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Mars NASA Space Science

Phoenix Mars Lander Declared Dead 154

SpuriousLogic sends in a sad note from the BBC: "NASA says its Phoenix lander on the surface of Mars has gone silent and is almost certainly dead. Engineers have not heard from the craft since Sunday 2 November when it made a brief communication with Earth. Phoenix, which landed on the planet's northern plains in May, had been struggling in the increasing cold and dark of an advancing winter. The US space agency says it will continue to try to contact the craft but does not expect to hear from it."
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Phoenix Mars Lander Declared Dead

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  • by zappepcs ( 820751 ) on Monday November 10, 2008 @08:13PM (#25713783) Journal

    I know it's sad and all, but aren't Mars rover years like 45 human years? That guy was freakin' old when he kicked, and he went down with a fight! Martian storms really REALLY suck. Forget Kansas Toto, Mars is not for girly rovers!

    What a rockin' piece of robot! Salute!

  • Re:It's not dead... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Cassius Corodes ( 1084513 ) on Monday November 10, 2008 @08:48PM (#25714191)
    On a more serious note - there is a small chance it could survive the freeze and restart once enough sun returns to fill its batteries.
  • by unix_geek_512 ( 810627 ) on Monday November 10, 2008 @09:11PM (#25714459)

    It is possible the lander is receiving insufficient solar radiation to keep its batteries charged in the middle of winter.

    Another possibility is that key components may have failed due to the extreme weather conditions at the landing site, which is further North than any other landing location to date.

    There is still a glimmer of hope that the lander might come back to life in 6-8 months as the weather improves, if it has not suffered a catastrophic failure.

  • More info (Score:5, Informative)

    by iamlucky13 ( 795185 ) on Monday November 10, 2008 @09:34PM (#25714685)
    As the NASA article mentions, you can find more info from the Phoenix team's official website: []

    Also, the Planetary Society has done a great job following the mission, and there's an extremely detailed update [] one of their members wrote based on a phone interview with the Phoenix project manager shortly after the last contact with Phoenix was made last week.

    Here's a quick summary: Phoenix has been reducing operational tempo for several weeks. In anticipation of having too little power to run the robotic arm and inability to communicate in late November for a few weeks as Mars passes behind the sun, they hurried sample delivery to a few more TEGA ovens for analysis, but they still had one oven-load left to analyze when the dust storm hit that dropped power levels below a sustainable point. However, despite that, they had already met all of their operational objectives. The extra data would have been a bonus.

    When they saw the dust storm coming, they tried to power down almost all non-essential systems, but weren't quite in time. As a result, the batteries drained completely and it "browned out." The next day, the batteries charged enough to wake up in what they call "Lazarus mode" and try communicating, but it likely missed the relay window with the orbiters. Over a couple days, they got some intermittent communications, and were hoping to be able to send instructions to properly time the wake-up for best chance at communications and best utilization of what little solar power its getting each day, but apparently that hasn't yet succeeded. They were hoping to get temperature and soil conductivity measurements periodically, and maybe even a few pictures of CO2 ice starting to cake up in the area.

    It may still be in Lazarus mode, or something may have failed due to the thermal contraction of the electronics (ex: solder and circuit board material expand at different rates...too extreme of a temperature shift and things start popping apart) ending it for good. There is still some hope that Phoenix will survive the frigid temperatures and even the weight of a meter-thick layer of CO2 ice to awaken in the spring. That's what Lazarus mode was created for, but the hope of that has always been very small.

    There's a really interesting tidbit about a microphone that's part of the descent camera. On a whim they tried to use it a couple weeks ago to record wind sounds, but it didn't start up. Then one of the team members had a conversation with blind man who pointed out that he'll never see a picture of Mars, so he had really been hoping the microphone would work so he could experience it through sound. That really motivated the team to try the microphone again, but unfortunately, it sounds like they didn't have a chance with that either.

    I've been following this mission on a nearly daily basis since landing. It's been neat to see Phoenix in action, and no doubt a busy few months for the team. I'm sure they'll feel somewhat relieved to return to living by a 24 hour clock and have the leisure to analyze all the data and the 25,000+ pictures it returned. I'll never forget the shot [] Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter got of it drifting down to the surface with Heimdall Crater in the background. In my opinion, it's one of the top 10 space images ever. The MRO team even claims that if you look really close at the full size version, you can see a black-spec a few hundred pixels beneath the lander that is the just-released heat shield falling away.

    Well done Phoenix.
  • Re:It's not dead... (Score:5, Informative)

    by confused one ( 671304 ) on Monday November 10, 2008 @11:01PM (#25715447)
    That's extremely unlikely as the batteries themselves will freeze, with the temperatures dropping below -150. The damage done by the freeze will most likely destroy them.
  • by niktemadur ( 793971 ) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @12:12AM (#25716055)

    Did it sing "Bicycle Built for Two", slowing down and getting deeper as it ran out of power?

    I thought the tune's name was either "Daisy Daisy" or "Daisy Bell". In any case, it was used in 2001 because it was actually the first tune ever sung by a computer (the IBM 7094), in 1961. Here's an mp3 file link of that historic recording: []

  • Re:It's not dead... (Score:2, Informative)

    by ProzacPatient ( 915544 ) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @01:16AM (#25716489)
    Not only that but if the batteries did somehow survive, the solar panels might be covered in too much dust to receive sufficient light to recharge the batteries.
  • Re:No problem... (Score:3, Informative)

    by dissy ( 172727 ) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @07:44AM (#25718585)

    Difficult to catch fire while surrounded by ice and a CO2 atmosphere.

    You just aren't trying hard enough ;P

Reactor error - core dumped!