Soviet Mars-3 Lander Possibly Discovered in MRO Data

Soviet Mars-3 Lander Possibly Discovered in MRO Data

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) announced today that analysis of imagery from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) may have revealed the Soviet Mars 3 spacecraft that landed on Mars in 1971.  For unknown reasons, contact with the lander was lost seconds after it touched down.

The Soviet Union was jinxed in its robotic Mars exploration program with no complete mission successes to claim.  Some of its probes were partial successes, however, and Mars 3 is in that category.   Mars 2 and Mars 3 were orbiter/lander combinations launched in 1971.   Both orbiters returned data.  The Mars 2 lander crashed.  The Mars 3 lander successfully reached the surface and returned data for a few seconds before contact was lost. 

Russian individuals with an interest in NASA’s current Mars program as well as earlier efforts by the Soviet Union and Russia to study the Red Planet took it upon themselves — with the help of crowdsourcing —  to scrutinize imagery from the High REsolution Imaging Spectrometer Science Experiment (HiRISE) on MRO looking for the Mars 3 lander.  They knew the predicted coordinates of where it landed.

MRO has been in orbit around Mars since March 2006.  The original images they looked at were taken in 2007 and objects resembling the parachute, heat shield, descent module, and lander eventually were identified.  They requested that MRO take another image of the area, which was accomplished on March 13, 2013.  That image is in color and provides different illumination angles and supports, in particular, what they believe is discovery of the parachute.

HiRISE principal investigator Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson, said “this set of features and their layout … provide a remarkable match to what is expected from the Mars 3 landing, but alternative explanations for the features cannot be ruled out.” 

The image is posted on the HiRISE website and JPL’s website.


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