Phoenix on Mars

Phoenix, NASA/JPL’s new Mars polar lander, has successfully touched down in the Martian north polar region. This landing was more of a nail-biter than usual, given that the last polar lander mission was lost during descent in 1999; but Phoenix (rising from the ashes of the Mars Polar Lander mission, I guess) performed wonderfully, going through its seven minutes of terror in a near-flawless EDL, coming to rest smoothly and safely on a flat, almost perfectly-level Martian plain.

I was watching the event live simultaneously on NASA TV and in Second Life, and was as excited as everyone else at JPL to see the first photos come in:

Phoenix Mars Lander - first raw images Phoenix Mars Lander - first raw images Phoenix Mars Lander - first raw images Phoenix Mars Lander - first raw images

Just as amazing is this photo from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which captures Phoenix during descent, hanging from its parachute — a historic first for unmanned spacecraft-to-spacecraft interplanetary photography. The fact that Phoenix landed at all is reason enough for celebration; these additional tech perks — a parachute photo and a flawless descent — must make the mission engineers and scientists positively giddy with Martian delight.

And this is just the start. Over the next ninety Martian days, Phoenix will begin digging into the soil to search for water ice, signs of organic compounds, and possibly life — or its remnants. Congratulations and continued wishes of good luck to the JPL crew — and of course, don’t forget the rovers, still running after four [Earth] years on the Martian surface.

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