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A Look Back at a Noble Mars Lander2009-05-24 23:28:52

On the first anniversary of the Phoenix Mars Lander's touchdown, we know a lot more about Mars than we did a year ago Phoenix Lander Touches Down, May 25, 2008: Corby Waste (Mars program artist, Jet ...
On the first anniversary of the Phoenix Mars Lander's touchdown, we know a lot more about Mars than we did a year ago
Image from so77.net Phoenix Lander Touches Down, May 25, 2008: Corby Waste (Mars program artist, Jet Propulsion Laboratory/NASA)

One year ago, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, and the University of Arizona held their breath as the Phoenix Mars Lander hurtled toward its final descent and touchdown in the northern arctic plains of Mars. It was the first spacecraft landing on Mars without airbags since Viking 2 landed in 1976.

At 4:53:44 PM Pacific time on May 25, 2008, radio signals confirmed that Phoenix had survived its final descent and had landed safely on the Martian surface. The tricky and precise maneuvers involved with the spacecraft's entry, descent, and landing were executed in a manner described as "textbook perfect," leaving Phoenix poised almost perfectly level on the Martian surface. And the crowd at Mission Control went wild.

By the end of October, seasonal sunlight at the landing site was declining, and the solar arrays could no longer generate the battery power needed to operate the Lander's instruments. On November 2, after operating for two months beyond its expected three-month life, Phoenix transmitted its final brief signal via NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter. "Phoenix has given us some surprises, and I'm confident we will be pulling more gems from this trove of data for years to come," said Peter Smith, the Phoenix mission's principal investigator.

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