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The Phoenix spacecraft is ready for the dangerous landing on Mars

For seven fateful minutes on May 25, the Phoenix spacecraft will cross the Martian atmosphere and land in the Arctic Circle

The landing site of the Phoenix spacecraft is at a much more northerly point than all the other spacecraft that have landed on Mars.
The landing site of the Phoenix spacecraft is at a much more northerly point than all the other spacecraft that have landed on Mars.

NASA's Phoenix spacecraft is preparing for the final leg of its journey to begin a three-month mission to taste and smell a handful of buried soil and ice. The spacecraft is expected to land on Mars on May 25.

Phoenix will reach the edge of the Martian atmosphere at a speed of almost 20 km/h. In seven minutes she will go through a series of events aimed at slowing down to 8 km/h, the speed at which her three legs will touch the ground. The landing confirmation is expected to arrive on Earth around 19:53 EST (02:53 Israel time on May 26).

"Landing a spacecraft on Mars is a difficult and dangerous mission," says Ed Weiler, NASA's Assistant Administrator for Science Missions at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Less than half of the attempts made by various countries all over the world to launch spacecraft to Mars ended successfully."

Rocks large enough to spoil the landing or prevent the solar collectors from opening are the biggest known risk, but images from the high-resolution camera on board the MRO spacecraft will be detailed enough to show rocks even smaller than the lander, which will help reduce the risk.

"We have so far covered the entire landing area with the camera," says Ray Arbidson of Washington University in St. Louis, chairman of the Phoenix Landing Working Group. "This is one of the least rocky areas of Mars, and we are confident that the rocks will not significantly affect the Phoenix's ability to land safely."

NASA personnel integrated into the Phoenix equipment from a spacecraft whose launch was canceled in 2001 after a similar spacecraft crashed during a landing attempt in 1999. Researchers who proposed in 2002 to build the Phoenix mission wanted to use the equipment as a resource to push the launch of a new scientific mission.

Earlier, also in 2002, the Mars Odyssey spacecraft orbiting Mars discovered an abundance of subsurface water ice in large areas in the high latitudes of Mars. NASA chose the Phoenix proposal over 24 other proposals and became the first mission within the SCOUT program from a series of selected missions. "Phoenix will land much further north than any previous mission," says mission manager Barry Goldstein of NASA's JPL in Pasadena, California.

The Phoenix mission is designed not only to investigate the sub-frost region and to determine whether this region, which covers about 25% of the surface of Mars, can allow life to exist." says Peter Smith, Phoenix's principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

The lander, which will receive its energy from solar collectors, will operate a 2.5 meter long robotic arm that will be used to extract samples from the underground ice and the soil that lies above the ice. A laboratory inside the lander will analyze the samples. The cameras and a weather station made in Canada will provide additional information about the environment of the landing area.

The Phoenix landed on Mars. Illustration - NASA
The Phoenix landed on Mars. Illustration - NASA

One of the goals of the research is to assess whether the weather conditions at the landing site allow the existence of bacteria. The composition and structure of the soil above the ice can provide clues as to whether the ice ever melts in response to long-term climate cycles. An important question is whether the samples that will be retrieved will contain carbon-based materials that are potential building blocks and food for life.

The spacecraft was jointly developed by JPL and Lockheed-Martin. The international contributors to the program are the Canadian Space Agency, Neusthal University in Switzerland, the Universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus in Denmark, the Max Planck Institute in Germany, and the Meteorological Institute in Finland.

For information on the NASA website

5 תגובות

  1. On the surface of Mars, the atmospheric pressure is 7-11 millibars, so it seems to me that there is no water on the surface of Mars (perhaps in a limited state for a limited time)
    There may be water in the deposits below the surface, but I don't know if they discovered it.

  2. A topic not addressed in sufficient detail in this article is that "all" of our instruments on and around Mars take part in the Phoenix landing. The orbits around the planet analyzed the landing area over time, and the two probes on the surface (Spirit and Opportunity) will venture to monitor the weather in the atmosphere in real time (wind, sandstorms, etc.). All the missions and all the teams that operate the various missions take part in the safe landing of the Phoenix, and this in light of our dismal history in the Mars region (too many crashes of Russian, British and American vessels). All the information from all the tools that are there will flow directly to the communication room of the Phoenix so that the operators will receive complete information..

  3. If they don't find life in Martian water that hovers around 0 degrees Celsius - I won't believe the report or alternatively I will suspect the testing equipment. I refuse to believe there is no life on Mars. I feel that this belief is almost a religious belief. It is impossible that there is no life in an atmosphere environment between minus one hundred and plus one hundred degrees Celsius. Biofilms are everywhere!

    Looking forward and waiting for the future to come,
    Ami Bachar

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