Sunday, May 25, 2008


UPDATE 5/29/08 - UHF radio transmissions have been restored and the robot arm has gone through its initial tests flawlessly. Its time to get digging!
UPDATED 5/27/08 - See below.

The Mars Phoenix Lander has just successfully landed near the north pole of Mars on its mission to search for water.
Pasadena -- A NASA spacecraft landed in the Martian arctic today to begin three months of examining a site chosen for the likelihood of having frozen water within reach of the lander's robotic arm.

Radio signals received at 4:53 p.m. Pacific Time confirmed that the Phoenix Mars Lander had survived its difficult final descent and touchdown 15 minutes earlier. In the intervening time, those signals crossed the distance from Mars to Earth at the speed of light.

Mission team members at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.: Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver; and the University of Arizona, Tucson, cheered confirmation of the landing and eagerly awaited further information from Phoenix later tonight.

A photo of Phoenix descending on its parachute captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. This is the first photo ever of a space vehicle during its decent.

The landing site. The trapezoidal features, caused by the freezing and thawing of subsurface water, were one of the reasons for the choice of a landing spot.

Closeup of one of the trapezoidal features.

With a final velocity of under 4 inches per second the lander touched down so softly the footpads didn't even disturb the surface.

This photo, showing one of the two solar collector panels, confirmed its correct deployment.

UPDATE 5/27/08: Disappointing but not critical news:
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter turned its UHF radio off, possibly because of a cosmic ray, cutting off communications with the lander, said Fuk Li, manager of the Mars exploration program for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

But Li and others said it is not a significant problem.

"All this is is a one-day hiccup in being able to move the arm around, so it's no big deal," said Ed Sedivy, space program for Lockheed-Martin Corp. in Denver.

Li said the orbiter was programmed to respond as it did, but that orbiter team members were trying to get the radio back on. It has a second radio aboard that might be used instead, though reprogramming would be needed.

A second orbiter, the Mars Odyssey, is to be the primary relay for returning data to Earth from the lander, which is parked in a valley in Mars' northern arctic region.

If necessary, the Odyssey will do double duty, relaying commands to the lander as well as taking up the earthbound information. Link to article.

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