Planet Mars is back in the news this weekend: NASA’s Phoenix spacecraft will attempt one of the most dangerous landings ever tried. The lander will attempt to set down in Mars north polar region after negotiating a perilous 15-minute entry into the Martian atmosphere.
If Phoenix survives the first seven minutes of fierce buffeting and heating (to thousands of degrees), it will then rely on a parachute and pulsing retrorockets to touch down.
Phoenix is equipped with a miniature backhoe and a set of sophisticated, automated laboratories that will analyze the soil and permafrost that Phoenix hopes to scoop up. Landing signals are expected around 4:53 PDT today…
[Update] Phoenix landed successfully at 4:53 PM PDT.