May 26, 2008

Phoenix Succesfully Lands on Mars

From NASA releases

May 25, 2008: NASA’s Phoenix spacecraft landed in the northern polar region of Mars at 7:38 PM EDT, Sunday, 25 May 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 (7:53:44 p.m. Eastern 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.

230122main_false_color_postcard_edr.jpgThis is an approximate-color image taken shortly after landing by the spacecraft’s Surface Stereo Imager, inferred from two color filters, a violet, 450-nanometer filter and an infrared, 750-nanometer filter.

 Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

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.”

230070main_phoenixlandingfirstestimatenogrid.jpgThe center of the red circle on this map shows where NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander eased down to the surface of Mars, at approximately 68 degrees north latitude, 234 degrees east longitude. Before Phoenix landed, engineers had predicted it would land within the blue ellipse.

The map shows a color-coded interpretation of geomorphic units — categories based on the surface textures and contours. The geomorphic mapping is overlaid on a shaded relief map based on data from the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter on NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor orbiter.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Washington Univ. St. Louis/JHU APL/Univ. of Arizona

During its 422-million-mile flight from Earth to Mars after launching on Aug. 4, 2007, Phoenix relied on electricity from solar panels. The cruise stage with those solar panels was jettisoned seven minutes before the lander, encased in a protective shell, entered the Martian atmosphere. Batteries will now 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.”

 230082main_ss000eff896228288_10c96r1m1_8824.jpg

This view of one of the footpads of NASA’s three-legged Phoenix Mars Lander shows a solid surface at the spacecraft’s landing site. As the legs touched down on the surface of Mars, they kicked up some loose material on top of the footpad, but overall, the surface is unperturbed.

Each footpad is about the size of a large dinner plate, measuring 11.5 inches from rim to rim. The base of the footpad is shaped like the bottom of a shallow bowl to provide stability.

This image was taken by the spacecraft’s Surface Stereo Imager shortly after landing, at 17:07 local time on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona 

230102main_s_000eff_cyltsr10c70_r111m1_001_001.jpgShown here is one of the first images taken by NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander of one of the octagonal solar panels, which opened like two handheld, collapsible fans on either side of the spacecraft. Beyond this view is a small slice of the north polar terrain of Mars.

The successfully deployed solar panels are critical to the success of the 90-day mission, as they are the spacecraft’s only means of replenishing its power. Even before these images reached Earth, power readings from the spacecraft indicated to engineers that the solar panels were already at work recharging the spacecraft’s batteries. Before deploying the Surface Stereo Imager to take these images, the lander waited about 15 minutes for the dust to settle.

This image was taken by the spacecraft’s Surface Stereo Imager on Sol, or Martian day, 0 (May 25, 2008). This image has been geometrically corrected. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of  Arizona

Another critical deployment will be the first use of the 7.7-foot-long robotic arm on Phoenix, which will not be attempted for at least two days. Researchers will use the arm during future weeks to get samples of soil and ice into laboratory instruments on the lander deck.

The signal confirming that Phoenix had survived touchdown was relayed via Mars Odyssey and received on Earth at the Goldstone, Calif., antenna station of NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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