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The New Millennium Program's Deep Space 2 mission, which launched in January 1999, is sending two highly advanced miniature probes to Mars. They will be the first spacecraft ever to penetrate below the surface of another planet. Each probe weighs just 2.4 kg (5.3 lb) and is encased in a protective shell (called an aeroshell). They are catching a ride to Mars aboard another spacecraft, the Mars Polar Lander. Upon arrival just above the south polar region of Mars on December 3, 1999, the basketball-sized shells will be released from the main spacecraft and plummet through the atmosphere, hitting the planet's surface at over 644 km/hr (400 mph). On impact, each shell will shatter, and its grapefruit-sized probe will punch through the soil and separate into two parts. The lower part, called the forebody, will penetrate as far as 0.6 meters (about 2 feet) into the soil; the upper part of the probe, or the aftbody, will stay on the surface to radio data to the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft, currently in orbit around Mars, which will then send the data to Earth.

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This page last updated: October 29, 1999
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