All systems go: NASA's Mars Lander safely touches down

The space agency confirmed the landing just before 8 p.m. US EDT Sunday

The Phoenix has landed.

After a nine-month, 422-million-mile voyage, followed by a delicate series of manuevers that slowed the Phoenix Mars Lander from about 13,000 mph to just 5 mph at touchdown seven minutes later, NASA tonight has placed a spacecraft on the Martian surface.

"A signal has been detected from Phoenix indicating that the lander is on the surface of Mars," NASA reported on its Web site just after the 7:53 p.m. EDT landing.

For NASA, the successful landing was a long time coming. More than eight years ago, in December 1999, NASA's Mars Polar Lander project came to a disastrous end when the craft's descent engines shut down early as it prepared to land on the Martian surface. That lander went out of control from a high altitude, crashed and was destroyed.

That mission was followed by the successes of the two 2004 Mars rover missions, which have been traversing the planet in a series of experiments and exploratory missions. The rovers, however, were delivered to the Mars surface in large, cushy "air bags" that bounced onto the surface. Later the air bags deflated and the rovers drove out of them and began their work.

Lander descents are much trickier, because they use large parachutes and thruster engines to bring the craft into a controlled approach to the surface.

The last time NASA had successfully landed a spacecraft this way on Mars was in 1976, when the Viking I and Viking II landers touched down safely for a series of science and photography missions.

At NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasdena, California, where the mission is being monitored, the safe touchdown of the Phoenix brought cheers and smiles, said Randii Wessen, a NASA project system engineer. "We were all cheering and hugging. These things are like your children. You want them to succeed. We're all excited."

As the lander approached the planet's surface, "it gently touched the ground," he said. "At about five mph, it just parked [itself]. It's got about a one-degree tilt. It's just parked very neatly and flat. It's just great."

Once the dust raised by the descent thrusters settled after a few minutes, Phoenix was set to deploy its solar panel array so it can begin quickly generating electricity for its experiments and other on-board systems, Wessen said.

Once the panels are deployed, the lander was expected to begin sending data back to Earth via three orbiting spacecraft that will relay the information to project scientists. The first live photographs from Phoenix were expected to begin arriving about 10 p.m. US EDT, he said. The lander will have to raise its camera mast and antenna mast before it could begin sending photos, he said.

The likely subject of those first photos will probably be the craft's solar panels to be sure that they properly deployed, according to Wessen.

The Phoenix now begins a three-month-long science mission made up of a series of soil analysis projects that involve digging lightly into the Mars surface to study the history of water, ice and life potential in the planet's soil.

"We think it's way cool," Wessen said of the successful landing.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Todd R. Weiss

Computerworld
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?