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Destination Mars




Mission: Phoenix lander
Landing: May 25, 2008
Entry: 7:46 p.m. EDT
Touchdown: 7:53 p.m. EDT (2353 GMT)
Site: Vasitas Borealis

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Video archive

Phoenix landing preview

Less than two weeks before the Phoenix spacecraft arrives at Mars, this previews the landing and the planned science on the planet's surface.

 Presentation | Q&A

STS-82: In review

The second servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope was accomplished in Feb. 1997 when the shuttle astronauts replaced a pair of instruments and other internal equipment on the observatory.

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STS-81: In review

The fifth shuttle docking mission to the space station Mir launched astronaut Jerry Linenger to begin his long-duration stay on the complex and brought John Blaha back to Earth.

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Discovery rolls out

Discovery travels from the Vehicle Assembly Building to pad 39A in preparation for the STS-124 mission.

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STS-124: The programs

In advance of shuttle Discovery's STS-124 mission to the station, managers from both programs discuss the flight.

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STS-124: The mission

A detailed preview of Discovery's mission to deliver Japan's science laboratory Kibo to the station is provided in this briefing.

 Part 1 | Part 2

STS-124: Spacewalks

Three spacewalks are planned during Discovery's STS-124 assembly mission to the station.

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STS-124: The Crew

The Discovery astronauts, led by commander Mark Kelly, meet the press in the traditional pre-flight news conference.

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Discovery to VAB

For its STS-124 mission, shuttle Discovery was transferred from its hangar to the Vehicle Assembly Building for attachment to a fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters.

 Transfer | Hoist

Complex 40 toppling

The Complex 40 mobile service tower at Cape Canaveral's former Titan rocket launch pad was toppled using explosives on April 27.

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Satellite orbiting Mars imaged descending Phoenix
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: May 26, 2008

Still basking in the elation of a successful Mars landing, engineers with the Phoenix program unveiled a dramatic photo today showing the spacecraft descending to the martian surface under its parachute Sunday. The black-and-white photo, shot by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft as it sailed overhead, shows the inflated parachute and the backshell supporting Phoenix dangling below, somewhere between 10,000 and 1,000 feet above the surface.


Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took this image of Phoenix descending on its parachute. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
 
"The picture is awesome," said Principal Investigator Peter Smith during a morning news conference. "We're now awaiting an image from (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter) of our spacecraft on the surface so we know exactly where it is. We hope to see also the heat shield and the back shell and the parachute. All of those things will be visible, we just haven't seen them quite yet. But we will, and once we do, because we carpeted this whole area with images, we'll have a before and after picture showing what the site looked like before the lander was there and then after the lander came down. So that should be really spectacular."

Phoenix was designed to send its own pictures and data back to Earth using UHF radio relay links with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and NASA's Mars Odyssey. Additional pictures showing the terrain around the lander are expected to be downlinked every afternoon, helping scientists build up a high-resolution 360-degree panorama around the landing site.

Two additional images released at this afternoon's news briefing include an approximate true-color image and a close-up shot showing the disturbed surface around one of the lander footpads.

The north polar landing site was chosen because it is flat and generally free of large boulders and other topographic features that might cause problems for Phoenix's touchdown. More important from a science perspective, the Mars Odyssey spacecraft has detected what scientists believe is a layer of water ice a few inches below the surface of Mars' extreme northern and southern latitudes. Pictures from NASA Mars orbiters and now from Phoenix show repeating polygonal patterns in the surrounding terrain that are indicative of an "active" surface.

"As the ice gets cold, it tends to contract a little bit and it'll form very narrow cracks and then the sand falls into those cracks, so now you see a little depression on the surface where the sand has fallen into a crack," Smith said. "And then in the sun, when the ice tries to expand back to where it was, the crack's filled with sand, it can't do that, and it tends to buckle a little bit. So you see these mounded structures."

Similar patterns are found in cold regions on Earth.

"As we look over this landing site, we see a very flat, kind of barren landscape," Smith said. "But you have to realize in the winter, this is encased in carbon dioxide ice, which might be several feet deep, it's a completely different landscape in the winter. And so it's gone through these cycles of winter, summer, winter, summer, and while it goes through those cycles, the polar tilt is changing, so the climate changes.

"One thing we've found about polar regions on the Earth is it's a good record keeper of climate change. So we wonder if perhaps on Mars we'll find clues as to what the climate has been like in the past by studying various signatures under the surface. Our mission is all about digging. So we're not roving over the surface, we're digging into the surface and that's where the science discoveries are likely to be made. So the pictures may look a little bleak, but the science can be absolutely fascinating.

"The other thing we've learned about polar regions on Earth is that there's a long record of organic materials preserved in the ice, just as you preserve organics in the freezer in your kitchen," Smith said. "That's the place where you can go back a million, two million years and bring signatures of organisms back for analysis, that's where they are. ... So we're wondering on Mars is there any indication that organic materials are preserved in this ice? And probably, the organic materials would come from asteroids and comets that have hit the surface of Mars over the last many eons. If it's preserved there, I think that changes the way that we're going to be exploring Mars, we're going to be going where ice is accessible."

Phoenix is equipped with a 7.7-foot-long robot arm capable of digging trenches up to 20 inches deep. A scoop and an ice rasp will be used to collect soil and ice chips for microscopic analysis by a suite of sophisticated instruments capable of detecting organic compounds and characterizing how the soil might have been affected by water in the past. The instruments also will sniff out whether organic compounds are, in fact, preserved in the sub-surface ice.

If all goes well, engineers will unlimber the lander's robot arm Tuesday, after its joints reach the proper temperature. Digging operations are not expected to begin for another week or so, after the Phoenix camera photographs the entire area reachable by the arm to give scientists a chance to prioritize possible target sites.

Scientists are hopeful a depression marking a possible sub-surface ice crack will be within reach of the arm to help them determine exactly what sort of mechanism might be responsible. In some cases, liquid water is required, in others it is not.

"Our priority is to first see the entire martian scene around the lander to give us a sense of place as to where we are and try and put these few polygons we've been able to see up close into perspective with the rest of the site around us and also to understand the rock distributions," Smith said.

Examining the handful of pictures already sent back from Phoenix, scientists noted that "some of the rock patterns don't line up with the polygons, it's like they're remnants, perhaps, of a more ancient surface," Smith said. "That's one thing our science team is considering.

"As far as knowing what's under the rocks, I'm anxious to find out. ... When you look at some of those troughs, you actually see what looks like freshly dug depressions in the center of them. And this is just like the active surfaces we see in the arctic regions on Earth. It implies we have an active surface, in other words, the ice is still there and expanding and contracting with the seasons."

Spaceflight Now Plus
Additional coverage for subscribers:
VIDEO: MONDAY AFTERNOON'S UPDATE PRESENTATION | Q&A
VIDEO: HOW MARS ORBITER GOT THE PARACHUTE PHOTO PLAY

VIDEO: PHOENIX LANDS ON MARS! PLAY
VIDEO: MIDNIGHT POST-LANDING BRIEFING PRESENTATION | Q&A
VIDEO: POST-LANDING INTERVIEW WITH MARS PROGRAM DIR. PLAY
VIDEO: POST-LANDING INTERVIEW WITH PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR PLAY
VIDEO: POST-LANDING INTERVIEW WITH PROJECT MANAGER PLAY

VIDEO: SUNDAY'S PRE-LANDING STATUS PRESENTATION | Q&A
VIDEO: SATURDAY STATUS BRIEFING PRESENTATION | Q&A
VIDEO: ENTRY, DESCENT AND LANDING EXPLAINED PLAY
VIDEO: ANIMATION OF PHOENIX MISSION WITH NARRATION PLAY
VIDEO: HIGHLIGHTS FROM MARS ROVER SPIRIT'S LANDING PLAY
VIDEO: HIGHLIGHTS FROM MARS ROVER OPPORTUNITY'S LANDING PLAY
VIDEO: THURSDAY STATUS BRIEFING PRESENTATION | Q&A
VIDEO: LANDING PREVIEW BRIEFING PRESENTATION | Q&A

VIDEO: PHOENIX LAUNCHES! PLAY
VIDEO: POST-FLIGHT COMMENTS FROM LAUNCH MANAGER PLAY
VIDEO: WIDE-SCREEN FROM PATRICK AFB CAMERA PLAY
VIDEO: TRACKER FOLLOWS ROCKET TO MECO PLAY
VIDEO: LAUNCH AS SEEN FROM THE PRESS SITE PLAY
VIDEO: PAD'S MOBILE GANTRY ROLLED BACK FOR LAUNCH PLAY
VIDEO: NARRATED HIGHLIGHTS OF PHOENIX CAMPAIGN PLAY
VIDEO: NARRATED HIGHLIGHTS OF ROCKET CAMPAIGN PLAY
VIDEO: THE PRE-LAUNCH NEWS CONFERENCE PLAY
VIDEO: OVERVIEW OF PHOENIX MISSION TO MARS PLAY
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