The last two weeks have been pretty spectacular for NASA. We awaited the landing of Phoenix and launch of STS-124, and both were successful.
Phoenix Mars Landing
On May 25, Phoenix landed on the Arctic plains of northern Mars. It was a moment of multiple emotions, first anticipation and then absolute exhilaration, when Phoenix landed.
The first images revealed a landscape familiar to that of some of the colder climates on Earth. The Martian surface where Phoenix landed is strikingly similar to the permafrost landscape of northeastern Spitsbergen, Svalbard (picture attached of both). On Earth, permafrost can preserve organic molecules, bacteria, and fungi for hundreds of thousands of years. Phoenix will bore down into the frozen ground, scoop up the frozen soil with its robotic arm and deliver it to scientific instruments on its deck. One instrument, called TEGA, will vaporize the soil sample and analyze the chemistry of the vapors. Ultimately, we hope to learn whether water-ice just below the surface ever thaws and whether some of the chemical ingredients for life — as we know it — are preserved in the icy soil. Perhaps our planets are even more similar than we thought. Some of the most intriguing images so far are those of the surface underneath the lander. These images show a white-hard surface that was apparently exposed by Phoenix’s thrusters during landing. It’s very possible that this surface is the water-ice for which Phoenix is searching.
The day Phoenix landed was the busiest day of the year on the NASA website. One hundred and eighteen thousand people watched the landing on the NASA TV website and over a 24-hour period, there were 2 million unique visits to our Phoenix website and view Phoenix Mission multimedia.
On May 31, the STS-124 mission was successfully launched on a 14-day mission. This crew will deliver the second of the three components that make up Kibo, the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM), a laboratory, to the International Space Station (ISS) along with its remote manipulator system. The crew will use a combination of robotics and three spacewalks to accomplish its mission objectives. After installing the laboratory on the Station, the crew will also move the Japanese Logistics Module, which has been residing on Node 2 since its delivery on the last Shuttle mission, and attach it to Kibo. The logistics module contains computers and other components that will be used to outfit the Kibo laboratory. The final component of Kibo, known as the Exposed Facility (we refer to it as the Kibo “porch”), should arrive at the ISS next Spring. Once complete, Kibo will be the largest international component on the ISS.
As of Thursday, June 5, the crew has outfitted Kibo with systems racks and experiment racks and the second power and avionics string in Kibo has been successfully activated. Also, external cameras for use with the robotic arm as well as the “porch” were fitted to the exterior. The ISS and Shuttle crews are doing great and ahead of schedule. Visit the STS-124 mission site.