The Phoenix has fallen

The Phoenix Mars lander survived in the arctic plains of the Red Planet for longer than expected, digging up ice and seeing perchlorates as well as possible drops of water among many other achievements. As I reported in an earlier post, although the signal was lost as expected when winter extended the polar ice cap over the probe’s position, there have been attempts to see whether the Phoenix can rise from the ices. As local Spring took away those ices, initial attempts at communication failed, now a final attempt has been made, following the local summer solstice – and again nothing.

Well something.

A picture of the lander has been taken, and what it shows is not good. Or rather what it doesn’t show – one of the two solar panels that provides the lander with power has gone, most probably collapsing under the weight of carbon dioxide ‘dry ice’ forming on it. Cue lamentations across the spaceflight community – one of those things we knew was coming, but a disappointment anyway. NASA announced the loss through its twitter feed and from that moment, the crew behind Phoenix gave their own thoughts through their twitter feed. These were followed by a NASA press release, the story on Discovery and one on Universe Today, among many others.

Meanwhile, spaceflight moves on. At NASA’s Exploration Enterprise Workshop in Galveston, Texas, missions presently at the planning to prelaunch stages will be discussed along with provisional timelines. NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate will be engaging with representatives from industry, academia and government from across the world to optimise, prioritise and otherwise assist in refining the plans for the missions and their objectives as they stand on May 25th 2010. None of the plans, launch dates or missions designated for 2011 to be discussed are final as they may be bumped or abandoned in favour of, for example, high priority missions like Orion, which require political direction to be established by the end of this year. Presentations from the workshop may be viewed here and the NASA exploration arm website is here.

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