Destination: Mars. Launch: Aug. 2007. Arrival: May 25, 2008. Mission: To study and analyze past and current existence of water on Mars while assessing the potential of a habitable biological zone on the planet. The spacecraft Phoenix (a fixed lander) touched down at Marsâ North Pole, the first successful powered landing on the planet since the Viking missions in 1976. The Martian poles are surrounded by large deposits of ice, leading scientists to believe that the poles hold the best evidence of life on Mars. The northern pole was selected for its maximum exposure to the Sunâs radiation, optimizing the capability of the landerâs 18-foot wide solar array, a device that converts solar radiation into electricity. The lander is equipped with multiple cameras, tools for soil examination, a meteorological station for atmospheric study, and most importantly, a robotic arm. The robotic arm is responsible for gathering soil samples for various onboard instruments to analyze. The Phoenix will only be operational for three months because of the extreme conditions the coming winter will bring. The landerâs onboard cameras will capture the gradual transition into winter, which will freeze the lander in a thick layer of carbon dioxide, and thus render it unable to function.
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