Monday, November 10, 2008


The last Twitter post said it all: "01010100 01110010 01101001 01110101 01101101 01110000 01101000."

For those of you who aren't fluent in binary, the post, from NASA's Mars Phoenix Twitter account, translates as "triumph." Several scientists at JPL, who smelled suspiciously of medical cannabis, subsequently ran through the halls of the Jet propulsion Lab shouting that "there's life on Mars and it's BIKERS!"

According to NASA, the space agency is no longer receiving communications from Phoenix, its Mars lander, after more than five months of operation. The not unexpected event came after the lander moved into an area, NASA said in a release Monday, where "seasonal decline in sunshine at the robot's arctic landing site is not providing enough sunlight for the solar arrays to collect the power necessary to charge batteries that operate the lander's instruments." The guys in service said that parts are backordered.

In other words, Phoenix has run out of gas. But according to NASA, the agency got more out of the lander project than it expected, so it considers--what else would you expect NASA to say at this point--the mission a success. Since the economy in the solar system has been affected by the worldwide economy here on earth, there appears to be little chance NASA could afford a fill-up, could a station even be found.

And while the lack of suitable sunlight, as well as a dustier sky, led to the inability to power up Phoenix's batteries, NASA does hold out some hope that the lander might return to life at some point. HOUSE, MD. watching marathons are planned.

NASA launched Phoenix on August 4, 2007, and it landed on Mars on May 25, 2008, "farther north than any previous spacecraft to land on the Martian surface." Unfortunately, there was no evidence of Superman's Martian fortress of solitude or Santa's Martian Workshop.

Among its goals? It "dug, scooped, baked, sniffed, and tasted" Mars' soil like a little mechanical Martha Stewart. And while that may not seem like glorious duties, NASA credits Phoenix with confirming the presence of water-ice in Mars' subsurface, something that had first been detected remotely by NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter in 2002. Phoenix was also a prolific photographer, shooting more than 25,000 pictures of the Red Plant during its tenure there.

NASA said that Phoenix helped further study the question of whether Mars was ever a suitable environment for microbes, and also determined that Mars harbored small deposits of salts that might have been "nutrients for life." In addition, Phoenix discovered calcium carbonate on Mars, "a marker of effects of liquid water," and what appeared to be dog stool.

Throughout the Mars Phoenix mission, NASA had sent out Twitter posts related to the project. Along the way, it gathered 38,417 followers (as of this writing), making the account the seventh most-followed on the service. (Barack Obama holds the top spot.)

And it seems NASA knew that Phoenix was dying. One post prior to its binary goodbye, the account read, "It's very unlikely I'll wake up next spring but if I do I'll call home. Good luck w/ your project."

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