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May 25, 2008

Mars Mission Project Manager: ‘nothing else to do but watch'

Posted: 04:05 PM ET

Pasadena, California (CNN) – Anxious mission directors are counting the hours and holding their breath as the cruise vehicle for the Phoenix Mars Lander starts to feel the pull of Martian gravity.

Phoenix Mars landing zone in the Martian polar north. The blue ellipse is 60 km by 20 km. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The lander is just hours away from ending its 296-day, 422-million-mile journey, and has about a 50-50 chance of touching down successfully on the arctic plains of the red planet’s polar north.

If all goes well, mission control will hear the lander’s “beep” from the surface in the tense minutes after a planned touchdown of 7:53pm Eastern time.

At the final pre-landing briefing, principal scientific investigator Peter Smith said he has “been feeling the pull of Martian gravity for 15 years”, highlighting just how important this mission is for his life’s work.

He said the scariest moment for him would be losing the lander’s signal during descent. Team members are calling it the “seven minutes of terror”, at which time the spacecraft will be dropping like a hot rock through the super-hot friction of the Martian atmosphere.

The craft has to drop its heat shield, deploy a parachute, and finally fire its thrusters to slow down to a rough, 5 mile-per-hour landing.

“There’s nothing else to do but watch,” said Phoenix project manager Barry Goldstein of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.

Earlier today his team waved off the chance to make one final course-correcting maneuver, and is calculating a ninety-nine percent probability that the lander will touch down inside an ellipse that is 60 kilometers long by 20 kilometers wide.

He said he was agonizing over a diffused rock pile within that landing zone, but that it was only a point-one percent chance the lander would hit it.

- Alex Walker, Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: Mars • NASA • Space

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Stargazerdude   May 25th, 2008 4:16 pm ET


I say that the odds are MUCH better than "50-50" to safe land.

Granted, past history? The odds were not that good.
That was then and this is NOW, have some confidence America and display a little optimisim.

I EXPECT Pheonix to land sucessfully and do some great science... and get the Mars monkey off our back.

Ed Reed   May 25th, 2008 4:43 pm ET

Will the descent (blaze across the Martian sky) be visible from either of the landed rovers, or from any orbiting cameras that might deliver images of that phase of the mission?

James W.   May 25th, 2008 5:35 pm ET

Ed, it is possible that the orbiting camera HiRISE will image Phoenix during entry, though the rovers cannot:

FinTastic   May 25th, 2008 6:47 pm ET

I hope it fails miserably. NASA is unnecessary, wasteful, monopolistic organization that only exists as a way for Members of Congress to send pork back to their home districts. Those tax leeches should go earn an honest living like the rest of us.

And for all you dorks who get turned on by this stuff, donate your own money to these efforts.


Ken H.   May 25th, 2008 8:10 pm ET

Congrat's !! That was something amazing. Great Job to those involded.

chaoserrant   May 25th, 2008 8:44 pm ET

What's the matter FinTastic? Are you afraid that science might shake the Bible Belt theories about the Universe?:)
This is doing chemistry research on another world. Even an idiot can realize the magnitude of this endeavour

Maria Kent Rowell   May 25th, 2008 8:54 pm ET

This message is for Peter Smith: Congratulations! Watched the final minutes of descent on NASA channel. You must have had an anti-gravity moment at touchdown. You deserve this great success! I was in Tucson last week–hope to see you one of these visits–my sister-in-law and her husband just moved there. How proud you must be. Be very proud, Maria

denny eddy   May 25th, 2008 10:49 pm ET

is there any dought that this wouldnt work nasa knows shats up

Paul Olson   May 26th, 2008 2:40 am ET

Someone will certainly ask.."Why spend the money on this"....How much did it cost...etc.

Folks, here are the answers...Space science doesn't cost us....It pays us to the tune of almost $7.00 per dollar invested and here is an explanation of these facts....if you dare!


Peter   May 26th, 2008 5:11 pm ET

A little poem to fuel the passion in our cold technological hearts 🙂

a strut on the ground
in a shade unnatural
banal yet strong

a proof of our will
to hold the stars
in the palm of our hand

oh hear, ye gods of old
oh fear, ye travelers afar
sapiens dominare omnis

Author of Gloaming of the Mind

batesblockwatch   May 25th, 2015 9:06 am ET

I checked into this mission and found that it was successful in 2008. It was concluded when NASA was unable to re-connect with Phoenix in 2010. All of the scientific objectives were met but the craft lost power eventually. Good job!

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