Phoenix’s final chance to phone home…
I haven’t updated this blog for over a year because there’s been nothing to write about Phoenix, but I went online this morning to find that NASA has announced that it will be trying one last time (well, trying quite a few times, but for the last time, if you know what I mean) to contact Phoenix later this month. Here’s the press release…
May 13, 2010
From May 17 to 21, NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter will conduct a fourth and final campaign to check on whether the Phoenix Mars Lander has come back to life.
During that period, Odyssey will listen for a signal from Phoenix during 61 flights over the lander’s site on far-northern Mars. The orbiter detected no transmission from the lander in earlier campaigns totaling 150 overflights in January, February and April.
In 2008, Phoenix completed its three-month mission studying Martian ice, soil and atmosphere. The lander worked for five months before reduced sunlight caused energy to become insufficient to keep the lander functioning. The solar-powered robot was not designed to survive through the dark and cold conditions of a Martian arctic winter. However, in case it did, NASA has used Odyssey to listen for the signals that Phoenix would transmit if abundant spring sunshine revived the lander.
Northern Mars will experience its maximum-sunshine day, the summer solstice, on May 12 (Eastern Time; May 13, Universal Time), so the sun will be higher in the sky above Phoenix during the fourth listening campaign than during any of the prior ones. Still, expectations of hearing from the lander remain low.
“To be thorough, we decided to conduct this final session around the time of the summer solstice, during the best thermal and power conditions for Phoenix,” said Chad Edwards, chief telecommunications engineer for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
The Phoenix mission is led by Principal Investigator Peter H. Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson, with project management at JPL and development partnership with Lockheed Martin Space Systems. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, also manages the Odyssey project in an operational partnership with Lockheed Martin.
Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
So, Phoenix, this is it, your last chance to phone home. There have been quite a few attempts to make contact with Phoenix this year, but they have all come to nothing, and many people believe that Phoenix is dead and gone, either broken up inside because of the brutal cold, or maybe even left solar-panel “wingless” after its circular solar arrays snapped off and fell to the ground, succumbing to the weight of dry ice that accumulated on them over the long, harsh martian winter. Other people are more optimistic, but I personally think she’s long gone, and that Mars Odyssey will send back this message to Earth…
“Phoenix has passed on! This lander is no more! She has ceased to be! She’s expired and gone to meet her maker! She’s a stiff! Bereft of life, she rests in peace! Her metabolic processes are now ‘istory! She’s off the twig! She’s kicked the bucket, shee’s shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisibile!! THIS IS AN EX-LANDER!!”
If that’s the case, it will not be surprising, but it will be very sad. I have many, many happy memories of Phoenix, from the stomach-clenchingly exciting landing to the day the last pictures came back from the martian north pole – and I’m sure many other people do too. Anyway, we’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, if you’re a first time visitor to this blog, or if you’re not too familiar with the Phoenix mission, I hope you’ll go back to the very beginning of this blog and “catch up”. Phoenix had an amazing time on Mars, and all of us Phoenix fans back here on Earth had a wonderful – if frustrating at times! – time following her exploits. As you’ll see from the posts on this blog, Phoenix took amazing, beautiful images, and saw some wonderful things, and her place in history is assured.
Fingers crossed Odyssey hears something later this month… If she does that will be one of the biggest comeback/survival stories ever!