Phoenix Mars Lander releases its robotic arm

Saturday, 31 May 2008, 05:06 Hrs
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Washington: The Phoenix Mars Lander has released its robotic arm to begin prodding the red planet's surface to look for chemistry that could support life, NASA officials said Thursday.

NASA officials hope the robotic arm can poke into the surface to substantiate evidence of ice or water in the northernmost areas of Mars that could have supported life. Chemical compositions can be analyzed aboard the craft and the results beamed back to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

"We've even exceeded our optimistic goals," said Barry Goldstein, JPL's project manager for the Phoenix programme.

Phoenix landed on Mars Sunday after a 10-month, 680-million-km journey. The spacecraft was powered by batteries before unfolding its solar array to absorb energy from the sun.

The first evidence of water on Mars was found by the Odyssey orbiter in 2002, and NASA wanted to send a rover to the northern area of the planet, where it believes there are heavier concentrations of ice ground.

Phoenix's picture-perfect landing Sunday marked the beginning of the $420-million mission to explore the Martian surface. Overcoming the riskiest part of the mission brought a great deal of relief among NASA's scientists. About 50 percent of international lander projects have failed.

"This has been in some regards very, very easy," Goldstein said.

JPL experienced a glitch when a spacecraft orbiting Mars refused to relay instructions from Earth to Phoenix. NASA resorted to a backup plan by rerouting signals through another orbiter. Communications resumed and orders were given to deploy the robotic arm.

Phoenix is set to use the calm of the three-month northern Martian summer to carry out its work. Sand storms during the rest of the year would interfere with the solar collectors, just as they did with the previous Spirit and Opportunity missions, which have nevertheless outlived their initial 90-day life expectancy by nearly four years.

In addition, Phoenix will project laser beams into the Martian atmosphere to study cloud structure and other elements. After the onset of the Martian winter, the probe will continue to work as a weather station.
Source: IANS
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