Phoenix Readies for Launch
Spacecraft specialists processing the Phoenix Mars lander, seen here in the Kennedy Space Center clean room, following its trip from Colorado to Florida. Image
CREDIT: B. David/SPACE.com
CAPE CANAVERAL – NASA's next Mars spacecraft arrived
this month at
Riding atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket, the
The liftoff will propel the top-shaped craft on a nine-month journey to Mars, a planet that scientists think was once warmer, wetter and perhaps more hospitable to primitive life.
The delivery to KSC marked the start of a three-month campaign to perform final checkouts of spacecraft systems and scientific instruments.
"This is a critical milestone for our mission,"
Peter Smith, principal investigator from the
Built by Lockheed Martin in
Due to arrive on the northern arctic plains of the planet next May, the spacecraft will use a robotic arm to dig through protective top soil and scoop up water-ice believed to be within an arm's length of the surface.
Soil samples then will be returned to a lander platform for scientific analyses. The craft is equipped with a suite of sophisticated instruments that will examine the ice-rich soil for organic material or other evidence that microbial life might have arisen on Mars or might still exist on the red planet.
The spacecraft arrived at KSC after a cross-country trip
from its manufacturing plant in
NASA contractor United Launch Alliance will begin building up a Delta 2 rocket at Launch Complex 17A in the third week of June.
The rocket's first stage will be hoisted and then nine strap-on solid rocket boosters will be raised and attached to it. The second stage will be added in early July followed by the spacecraft about three weeks later. The rocket's payload fairing -- the protective nosecone that will surround the lander -- will be installed a week before liftoff.
The lander's arrival at the launch site buoyed the spirits of program managers and project scientists.
"We're excited to be going back to Mars," said Ed Sedivy, program manager with spacecraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin.
"The arctic plains are the right place for the next step in Mars exploration, and this is the right time to go there," said project scientist Leslie Tamppari of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "We expect to touch the Martian for the first time -- a real leap in NASA's follow-the-water strategy."
The mission is a joint endeavor of the
- Images: Visualizations of Mars
- Phoenix Lander Readied For Mars Exploration
- Phoenix Mars Lander: Getting Down and Dirty On the Red Planet
- Phoenix Mars Lander: Strong Arming The Red Planet
- All About Mars
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