Mars probe sends back new pictures of landing site

Tue May 27, 2008 10:46pm EDT
 
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By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Phoenix lander has sent back new pictures from the arctic circle of Mars, showing for the first time the spot where it will dig through the Red Planet's dusty surface looking for water and assess conditions for life.

The remarkable images, displayed on Tuesday by mission managers, offered a glimpse of the Martian valley where Phoenix will scoop up samples of frozen soil for analysis by its instruments -- as well as views of the lander and its discarded parachute standing out starkly from the dark surface of the planet where they came to rest.

"This is a place we're going to get to know very well over the next three months," the mission's chief scientist, Peter Smith, said in describing the 30-mile wide valley and small hills on the horizon.

Mission managers said Phoenix, which touched gently down on Mars on Sunday after a 10-month, 420 million-mile (676 million-km) journey from Earth, had come through its landing in good shape, though they were still grappling with a pair of technical glitches.

The more serious of those involved Phoenix's inability to communicate with NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which, along with the Odyssey spacecraft, must relay commands and data back to Earth, since the lander cannot communicate directly with its home planet.

Fuk Li, manager of the Mars exploration program for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, said the problem was a UHF radio on the orbiter, which he said appeared to have shut down after an unknown "transient event" in space.

CALLING ODYSSEY

Li said the Phoenix team was working to re-establish communications and did not expect the mission to be compromised because the lander was still in contact with Odyssey.   Continued...

 
<p>NASA's Mars Phoenix Lander can be seen hanging from its parachute as it descends to the Martian surface. Shown here is a 6 mile diameter crater informally called "Heimdall," in this image captured from Nasa's Mars Reconnaissance, Orbiter May 27, 2008. REUTERS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Handout.</p>