The Phoenix robotic probe, designed to touch and analyze Martian water for the first time, has arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and is being prepared for launch on August 3, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The Phoenix Mars Mission, scheduled for launch in August 2007, is the first in NASA’s “Scout Program.” Scouts are designed to be highly innovative and relatively low-cost complements to major missions being planned as part of the agency’s Mars Exploration Program.
The craft is expected to land in the northern polar region of Mars and dig beneath the soil. Bolstered by evidence that Mars once had liquid surface water, scientists are keen to recover an actual sample to see if the materials for life exist. Phoenix will add a microscopic perspective to the mix.
Upon reaching Mars in May 2008, the spacecraft is to land just as the winter ice begins to recede around the polar cap. Scientists expect the probe will touch down on newly exposed soil, but their true target lies just beneath the surface.
Among Phoenix’s tools are devices to scoop and drill, photograph and chemically analyze soil and ice samples.
Phoenix is a resurrection of spare parts and instruments from the unsuccessful Mars Polar Lander and Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander initiatives. Polar Lander was lost as it attempted to touch down in December 1999, due to a loss of communication — the cause is still unknown.
Mars Surveyor was canceled in the wake of Polar Lander’s failure and the loss of a sister probe, Mars Climate Orbiter, two months earlier, due to a metric mix-up.
Phoenix has one science agenda:
Determine if Mars has the ingredients for life.
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