Ask Dr. Notebook

Q: Recently, NASA released a report claiming the robotic arm on its Mars Polar Lander was a success. Last week F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., chairman of the House Committee on Science, ridiculed the report, pointing out that the whole contraption crashed on the red planet before the robotic arm was ever deployed. Was NASA trying to pull a fast one?

A: Technically, no. Long before the crash, NASA chose specific projects to include in its annual report. As luck would have it, the only part of the lander mission they chose to rate was the robotic arm, and when they tested...

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