MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIF. 91109 TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
Contacts: John G. Watson
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 15, 1999
MARS PENETRATOR PROBES NAMED FOR PIONEERING POLAR EXPLORERS
NASA's Deep Space 2 microprobes, due to smash into the
surface of Mars near the planet's south pole on Dec. 3, have been
named Amundsen and Scott in honor of the first explorers to reach
the South Pole of Earth.
Paul Withers, a graduate student at the University of
Arizona in Tucson, wrote the winning essay in a public contest to
name the ambitious space mission. His was among a NASA-record
17,000 entries submitted.
"A century ago, Antarctica was the Earth's only unexplored
continent. Then expeditions led by Amundsen and Scott landed
there, striving to discover its secrets, seeking knowledge, and
finding a land of stark beauty," wrote Withers, who studies the
thin upper atmosphere of Mars. "Scott perished in Antarctica.
His memorial's inscription reads: 'To strive, to seek, to find,
not to yield.' These are aims of the Deep Space 2."
Norwegian Roald Amundsen explored the Northwest Passage
before leading the first successful expedition to the South Pole,
reaching it on Dec. 14, 1911. Robert Falcon Scott led an English
team to the South Pole in January 1912, only to discover the
national flag left during Amundsen's earlier arrival. Although
blizzards and starvation claimed Scott and his entire team on
their return trip, a search party found the team's scientifically
valuable diaries and notebooks.
The main purpose of NASA's miniature probes is technical,
not scientific: flight-testing advanced technology that could be
used by future planetary surface microlanders. Constructed to
survive an abrupt impact at 644 kilometers (400 miles) per hour
with the layered terrain common in the south polar region of
Mars, the two Deep Space 2 probes also carry sensors to search
for the presence of water ice about three feet below the surface,
as a secondary goal.
"Deep Space 2 joins Mars Polar Lander as the first missions
to venture to the south pole of Mars, so it's only fitting to
name the microprobes after the two explorers who first set foot
on Earth's South Pole," said Deep Space 2 Project Manager Sarah
Gavit. "Like Amundsen and Scott, Deep Space 2 will have to
survive great odds, including not only braving the elements but
also crashing into the terrain with unbelievable force."
A gift certificate for CompUSA merchandise worth $4,000 will
go to Withers. The prize, provided by Lockheed Martin Corp., the
Boeing Co. and CompUSA, will go directly from the donating
companies to the winner. The top 25 finalists will receive one
copy each of a Deep Space 2 poster signed by project team
Participants in the contest were instructed to choose two
people from history (not living), characters from mythology or
fiction, two places or things in some way associated with each
other, or a combination of the above elements. Submissions had to
be accompanied by a short written composition of up to 100 words
explaining why the entries would make good names for the probes.
This essay was used as the tiebreaker if more than one person
submitted the same pair of names, which happened in the case of
the winning submission.
The Deep Space 2 probes are piggybacking on NASA's Mars
Polar Lander spacecraft, which was launched on Jan. 3, 1999. Each
probe has an entry system consisting of a basketball-sized
aeroshell with a grapefruit-sized probe inside. Released from the
cruise stage of the Mars Polar Lander on Dec. 3 before it enters
the atmosphere of Mars, the probes will dive toward the surface
with no braking system beyond their cone-shaped exterior surface.
Unlike any spacecraft before them, the probes must endure impact
forces up to 60,000 times the force of Earth's gravity as they
hit the surface.
Upon impact, the aeroshell will shatter and the forebody of
each probe will bury itself up to about one meter (three feet)
underground, while the aftbody remains on the surface to transmit
data back to Earth through NASA's Mars Global Surveyor
spacecraft. If successful, Deep Space 2 will demonstrate
innovative approaches to entering a planet's atmosphere,
surviving a crash-like impact and penetrating below a planet's
The mission is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
(JPL) in Pasadena, CA. JPL is a division of the California
Institute of Technology, Pasadena.