You probably already forgot, but NASA has a spacecraft heading to Mars right now. The Phoenix Mars Lander has been traveling for almost 10 months, and it’s going to be landing on the surface of Mars in just a few days. Mark your calendar for May 25, 2008. it’s going to be an exciting day.
If everything goes according to plan, the NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander will enter the Martian atmosphere traveling 21,000 km/hour (13,000 mph). It must then slow itself down using a variety of techniques (aerobraking, parachutes and retro-rockets), so that it can softly touch down on the surface of Mars.
Assuming the spacecraft isn’t somehow destroyed during the descent (like what happened to the Mars Polar Lander), the first signals could come back from the Mars Phoenix Lander as early as 2353 UTC (7:53 p.m. EDT).
One of the big concerns to mission planners are large boulders in the landing area. If the Mars Phoenix Lander comes right down on a boulder, it could tip over, or prevent the lander’s solar panels from opening properly. To deal with this risk, mission planners have imaged every meter of the potential landing area using the HiRISE instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and haven’t found many dangerous rocks.
“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 safely.”
When it finally gets down to the surface, the Mars Phoenix Lander will use its 2.35 meter (7.7 foot) robotic arm to scoop up samples of ice located underneath the ground. It has an on-board laboratory capable of analyzing the samples.
Scientists want to know of the region was ever compatible for microbial life. For example, there could be evidence that the ice freezes and melts over the course of the Martian year. This would give Martian bacteria access to liquid water. It might also be possible to find samples of carbon-based chemicals that would be the building blocks and food for life.
The mission is expected to last 3 months.
So like I said, mark your calendars. We’re less than 2 weeks away.
Original Source: NASA News Release