NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, after a short trajectory
maneuver, is now on course and schedule for its May 25 landing on the Red Planet.
lander launched aboard a Delta II rocket on August 4, 2007, and will have
reached the surface of Mars in just over nine and a half months.
Phoenix is one of the first ground vehicles for NASA's Mars Exploration
Program. It will return valuable data on the climate and geology of Mars,
furthering the ultimate goals of determining whether life exists or ever
existed on Mars, and returning to us vital knowledge with which to prepare
Based on data
collected by the Mars Odyssey Orbiter, NASA scientists have tentatively
chosen what appears to be a safe landing zone for the Phoenix craft. Several
factors were key in the choice, including the overall geography of the region
and data which suggests water ice lies just below the surface of the large
plain at the destination.
"Our landing area has the largest concentration of ice on Mars outside of
the polar caps. If you want to search for a habitable zone in the arctic
permafrost, then this is the place to go," explained Peter Smith, the
principle investigator for the Phoenix mission.
The proposed landing site is known as "Green
Valley," and lies in the planet's northern hemisphere. The lack of large
rocks to interfere with the landing and the presence of water ice makes the 62
by 12 mile ellipse targeted area an ideal choice for the mission. Experts will
make the final decision on the landing zone after further scrutiny of the area
by the Mars Odyssey Orbiter later this month.
The Phoenix project is led by Peter Smith at the University of Arizona, Tuscon,
and is a joint project between UA, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lockheed
Martin, the Canadian Space Agency, the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland,
the universities of Aarhus and Copenhagen in Denmark, the Max Planck Institute
in Germany and the Finnish Meteorological Institute.