Phoenix spacecraft makes first 'impression' on Mars

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Monday, June 2, 2008

This view from the Surface Stereo Imager on NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander shows the first impression.
Image: NASA/JPL.

The robotic arm scoop on the Phoenix lander on Mars has made its first impression on the red planet, leaving behind a mark that resembles a human footprint. It began its first dig on Saturday, May 31, and the camera on board the arm caught an image.

"This first touch allows us to utilize the Robotic Arm accurately. We are in a good situation for the upcoming sample acquisition and transfer," stated Phoenix's surface mission manager from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, David Spencer.

Scientists named the initial impression Yeti in an area they describe as 'The King of Hearts'. NASA has decided to name the various tasks and operations performed by Phoenix after fairy tale and mythological characters.

On Friday May 30, 2008, the same camera captured images of what appears to be ice under the lander. Scientists, who named the exposed area Snow Queen, say that as Phoenix landed the exhaust from its thrusters cleared away a three- to four-inch layer of Martian soil which exposed a flat layer of a white substance that NASA says could be ice. The image shows the white layer which is shiny and smooth. Scientists expect to find more of the alleged ice when Phoenix begins its digging mission not far from the initial test dig.

A close-up of the "Snow Queen" feature under the lander.
Image: NASA/JPL.

"What we see in the images is in agreement with the notion that it may be ice, and we suspect we will see the same thing in the digging area," stated Uwe Keller, Robotic Arm Camera lead scientist for Phoenix.

Phoenix is searching for evidence of water and microbial life on Mars. Its mission is to determine Mars's ability or inability to host life and hold water. The Phoenix lander uses a robotic arm to dig through the protective top soil layer to the alleged water ice below and ultimately bring both soil and water ice to the lander platform for sophisticated scientific analysis.