PostHeaderIcon Phoenix Landing

What’s the Deal with Phoenix?
Phoenix is going to Mars’s North Pole. Although it does NOT have rover, it has a 7.7 foot long arm.

2008_04_23 Phoenix Lander

Credit: JPL/NASA/University of Arizona
Caption: Phoenix Lander

What is Phoenix Doing?
Basically? Looking for place life could have been, or could be in the future. (N.B. This is not the same as looking for life).

WATER: Objective 1: Study the History of Water in All its Phases
We know there’s a little water vapor in Mars’s atmosphere, and a bit of water ice mixed in with the carbon dioxide ice at the poles. There are also a few pieces of evidence that there is liquid water in various places. Phoenix will be studying Mars’s water, because Mars is important for three basic reasons.
It shapes land and geology.
Life, as we know it, needs liquid water.
People need water – and can make air (O2) out of water. If we know of or find water there it will simplify human exploration of Mars.

LIFE: Objective 2: Search for Evidence of Habitable Zone and Asses the Biological Potential of the Ice-Soil Boundary.
People are alive. People like having relationships. People connect with living things (other people, cats, fish … bacteria …). This means we are deeply interested in finding life, and that’s a driving force behind all exploration and education about exploration. Objective 2 is a very fancy and specific way of investigating if life could have been on Mars, and where.

What’s Happening on May 25?
EDL. Entry, Descent, and Landing. So, our success rate with arriving safely at Mars is currently not the best. In fact, for US launches, we have about a 70% success rate (Spirit and Opportunity helped boost us up from 50%).

Just like every entry into any atmosphere (Apollo 11 on Earth, Huygens on Titan, Stardust on Earth, all three rovers on Mars), Phoenix will be protected by a heat shield as it uses friction braking against the atmosphere to slow it to a semi-reasonable speed.
Once again – just like other atmospheric descents – once Phoenix has slowed to Mach 1.7 a parachute will open to slow the lander even more. So far, so good. We know how to do this.
Here’s where it differs. This will be a powered landing. When the lander disconnects from the parachute instead of inflating airbags it will turn on rockets: landing thrusters. Hopefully this will finish off the descent in a controlled manner. NASA believes this will work – or they wouldn’t have planned it this way. Personally, I see a lot more ways for things to go wrong.

2008_04_23 Phoenix Landing Site

Credit: JPL/NASA/University of Arizona
Caption: Phoenix Landing Site

So, on May 25 turn your browser to and watch those seven minutes of EDL. Cross your fingers, and check out those first images.

What Instruments Does Phoenix Have?
In short, there are many instruments onboard. The coolest part though? There’s a wet chemistry lab (chemicals, water, experiments to do on samples of Martian ice and soil), and eight tiny ovens to heat and melt similar samples. How exciting!

Don’t Miss These Videos!
Phoenix: Blinded With Science:
Seven Minutes of Terror:

Want More?
NASA’s Phoenix Website –
University of Arizona’s Phoenix Website –
Failed Missions To Mars –

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