Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Phoenix Mars Mission "Planetary Wonderings"

Planetary Wonderings
May Focus:
Phoenix Mars Mission
By Mary-Frances Bartels, NASA Solar System Ambassador

Have you noticed one of JPL’s newest missions in the news lately? It

is the Phoenix Mars Mission. Launched in August 2007, the PMM is

the first in NASA's Scout Program. It combines the missions of two

previous missions --- the 1998 Mars Polar Lander that crashed and

2001 Mars Survey Lander that was cancelled. This three-month

mission is to study the history of water and habitability potential in

the Martian arctic's ice-rich soil. The spacecraft will land farther north

on Mars than any previous probe.

Phoenix has much to accomplish during its short lifespan. It will collect

weather-related data such as air temperature and pressure, wind, and

humidity. Like other missions, it has a camera and will be able to take

stereo images. On the more “exotic side” it also has a robotic arm to

dig, scrape, and grind samples. Scientists expect to find an ice-rich

layer lying within inches of the surface. The craft also has a gas

analyzer and a self-contained chemistry lab complete with microscope.

On Sunday evening, May 25, 2008 , the NASA Phoenix spacecraft

will arrive at Mars. Live news briefings and commentary of the

event begins on NASA TV at 3:00 PM EDT with actual landing

coverage beginning at 6:30 PM . A briefing covering the first

collected data is scheduled for 9:30 PM . NASA TV may be

accessed via cable and satellite TV systems or online at .

Resource of the Month: Visit PMM’s educational website at where one can find

lesson plans, activities, and other classroom materials. An interactive

map will soon be available. Alternatively, PMM has a special site

for kids at where one may

find specially composed music for Mars, artwork, and essays written

by children. Learn more about Steve the Cat’s trip to the Red Planet

or follow the travels of Phil the Phoenix bird.

Activity of the Month: Here are some trivia questions pertaining

to Mars. See how many you can answer. Research Mars and the

Phoenix mission and come up with trivia questions of your own.

  1. What famous story about Mars was turned into a musical?
  2. Who mastermined this project?
  3. Can you name at least five video games based, at least in
    part, on exploration of Mars?
  4. What publishing house created a Mars exploration game that
    uses cardboard pieces based on real maps of the red planet?
  5. Did you know that you can download the same software
    uses to control the Mars Exploration Rovers? What is its name?
  6. How many missions to Mars have there been? How many
    of these have been successful?

Suggestions, questions, and comments about “Planetary Wonderings”

are welcomed and may be directed to stargazer @

(remove spaces). Past columns may be found at

(all past columns, click on “Planetary Wonderings” on the right side of

opening screen) and at

(columns from Jan. 2007 to the present).

Remember to keep looking up!

Sources: Various NASA e-mails

Terri, Events Coordinator
Phoenix Astronomical Society