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NASA Report: Human Error Doomed Mars Surveyor

The U.S. space agency NASA says human error led to the loss of the Mars Global Surveyor orbiting probe last November.

Officials say the problems began in 2005, when a routine update sent to the probe's computers caused an inconsistency. Flight engineers tried to fix the problem nine months later, but uploaded faulty commands that caused Surveyor's solar panels to rotate too far.

When flight controllers sent a command to the spacecraft to adjust its solar panels in November, the probe pointed itself toward the sun, exposing one if its two batteries to direct sunlight. The battery overheated, and both batteries eventually died.

NASA officials say mission engineers followed existing procedures that were inadequate to catch the errors.

The Mars Global Surveyor was launched in 1996, and reached the Red Planet's orbit 10 months later. It eventually sent back 240,000 images of the Martian surface back to Earth. Originally planned to last just two years, the Surveyor operated at Mars longer than any other spacecraft.

Some information for this report provided by AP and AFP.