Saturday, June 14, 2008

Mars Phoenix communicates with Earthlings via Twitter

The Mars Phoenix lander beamed this photo back for the pleasure of Earthlings following its actions on Twitter, the microblogging Web service. High-res version here. (Photo by NASA's Phoenix, a Twitter superstar)

On May 7, the Mars Phoenix lander was weeks away from the red planet when it decided to join the latest blogging craze: Twitter.

Since then, it has sent more than 260 updates and has gained more than 20,000 followers on Twitter, creating an interactive forum for the lander, its engineers and the inquisitive public. Check it out here. Its latest post - however off-topic - says, "Godspeed Tim Russert."

On May 25, Phoenix expressed its anxiety to the world as it plummeted through the Martian atmosphere:

"Atmospheric entry has started. time to get REALLY nervous. Now I'm in the 'seven minutes of terror.'"

"parachute opening is scariest part for the team."

"parachute is open!!!!!"

"come on rocketssssss!!!!!"

"I've landed!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

"Cheers! Tears!! I'm here!"

Since landing, Phoenix has beamed information about the Martian atmosphere and soil back to Earth, but it has continued these Tweets that succinctly (in 140 words or fewer) present its findings without all the scientific mumbo-jumbo. The lander's entries on Twitter include links to high-resolution photos, high-definition videos and animations of its activities on the surface of Mars.

Some posts have bordered on funny/geeky/nerdy. Some have divulged the secrets of its engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., where the operation is headquartered: "
Eating peanuts in mission control is a good luck tradition at JPL. Jars are being opened now! Wish I had some, too!"

As of Saturday afternoon, there have been 264 updates since Phoenix started Twittering. Many of them are answers to questions posed by other people on Twitter, so it's a great way to communicate directly with the robot. Its intelligence reminds me of that trailer I saw for the movie "Wall-E," but then - what do ya know? - I saw this Tweet: "A Pixar animation team went to JPL to study the rovers. In fact, a rover is going to the Wall-E premiere in L.A. :-)"

The Phoenix has portended its own demise, however. Now, Phoenix said, the "temperature here is a balmy (ha) -31F (high) and -112F (low). ... Forecast is sunny and dusty." But such weather won't last for long: "I'm sure to freeze up over Martian winter" and die.

Twitter geeks universewide will miss you, Phoenix.

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