Three Days and Counting!
Three days and counting! The science team is all assembled in Tucson
to wait for landing. It feels a bit like waiting for a theatrical
performance or an instrument recital -- we're tuned up, and the
anticipation of curtain time is growing.
In the meantime, I'd like to address some of the questions and
comments that came up in the comments to my previous entry on
First of all, thanks to everyone who posted good wishes and hopeful
thoughts! I am not exactly superstitious, but I think positive vibes
cannot but help!
The landing will be broadcast on NASA TV. ( Go to http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/
) and www.jpl.nasa.gov
will stream it across the internet as well. So you can see it that
way if you don't have NASA TV directly.
The statement was made that a stationary lander was a crazy way to
look for habitability -- why not rove? If one looks at the northern
arctic of Mars, it appears much the same in the regions we were
considering landing. We expect that the main discoveries for Phoenix
are not in the horizontal plane, but rather in the vertical -- beneath
the surface. It makes sense, then, to send a space vehicle that can
access the subsurface. The Phoenix robotic arm can dig up to a half
meter (approx 1.5 feet). The models of subsurface ice strongly
suggest that it is above that half-meter mark, so we don't believe
there will be difficulty getting to ice.
I look at the issue of finding life directly this way. Let's say an
alien landed on Earth and decided that skyscrapers were evidence of
life on Earth. Then they dropped down into the middle of the Sahara
desert. No skyscrapers! They would have to conclude that there was
no life on Earth. So what I'm saying is that one has to go to the
correct place with the right instrumentation to find life on something
as big as a planet.
Phoenix will help narrow that search on Mars by finding a likely
location for life to have existed -- back to that notion of habitability
Another comment related to the "life as we know it" issue. Well, if
we're looking for life as we *don't* know it, how would we recognize
it? Wouldn't it be most tragic to have come across life and not be
able to recognize it? But seriously, we have to start somewhere, and
the plan is to use criteria we can understand and recognize -- ability
to metabolize energy, ability to grow, ability to reproduce, ability
to change (mutate) and ability to reproduce those mutations. This
gives us the starting point of carbon-based life that requires water.
Hence Phoenix's criteria for habitability.
If Phoenix is able to locate a true habitable zone, I believe that
NASA's Mars program will take this into consideration for future
missions to Mars.
BTW, that DVD with names on it that people signed, it is indeed on the
And to conclude, I did want to mention that I do believe I am
incredibly fortunate to work in the space industry and Mars missions!
I'm very passionate about what I do, and I love going to work each
day. The mental puzzles and people I get to work with are some of the
best and brightest. It is a privilege to be a part of NASA.
Deputy Project Scientist
To learn more about the spacecraft and the mission, check out the following sites:
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