Emily LakdawallaOct 31, 2008

A brief Phoenix update

I failed to post yesterday about the latest drama on Phoenix. To quickly get up to speed on recent developments:

  • On Tuesday, October 28 (at the end of sol 152), Phoenix was commanded to start shutting down survival heaters in an attempt to conserve power.
  • On Wednesday, October 29, the mission announced that Phoenix entered safe mode in response to a low power fault. I believe this happened late on sol 152. They said that the spacecraft was quickly recovered from safe mode, and ordered to sit tight and charge its batteries.
  • On Thursday, October 30, JPL issued a statement saying that Phoenix had gone silent -- that it did not respond to "an orbiter's" communications attempts on the night of October 29 (Denver time) or on Thursday morning, both of which would have been (I think) in the afternoon of Phoenix sol 153.
  • Apparently, though, not ten minutes after that statement had been issued, Phoenix was heard from again -- this was shortly after 14:00 Pasadena time, or first thing in the morning of sol 154.

The mood on the mission appears to be on a roller coaster. Phoenix is very sick, and at times, people seem to think that the mission is done. There's certainly fairly somber (or at least resigned)-sounding posts coming out of the Phoenix Twitter feed, such as "In case we don't get this chance again, thank you all so much for the questions, comments & good wishes over the mission. It's been awesome." There's even a contest going at WIRED Science to compose a Twitter epitaph for Phoenix. However, there's also, occasionally, real hope that they can get back to doing some final science -- among the most important unfinished business being to try to grab a final set of snapshots of the "work volume" as it stood when the arm stopped operating.

Those of you who are (like me) image buffs are probably curious about how much progress Phoenix made on the "Happily Ever After Panorama," which it was to work on more and more as power levels limited Phoenix' ability to use its robotic arm and power-hungry instruments like TEGA. Mark Lemmon kindly provided me a "tracking image" showing Phoenix' progress on this data product.

Status of the 'Happily Ever After Panorama' as of Phoenix sol 141

NASA / JPL / UA / Texas A & M

Status of the 'Happily Ever After Panorama' as of Phoenix sol 141
This is a snapshot of the status of Phoenix' "Happily Ever After Panorama," the panoramic view of its landing site that it was working to complete before it succumbed to the Martian polar autumn. As of sol 141, Phoenix had acquired 37 frames out of 100 defined for the panorama. Most had a few missing packets (black spaces) due to transmission errors, which would not have been filled in because there was not space in Phoenix' flash memory to store the images for later retransmission. The area to the north of the lander was omitted from the planning while the robotic arm was still in motion; the plan was to fill that area once its use had been suspended.

And I know many of you are still curious about the microphone. I'm sure that if they had turned it on successfully and heard anything, we would have heard about it by now. But I've also heard that, if they can wake up Phoenix and get it back doing science, they haven't yet ruled out trying to turn on MARDI. Keep your fingers crossed that we haven't heard the last from Phoenix!

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