Space & Planetary Science: May 2008 Archives

NASA Selects Small Explorer Investigations for Concept Studies

"Following detailed mission concept studies, NASA intends to select two of the mission proposals in the spring of 2009 for full development as SMEX missions. The first mission could launch by 2012. Both will launch by 2015. Mission costs will be capped at $105 million each, excluding the launch vehicle."

Editor's update: Originally there were going to be three selections made. Now only two are being selected. One more mission sacrificed ($105 million saved) to feed MSL overruns, it would seem.

NASA'S Phoenix Lander Robotic Arm Camera Sees Possible Ice

"Scientists have discovered what may be ice that was exposed when soil was blown away as NASA's Phoenix spacecraft landed on Mars last Sunday, May 25. The possible ice appears in an image the robotic arm camera took underneath the lander, near a footpad. "We could very well be seeing rock, or we could be seeing exposed ice in the retrorocket blast zone," said Ray Arvidson of Washington University, St. Louis, Mo., co-investigator for the robotic arm. "We'll test the two ideas by getting more data, including color data, from the robotic arm camera. We think that if the hard features are ice, they will become brighter because atmospheric water vapor will collect as new frost on the ice."

Editorial: A mission of hope, Ventura County Star

"The triumphant arrival of the Phoenix Mars Lander on Sunday was just such an event. It showed what can be accomplished when humans put aside their differences and work toward a common goal. It proved the spirit of exploration and the quest for knowledge remain strongly embedded traits in the human psyche."

Martians Must Have Noticed Why Didn't We?, opinion, Human Events

"Though the press essentially ignored it, this was a huge accomplishment. One would think that an American technological achievement of this magnitude would be seized upon by both the sitting administration in Washington and by all those now running to replace it."

Our Opinion: Lander's legacy: Young people looking skyward, Tucson Citizen

"The Phoenix program has spent $4 million on educational outreach. Thousands of Tucson-area students have visited the mission's operations center north of downtown. More hourlong tours are scheduled to begin Wednesdays starting June 11. Mars-related activities are planned for the Tucson Children's Museum and the UA Museum of Art. "I hope," says Phoenix's outreach manager, Carla Bitter, "we plant the seed and grow the enthusiasm of looking up and out."

NASA Mars Phoenix Lander Descending To Mars with Crater in the Background

"Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera acquired this image of Phoenix hanging from its parachute as it descended to the Martian surface. Shown here is a 10 kilometer (6 mile) diameter crater informally called "Heimdall," and an improved full-resolution image of the parachute and lander. Although it appears that Phoenix is descending into the crater, it is actually about 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) in front of the crater."

Finding Phoenix

HiRISE Images Phoenix Lander Hardware on Mars

"The HiRISE camera has acquired this image of the Phoenix landing site 22 hours after landing. The image shows 3 unusual features, which were not present in the earlier HiRISE image PSP_007853_2485. We expect to find 3 main pieces of hardware: the parachute attached to the backshell, the heat shield, and the lander itself. This image was acquired on the ascending node of the orbit making it about 3:00PM local time on the surface. The rest of the HiRISE observation shows a cloud free day for Phoenix Lander operations."

Camera On NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Snaps Phoenix During Landing

"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."

Main NASA website

Deja Vu on Mars

Editor's 26 May update: CNN just called. I will be on air sometime around 5:15 pm EDT to talk about Mars Phoenix. I am also doing an interview for

Editor's 25 May note: I had a rather strange case of deja vu tonight as the first images from Phoenix flashed on my computer screen. The image on the left was taken on 25 May 2008 on Mars at 68 deg North. I took the picture on the right on Devon Island, 75 deg North in July 2007. I'm just saying ... those polygonal patterns on Mars are VERY familiar.

Have a look at this photo from Dale Andersen: "Here is another patterned ground shot from ~80deg N on Axel Heiberg Island. Looks to be the same order of magnitude scale from Phoenix."

[More photos below].

The NASA Phoenix Spacecraft Has Landed on Mars

Raw images HERE

"NASA's Phoenix spacecraft landed in the northern polar region of Mars today to begin three months of examining a site chosen for its likelihood of having frozen water within reach of the lander's robotic arm. Radio signals received at 4:53:44 p.m. Pacific Time (7:53:44 p.m. Eastern Time) confirmed the Phoenix Mars Lander had survived its difficult final descent and touchdown 15 minutes earlier.

"We've passed the hardest part and we're breathing again, but we still need to see that Phoenix has opened its solar arrays and begun generating power," said JPL's Barry Goldstein, the Phoenix project manager. If all goes well, engineers will learn the status of the solar arrays between 7 and 7:30 p.m. Pacific Time (10 and 10:30 p.m. Eastern Time) from a Phoenix transmission relayed via NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter."

Gravity Probe B scores 'F' in NASA review, New Scientist

"A NASA review appears to spell the end for Gravity Probe B, the project conceived in the 1960s to measure how the Earth warps the fabric of nearby space-time. A panel of about 15 experts commissioned by NASA analysed the performance of 10 NASA astrophysics missions that are currently operating in Earth orbit. A copy of the "senior review" obtained by New Scientist concludes that extending the lifetimes of the top nine missions "would be certain to deliver unique data of high scientific value". But Gravity Probe B didn't make the cut because the panel doubted further analysis of its results would yield significant new information."

Editor's note: According to NASA PAO: "Phoenix leveraged the 2001 lander investment to produce a polar lander for a mission cost of $420M. The Mars 2001 Lander was approximately 71% complete at cancellation and the sunk costs were estimated to be $100M. It is difficult to determine the exact costs since the lander was being developed along side the orbiter, Mars Odyssey, and both spacecraft were treated as one project. However, here's what we have:

2001 Lander = $100M
Storage = $250K
Phoenix = $420M (Full cost LCC $419.6M, Launch vehicle $90.3M, Spacecraft $295.7M, Phase E $33.6M)"

As such, the total cost for Mars Phoenix is $100 million spent on the original 2001 lander, plus $250K to store it, and then $420 million for the Mars Phoenix project or a total of $520 million.

NASA to Discuss Phoenix Mission Upcoming Mars Landing

"NASA has scheduled a media briefing Tuesday, May 13, at 11 a.m. EDT, to discuss the challenges, risks and science opportunities of the scheduled May 25 landing of the Phoenix Mars Lander."

Editor's note: Phoenix once had another name: "2001 Mars Surveyor Lander". After NASA crashed two spacecraft into Mars in 1999 (Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander) it was mothballed. Then some imaginative people found a way to use NASA's investment and create a new mission using existing hardware - with lessons learned from the Mars crashes applied.

Alas, when NASA talks about Phoenix they really don't want to remind people of those sad days in 1999. In so doing they go out of their way not to remind people that a lot of money went into this spacecraft before the name change. How much? They can never really provide a straight answer. Instead, they try and pass it off as an inexpensive mission.

What follows [below] is a chronology of sorts as I thave tried to find out just what this mission costs: so far I have found official NASA statements that it is $325 million, $386 million, and $420 million. I am sure NASA can come up with several more if they try. I wonder (if asked the question) what their answer will be at this press event?

Small wonder no one can figure out exactly what MSL is going to cost, eh?

Cost chronology below:

Looking For Mars Polar Lander, HiRISE, University of Arizona

"In our last PDS release, HiRISE made available our images (to date) of an area where the Mars Polar Lander is suspected to have crashed in 1999. MPL was the first mission to the high latitudes of Mars, but failed mysteriously, the first of two high-profile failures in Americas Mars program at the time. An assessment team found a number of potential causes of the crash; the condition of MPL, if found, may help to resolve what actually happened."

NASA Internal Memo: Weiler Assumes Official Role As NASA Science Chief

"Administrator Michael Griffin announced Wednesday that Ed Weiler will remain as NASA's associate administrator for the agency's Science Mission Directorate. Weiler was named interim chief of the directorate March 26."

NASA ROSES-08 Amendment 8: Cancellation of Space Policy Research program

"This amendment cancels the program element in Appendix E.5 entitled "Space Policy Research." At this time, the SMD program cannot support new investigations in this area. No Space Policy Research investigations will be solicited at this time."

Editor's note: I am confused. This says "Appendix E.5 entitled Space Policy Research" yet this is what Section E.5 is titled: "E.5 OPPORTUNITIES IN SCIENCE MISSION DIRECTORATE EDUCATION AND PUBLIC OUTREACH". Does NASA mean to cancel "E.6 SPACE POLICY RESEARCH" or are they canceling education and public outreach?

NASA ROSES-08 Amendment 8: Cancellation of Space Policy Research program

"This amendment cancels the program element in Appendix E.5 entitled "Space Policy Research." At this time, the SMD program cannot support new investigations in this area. No Space Policy Research investigations will be solicited at this time."

Editor's update: According to NASA "E6 (Space Policy) has been canceled, not E5 (E/PO)".



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