The news vans, cameras and reporters are slowly moving out of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory parking lot after a weekend of crossed fingers, lucky peanuts and amazing scientific and engineering achievement.
Just before 5 p.m on Sunday, the Phoenix spacecraft used its descent thrusters and landed on its three legs on the Martian surface, all according to plan. The landing procedure was last attempted in 1999 with the Mars Polar Lander but communication was lost with the spacecraft shortly before it entered Mars’ atmosphere. This landing was “perfect,” according to Barry Goldstein, Phoenix project manager.
Since its landing, the spacecraft has been operating according to plan with only one glitch; the relay of information from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The orbiter is one of two that was planned to communicate with Phoenix during morning and evening flyovers. Although it had been tested over 100 times before the landing, the orbiter’s UHF radio antenna stopped working. The MRO team is working to find the reason for the problem. In the meantime the second orbiter, the Odyssey, will be doing double duty as it relays the Phoenix information to and from Earth.