Memorial Day weekend is a time to remember the sacrifices of fighting men and women. For many Americans, it's also a time to remember where the barbecue grill was put last fall. But for space science fans, this is the big weekend for Phoenix Mars Lander and Red Planet exploration.
The lander is due to fire its retros and settle on the surface of Mars' north polar region at 7:36 p.m. ET Sunday.
Phoenix is bristling with gear to dig into Martian soil and ice, but it's also carrying a memorial of its own: a DVD disk carrying a digital library of Red Planet art and literature, titled "Visions of Mars." The collection was assembled more than a decade ago by the Planetary Society in cooperation with Time Warner and the Russian Space Research Institute - and was destined to fly on Russia's ill-fated Mars 96 probe. The project was revived for last year's Phoenix launch.
Today, the Planetary Society's Susan Lendroth pointed out that even before Mars 96, "Visions of Mars" made a successful sortie into space, thanks to NASA astronaut Shannon Lucid. Lucid became the first American woman to live aboard a space station when she joined the crew of the Mir space station back in 1996 - and she brought along a copy of the collection, to spark her imagination in orbit.
"I would like to see us fly to Mars," Lucid was quoted as saying back then. "That is what I would hope the space station would do for us."
The path to Mars may not be as clear as Lucid hoped it would be 12 years ago. But if Phoenix lands successfully, and if humans finally reach the Red Planet, "Visions of Mars" will be waiting with a little touch of home. That message comes through loud and clear in the words emblazoned on the top of the DVD: "Attention Astronauts: Take This With You."
Here are a few more links about Mars for the Memorial Day weekend: