Mars Orbiter Snaps Phoenix During Landing

Mars Phoenix Lander Descent

A telescopic camera in orbit around Mars caught a view of NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander suspended from its parachute during the lander’s successful arrival at Mars Sunday evening, May 25.

The image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter marks the first time ever one spacecraft has photographed another one in the act of landing on Mars.

“We saw a few other bright spots in the image first, but when we saw the parachute and the lander with the cords connecting them, there was no question,” said HiRISE Principal Investigator Alfred McEwen, also of the University of Arizona.

“I’m floored. I’m absolutely floored,” said Phoenix Project Manager Barry Goldstein of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. A team analyzing what can be learned from the Phoenix descent through the Martian atmosphere will use the image to reconstruct events.

HiRISE usually points downward. For this image, the pointing was at 62 degrees, nearly two-thirds of the way from straight down to horizontal. To tilt the camera, the whole orbiter must tilt. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was already pointed toward the expected descent path of Phoenix to record radio transmissions from Phoenix.

McEwen said, “We’ve never taken an image at such an oblique angle before.”

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~ by aspoeth on May 26, 2008.

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