NASA's Mars Polar Lander mission provided the idea for TD's 1999 studio album Mars Polaris. The music material was first performed during TD's only 1999 concert in Osnabrück, Germany, on June 12th, at the KlangArt festival. The album had been announced as an "original motion picture space reality soundtrack" before, and it turned out to be a score for pictures in the listeners' minds: Mars Polaris contains ten tracks inspired by the flight of the 'Mars Polar Lander' capsule to Earth's neighbour planet. The capsule had been launched on January 3rd, 1999 and it was intended to reach Mars on December 3rd, 1999, but it got lost accidently. TD composed the music that could have accompanied the capsule's mission, even if they avoided the word "soundtrack" on the final release -- a film does not exist. However, some visual impressions could be seen during the live presentation of Mars Polaris at the 1999 KlangArt festival. The CD contains the major part of the music of this event, including a short piece similar to an excerpt of the Sony Center Topping Out Ceremony Score CD.
With Mars Polaris, the band has followed their late nineties musical style, which has started with albums like Transsiberia and What A Blast, but now completed by some new sounds and layers, used very carefully. With this album, TD have returned to play some longer compositions again: Four of the ten tracks are about ten minutes long each. Different from earlier announcements, Mars Polaris is not a double CD with more than 100 minutes music but a single CD of about 70 minutes. The whole artwork concept fits into the typical TDI style of the previous releases. The booklet text contains facts about the planet Mars as well as technical data of the NASA capsule.
There is an alternate version, subtitled 'Original Motion Picture Space Reality', which features a different track listing that consists of songs from the official release and from the then forthcoming album Great Wall Of China. The track Dies Martis (TransMercury) is not the same version as of the official album, and the tracks that would become part of Great Wall Of China are titled differently here, suiting the 'martian theme' of this album, but are otherwise unchanged. See The Mars Polaris Mystery for differences of these two releases.
Surprisingly, this reputedly 'mispressed' version of the Mars Polaris album was re-released with the launch of the Tangerine Dream Download Shop in late December 2006/January 2007 -- now titled Mars Mission Counter (based on the title of one of the compositions). This re-release features all tracks of the alternate version, though in a different order. TD fans who consider to buy this album or to download individual tracks should bear in mind that -- as mentioned above -- the tracks that were officially released on Great Wall Of China got different names here. The only really rare track on this album is the version of Dies Martis (TransMercury) which is different from the one on the official release. Otherwise, this album contains no new material, regardless of the uncommon track titles. At least the backside of the downloadable artwork states: "Parts of this album previously released under different titles".
Initially, Mars Mission Counter has been a virtual album release, available from the Tangerine Dream Download Shop only.
In March 2009 both Mars Polaris and Mars Mission Counter were re-released with different cover design as part of an extensive digipack series (consisting of a total of more than 60 CD and DVD releases) by the Germany based Membran record label. Though this Mars Polaris re-release is subtitled 'Deep Space Highway To Red Rocks Pavilion' again and its back cover shows the track list of the original version [a], the CD actually contains the same tracks as the 'mispressed' version [b]. Hence both Membran re-releases contain exactly the same music -- just in different order.
In June 2009 Mars Mission Counter was re-released in Japan as part of a series of HiQualityCDs with mini LP paper sleeves.
CD [a]: 63016-2; subtitled 'Deep Space Highway To Red Rocks Pavilion'
CD [b]: 63016-2; subtitled 'Deep Space Highway To Red Rocks Pavilion'
CD [b]: 63016-2; subtitled 'Original Motion Picture Space Reality'
CD [b]: 232648; digipack; printed track listing of [a]
CD [c]: 232617; titled Mars Mission Counter; digipack