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RIP, Mars Lander: NASA declares the end of the Phoenix mission

So long, Mars Lander.

The NASA robot’s $475-million mission is over, after increasingly cold weather and diminishing sun on Mars got the better of the lander, which relied on sunlight to recharge its solar battery, scientists said yesterday. It hasn’t contacted Earth since November 2.

"We are actually ceasing operations, declaring an end to operations at this point," Barry Goldstein, Phoenix mission project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, told reporters yesterday. "We'll constantly turn on the radio and try to hail Phoenix and see if it's alive, but at this point nobody on the team has any expectations of that happening."

The lander managed to collect and transmit data for three months longer than expected after it arrived on Mars at the end of May. During its five-plus months on the Red Planet, the robot verified the presence of ice water below the Martian surface (the Mars Odyssey orbiter first spotted water there in 2002). The lander also found elements that could support life on Mars, including salt that might supply nutrients and calcium carbonate, a marker for water.

The lander’s $7-million cameras sent back more than 25,000 pictures and recorded weather patterns on Mars, including snowfall, frost, clouds, temperature, humidity and wind. We’ve got a slide show of some of its amazing shots.

Two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, are still functioning on Mars's surface nearly five years after their arrival, Reuters notes. And three operational satellites are orbiting the Red Planet.

But there are likely to be some tears for the lander, which beat the odds with a tricky landing. Check out this video of NASA engineers cheering its success.

Image of Phoenix Mars Lander scooping up a sample of the Red Planet by NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University

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