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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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