by Brian Fisher Johnson Thursday, January 5, 2012
One of the NASA’s most successful and widely publicized missions has ended.
On Monday, NASA scientists declared that the Phoenix Lander, a solar-powered, stationary robot laboratory designed to explore the habitability of the Red Planet, had stopped communications with Earth.
The $475 million mission had been shutting down for some time, with dust storms and an approaching Martian winter reducing the lander’s access to sunlight. But Phoenix produced results this summer, confirming that a white solid just under Mars dusty surface was water, considered a key ingredient for life.
NASA will return to Mars in the fall of 2009 with the Mars Science Laboratory, a mobile robot that will further explore Mars' habitability for microbial life. With any luck, the Science Laboratory will outlive expectations as much as Phoenix, which carried on two months longer than its original three-month lifespan.
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