A United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket launched Phoenix towards Mars at 5:26:34 a.m. EDT (0926:34 GMT) from Pad 17A at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in
"It's a wonderful morning to go to Mars," NASA's Phoenix project manager Barry Goldstein, of the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), just before liftoff. As predicted, weather conditions were pristine for the early morning space shot. The launch was delayed 24 hours earlier this week due to bad weather during rocket fueling.
Just after the supersonic crackle of the launch,
"This is just about the coolest thing you could imagine," said Tim Gasparrini, deputy program manager for the
Ray Arvidson, co-chairman of the Phoenix Landing Site Working Group at
"It was a great launch, so it means we're going to reach a high northern latitude site on Mars and actually sample ice for the first time," Arvidson said. "Now we can get on with the business of doing great science on mars."
Bound for Mars
The $420 million Phoenix mission is built on the ashes of NASA's canceled Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander and the ill-fated Mars Polar Lander, which crashed during landing in December 1999. Much of the 772-pound (350-kilogram) probe and its seven science instrument packages are built from hardware based on or recycled from those two missions, mission managers have said.
"I started working on this spacecraft in 1997, so it's incredibly gratifying to watch it finally go up," Gasparrini said. "It's not often that you get a second chance in life."
"It seemed like an eternity," said NASA launch director Chuck Dovale. "We weren't sure that
"The cruise to Mars will be about nine and a half months," said Ed Sedivy,
If successful, the landing will mark the first soft touchdown on Mars since NASA's massive Viking lander missions in the 1970s.
"It's going to be a pretty flat plain, but still scientifically fascinating," Arvidson said of the target zone.
Researchers used imagery from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and other spacecraft to make sure Phoenix's landing site was relatively clear of rocks, steep slopes or other conditions that could pose a hazard to the spacecraft. The landing site is at latitude on Mars similar to that of northern
In addition to its backhoe-like robotic arm,
"This is a stepping stone for future missions because the number one NASA goal is searching for life outside the Earth's boundaries inside the Solar System," said Peter Smith,
Tiny ovens and a wet chemistry laboratory mounted to
"As smart as we like to think we are, we're not clearly as smart as we need to be," Goldstein said before launch, calling Mars a spacecraft eater. "It really is a difficult job. No matter how many times we land successfully, it will never be routine."
Kemo D. (a.k.a. no.7) www.beyondgenes.com