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Monday, November 10, 2008

The Death of a Probe

posted by on November 10 at 16:42 PM


Poetry in the mode of science news:

Nasa says its Phoenix lander on the surface of Mars has gone silent and is almost certainly dead.

Engineers have not heard from the craft since Sunday 2 November when it made a brief communication with Earth.

Phoenix, which landed on the planet’s northern plains in May, had been struggling in the increasing cold and dark of an advancing winter.

A cold and dark winter is bad enough on this planet, but how much more awful it must be on another world.

RSS icon Comments


Damn, look at the booty on that thing!

Posted by Gillford | November 10, 2008 4:44 PM

It's weird to think that when we finally send people to Mars, all they're going to find are all these dead probes, just waiting for us.

Posted by danhowes | November 10, 2008 4:47 PM

Ow noe! Powr widdle pwobe stwuggwing wit teh cowd! Afwaid of the daaaaaark! Jus wait right there, widdle pwobe and I'll bwing you a warm fuzzy wuzzy blanke and some hot cocoa. Howd on cause it will take me a while to go thrity mwillwon mwiles. There there!

Fucking pussy space junk. Judas Priest, I miss the God damn Soviets.

Posted by elenchos | November 10, 2008 5:01 PM

Stop smoking pot, Mudede!

Posted by Cookie W. Monster | November 10, 2008 5:04 PM

@3 good one. LOL.

Anthropomorphisists of the world, unite!

Posted by PC | November 10, 2008 5:09 PM

It must have been so hard, facing the cold and dark alone. I'm not surprised the little guy couldn't take it any more. If only we'd gotten the probe into counseling, this tragedy could have been prevented.

Posted by Greg | November 10, 2008 5:15 PM

You missed the probe's Twitter feed:

where it documented its own demise in painstaking detail:

I'm not mobile, @gjain81, so here I'll stay. My mission will draw to an end soon, and I can't imagine a greater place to be than here. 12:45 AM Oct 30th from web

I should stay well-preserved in this cold. I'll be humankind's monument here for centuries, eons, until future explorers come for me ;-) 12:57 AM Oct 30th from web

I may go to sleep soon, @lordavon . But my "Lazarus mode" might allow me wake up now and then for short times during next few weeks. 9:23 AM Oct 30th from web

I'm resting a lot but still communicating with orbiters once per day. Still hoping to get a bit of strength back & maybe do more science. 6:20 AM Nov 3rd from web

[From Phoenix mission ops: Phoenix is no longer communicating with Earth. We'll continue to listen, but it's likely its mission has ended.] about 4 hours ago from web

Posted by David | November 10, 2008 5:24 PM

Speaking of faulty technology, did you realize that the fonts that SLOG uses for the blog entries is not sizable by Firefox's View Zoom In and Zoom Out?

Besides being annoying -- because I like to read the Web from my couch ( ), it discriminates against those who need Assisted Technology like Large Fonts to read.

Posted by John Bailo | November 10, 2008 5:25 PM

Alas poor probe, it was a twitterific voyager of infinite majesty, a prince among robots.

Yet now but a bucket of bolts, drifting in the dusts of time.

Wouldst thou had taken John Bailo instead!

Posted by Will in Seattle | November 10, 2008 5:39 PM

I think it our probs to Mars "go native" after awhile. It is to be expected.

Posted by Zander | November 10, 2008 5:40 PM

Yes we can ... go to Mars!

Posted by zworks | November 10, 2008 5:42 PM


And the @MarsPhoenix' very, very, very last direct tweet:

"01010100 01110010 01101001 01110101 01101101 01110000 01101000

That's binary for "Triumph." (Wired Science)


Posted by J9 | November 10, 2008 5:55 PM

@3 you're fucking kidding, right? The Russians/Soviets have an ABYSMAL record with their unmanned deep space missions, and in fact have NEVER sent out anything beyond Mars - at least not on purpose.

Rest well little probe - you performed admirably!

Posted by COMTE | November 10, 2008 6:00 PM

hey wait a minute here.

Look at that photo.

Who ....took ...

The little short guy with the Roman helmet and just eyes for a face?

Posted by PC | November 10, 2008 6:09 PM

All I know is, COMTE, when we had the CCCP around to pose the "threat" that you blithely scoff at with your comfy academic air quotes, the probes we sent into space acted like MEN.

Posted by elenchos | November 10, 2008 6:17 PM

COMTE- Venera kicked ass!

Posted by Big Sven | November 10, 2008 6:17 PM

It was depressed anyways.

Does Mars have an Aurora Bridge, too?

Posted by jessejb | November 10, 2008 6:27 PM

Mars looks a lot like the Nevada desert...

Posted by RainMan | November 10, 2008 6:45 PM

@17-- With 38% of the gravity, it wouldn't even matter, would it? Although it really was a suicide mission...

Posted by Garth | November 10, 2008 8:08 PM

What y'all may not realize is that the Midwest in February is way colder than Mars. True! We should've sent it to Milwaukee!

Posted by sarah | November 10, 2008 10:24 PM

Life? Don't talk to me about life.

Posted by Marvin | November 10, 2008 10:38 PM

Dude, Phoenix traveled 422 million miles in 9 1/2 months and landed within 15 miles of its target, the equivalent of you hitting a hole-in-one on a golf course extending roughly from Los Angeles to Chicago.

Phoenix also exceeded its mission timeline by two solid months in the northern polar region, where temps range from a high of about -30F down to -200F, and during the course of said mission found incontrovertible evidence of ice water existing just below the Martian surface.

Manly? Yeah, you betcha. Fuckin' dick-swinging manly that is.

Meanwhile, what have the Russkies done? Well, of 20 attempts to reach Mars between 1960 and their last interplanetary shot in 1996, only FIVE actually got there, and of those only THREE successfully achieved stated mission objectives. Most of the rest either blew up shortly after launch, failed to break out of earth orbit, failed en-route, or simply missed by several tens of millions of miles.

So, really, while those unmanned U.S. deep space probes might have been "manly", it wasn't exactly like they had much in the way of competition, a handful of successful lunar and Venusian missions not withstanding.

Posted by COMTE | November 10, 2008 10:40 PM

does it wake up after their spring equinox, when solar power is available, or is it totally dead?

Posted by max solomon | November 11, 2008 8:10 AM

My mind is going, I can feel it.


Posted by Sirkowski | November 11, 2008 8:27 AM


Phoenix isn't expected to survive the long Martian winter. While its computer core has been put in "safe mode", there are doubts the lander has enough juice left in its batteries to keep the core even minimally active. Also, the extreme cold temperatures, and high-velocity dust storms are expected to wreak havoc with the lander's mechanical, electrical, and hydraulic systems.

So, while there's a very slim chance Phoenix may be able to partially revive itself come the Martian spring, the expectation is that most of its vital systems will be non-functional after its long sleep, and that it will no longer be able to fulfill basic mission activities. Still, even a weak radio signal would be of value, if for no other reason than it would demonstrate that some of Phoenix' systems were capable of surviving for long periods in extremely adverse conditions.

Posted by COMTE | November 11, 2008 8:58 AM

@22: I don't know about you, but most of my golf balls don't have RCS and a team of engineers at JPL working on the guidance. Maybe I should look into that.

Posted by Greg | November 11, 2008 9:40 AM


JPL brand RCS #2's will definitely shave at least six or seven strokes off your handicap. Ask around the pro shop the next time you're in Pasadena...

Posted by COMTE | November 11, 2008 10:13 AM

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