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U.S. Spacecraft Seeks to Find Life on Mars

Posted May. 27, 2008 08:53,   


“There will be a layer of ice beneath the flat ground, which looks like a parking lot. The ice will let us know if life exists on Mars.”

Peter Smith of the University of Arizona said these words at a news conference yesterday after NASA’s Phoenix Marx Lander sent its first photo of the Martian surface. The spacecraft touched Mars’ arctic plains at 7:53 p.m. Sunday.

In 1976, two Viking landers arrived on the Red Planet. Since then, spacecraft above Mars have explored arid land nearby the equator whose geographical features have rarely changed over the past billion years. Phoenix will explore icy soils near the planet’s northern polar region.

Scientists say they can determine if life existed on Mars and if life there is possible now when they analyze the ice layer beneath the surface.

After its launch in August last year, Phoenix traveled along its orbit and flown 675 million kilometers to Mars, which is 273.6 million kilometers from the earth. On Sunday, NASA’s latest Mars lander entered the Martian atmosphere at a speed of 19,200 kilometers per hour.

After enduring frictional heat of up to 1,426 degrees Celsius during entry, Phoenix launched 12 retrorockets at 600 meters above ground, released its parachute, reduced speed to eight kilometers per hour, and landed on Mars. The craft is the first to attempt a landing with a parachute instead of bouncing around on airbags.

The United States, Russia and Britain have made 11 attempts to land probes on Mars since 1971, but only five have succeeded.

While staying at the same location over the next 90 days, Phoenix will stretch its robotic arm into the ground to analyze soil and icy layer and deliver images to earth at the speed of light. The lander will analyze if life can thrive in the water with the acidity and salt levels of Mars.

After its battery dies, Phoenix will remain on the Red Planet with DVDs of films, novels and artistic works.