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Another Mars mission comes to a close

NASA officially brought the Phoenix mission to a close, as the U.S. space agency will cease operations and officially declare an end to the mission five months after it explored Mars.

The $428 million mission was originally scheduled for a three-month mission, but NASA was able to give it two extensions before the harsh Martian environment finally claimed it.  It has helped collect data on the northern arctic Martian plains, while helping collect valuable data that can be used for future missions.

"At this time, we're pretty convinced that the vehicle is no longer available for us to use," said Barry Goldstein, Phoenix project manager.  "We're actually ceasing operations, declaring an end to mission operations at this point."

Phoenix helped researchers learn some Martian soil is alkaline, and also helped confirm that ice may have melted on the Martian surface in the past.

The lander went quiet and has run out of sunlight necessary to power its batteries, while the temperature on Mars continues to drop.  Not completely unexpected, researchers still hoped they would be able to get another week or two of weather research out of the lander.

Engineers will have two satellites orbiting the Red Planet just in case the spacecraft responds, but NASA isn't optimistic they'll hear anything.  Even though the mission is over, researchers look forward to analyzing the large amount of data Phoenix helped collect during its mission.

"Phoenix has given us some surprises, and I'm confident we will be pulling more gems from this trove of data for years to come," said Peter Smith, Phoenix Principal Investigator working at the University of Arizona.

The last communication from Phoenix was received last Sunday.

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Obvious question...
By Indianapolis on 11/11/2008 4:03:37 PM , Rating: 2
I heard this story on the radio today, and after reading this post I'm left with the same, obvious, question. What happens when the sun again shines on the lander?

RE: Obvious question...
By judasmachine on 11/11/2008 4:16:04 PM , Rating: 2
Just a shot in the dark here but, I think it will probably drain it's battery soon, and then become covered in dust, so that when the sun does come back it won't matter.

RE: Obvious question...
By elT on 11/11/2008 4:17:39 PM , Rating: 5
NASA HQ gets the "Windows needs your permission to continue" UAC message. :P

RE: Obvious question...
By MrBlastman on 11/11/2008 4:39:48 PM , Rating: 3
I guess it didn't come with a sleep and wake on sunlight Energy Star Compliant power savings feature... :(

RE: Obvious question...
By CheesePoofs on 11/11/2008 4:38:07 PM , Rating: 5
That won't happen until about a year from now, and I believe the general consensus from the Phoenix lander team is that the cold will make the lander unable to restart (not to mention the accumulation of stuff on the solar panels ... they might not even get any sunlight).

But if it actually does happen, Phoenix will end up truly living up to its name. :)

RE: Obvious question...
By judasmachine on 11/11/2008 4:40:44 PM , Rating: 4
But if it actually does happen, Phoenix will end up truly living up to its name. :)

That would be awesome.

RE: Obvious question...
By Ringold on 11/11/2008 9:07:18 PM , Rating: 3
I don't know if it is far enough north on Mars for it to take place, but carbon dioxide may freeze around it, and then in the summer I believe I've read the sublimation back to gas can be violent. I think the thing is supposed to be completely destroyed.

Could be wrong, though.

RE: Obvious question...
By marvdmartian on 11/12/2008 10:06:09 AM , Rating: 2
Nah, the martian's will have turned it into a bar by then, complete with neon lit signs! ;)

RE: Obvious question...
By MonkeyPaw on 11/11/2008 4:47:57 PM , Rating: 5
What happens when the sun again shines on the lander?

NASA will find it covered in parking tickets with a boot locked on the wheel.

RE: Obvious question...
By cheetah2k on 11/11/2008 5:40:58 PM , Rating: 5
I don't think the Deceptacons issue parking tickets...

RE: Obvious question...
By TimberJon on 11/12/2008 5:45:50 PM , Rating: 2
If someone gives it a spark, it will be attacking us here on Earth for sending the poor guy over there and shutting it down in the freezing north. I would.

RE: Obvious question...
By Omega215D on 11/11/2008 8:11:41 PM , Rating: 5
Or if it is parked in a bad neighborhood then it'll probably be missing its wheels and be up on blocks.

RE: Obvious question...
By achintya on 11/12/2008 8:57:37 AM , Rating: 3
I read somewhere that when winter comes carbon dioxide and other gases will freeze onto the solar panels which will become very brittle. Ultimately the panels will just fall off. Therefore there would be no chance of Phoenix 'resurrecting' when summer arrives.

RE: Obvious question...
By omnicronx on 11/12/2008 2:03:35 PM , Rating: 2
Where Phoenix differs from other landers/rovers is that it landed on one of the poles. I really don't think they ever expected it to run that long. How cold do you think its going to get with no sunlight and sand/snow storms that rival what Antarctica has to offer.

RE: Obvious question...
By stirfry213 on 11/12/2008 3:46:37 PM , Rating: 2
Antarctica doesn't hold a finger to what Mars can conjure up. -200F and lower temps. Carbon Dioxide sublimates into a solid at -109F. Basically, the lander is toast.

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