In the first ever instance of a spacecraft photographing the landing of another craft on Mars, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this incredible image of NASA’s Phoenix Lander making its descent on Sunday. Phoenix landed successfully and has already begun transmitting images from its landing zone in Mars’s northern polar region, where it will be conducting meteorological and geological surveys over the course of its three-month mission.
Despite a minor hiccup in its data relay via the orbiting MRO, the mission appears to be proceeding without any technical issues. The MRO is just one of several craft currently in Mars orbit that will serve as relay transmitters to help Phoenix send data back to Earth.
Phoenix’s main mission objectives involve the study of water ice in Mars’s northern polar region. Its robotic arm will be able to capture icy soil samples which will be analyzed for past or present signs of microbial life. Phoenix’s research will also help lay the groundwork for potential manned exploration by providing a detailed analysis of life-sustaining elements found in the Martian soil.