Monday, May 26, 2008

NASA's Phoenix Spacecraft Survives To Land On The Angry Red Planet

I watched the touchdown of NASA's Phoenix spacecraft in the northern polar region of Mars. You don't really get to see the lander itself on TV, only the the people in mission control. It was clear that the lander had landed safely when they stood up and cheered.

The first images from the lander brought back memories of the first Viking Missions in the late 70's, or the days in 1997 Pathfinder mission strained dial-up connections downloading images of dusty red rocks.

According to, only 50 percent of Mars missions have made it safely to the surface. Others missions, like the ill-fated Mars Polar Lander, reached the planet, only to be smashed into the rocky surface due to glitches with engines or software.

The description of Mars mission failures sometimes feel the planet itself has something to do with the loss of spacecraft, reaching out to swat away the pesky landers like metal mosquitoes.

The treacherous nature of Mars exploration brings to mind an old science fiction movie: The Angry Red Planet.

This 1960 film was filmed in a process called Cinemagic, which was supposed to make the Martian surface seem alive with animated creatures. The trailer boasts how aliens and hungry plants will reach out to get you...IN CINEMAGIC!

The scene I remember the most is when a giant "space amoeba" chases the crew back to their rocketship, then encases it like fruit in a jello mold.

Considering how many space probes have been lost on Mars, the red planet doesn't need gooey blobs to devour visiting spacecraft. The planet is quite capable of doing that job itself.

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