Douglas Isbell

Headquarters, Washington, DC
(Phone: 202/358-1753)

Mary Hardin

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA

(Phone: 818/354-5011)

RELEASE: 99-135


NASA’s Deep Space 2 microprobes, due to smash into the
surface of Mars near the planet’s south pole on Dec. 3, have been
named Amundsen and Scott in honor of the first explorers to reach
the South Pole of Earth.

Paul Withers, a graduate student at the University of Arizona
in Tucson, wrote the winning essay, among a NASA-record 17,000
entries submitted in a public contest to name the ambitious space

“A century ago, Antarctica was the Earth’s only unexplored
continent. Then expeditions led by Amundsen and Scott landed
there, striving to discover its secrets, seeking knowledge, and
finding a land of stark beauty,” wrote Withers, who studies the
thin upper atmosphere of Mars. “ÉScott perished in Antarctica.
His memorial’s inscription reads: ‘To strive, to seek, to find,
not to yield.’ These are aims of the Deep Space 2.”

Norwegian Roald Amundsen explored the Northwest Passage
before leading the first successful expedition to the South Pole,
reaching it on Dec. 14, 1911. Robert Falcon Scott led an English
team to the South Pole in January 1912, only to discover the
national flag left during Amundsen’s earlier arrival. Although
blizzards and starvation claimed Scott and his entire team on
their return trip, the search party found scientifically valuable
diaries and notebooks.

The main purpose of NASA’s miniature probes is technical, not
scientific: flight-testing advanced technology that could be used
by future planetary surface microlanders. Constructed to survive
an abrupt impact at 400 mph with the layered terrain common in the
south polar region of Mars, the two Deep Space 2 probes also carry
sensors to search for the presence of water ice about three feet
below the surface, as a secondary goal.

“Deep Space 2 joins Mars Polar Lander as the first missions
to venture to the south pole of Mars, so it’s only fitting to name
the microprobes after the two explorers who first set foot on
Earth’s South Pole,” said Deep Space 2 project manager Sarah
Gavit. “Like Amundsen and Scott, Deep Space 2 will have to
survive great odds, including not only braving the elements but
also crashing into the terrain with unbelievable force.”

A gift certificate for CompUSA merchandise worth $4000 will
go to the grand-prize winner. The prize, provided by Lockheed
Martin Corp., the Boeing Co. and CompUSA, will go directly from
the donating companies to the winner. The top 25 finalists will
receive one copy each of a Deep Space 2 poster signed by project
team leaders.

Participants in the contest were instructed to choose two
people from history (not living), characters from mythology or
fiction, two places or things in some way associated with each
other, or a combination of the above elements. Submissions had to
be accompanied by a short written composition of up to 100 words
explaining why the entries would make good names for the probes.
This essay was used as the tiebreaker if more than one person
submitted the same pair of names, which happened in the case of
the winning submission.

The Deep Space 2 probes are piggybacking on NASA’s Mars Polar
Lander spacecraft, which was launched on Jan. 3. Each probe has
an entry system consisting of a basketball-sized aeroshell with a
grapefruit-sized probe inside. Released from the cruise stage of
the Mars Polar Lander on Dec. 3 before it enters the atmosphere of
Mars, the probes will dive toward the surface with no braking
system beyond their cone-shaped exterior surface. Unlike any
spacecraft before them, the probes must endure impact forces up to
60,000 times the force of Earth’s gravity as they hit the surface.

Upon impact, the aeroshell will shatter and the forebody of
each probe will bury itself up to about three feet (one meter)
underground, while the aftbody remains on the surface to transmit
data back to Earth through NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft.
If successful, Deep Space 2 will demonstrate innovative approaches
to entering a planet’s atmosphere, surviving a crash-like impact
and penetrating below a planet’s surface.

The mission is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
(JPL) in Pasadena, CA. JPL is a division of the California
Institute of Technology.