60-Second Science

Phoenix Mars Lander Reaches Red Planet

The Phoenix Mars Lander successfully touched down on the Red Planet Sunday evening and will make haste to analyze the environment before winter entombs it in ice. Steve Mirsky reports.

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

“Phoenix has landed! Phoenix has landed! Welcome to the northern plains of Mars.” That was the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Richard Kornfeld, Sunday at 7:53pm eastern time, accompanied by elated and relieved mission controllers, scientists and engineers. Because the Phoenix Mars Lander had successfully completed its journey to the northern polar region of the red planet. No bouncing balloon landing this time around either. Phoenix was the first spacecraft to make a soft landing on Mars using thrusters in 32 years. 

The lander’s robotic arm will deliver samples of soil and ice to the onboard chemical analysis equipment. The job isn’t so much to find signs of life as to determine whether the soil is even habitable. Peter Smith, the principal investigator of the science team told NASA TV: “Then we would suggest to the community this is a good place to go and look for life.” Time isn’t on Phoenix’s side, though. Because the brutal Martian winter will set in in just three months. And soon after Phoenix will be swallowed by over a meter of frozen carbon dioxide.

—Steve Mirsky 

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