Before we attempted it, I knew it was something historic. Management was concerned about taking the picture because they were nervous about us messing up an already tested sequence against which we had simulated and practiced. Knowing how it was to be implemented, that seemed like the least of our concerns, so I was somewhat frustrated by the continued reluctance of management, even after we did our best to explain that it was a very low-risk change to the plan. We eventually ended up doing dual development on the command sequences -- one with the image included and one with it excluded. It was twice the work, but it's understandable how management would want to mitigate the risk at that point, despite how much work it was. Now I am so glad that I helped push to make this happen.
LOOK OUT BELOW! In the 50+ year history of the Space Age, no spacecraft from Earth has ever photographed another spacecraft landing on an alien planet--until last Sunday. High above Mars, the powerful HiRISE camera onboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter watched Phoenix parachuting safely to its landing site in the martian arctic.
Although Phoenix seems to be descending into a 10-km-wide crater named Heimdall, "that is just an optical illusion," says Alfred McEwen, HiRISE principal investigator at the University of Arizona. In fact, "the lander is 20 km in front of the crater" and in no danger of tumbling down its rocky slopes. After this photo was taken, Phoenix drifted on by and landed in a rock-free field of icy polygons--just where mission planners wanted it to go.
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