< Back to Blogs

The Phoenix Logo Decoded

by Peter Smith

November 19, 2007 -
The Phoenix logo was chosen from artwork submitted by interested members of the Phoenix team in 2005. Most submissions were traditional: showing the lander on the Martian surface or designs based on the Phoenix name. Isabelle Tremblay of Montreal, Canada, won our logo contest with a more radical design which always reminds me of a Grateful Dead poster. She designed this logo in her spare time, her daytime job is system engineer for the Canadian Space Agency. She has helped the Canadian team provide and operate a sophisticated weather station for the Phoenix mission. The premier instrument of the station is the powerful LIDAR that sends laser beams into the sky to study clouds.

Our jazzy logo cleverly unites all the elements of our mission: the planet Mars, water, and fire. The Mars image in the background shows the northern polar cap and just to the left, still inside the arctic circle, a droplet of water swirls out into space from our landing site. Superimposed on the water is the fiery Phoenix bird scanning the Universe with a hunter’s eye. Clearly, the Phoenix is searching for something.

Remember the history of the mythical Phoenix. Throughout its 500-year life span it brings good fortune to those that see it. But as it finally ages and dies, it bursts into flames. A new Phoenix is reborn from the ashes of the old and thus continues for another 500 years. It is a popular myth throughout the world.

This is an apt symbol for the Phoenix mission that is built on the heritage of the Mars Polar Lander and the 2001 lander. When MPL was lost while landing on the southern polar layered terrain in 1999, the 2001 lander mission was canceled even though it was four months into its final assembly and test phase. The Phoenix mission has kept its costs low by leveraging  the investments that NASA made in those two mission. We actually have launched the original 2001 lander, with a multitude of improvements and a new instrument suite, toward Mars on Aug. 4, 2007. Landing will take place on May 25, 2008, at approximately 4:30 p.m. PDT. Appropriately, this is Memorial Day.

NASA’s overall goal for the exploration of Mars follows the overarching theme: follow the water. Water shapes the planet by carving canyons and forming ice caps and perhaps glaciers. It is transported through the atmosphere affecting the climate that changes over the eons in response to orbital variations. When astronauts arrive on Mars, a source of water will be of prime importance. Finally, unfrozen water is the basis for life and the ingredients necessary for its genesis and growth. Truly, it is the holy grail of our exploration of the red planet.

Our scientific instruments also rely on fire and water to uncover the truth hidden in the soil minerals and chemicals. Our Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA) instrument receives a sample from the robotic arm and captures it in a tiny oven. The heat is gradually raised within the oven to more than 1800° F vaporizing the water, carbon dioxide and organic material out of the sample. A sensitive mass spectrometer, an electronic nose if you like, records the composition of these vapors and our science team interprets these signatures to determine the soil properties.

A second instrument, MECA (Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer), adds water to its soil sample and then performs a chemical analysis on the solution. Salts of various composition will modify the chemistry of the water and chemical sensors will relay the information back to Earth. MECA will also test the acidity of the solution along with any minor components that may be present.  

The results of these two experiments allow the science team to understand the history of the northern permafrost and the potential for this important part of the planet to sustain life. All these ideas are incorporated into our colorful logo.

The logo can be viewed here.