Software bug downed Mars probe

NASA official suspects Mars Global Surveyor stilled by errant computer code.
By | Published: January 10, 2007 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft
After 10 years of operation, the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft may have succumbed to bad software.
Corby Waste
January 10, 2007
In War of the Worlds, the common cold virus ultimately defeats a genocidal martian army. In November 2006, the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) may have succumbed to a different kind of bug — the sort that plagues computer users the world over.

At a meeting of the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group in Crystal City, Virginia, John McNamee, deputy director of solar system exploration at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, reported that software problems may have led to the loss of MGS after more than 10 years of orbital exploration.

In June 2006, the craft received a software upload. McNamee stated preliminary findings indicate glitches in the software caused MGS’ solar panels to rotate abnormally. That, in turn, caused the craft to go into “safe” mode, leaving its battery-cooling radiator pointed at the Sun. Then the battery failed, silencing MGS forever.

A newly formed internal NASA review board will further investigate the reasons for the loss of MGS in hopes of increasing the safety margin for future spacecraft.