NASA confirms demise of Phoenix Mars spacecraft

Associated Press
Tuesday, May 25, 2010

NASA declared the Phoenix Mars lander program officially dead Monday after repeatedly failing to regain contact with the spacecraft.

A recent image taken by an orbiting spacecraft appeared to show that one of Phoenix's solar panels had collapsed from ice buildup.

Phoenix landed near the Martian north pole on May 25, 2008, and successfully operated for five months -- two months longer than planned -- until sunlight at its far northern location waned.

Scientists did not expect it to survive the Martian winter but continued to listen for any signs of life.

"We had very little expectation of Phoenix recovering, but it's one of those things we had to try, even when the chances are slim," said mission principal investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona in Tucson.

The Mars Odyssey orbiter flew over the Phoenix landing site more than 200 times this year in an attempt to regain communication. With spring arriving in the northern hemisphere last week, NASA tried again, but there was no response.

Earlier this month, an image taken by another spacecraft, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, showed changes in Phoenix's shadows, consistent with predictions that hundreds of pounds of carbon dioxide ice accumulating on the spacecraft could bend or break its solar panels.

As the first spacecraft to land in the Martian arctic plains, Phoenix used its robotic arm to dig trenches in the icy soil. One of its early accomplishments was confirming the presence of water ice at its landing site.

The lander also detected traces of perchlorate in the soil. On Earth, the chemical can be found naturally in the Chilean desert where some extreme microbes use it as a source of energy.

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