Mars Pulls Phoenix In
PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander sped on Sunday
morning toward its arrival at Mars, as the tug of the Red Planet's
gravity accelerated the craft during the final day of its trip
from Earth to Mars.
"Mars is literally pulling on our spacecraft, and at the same
time it is pulling on our emotions," Phoenix Principal Investigator
Peter Smith, of the University of Arizona, Tucson, said early Sunday
afternoon. "We are excited at how close we are right now to
beginning our study of a site where Martian water ice will be
within our reach, after all these years of preparations. Our
science mission begins as the spacecraft settles into its
new home on Mars."
The spacecraft's speed relative to Mars increased from 6,300
miles per hour at 8:30 a.m. Pacific Time to 8,500 mph at 12:30 p.m.,
headed for a speed higher than 12,000 mph before reaching
the top of the Martian atmosphere.
Phoenix was on track for anticipated entry into the atmosphere
at 4:30p.m. Pacific Time and reaching the surface at 4:38 p.m.,
although confirmation of those events comes no sooner than 15
minutes, 20 seconds later, due to the time needed for radio
signals to travel from Mars to Earth.
Mission controllers decided Saturday night and Sunday morning
to forgo the last two opportunities for adjusting the
"We are so well on course that those adjustments were not necessary,"
said Phoenix Project Manager Barry Goldstein of NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
The most challenging part of the entire mission, getting from
the top of the atmosphere to a safe landing on three legs, still
lies ahead. Internationally, only five of the 11 attempts to
land a spacecraft on Mars have succeeded.
The Phoenix mission is led by Smith, with project management at
JPL. The development partnership is with Lockheed Martin, Denver.
International contributions are from the Canadian Space Agency;
the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland; the universities of
Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; the Max Planck Institute,
Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute.
For more about the Phoenix mission on the Web,
Media contacts: Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington
Sara Hammond 520-626-1974
University of Arizona, Tucson