Mars Phoenix Lander Touches Down
May 26, 2008 12:46 PM
comment(s) - last by
Phoenix Project Manager Barry Goldstein and Principal Investigator Peter Smith anxiously await data from the Phoenix probe on Sunday.
An artist's montage of the Phoenix probe and its landing. True to the picture, the probe landed intact.
(Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)
The first images from the Phoenix spacecraft have been send back, confirming polygonal ground patterns resembling those on permafrost ground on Earth. (color is false)
(Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)
No metric metric conversion or other snafus could foil the landing of the Phoenix lander
After a few terrifying moments on Sunday,
NASA scientists received signals from the Phoenix spacecraft
. It had landed safely on the surface of Mars.
The lander promises to not only prepare for the ongoing efforts to send humans to Mars, but also will further the investigation of the possibility that life once existed on Mars. Before it could complete its mission, though, it had to land. After months of travel through the dark depths of space, it
reached the fringe of Mars' atmosphere
and began a plunge referred to as "seven minutes of terror" by NASA. The seven minute entry has been a punishing one on past satellites -- of the 11 objects which various nations have tried to land on Mars, only 5 survived.
Safely landing requires aeroshell breaking, using a heat resistant shield to create friction with the atmosphere slowing its descent from catastrophic speeds. The side effect is the shield heats to thousands of degrees, increasing the chance of failures. After sufficiently reducing the speed, a parachute is deployed. This is yet another phase prone to past failures. Finally, the probe must use its retrorockets to gently touch down the surface, to prevent impact damage.
Unfortunately there's no possibility for an Earth-driven landing sequence -- Mars is 15 minutes away from the Earth in radio signal time. So the craft had to land autonomously. Shortly before 5:00 pm PDT on Sunday, NASA scientists breathed a collective sigh of relief when they received thumbs up signals from the satellite.
Barry Goldstein, Phoenix project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement Sunday that while the most difficult part perhaps -- landing -- had been conquered, challenges lay ahead. Said Goldstein, "We've passed the hardest part and we're breathing again, but we still need to see that Phoenix has opened its solar arrays and begun generating power."
Then late on Sunday, after two hours of silence, the lander started sending back its first pictures, which confirmed that its solar arrays needed for the mission's energy supply had unfolded properly, and masts for the stereo camera and weather station had swung into vertical position.
Ed Sedivy, Phoenix program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company enthusiastically stated, "Phoenix is an amazing machine, and it was built and flown by an amazing team. Through the entire entry, descent and landing phase, it performed flawlessly. The spacecraft stayed in contact with Earth during that critical period, and we received a lot of data about its health and performance. I'm happy to report it's in great shape."
The spacecraft landed in a crater in the polar region, which is expected to hold permafrost. The probe carries instruments to "taste and sniff" the polar ice. Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson, principal investigator for the Phoenix mission commented on the initial pictures stating, "We see the lack of rocks that we expected, we see the polygons that we saw from space, we don't see ice on the surface, but we think we will see it beneath the surface. It looks great to me."
The next major milestone will be the use of the lander's 7.7 foot robotic arm, which will occur on Tuesday. The arm contains instruments to dig into the soil and test the permafrost to see if it ever melts and also to see if it has certain chemicals necessary for life as we know it.
The Phoenix lander's hardware, true to its name rose from the ashes of a discarded program. In 1999 a lander built using most of the same hardware was lost during landing. This caused a second launch, scheduled for 2001, to be cancelled and the additional hardware built for it to be put in storage. NASA put the hardware to
new use in 2002 for the Phoenix lander
, following increased interest in the possibility of life on Mars and human mars exploration.
The mission is truly an international effort. Outside the U.S. many partners including Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; Max Planck Institute, Germany;
the European Space Agency
; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute, have contributed to the project.
This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled
5/26/2008 6:17:18 PM
I seldom use that word without sarcasm, but now I do.
Think it's really cool, to witness a programmed and controlled machine 'meet the elements', on far away Mars, and examine something truly alien. Like the ice they thought would be on the surface or slightly below. I hope that drill of an arm finds something useful = )
It may also be an idealistic and too naive view, but I like how the different space agencies of the world can collaborate despite the petty squabbles of politics.
It'll be very interesting to see what Phoenix can find, as it will also be neat to see what the ExoMars rover will see (if it doesn't go the way of the Beagle..)
5/26/2008 6:19:18 PM
( Oh, and I had to look up 'snafus'. Good addition to the mental wordlist :) )
"Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." -- Bill Gates
ESA's Mars Express to Monitor NASA's Phoenix Lander
May 22, 2008, 2:54 PM
NASA's Phoenix Lander Nears Mars
April 17, 2008, 9:28 AM
NASA's Phoenix Lander Launches Towards Mars
August 5, 2007, 1:48 AM
Star Wars Spinoff Film "Rogue One", Theme Park Attractions Announced
August 17, 2015, 12:20 PM
SpaceX Falcon 9's Seventh Supply Mission to ISS Ends w/ Fiery Stage 1 Explosion
June 28, 2015, 1:10 PM
Cool Science Video: Glowing Millipede Prowls the Nevada Desert
May 18, 2015, 12:00 PM
Newly Discovered Costa Rican Glass Frog is Kermit's Doppelgänger
April 22, 2015, 11:26 AM
Researchers Hope to Find "Exotic" Lifeforms Inside Crater of Dinosaur Killing Meteor
April 14, 2015, 8:47 PM
Mathematician's Sociological Formulation May Explain the "Hipster Paradox"
April 14, 2015, 1:13 PM
Most Popular Articles
Samsung Gear S2 Borrows Circular Icons From Apple Watch
August 21, 2015, 2:48 PM
Future of Lumia Uncertain as Microsoft Lays Off 2,300, Closes 1 of 3 Finnish Offices
August 24, 2015, 6:14 PM
Kentucky Man Faces up to 10 Years in Prison for Shooting Drone Trespasser
August 13, 2015, 2:58 PM
Microsoft's Windows 10 Leaves Lumia 530 Behind w/ 8 GB Storage Requirement
August 25, 2015, 4:02 PM
Aluminum 7003, Used in Roofing, May be Tapped by Apple for iPhone 6S/6S+
August 24, 2015, 4:45 PM
Latest Blog Posts
Sceptre Airs 27", 120 Hz. 1080p Monitor/HDTV w/ 5 ms Response Time for $220
Dec 3, 2014, 10:32 PM
Costco Gives Employees Thanksgiving Off; Wal-Mart Leads "Black Thursday" Charge
Oct 29, 2014, 9:57 PM
"Bear Selfies" Fad Could Turn Deadly, Warn Nevada Wildlife Officials
Oct 28, 2014, 12:00 PM
The Surface Mini That Was Never Released Gets "Hands On" Treatment
Sep 26, 2014, 8:22 AM
ISIS Imposes Ban on Teaching Evolution in Iraq
Sep 17, 2014, 5:22 PM
More Blog Posts
Copyright 2015 DailyTech LLC. -
Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information