Surviving Seven Minutes of Terror.
“Radio signals received at 4:53:44 p.m. Pacific Time (7:53:44 p.m. Eastern Time) confirmed the Phoenix Mars Lander had survived its difficult final descent and touchdown 15 minutes earlier. The signals took that long to travel from Mars to Earth at the speed of light.”
The confirmation of the Phoenix Mars Lander’s touchdown on the Red Planet prompted team members at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lockheed Martin Space Systems and the University of Arizona to celebrate. The lander had successfully survived what scientists define as the “seven minutes of terror.”
The “seven minutes of terror” describe the seven nail-biting minutes it takes for spacecrafts to enter the Martian atmosphere, decrease its speed and touch down on the surface. The Phoenix Mars Lander’s seven minute descent onto the Martian surface was unquestionably a nail-biter for scientists in mission control.
Phoenix entered Mars’s atmosphere at approximately 13,000 miles per hour. Within its seven minutes of terror, Phoenix decreased its speed to 5 miles per hour before touching the surface of Mars. Phoenix’s landing was undoubtedly a joy to scientists, but the landing did not come without a few concerns.
In order for Phoenix to reduce its speed as it descended through the Martian atmosphere, the lander had to deploy its parachute. For undetermined reasons, the parachute deployed seven seconds later than scheduled which worried scientists. The delay of the parachute caused the Phoenix to land about 25 kilometers east in the Green Valley of Vastitas Borealis.
Scientists were able to receive visuals of the Phoenix descending towards Mars’s surface via the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera. HiRISE captured a photograph of the lander suspended midair with its parachute deployed. HiRISE’s capture was the first time in history that one spacecraft photographed the landing of another on a planet.
Phoenix’s remarkable and unique landing set a hopeful precedent for what would prove to be a successful mission.