Friday, September 19, 2008

Science Friday: Phoenix Mars Mission Attracts NPR Spotlight as NASA Extends Life of Lander

NASA’s Phoenix Mars Mission was featured this afternoon on NPR's Talk of the Nation: Science Friday program, in which radio host Ira Flatow broadcast live from the University of Arizona’s Phoenix Science Operations Center in Tucson. More than 3 million listeners worldwide were expected to tune in to the broadcast.

One of the guests on the program was William K. Hartmann, scientist, space artist, and science fiction author. The website of Science Friday has a cool video of Hartmann’s paintings of Mars.

Here’s a description of the broadcast, compliments of Ira Flatow:

"In this segment, we'll get the big picture on science on the planet Mars. From orbiting observatories to roving rovers to the ditch-digging Phoenix -- what have planetary scientists learned about Mars, and what remains to be discovered?

The most recent visitor to the Red Planet is NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, which launched in August 2007 as the first mission in NASA's Scout Program. Phoenix is designed to study the history of water and habitability potential in the Martian arctic's ice-rich soil. So far, the lander has identified water ice in soil samples, and has detected the chemical perchlorate in the soil, a sign of the presence of liquid water in the past.

The Phoenix Mars Lander joins the twin rovers of the Mars Exploration Rover project, Spirit and Opportunity, which have been in operation since 2004. Now running years past their planned lifetime on Mars, the rovers are still exploring the surface. Rover Opportunity recently exited the Victoria Crater after several months on the crater floor.

Several orbiting observatories, including Mars Odyssey, Mars Express, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are examining the different aspects of the planet from above. The orbiting platforms have studied the planet's atmosphere, mapped its surface, and are also supporting the ground-based exploration missions.

We're broadcasting this week from Tucson, Arizona, home base for NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, as guests of Arizona Public Media."

In related news, NASA announced it has extended the mission of the Phoenix Mars Lander until December 2008, allowing scientists more time to conduct experiments on the Red Planet.

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