Emily LakdawallaMay 26, 2008

Phoenix: last press briefing of the day after the successful landing

I'll admit, I'm pretty tired, so the best I can probably do now is post some notes from the briefing and then go to bed...

At the press briefing, they started by replaying some of the video shot in mission control -- primarily for the benefit of the people on the panel, who had, perhaps, not seen how they looked on camera yet.

It's a huge panel. The Administrator -- Mike Griffin, NASA's chief -- Ed Weiler, who recently replaced Alan Stern as the head of the science mission directorate -- Charles Elachi, head of JPL -- Peter Smith, project scientist -- Barry Goldstein, mission manager at JPL -- Ed Sedivy, project manager from Lockheed Martin. Many of the guys who were in the Mission Support Area are in the back of the room, which is utterly full of press folks.

Smith said such pithy things as: "I know it looks a little like a parking lot, but that's a safe place to land. That makes it exactly where we want to be. Underneath this surface, I guarantee there's ice. You can see lots of pebbles, and soil, and all these troughs you see in between the polygons. These are probably about 15 feet [5 meters] across."

"This is probably the cutest polygon that I have ever seen...."

They showed a color image! Smith mentioned later that they got so much data down that the team is scrambling now to stuff more images into the sol 1 sequence, and he's not sure what they have planned yet. But he also said they don't plan on posting a color mosaic right away. Instead, he said, "The mosaic we'll leave that to the hobbyists at home to put together. There's a lot of people who really enjoy doing that, I understand." So there you go, you image hobbyists -- he's giving you carte blanche to assemble the photos yourself. And then post them to unmannedspaceflight.com, where we'll all ooh and aah over them! If you'd like to learn more about the camera, check out the Texas A&M website.

Getting back to Peter Smith's comments at the briefing... "All of the images are still outside the digging area. We have not yet seen what's in front of the digger. Is this what we will see all the way around? We don't know. Over the next few days we will get it all in.

"This is a scientist's dream, right here, on this landing site."

Barry Goldstein picked up from there. He showed a map of the approximate location, red circle:

First estimate of Phoenix' landing location


First estimate of Phoenix' landing location

For what it's worth, a reader tells me that this HiRISE image is dead center on the current best estimate landing site.

He pointed to another image (that I don't have the energy to post) that confirms three of the post-landing deployments. At center is robotic arm; on left of the arm is the open bio-barrier, which protected the sterile arm. Earliest that arm deployment will happen is on Tuesday. At upper left hand corner of image is the base of the meteorological mast. We can't see the mast, but we know it's deployed, because it's not visible next to the robotic arm.

Ed Sedivy said: "We were dead solid all the way down. We are a little farther downrange than we expected. When we look at all the parameters, it went better than any of the test simulations than we had run. ... Chute deploy was about 6.5 seconds later than we expected; everything else kind of tracks from there. Touchdown was about 7 seconds behind nominal timeline.

OK, that is absolutely all for me for tonight. I'll leave you with their first-released, false color image. It's available from the JPL website in lossless PNG format, 5 MB.

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False-color 'postcard' from Phoenix
False-color "postcard" from Phoenix
This image, one of the first captured by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, shows the vast plains of the northern polar region of Mars. The flat landscape is strewn with tiny pebbles and shows polygonal cracking, a pattern seen widely in Martian high latitudes and also observed in permafrost terrains on Earth. The polygonal cracking is believed to have resulted from seasonal freezing and thawing of surface ice.

Phoenix touched down on the Red Planet at 4:53 p.m. Pacific Time (7:53 Eastern Time), May 25, 2008, in an arctic region called Vastitas Borealis, at 68 degrees north latitude, 234 degrees east longitude.

This is an approximate-color image taken shortly after landing by the spacecraft's Surface Stereo Imager, inferred from two color filters, a violet, 450-nanometer filter and an infrared, 750-nanometer filter.

Credit: NASA / JPL / U. Arizona

And finally, a plea. If you like what I've been doing this evening, please consider joining The Planetary Society. Thank you for keeping with me tonight!

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