The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 13 May 2008 13:58:39 -0700
From: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory <>
To: "" <>
Subject: NASA Phoenix Mission Ready for Mars Landing


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

NEWS RELEASE: 2008-074                                    May 13, 2008

NASA Phoenix Mission Ready for Mars Landing

WASHINGTON -- NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander is preparing to end its long
journey and begin a three-month mission to taste and sniff fistfuls of
Martian soil and buried ice. The lander is scheduled to touch down on the
Red Planet May 25.

Phoenix will enter the top of the Martian atmosphere at almost 21,000
kilometers per hour (almost 13,000 mph). In seven minutes, the spacecraft
must complete a challenging sequence of events to slow to about 8
kilometers per hour (5 mph) before its three legs reach the ground.
Confirmation of the landing could come as early as 4:53 p.m. PDT (7:53
p.m. EDT).

"This is not a trip to grandma's house. Putting a spacecraft safely on
Mars is hard and risky," said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for
NASA's Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
"Internationally, fewer than half the attempts have succeeded."

Rocks large enough to spoil the landing or prevent opening of the solar
panels present the biggest known risk. However, images from the High
Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter, detailed enough to show individual rocks smaller
than the lander, have helped lessen that risk.

"We have blanketed nearly the entire landing area with HiRISE images,"
said Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis, chairman of the
Phoenix landing-site working group.

"This is one of the least rocky areas on all of Mars and we are confident
that rocks will not detrimentally impact the ability of Phoenix to land

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

Earlier in 2002, 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 selected
missions. "Phoenix will land farther north on Mars than any previous
mission," said Phoenix Project Manager Barry Goldstein of NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

  "The Phoenix mission not only studies the northern permafrost region,
but takes the next step in Mars exploration by determining whether this
region, which may encompass as much as 25 percent of the Martian surface,
is habitable," said Peter Smith, Phoenix principal investigator at the
University of Arizona, Tucson.

The solar-powered robotic lander will manipulate a 2.35 meter arm (7.7
foot) to scoop up samples of underground ice and soil lying above the
ice. Onboard laboratory instruments will analyze the samples. Cameras and
a Canadian-supplied weather station will supply other information about
the site's environment.

One research goal is to assess whether conditions at the site ever have
been favorable for microbial life. The composition and texture of soil
above the ice could give clues to whether the ice ever melts in response
to long-term climate cycles. Another important question is whether the
scooped-up samples contain carbon-based chemicals that are potential
building blocks and food for life.

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, visit:


Remove yourself from all mailings from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Generated by Mnemosyne 0.12.