NASA Phoneix - Artist Impression

Just for fun, blogging the NASA Phoenix Mars touchdown as it happens.

The NASA TV Stream is here. Phoenix has just successfully separated from its cruise stage and commenced its automatic landing sequence – that is, NASA is about to turn over the complicated descent process to the spacecraft’s onboard computers. Phoenix must complete dozens of tricky manoeuvres to get to the Mars surface in one piece – this is the part of the process that has seen disaster in many previous Mars missions.

The Odyssey Orbiter and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are both relaying Phoenix mission data back to Earth, the mission having been planned to take advantage of the positions of each of these craft.

• Phoenix is just about to enter Mars atmosphere.

• Heat shield has been deployed.

• Phoenix altitude information is being successfully relayed… 1600 metres….

• Phoenix has touched down successfully!

• Jesus H. Christ, Windows Media Viewer is a shitty piece of crap – NASA! Have you people never used Quicktime? Please let Apple handle the media broadcast next time!

• There is some short delay while Phoenix prepares to begin its own independent transmissions back to Earth. The mood in Mission Control is jubilant though, so all has gone exactly to plan. I wish I could have seen them at the moment of touchdown, but the piece of rubbish that is WMV dropped all the image out and I had to reboot Firefox to get it back.

• Waiting for Phoenix telemetry to come online. Phoenix is tilted at a mere quarter of one degree from the vertical, and the next part of the process involves the unfolding of the solar array which of course is Phoenix’s power plant.

First Pix from Phoenix

• Phoenix is functional and sending back images.

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. I couldn’t be happier to be here to witness this incredible achievement. ~ NASA Administrator Michael Griffin

Some points of interest:

• After the touchdown, the Phoenix team waited for over 15 minutes before deploying the solar panels, one of their concerns being that dust kicked up by the engines might cover the solar cells and reduce their effectiveness. In the event, there was no discernible trace of dust at all.

• Phoenix is at Mars’ North Pole and is looking for proof of extant water (most likely in the form of ice) on the planet. The Phoenix team agrees that a white object that has been seen in one of the first surface images is probably not a polar bear.

The First Phoenix Press Conference
The First Phoenix Press Conference

Mission Earth Day 2:

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped this astonishing image of the Phoenix descending to the surface of Mars on its guidance ‘chute:

The Phoenix Descending to Mars Surface