Phoenix Rises Enroute to Mars

nasa_phoenix_mars_210_3aug07.jpgThe Phoenix Mars mission hit a rain delay yesterday and instead took off this morning. The launch was clean, and one of our frequent commenters caught the trail, but not the takeoff — Aknot describes the scene below:

I verified the launch schedule before I left for work (3 am) and checked my watch at 5:10 am. The morning sky was cloudless and the moon was at my back…perfect! At 5:45 I saw a strange cloud formation in the sky and said “crap”, I missed it.

The trail was amazing, being lit up by the moon behind me or the city lights (Tampa and Orlando) in front of me. It looked like a huge white wispy ring but later you could better see the trail as the sun came up and changed some of it to an orange glow. The last half hour it was visible it resembled a smoke trail straight from a RoadRunner/Wile E. Coyote cartoon with loop-de-loops, u-turns, and circles.

It’s on my list of things to do to go down and watch a shuttle launch, Aknot watches from the Tampa area every launch. More on the story from CNN.

The unmanned Delta II rocket carrying the Phoenix Mars Lander rose from its seaside pad at 5:26 a.m., exactly on time, and hurtled through the clear moonlit sky. It was easily visible for nearly five minutes, a bright orange speck in a spray of stars.

If all goes as planned — a big ‘if,’ considering only five of the world’s 15 attempts to land on Mars have succeeded — the spacecraft will set down on the Martian arctic plains on May 25, 2008. It will then spend three months scooping up soil and ice, and analyzing the samples in minuscule ovens and mixing bowls.

The Phoenix Mars Lander won’t be looking for evidence of life on Mars but rather traces of organic compounds in the baked and moistened samples. Such compounds would be a possible indicator of conditions favorable for life, either now or once upon a time.