One of the coolest and most important space science missions in a long time is in it’s riskiest phase:
The mission of the Phoenix is to analyze the soils and permafrost of Mars’ arctic tundra for signs of life, either past or present.
But first, everyone on the team has to get the lander on the ground — an event dubbed “seven minutes of terror” by the Mars exploration community.
Seven minutes is all it takes for a spacecraft traveling nearly 13,000 mph to hit the Martian atmosphere, slam on the brakes and reach the ground. During that time, onboard computers will be working at a manic pace as the spacecraft deploys its parachute, jettisons its heat shield, extends its three legs, releases the parachute and finally fires its thrusters to bring it down for a soft landing.
“Everything has to go right,” said NASA Associate Administrator Ed Weiler. “You can’t afford any failures.”
It’s risky business. Historically, 55 percent of all Mars missions have ended in failure.
NASA has posted a schedule of touchdown-related events:
Update 9:18 PM CST:
The first images are in! Future updates will appear in new posts.
Update 8:53 PM CST:
Good news continues to roll in from Mars:
I have a positive power charge, so that tells mission control that solar panels have deployed. Images coming down soon.
Update 8:33 PM CST:
More good news from the folks at JPL via Twitter:
I’ve landed on almost perfectly flat terrain. .25-degree tilt! Everything looking good. Waiting to send data to Earth through Odyssey.
We should see the first image within a few minutes.
Update 6:55 PM CST:
All reports seem to indicate a flawless landing. Now we have to see how Phoenix is performing on the ground. Images are expected soon (before 9 PM CST) and I’ll link them when they’re available.