NASA listens for signs of life from Mars Lander

After another frigid Martian winter, NASA holds out hope, again

Ever hopeful, NASA engineers are trying once again to listen for contact from the robotic Phoenix Mars Lander, which is feared frozen to death on the Red Planet.

Starting today, scientists will be checking to see if the Lander has come back to life after sitting silently through a long, frigid Martian winter. The robotic Lander went silent in November 2008 after spending five months studying the Martian surface.

While the Mars Lander was not designed to survive the extreme cold of a long Martian winter, scientists have been holding out a slim hope that the machine's solar cells would contain enough power to transmit a signal as spring arrives on the planet's surface.

This will be the third time that NASA has tried to gain contact with the Lander. So far, there has been no signal.

From today through Friday, NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter will fly over the Lander's location, sending out radio signals in the hopes that the Mars Lander will pick them up and respond.

NASA noted that Odyssey will be making 60 flights over the Lander, listening for responses this week.

The Lander, which worked two months beyond its three-month mission, gathered information on the content of Martian soil near the planet's north pole. The robotic machine dug up and analyzed soil samples, verified the existence of ice and falling snow on Mars.

But the Lander began to slow as the Martian winter approached in late 2008.

Since the Lander is powered by solar cells and the Mars nights were growing longer at the end of October, scientists in 2008 began to remotely power down as many parts of the Lander as possible to minimize its energy needs. That allowed a few instruments to keep running as long as possible. NASA scientists received the last transmission from the Lander on Nov. 2, 2008.

Scientists noted at the time that once the Mars Lander dies, it was doubtful it could be revived after spending months in the dark and frigid cold.

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Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld (US)
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