“It was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen.”
In celebration of InSight’s successful launch, the Robinson Family Aerospace Mission reflects on the launch of the Phoenix Mars Lander.
August 4, 2007, at 5:26 a.m. ET, the Phoenix Mars Lander launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, escorted by a Boeing Delta II rocket. With a 22 day launch window, Phoenix was aimed towards the sky. The lander was powered by a launch vehicle used for several successful missions in the past, which included Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. The Boeing launch vehicle weighed 628,820 pounds which prompted the use of an engine capable of producing 200,000 pounds of thrust.
The Phoenix Mars Lander’s launch was a huge success for the University of Arizona, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lockheed Martin Space Systems and international contributors. Phoenix’s launch was so precise that it was able to conserve propellant which made it more maneuverable upon its Martian landfall. Lockheed Martin’s spacecraft program manager Ed Sedivy stated that Phoenix’s telemetry was spot on for its 422 million mile journey. In a post-launch briefing, he added, “everybody knew that [the launch] was the homerun that they were looking for.”
The Phoenix Mars Lander’s Principal Investigator Peter Smith described the launch as “the most beautiful thing I’ve seen.” When the Delta II rocket lifted off, a noctilucent cloud appeared from the exhaust of the launch vehicle. The colors of the contrail created a luminous effect in the predawn sky.
“This cloud turned into what looked like wings and a beak and a long tail and looked amazingly just like a phoenix bird, the message to me was: Phoenix bird has risen! And it has. We’re on our way to Mars,” Dr. Smith expressed.
The Phoenix, which was respectfully named in honor of previous fallen Martian missions, was an inspirational and impactful mission for the future of Mars exploration.