August 4, 2003 -- NASA today selected Phoenix, an innovative and relatively low-cost mission, to study the red planet, as the first Mars Scout mission. The Phoenix lander mission is scheduled for launch in 2007.
The 2007 Scout mission joins a growing list of spacecraft aimed at exploring Mars. It also represents NASA's first fully competed opportunity for a dedicated science-driven mission.
"I am excited about the prospect of this compelling mission and its expected impact to our understanding of Mars. I look forward to a successful definition phase, so that it can be confirmed for implementation," said Dr. Ed Weiler, Associate Administrator for Space Science at NASA Headquarters, Washington. Weiler selected this mission from a group of four candidate missions following a competition over the past year. "This first Scout mission will explore the red planet in a unique way, and may mark the beginning of a line of innovative, competitively selected and lower-cost missions in the Mars Exploration Program," he said.
Phoenix, designed to land in the high northern latitudes of Mars, will follow up on Mars Odyssey's spectacular discovery of near-surface water ice in such regions. It will land in terrain suspected of harboring as much as 80 percent water ice by volume within one foot of the surface, and conduct the first subsurface analysis of ice-bearing materials on another planet.
The Phoenix lander includes an instrument suite designed to completely characterize the accessible ice, soil, rock, and local atmosphere using state-of-the-art methods. Included in the instrument payload are microscopic imaging systems capable of examining materials at scales down to 10 nanometers (i.e., 1000 times less than the width of a human hair), while others will investigate whether organic molecules are contained in ice or soil samples.
Upon final descent, an innovative camera system will photograph the Phoenix landing site just before it touches down in late 2008. A powerful robotic arm will dig down into the soil and ice-rich ground as deep at 3.3 feet, while imaging with a camera mounted on the arm itself.
Principal Investigator, Dr. Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz., leads the Phoenix mission in a partnership with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif., and Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver. In addition, the Canadian Space Agency is contributing a meteorological package that includes a lidar sensor to study polar climate.
"NASA's Mars Exploration Program continues its exciting, science-driven exploration of Mars by extending the quest for evidence of life using new vantage points, and by measuring the previously un-measurable," said Dr. Jim Garvin, the Mars Scout Program Scientist at NASA Headquarters. "Phoenix exemplifies this approach by seeking clues about habitats by landing a remarkable laboratory in known ice-rich polar regions", Garvin added.
The Mars Scout program is designed to complement major missions being planned as part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, as well as those under development by foreign space agencies, within a total mission cost cap of $325 million. The Mars Scout Program is managed by JPL for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington.
For information about NASA and space science on the Internet, visit: http://www.nasa.gov
For information about NASA's Mars Exploration Program on the Internet, visit: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/
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