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Mars Space Science

The Phoenix Has Landed 369

Iddo Genuth writes "Precisely at 7:53PM EST, the "Phoenix Mars Lander" touched-down on the desert-like surface of Mars. Since its launch on August 4th, 2007, the spacecraft has covered more than 680,752,512 kilometers, traveling at average speeds of around 120,000 km/hr. Upon arriving at its destination, the Phoenix will begin its exploration of our intriguing neighbor planet, in a mission to help astronomers resolve at least some of the many questions regarding Mars. The key question remains: can the Red Planet support some form of life?" Hella grats to our nerd brethren — you looked great on the Science channel. Yes I'm watching this live. Can't wait to see what happens next.
Update: 05/26 03:0 GMT by KD : zof sends a link to the first pictures from Phoenix.
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The Phoenix Has Landed

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  • by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @08:49PM (#23539647) Journal
    Personally, I think it would be damned cool if they found an indisputable fossil. It would force a whole lot of philosophical re-thinking, and probably give a huge-assed push towards getting humans into space (well, those who don't suddenly get scared silly and decide to crawl into a cave, hoping the aliens pass us by or somesuch).

    But then... what if they do find evidence of life? I mean large, complex forms of life, not some fossilized bacteria that everyone will debate and bitch about. That's what I'm hoping they dig up.


  • by spoco2 ( 322835 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @09:05PM (#23539779)
    To have a successful landing of this sort on Mars is brilliant, and continues to build hope that there might be a manned mission there in my lifetime, I can only hope.

    Ever since I read the Mars Trilogy (red, green, blue) I have really hoped that it could come true in some way like those books show. (not all the bad obviously)... I would love to see it start, I really would.
  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @09:19PM (#23539859) Journal
    Years ago, we put vikings up on mars. The more amazing in that they were nuke powered. Now, we fight about it all the time. Even phoenix would be better served had it been nuke powered. But now, about half of the ppl do not want human systems going, another group fights sending nuke power up, and another wants NASA dead altogether. Back in the 60's and 70's, we all came together on saying that ALL of this was important; Long term robotic probes AND human missions AND the environment (as we understood it). It was not one vs. the other.

    A couple of days ago, I mentioned that the reason for human missions to the moon was because of uranium/plutonium. Yet, ppl were upset about what a waste human missions were without realizing that we could fire up new MUCH LARGER missions to mars and elsewhere and let them use plutonium. I never bought off on W's idea that the moon would be a good launch pad based on the hydrogen that is there. But if we have LOADS of plutonium, that is a different matter. We can easily rail launch missions combined with large amount of energy via plutonium without worrying about it being spread all over the earth's atmosphere. Hopefully, at some point, Americans realize that one idea does not need to preclude another. For instance, human missions do not need to prevent robotics from going (or vs. versa).
  • by Jeff Fohl ( 597433 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @09:33PM (#23539949) Homepage

    What are the chances of puttering around for a few hundred meters on earth and randomly finding a human skeleton?..
    I was surprised when I found that Phoenix has no mobility. But then, I have thought about it for all of 5 minutes, while the NASA engineers have thought about it for 5 years, so there must have been a good reason to leave that feature out.
  • by mikael ( 484 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @09:39PM (#23539987)
    Wikipedia has an estimate of the total number of people that has ever lived [] at 45 billion to 125 billion people.

    It also provides a map of population density in the world. Another article provides information on the surface area of the Earth. []

    Approximately 29.2% of the surface is dry land. 13.31% of this land is arable, with only 4.71% supporting permanent crops.

    148,940,000 km is dry land. (1.940 x 10^14 mÂ)

    Assuming a buried person takes up 1 square metre.

    Assume that there have been 120 billion skeletons buried all over the place (125 minus 5 billion still living).

    Then you have 1.20 x 10^11 / (1.940 x 10^14 mÂ)

    which gives 1.20 / 1.940 x 10^-3

    or 0.000618556

    6.18556 x 10^-3

    So, you have a 1/1616 chance of finding a skeleton. Your odds will be affected by the cultural traditions of the local population, the local geology (limestone will dissolve bone). The natives might think twice about burying tribe members on farm land.

  • by Enleth ( 947766 ) <> on Sunday May 25, 2008 @09:39PM (#23539989) Homepage
    There actually is a lot of scientific advancement, in the form of all the technology that needs to be invented, designed and perfected. If you hava some spare time and do a bit of research, you'll realise that a lot of supposedly everyday items and technologies we use now are possible due to the space races during the Cold War. For example, the materials used for space suits and heat shields were a starting point for some of the today's textiles used for clothing and construction materials for industrial machinery and even some household devices.
  • by Cyko_01 ( 1092499 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @09:43PM (#23540003) Homepage
    was I the only one who saw the phoenix project logo [] and thought it looked remarkably similar the Firefox logo? Firefox was originally called phoenix was it not? Coincidence? I think not!
  • by geckofiend ( 314803 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @10:17PM (#23540203)
    I used to find all kinds of fossilized sea life as a kid. It always kid of awed me to think that Ohio was once under water.
  • by moosesocks ( 264553 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @10:24PM (#23540247) Homepage
    If we can effectively achieve the goals of the mission without using a nuclear reactor, we're almost certainly better off.

    Although there are certainly applications for nuclear power on interplanetary spacecraft, I don't think that it would have been appropriate for a small stationary scientific probe.

    Once the probe has done its stuff, and examined the surface around its landing site, there's not a whole lot much more it can do. Mission accomplished.

    And even as much as fears regarding nuclear power may be overstated, Plutonium is, and will always be pretty scary stuff. We don't want to contaminate our atmosphere, oceans, and land, and also don't want to do the same to the surface of Mars.

    Public perception also plays a role. Can you imagine if Columbia had been carrying a substantial amount of fissible material? The entire state of Texas would have been launched into a state of mass-hysteria, even if the containment vessel remained intact. NASA would be dismantled within a week.

    Although Spirit and Opportunity are somewhat limited by their power source, they have indeed been overwhelmingly successful missions.

    Launch failures are increasingly rare, though not quite reliable enough yet that we shouldn't err on the side of caution. Radioactive materials have been released into the atmosphere before as a result of launch failures, and although it's not the end of the world, it's also something we should avoid if we can.

    It's all about managing risk. Nuclear power is risky, and thus NASA avoid it unless it's necessary for the mission.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 25, 2008 @10:24PM (#23540251)
    I followed the link to the TFOT site given by the OP. On that page was a link to "more up to date information" on the status of the lander. Check out: [] Curiously, 2/3 down the page is an image of the lander which is titled: "NASA's Phoenix spacecraft on Mars - actual image (Credit: NASA)"

    I found this particularly interesting since I have a second window open, and I'm watching the -relativistically speaking - "live" coverage from JPL on NASATV. In this coverage, they have JUST begun to get images of the solar panels a few minutes ago... And from what I can tell, none of them look like the "third person" photo on the TFOT site. Tried to post a comment to this effect on TFOT, but couldn't. ...I'm not sure how they can call that an actual image...
    *sigh* this all must have been faked just like the lunar landings....
  • NASA web site (Score:4, Interesting)

    by KC1P ( 907742 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @10:29PM (#23540283) Homepage
    I wish NASA wouldn't get so distracted during the "fun" part of these missions. It seems like a regular pattern, they set up frankly a pretty awesome web site, put up a countdown timer, plaster it with nice background articles and then update it very regularly ... until something happens. Then it's frozen in time for an hour or two (this time all they could come up with was "we got a signal") while they're all slapping each other five and pouring champagne into their consoles. The $420 million (or whatever it was) came out of our pockets, all I ask is that they get *one* intern to stay sober at the golden moment and clue in those of us who don't get the Science Channel.

    Anyway it's great to see they pulled it off. It's weird how so many space shots worked on the first try and then we totally blew the next half-dozen tries. I blame the Martian strategic defense system.
  • by Megane ( 129182 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @10:41PM (#23540345) Homepage

    Phoenix Mars Lander Touched Me Liberally

    Oh wait, that's Never mind.

  • Re:Pictures (Score:3, Interesting)

    by illiteratewithdrawal ( 937379 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @11:14PM (#23540519)
    Good question. However, according to the University of Arizona's Phoenix Lander site [], "The Robotic Arm Camera, built by the UA and Max Planck Institute, ... will provide close-up, full-color images of the Martian surface..." I'm excited to start seeing those images come in.
  • Re:lander, not rover (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CodeBuster ( 516420 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @11:58PM (#23540727)
    I wonder, how long it would take either Spirit or Opportunity to drive there from their present locations if something interesting was found?
  • Re:Again, EXACTLY. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Monday May 26, 2008 @12:30AM (#23540875)
    If you really needed megawatts of power on a space mission, RTGs would not be the way to do it. The Pu-238 fuel is hideously expensive, and you can't turn the damned things off.

    It would be much simpler, safer and cheaper to simply put a small nuclear reactor in the spacecraft. Tiny reactors use ordinary cheap weapons grade uranium fuel. Before the reactor is turned on, the virgin fuel isn't even significantly radioactive, so no launch issues. Unlike RTGs, the power output of reactors can be adjusted as needed.

    The Soviet Union launched a few dozen nuclear reactors into orbit in the 1970s that are still whizzing over our heads. IIRC, they had a power output in the range of hundreds of kilowatts. It's straightforward and mature technology, and it would be a good way to get rid of the excess weapons grade uranium that we have stockpiled from the cold war.

  • Re:live (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 26, 2008 @12:57AM (#23541031)
    Funny that you mention it. Actually,
    the principal investigator of this effort, Peter Smith of the university of Arizona, does not have a Phd.

    His credentials are ofcourse amazing, but it just happens he is not a dr.
  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Monday May 26, 2008 @01:16AM (#23541143)

    So, you have a 1/1616 chance of finding a skeleton.
    For probabilities with very large n (120 billion in this case), what I'm going to say doesn't make much difference. But for the sake of correctness, you're assuming no two skeletons are buried in the same place. The proper way to do it is to calculate the chance that none of those skeletons are in the spot you're inspecting. If you inspect one square meter, the chances of that are [1 - ( 1/1.4894x10^14 ) ] ^ 120 billion. Subtract from 1 to get the chances of finding a skeleton, which according to Google's calculator is about 1/1251.5. (You had a math error going from sq km to sq m.)
  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Monday May 26, 2008 @03:29AM (#23541847) Journal
    Those are false-color images. The real deal will be coming later.

    You mean tinted, or 2-filter? They don't look tinted, for I've experimented with tinting myself on other mars missions and have learned to spot the difference, barring careful retouching. It does appear that some of the originals were taken through different filters, but its not clear which filters and how many.
  • Re:EXACTLY. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Monday May 26, 2008 @09:47AM (#23543947)
    The US government already knows how to make nuclear weapons the easy way, so the US government chemically extracting neptunium 237 from waste and irradiating it in a reactor to make Pu-238 would not be a proliferation threat. Moreover, neither of those isotopes is used in weapons.

    It has simply been easier for us to buy the stuff from Russia over the last couple of decades. (This probably has had the beneficial side effect of keeping some of their nuclear technicians gainfully employed.)

  • Re:Pictures (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Lershac ( 240419 ) on Monday May 26, 2008 @10:15AM (#23544173) Homepage
    That is a very interesting Idea. Have the mars lander create a myspace page as if it were sentient. Neat way to generate excitement and publicity.

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