Friday, September 24, 2010

Overheard At The Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Artist's rendering of the Phoenix landing on Mars

Found in cyberspace: a live chat log from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), recorded on May 25, 2008, before the Phoenix spacecraft landed on Mars as part of the Mars Scout Program.

Here are questions that visitors to the chat room asked, with occasional answers from JPL people. Why the mention of peanuts? It's a long-standing tradition at the JPL to eat peanuts before a landing for good luck.

What is the expected lifespan of the lander?

Will the first solar array images show any part of the surface?

How precise did the MERs and Pathfinder land with respect to their precalculated landing ellipses?

Is JPL a circus yet?

Where are the peanuts?! :)

I hear there may be a rough landing

JPL: yer, if you land on a big rock, it's going to hurt

Is the trajectory now set in stone, or is a final correction possible?

JPL: Its all on its own now. Last chance for a trajectory change was this morning.

A friend has asked me if its true they used cork in the manufacturing of the heat shield? Any ideas?

JPL: there is cork

I think cork was really used

Cork was mentioned in one of the NASA videos

JPL: Loonyman, yes cork is used on the heatshield. Now this is really special cork, and this cork is what's going to protect us from the violent atmospheric entry that we're about...

Is it possible for SSI to capture some astronomical images of the Earth, Phobos, stars? Do they plan to do this?

Is there any corrective maneuver that can be done during the thruster powered descent to detect and avoid large boulders or steep slopes?

JPL: No, it just lands. Its luck where it ends up

Is the champagne chilling, just in case Phoenix discovers life?

Will any images be returned by Phoenix as it descends to the Martian surface?

JPL: Unmanned Spaceflight had some news about MRO attempting to capture Phoenix EDL images. No promises.

Will you be eating peanuts during EDL? (Estimated landing)

And if the answer is yes, what type?

Everyone with peanuts in the shell for luck, crack one. Crack.

What's the peanut reference?

Josh: Go buy peanuts RIGHT NOW and start eating. :)

I understand that detecting life is not part of the Phoenix mission, but is there the possibility that during the sample analysis that life could be detected?

Like cells?

JPL: Yes, it has a powerful microscope

Josh, you MUST have some peanuts !! It's a superstition! :-)

I wonder how hard the wind blows

Thanks for the liveblog, it's really interesting to listen to (first-year undergrad in UK)

Compared to the other mars landing sites we've seen, how bland do you think the phoenix site will be?


  1. You humans should not be eat peanuts or legumes of any when control space probe. Someone should reprimand this JPL person. On my planet he would receive electric shock.

  2. Outer Space Alien,

    Are your kind not as skilled as we humans at manning space probes? Obviously, cracking open peanuts while controlling precision manuevers is no problem for us. Too bad this is so hard for you guys.

  3. Human unit, we are not do eat peanuts on our planet but of hypothetical case equivalent would be fix big salad chopping of onions while landing space probe with little finger. This is forbidden. Besides already we know this Mars planet.

  4. OSA, you are a real hoot, you know that?