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NASA SPACECRAFT TO EXTRACT MARS' SOIL

A three-legged NASA spacecraft with a long arm for digging trenches is going to the Martian north pole to study if the environment is favorable for primitive life.

But before it can start its work, the Phoenix Mars Lander must survive landing on the surface of the rocky, dusty Red Planet, which has a reputation of swallowing spacecraft. Of the 15 global attempts to land on Mars, only five made it.

Phoenix will blast off from Cape Canaveral aboard a Delta II rocket on a 423-million-mile trip. The three-week launch window opens Friday

Unlike the durable twin rovers now near the equator, the Phoenix Mars Lander will sit in one place and extend its long arm to dig trenches in the permafrost and scoop up soil for analysis.

Although Phoenix can't detect life, scientists hope it will shed light on whether the northern arctic possesses the signature ingredients for microbes to exist.

The lander should arrive at Mars 10 months after it launches and touch down in the northern plains for its three-month mission.

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