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Phoenix has landed

May 25, 2008

BBC reports that they pulled it off!!!  W00T!!! Phoenix Mars probe touches down  Yee-Haw!!! 

New Scientist details the landing, which is about as complicated and risky as I can possibly imagine.  The craft separates from an orbital platform and enters the atmosphere (which even on the Mars surface is thinner than our atmosphere at the top of Everest) and burn off speed with its heat shield until it slows down to just supersonic speed.  Then it flips, pops its parachute (imagine deploying a 12-metre chute at supersonic speed) and slows down to a couple hundred KPH at 1 Km altitude.  The last Km to the surface it handles on thrusters – imagine doing that by automation! for a ‘smooth’ level touchdown.  At this writing it still needs to deploy its solar panels.

Phoenix cost around $530m all-told, and is a stationary chemistry and weather platform that will accomplish actual science on Martian conditions.  Just for comparison it costs about 1.3bn just to launch the Space shuttle up to ISS so they can blow bubbles and throw boomerangs.  Not that I’m making any sort of judgment on the science-worthiness of the ISS; I would never stoop that low…

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