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n2doc Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Aug-30-08 05:30 AM
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Mars Phoenix Heads Into Extra Innings
By Alexis Madrigal
The $480 million Mars Phoenix Lander passed its 90th day on the planet earlier this week, reaching the official end of its nominal mission.
From here on out, the mission's robotic machinery is living on borrowed time. Some time in the next month or two, the little lander that could will be frozen by the cold Martian winter, never to be heard from again.

It will continue testing soil samples for at least the next couple of weeks, even though it has already fulfilled NASA's original hopes for its high-profile excursion to the Martian north pole.

"If we're successful, this mission will be remembered for being the first to do direct analysis of ice or water on the surface of Mars," NASA's Mike Gross, who engineered the mission's scientific instrumentation, told us back in May.

And indeed, the Phoenix mission has accomplished exactly that: chemically analyzing Martian water for the very first time after nailing a breathtakingly perfect landing in the northern polar region of Mars. For months now, immensely valuable data on the ice and soil composition of Mars -- or at least the 160-square-foot patch of the planet the Lander's arm can reach -- has been streaming back to Earth.

"As we near what we originally expected to be the full length of the mission, we are all thrilled with how well the mission is going," Phoenix Project Manager Barry Goldstein of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a release.

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