NASA to seek signs of life from its Mars Lander

Robotic Lander craft has sat silently in Martian deep freeze for more than a year

More than a year after the Phoenix Mars Lander appeared to effectively freeze to death on the surface of the Red Planet, NASA is getting ready to listen for signs that it's still alive.

NASA late yesterday announced that it will start listening for radio transmissions from the Lander, which went silent in November, 2008, after spending five months studying the Mars surface, early next week. While the Mars Lander was not designed to survive extreme cold of a long Martian winter, scientists are holding out a slim hope that its solar cells will contain enough power to transmit a signal as spring arrives on the planet's surface.

Before falling silent, the Mars Lander communicated with Earth via Odyssey, a Mars relay orbiter.

"We do not expect Phoenix to have survived, and therefore do not expect to hear from it," said Chad Edwards, chief telecommunications engineer for NASA's Mars Exploration Program, in a statement. "However, if Phoenix is transmitting, Odyssey will hear it. We will perform a sufficient number of Odyssey contact attempts that if we don't detect a transmission from Phoenix, we can have a high degree of confidence that the Lander is not active."

The orbiter will transmit radio signals in the hopes that the Mars Lander will pick them up and respond. Scientists will begin listening for such signs of life on Monday and will continue to check on the Lander through February and March, according to NASA.

If the orbiter does pick up a signals, NASA said it will attempt to get information on the status of the machine.

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 verified that snow falls from Martian skies.

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, 2008 scientists 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. Then 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's doubtful it could ever be brought back to life after spending months in the dark and frigid cold.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld . Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, send e-mail to sgaudin@computerworld.com or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags NASAmarsspace

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Sharon Gaudin

Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Essentials

Brother MFC-L3745CDW Colour Laser Multifunction

Learn more >

Mobile

Exec

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?