MARS MISSION UPDATE: Phoenix Mars Lander Makes 'Footprint' With Robotic Arm
This artist's concept depicts NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander a moment before its planned touchdown on the arctic plains of Mars in May 2008.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Phoenix's Robotic Arm Makes 'Footprint'
02 June 2008 9:40 a.m. EDT

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander reached out and touched the Martian surface for the first time with the scoop at the end of its robotic arm on Saturday, leaving a "footprint" in the soil. This "soil touch," as mission scientists call it is the first step toward digging for soil and ice samples with the robotic arm.

"This first touch allows us to utilize the Robotic Arm accurately. We are in a good situation for the upcoming sample acquisition and transfer," said David Spencer, Phoenix's surface mission manager from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The impression left in the soil was photographed by the lander's stereo camera. The spot where the slight dent was left has been provisionally named "Yeti" (the team is using names from fairy tales and folk lore to designate the surface features around the landing site).

Click here for SPACE.com's NASA TV feed or here for an archive of SPACE.com?s Phoenix mission coverage.

--Andrea Thompson

Phoenix May Have Exposed Ice Upon Landing
01 June 2008 2:50 p.m. EDT

On Friday night, mission scientists received an image back from Phoenix of its underbelly that further suggest the lander exposed a layer of rock-hard ice when it landed on the Martian surface.

The spacecraft maneuvered its robotic arm to take another image of the surface underneath it, which showed patches of smooth and level surfaces just under the thrusters that slowed the craft down as it approached the surface during its landing last Sunday.

"We were expecting to find ice within two to six inches of the surface," said Phoenix principal investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona. "The thrusters have excavated two to six inches and, sure enough, we see something that looks like ice. It's not impossible that it's something else, but our leading interpretation is ice."

Click here for SPACE.com's NASA TV feed or here for an archive of SPACE.com?s Phoenix mission coverage.

--Andrea Thompson

Phoenix Lander Makes First Robotic Arm Move
28 May 2008 7:32 a.m. EDT

NASA?s Phoenix Mars Lander has successfully moved its robotic arm for the first time, mission managers said in a late Wednesday status update.

Click here for a new image from Phoenix that shows the movement of the arm?s elbow.

Phoenix released the protective latches that secured the 7.7-foot (2.3-meter) robotic arm during launch and landing, then moved it up and off of a holding pin on the top of the lander. The move is the first stage of a planned two-day process to completely deploy the robotic arm.

Phoenix landed on the flat plains of Vastitas Borealis in the Martian arctic late Sunday to begin a three-month to study subsurface Martian water ice. The $422 million mission is aimed at determining whether the region could have once been habitable for primitive life.

A mission status briefing is expected to air live on NASA TV from Phoenix?s mission control center at the University of Arizona in Tucson today at about 2:00 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT).

NASA will broadcast Phoenix?s mission updates on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com's NASA TV feed or here for an archive of SPACE.com?s Phoenix mission coverage.

--Andrea Thompson


Repaired Orbiter Receives Information from Phoenix
28 May 2008 1:00 a.m. EDT

NASA?s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) was able to successfully receive information from the Phoenix Mars Lander on Tuesday evening after going into standby mode earlier that day for a still unknown cause, NASA announced on Tuesday.

The transmission included images and other information from the lander after its second day on Mars.

The glitch with MRO?s radio antenna had prevented mission controllers from sending any new instructions to Phoenix on Tuesday morning, but the lander carried out a series of backup commands instead. NASA?s Mars Odyssey Orbiter is scheduled to send Phoenix a new set of commands on Wednesday morning.

NASA will broadcast Phoenix?s mission updates on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com's NASA TV feed or here for an archive of SPACE.com?s Phoenix mission coverage.

--Andrea Thompson


Phoenix in Good Health Despite Radio Glitch
27 May 2008 3:35 p.m. EDT

NASA?s Phoenix Mars Lander is in good health, though a glitch ? the first snag of its mission ? has prompted the radio on one of the probe?s relay craft to shut down, mission managers said Tuesday.

The radio on NASA?s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which communicates with Phoenix, has shut itself off due to an unknown problem, but the lander itself appears to be in fine shape, mission managers said today in a daily briefing.

MRO is one of several spacecraft orbiting Mars that can serve as a relay between Phoenix and Earth. NASA?s Mars Odyssey and Europe?s Mars Express can also serve as relays for the probe, which landed on the red planet late Sunday.

Mission scientists also released new images of Phoenix sitting on its Martian arctic landing site as seen by MRO.

A wrap up of today?s Phoenix briefing will be posted to the SPACE.com home page shortly.

NASA will broadcast Phoenix?s mission updates on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com's NASA TV feed or here for an archive of SPACE.com?s Phoenix mission coverage.

-- Tariq Malik


Phoenix Beams Back More Mars Images
27 May 2008 12:15 p.m. EDT

Last night, Phoenix mission scientists received dozens more raw images of the Martian arctic surface and the spacecraft itself after linking up with NASA?s Mars Odyssey Orbiter.

The images and new data beamed back from the lander show that it was in good health after its first night on Mars.

A mosaic image on NASA?s Phoenix mission page shows a portion of the lander?s solar array, part of the lander deck, and some of the terrain around the landing site. Over the next few days, mission scientists will image more of the lander to make sure its instruments are in good condition. They will also be taking a 360-degree panorama of the landing site.

NASA will broadcast Phoenix?s mission updates on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com's NASA TV feed or here for an archive of SPACE.com?s Phoenix mission coverage.

--Andrea Thompson


Phoenix Spacecraft?s Mars Landing Caught on Camera
26 May 2008 2:18 p.m. EDT

A NASA orbiter caught a snapshot of the Phoenix Mars Lander?s descent as it drifted toward a successful Sunday landing under its parachutes, mission managers said Monday.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured images of Phoenix dangling from its parachute during the probe?s seven-minute plunge toward the northern polar region of Mars.

?This is an engineer?s delight,? Phoenix project manager Barry Goldstein said in a mission update today at NASA?s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. ?When this was first proposed, I was very skeptical.?

In the new black and white image unveiled today, Phoenix?s parachute is clearly visible as a white blotch, which is connected to the spacecraft itself via faint lines.

Phoenix landed successfully late Sunday in the Vastitas Borealis region of Mars, with mission control at JPL receiving its first signal from the spacecraft at about 7:53 p.m. EDT (2353 GMT). The probe later sent home its first images indicating its solar arrays were deployed and unveiling the first views of the Martian arctic.

Click here for SPACE.com?s account of the Phoenix landing.

NASA will broadcast Phoenix?s mission updates on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com's NASA TV feed or here for an archive of SPACE.com?s Phoenix mission coverage.

-- Tariq Malik


 

Phoenix Mars Probe?s Solar Arrays Deployed, First Images Sent
25 May 2008 10:02 p.m. EDT

The first images of the Martian arctic are streaming into NASA?s Phoenix Mars Lander control room, prompting cheers and applause as the photographs come in.

In the images, Phoenix?s two fan-like solar arrays are visibly deployed. Other photographs show one of the spacecraft?s footpads, which engineers will use to see how deep Phoenix sunk into the Mars surface after landing. Other images show the Mars horizon off in the distance.

?It looks as if the solar arrays have completely deployed, absolutely beautiful,? said Dan McCleese, chief scientist at NASA?s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. ?It?s just beautiful, crystal clear images.?

?These images are telling us we?ve got a healthy configuration for the spacecraft,? he said.

Click here for SPACE.com?s account of tonight?s landing.

Click here for a guide of NASA?s Phoenix mission coverage this weekend.

NASA will broadcast Phoenix?s mission updates on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com's NASA TV feed or here for an archive of SPACE.com?s Phoenix mission coverage.

-- Tariq Malik


NASA Reviews Phoenix Probe?s Landing on Mars
25 May 2008 9:42 p.m. EDT

NASA engineers and scientists are going over the first batch of data from the Phoenix Mars Lander via the Mars Odyssey and Reconnaissance Orbiters circling the red planet after tonight?s successful landing.

Click here for a look inside the mission control room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory after landing confirmation.

Phoenix appears to have landed as expected, though its parachute opened about seven seconds later than initially planned. So far, the spacecraft?s systems appear to be functioning well.

Engineers are eagerly looking forward to a new communications pass, which should return more data that they hope will confirm that Phoenix has successfully deployed its vital solar arrays that will power its three-month mission.

??We will take pictures of the solar panels first to make sure they?ve deployed properly because that?s our life support system,? said Phoenix principal investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona.

With NASA?s Phoenix Mars Lander?s apparently successful landing on the arctic Martian plains, mission managers are preparing for the next major milestones.

Click here for SPACE.com?s account of tonight?s landing.

Click here for a guide of NASA?s Phoenix mission coverage this weekend.

NASA will broadcast Phoenix?s mission updates on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com's NASA TV feed or here for an archive of SPACE.com?s Phoenix mission coverage.

-- Tariq Malik


Phoenix Mission Team Conducts Post-Landing Poll
25 May 2008 8:33 p.m. EDT

With NASA?s Phoenix Mars Lander?s apparently successful landing on the arctic Martian plains, mission managers are preparing for the next major milestones.

Since landing, Phoenix should have deployed its vital solar arrays, but the spacecraft is out of communications range with NASA spacecraft circling Mars that serve its relay to Earth. A post-landing poll is expected to be conducted shortly, with live NASA commentary to resume at about 9:30 p.m. EDT (0130 May 26 GMT). ?

Here?s a rundown of the anticipated series of post-landing events for Phoenix:

ALL Times Pacific Daylight Time

-- Begin opening solar arrays (during radio silence) 5:13 p.m. 

-- Begin NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter playback of Phoenix transmissions recorded during entry, descent and landing, 5:28 p.m. However, data for analysis will not be ready until several hours later. 

-- Begin Europe's Mars Express spacecraft playback of Phoenix transmissions recorded during entry, descent and landing, 5:30 p.m. However, data for analysis will not be ready until several hours later. 
-- Post-landing poll of subsystem teams about spacecraft status, 5:30 p.m. 

-- Mars Odyssey "bent-pipe" relay of transmission from Phoenix, with engineering data and possibly including first images, 6:43 to 7:02 p.m. Data could take up to about 30 additional minutes in pipeline before being accessible. If all goes well, live television feed from control room may show first images as they are received. The first images to be taken after landing will be of solar arrays, to check deployment status. 

NASA will resume live coverage of the landing at about 9:30 p.m. EDT (0130 May 26 GMT).

Click here for SPACE.com?s account of tonight?s landing.

Click here for a guide of NASA?s Phoenix mission coverage this weekend.

NASA will broadcast Phoenix?s mission updates on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com's NASA TV feed or here for an archive of SPACE.com?s Phoenix mission coverage.

-- Tariq Malik


TOUCHDOWN! Phoenix Lands on Mars!
25 May 2008 8:04 p.m. EDT

NASA?s Phoenix Mars Lander has apparently successfully survived the descent to Mars and has landed on the planet?s arctic plains.

"Phoenix has landed! Phoenix has landed!" shouted a NASA commentator. ?Welcome to the northern plains of Mars!"

Mission controllers erupted into applause and cheers, trading smiles and hugs as they received the signal that Phoenix set down on the broad flat plains of Vastitas Borealis on Mars. At times, mission engineers audibly celebrated the fact that Phoenix landed on terrain with just a quarter-degree of tilt.

?In my dreams, it could not go as perfectly as it did tonight," Phoenix project manager Barry Goldstein said after landing. "We went right down the middle."

Meanwhile, back in Denver, Colorado, Phoenix?s builders at Lockheed Martin were on pins an needles as they received landing confirmation. Here?s a report from SPACE.com Special Correspondent Leonard David at the scene:

Engineers and mission operators here are pointing to their computer screens, huddled together and looking at data lines intently. Touchdown and hugs all around. Phoenix has landed!

Click here for SPACE.com?s preview of tonight?s landing.

Click here for a guide of NASA?s Phoenix mission coverage this weekend.

 NASA will broadcast Phoenix?s mission updates on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com's NASA TV feed or here for an archive of SPACE.com?s Phoenix mission coverage.

 

-- Tariq Malik


Phoenix Enters Martian Atmosphere for Landing
25 May 2008 7:48 p.m. EDT

NASA?s Phoenix Mars Lander has entered the Martian atmosphere to begin the 7-minute plunge for landing. ?

Here?s NASA?s look at the the major events ahead: (TIMES ARE PACIFIC DAYLIGHT TIME)

-- Likely blackout period as hot plasma surrounds spacecraft, 4:47 through 4:49 p.m. 

-- Parachute deploys, 4:50:15 p.m., plus or minus about 13 seconds. 

-- Heat shield jettisoned, 4:50:30 p.m., plus or minus about 13 seconds. 

-- Legs deploy, 4:50:40 p.m., plus or minus about 13 seconds.

- Radar activated, 4:51:30 p.m. 

-- Lander separates from backshell, 4:53:09 p.m., plus or minus about 46 seconds. 

-- Transmission gap during switch to helix antenna 4:53:08 to 4:53:14 p.m. 

-- Descent thrusters throttle up, 4:53:12 p.m. 

-- Constant-velocity phase starts, 4:53:34 p.m., plus or minus about 46 seconds. 

-- Touchdown, 4:53:52 p.m., plus or minus about 46 seconds. 

Click here for SPACE.com?s preview of tonight?s landing.

Click here for a guide of NASA?s Phoenix mission coverage this weekend.

NASA will broadcast Phoenix?s mission updates on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com's NASA TV feed or here for an archive of SPACE.com?s Phoenix mission coverage.

-- Tariq Malik


Phoenix Spacecraft Jettisons Cruise Stage
25 May 2008 7:43 p.m. EDT

NASA?s Phoenix Mars Lander has successfully jettisoned the cruise stage that has served as its lifeline during the 422 million mile trek to Mars. Seconds later, the spacecraft began beaming entry and landing data back to Earth via a relay through NASA?s Mars Odyssey spacecraft.

Mission controllers at NASA?s Jet Propulsion Laboratory let loose a brief round of applause and cheers to mark the milestone?s success. The spacecraft is due to enter the Martian atmosphere at 7:46 p.m. EDT (2346 GMT).

Mission controllers hope to receive their first signal from the spacecraft from the Martian surface at 7:53 p.m. EDT (2353 GMT) if all goes well.

Click here for a guide of NASA?s Phoenix mission coverage this weekend.

NASA will broadcast Phoenix?s mission updates on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com's NASA TV feed or here for an archive of SPACE.com?s Phoenix mission coverage.

-- Tariq Malik


Tension Mounts for Phoenix Mars Lander?s Builders
25 May 2008 7:31 p.m. EDT

As NASA?s Phoenix Mars Lander continues toward its planned landing tonight, SPACE.com special correspondent Leonard David has this report from Denver, Colorado, home of Phoenix builder Lockeed Martin:

Here at Lockheed Martin Space Systems near Denver, Colorado, "families and friends" of those that have worked long hours over many years on the Phoenix project have gathered here in a packed conference room. Tension is high, as is hope. Mission operators here are also monitoring the overall status of both the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as well as the Odyssey orbiter now circling the red planet. These two spacecraft will provide critical services during the Phoenix mission.

Phoenix has turned off its navigation star tracker as planned and is now flying solely on its own inertial measurement unit, NASA said.

The next major milestone will be cruise stage separation at about 7:39 p.m. EDT (2339 GMT), where Phoenix separates from the carrier that ferried it along its 422 million-mile (679 million-km) trek to Mars.

Mission controllers hope to receive their first signal from the spacecraft from the Martian surface at 7:53 p.m. EDT (2353 GMT) if all goes well.

Click here for SPACE.com?s preview of tonight?s landing.

Click here for a guide of NASA?s Phoenix mission coverage this weekend.

NASA will broadcast Phoenix?s mission updates on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com's NASA TV feed or here for an archive of SPACE.com?s Phoenix mission coverage.

-- Tariq Malik


Phoenix Spacecraft Pressurizes Fuel Tanks for Landing
25 May 2008 7:23 p.m. EDT

NASA?s Phoenix Mars Lander has successfully pressurized its propulsion system for today?s planned landing in the Martian arctic.

?This is one of our critical events and it?s now behind us,? NASA commentator Robert Shotwell, a project systems engineer at the agency?s Jet Propulsion Laboratory where the landing is being controlled.

The next major milestone will be cruise stage separation at about 7:39 p.m. EDT (2339 GMT), where Phoenix separates from the carrier that ferried it along its 422 million-mile (679 million-km) trek to Mars.

Mission controllers hope to receive their first signal from the spacecraft from the Martian surface at 7:53 p.m. EDT (2353 GMT) if all goes well.

Click here for SPACE.com?s preview of tonight?s landing.

Click here for a guide of NASA?s Phoenix mission coverage this weekend.

NASA will broadcast Phoenix?s mission updates on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com's NASA TV feed or here for an archive of SPACE.com?s Phoenix mission coverage.

-- Tariq Malik


Phoenix Spacecraft to Prime Engines for Landing
25 May 2008 7:00 p.m. EDT

With landing approaching, NASA?s Phoenix Mars Lander is approaching its first major milestone: the pressurization of its propulsion system to prepare for its descent to the Martian arctic.