It was a thrilling day for space exploration today as the Phoenix Mars Lander made a safe descent and touchdown on the surface of Mars. I watched the last twenty minutes before landing on NASA TV online. I found the whole coverage to be absolutely exhilarating. Just from watching the mission control room you could tell people were nervous, excited, eager, and hopeful, all at the same time. Listening to the mission commentator report all the various events left me at the edge of my seat. You could not help but feel good every time the control room erupted in applause as each subsequent piece of good news was reported. It was truly exciting to watch.
If you missed it the first time you watch the last few awesome minutes of the landing with this video, which intersperses mission control room footage with CG animation of what the lander was doing at that stage of the landing.
Among the many cool things about the landing was that among the various space agencies around the world, there are now enough spacecraft on or around Mars that each new arriving craft can be monitored by existing ones. In today’s case, the Phoenix was sending data during the descent to the Mars Odyssey, already in orbit. Going forward, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter should be able to pinpoint the exact location of Phoenix on Mars as well as help send its scientific data back to Earth. The MRO currently has the best communications system of any space probe in the history of space exploration.
Last but certainly not least, the Phoenix has begun sending images back to Earth. The one you see above is an approximate colour image of the area where it landed. You can see a full gallery of the images sent thus far here.
It’s expected the first set of data from the analysis of the soil and hopefully water will come in about five days. Exciting times!