A National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or Nasa, probe sent back never-seen pictures of Mars’ north pole on Monday after a near- perfect landing in the most ambitious mission to date to find life-sustaining minerals on the Red Planet.
The first pictures from the Phoenix probe provided the first glimpse of the planet’s arctic plains—a desolate landscape of stony, frozen ground.
The images also confirmed that the solar arrays needed for the mission’s energy supply had unfolded properly, and masts for the stereo camera and weather station had swung into vertical position.
Red earth: One of the first colour images from the Phoenix. (Reuters)
A flat Martian valley floor shown on the pictures is expected to have water-rich permafrost within reach of the lander’s robotic arm.
After a nine-month journey from Earth, the Phoenix probe touched down in a relatively flat target area, according to Barry Goldstein, Phoenix project manager at the mission’s control centre at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
“Seeing these images after a successful landing reaffirmed the thorough work over the past five years by a great team,” Goldstein told reporters.
Radio signals received at 7.53 pm Eastern Time (2353 GMT) on Sunday confirmed the Phoenix Mars Lander had survived its difficult final descent and touchdown, officials said.
“For the first time in 32 years, and only the third time in history, a JPL team has carried out a soft landing on Mars,” Nasa head Michael Griffin said in a statement. “I couldn’t be happier to be here to witness this incredible achievement.”
As planned, Phoenix stopped transmitting signals one minute after landing and focused its limited battery power on opening its solar arrays, and other critical activities. But a key task still ahead was the first use of the lander’s robotic arm, which was planned for Tuesday. The arm is designed to dig trenches up to 1m deep for samples of soil and water ice. The arm will deliver the samples to instruments aboard the lander for detailed chemical and geological analysis. AFP