their entry and descent into
Mars' atmosphere. The heat shields will protect the spacecraft from
the remarkable stresses encountered during their
14,000-mile-per-hour atmospheric entry and will enable them to
align themselves properly to the surface for impact.
The basketball-sized microprobes weigh about eight pounds each.
They will detach from the Lander, free-fall through Mars'
atmosphere, and crash land at more than 400 miles per hour without
the aid of parachutes, rockets, or airbags. As the microprobes slam
into Mars, experiencing forces up to 80,000 times Earth's gravity,
the aeroshell will shatter. The impact's force will bury the
microprobes up to three feet below the surface, making them NASA's
first planetary penetrators.
microprobes will use a tiny drill to take subsurface samples of
Martian soil. These samples will be heated, and a laser will be
aimed through the gases that boil off to look for signs of water
vapor. The microprobes will relay their findings back to Earth via
the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft, which already is orbiting
Mars. The results of this experiment could hold the key to
answering questions about past or present life on Mars.
The Mars Polar Lander spacecraft was launched January 3, 1999,
from Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Members of the Langley teams that designed and tested the
aeroshell are available for interviews. B-roll with animation and
interview clips is also available.
More information on the Mars Polar Lander
mission is available on the Internet at: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msp98/.
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