Phoenix afar

In May 2008 Phoenix landed well on Mars. These days, its easy to be blazé about such things. Yet, it’s impressive that a vehicle can be landed exactly as planned at 68° N, 233°E, in the Vastitas Borealis, the arctic plains of Mars, after a journey of 295 days and 679 million km.

Phoenix isn’t huge; at the full width of its deployed solar arrays, it is 5.5m wide and it is about 2.2m high at the top of its meteorology mast. The landed mass of 410kg, including science-instrument payload and fuel, is all that remains of a launch vehicle and spacecraft that, fully fueled, weighed over 230 tonnes on lift-off from Earth. At its landing site Phoenix must endure temperatures from -73°C to -33°C.

As I said, impressive.