...a blog by Richard Flowers

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Day 2703: The Phoenix Has Landed


Daddy let me stay up REALLY late to watch the NASA spaceship landing on Mars. Okay, it's not QUITE the Moon Landing, but I was excited!

Landing on Mars is quite TRICKY. Unlike the Moon, Mars is quite BIG so the gravity is quite STRONG. But unlike Earth, Mars has a thin atmosphere so it's not much use for slowing you down with PARACHUTES.

In recent years, NASA lost the Mars Polar Explorer and the European Space Agency lost their Beagle 2. So you'll understand why the scientists at mission control were so RELIVED that Phoenix hadn't gone BLATT!

The really HAIRY part is that for the seven minutes of the descent you have to rely entirely on the robot brain flying the spaceship. Mars is too far away to work it by remote control – by the time your signal saying "left a bit" got back there, you'd have already ploughed into the ground!

Fortunately it all worked out FINE. Phoenix didn't quite hit the target landing site – a parachute opened slightly late – but it found a good solid place to set down and was able to open up its solar panels and start taking photos. Just like any other tourist!

The BBC has some of the pictures.

Phoenix was sent to the north pole of Mars because that is where our orbital scans have show there to be WATER only a little way under the surface. So if there IS a chance of finding life on Mars then that is the best place to look.

Even BETTER news: our latest Martian landing has not resulted in a flash of green fire and a cylinder being launched back at us.


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