NASA issued a press release just now stating that Phoenix has accomplished the rocket firing that targets it for a specific landing zone on Mars, known informally to the team as "Green Valley." All previous maneuvers targeted it to Mars more generally. But now it's aimed at a specific spot on Mars, one picked out through exhaustive examination of data from Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey, Mars Express, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. They still have the option to nudge the landing zone around a bit, depending upon the outcome of analysis of further Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter images to be taken this month.
The release included the detail that "Researchers have mapped more than five million rocks in and around that ellipse, each big enough to end the mission if hit by the spacecraft during landing. Knowing where to avoid the rockier areas, the team has selected a scientifically exciting target that also offers the best chances for the spacecraft to set itself down safely onto the Martian surface." Five million rocks. That's an awful lot of undergrad and grad student mouse clicks. I hope the Phoenix mission has educated their student grunt workers on how to avoid repetitive motion injuries...
The Planetary Society is planning a Planetfest event for the public to watch the drama as Phoenix lands on May 25, which is coming up very soon. Join us there! Well, join some of us, but not me -- I've just signed up for my credentials to go to JPL and watch and blog from there. Keep your fingers crossed for Phoenix' success!
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