Phoenix: Day Two on Mars

The big news of the holiday weekend was, of course, the successful landing of the Phoenix Mars Lander at 7:53 pm Eastern time on Sunday — a landing which we previewed two weeks ago.


There was only one minor snag reported in the challenging landing: the protective sheath around the trench-digging robotic arm failed to unwrap all the way after touchdown. The sheath now covers the arm’s elbow joint, but NASA describes that as merely an "inconvenience."

The excitement behind the successful landing was evident. Maybe it was because of the slow holiday weekend, but the landing was big news in the mainstream media — not just among space buffs– with the Drudge Report parking a headline most of the day on Sunday and Monday that asked if Phoenix would find evidence of life on Mars as it explored the planet’s arctic plain.  

Since the trench-digging arm that Phoenix will use to collect the soil samples that might contain traces of organic compounds won’t be extended until possibly tomorrow, the answer to the Drudge Report’s questions is clearly "not yet."

But already, Phoenix has sent back some amazing pictures and videos of the Red Planet’s polar region:

  • The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped this dramatic photo of the Phoenix Lander suspended beneath its parachute as it descended to Mars on Sunday. (For an explanation of how the Orbiter snapped the photo, watch this video.)
  • Here’s a good video from inside the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as Phoenix touched down, showing the excitement and anxiety inside mission control.
  • Check out this photo of where Phoenix landed (in the Vastitas Borealis region) as well as this animation showing an orbital view sweeping upward from Olympus Mons, the tallest volcano in the solar system, to the flat terrain where Phoenix touched down.
  • A bevy of raw images from the Red Planet (in black and white) are available here.
  • How do the images and video come back to earth? NASA explains.
  • More videos and animations of Phoenix are available here.

All in all, NASA has outdone itself in providing information to the public over the web for the Phoenix mission — and done an incredible job of packing that information in a compelling way.

The next press briefing on the mission is set for 1 pm Eastern today. Also check out the Phoenix Landing blog for more updates.