Mars Pathfinder, R.I.P.
A last-ditch attempt to communicate with the spacecraft failed Tuesday and mission officials finally closed the door on the successful mission that reignited public interest in planetary exploration."This is sort of the end of the end. This is an actual goodbye," said Richard Cook, mission manager who has moved to Deep Space-3, which will look for planets around stars.
Only silence and quiet computer screens greeted controllers Tuesday as they sought to hook up with the little rover and lander on the Martian surface.
Up to the final "time of death" at 1:21 p.m. PST, they held out hope that the comatose craft might awake and speak, although they suspected it had long ago succumbed to the cold and dust of the Martian winter.
Ben Toyoshima, the flight controller who spent three hours Tuesday looking for signs of mechanical life, took the loss in stride.
"There was a kind of a sadness, but there was also a sense of closure," he said. "There was a sense of pleasure amongst the flight team because we did everything we started out to do during the course of the mission."
He said Pathfinder went gently, compared with the Mars Observer that "died just before we got to Mars."
The team had attempted contact with the spacecraft in the hope of learning whether the foot-high Sojourner rover might still be circling around the mothership looking for a signal or some guidance.
During its months moving around the planet, Sojourner rolled about 300 feet, analyzed cartoon character-named rocks like Scooby Doo and took more than 500 pictures.