NASA’s Odyssey Probe To Listen for Radio Signal from Frozen Mars Lander

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NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter will be commanded the week of Jan. 18 to listen for possible, though improbable, radio transmissions from the frozen Phoenix Mars Lander, the U.S. space agency announced Jan. 11.

The $475 million solar-powered spacecraft landed in the northern reaches of Mars May 25, 2008, and spent five months digging up the martian dirt looking for water ice, which it found just below the planet’s surface. Phoenix lasted two months longer than its planned three-month mission, finally succumbing to the increasing cold temperatures and coatings of ice in November 2008, when mission managers lost contact.

In the unlikely event Phoenix survived the long martian winter, it is programmed to periodically communicate with any available Mars relay orbiters once its solar panels generate enough electricity to establish a positive energy balance, NASA said.

Odyssey will pass over the Phoenix landing site about 10 times each day during three consecutive days of listening. Two longer listening campaigns are planned for February and March.

NASA said that if Odyssey does hear from Phoenix, the orbiter will attempt to lock onto the signal and gain information about the lander’s status and whether it has any chance of being revived.