NASA readies spacecraft for landing on Mars

By Xinhua

Washington : NASA said Thursday that its engineers have adjusted the flight path of the Phoenix Mars Lander, setting the spacecraft on course for its May 25th landing on the Red Planet.

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“This is our first trajectory maneuver targeting a specific location in the northern polar region of Mars,” said Brian Portock, chief of the Phoenix navigation team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The mission’s two prior trajectory maneuvers, made last August and October, adjusted the flight path of Phoenix to intersect with Mars.

NASA has conditionally approved a landing site in a broad, flat valley informally called “Green Valley.” A final decision will be made after NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter takes additional images of the area this month. The mission has three more planned opportunities for maneuvers before May 25 to further refine the trajectory for a safe landing at the desired location.

“Our landing area has the largest concentration of ice on Mars outside of the polar caps. If you want to search for a habitable zone in the arctic permafrost, then this is the place to go,” said Peter Smith, principal investigator for the mission.

In the final seven minutes of its flight on May 25, Phoenix must perform a challenging series of actions to safely decelerate from nearly 13,000 mph. The spacecraft will release a parachute and then use pulse thrusters at approximately 3,000 feet from the surface to slow to about 5 mph and land on three legs.

If Phoenix can successfully land, it will dig to an ice-rich layer expected to lie within arm’s reach of the surface. It will analyze the water and soil for evidence about climate cycles and investigate whether the environment there is favorable for microbial life.