Russian space enthusiasts poring through photos from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have spotted what looks like the remains of the Soviet Mars 3 lander that arrived at the Red Planet in 1971. The Soviet Union lander was the first spacecraft to survive a Mars landing long enough to transmit data back to Earth. However, after transmitting for just 14.5 seconds after landing on Dec. 2, 1971, Mars 3 went dark for unknown reasons. Now a group of Russian Mars fans, who track the progress of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity online, may have found the lander after all these years.
The citizen enthusiasts, led by Vitali Egorov of St. Petersburg, Russia, undertook a crowdsourcing effort to search for the vehicle in photos of the projected landing site from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which has been circling Mars since 2006. MRO launched toward the Red Planet in 2005 and is NASA’s youngest and most powerful orbiter to study Mars from above. In an image from 2007, they found features that resemble the Mars 3 lander, along with its parachute, heat shield, and terminal retrorocket. The features are the right size and shape for the equipment, and they’re arranged in the configuration expected from the mission’s entry, descent and landing plan, but it’s too early to say for sure whether the photo actually depicts Mars 3..