7 Minutes of Crucial Terror


Posted May 23, 2008 - By TylerColfax

We're having ourselves a Mars landing on Sunday. The newest mission to Mars (this one without Tim Robbins, thankfully) will attempt to put the Mars Phoenix Lander in the far northern plains close to the polar ice cap. She'll be scooping the soil and analyzing the permafrost for evidence of organic material, either alive or fossilized in some way.

But before they can start up those processes, they've got to make it through the dreaded 7 minutes of terror.

The so-called "7 minutes of terror" is a complicated series of operations where the craft breaks into the Martian atmosphere traveling nearly 13,000 miles an hour, deploys a parachute, jettisons the heat shield, extends the tripod lander, and fires thrusters for a safe landing.

And considering a success rate of only 55% for Martian landings, it's still a pretty risky voyage and the engineers are catiously optimistic as they're using landing systems that have been practiced and proven since the 70s.

And if they can make a successful landing, Peter Smith, one of the re-invigorating forces of the NASA Mars missions, says, "We are not going to be able to answer the final question of 'is there life on Mars.' We will take the next important step. We'll find out if there's organic material associated with this ice in the polar regions. Ice is a preserver and if there ever were organics on Mars and they got into that ice they will still be there today."

cnn.com: NASA preps for '7 minutes or terror' on Mars

7 Minutes of Crucial Terror


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