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August 06, 2007

Phoenix Mars Lander Launches Successfully from Kennedy Space Center

August 6, 2007, Kennedy Space Center, FL – The Phoenix Mars Lander, the next of NASA’s Mars exploration missions, successfully launched Saturday morning on a nine month journey to the Red Planet. 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. Phoenix is expected to land on Mars on May 25, 2008.

Using the Phoenix’s robotic arm, the Lander will dig up to three feet into Mars’s icy surface. According to information gathered by prior Mars missions, the Phoenix should land in an area that has the possibility of up to 80 percent water or ice by volume within one foot of the surface. Scientists will use the instruments to research the history of water at its target destination and to search for environments suitable for microbial life on Mars.

Following the thrilling success of the Mars Rovers, hopes are high for the Phoenix. However, where the Rovers look into Mars’s past, Phoenix’s results will expand debate on the present and future of Mars. The mission may open new possibilities for future settlements on the fourth planet in our solar system and the closest to Earth.

Phoenix is the first of NASA’s smaller, low-cost “Scout” missions. It launched aboard a Delta II rocket, marking the 326th launch of a Delta rocket. Delta rockets were used for Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Pathfinder in 1996, Mars Climate Orbiter in 1998 (which missed Mars), Mars Polar Lander in 1999 (which failed during landing), and Mars Odyssey in 2001. The two Mars Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, which launched in 2003 and continue to explore the Martian surface, were also launched by Delta rockets.

Once the spacecraft reaches its destination, the Lander will use both a parachute to slow the vehicle and hydrazine-powered engines to control the speed of the final descent. Once on the surface, the Lander will wait about 30 minutes to allow the dust kicked up by the landing to settle. Finally, the Phoenix will release its two circular solar arrays, robotic arm, weather mast and camera to begin its work exploring Mars. Phoenix's scientific work will be directed by a group from the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, led by Principal Investigator Peter Smith, who spoke at NSS’s 2007 International Space Development Conference.

Posted by bsilcox at August 6, 2007 10:24 AM



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