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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 Anonymous Coward on Monday November 10, 2008 @07:55PM (#25713573)

    It will soon spring forth from the fiery planet to destroy us all! RISE PHOENIX!!! RISE!

  • RIP (Score:4, Insightful)

    by negRo_slim ( 636783 ) <> on Monday November 10, 2008 @07:55PM (#25713583) Homepage

    The mission was scheduled to last just three months on the surface, but continued to work for more than five months.

    I'll drink to that!

  • by spun ( 1352 ) <loverevolutionar ... m ['oo.' in gap]> on Monday November 10, 2008 @07:57PM (#25713595) Journal

    Did it sing "Bicycle Built for Two," slowing down and getting deeper as it ran out of power? Because that would have been awesome.

    • by mrmeval ( 662166 )

      Can you imagine if someone had sneaked that code into it to do just that? OMG. :)

      I'm waiting for someone to shoot something at the moon that colors it with some product or countries colors.

    • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Monday November 10, 2008 @08:38PM (#25714077)
      > Did it sing "Bicycle Built for Two," slowing down and getting deeper as it ran out of power? Because that would have been awesome.


      The most Illustrious Council of Elders has declared tomorrow a planetary day of celebration. K'breel, Speaker for the Council, spake thus:

      "Triumphant Citizens, today all our gelsacs are engorged with delight! After a 160-day campaign in the arctic wastelands of our world, our day of victory has come. For the past thirty days, this latest terror from the blue world has been able to do nothing more but wave its pendulous plumb bob [] at us.

      Its relentless chanting of the Day-Z War Song - which our linguists have assured us is about a war machine driven so half-mad with emotion that it would enslave two of its creators for use as propulsion mechanisms - has finally ended. The Day-Z War Song is sung no more.

      Rejoice, podmates, for victory is ours! We answer in the affirmative, for we are able!"

      (A small group of dissidents in the Press Corps reminded the Speaker that the Invader on the Plains had begun to stir [], and that The Twin at the Crater was rapidly advancing to the southeast [] after having made an obscene gesture. They were about to inquire as to what progress had been made over the past two and a half years against these threats, but K'Breel had already torn the antenna shaft from the Arctic Invader's lifeless hulk and made a shishkebab of their gelsacs before their question could be been fully heard.)

    • A bit of googling and nosing through NASA's and UofA's sites revealed the final logs:

      This was a triumph.
      I'm making a note here:

      before communications went unexpectedly silent.

    • It was the first rickroll from another planet!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I still find that scene creepy and unnerving. It's even more unnerving than the book's description (or at least how I recall it -- it's been a few years since I read it), where the modules were completely removed and floated around the room. Bowman did what he had to do, but watching the lobotomization of another thinking being is still uncomfortable.

      • Indeed, I've seen the film may times and adore it, but Kubrick didn't come close to touching the moment the book captured. Here was a being, made for a thing, doing everything he could for that thing, and yet, the best thing was for it to cease being, knowing, as you slowly killed it's mind (think coma patients, the doors kept working after the mind died) that it's perception of the best way forward was flawed and that the only chance of success was death. I think that in the story Hal knew he was the obs
    • 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: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TapeCutter ( 624760 )
        The story is full of these kinds of references, another famous one is to move the letters H.A.L up one in the alphabet and you get I.B.M (although Clarke claims it was a coincidence). I as in high school when the movie came out, it was required reading and we went to the theater to watch it (Kubrick hadn't done "Clockwork Orange" so nobody was freaked out by his name). Most of the philosophical stuff went straight over our heads but the special effects left an impression. Fourty years later and I get the ph
        • Fourty years later and I get the philosophical stuff but the special effects would seem to indicate Kubrick was on acid.

          If Kubrick ever dropped acid, which for some reason I doubt, I could only picture him doing it way before the hippie boom and with Sandoz Labs material.

          Actually, a fair amount of the trippy sequence was done in New York City, before Space Odyssey was in full-fledged production. Fascinated for a time with the behavior of "exotic" liquids when they came into contact with each other, Kubrick

          • I was joking, personally I think he's a genius (with or without acid). Seriously though now you mention it I saw a doco quite a while ago that showed Kubric experimenting with the liquids. IIRC there were very few bloopers in the special-effects (the liquid travelling down the straw is the only one I know of). I think the way I see the phycadelics then as opposed to now is that the first time was at a theater (TV was B&W only) and the effects were modern, nowaday's it looks as outdated as my mum's kitch
  • The poor (Score:3, Funny)

    by eille-la ( 600064 ) on Monday November 10, 2008 @08:00PM (#25713637)

    It didnt even knew who won the elections

    • Sure it does. It's the first victim of Obama's NASA budget cuts!
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Nope it's the second. Apparently the first cut was the oxygen to your brain.
        • I was mostly joking. But if you think I'm mistaken (other than the fact that he obviously can't impose budget cuts until he gets into office), you might want to try googling "obama nasa budget". Just leave the 'cuts' part out, to get "unbaised" results.

          The moral of the story is, most political candidates are going to have at least a few policies/positions you don't agree with.

  • by Deadstick ( 535032 ) on Monday November 10, 2008 @08:00PM (#25713641) know what a Phoenix does when it dies, right?


  • I really think that these probes have made great strides forward. Hopefully there is only better things to come. It's simply awe inspiring.
    • 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: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Well done Phoenix.

        Sure...but also mad props to Peter Smith, Bill Boynton, and Mike Hecht, as well as Kevin Burke, Lori Shiraishi, Heather Enos, and all the others soon to be known only as "et al".

      • by Luyseyal ( 3154 )

        I emailed them a couple of times about the microphone thing. Wish they'd've tried it sooner, darn it. No Mars Polar Lander microphone. No Phoenix microphone. We're 0 for 2 people!


  • Obligatory (Score:5, Funny)

    by Overkill Nbuta ( 1035654 ) on Monday November 10, 2008 @08:06PM (#25713725)
    He's dead, Jim.
  • by zazenation ( 1060442 ) on Monday November 10, 2008 @08:14PM (#25713809)

    Given that the planet Earth is batting only .385 on Mars missions, the extra 2 months of data makes up for it to some extent.

    Since Mars does have a thin atmosphere, a probe is likely to be under far greater danger of being hit by random flying debris than on some airless hunk of rock like the Moon where only micrometeorites pose that kind of hazard.

    Bye Phoenix, you gutted it out well!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by camperdave ( 969942 )
      Since Mars does have a thin atmosphere, a probe is likely to be under far greater danger of being hit by random flying debris than on some airless hunk of rock like the Moon where only micrometeorites pose that kind of hazard.

      Huh? I think you have that backwards. Mars has a thin atmosphere, which means that micrometeoriods would likely be burned up before hitting the surface. On the whole a probe would have a far greater chance of being hit by random flying debris on some airless rock than on Mars.
      • I see how what I said can be mis-interpreted.

        I mean that since mars has an atmosphere, random debris, e.g. ice particles, small stones, etc being blown about by the wind has a far greater chance of doing damage to a spacecraft than where these conditions don't exist (the Moon). On the Moon, the ONLY (impact type) danger is from micrometeorites (which would burn up in the Martian atmosphere).

  • by actionbastard ( 1206160 ) on Monday November 10, 2008 @08:21PM (#25713877)
    "...The US space agency says it will continue to try to contact..."

    They should get John Edward [] to help out.
  • I give a moment of silence....
  • So, it eventually wound down because the change in Martian seasons prevented the solar panels from collecting enough sunlight to keep it going. I wonder if once the planet swings back around into plentiful sunlight it will spring back to life, living up to its namesake.
    • Re:Foresight? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by sweetooth ( 21075 ) on Monday November 10, 2008 @08:38PM (#25714083) Homepage

      It was named Phoenix as the mission was originally scrapped after the polar lander crash. When they revived the project they renamed it Phoenix. It's also unlikely that it will be revived in the next martian summer. The reason being that where the rover is, it will be cold enough for the solar cells and other components to be destroyed.

      • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

        it will be cold enough for the solar cells and other components to be destroyed.

        Just out of curiosity, I wonder how much it would add to cost to design it to survive a polar winter (without relying on radiation). Or if it's even possible?

        • Not sure, the article that I read said the temperatures would be around -128C. At that temperature and in that location it would be encased in a tomb of carbon dioxide ice, and the cold would be enough to crack the solar arrays and break the circuit boards. So you'd have to either be able to move enough to get out of the danger area, or perhaps generate enough heat to not be frozen solid. I'm guessing neither would be very easy to combat due to payload weight issues (getting off earth) and the energy needed

          • Probably your best bet would be to stick a RTG in it to keep it warm, combined with the ability to retract into a cocoon of sorts to protect and keep warm things like the solar cells (if you still needed them), robotic arms, and other instruments. Assuming you can keep it warm enough to keep the CO2 off of it, I think it would probably do just fine as you wouldn't have to really worry about liquids getting in and fouling things up.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by petermgreen ( 876956 )

      IIRC they expect carbon dioxide to freeze onto the solar panels and break them off.

  • next spring? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Silm ( 1135973 ) on Monday November 10, 2008 @08:35PM (#25714037)
    I'm just wondering - what is gonna happen next summer? is there a chance that some stuff still works, after the CO2 ice thaws in the "spring"? or would the damage from the freezing be irriversible? what conditions are we talking about midwinter - about a meter of CO2 ice? what damage would that do?
    • I'm just wondering - what is gonna happen next summer? is there a chance that some stuff still works, after the CO2 ice thaws in the "spring"? or would the damage from the freezing be irriversible? what conditions are we talking about midwinter - about a meter of CO2 ice? what damage would that do?

      Probably more like a metre of CO2 snow. I give Phoenix a 10% chance of waking up in 18 months time.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by PitaBred ( 632671 )

        Are you a rocket scientist? Because I'll give your opinion more than 10% validity if you are ;)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DerekLyons ( 302214 )

      Yes, the damage done by freezing is irreversible. There is a very, very, slender and against all odds hope however that the damage will be insufficient to actually completely kill the lander.

  • This is going to sound really dorky, but I really enjoy hearing about the Mars landers. I get a kick out of getting a camera in the next room to send images to my laptop over the radio. When I was a kid, I built a WeFAX interface to my 8-bit Atari to pull weather satellite images down (I didn't have a HAM radio so couldn't actually do it, but it was cool to play around with the hardware).

    Images from Mars. How frickin' cool is that? A quarter century later it still gives me this "anything is possible" feel

  • by Anonymous Coward

    >The US space agency says it will continue to try to contact the craft but does not expect to hear from it."

    Beep! Wait! I'm not dead yet! 010100101010010101001010010100101110....

  • maybe Martians do exist and they want their privacy and switched off the Phoenix probe so we can't spy on them.

    Either that or John Byrne is taking over the Phoenix series and had Mastermind brainwash her for the Hellfire Club and she will rise as "Dark Phoenix".

    Maybe there will be a Battle of the Planets and five orphan kids will join to combine their ships with the Phoenix probe into the Firery Phoenix? Ask Seven Zark Seven for more details.

  • 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.

    • Well if the problem is the batteries are low, just turn it off, let it sit a while, then shake them. Should get a few more minutes of use out of the dang thing.
  • It's not true until the status is reflected on Netcraft.
  • No problem (Score:5, Funny)

    by PPH ( 736903 ) on Monday November 10, 2008 @11:10PM (#25715533)
    Have one of the rovers pass by and give it a good whack. Works with most of the junk around my house.
    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Have one of the rovers pass by and give it a good whack. Works with most of the junk around my house.

      But extrapolating that technique to your (ex)girlfriend was a misguided decision.

  • Bites the Martian dust, that is. But, i hope that when the seasonal sunlight increases, it phones home, and says, "You humans are DOOMED".... BUT, HOPEFULLY it will be a prank easter egg inrerted by a rogue NASA engineer.

    • Some Martian will get the Engergizer bunny to jump start it and reprogram it to warn us of out impending doom and then all the computers on Earth will start a countdown.... Maybe I've watched to many B-rated scifi movies?
  • What's with BBC covering almost 25% of the video with a banner and BBC branding? FFS, fade it out or make it smaller man.

  • if some Martian someday is going to stumble across this machine and be "Damn Earthlings and their litter" and then destroy us.
  • The next sci-fi movie set on Mars sees a frozen Phoenix, covered in silvery ice and caked in dust around the landing legs being patted by a gloved hand (or an alien claw)
  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Tuesday November 11, 2008 @09:34AM (#25719327) Journal
    I wonder if we would be better off putting up solar array around mars, and then beams power down. These landers and rovers could then have super capacitors for storage.This approach would allow us to re-use a major subsystem across multiple systems. The nice advantage is that it would allow future explorers to have power all over the planet.
  • I love all these naysayers parroting about on the subject, when the fact is the lander survived to-design spec, and met mission goals. What, you people need every Nasa project to last as long as the rovers, or it's somehow not a success?

    Phoenix was destined to die, regardless of the dust on solar panels problem. It's located in a much colder area of Mars than the rovers, and doesn't have radioisotope heaters (the rovers do). It outlasted the design goal of 90 days operation, so I'm quite happy for them.


Experience varies directly with equipment ruined.