Spacecraft set for touch down on Mars
A NASA spacecraft is set to land on Mars later this month to explore soil and ice in a northern area of the Red Planet, dpa reported.
The Phoenix Mars Lander will enter the Martian atmosphere at a speed of nearly 20,000 kilometres per hour before performing a series of tricky manoeuvres, slowing to less than 10 kph before softly landing May 25.
"This is no trip to grandma's for the weekend," Ed Weiler, NASA associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate, said Tuesday.
If successful, Phoenix will be the first lander to reach the Martian arctic since a failed mission in 1998. Phoenix will use a robotic arm to reach out and grab ice soil as NASA tries to learn whether the planet can or has supported life.
Phoenix is a follow-up to NASA's "follow the water" approach since the NASA Mars Odyssey, while orbiting in 2002, discovered water ice just beneath the surface of the upper half of the planet.
"The Phoenix mission ... takes the next step in Mars exploration by determining whether this region, which may encompass as much as 25 per cent of the Martian surface, is habitable," said Peter Smith, a University of Arizona scientist participating in the mission.
After entering the atmosphere Phoenix will deploy a parachute to slow down. About 40 seconds from touch down, the craft will release the parachute and immediately fire thrusters to further slow and steer.
More than half of all international attempts to land a probe on Mars have failed. NASA officials are confident Phoenix can land safely because there are few rocks in the landing zone.
They calculate there is less than a 5 per cent chance the parachute could land on the craft and obstruct its ability to open vital solar panels for power.