Phoenix Mars Lander

Phoenix Mars Lander

Courtesy of NASA

Phoenix was a spacecraft that landed in a northern polar region on Mars to study water and climate, and to search for evidence of life and the conditions for potential habitation. The spacecraft had a science laboratory in the center with a long robotic arm for digging and two large solar panels on either side to power its batteries. The spacecraft lasted longer than the expected three months, but the solar cells did not survive the extreme cold and ice of a Martian winter.

August 4, 2007

May 25, 2008

End of Mission
(last communication) November 2, 2008; May 24, 2010

Study the history of water in the Martian arctic region. Search for evidence of past life in the ice-soil boundary. Analyze the water and soil for evidence of climate cycles and whether the environment could have supported microbial life. Take panoramic, stereoscopic images and close-up images of the soil and water ice from the Martian surface. Describe the geology of Mars, monitor the weather, and investigate properties of the atmosphere and clouds.

On June 2, 2008, one week after landing, Phoenix lifted its first scoop of Martian soil to test the lander’s robotic arm. Phoenix sprinkled a spoonful of Martian soil onto the sample wheel of the spacecraft’s robotic microscope station on June 12. This soil appeared to be very similar to surface soils found in the upper dry valleys in Antarctica. One inch into the surface layer, the soil is very basic, with a pH between 8 and 9. The instruments also found the chemicals needed for life as we know it. On July 31, 2008, Phoenix Mars Lander identified water in a soil sample.