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Friday, October 24, 1997 Published at 22:53 GMT


One of our probes is missing ...

Sojourner lander seen from the Rover (Nasa photo)

American space scientists fear they have lost all contact with the Mars Pathfinder lander and its tiny roving vehicle.

It is now more than two weeks since the team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, last communicated with the probe.

Nasa's Website says: "We are attempting to regain communications with the lander, but have not seen a signal since October 7.

"We have high confidence, however, that the spacecraft is still functioning, but the extreme cold temperatures of the lander is preventing communications.

"We are pursuing several courses of action which should allow us to recover and continue normal operations."

[ image: Rover in happier days (Nasa)]
Rover in happier days (Nasa)
The problem concerns the Sojourner lander which arrived on Mars on July 4 and deployed a tiny Rover vehicle. They have far exceeded their main brief, which ended after a month.

The images and data sent back caused great excitement, revolutionising scientists' understanding of the Red Planet.

At a news conference earlier this month, the Pathfinder team described Mars as a place that was very Earth-like in its infancy, with weathering processes and running water that created a variety of rock types, and a warmer atmosphere that generated clouds, winds and seasons.

So Nasa wants to continue the knowledge-gathering mission for as long as possible. The trouble is, the limit of what is possible may now have been reached.

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