Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Steve the Cat is a normal cat in many respects - he loves to eat, sleep, and chase his toy mouse.  But beneath his calm, cool exterior lurks the wild soul of a frisky feline determined to redefine the cat world with his out-of-this-world perspectives on life, the Universe, and our place in it.  Steve may very well be the next evolutionary step in house cats – Felis Beyondus.


Steve entered this world in the state of California.  However, the initial appeal of surf and sun quickly gave way to wanderlust, and Steve tore up roots and set out to see the world.  His whirlwind travels eventually landed him in the small desert town of Moab, Utah.  Sensing a deep connection with the mystical red rock landscape, and the fields of wild catnip that grow along the Colorado River north of town, he settled in and christened Moab as his new home.

Keen Intellect

Steve’s keen intellect, along with his predilection for dancing, quickly established him as one of Moab’s hippest cats. His sage advice on everything from movies to cosmology made Steve the quintessential renaissance cat.  They say that a night spent under the desert sky, ablaze with stars, changes a man.  You should see what it does to cats!  Steve’s long nights philosophizing around the campfire, along with a healthy amount of caterwauling, has provided new insight into our place in the Cosmos.  As Steve’s caretakers, it is our goal - our obligation - to use this website to share some of Steve’s insights with the world.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Steve on Mars

The Background Story...

Steve’s Mars adventure began in 2006 when I (Robert Riberia) put up a web page with a very short story about my cat Steve sending in his name to the Planetary Society to be included on a compact disc that was to be installed on the deck of the soon to be launched Phoenix Mars Lander.  I also put up some – slightly altered - photos of Steve "preparing" for the mission.  The page just happened to catch the eye of Sara Hammond, who was the Public Affairs Director for the Phoenix Mission at the University of Arizona (and a real cat person).  To make a long story short, Steve's website got a link in the "Kids" section of the Phoenix website a short while before the landing.  On the day of the landing his little website received nearly a quarter of a million visitors!  Steve started getting emails from young school children all over the country.  One thing led to another and I wound up spending a lot of time maintaining my cat’s website.  Eventually the Phoenix team honored Steve with his own rock on the surface of Mars!!!

What follows is an archived version of Steve’s Mars adventure….

Steve's Fascination with Mars

Steve always dreamed of putting the first paw prints on Mars. He always felt that it was much more logical to send a cat, instead of a human, because a cat’s small size makes the flight hardware much smaller and lighter.  Also, the sands of Mars provide the ultimate litter box!

Steve was an active participant in NASA's Phoenix Mission to Mars.  The Phoenix Mission landed in the northern polar region of Mars in late May, 2008.  The lander stretched out an instrumented arm and dug into the soil and ice. By studying the structure, composition, and chemistry of soil and ice samples within Phoenix's trench, scientists learned a great deal about the history of water on Mars and the potential for biologic activity that may have once taken place there.

Steve's Participation in NASA's Phoenix Program

Steve cooperated with NASA and the Planetary Society in the Phoenix Mission to Mars. As part of their Messages from Earth project, The Planetary Society collected names to actually travel to Mars on board the Phoenix lander. A silica glass mini-DVD containing the names was installed on the Phoenix spacecraft and it was sent to Mars. The names were written to the DVD using a special technique, resulting in an archival disk that should last for hundreds of years on the Martian surface. After the disc was written, a special label was applied to the disc to identify it for future explorers. The whole assembly was then "baked out" (to kill microbes and also to reduce future outgassing of the materials) and installed onto the spacecraft.

Steve's Certificate of Participation in the Phoenix Program.  Steve received this
certificate after sending his name to the Planetary Society.
On April 3, 2007, at the Multipurpose Test Facility at the Lockheed Martin Plant in Denver,
the Phoenix DVD carrying Steve's name was installed on the deck of the Phoenix lander.
Credit: NASA/JPL/Lockheed Martin
After installation, the spacecraft underwent further testing and assembly, was shipped to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), and was launched on August 4, 2007. Phoenix arrived and landed in the northern near-polar regions on Mars in late May, 2008.

Steve took advantage of Phoenix mission to fulfill his dream of reaching Mars.  With a few modifications, including the addition of a Fabergé Egg life support pod (see below), the Phoenix Lander easily transported Steve to Mars.

What follows is a record of Steve's trip to Mars.  This is an archive of the posts that were made to Steve's blog as the historic mission was underway...

NASA's Phoenix Mars Mission Launches!

On the way! NASA's Phoenix Mission to Mars
successfully launched on August 4, 2007.

Simulation of Steve's Landing on Mars

AstroCat Training at the Kennedy Space Center

Steve underwent astronaut training at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  His rigorous schedule included flying T-38 jet training aircraft and undergoing zero-g training in NASA’s “Vomit-Comet”.
Steve taxis for take-off at KSC.
Steve poses next to his Shuttle Training Aircraft (modified Gulfstream II).
Steve & the astronauts relax between test flights at KSC.
Steve experiences zero-g in NASA's "Vomit Comet" aircraft.
Spacecraft Assembly

Steve also took time to observe the flight hardware while the Phoenix Lander was being constructed.

Steve observes the propulsion system assembly, test and integration.
Steve helps with the installation of the Phoenix Lander into the backshell
that will house the spacecraft during its long trip to Mars.
Life Support - Steve's Egg

An important part of Steve's trip involves the Fabergé Egg life support pod. This pod will protect Steve during his trip to Mars, including the dangerous landing phase of the mission.

Artist's concept of the Phoenix lander and Steve's Fabergé Egg after being ejected. The egg will only eject in case of an emergency. It will also be used to return Steve to Earth.

View Inside of the Fabergé Egg. Steve's EVA suit, and toy mouse, are neatly tucked
into the opposite side of the egg. Steve will don the suit after landing on Mars.

Landing Success!
May 25, 2008

The Phoenix lander successfully touched down in the northern polar region of the planet Mars today. Confirmation of the landing reached Earth at 5:53 pm Mountain Time and initial indications are that the lander and its payload are in good shape. The lander is at a mere 1/4 degree of tilt and aligned almost perfectly east-west. Stay tuned for the first feline transmissions from the planet Mars!

Steve's current location on Mars.

Steve's First Transmission From Mars
May 25, 2008 - 8:30 pm Mountain Time

First Images from Mars
May 25, 2008 - 8:45 pm Mountain Time

The science team has released the first images from the Phoenix lander. Steve will not be visible in these first images since he is busy with is post-landing ops. After completing these operations Steve will begin his first 16 hour sleep period. Click on each image for a closer look...

This image, one of the first captured by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, shows the vast plains of the northern polar region of Mars. The flat landscape is strewn with tiny pebbles and shows polygonal cracking, a pattern seen widely in Martian high latitudes and also observed in permafrost terrains on Earth. The polygonal cracking is believed to have resulted from seasonal freezing and thawing of surface ice.
Footpad of the Phoenix Lander on the surface of Mars.
One of the Phoenix Lander's deployed solar panels on the surface of Mars.

Phoenix DVD on the Surface of Mars with Steve's Name
May 26, 2008 - 10:00 pm Mountain Time

Steve has returned a photo of the DVD that carries his name. The Phoenix DVD was installed on the deck of the Phoenix lander in April of 2007 at the Lockheed Martin plant in Denver, Colorado.

Steve reports that all systems look good on the spacecraft so far and he is looking forward to taking his first steps on the surface of Mars later this week. Steve had a solid 16 hours of sleep last night and spent 20 minutes playing with his toy mouse before ending his first day on Mars. Prior to leaving the spacecraft Steve must verify the deployment of the large litter scoop attached to the top of the spacecraft.

Steve Retracts Bio-Barrier
May 28, 2008 - 7:00 pm Mountain Time

On Monday, engineers noticed that the "bio-barrier" designed to keep Phoenix's sampling arm germ-free on Earth had not fully retracted. Although there was no immediate concern that the arm would not be able to rise from its resting position, Steve decided to play it safe and took things into his own paws. He donned his space suit and briefly stepped outside of the spacecraft to help retract the barrier. New images show that the bio-barrier has been fully retracted. Thanks Steve!

This is the first low resolution image of Steve from the surface of Mars. Steve can be seen gently pushing the bio-barrier into its fully retracted position. The midday sun can be seen glinting off Steve's helmet and Extravehicular Cat Suit.
If all goes well with the deployment of Phoenix's litter scoop on Thursday, Steve should be taking his first steps onto the Martian surface early next week!

Phoenix Deploys "Scoop"
June 1, 2008 - 7:00 pm Mountain Time

NASA's Phoenix lander has successfully completed the deployment of its robotic litter scoop, putting it on track to start scooping the Martian soil within the next few days. This will allow Steve to step out onto the Martian surface within the next day or two. NASA commanded the scoop to start the process of freeing itself on Wednesday morning. With Steve's help the arm has now completely freed itself from the pins and a sterile wrapping called the bio-barrier, which prevented the arm from being contaminated with Earth microbes prior to launch.

The scoop swings free - a great relief for Steve!

Phoenix Arm Camera Captures Steve
June 2, 2008 - 4:23 pm Mountain Time

The robotic arm on NASA's Phoenix lander has captured an image of Steve inside the spacecraft. Steve can be seen looking out of the cat porthole while analyzing the region surrounding the lander in preparation for his first steps onto the Martian surface. Steve reports that he is anxious to get out on the surface and do some real exploring!

Steve the Cat inside the Phoenix Lander, as seen by the camera on Phoenix's robotic sampling arm.

Steve has enjoyed reading the entries in his guestbook, which are beamed to Mars daily via the Deep Space Network on Earth and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Odyssey in orbit around Mars.

In response to some of the questions in his guestbook...

How is Steve going to get back to Earth?
The Fabergé Egg that protected Steve during his journey to Mars will also serve as a return module. Steve's Egg has a protective ablative heat shield that will allow it to enter the Earth's atmosphere at speeds approaching 35,000 mph. The exact time of Steve's return will be determined based on the length of the primary Phoenix mission, which is dependent on the weather on Mars.

What is Stave eating on Mars?
Steve has a variety of food packs to choose from. His favorite is Tuna although Ocean Fish is a close second. He is also rationing some cat treats, with Salmon and Crab Meat in Sauce being his favorite.

Has Steve found any life on Mars?
Not yet, however Steve has his paws crossed. Like the experiments on the Phoenix Lander, Steve's primary mission is to search for signs that life could exist on Mars. If Steve actually finds life THAT would be the cat's meow! Stay tuned...

Steve to Walk on Mars on Saturday, June 7th
June 6, 2008 - 9:23 am Mountain Time

Steve the Cat will step out onto the surface of Mars on Saturday morning at 10:45am Mountain Time. Confirmation of his successful egress will reach Earth 15 minutes later since the signals take that long to travel from Mars to Earth at the speed of light. Steve wanted to wait until the Phoenix Lander collected its first soil sample for analysis as an extra precaution against any form of contamination. Although the spacecraft is not intended to detect past or present life, Phoenix will be examining the soil for conditions favorable to life. Steve wanted to make doubly sure that he would not contaminate the sample. (His spacesuit is sterilized, however Steve is a total perfectionist.)

Steve the Cat Walks on Mars
June 7, 2008 - 12:45 pm Mountain Time

First Paw Print on Mars!
Steve the Cat has set foot upon the Planet Mars.  At 10:45 a.m. Mountain Time, Steve left the Phoenix Lander and walked into history.  As Steve placed his paws on the Martian soil he uttered, “It is the curiosity of cats that has led us to the northern polar region of Mars.  As we continue to explore the Universe we will be joined by humans, who will be allowed to feed and pet us.”

Steve's voice transmission as he stepped into history.

Steve likened the Martian Surface to a giant litter box, although he wasn’t sure if it was clumpable.

Steve’s revolutionary semi-transparent Extravehicular Cat Suit glinted in the Martian sun as he leapt away from the lander.  The form fitting suit was designed for maximum mobility, while providing a durable protective layer and sterile barrier so that Steve will not interfere with Phoenix’s search for life supporting chemistry.

Steve’s semi-transparent Extravehicular Cat Suit.
Steve spent several minutes examining the Phoenix Lander that transported him to Mars.  “Phoenix looks great!” he exclaimed “although it feels wonderful to finally be outside.”  Steve scratched at the soil, rolled around in the dirt, and basked in the midday Martian sun.  Because Steve had just completed a 16 hour sleep period prior to his EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity), he had lots of energy available for his first Martian excursion.

World reaction to Steve’s walk on Mars was immediate and intense.  In Mexico, cats called for extra long siestas to celebrate Steve’s achievement.   Australian cats were seen in the streets tossing red “Martian Mice” back and forth to each other.  In London, cats became even more indifferent to their owners after learning that a cat had made it Mars before humans.

Steve ventured nearly 1,000 feet from the lander before taking a brief cat nap.  Within 5 minutes he had a long, very satisfying stretch before heading back toward the lander for a salmon flavored treat and his next sleep period.

Steve’s total time on the Martian surface during his first EVA was 27 minutes and 14 seconds.   His next EVA is scheduled for the coming week.  That EVA will follow the deployment of Steve’s favorite toy mouse.

Steve Answers Your Questions
June 21, 2008 - 9:23 pm Mountain Time

Steve took some time on Saturday afternoon to answer some of the questions that he has been receiving in his guestbook.

Click on the picture to visit Steve's new Question & Answer Section.

Steve to Grow Asparagus on Mars
July 10, 2008 - 9:23 am Mountain Time

Experiments aboard the Phoenix lander suggest that the chemistry of Martian soil is a close analog to surface soils found in the upper dry valleys in Antarctica.  Phoenix also found a reasonable number of nutrients needed by life as we know it.  This encouraging result came from a test of soil excavated from the top inch of a region called Wonderland at the lander's site in the northern plains of Mars. The sample was delivered to the lander's wet chemistry laboratory in the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA) instrument.  MECA also found the sample to be fairly alkaline, with a pH of 8 or 9. Many vegetables, such as asparagus and turnips, actually thrive at such a pH. It just might be possible to grow asparagus on Mars!

Steve has decided to put this hypothesis to the test by attempting to grow his own asparagus on Mars. He brought a variety of seeds to Mars just in case Phoenix discovered that Martian soil could indeed support life.   Since turnip can cause intestinal gas for Steve, he was quite relieved to find a packet of asparagus seeds in his collection.  “Living in such tight quarters can be a real challenge at times”, quipped Steve as he radioed Earth with his experiment proposal.  His proposal was quickly approved.

Steve gazes out at the ruddy landscape of Mars while holding his packet of asparagus seeds.

Steve Confers with PSIP Team
July 10, 2008 - 3:12 pm Mountain Time

Photo Credit: Marilou Bebak, PSIP Facilitator
The PSIP team from Dallas Texas, Tony (foreground) and Matt, confer with Steve about the upcoming ice sample delivery to TEGA. Scientists are planning to use the rasp on the Robotic Arm scoop in order to obtain a clean sample for TEGA. Since Steve is accustomed to scraping with his claws, he is providing scientists with helpful information about what to expect as they dig in the trench named Snow White.

The Phoenix Student Interns Program (PSIP) allows selected teachers and their chosen students from around the country to work with scientists to prepare for surface operations on Mars and analyze data during the mission. Following months of preparation and special training, teachers and students spend an entire week at the Science Operations Center in Tucson, AZ during landed operations to help investigate the surface of Mars. Click here to learn more about the PSIP program.

Steve to Apply Years of “Scoop Training” on Mars
July 29, 2008 - 7:12 pm Mountain Time

Seen here prior to leaving on his trip to Mars, Steve the Cat debates the advantages of conventional litter scoop design with project scientists and engineers in the Payload Interoperability Testbed.
Scientists and engineers on NASA's Phoenix Mars Mission spent the weekend examining how the icy soil on Mars interacts with the scoop on the lander's robotic arm, while trying different techniques to deliver a sample to one of the instruments. The team tried two methods to pick up and deliver a sample of icy soil to a laboratory oven of the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA). In both cases, most of the sample stuck inside the lander's inverted scoop. It’s starting to look like Steve the Cat will once again be called upon to use his feline skills, this time to clean out the scoop.

Prior to leaving on his trip to Mars, Steve sent many hours in the Payload Interoperability Testbed (PIT) testing different scoop designs. The PIT contains a full-scale working model of Phoenix that sits on simulated Martian landscape, complete with red rocks surrounding the lander. Although Steve debated the advantages of using the proven technology of a more conventional litter scoop design on the Phoenix lander, project scientists and engineers decided to use a slightly more complex design which included ultra-strong blades for digging and a high speed tungsten carbide cutting bit to drill into frozen soil.

"I'll stick with a more conventional design in my box at home" quipped Steve while conferring with project engineers on Tuesday. Steve's litter box never gets below 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

Steve Repairs TEGA Short Circuit
July 27, 2008 - 2:12 pm Mountain Time

Last month a short circuit was discovered in the Phoenix Mars Lander's Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA). The short circuit was believed to have been caused when TEGA's oven number four was vibrated repeatedly over the course of several days to break up clumpy soil being delivered to the oven. A team of engineers and scientists concluded that another short circuit could possibly occur, so Steve the Cat was called upon to help.

Wearing a special dander control suit, Steve the Cat performs a delicate repair of the TEGA instrument from within the Phoenix lander on the surface of Mars. The short circuit had threatened the mission for nearly a month.
Steve was able to access the TEGA instrument by removing a few panels from inside the Phoenix Lander. After a partial disassembly of the instrument, Steve found a short in the solenoid that works the vibrator. Steve speculated that because the vibrator was used so much during the acquisition of the first clumpy sample, it apparently overheated. Insulation then broke down on one of the wires which came in contact with the chassis. Steve replaced the faulty wire, reassembled TEGA and declared the instrument fully operational.

Steve’s successful repair probably played into NASA’s announcement today that operational funding for the mission will be extend through Sept. 30th. Good work Steve!

Martian Catnap
August 2, 2008 - 5:42 pm Mountain Time

Steve the Cat takes a break on top of his Tuna Food Storage
Container  inside the Phoenix Mars Lander.

Steve Finds Fuel for His Return to Earth
August 11, 2008 - 12:22 pm Mountain Time

Samples analyzed by the Wet Chemistry Lab of the Phoenix Lander's Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA) suggest that one of the soil constituents may be perchlorate, a highly oxidizing substance. Upon hearing the exciting news, Steve's ears immediately perked up because perchlorate is often used as an oxidizer in rocket fuel. For example, the Space Shuttle's Solid Rocket Boosters use Ammonium Perchlorate as an oxidizer to boost the massive vehicle into Earth orbit.

Steve immediately started working on a plan for, what he calls, Asparagus Boosters. His plan is to use some of the asparagus that he is growing to create booster casings for the Martian fuel. Because of the fibrous nature of asparagus, it possesses properties similar to modern composite materials. By carefully layering up the asparagus Steve plans to create two boosters to affix to his Fabergé Egg for extra thrust during his return trip to Earth,

Steve explained that the added thrust would allow him to take a more direct trajectory toward Earth, thus shortening his travel time by months.

Simulation of Steve's Fabergé Egg lifting off from the surface of Mars
with cat-crafted asparagus boosters strapped to the outside.

Steve Startles Science Team with Ice and Mice
September 1, 2008 - 12:22 pm Mountain Time

The plan was to image ice clouds scooting across the Martian sky in a movie clip consisting of 10 frames taken by the Surface Stereo Imager on the Phoenix Lander. The camera took these images as part of a campaign by the Phoenix team to see clouds and track winds. Steve, however, startled scientists on Earth when he jokingly tossed one of his toy mice in front of the Surface Stereo Imager.

"With all this serious talk about ice, I decided that it was time to break some ice and play a little joke on the science team", said Steve.

Steve startled scientists on Earth when he jokingly tossed one of his
toy mice in front of the Surface Stereo Imager.
Before they realized that the mouse was a prank, the team thought it was some form of Martian life. Because Instruments aboard Phoenix are not designed to directly detect life, let alone mice, the team immediately started thinking of ways to prove the existence of an actual mouse on Mars.

One of the team members explained, "With our current instruments all that we would be able to do is either bake the mouse, or bathe it in water. These tests would probably agitate the mouse which could pose a possible threat to the lander, and ultimately, neither test would actually prove the existence of a mouse."

After Steve finally explained to the team what he had done, the team went back to digging in the sand.

Martian Rock Named after Steve the Cat!
September 6, 2008 - 12:35 pm Mountain Time

The Phoenix Team has named a rock near the Snow White trench after Steve the Cat. Informally naming surface features around landing sites on Mars started with the Viking missions over 30 years ago. Steve's Rock joins the ranks of such geological rock stars as "Barnacle Bill" and "Yogi" from the Pathfinder mission, and "Adirondack" and "El Capitan" from the Mars Exploration Rover Missions.

Steve's rock is located adjacent to the historic Snow White Trench, where the first water sampled on Mars was extracted.

Steve was thrilled to hear that a permanent feature on Mars would bear his name. Sporting a wry grin he quickly added, "Of course, better the rock than me! When this mission ends, I'm outta here!"

Steve, of course, was referring to his recently proposed Asparagus Boosters, which will utilize Martian perchlorate as a component of the propellant to get him back to Earth.

Steve Inspects the Condition of His Spacecraft
October 30, 2008 - 12:35 pm Mountain Time

Steve the Cat is winding up his mission on Mars and is making final preparations for his return to Earth. Today he headed outside the Phoenix Lander to inspect the condition of his spacecraft, including the Fabergé Egg that will transport him back to Earth.

"Everything looks great!", exclaimed Steve as he walked around the lander. Steve's Asparagus Boosters will significantly shorten his return trip to Earth.

Steve inspects the condition of his spacecraft.
This image was acquired by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander's Surface Stereo Imager (SSI). SSI used its natural-color filters, therefore the color is the color you would see on Mars. (The image is produced by combining exposures taken through different colored filters, which results in moving shadows having a rainbow effect.) The image shows shadows from the SSI (left), Steve the Cat (middle) and the meteorological station mast (right) stretching toward the east as the sun dropped low in the west.

Steve Sends Message to Earth and Celebrates Halloween on Mars
October 31, 2008 - 12:35 am Mountain Time

After a communications problem caused by shrinking solar-electric power due to shorter daylight hours and a dust storm, Phoenix communicated with NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter Thursday. Steve surprised ground controllers when he beamed back the following image of his Halloween Celebration...

Steve poses on top of the Phoenix Lander after deploying his pumpkin
on the surface of Mars and hanging decorations on the robotic arm.

Steve Conserves Power on Mars
November 5, 2008 - 8:23 am Mountain Time

Steve the Cat has been communicating with controllers daily since Oct. 30 through relays to Mars orbiters.  Steve reports that Phoenix is running out of power, and he is preparing the Fabergé Egg for his return to Earth.

The fraction of each day with sun above the horizon is declining at the Martian arctic landing site, and dust raised by a storm last week continues to block some of the sunshine.

Steve remains in great spirits and is thrilled with the enormous success of mission.  Phoenix landed on Mars May 25th and accomplished its main science goals during the three months originally planned as its prime mission.  The Phoenix Lander has continued operating on Mars for nearly 6 months.

Steve peaks out from his specially designed space blanket while warming up inside the Phoenix Lander. Steve decided to sleep inside the blanket after turning down the heat to 65 degrees Fahrenheit to conserve power.

Steve has Final Celebration Before Leaving Mars
November 6, 2008 - 6:45 am Mountain Time

It's Christmas on Mars, or at least that's the way Steve the Cat sees it from the northern polar region of the red planet. Since Steve cannot stay on Mars until Christmas arrives, he decided to celebrate a bit early by decking ut the Phoenix Lander for the holidays. Although Steve is conserving as much power as possible during the final days of the Phoenix mission, he flipped on the lights decorating the lander for a few minutes to capture the following photo...

Instead of a traditional Christmas tree, Steve created a simulated saguaro cactus to acknowledge all of the hard work by the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, which has been in charge of the Phoenix Mission's surface operations since landing.

Steve Unveils Plaque on Phoenix Lander
November 8, 2008 - 6:45 am Mountain Time

During one of his final EVA's on the surface of Mars, Steve the Cat unveiled a special plaque commemorating his historic voyage to Mars...

The Mars Plaque is made from 1/16th inch stainless steel measuring 9 x 7 5/8 inches.

Steve Pepares to Leave Mars
November 9, 2008 - 8:45 am Mountain Time

Steve the Cat is making final preparations for his return trip to Earth. He has moved his Fabergé Egg Return Pod a safe distance from the Phoenix Lander, erected it on its launch platform, and loaded it with a full supply of tuna packs and kitty treats for his trip. The strap-on perchlorate/asparagus boosters should give Steve the extra boost required to arrive back on Earth in record breaking time - possibly before Christmas.

Steve's Fabergé Egg, perched on its launch platform 200 million miles from Earth, sits ready to carry Steve back home after spending 6 months on the Martian surface.

Farewell to Mars - Martian Liftoff!
November 9, 2008 - 8:45 pm Mountain Time

In one of the most remarkable video sequences ever returned from a planetary spacecraft (or egg), the camera aboard Steve the Cat’s Fabergé Egg captured the view outside of Steve’s viewing portal as he began his journey back to Earth. Ignition occurred right on time, at 7:40:32 pm Earth Mountain Time, hurtling Steve off the Martian surface and onto the initial leg of his 200 million mile journey back to Earth.

“Goodbye Phoenix!”, shouted Steve as the lander quickly faded from view beneath the rapidly ascending perchlorate powered egg.

Steve let out a joyful “Wahoo!” as his Fabergé Egg executed a preprogrammed pirouette before locking onto the escape trajectory that put him on a direct course back to Earth. The camera recorded amazing aerial views of the Phoenix Lander’s parachute and backshell, along with a spectacular view of Heimdall Crater, before losing contact with Earth when Steve and the Egg vanished over the Martian horizon. When contact was regained with Steve’s Egg a half hour later, it was established on a direct trajectory back to Earth.

Steve Making Plans for Earth Landing
December 7, 2008 - 6:45 pm Mountain Time

Steve is continuing his journey back to Earth and all systems are performing well aboard his Fabergé Egg. Steve took advantage of the fact that the Sun is currently positioned between the planet Mars and Earth. He used the Sun's intense gravity to provide an enormous boost to the speed of his egg, cutting months off the normal return time to Earth. As it now stands, Steve's Egg will enter Earth's atmosphere (84 mile altitude) at 01:56:39 a.m. MST on December 25, 2008. "Looks like I'll be home for Christmas!", exclaimed Steve as he downed one of his kitty treats onboard the egg.

Simulation of Steve's Egg Re-entering Earth's Atmosphere at 29,800 Miles per Hour
Steve's Egg will enter over the Pacific Northwest and will land in the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR) within the Great Salt Lake Desert. The egg will enter the earth's atmosphere with the highest spacecraft re-entry speed ever recorded, a whopping 29,800 miles per hour. NASA will have an aircraft along the re-entry path to capture Steve's return. After entry the egg will continue to free-fall until approximately 10,000 feet, at which point the main parachute deployment sequence will initiate. Falling slowly by means of the parachute, Steve's Egg will settle down to the ground at UTTC and be collected by helicopter.

Steve's Re-entry Path Over the Western United States. The re-entry may be visible in the western states, particularly in Nevada along Highway 80, between Elko and the Utah border.

One Day Until Landing!!!
December 23, 2008 - 1:20 pm Mountain Time

Steve is making final preparations for his return to Earth. His egg is aligned perfectly for reentry during the predawn hours of December 25th. Steve is still scheduled to enter the Earth's atmosphere precisely at 1:56:39 a.m. MST.

*** Stay tuned for Steve's Christmas landing! ***

Steve Approaches Earth
December 24, 2008 - 11:10 am Mountain Time

Steve is now in th final hours of his mission. If all goes well he will be on the ground in Utah in less than 14 hours. Steve reports that all systems are operating perfectly and he is ready for some fresh catnip.

As the hours count down to reentry, Steve returned this spectacular
view of Earth through a porthole in his Fabergé Egg.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad) is monitoring Steve's trajectory as his egg nears Earth. They will monitor his entry in to the Earth's atmosphere and track his landing path through touchdown.

Strange Sighting
December 25, 2008 - 2:45 am Mountain Time

Steve captured this unusual image of an unidentified object during his landing sequence on Christmas morning. The red and green object appears blurred in this image due to the large relative velocity between Steve's egg and the object, which was headed north. Steve also reported hearing a metallic, bell-like sound. Project scientists are still analyzing the incident.

Unidentified object sighted on Christmas morning.

Steve the Cat is Back on Earth!
December 25, 2008 - 3:45 am Mountain Time

Steve the Cat is back on Earth. Steve’s historic trip to Mars came to a successful conclusion at 2:10 a.m. on Christmas morning when his Fabergé Egg successfully touched down in the desert salt flats of the Utah Test and Training Range.

Steve poses with the Recovery Operations Science Team in the
sterile white room after he was extracted from his Fabergé Egg.
Steve made final reentry configurations to his spacecraft at 9:57 p.m. on Christmas Eve. The egg plunged into the Earth’s atmosphere four hours later and blazed a trail across the western United States. The cat carrying egg had the highest return speed (29,825 miles per hour) of any human or feline-made reentry object to date. The spectacular sky show was visible from central California through central Oregon, on through Nevada and into Utah. Thousands of cats viewed the reentry from their human’s windows before demanding a midnight snack to celebrate Steve’s return.

A critical element of the egg is its heat shield, which was embedded on the spacecraft’s blunt end. The shield protected the egg and its delicate cargo from the intense heat generated during Earth reentry. The heat shield is comprised of a special high-energy ablator PICA (Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator) invented by NASA’s Ames Research Center.

A NASA DC-8 aircraft photographed Steve’s reentry as his egg entered the atmosphere. Because of the aircraft’s position along the reentry path it was able to maintain contact with Steve during the entire reentry. A video sequence, taken using a Xybion intensified camera, shows Steve’s egg glowing as its external surface temperature reached over 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. A long plasma tail formed during the period of peak heating.

“That has to be the longest cat tail ever seen!” exclaimed Steve as his egg’s external surface glowed as bright as the sun.

“That’s one cool cat” remarked mission control during what was the most dangerous portion of Steve’s entire trip to Mars. “He’s really earning his nip tonight!”

The drogue and main parachutes deployed at 2:00 a.m. and 2:05 a.m. respectively, and Steve gently touched down on Earth at 2:10 p.m. Three helicopters were immediately deployed and began capsule retrieval operations as soon as the egg was on the desert floor.

Steve's charred egg, with Steve still inside, is seen being transported to
a sterile white room shortly after his successful touchdown in Utah.
The still warm egg was quickly delivered to a special white room, where it was opened by a team of project scientists. The team surprised Steve with his favorite feather toy when the egg was opened. After a few playful moments Steve quickly headed straight for the litter box.

Steve leaps with delight when he sees his favorite feather toy dangling
from the finger of one of the science team.
The Fabergé Egg and its precious cargo of Mars samples and cat grown asparagus was stowed inside a special environmentally controlled carrying case for transfer to the Johnson Space Center in Houston where it will be examined. Scientists believe these precious samples will help provide answers to fundamental questions about Mars and the behavior of cats on other planetary bodies.
As a precaution, Steve will remain in quarantine for 2 weeks before finally returning to his humans in Moab, Utah.