Science Friday has an excellent update on the Mars science program and planned projects for Mars. They also discuss possible missions in the next 5 to 10 years. The podcast should be available later today here:

Here’s the description of the segment from their web site:

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.”


Image: NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity climbed out of “Victoria Crater” following the tracks it had made when it descended into the half-mile-diameter bowl nearly a year earlier.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) took this picture of the Phoenix Lander gliding to the surface of Mars while it orbited overhead.

The Lander will soon be testing its robotic arm; first by unlatching its wrist and then flexing its elbow. This is critical to the success of the mission as the arm will be scooping soil samples of ice for analysis.Phoenix landing

 Image: NASA/ JPL/ Caltech/ Univ of Arizona











This image shows the Phoenix craft parachute during its descent on May. It landed near the Heimdall crater at at distance of 12 miles in front of the crater. NASA is using both the MRO and another vehicle orbiting Mars, Odyssey, to communicate with the Phoenix Lander. Commands have been sent for the Lander to take pictures of the area around it and to begin to move its robotic arm.

During the next three months, the arm will dig in the soil near the lander and scoop samples of soil and ice to instruments on the lander deck. Following the commands this morning, its movements will begin with unlatching the wrist, then moving the arm upwards in a stair-step manner. These movements are schedule for Wednesday, May 28.

Overall, the Lander team is quite pleased with the landing of the craft and the position where it is situated on the surface of Mars.

The image below was taken today and relayed with other information to the MRO this evening, which transmitted the image and data to earth from its orbit around Mars.

Lander image 052708

The pictures below show a field of sand dunes at the floor of a crater in Noachis Terra, or Land of Noah. This large landmass is south of the Martian equator. Uzboi Valles, named after a dry riverbed in Russia, is at the western rim of the crater. The valley begins on the north rim of the Argyre basin, runs through several craters, then ends at the large crater Holden. Uzboi Valles is believed to have been formed by running water.

20080506a-med Context image for 20080506a Wide context image for 20080506a

Image at Left Credit: NASA/JPL/ASU & Middle + Right images: NASA/JPL/MOLA

The center image shows where the picture at left is located, and for an even better perspective, the image at right shows the picture at a much greater distance.

The images above were taken by the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), part of the Mars Odyssey Mission, which previously looked at: salt deposits in the Martian highlands, Martian atmospheric dust and Martian polar regions.

THEMIS settled into orbit around Mars during February, 2002, upon which time it began mapping operations using a 5-wavelength visual imaging system in combination with a 9-wavelength infrared imaging system.

PSP_007822_1415 Image: NASA/JPL/ University of Arizona

The image at left was taken by the Mars HIRISE mission, showing the ejecta blanket of an impact crater. Normally this is a symmetrical apron of debris that came out of a volcanic vent or volcano that surrounds a crater with a thick layer of debris at the crater’s rim thinning out to nothing a the blanket’s outer edge.

The ejecta blanket above is of a large impact crater, probably 20 km wide, or about 12.5 miles. This ejecta is rocky blown out from the crater as a result of high velocity impact of an asteroid, estimated at 100-200 meters in diameter. Millions of years of wind erosion has etched the surface and created a radial pattern extending outward from the crater.