Hello? Hello? NASA's Mars Lander remains silent

NASA continues to listen for signs of life from robot frozen near Martian north pole

All was silent this week as NASA listened intently for signs of life from its long-frozen robotic Lander, sitting in the cold and dark near the northern pole of Mars.

On Monday, NASA began listening for radio transmissions from the Phoenix Mars Lander, which went silent in November 2008 after spending five months studying the Mars surface. While the Mars Lander was not designed to survive the extreme cold of a long Martian winter, scientists have been holding out a slim hope that the machine's solar cells would contain enough power to transmit a signal as spring arrives on the planet's surface.

So far, there has been no signal.

The space agency reported this week that its Mars Odyssey orbiter has completed 11 flights in two days over the Lander's location, sending out radio signals in the hopes that the Mars Lander will pick them up and respond. The orbiter is continuing its overflights this week and will try again in February and March, according to NASA.

If the orbiter does pick up any signals, NASA said it will attempt to get information on the status of the machine.

The Lander, which worked two months beyond its three-month mission, gathered information on the content of Martian soil near the planet's north pole. The robotic machine dug up and analyzed soil samples, verified the existence of ice and verified that snow falls from Martian skies.

But the Lander began to slow as the Martian winter approached in late 2008.

Since the Lander is powered by solar cells and the Mars nights were growing longer at the end of October, 2008 scientists began to remotely power down as many parts of the Lander as possible to minimize its energy needs. That allowed a few instruments to keep running as long as possible. NASA scientists received the last transmission from the Lander on Nov. 2, 2008.

Scientists noted at the time that once the Mars Lander dies, it's doubtful it could ever be brought back to life after spending months in the dark and frigid cold.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, send e-mail to sgaudin@computerworld.com or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed .

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