Phoenix Lands

Last Friday (Saturday?), I went out with Erick & Petra, Steve and Alex for lunch (dinner?)… anyway, despite the apparent amnesic qualities of the food, that was all good, and through Alex, whom works at NASA up in Mountain View, I was reminded that the Mars Phoenix Lander was due to touch down on the little red speck on Sunday. So, Sunday I went up to the Ames Exploration Centre up at Moffett, to check out the various exhibits and see how it went. Steve made it eventually – as did Erick & Petra, albeit after the landing – and I otherwise had a good look around. It’s only a small little touristy centre, with a few exhibits and an ad hoc auditorium bit for presentations, where they were looping a talk about the lander.

When it came time for the lander’s entry into Mars’ atmosphere, everyone clustered around the various projector screens, TVs and computers that were all hooked up to NASA TV in one form or another. It felt kinda cutesy, like it would have been for the moon landings – everyone crowded around one little TV, watching nothing but the control room back on Earth, awaiting merely a radio signal indicating success.

Still, it was surprisingly exciting, even if it wouldn’t seem so from a distance… I’m afraid I wasn’t entirely confident that it would be successful, given this is the twin brother – very much revamped, admittedly – of the previous, failed, Mars lander. I antagonised Alex playfully about it, though he was very well humoured – possibly because he was entirely confident it would work. And, his confidence was entirely appropriate, as it has thus far been flawless.

Some of the interesting points discussed were:

Why doesn’t it use inflatable balloons to bounce onto the surface? Because it’s too heavy.
What’s the difference between a lander and a rover? A lander can’t move.
Why design an immobile probe? The lander gave up mobility for instruments. But in future they won’t have to make that compromise, and will include both.
What’s with the hanging rock? It’s a valuable scientific instrument that’s relatively impervious to malfunction. :)
Doesn’t it burn the ground it’s trying to analyse, when it lands? The engines cut off a short distance above the ground, and it falls the rest of the way.
Why does it take so long for photos to get back to Earth? Because it has a 36kbps uplink and relies on one or other of the few orbiting Mars craft in order to relay communications back to Earth.
How long will its mission be? ’til the end of Martian summer; then the arctic winter descends and the lander will freeze to death.

So, hopefully it gives some interesting results, before that winter comes. Because of it’s high latitude it won’t be able to survive in standby mode through winter – not enough power – though I think – and Alex approved – it should use that scoop it’s got to dig itself a nice little snowcave. ;)

Other than that, on Monday night I caught up with them all again for food – well, Alex & Steve; apparently Conner was being too troublesome for Erick & Petra – and later bowling, which I sucked at as expected. And I think I might have stressed my forearm, because it’s very sore today. Though that could be related to the gym last night; I’ve been going to the gym three or so nights a week, which I’m reasonably happy with as I do go pretty all out when I go, but, last night I went a little too all out and had to stop after only fifteen minutes because I got a bad stitch. :/ I had been pushing myself very hard, admittedly, which I categorically deny was influenced by Erin being there when I first arrived. ;)

So I’ve given the gym a miss tonight, which does give me a chance to catch up on things like washing and eating and possibly sleeping, but I hope I bounce back tomorrow. I’ve lost a little weight – maybe a kilo and a half – in the past month or so, and it’s entirely because of the gym as my diet certainly hasn’t improved at all. Coding provokes snacking, it’s unavoidable. :/

WWDC is coming up, of course, which means no more weekends, more or less, not that I’ve really had much of them lately anyway (I worked Saturday & Monday, inbetween the aforementioned activities). The conference is always great, but, I wish those damn 3rd party developers didn’t expect so much of us; they’re making me actually prepare and stuff, urgh… ;)

Leave a Comment