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The Phoenix Mars Mission is a Scout Class mission sponsored by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, the University of Arizona and the Lockheed Martin Space Systems. The mission was a Mars lander mission and was launched August 2007. The mission is now defunct after the lander recently ceased operation and communication with Earth.
While exploration of Mars is not new, the Phoenix Mars mission was unique in the wide level of collaboration involved in the Effort. Even though the University of Arizona was the main school partner for the mission there was also contributions from Universities in Canada, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and other US universities. There was also assistance from the Canadian Space Agency and other aerospace companies. It is the first University lead mission in the history of NASA.
The Phoenix Mars lander landed on the surface of Mars May 25, 2008. The mission was originally supposed to last 90 sols or 92.5 Earth days. The mission lasted a bit longer going for 155 sols. The Phoenix Mars mission is NASA’s sixth successful landing on Mars and the first to successfully land in the polar region of Mars.
The mission had two main goals. The first was to look into the geological water history of Mars. This has been a major topic of study in past Mars missions as Mars is one of the other planets beside Earth that has water. Now that the majority is locked in the polar ice caps of the planet Scientist are looking to geological evidence in other parts of the planet to see if there was once liquid water and what it meant for its climate in the past. The second objective is to discover the planet’s past habitability in the ice soil boundary.
The lander mission also reflects the effort of NASA to reduce costs and still get optimum results. Along with wide collaboration, the mission reused extra parts from other Mars missions. In addition the mission program decided to make it a fixed lander since the landscape is flat and uniform.
Overall the mission yielded important data on the existence of water on Mars. For the first time it confirmed what scientist had hypothesized, that water existed on Mars in ice form. This was proven when ice found at the landing sight quickly sublimated when melted. While Mars has carbon dioxide ice as well it would sublimate into gas form at a much slower rate than what was observed.
We have written many articles about the Phoenix Mars mission for Universe Today. Here’s an article about the Phoenix lander, and here’s an article about the mission to Mars.
We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about the Moon. Listen here, Episode 113: The Moon, Part 1.