The historically less-than-50 per cent odds of success loomed heavily as NASA scientists readied for today’s landing of the 420-million-dollar Phoenix spacecraft near Mars’s frigid north pole.
"I’m a little nervous on the inside. This is not an easy thing to do," Phoenix scientist Peter Smith said.
"There’s a lot of uncertainties left. Mars is always there to throw those uncertainties at us," added Doug McCuistion, Mars Exploration Programme Director, of what NASA calls "the scariest seven minutes of the mission" – the period of hyper-deceleration and descent onto the Red Planet."
Mission specialists were reviewing data to decide whether a course-correction manoeuvre would be needed eight hours ahead of touch-down to keep the Phoenix on track for landing in a relatively rock-free, flat region in the Mars arctic after its 679-million-kilometre journey from Earth.
An earlier trajectory correction was scrubbed on 24th May, 2008 because "Phoenix is so well on course for its Sunday-evening landing on an arctic Martian plain that the team decided it was not necessary," the US space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, which controls the mission, said on its website.
Phoenix will enter the Martian atmosphere at around 05:01 IST on 25th May, 2008 at about 21,000 kilometres per hour and rely on its thermal shield, then a parachute followed by a bank of pulse thrusters, to slow down to a mere eight kph ahead of touchdown on the circumpolar region known as Vastitas Borealis – akin to northern Canada in Earth’s latitude.
Phoenix will become the first spacecraft to land on the Martian arctic surface, digging into the polar ice in a new three-month mission searching for signs of life.Courtsey : DD NEWS