The Mars lander, Phoenix, is less than an hour from the surface of Mars as I type (currently doing preconditioning before entering the Martian atmosphere). I readily admit that I love this stuff. Since about half of these landings have gone poorly, there is certainly no guarantee that this will go well. And because the planned landing site is so near the polar ice cap, this has been a very highly anticipated mission.
I have allowed myself to think of things other than Pre-Teen Camp today, taking a break to play a round of Canasta with my wife (on Team Smith) and my aunt-in-law and my sister-in-law (on Team Not-Smith) and now to watch the live coverage of Phoenix’s landing on the Science Channel. (Coverage is also available on the Internet on three different channels here: http://www.nasa.gov/.)
Given some of the more unpleasant endings to Mars missions, I don’t know if anyone has been making any Phoenix/ashes remarks, yet, and I don’t have the energy to attempt one here. 🙂 (UPDATE: Scratch that: just heard the dude on TV make one.) (UPDATE #2: Just heard another one, about 90 seconds later.)
Of note on this mission: (1) It will be a soft landing instead of an “air bag” landing, just like the old Viking missions (5 of our last 6 missions have been successful, but 3 of them have been air bag landings); (2) though Phoenix is not a rover, it will have a robotic arm that can dig up soil for analysis; and (3) it should be landing among much water ice–a first for a planet other than the one we live on.
It is also worth noting that it is a relatively cheap mission. We have discussed the cost of Mars missions before (or at least mentioned them here in a post, “Spirit is willing but NASA’s wallet is weak”, which then turned into a Tomorrow’s World commentary with some tweaking: “As Mars mission ends, our yearning continues”), and this one is much cheaper than the previous Spirit/Opportunity combo.
Well, now I am blogging and missing out on precious TV time, so I will stop here.
OK, I won’t stop yet — the NASA dude on TV just said something funny. The final stage of the Phoenix’s descent is controlled by 12 rockets that are designed to carry it to a safe landing on the ground. When explaining what would happen if one of the rockets failed, he said, “The other eleven rockets will take you straight to the crash site.” Hilarious.
Hope it goes well for you Phoenix! Assuming you make it, tell your cousins Spirit & Opportunity and your big brothers Viking 1 & Viking 2 that we said howdy. We’ll be watching…