25 May 2010

The Phoenix Mars Lander is Dead, Goes to Silicon Heaven : Discovery News

The Phoenix Mars Lander is Dead, Goes to Silicon Heaven : Discovery News

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It's official, Phoenix won't be rising from the dead. In fact, it would appear the tenacious robot never stood a chance of reawakening after its extended period in Mars winter deep freeze.

This overdue message comes after NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter made its final attempts to "ping" the lander last week.

SLIDE SHOW: Remember one of the most successful Mars missions by browsing Phoenix's first photos just after it landed in the Martian artic.

Odyssey had already completed a campaign of 150 flyovers during January, February and April of this year, and last week's 5-day, 61 flyover effort concluded NASA's hopes that the lander might respond to the orbiter's hails.

And now, after analyzing orbital imagery from another Mars orbiter, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), it looks like the Martian ice caused some collateral damage to the lander.

Commenting on the "before" and "after" photos snapped by the MRO's HiRISE (High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera, Michael Mellon of the University of Colorado in Boulder, a science team member for both Phoenix and HiRISE said:

"[The] before and after images are dramatically different. The lander looks smaller, and only a portion of the difference can be explained by accumulation of dust on the lander, which makes its surfaces less distinguishable from surrounding ground."

Pictured above, the shadows cast by sunlight on the lander appears to show Phoenix's structure has changed, most likely exhibiting the structural damage to the delicate solar panels.

NASA engineers anticipated that the weight of the carbon dioxide ice encasing Phoenix in the winter months could weigh down on the extended solar panels, damaging them. The HiRISE before and after photos appear to confirm this; the panels have either bent or were completely broken off, preventing any solar energy from being collected.

So, that officially concludes the hope that Phoenix could rise from the dead. Rest In Peace little robot, I hope Silicon Heaven* treats you well.


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