NASA says Phoenix Mars mission has ended (Update 2)

Nov 10, 2008
Artist's concept of Phoenix on the surface of Mars

( -- NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has ceased communications after operating for more than five months. As anticipated, seasonal decline in sunshine at the robot's arctic landing site is not providing enough sunlight for the solar arrays to collect the power necessary to charge batteries that operate the lander's instruments.

Mission engineers last received a signal from the lander on Nov. 2. Phoenix, in addition to shorter daylight, has encountered a dustier sky, more clouds and colder temperatures as the northern Mars summer approaches autumn. The mission exceeded its planned operational life of three months to conduct and return science data.

The project team will be listening carefully during the next few weeks to hear if Phoenix revives and phones home. However, engineers now believe that is unlikely because of the worsening weather conditions on Mars. While the spacecraft's work has ended, the analysis of data from the instruments is in its earliest stages.

"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 Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Launched Aug. 4, 2007, Phoenix landed May 25, 2008, farther north than any previous spacecraft to land on the Martian surface. The lander dug, scooped, baked, sniffed and tasted the Red Planet's soil. Among early results, it verified the presence of water-ice in the Martian subsurface, which NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter first detected remotely in 2002. Phoenix's cameras also returned more than 25,000 pictures from sweeping vistas to near the atomic level using the first atomic force microscope ever used outside Earth.

"Phoenix not only met the tremendous challenge of landing safely, it accomplished scientific investigations on 149 of its 152 Martian days as a result of dedicated work by a talented team," said Phoenix Project Manager Barry Goldstein at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Phoenix's preliminary science accomplishments advance the goal of studying whether the Martian arctic environment has ever been favorable for microbes. Additional findings include documenting a mildly alkaline soil environment unlike any found by earlier Mars missions; finding small concentrations of salts that could be nutrients for life; discovering perchlorate salt, which has implications for ice and soil properties; and finding calcium carbonate, a marker of effects of liquid water.

Phoenix findings also support the goal of learning the history of water on Mars. These findings include excavating soil above the ice table, revealing at least two distinct types of ice deposits; observing snow descending from clouds; providing a mission-long weather record, with data on temperature, pressure, humidity and wind; observations of haze, clouds, frost and whirlwinds; and coordinating with NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to perform simultaneous ground and orbital observations of Martian weather.

"Phoenix provided an important step to spur the hope that we can show Mars was once habitable and possibly supported life," said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Phoenix was supported by orbiting NASA spacecraft providing communications relay while producing their own fascinating science. With the upcoming launch of the Mars Science Laboratory, the Mars Program never sleeps."

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3.8 / 5 (5) Nov 10, 2008
Apparently, the Phoenix did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express.
3.4 / 5 (5) Nov 10, 2008
Correct me if I am wrong, its winter in the region of Mars where the lander is parked. And its a solar powered craft. It will wake up in the summer, count on it.
3.8 / 5 (4) Nov 10, 2008
It may or may not wake up, come summer. You have to account for dust collection on the solar panels. Phoenix can't move around to shake it off either (Or can the panels be rotated??).
3 / 5 (4) Nov 10, 2008
The Phoenix lander was designed to go to mars right? That's where it is and that is where it will most likely stay. A maned mission could easily round up the troops. RAF
4.6 / 5 (5) Nov 10, 2008
I hope it will wake up, but it's doubtful. Several months at -300 F, no sunlight, and a thick coating of carbon dioxide ice may well crack circuit boards and break off the solar panels. No power for heaters...fully depleted batteries... Should know by next October, so I guess we'll see. Either way, watching the landing several months ago had me clapping and hooting along with every engineer in the control room. That alone was worth my nickel.
1.9 / 5 (15) Nov 10, 2008
Good riddance. Now hopefully we won't have to hear about one more failure associated with this mission...including the main reason it was sent there. It was supposed to give a DEFINITIVE answer as to the question of life existing or having existed on Mars.

Instead we learned what every three year old who's ever played outside in the winter knows...cold wet dirt is clumpy.....
4 / 5 (6) Nov 11, 2008
Its going to spend months buried under 6 feet of dry ice!, I doubt it will survive structurally, let alone electronically.
3.3 / 5 (8) Nov 11, 2008
I would say it had a very successful landing...but a failed didn't do what it should have done..the screens and the ovens were way too small to handle the job or even be practical.
4 / 5 (4) Nov 11, 2008
If the phoenix lander sent back photographs to Earth while it was on Mars and that was it's purpose then the phoenix lander was successful.
The main reason for the Phoenix lander to go to mars was to most likely investigate the surface area of mars and also to prevent human casualty.
If the area where it is located is winter and sunlight is not abundant then I don't think it's solar panels will get it off the marshian surface. Perhaps it can be recovered, perhaps not. I believe that in sending the phoenix lander to mars that the mission has to be understood that the salite is expendable for what it was expected to do.
4.6 / 5 (5) Nov 11, 2008
What I don't understand is they can make a big complex robotic arm, and yet can't make a 'windshield wiper' for the panels?
5 / 5 (3) Nov 11, 2008
... or allow the panels to tilt so they orient towards the equator and/or shed at least a little dust. How much weight would that have added to the package for perhaps an extra month or two of life?

Either way, the mission missed it's primary goal and the polar winter is near certain doom. In retrospect, 'Phoenix' was a bad choice for a name.
2.8 / 5 (5) Nov 11, 2008
The mission was specifically designed NOT to find organic compounds or life. It could have included a GCMS like the Viking missions only 30 yrs newer and 1000's of times more sensitive and sophisticated. Instead NASA chose to send on oven that just heats and decomposes any organic materials - the sort of thing we would have done in the 50's when we didn't have the types of sensitive equipment we have today.

In addition, they chose to send the mission to an area where liquid water hasn't existed for millions (billions?) of yrs. The lander could have been sent to more equatorial regions where liquid water is KNOWN to flow on a daily basis.

The missions main goal was a big success: more obfuscation.

I only have to conclude that D C Hoagland is correct about NASA/JPL; "the lies are different at every level".
read and make up your own mind but allow yourself to think outside the box, if only a tiny bit;

"'I'm still holding out hope,' Smith said."

Well I'm still holding out hope that NASA will start being honest with us taxpayers. Maybe what we need to do is lobby our representatives to cut off NASA funding until they do.
2.7 / 5 (3) Nov 11, 2008
Instead we learned what every three year old who's ever played outside in the winter knows...cold wet dirt is clumpy.....

If the first time you used that line doesn't work, try it again, eh? ;)

I know you must have a way to extract and process all that data so much faster that it can be done as the Phoenix moved its arm for the first time on the red planet. Even if it didn't pick up and wave the fossilised remains of a Martian in front of a camera, it still sent back valuable bits of data.

Clarify for us in detail why you think the Phoenix was a failure, and don't include clumpy soil in your response. Detecting life was NOT its entire reason for being there. I still think you expected to see evidence of life paraded in front of one of Phoenix's cameras. It is possible to analyse soil and figure out years on if life was sustained there, but again that takes time.

I'm still waiting for your new and improved design for a rover that matches and exceeds what Phoenix accomplished.
4 / 5 (1) Nov 12, 2008
Correct me if I am wrong, its winter in the region of Mars where the lander is parked. And its a solar powered craft. It will wake up in the summer, count on it.
I'm guessing that the name Phoenix was chosen in the hope it would "rise from the dead" come spring.
It would certainly generate some publicity.
4 / 5 (2) Nov 13, 2008
Phoenix was named for the parts that were used to outfit the thing. They were leftovers from the crashed predecessor mission, plus University of Arizona ran the mission.

The mission did send down some valuable data but was generally a waste considering the facts, not to mention the slow and intermittent updates NASA gave us.
Even the landing was not perfect as the decent camera was not used.
2 / 5 (1) Nov 15, 2008
NASA says Phoenix Mars mission has ended (Update 2)

ummmmm, why did they call it Phoenix?
1 / 5 (1) Nov 15, 2008
NASA says Phoenix Mars mission has ended (Update 2)

ummmmm, why did they call it Phoenix?

Because there's more irony at in the current NASA administration than brains.
not rated yet Nov 16, 2008
And more there than, in the aggregate, here.

Innumeracy! Illiteracy!
not rated yet Nov 16, 2008
it sits on hydraulic legs just tilt the whole lander towards the sun.

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