Mars Recon Orbiter may have photographed 1971 Soviet mission remains

In 1971, the Soviet Union and the United States were both busy with missions to explore the Red Planet. The Soviets at the Mars series of missions, the States had the Mariner 9. The Americans beat the Russians to the goal in that year, with Mariner becoming the first human space craft to successfully achieve orbit around another planet.

Unfortunately for the Russians, not only were they last, they also miscalculated the fuel needs for the mission and ended up losing their Mars 3 orbiter after a short 12-hour orbit, half the time they had planned. Forty years later, Russian space enthusiasts viewing publicly-available NASA JPL images think they may have spotted three remnants of that long-ago mission.

Vitali Egorov from St. Petersburg, Russia, heads the largest Russian Internet community about Curiosity, at . His subscribers did the preliminary search for Mars 3 via crowdsourcing. Egorov modeled what Mars 3 hardware pieces should look like in a HiRISE image, and the group carefully searched the many small features in this large image, finding what appear to be viable candidates in the southern part of the scene. Each candidate has a size and shape consistent with the expected hardware, and they are arranged on the surface as expected from the entry, descent and landing sequence.

Score one for crowdsourcing and planetary exploration. Now, if only we could get the White House to quit gutting the single most successful space exploration program in the NASA JPL budget. That would be a score, too…