Why Did Mars Polar Lander Fail? A Conversation with Donna Shirley

NASA is still trying to figure out what caused the demise of the Mars Polar Lander. There are a number of possible fates: perhaps the lander malfunctioned; perhaps it was destroyed by a landing on hazardous martian terrain, or buried in a blanket of soft, deep dust. A NASA review board is expected to release its report on the Polar Lander’s loss sometime later this winter.’s Andrew Chaikin. Executive Editor, Space & Science spoke recently with Donna Shirley, former manager for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. She offered her perspective on the failed mission. Shirley, now assistant dean of engineering at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, is also a member of’s board of advisors.