April 18, 2007

Human Error Led to Mars Surveyor Loss

Human error triggered a cascade of events that caused the battery to fail on the Mars Global Surveyor last year, according to a preliminary report released Friday.

An internal NASA board determined that power loss likely doomed the spacecraft after a decade of meticulously mapping the Red Planet.

But the problems can be traced back to September 2005 when a routine technical update to onboard computers caused inconsistencies in the spacecraft's memory. Engineers tried to fix the problem, but instead sent up incorrect software commands.

The board concluded that engineers didn't catch the mistakes because the existing procedures to do so were inadequate.

Scientists lost contact last November with the $154 million Global Surveyor.

Launched in 1996, it was the oldest of six active probes on the Martian surface or circling the planet.

Several attempts to locate the spacecraft were unsuccessful, and the mission was declared ended in January.