As a kid, a lot of things captured my imagination: comic book heroes, robots, sci-fi, and eating french fries whenever I wanted. One of the few things that were grounded in reality but also captured my imagination was interplanetary travel. Back then and unfortunately, to this day, the reality of that is still in the realm of unmanned robotic spacecraft.
Next Sunday, the latest in a fleet of spacecraft will attempt to land on the planet of Mars. The mission of the Phoenix Mars Lander is to examine the surface of Mars for soil and hopefully ice samples. Unlike the previous descents of the now-famous rovers, Phoenix will not utilize large airbags to cushion its impact with the surface. Phoenix will use good old-fashioned thrusters to slow itself down and bring it to a gentle landing.
Because those NASA guys and gals are so damn good what they do, they can predict that touchdown will occur on May 25, 2008 at 4:53:52 p.m PST, +/- ~46 seconds. If you’re at all interested in space exploration, I encourage you to watch NASA TV online next Sunday, where they will broadcast live coverage of the landing. I watched the coverage when both the landers made their descent and honestly, it’s exciting stuff.
I’ll post a reminder closer to Sunday. Good luck to the Phoenix team!