Update @ 7.54pm!!!
Phoenix has successfully landed on Mars!!!!!
Later Sunday evening, the Phoenix mission will arrive at Mars, entering the atmosphere for a scheduled landing near the north pole of the Red Planet.
The Phoenix mission launched from Cape Canaveral last August. It’s mission is the search for water ice under the surface of Mars, and to study the geology of the polar regions. All of this will be of great assistance in understanding the makeup of the Martian environment, as a prelude to eventual manned missions to Mars.
Mission managers call the EDL phase (Entry, Decent and Landing) the “Seven Minutes of Terror” as they wait for the signals announcing the successful landing on the surface. So many things have to go right for the craft to land: thrusters have to finre on time, parachutes must deploy correctly, etc. Any one thing going wrong will spell disaster which, unfortunately, has happened in the past. Of all the missions to Mars, 55% of them have ended in failure. But hopefully Phoenix will succeed, where some of its predecessors have failed.
Here are some times of interest on Landing Day (all times Eastern)…
Entry into Martian atmosphere: 7.46pm
Parachute Deploy: 7.50pm (legs 40 seconds later)
Touchdown: 7.53pm (40 seconds after thrusters fire)
Unfortunately we will not get confirmation for a while afterwards, which includes the first images. Spacecraft orbiting Mars, including the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Express, and Mars Odyssey will all be sending their own data back to Earth about the landing, including possible images.
The first images from Phoenix will be nearly two hours later. These first views will be of the solar arrays, to assure proper deployment. Then, if all reads well, the mission will begin.
You can find out more about Phoenix at several sites, including the University of Arizona, where the mission is being led from, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
You can watch the landing events unfold on NASA television. Locally NASA TV is on Comcast Channel 24 (Livewire), but unfortunately will not be available during landing due to previous other transmission commitments. However, NASA TV is available online.