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Phoenix Mars Lander: Instruments and Mission Objectives - Windows to the Universe

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This picture shows what an artist thinks Phoenix will look like on Mars. The flat, round, dark objects on each side of Phoenix are the spacecraft's solar panels. The solar panels make electricity for Phoenix. The robot arm is shown reaching out to the left to scoop up soil samples. A thin green laser beam shoots up into the sky. The LIDAR instrument uses the laser to measure dust in the Martian atmosphere.
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Image courtesy of NASA/JPL/UA/Lockheed Martin.

Phoenix Mars Lander - Instruments and Mission Objectives

The Phoenix Mars Lander was a robot spacecraft that was sent to Mars. Phoenix landed near the North Pole on Mars. This page tells about the mission of Phoenix. It also describes the instruments on the robot. Click here to read some basic info about Phoenix on another page.

Most recent Mars landers have been wheeled rovers that can move around. Phoenix is not. Phoenix stayed in one place after it landed. It used its robotic arm to scoop up and test Martian soil. Scientists thought there was ice in and under the soil where Phoenix landed. Phoenix found some ice and tested it to see what chemicals are mixed in with the ice. Phoenix used its instruments to "taste" and "smell" the samples its arm dug up.

Life on Earth needs water. If there is life on Mars... or if there ever was in the past... maybe it needed water too. Scientists hope Phoenix can help them learn about the history of water on Mars. Mars doesn't have any liquid water on its surface now, but it probably did in the past. The climate on Mars changes from time to time. Some scientists think it was warm enough for Mars to have liquid water about 100,000 years ago. That may seem like a long time ago to you, but it is just "the blink of an eye" in the history of a planet. Some microbes can survive as spores for a very long time without water.

Why is this spacecraft called Phoenix? In ancient Phoenician mythology, the phoenix was a bird that would burst into flames but then be reborn from its own ashes. The Phoenix Mars Lander used parts and instruments that were made for two earlier Mars spacecraft.

Phoenix had a robotic arm that could reach out 2.35 meters (almost 8 feet) and dig down about half a meter (20 inches) to scoop up soil and ice samples. The arm had a camera on it. Phoenix contained two miniature laboratories that tested the samples the arm scooped up. One lab, called TEGA, checked for minerals, carbon dioxide, ice, and other materials in the soil samples. The other lab, called MECA, tested the soil to see whether life could survive in it. MECA checked whether the soil is too acidic or too salty for life. MECA also had microscopes in its mini-lab. Phoenix also carried a weather station that checked the temperature and air pressure each day. The weather station had a laser sensor (called a LIDAR) to measure dust in the Martian atmosphere. Finally, Phoenix had twin cameras mounted on the main body of the lander that took pictures of the land around the robot.

Last modified February 4, 2010 by Randy Russell.

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