Phoenix Spacecraft Lands at Martian Arctic Site
May 27, 2008
NASA’s Phoenix spacecraft landed in the northern polar region of Mars on Sunday to begin three months of examining a site chosen for its likelihood of having frozen water within reach of the lander’s robotic arm.
Radio signals received at 4:53:44 p.m. Pacific Time confirmed the Phoenix Mars Lander had survived its difficult final descent and touchdown 15 minutes earlier. The signals took that long to travel from Mars to Earth at the speed of light.
The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught a view of the Phoenix Mars Lander suspended from its parachute during the lander’s successful arrival at Mars, marking the first time ever one spacecraft has photographed another one in the act of landing on Mars.
Phoenix mission team members at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, and the University of Arizona in Tucson cheered confirmation of the landing and eagerly awaited further information from Phoenix later that night.
Among those in the JPL control room was NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, who noted this was the first successful Mars landing without airbags since Viking 2 in 1976. “For the first time in 32 years, and only the third time in history, a JPL team has carried out a soft landing on Mars,” Griffin said. “I couldn’t be happier to be here to witness this incredible achievement.”
During its 422-million-mile flight from Earth to Mars after launching on August 4, 2007, Phoenix relied on electricity from solar panels during the spacecraft’s cruise stage. The cruise stage was jettisoned seven minutes before the lander, encased in a protective shell, entered the martian atmosphere. Batteries provide electricity until the lander’s own pair of solar arrays spread open.
“What a thrilling landing! But the team is waiting impatiently for the next set of signals that will verify a healthy spacecraft,” said Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, principal investigator for the Phoenix mission. “I can hardly contain my enthusiasm. The first landed images of the martian polar terrain will set the stage for our mission.”
A critical deployment will be the first use of the 7.7-foot-long robotic arm on Phoenix. Researchers will use the arm during future weeks to get samples of soil and ice into laboratory instruments on the lander deck.
Phoenix uses hardware from a spacecraft built for a 2001 launch that was canceled in response to the loss of a similar Mars spacecraft during a 1999 landing attempt. Researchers who proposed the Phoenix mission in 2002 saw the unused spacecraft as a resource for pursuing a new science opportunity. Earlier in 2002, Mars Odyssey discovered that plentiful water ice lies just beneath the surface throughout much of high-latitude Mars. NASA chose the Phoenix proposal over 24 other proposals to become the first endeavor in the Mars Scout program of competitively selected missions.
For more about Phoenix, visitPhoenix Mars Lander: Exploring the Arctic Plains of Mars
Last updated May 27, 2008