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05.23.2008

Getting By with a Little Help from Friends

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When NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander prepares for landing on May 25, 2008, it won't be alone. Three spacecraft in orbit will serve as a welcome committee. One -- NASA's Mars Odyssey -- will send non-stop updates to Earth. The non-stop data stream is called a "bent-pipe transmission," in which radio signals flow continuously like water through a pipe. Phoenix will transmit data to Odyssey (the pipe "elbow"), and Odyssey will then relay it to NASA's Deep Space Network of antennas on Earth. Lasting for 15 minutes, the transmissions will begin before Phoenix enters the Martian atmosphere and end after it lands, giving the mission team a complete picture of every critical stage. NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will store a continuous stream of data from Phoenix to send back later, and Europe's Mars Express will track Phoenix's descent too. With a little help from friends, Mars won't seem quite so remote!

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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