Phoenix Heads for Mars

Aug 04, 2007
Phoenix Launches for Martian Arctic
The Delta II rocket carrying the Phoenix spacecraft lifts off from Pad 17A. Image Credit: NASA

A Delta II rocket lit up the early morning sky over Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida as it carried the Phoenix spacecraft on the first leg of its journey to Mars. The powerful three-stage rocket with nine solid rocket motors lifted off at 5:26 a.m. EDT.

The Phoenix Mars lander's assignment is to dig through the Martian soil and ice in the arctic region and use its onboard scientific instruments to analyze the samples it retrieves.

Just as NASA's Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, captured the imagination of old and young alike as they explored the Martian surface, a new space explorer is waiting in the wings to take center stage: the Mars lander called Phoenix.

Phoenix will travel 679 million kilometers (422 million miles) in an outward arc from Earth to Mars. It will determine whether icy soil on far northern Mars has conditions that have ever been suitable for life.

Phoenix's scientific work will be directed by a group from the University of Arizona, led by Principal Investigator Peter Smith. What discoveries NASA and Smith's team will uncover is hard to predict but, once again, the mysteries of the red planet have the potential to captivate an Earth-bound audience.

Mars is a cold desert planet with no liquid water on its surface. But in the Martian arctic, water ice lurks just below ground level. Discoveries made by the Mars Odyssey Orbiter in 2002 show large amounts of subsurface water ice in the northern arctic plain. The Phoenix lander targets this circumpolar region using a robotic arm to dig through the protective top soil layer to the water ice below and ultimately, to bring both soil and water ice to the lander platform for sophisticated scientific analysis.

The complement of the Phoenix spacecraft and its scientific instruments are ideally suited to uncover clues to the geologic history and biological potential of the Martian arctic. Phoenix will be the first mission to return data from either polar region providing an important contribution to the overall Mars science strategy "Follow the Water" and will be instrumental in achieving the four science goals of NASA's long-term Mars Exploration Program.

--Determine whether Life ever arose on Mars

--Characterize the Climate of Mars

--Characterize the Geology of Mars

--Prepare for Human Exploration The Phoenix Mission has two bold objectives to support these goals, which are to (1) study the history of water in the Martian arctic and (2) search for evidence of a habitable zone and assess the biological potential of the ice-soil boundary.

Source: NASA

Explore further: GOES-R satellite begins environmental testing

Related Stories

Microbial life on Mars: Could saltwater make it possible?

Aug 17, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- How common are droplets of saltwater on Mars? Could microbial life survive and reproduce in them? A new million-dollar NASA project led by the University of Michigan aims to answer those questions.

Drilling Down into Mars

Jun 08, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Phoenix lander revealed water ice mere inches beneath the martian surface, and chemical evidence from the landing site strongly hints that the region is habitable. But learning whether ...

Phoenix Mars Lander Confirms Martian Water

Jul 31, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Laboratory tests aboard NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander have identified water in a soil sample. The lander's robotic arm delivered the sample Wednesday to an instrument that identifies vapors produced ...

Recommended for you

How bad can solar storms get?

3 hours ago

Our sun regularly pelts the Earth with all kinds of radiation and charged particles. How bad can these solar storms get?

Mars rover's ChemCam instrument gets sharper vision

4 hours ago

NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover's "ChemCam" instrument just got a major capability fix, as Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists uploaded a software repair for the auto-focus system on the instrument.

GOES-R satellite begins environmental testing

20 hours ago

The GOES-R satellite, slated to launch in 2016, is ready for environmental testing. Environmental testing simulates the harsh conditions of launch and the space environment once the satellite is in orbit. ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.