On Sunday NASA managed to get the Phoenix lander to make a soft touchdown in the Martian Arctic. Now that's cool enough news -- Mars has a long and quite international history of eating spacecraft. But here's the thing: We got photos. Of the lander in its shell coming down under its parachute. No, really!
Here's one source and commentary I found.
HiRISE spots Phoenix as it falls
This amazing photo shows the Phoenix lander, still protected inside its backshell and heat shield, stretched out below its parachute (at the top of the image). It was taken by the HiRISE camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as Phoenix descended, a speeding bullet photographed by a speeding bullet. Credit: NASA / JPL / U. Arizona
But then there's this:
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera acquired this image of Phoenix hanging from its parachute as it descended to the Martian surface. Shown here is a 10 kilometer (6 mile) diameter crater informally called "Heimdall," and an improved full-resolution image of the parachute and lander. Although it appears that Phoenix is descending into the crater, it is actually about 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) in front of the crater.
The Phoenix Mission is led by the University of Arizona, Tucson, on behalf of NASA. Project management of the mission is by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Spacecraft development is by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
Click here for the full image.
This Is Incredible!
Just the other month I gave a talk on the difficulty of seeing things in space from Earth. For example, we cannot see the Apollo landing sites from the Earth. But there are a couple of pictures which just manage to show the landers at the Apollo 15 and 17 sites taken from lunar orbit. And there's a shot of one of the Mars rovers taken from Mars orbit.
But this! This is in the class of the live TV picture of the launch of the Apollo 17 Lunar Module ascent stage taking off from the Moon, as shot by remote control from the lunar rover, including the Earth-Moon time delay for starting the camera pan before the image began to move... This took programming to get the orbiting camera to point at the right place at the right time.
This is, pardon my French, Un-Fucking-Believable!
UPDATE: I'm not the only one (by far) gushing about this. This is what smart people can do.