Phoenix Lander  


Much like its namesake, the Phoenix Lander will allow a neglected piece of Mars hardware to rise from the ashes of a failed mission. The Phoenix lander will be the first Scout mission launched by NASA, with a takeoff date of 2007 and a funding cap of $300 mission for the mission.

Following the failure of the Mars Polar Lander, an identical lander that was to be launched in 2001 was put into permanent storage. At the time, NASA managers (notably Ed Weiler, the current Associate Administrator for Space Science) felt that the possibility of failure for the 2001 lander was very high, and had “no confidence” in launching it due to Polar Lander’s uncertain fate. Thus, the cancellation of the 2001 lander mission was (in the words of Weiler) a “no brainer”. Incidentially, the orbiter portion of the 2001 project, itself later dubbed the 2001 Mars Odyssey, ultimately was successful.

With NASA’s announcement of a new Scout-class of missions, the early favorite and eventual winner of the competition for the first Scout opportunity in 2007 was the Phoenix lander project. It beat out three other finalists out of a total of 43 concepts at the beginning of the Scout competition.

The Phoenix Lander will carry a suite of instruments originally designed for both the failed Polar Lander as well as the 2001 lander. It will be ideal for its mission to land in the frozen northern arctic plain of Mars. Its robotic arm and microscopic imager will be capable of digging up to a meter into the soil in order to search for water in the frozen tundra.

The Phoenix Lander is the brainchild of planetary scientist Peter Smith, from the University of Arizona, who also served as the principal investigator for the Mars Pathfinder’s primary stereo camera, the Imager for Mars Pathfinder (IMP), and also served as the mission’s unofficial poet at some of the press briefings for Pathfinder, waxing eloquently about the experience of living on martian solar time.