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How to land at the Martian north pole.
May 14, 2008 6:22 PM   Subscribe

Seven minutes of terror. A short video on describing how the Phoenix probe will land at the North Pole of Mars on May 25th. Follow updates to the mission via Twitter and the blog. Previously
posted by Brandon Blatcher (38 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
This quote summed it up for me: Earth and Mars are so far apart that it takes over 10 minutes for a signal from Mars to get to Earth. And EDL itself is all over in a matter of 7 minutes. So by the time we even hear from the lander that EDL has started, it'll already be over.

Absolutely fascinating post, and a very cool project. I hope it works out well.
posted by WalterMitty at 6:41 PM on May 14, 2008


Cool.
posted by chococat at 6:46 PM on May 14, 2008


Scary start there. For a second I was expecting the Phoenix probe to be some sort of flaming Greek rectal thermometer.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:47 PM on May 14, 2008


Essentially, it's the same gameplan as the Viking missions from 30 years ago, but holy crap there's a whole lot that can go wrong. Fingers and toes crossed!
posted by steef at 6:53 PM on May 14, 2008


I lurve JPL. Thanks for posting this.
posted by mrhappy at 7:01 PM on May 14, 2008


This is just, well, badass. Yeah. I know it's not humans hanging their butts on the line, but still, when I think of the resources and human ingenuity expended to do this, I get a little goose-bumpy.
posted by pjern at 7:12 PM on May 14, 2008


You know, the fact that it('s human operators) use Twitter really excites me. I don't think the Twitter people really knew what they were creating - a short message abstraction layer - and I think they still don't know what people will do with it.

I'm generally pretty web 2.0 cynical, but Twitter just makes me happy. Like when I was a kid and would lay in bed wishing for some sort of high-tech network that could link me up with all my friends in real time.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:56 PM on May 14, 2008


Ok, I watched the video and came away thinking "yeah, right". Mars eats spacecraft, this looks like more fodder. Too complex, too many things to go wrong. The bouncing air-bag technique was pretty clever, it worked (twice), why not do it again, less development costs.
posted by stbalbach at 8:38 PM on May 14, 2008


Oh man, I've been obsessed with this for too damn long now. Here's some interwebs badass-ness:

Phoenix Mars Landing Real-Time Simulation
http://www.dmuller.net/phoenix/ert.php
(patience, server is really slow)

Live chat on night of Phoenix EDL:
irc://irc.freenode.net/space (you'll need an IRC client and a properly configured browser for that link to work, and even with the latter you probably will still have to manually connect)
This is also a good place in general to hang out when critical results are coming back live from unmanned probes -- e.g. orbital insertion, atmospheric probes like Huygens, etc.

The Phoenix forum at unmannedspaceflight.com:
http://www.unmannedspaceflight.com/index.php?showforum=14

Here's an entertaining Earth Mars Scorecard showing how good Mars has been over the past 45 years at eating the probes that we hurl at it:
http://www.bio.aps.anl.gov/~dgore/fun/PSL/marsscorecard.html

First powered descent since the late 1970's. 10 days to go!
posted by intermod at 8:47 PM on May 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


The bouncing air-bag technique was pretty clever, it worked (twice), why not do it again, less development costs.

It doesn't scale up enough. This is a much bigger spacecraft than the MERs (2004) or certainly Pathfinder (1997), and they can't make an airbag system big enough to withstand the impact. And you can only miniaturize the scientific instruments on this mission so much.
posted by intermod at 8:49 PM on May 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


The bouncing air-bag technique was pretty clever, it worked (twice), why not do it again, less development costs.

Probably the main reason Phoenix doesn't land with airbags is because when it (the lander, not necessarily all the instruments and other goodies inside) was originally designed and built in the late 90s, the largest thing we landed on Mars with airbags was a rover as big as a shoebox. When the solar arrays are deployed, it's easily bigger than the rovers, and though I don't know, I'm guessing that it's heavier, as it doesn't have to move itself around, so it can carry more instruments instead of a mobility system.

My sister works on the Phoenix project (her bailiwick is command and telemetry) and will be there for EDL, and they've been rehearsing this for months. I really hope it goes well.
posted by chimaera at 8:49 PM on May 14, 2008


The bouncing air-bag technique was pretty clever, it worked (twice), why not do it again, less development costs

as mentioned above, the aerobrake-parachute-retrorocket approach also has two successful landings on Mars.

so, naturally, I was thinking throughout this video, 'yeah yeah you did this 32 years ago, what's the BFD now . . .'
posted by tachikaze at 8:50 PM on May 14, 2008


the largest thing we landed on Mars with airbags was a rover as big as a shoebox

The rover was bigger than a shoebox, plus also landed strapped down to its own "base station", which was rather not-small.
posted by tachikaze at 8:52 PM on May 14, 2008


chimaera made the shoebox analogy in reference to when it "was originally designed and built in the late 90s". There's quite a bit of history on this mission, involving the failed Mars Polar Lander. Go dig.
posted by intermod at 8:55 PM on May 14, 2008


Very cool. This will be 9am local time for me, so I may actually get to "follow along" in real time for once.

The text on that video is very Doom-ish. I hope they don't find any, err, "artifacts".
posted by 5MeoCMP at 8:58 PM on May 14, 2008


I wanted to enjoy the video in the first link, but I was distracted by the Battlestar-Galactica sound effects and editing. Is there a more straightforward version of the same video somewhere?
posted by zippy at 9:06 PM on May 14, 2008


Cool post.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:16 PM on May 14, 2008


sorry zippy, jpl has been making animations like this for some time now. the opportunity/spirit mission simulation videos were much the same.

if there is a long version somewhere, it may have fewer jump cuts but... this ain't your father's JPL/NASA!

also 2nding the coolness factor of using twitter.
posted by joeblough at 9:42 PM on May 14, 2008


i was wondering how nasa was gonna "jazz things up" to try and keep appealing to the public in order to justify funding. so far so good eh?
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 10:53 PM on May 14, 2008


Will the Lander be twittering live from Mars with status updates? Because if not, I'll probably just wait for Web 3.0.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:03 PM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


A bit of a nitpick, but the bouncing airbag thing worked three times.
posted by jeblis at 11:13 PM on May 14, 2008


Nice article on all the things they changed to reduce risk. Also a window into the bureaucracy and tedious care required to pull this off.

http://spaceflightnow.com/mars/phoenix/080512testing.html
posted by jeblis at 11:52 PM on May 14, 2008


speaking of martian poles...anybody catch these pix of the martian landslides taken a few months back? (click the main image for a poster sized shot of 4 simultaneous martian landslides, in context and close-up, from the hirise camera on the MRO)
posted by sexyrobot at 1:04 AM on May 15, 2008


I don't know who JPL contracted for the video production, but they got their money's worth.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:20 AM on May 15, 2008


Totally awesome. I want to be an astronaut.

That said, this video would have been much more kick-ass with a narration from Don Lafontaine.

In a world.....
posted by chillmost at 2:21 AM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Would it be possible that small amounts of microbes and bacteria hitched a ride to mars on the Phoenix and could survive and multiply either on the probe or in the area around it? I realize it is probably difficult due to the only trace amounts of oxygen in the Martian atmosphere. But what if?
posted by chillmost at 2:35 AM on May 15, 2008


It is very possible, and they are very careful to avoid that situation. Assembly is done in clean rooms.

Years ago, at the end of its long mission, Galileo was commanded to plunge into Jupiter specifically to ensure that it never ever ever could possibly ever ever plow into Europa, which may harbor life. Biological contamination is taken very seriously by these guys.
posted by intermod at 6:15 AM on May 15, 2008


I don't know who JPL contracted for the video production

I dunno either, but they learned a lot from Jerry Bruckheimer. I'm amazed though, when I think of how we've gone from the days of Walter Cronkite broadcasting missions on one of three national television networks, to watching mission video by phone. Godspeed, Phoenix.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:49 AM on May 15, 2008


Goddam this is cool. Yes, Mars eats spacecraft, but still -- it never fails to amaze me that we can land anything successfully anywhere out there, much less send itty bitty spaceships out to slingshot around planets and go flying off into the nether reaches of the solar system with damn near pinpoint accuracy. I know it's all math and so on, but damn -- how cool is all this?! Go Phoenix!
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:13 AM on May 15, 2008


If NASA would hire more Hollywood production people to make a feature length film like this short then it wouldn't even matter about the lander. Actually I thought it was over-the-top done with the annoying style that discourages me from watching most TV dramas. Sudden zooms/pans and flashes are pathetic video devices.
posted by JJ86 at 2:01 PM on May 15, 2008


I'm surprised that 90% of the footage was computer generated. Surely they have videos of it working in field tests (at least the freefall and self-guided reverse thruster stuff).

Also add to above: Very cool.
posted by kisch mokusch at 3:32 PM on May 15, 2008


Would it be possible that small amounts of microbes and bacteria hitched a ride to mars on the Phoenix and could survive and multiply either on the probe or in the area around it? I realize it is probably difficult due to the only trace amounts of oxygen in the Martian atmosphere. But what if?

The answer to the hitching-a-ride bit is yes, definitely possible. Long known, in fact, that certain bacterial spores are extremely hardy. I seriously doubt that they would activate and germinate on Mars, but I would think that, with regards to detecting evidence of life on Mars, the potential for contamination by earthly bacteria (and/or other forms of life) would be quite high.
posted by kisch mokusch at 4:08 PM on May 15, 2008


Generally satellites and landers are assembled in a clean-room environment. Clean rooms have filtered air and standards to prevent infiltration of most bad stuff. This is to prevent contamination from bacteria that may negatively affect the spacecraft during its operation as well as any stray dust particle or such object. While there may be a possibility of a microorganism attaching itself, the odds are extremely miniscule.
posted by JJ86 at 5:57 AM on May 16, 2008


You can help in the search for the 1999 Mars Polar Lander.
posted by tellurian at 11:34 PM on May 20, 2008


It's almost there!
posted by Mister_A at 8:34 AM on May 23, 2008


Lands at 4:38p PST (7:38 EST) tonight! We won't know for another 15 minutes, at least, however. According to the Phoenix on Twitter, it's about to pressurize its propellants. So cool!

There's a NASA TV stream here, anyone know if it's going to be on cable?
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 4:11 PM on May 25, 2008


I felt a new post was warranted.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 4:13 PM on May 25, 2008


Pressurizing complete!
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 4:20 PM on May 25, 2008


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