Sun Sets on Mars Phoenix

phoenix on mars

NASA announced today that the Mars Phoenix Lander mission has ended. After five successful months on the Red Planet, the gathering seasonal darkness at the robot’s arctic landing site has reduced sunlight on the solar arrays to the point where they can no longer charge the lander’s batteries. Mission managers last heard from Phoenix on November 2.

Even though this end was foreseen from the beginning, mission watchers around the world have reported surprise at the melancholy they feel. During its lifetime, though, Phoenix dug up a treasure trove of knowledge, and scientists will be analyzing the results for years to come. Get a recap of this remarkable mission.

As you may know, Phoenix kept up a Twitter feed during the past few weeks. The lander’s last tweet was: 01010100 01110010 01101001 01110101 01101101 01110000 01101000. Translated from the binary, it reads, “Triumph.”

Sent by: Phoenix | From: Mars | Sent: June, 2008 | Credit: NASA/JPL/UA | Image source

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Good night Phoenix.

Maybe I’ll stop by and dust you off some day.

No, don’t say maybe. I WILL stop by and dust you off some day. If I have to walk there to do it.

I feel a little naive in asking, but are you serious about the Twitter feed?

Is it possible for the lander to reactivate in the spring, or will the cold of winter damage it, or is there no way to reboot the system after the batteries have run down?

David – The Tweets came from the mission team, written from the perspective of the lander. No, we don’t have sentient robotic spacecraft yet. :) As for reactivation, the lander has a “Lazarus mode” that allows it to phone home in the spring if it survives the winter, but NASA says that is highly unlikely.

Casino – I still haven’t seen the movie. What kind of geek am I?! I’ll have to check it out.

Stu – Thanks for the tributes you’ve posted on your site.

Rob – Keep in mind that maybe by that time the site will be protected by a space antiquities law…

“Keep in mind that maybe by that time the site will be protected by a space antiquities law…”

True, but I’m a qualified historic resource conservator. I’m allowed to go behind the scenes, to touch what others must not, to search for change in the sofas of the dead and famous. Objects may be protected, but dust is not.

Space antiquities law? Uh, am I going to have to return all of those great Apollo souvenirs I collected the last time I was on the Moon? Can I at least keep the moon buggy?

And Rob: if you can keep a secret, you’re welcome to tag along on my upcoming little road trip to Mars. Share the gas and buy your own food and I’ll drop you near Phoenix. You’ll have to hitchhike home.

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