First Images from Phoenix on Mars

May 26, 2008 By: erik Category: Geeky, Science, USA 477 views

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You need some attitude control.I was really tired after coming back home from the in-laws’ on Sunday, so I went to bed at 10pm, disappointed that I wouldn’t get to witness the landing of the Phoenix spacecraft on Mars at 2am, Spain time. But then I woke up at 1am and couldn’t resist getting up to tune into NASA TV to watch the landing. The more I learned about just what they were trying to do, the more amazed I became at the hubris that they thought they could actually pull it off. An entry heat shield, a parachute, strobing thrusters to decelerate from 100 m/s to 5 m/s for landing while rotating to align perfectly east-west, etc. How could they do that, completely automated, in an environment they can only model?

The actual 15 minutes from atmosphere entry to touchdown were more nail bitingly emotional for me than any close sporting match. I feel ridiculous for making such an unbalanced comparison in the previous sentence. The most important buzzer beater in the history of sports is so unbelievably trivial when compared to the scientific exploration of our solar system. One hundred years from now, no one will care who won the Superbowl, but the course of humanity will have directly been effected by the information gained as a result of tonight’s successful Martian landing.

NASA may be bloated and have its problems, but nowhere will you find an organization so dedicated to planning for every possible system failure and having so many contingency plans to ensure success. I have the utmost respect for their planning and organization. There is no equal in the history of humanity.First images from Phoenix on Mars

First images from Phoenix on Mars

First images from Phoenix on Mars

I’m so proud of my country right now.

  • You know I agree with all of this. I teared up watching this. I always do with these missions and shuttle launches and landing.

    People seem to not understand how remarkably difficult this stuff is to do and how incredibly important it is to everyone involved in the mission. This means everything to them.

    I cannot wait to see the data come in.

  • I came close to tears myself. The problem is that computer animations and special effects are so incredible these days that we’ve become so accustomed to watching truly amazing things with only partial disbelief suspension. In the same way (the only way, really) that it’s possible to watch video of the Sept 11 attacks over and over again, I find it hard to force myself to comprehend that what I witnessed tonight actually happened. As soon as I begin to realize the immense importance, my brain, to prevent meltdown, abstracts it away into the same realm as cinema.

    NASA reporting all systems nominal. Woohoo!

  • My only beef with all of this is the woman they’ve got anchoring the NASA TV coverage. WTF?

  • I agree. She’s terrible!

  • Uncle Neil

    I recently watched a dvd from NASA all about the two very successful Rovers. They had an animation they made showing the landing of each of them. They used facts transmitted from the rovers to create the animation. So during landing the animation showed the height of bounces, number of bounces, distances were all real. It was really cool. I have been out in the bush for a while, out of communications, but thinking about this landing. One of the Rover landed on the very exact spot planned. Phoenix was to land in the Arctic area. Did it hit it’s spot? Where the Rovers landed the temperature ranged from about 80 F to 100 below zero F and battery warming and keeping circuit boards from cracking was the worry. Does Phoenix have a nuclear power plant?

  • Paul

    “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.” – Albert Einstein

    “For NASA, space is still a high priority.” – George W. Bush

  • People seem to not understand how remarkably difficult this stuff is to do

    One group of people who do know how hard it is are the British. They usually just crash their probes straight into the Red Planet. If it does turn out that there is sentient arms bearing life on Mars they may one day decide to fire back if the Brits don’t stop shooting stuff at them.