Dear Phoenix: All Our Hopes

Article written: 24 May , 2008
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
by

Dear Phoenix lander,

As I write this you are still tucked safely inside your spacecraft, speeding towards your destination on Mars. The engineers watching over you during this journey tell us you are healthy, doing well, and are so zeroed in on your target that they may not need to adjust your trajectory. However, they’ll provide a gentle nudge to alter your course if they deem it necessary.

It looks like you’ll have good weather for your arrival, with no significant dust storms predicted at the northern polar region of Mars. It’s always nice to have good weather for a landing.

Just to let you know, when you reach the Red Planet, your descent through the atmosphere might be a little scary. In fact, people back on Earth are calling it “7 Minutes of Terror.” But, to be upfront with you, it’s actually closer to 8 minutes that you’ll have to slow from your incoming speed of about 21,000 kph (13,000 mph) to about 8 kph ( 5 mph) just before you touch down on the surface. I know, I know – you’re probably wondering why the Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity only had 6 minutes of terror to endure, and you have almost 8. You’re landing at a lower site on Mars surface, and so you’ll have a longer ride down.


But in fact, it might be scarier for all of us back on Earth who will be aching to know of your progress, than it will be for you. Your ablator heat shield will keep you room-temperature cool, even though the outside temperatures may reach 3,000 degrees Celsius.

You’ll also have a little longer ride on your parachute than the MER — 2 minutes versus 1 minute, although you won’t be traveling anywhere near a leisurely speed. And don’t worry about the parachute design. It’s the same type of parachute that was used for the Viking Landers back in the 1970’s and for MER. It’s tried and tested.

You have 12 thrusters to slow you down just before you land. May they serve you well.

But don’t worry about being alone during these 7-plus minutes. People from all around Earth will be watching and waiting to hear how your journey is progressing. More significantly, scientists and engineers from many different countries will be monitoring your journey with large telescopes and antennas from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the Deep Space Network, listening for the signals and tracking your progress, to keep an eye on how you’re doing.

However, to be honest with you, all of us back on Earth will only receive your transmissions 15 minutes after the fact of whatever occurs. But so many people have put a tremendous amount of time and effort into ensuring that your systems will perform flawlessly. We have great faith in their efforts and tremendous confidence in your capabilities.

But you definitely won’t be alone because there are other spacecraft at Mars that will be ready to welcome you on your arrival, by scanning for your transmissions. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Mars Odyssey and Mars Express, will all be searching for your signals, and MRO will even try to take a picture of you as you descend with your parachute.

You are undertaking a new adventure of exploration and discovery. We anticipate all that you will help us learn about Mars and its climate history by digging down through the arctic ice.

Please know we are all thinking of you and wishing you every success in your journey and subsequent scientific investigations.

Take care, Phoenix, and please call after you land to let us know if you’ve arrived safely.

All our hopes,
Your friends back on Earth

Real-time video of Phoenix’s descent and landing.


34 Responses

  1. Anton W says

    Poetic and Scientific, all in one. Beautifully written. We wish for your safety, Phoenix.

  2. Fernando Portella says

    Nancy: Just beautiful. Writing ( to the Lander ) in such a personal way makes us all realize the love and care one can have for the machines that now represent the human race, out there, in space exploration. We really do wish you good luck, Phoenix. Go for it.

  3. Mek says

    Beautiful write up. Good luck Phoenix! My fingers are crossed so tightly I think they’ll be fused by the time you set down.

  4. MrBill says

    It’ll crash.

  5. Régis Knechtel says

    Beautiful! Good luck Phoenix, we’re all wishing you arrive in safety. Call us when you get there 🙂

  6. Helio George says

    Nice sentiment.

    I first thought this might be an ecard we could all sign and send to those who are probably getting little sleep tonight. Have you ever tried doing a Universe Today eCard to let them know we care? Just a suggestion.

  7. Dennis L. Maxberry says

    fine as a grain of sand, become aware that it exists; suddenly sweetly it finds a glow in desert of such. Life is it see it, be it.

  8. ggita stephen says

    hey cant wait to hear the news of the probes landing its 12:45 pm East African time wonder when am to hear the great news otherswise good luck phoenix

  9. autumn says

    Given that fifteen minute communication lag, by the time we first lose contact with the probe, won’t it have already landed in its local time?
    Strange to think of awaiting a future that is someone else’s past.

  10. Unbeliever says

    what time will it be arriving at mars?

  11. Astrofiend says

    Fare ye well little Phoenix! Hopefully landing at 9:38 am Australian Eastern Standard Time – my boss basically already knows that no work will be getting done tomorrow morning. Then the rest of the day will be spent either celebrating a great beginning to a great mission, or, well, the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about really!

  12. owen says

    What a beautiful heartfelt piece of writing. Good luck Phoenix.

  13. Cate Coyne says

    So beautifully written. What more can I say except that all goes well. Good luck, Phoenix!

  14. Bob says

    Nice piece of writing, well done.

  15. Giovanni M Bertolini says

    You can´t imagine how far I have been traveling with this spacecraft. I´m excited to land on!

  16. Spock's Brain says

    Let’s hope the Great Galactic Ghoul doesn’t catch Phoenix. Thumbs up and good luck on landing. Oh, and did I mention breaking thruster failure, landing thruster failure, or any other that will result in complete loss of spacecraft. Not to mention communications failure.

    I calculate the chances of success at 1 in 2. Meaning it’ll work or it won’t. Too many variables. Long live and prosper, Phoenix.

  17. Samarth says

    very well written Nancy

  18. David says

    Dear Phoenix,

    Just a couple of more things.

    First, remember who your daddy is. NASA is your daddy. NASA can turn you off any time it wants. If daddy doesn’t get what it wants, you might wind up on the old chopping block.

    Second, remember who your momma is. Your momma is the legislative and executive branch of the United States government. Don’t mess with momma. You will be wise to remember that your momma can cut you off anytime it wants. Your momma runs any way the wind blows. So if Mars doesn’t look fashionable to your momma, you just remember you may not be around to do your bit for science.

    Finally, dear Phoenix, remember the people that created you. In spite of some well meaning and well trained scientists and engineers, they still are part of a society with an attention span about as long as a song on I-Tunes. So you just remember because not too many people may remember past, say, tomorrow.

    Good luck Phoenix. I love you dearly.

  19. Sci-Fi Si says

    Go Phoenix Go!

    Hopefully Newton’s gravity calculations won’t be too far off the mark as I suspect you might fare better using the ‘gravity’ calculations in Expansion Theory, but who knows?

    Go my little, fuzzbutt, computer, inter solar exploration thing – GO!

  20. marcellus says

    Phoenix made it. Well done. This should be very interesting.

    Screw Mr. Bill and David’s comments.

  21. Sci-Fi Si says

    Phoenix has landed safely!! 12:54 GMT

    Yippeee!!!

  22. ed says

    I watched the landing.
    Amazing feeling!
    Wonderful achievement! GO PHENIX!

  23. McCorvic says

    YES! I’m so excited! I watched it live and just…amazing.

  24. Astrofiend says

    Goddamn that was exciting to see live on NASA TV. Almost crapped myself… Yieew! Now hook us up with some of that juicy science…

  25. Spock's Brain says

    We get signal, move Zig! I watched it live too, I was waiting for the mandatory “The Phoenix has landed”, and it came. Now for the real business, there’s been no confirmation that all the systems are ok and the solar panels opened up ok. Let’s hope they get the “minor things” needed for science done after a successful landing.

  26. Spock's Brain says

    Okay, now it seems they have no signal beyond the initial touchdown. Fingers crossed.

  27. Gavin Flower says

    I had just finished reading:

    http://www.universetoday.com/2008/05/24/dear-phoenix-all-our-hopes

    Unfortunately I had a job interview scheduled (11am NZST) for an hour before touch down which was close to noon in New Zealand, or I would have been glued to my computer screen. Fortunately the interview went well, and if I get it, then I will be able to use Linux at work & at home!

    I was attending a stage 1 Physics lecture about solonoids at Auckland University, when Man first landed on the Moon.

    All the very best to the huge team who worked to get the lander safely to Mars, those who prepared the experiments – and not least, those who will look after it from Earth.

    Warm regards,

    Gavin

    P.S. We all _KNOW_ the landing was faked! Right Phil? 🙂

  28. Shamith says

    Beautiful write up, Nancy.

    If Phonenix could read, it would have been on top of the world…er Mars 🙂

  29. Imaskeptic says

    They sent black and white photos … why ?
    Because they had to , since they actually took the photos in the Arizona desert and the colors would not be Red if taken by a color camera and instead would be whatever colors the Arizona desert has. Later , they will have had enough time to doctor the Arizona desert photos to show red only which everyone knows is the Mars true color.

  30. JoAnn Chabot says

    Ah thank you for this. This one goes into my grandson’s book that I am making for him. This explained Phoenix so beautifully. When he grows up I want these really important things available to him!!

  31. PHWilson says

    God’s Speed Phoeniz, may your miraculous landing be a portent of wonders to come,.

  32. Elena says

    Прикольно написано. Почти за душу цепляет, заставляет поразмышлять над собственным блогом. С уважением, Елена.

  33. Пузаков А says

    А что Вы скажете, если я возьму на себя смелость утверждать, что все Ваши сообщения, не более чем выдумка?

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