Sunday, May 25, 2008

on Mars!!

So. This afternoon around 3:50 Pacific time, the Phoenix Mars Lander successfully landed on Mars (which is great because it would have been said for something named Mars Lander to have failed to land on Mars). The mission is guided by U of A on behalf of NASA. This means that I got to go to the celebration for the whole thing. They held festivities all afternoon in the Space Science buildings on campus. At the time the festivities started, the Lander was still thousands of miles away from touchdown, but it's important to realize that it was traveling at a speed of around 60,000 mph relative to Mars. That's pretty unfathomable if you ask me.

Anyway, I got there in time to catch some info about the cameras installed on the Phoenix, check out the university's Visual Imaging Center, check out some amazing prints with 3D glasses, and hold a piece of Mars in my hand!!! I also got a ton of free stuff: stickers, a poster, 8 x 10 prints of the surface of Venus. Oh, and punch! And I checked out the cool stuff on display at the Planetarium. This is me with the moon:
Around 3:30 we headed into the main building to watch the live feed from NASA while some grad students who were working on the mission translated the geekspeak and answered questions. It was so incredibly exciting to be in the middle of this event! The ground control mission is actually at the U of A, so when I say in the middle, I mean it!! This thing has been on its way to Mars since August of 07, so imagine how incredibly anxious the people working on it must have been! Every time something went right, the smiles on their faces got so big they looked painful. Since the cameras onboard the Phoenix couldn't deploy until landing (obviously, since we're talking heat and speed), there weren't any live shots of the landing or anything like that (sorry no News Channel 2, though I wish I were a news anchor sent to Mars to cover an event). Instead, they had digital simulations, shots of the control rooms, and of course the countdown. The crazy thing is that it takes 15 minutes for information to be transmitted all the way from Mars to Earth. So, the Phoenix had landed already only we had no idea what had happened because the information hadn't made it to Earth yet. So as we were anxiously receiving the data, the entire thing had already happened. Luckily it all went incredibly smoothly. In fact, they had more problems during testing than during the actual landing. Here are some shots I got of the crowd and the screen:
And we have touchdown!!!!!!!!
Everyone was so excited. Cheers and hugs all around. It's actually on Mars! No problems! How amazing!!

It then took several hours for the Phoenix to get its bearings and whatnot. Also the other 3 orbiters were lining up to beam back stats on the Lander. But after a couple hours the first images started arriving:
The Martian horizon as seen TODAY from the Phoenix Mars Lander. This takes my breath away. It's really unfathomable and amazing that we can see this so clearly. If you want to check out more about the mission and the other images the Phoenix is getting (eventually we'll get color images too), then you can keep up with it all here or here.


Court Anonymous said...

When I read, "it would have been sad for something named Mars Lander to have failed to land on Mars," my first thought was: if Mars Lander was the name for something besides this, what would it be? The answer: "Mars Lander, P.I." I would read novels based on such a character.

I am wicked jealous of you, btw.

Court Anonymous said...

Can you believe this was only two weeks ago? It seems so outdated now...