Phoenix Mars Lander Spacecraft Processing
In the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility, the Phoenix Mars Lander (foreground) can be seen inside the backshell. In the background, workers are helping place the heat shield, just removed from the Phoenix, onto a platform. The Phoenix mission is the first project in NASA's first openly competed program of Mars Scout missions. Phoenix will land in icy soils near the north polar permanent ice cap of Mars and explore the history of the water in these soils and any associated rocks, while monitoring polar climate. Landing is planned in May 2008 on arctic ground where a mission currently in orbit, Mars Odyssey, has detected high concentrations of ice just beneath the top layer of soil. It will serve as NASA's first exploration of a potential modern habitat on Mars and open the door to a renewed search for carbon-bearing compounds, last attempted with NASA’s Viking missions in the 1970s. A stereo color camera and a weather station will study the surrounding environment while the other instruments check excavated soil samples for water, organic chemicals and conditions that could indicate whether the site was ever hospitable to life. Microscopes can reveal features as small as one one-thousandth the width of a human hair. Launch of Phoenix aboard a Delta II rocket is targeted for Aug. 3 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.