NASA gives up frozen Mars Lander for dead

New images from Mars orbiter show "severe" ice damage to robot's solar panels

NASA scientists have given up hope of finding any signs of life from the Phoenix Mars Lander, giving the robotic machine up for dead on the Martian surface.

The Mars Lander is believed to have experienced "severe ice damage." Its last transmission was on Nov. 2, 2008.

NASA reported late on Monday that it did not detect any signals emanating from the Lander during last week's fourth and final effort to find out if it had survived the harsh and extremely frigid Martian winter.

Scientists also believe that an image taken this month by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows signs of "severe ice damage" to the Lander's solar panels.

The finding means that after collecting scientific data for five months on the Martian surface, the robotic rover is being given up for dead.

"The Phoenix spacecraft succeeded in its investigations and exceeded its planned lifetime," Fuk Li, manager of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, said in a statement. "Although its work is finished, analysis of information from Phoenix's science activities will continue for some time to come."

Early last week, NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter began sending out radio signals in the hopes that the robotic lander would pick them up and respond. Through the week, the orbiter made 61 flights high over the Mars Lander's site. It never detected a signal.

Mars Odyssey made similar attempts in January, February and April of this year -- all with the same results.

The Mars Lander went silent in November 2008 after working two months longer than its three-month life expectancy.

While the Mars Lander was not designed to survive the extreme cold of a long Martian winter, scientists had held out a slim hope that its solar cells would contain enough power to transmit a signal when spring arrived on the planet's surface.

The Phoenix Mars Lander gathered information on the content of Martian soil near the planet's north pole in 2008. The Lander dug up and analyzed Martian soil samples, discovered frozen water just below the surface, and verified that snow falls on Mars .

The Mars Lander first began to slow as the Martian winter approached in late 2008.

Since the Lander is powered by solar cells and the nights on Mars began growing longer as temperatures dropped, scientists began to remotely power down as many parts of the Lander, keeping only a few instruments running to provide a better chance at re-starting the craft this year.

NASA scientists received the last transmission from the Lander on Nov. 2, 2008.

The Martian year, which is equivalent to about 687 Earth days, has a longer winter season, when the temperatures can drop to -191 degrees Fahrenheit.

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

Read more about emerging technologies in Computerworld's Emerging Technologies Knowledge Center.

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