NASA's Orbiter Possibly Spots Lost 1970's Soviet Lander

In 1971, the Soviets landed a spacecraft on Mars, which ultimately met an unfortunate fate and died in a somewhat unknown location. Now, over four decades later, it is believed parts of that spacecraft were photographed by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter years ago, only to have been overlooked for half a decade and eventually spotted by enthusiasts on an Internet forum.

The community at crowdsourced a mission to find the Soviet Union's long-lost Mars 3 spacecraft, with the site's leader, Vitali Egorov of St. Petersburg, Russia, creating models of what hardware from the spacecraft should look like. With this reference, the community combed through a large image taken five-years ago by NASA's MRO, identifying what is believed to be the craft's parachute, lander, terminal retrorocket, and heat shield.

The HiRISE image in which the possible spacecraft parts were discovered is massive with 1.8 million pixels, which NASA says would require approximately 2500 average computer monitors to view. In light of the discovery, it was recommended that a new image be taken of the location where the hardware parts were discovered, which ultimately happened on March 10 of this year. The new image looks at the area in color and in different angles, which should provide a better idea of what the original image shows.

Said Alfred McEwen, HiRISE Principal Investigator from the University of Arizona, said: "Together, this set of features and their layout on the ground provide a remarkable match to what is expected from the Mars 3 landing, but alternative explanations for the features cannot be ruled out. Further analysis of the data and future images to better understand the three-dimensional shapes may help to confirm this interpretation."

[via NASA]