The Mars Phoenix Lander has now gone where two predecessors failed to go. The Mars Climate Orbiter spacecraft crashed into the Red Planet in 1999 because of a navigation error when “English” and metric units were confused. The Mars Polar Lander (MPL), was lost near the planet’s South Pole not long after that. As we reported here, the Mars. Phoenix Lander uses technology from the MPL, cutting its cost dramatically. The Phoenix landed Sunday night, with solar panels and a camera deploying just as planned. The first photos show a landscape that looks like a red paved parking lot.
We’re learning already. There is a close-up view of polygon-shaped formations (previously seen from space). Expansion and contraction of ice are believed to cause the shapes, something like the cracks that form in asphalt driveways over the winter. And that’s a great sign because it means the Lander may be close to ice crystals that may hold the clues to previous life. Next step: The specially developed shovel begins digging—chopping soil that can be tested in the on-board labs.
Hear Principal Investigator Peter Smith and Engineer Tim Gasparrini describe the mission in Design News podcasts.