NASAs Phoenix spacecraft lands safely on Mars

May 26th, 2008 - 11:59 am ICT by admin  

National Geographic

Washington, May 26 (ANI): NASAs Phoenix spacecraft has successfully landed in the northern polar region of Mars on May 25.

According to a report in National Geographic News, the signal confirming that Phoenix had survived touchdown was relayed via Mars Odyssey and received on Earth at the Goldstone, California, antenna station of NASAs Deep Space Network.

During that time, the probe had to slow itself from 12,700 miles (20,438 kilometers) an hour to 5 miles (8 kilometers) an hour before gently setting down on Martian permafrost.

Although friction and a parachute helped reduce its speed, Phoenix was designed to separate from the chute at about 0.6 mile (a kilometer) above Mars, relying on pulsing thrusters to smooth its final descent.

During its 422-million-mile flight from Earth to Mars after launching on August 4, 2007, Phoenix relied on electricity from solar panels during the spacecrafts cruise stage.

The cruise stage was jettisoned seven minutes before the lander, encased in a protective shell, entered the Martian atmosphere. Batteries provide electricity until the landers own pair of solar arrays spread open.

Weve passed the hardest part and were breathing again, but we still need to see that Phoenix has opened its solar arrays and begun generating power, said JPLs (Jet Propulsion Laboratorys) Barry Goldstein, the Phoenix project manager.

The 12-foot-wide (3.6-meter-wide) solar arrays will bring Phoenix back up to full power after it had switched to battery power upon separation from the cruise module.

The success is a critical step for possible future human missions to Mars, because people would not survive the high-velocities associated with airbag landings.

The way were going to land humans on Mars is with propulsion systems and landing legs, said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for NASAs Science Mission Directorate.

Mars is about 171 million miles (275 million kilometers) away, so data transmissions take just over 15 minutes to reach Earth.

The craft is able to send UHF radio signals directly to Earth-based telescopes, but most of its engineering data and images will be sent via relays through Mars-orbiting probes.

The hardest part is over, but theres still a lot of drama waiting for us, said Goldstein.

Over the next few days, scientists will study the probes surroundings and conduct a full health check on the lander and its payload of scientific instruments.

Once Phoenix gets its bearings, it can begin its 90-day mission to dig deep into the Martian permafrost and analyze soil and ice samples, in part to determine whether Mars ever had the right conditions to support life. (ANI)

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