Phoenix Mars Mission Ashes to Ice

Phoenix Mars Mission premiered May 2008.


Despite humankind's fascination with Mars, it has proved to be an elusive target. More than half of the missions to Mars have failed, but a new team of dreamers, scientists and engineers is set to try again. Phoenix Mars Mission, led by Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, is the latest mission seeking to unlock the secrets of the Red Planet. The Phoenix Mars Mission team seeks to verify the presence of water and habitable conditions in the Martian arctic.

An artist's concept of landing Artist's concept of the lander a moment before its May 2008 touchdown on Mars.
Phoenix Mars Mission: Ashes to Ice follows engineers and scientists from all over the world as they race against the clock to have the Phoenix Mars Lander ready for its narrow window of opportunity to blastoff from Cape Canaveral on its interplanetary trajectory. Once there, "Phoenix" and its sensitive instruments will have a window of approximately 90 days to collect data before the brutal Martian winter sets in.

Like the phoenix bird of ancient mythology, the Phoenix Mars Mission is reborn out of fire. Created from the embers of previous Mars endeavors, this new mission uses many components of two unsuccessful missions. Determined to not repeat the mistakes of the past, the team's scientists and engineers endure sleepless nights and countless setbacks.

Flying the Phoenix spacecraft 420 million miles, and then landing it within a 62-mile-long by 12-mile-wide target, is like shooting an arrow from Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium and hitting home plate at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Trajectory correction maneuvers keep the spacecraft on course as it cruises through space at more than 44,500 mph.

The Phoenix spacecraft is scheduled to land on Mars on Sunday, May 25, 2008. After landing, an international team of scientists led by Peter Smith will run the robotic mission from the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory's Phoenix Science Operations Center in Tucson, Arizona.

Phoenix Mars Lander monitoring atmosphereNASA's Phoenix Mars Lander monitors the Martian atmosphere overhead and reaches out to the soil below in this artist's depiction.
Researchers have mapped more than five million individual rocks in and around the landing region, each big enough to end the mission if hit by the spacecraft during landing. Knowing where to avoid the rockier areas, the team has selected a scientifically exciting target that also offers the best chances for the spacecraft to land safely. "Our landing area has the largest concentration of ice on Mars outside of the polar caps," Smith explains, "if you want to search for a habitable zone in the arctic permafrost, then this is the place to go."

On May 25th, in the final seven minutes of its flight to Mars, Phoenix must perform a challenging series of actions to safely decelerate from nearly 13,000 miles per hour. The spacecraft will release a parachute and then pulse thrusters at approximately 3,000 feet from the surface to slow to about five miles per hour and land on three legs.

Once on the surface of Mars, a robotic arm will allow Phoenix to explore vertically and use instruments on the spacecraft deck to analyze samples of Martian soil and ice. In addition to examining surface soil, Phoenix will dig down to the icy layer, scooping up samples for analysis by its on-board instruments.

In chronicling the team's efforts to ensure Phoenix will rise from the ashes and successfully complete its mission, Phoenix Mars Mission: Ashes to Ice provides a fascinating account of one of humanity's most exciting and ambitious journeys.

Phoenix Mars Mission: Ashes to Ice was produced by Arizona Public Media. Visit more information about the program and the mission.

Track Phoenix on its journey to Mars and learn about the science as it happens at the Phoenix Mars Mission homepage.

Watch videos about the Phoenix Mars Mission and view the highest resolution images ever captured of the surface of Mars at

Visit NASA's Mars exploration website for information about the Mars Missions for students, teachers and the general public.


Funded by:

Desert Program Partners

Produced by:

Arizona Public Media

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