"This one kind of felt like a beloved old uncle who passed away after a long illness," said Ben Toyoshima, the flight controller who spent a final three hours scanning for signals in vain. "There was a kind of sadness, but there was also a sense of closure." And a sense of triumph: The Martian robot that wowed the world last July was supposed to last only four weeks. Instead, it reached the ripe old age of eight months. When your kids make it to Mars, tell them to pay their respects to the plucky little pioneer.
It's official: Pathfinder has passed on. Gone, no doubt, to a better place: Red Planet heaven. Mission Control for the $266 million Mars probe wiped away a final tear at 4:21 p.m. EST Tuesday, when the comatose spacecraft was declared utterly dead. Not that its demise came as a sudden shock: The last auxiliary transmitter on Pathfinder's lander gave up the ghost back on October 6, and no heartbeats have been heard since. Now, however, the relatives have stopped their bedside vigil. Sometime yesterday, NASA posted a message on its web site thanking "the world for their interest." Please, no flowers.