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Pathfinder Team Plans New Efforts

October 2, 1997

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) _ The Mars Pathfinder is still operating, but NASA is struggling to find ways to communicate with the spaceship that has now outlived its original minimum design life by nearly two months. It’s possible its battery is dead and solar energy will have to be used in the future, scientists said today.

After three days of problems communicating with the spacecraft, controllers were able to re-establish enough contact with the lander through an auxiliary transmitter to determine it’s still operational, NASA said Wednesday.

Another, similar signal was received today, but again no data was transmitted, Project Manager Brian Muirhead said. He likened the signal to being waved at by Pathfinder when scientists really want it to talk to them.

Muirhead sounded more certain that the lander’s battery had finally died, which would mean that using the spacecraft would require devising new ways to control Pathfinder during periods when its solar panels are generating enough power.

``I’m confident that we’ll get to the bottom of it,″ he said.

The brief communication session Tuesday night marked the first time the Pathfinder’s engineers and scientists heard from the spacecraft since downloading data in a session that ended early Saturday, the 83rd day of the mission.

Pathfinder bounced onto the red planet July 4. The lander was designed to operate a minimum of 30 days, while its little mobile rover, nicknamed Sojourner, was designed to operate just seven days. The fact that both are still operating is not a total surprise, however; scientists had thought both craft would last longer, depending on the capacity of their batteries, which are recharged by solar energy.

The craft have returned dramatic new images of the martian landscape, sunrises and frozen ice clouds, and relayed chemical analyses of many martian rocks.

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