The missing Mars Polar Lander may have been found by a top-secret spy imaging agency. The National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) has been quietly scanning Mars photos, looking for the lander, since it stopped communicating with Earth in December 1999. They think they?ve spotted something, but NASA says it?s too early to tell.

The Mars Polar Lander entered the Martian atmosphere on December 3, 1999. It was expected to make a soft landing on the south polar region, but contact was never reestablished after the probe touched down. A series of efforts to communicate with the Mars Lander all failed.

NIMA is part of the U.S. Department of Defense and provides imagery and information to military forces. They employ specialists who are able to maximize the information obtained from surveillance photography.

NIMA contacted NASA within a few weeks of the last contact attempt. ?Shortly after the loss of the Mars Polar Lander, NIMA and NASA began working together analyzing images of the intended landing site and to try to locate the spacecraft,? said Jennifer Lafley, a NIMA spokesperson. ?At this point, the results of this study are not conclusive, and the agencies are working together on resolving a number of technical questions.?

NIMA experts believe they have identified the Mars Lander, and that it appears to be intact, sitting on top of its three legs, meaning it did not crash land, as was originally suspected. This implies there must be a glitch in its communications program. ?If found intact, it would mean that we would have to reexamine our most probable cause of failure,? said Noel Hinners of Lockheed Martin Astronautics.

Edward Weiler, head of NASA?s Office of Space Science, thinks it?s too soon to say that the Lander has been located. ?It?s no big secret. They have a lot of expertise in analyzing imagery. They said some of their best people would be willing to spend some spare time on a fun project. They wanted to see if they could pull an image ?out of the grass,? so to speak?If anybody is saying that they have definitively proved to the 99 percentile that Mars Polar Lander has or hasn?t been found, they are overstating the situation grossly.?

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