quinta-feira, 13 de novembro de 2008
Uma Homenagem à Phoenix Mars Lander
Mars Phoenix Lander Runs Out of Juice
By Alexis Madrigal Email
November 10, 2008
The phenomenally popular Mars Phoenix Lander mission has officially come to an end.
Originally slated for a mere 90 days near the Martian north pole, clever NASA power engineers kept the Lander doing science for nearly two months beyond that goal. But now mission officials are certain: The lander has run out of power for its internal heater and is presumed to be frozen on the arctic plain.
"At this time, we're pretty convinced that the vehicle is no longer available for us to use," said Barry Goldstein, Phoenix project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "We're ceasing operations and declaring an end to mission operations at this point."
As late as last week, the team was still trying to eke a few more experiments out of the robotic lander, even as the declining amount of solar energy in the pole area made their task more difficult.
The mission's legacy, however, will not be defined by its longevity so much as by its problem-light successes and legions of fans. Driven by a clever social media strategy that built a huge Twitter following, the NASA mission struck a chord with space lovers, who watched with rapt attention as the lander made a picture-perfect landing and proceeded to become the first human spacecraft to "taste" Martian water.
"If we're successful, this mission will be remembered for being the first to do direct analysis of ice or water on the surface of Mars," predicted NASA's Mike Gross, who engineered the mission's scientific instrumentation, back in May.
Indeed, Phoenix primary investigator, Peter Smith, led off his eulogy for the Lander noting that his team discovered ice, before recounting the mission's success measuring Martian weather and finding perchlorate, a known energy source for some microbes on Earth.
"It's been a great mission, a highlight of my life," Smith said.
It will take months to analyze the 25,000 photographs and the data from the dozens of experiments that the Lander conducted over the last several months, but the mission is already seen as a major success for relatively cheap robotic missions. At $480 million, the Phoenix lander cost about as much as a single Shuttle mission.
In fact, the mission's biggest failure — not finding evidence of life — doesn't have much to do with the execution of the mission so much as the Red Planet itself.
"We've seen nutrients and energy sources," Smith said. "That leads to the question: Is this a habitable zone?"
But, just like the mission, Smith left the ultimate question of extraterrestrial life unanswered, saying just that his team needed time to go back to their labs and examine the data from the mission in greater detail.
@MarsPhoenix, the lively voice of the lander, sent her last message six minutes ago.
"01010100 01110010 01101001 01110101 01101101 01110000 01101000 <3,">
That's binary for "Triumph," and the herald of a new digital-savvy era for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.