NASA's Phoenix Spacecraft Reports Good Health After Mars Landing
PASADENA, Calif. -- A NASA spacecraft today sent pictures showing
itself in good condition after making the first successful landing
in a polar region of Mars.
The images from NASA's Mars Phoenix Lander also provided a glimpse
of the flat valley floor expected to have water-rich permafrost
within reach of the lander's robotic arm. The landing ends a
422-million-mile journey from Earth and begins a three-month
mission that will use instruments to taste and sniff the northern
polar site's soil and ice.
"We see the lack of rocks that we expected, we see the polygons
that we saw from space, we don't see ice on the surface, but we
think we will see it beneath the surface. It looks great to me,"
said Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson, principal
investigator for the Phoenix mission.
Radio signals received at 4:53:44 p.m. Pacific Time (7:53:44 p.m.
Eastern 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. The confirmation ignited cheers by
mission team members at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena,
Calif.; Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver; and the University
As planned, Phoenix stopped transmitting one minute after landing
and focused its limited battery power on opening its solar arrays,
and other critical activities. About two hours after touchdown, it
sent more good news. The first pictures confirmed that the solar
arrays needed for the mission's energy supply had unfolded properly,
and masts for the stereo camera and weather station had swung into
"Seeing these images after a successful landing reaffirmed the
thorough work over the past five years by a great team," said
Phoenix Project Manager Barry Goldstein of JPL. A key milestone
still ahead is the first use of the lander's 7.7-foot-long robotic
arm, not planned before Tuesday.
"Only five of our planet's 11 previous attempts to land on the
Red Planet have succeeded. In exploring the universe, we accept
some risk in exchange for the potential of great scientific rewards,"
said Ed Weiler, NASA associate administrator for the Science
Mission Directorate, Washington.
Phoenix carries science instruments to assess whether ice just
below the surface ever thaws and whether some chemical ingredients
of life are preserved in the icy soil. These are key questions
in evaluating whether the environment has ever been favorable for
microbial life. Phoenix will also study other aspects of the soil
and atmosphere with instrument capabilities never before used on
Mars. Canada supplied the lander's weather station.
Transmissions from Phoenix have reported results after a check of
several components and systems on the spacecraft. "Phoenix is an
amazing machine, and it was built and flown by an amazing team.
Through the entire entry, descent and landing phase, it performed
flawlessly," said Ed Sedivy, Phoenix program manager at Lockheed
Martin Space Systems Company. "The spacecraft stayed in contact
with Earth during that critical period, and we received a lot of
data about its health and performance. I'm happy to report it's
in great shape."
Phoenix uses hardware from a spacecraft built for a 2001 launch
that was canceled in response to the loss of a similar Mars
spacecraft during a 1999 landing attempt. Researchers who proposed
the Phoenix mission in 2002 saw the unused spacecraft as a resource
for pursuing a new science opportunity. A few months earlier, NASA's
Mars Odyssey orbiter discovered that plentiful water ice lies just
beneath the surface throughout much of high-latitude Mars. NASA
chose the Phoenix proposal over 24 other proposals to become the
first endeavor in the Mars Scout program of competitively
The signal confirming that Phoenix had survived touchdown and
the transmission of the first pictures were relayed via Mars
Odyssey and received on Earth at the Goldstone, Calif., antenna
station of NASA's Deep Space Network.
The Phoenix mission is led by Smith at the University of Arizona
with project management at JPL and development partnership at Lockheed
Martin. International contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency;
the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland; the universities of Copenhagen
and Aarhus, Denmark; Max Planck Institute, Germany; and the Finnish
Meteorological Institute. For more about Phoenix, visit
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