Sunday, May 25, 2008

Phoenix Lander Set To Touch Down...

PASADENA, California — "A three-legged NASA spacecraft was closing in on Mars Sunday for what scientists hope will be the first-ever touchdown near Mars' north pole to study whether the permafrost could have supported primitive life.

The time it takes the Phoenix Mars Lander to streak through the atmosphere and set down on the dusty surface has been dubbed "the seven minutes of terror" for good reason. More than half of the world's attempts to land on Mars have ended in failures.

"I'm a little nervous on the inside. I'm getting butterflies," Peter Smith, principal investigator from the University of Arizona, Tucson, said on the eve of the landing. "We bet the whole farm on this safe landing and we can't do our science without this safe landing."

Oddsmakers this morning were giving it a 50-50 shot at coming through unscathed, so I plopped down a modest wager that it'd make it.


PASADENA, California — "NASA's Phoenix spacecraft has successfully landed near Mars' north pole for a 90-day digging mission.

Mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory celebrated after the Phoenix Mars Lander signaled back that it had survived Sunday's fiery entry.

Phoenix will be the first spacecraft to study the Martian arctic plains. Unlike NASA's mobile twin rovers, the lander will stay in one spot. It will use its robotic arm to dig into the permafrost to determine if the polar environment has the ingredients needed for life to emerge.

• Click here to watch NASA's live video stream.

NASA has not had a successful soft landing in more than three decades since the twin Viking landers in 1976. The last time the space agency tried was in 1999 when the Mars Polar Lander angling for the south pole crashed after prematurely cutting off its engines.

Phoenix was built from a lander that was scrapped after the Polar Lander disaster. Engineers spent years testing Phoenix to resolve all known problems, but there are no guarantees on landing day."

No comments: