Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Farewell, Phoenix and Atlantis

NASA reports that the Mars Phoenix lander, which made a slew of important discoveries since landing two years ago today, is dead. An image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows that, as most of the Phoenix's team of scientists and engineers expected, the accumulation of carbon-dioxide ice over the Martian winter has twisted or broken off the solar panels. That was the tradeoff in sending a lander to the high latitudes to study the Martian polar caps.

And the shuttle Atlantis should touch down tomorrow, returning after a highly successful mission to complete the planned configuration of the ISS. In all likelihood, Atlantis, which has logged some 120 million miles in space, will make only one more journey, to a museum. It's silly to get emotional over a machine, but Atlantis has been a magnificent vessel of exploration (like her predecessor, the U.S. government's first oceanic research vessel). It's sad to see her go.

UPDATE: And Atlantis is down safely. Well done, NASA.

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