Tag Archives: lander

Phoenix has landed!

Landing siteI have been keeping my eye on the countdown clock for the phoenix mars lander at the Phoenix lander website and was able to watch activity at the mission control centre on NASA TV.

It’s a pleasure to be able to witness the celebration of the control team as news of the successful landing (shortly before midday New Zealand time) was reported.

The photograph shows the 70 km long ellipse covering the probable landing site on the northern arctic plains.

I now look forward to hearing news of the successful deployment of the robot arm and analysis of soil and water/ice samples.

This is from the Phoenix Landing Events Schedule

Anticipated pace of Mars surface operations
— If operations proceed relatively smoothly, the first eight to 10 days after landing will be a “characterization phase” of checking out and understanding the performance of the spacecraft’s power and thermal systems, as well as the robotic arm and other instruments.
— At the end of the characterization phase (date tba), the first sample of surface soil will be delivered to the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer onboard Phoenix.
— Analysis of soil from the surface in both the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer and in the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer will likely take 10 to 15 days if all processes go well. After that, each additional sampling cycle will reach a deeper subsurface level, in increments of about two to three centimeters. At each different layer, collecting and analyzing samples is expected to take 10 to 15 days, barring operational difficulties.
— How soon the digging reaches the expected icy layer will depend on how far below the surface that layer lies. Estimates in advance of landing range from two to five centimeters. If the ice is at the deeper end of that range, the first analysis of an icy sample could be in July or later.

See also:
Images from Phoenix Lander

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Good luck Phoenix!

phoenix

The coming weekend is an important one in the history of the scientific exploration of Mars. All going well, on May 25 the lander from the Phoenix Mars Mission will land in the northern polar region.

Phoenix is a stationary laboratory designed to study the history of water and search for complex organic molecules. The arctic region has been chosen because there is evidence for large amounts of subsurface water-ice in the northern arctic plains. A robotic arm will dig through the top soil layer and bring both soil and water-ice to the lander platform for analysis.

Despite the absence of surface liquid water there is evidence that water may once have flowed on the Martian surface. Geologic features like gullies and channels could have been formed by surface erosion, or even the movement of subsurface water.

Liquid water is important because all known forms of life require it to survive. So the Phoenix Mars Mission represent an important step in investigating the possibility of life forms on Mars. This is still an open question. Initial investigations during the Viking Mission of the 1970s produced ambiguous results and this and subsequent missions were not capable of subsurface investigations.

We now know that life can exist in the most extreme conditions and it is possible that dormant microbial colonies may be present in the Martian arctic. It’s thought that the soil environment in these areas may have been favourable for life for brief periods every 100,000 years.

Pheonix is an appropriate name for this mission because it is reborn out of fire, like the mythological Phoenix bird. The mission uses many components of the two unsuccessful Mars missions MPL and MSP ’01.

So good luck Phoenix! A successful landing will produce some fascinating new findings.

See also:
Rover instrument to sniff out life on Mars
Phoenix Mars Mission
The Phoenix landing site
Phoenix Mars Lander Will Probe for Signs of Life
Here is a neat countdown clock for the Phoenix landing

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