High Above Mars, a NASA Orbiter Spies the Curiosity Rover

The camera has also taken pictures of NASA’s Viking and Phoenix landers. A Russian amateur may have also spotted Mars 3, the Soviet spacecraft that set down on Mars in 1971, although that identification was not conclusive.

The orbiter has also provided hints into Mars spacecraft that failed.

When the European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli craft, part of its ExoMars mission, disappeared last year as it was descending, the Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted a dark scar on the surface where the lander crashed.


The European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli lander crashed at more than 180 miles per hour, leaving a dark blotch on the Martian surface.

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory/University of Arizona

The orbiter also found Beagle 2, an earlier European Space Agency lander that disappeared in 2003. In that instance, it turned out that Beagle 2 made it to the surface in one piece but not all of its solar panels deployed. With the radio antenna blocked, it was never able to send a message back to Earth.


This composite image shows the Beagle 2 lander with partially deployed solar panels.

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory/University of Arizona/University of Leicester

One spacecraft, however, still eludes discovery — NASA’s Polar Lander that disappeared without a trace in December 1999 as it was heading toward a spot on Mars near the South Pole.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s camera has taken images covering the area where Polar Lander is likely to be, but it remains hidden in the rough terrain. In the years since its disappearance, the debris may have also been partly hidden by dust and frost.


Do you see a lander here? This is a slice of the region on Mars where NASA’s Polar Lander is…

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