NASA's next Mars-bound spacecraft, the Phoenix Mars Lander, partway through assembly and testing at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, in September 2006.

NASA's next Mars-bound spacecraft, the Phoenix Mars Lander, was partway through assembly and testing at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, in September 2006, progressing toward an August 2007 launch from Florida. In this photograph, spacecraft specialists work on the lander after its fan-like circular solar arrays have been spread open for testing. The arrays will be in this configuration when the spacecraft is active on the surface of Mars.

Phoenix will land in icy soils near the north polar permanent ice cap of Mars and explore the history of the water in these soils and any associated rocks, while monitoring polar climate. It will dig into the surface, test scooped-up samples for carbon-bearing compounds and serve as NASA's first exploration of a potential modern habitat on Mars.

Photojournal Note: As planned, the Phoenix lander, which landed May 25, 2008 23:53 UTC, ended communications in November 2008, about six months after landing, when its solar panels ceased operating in the dark Martian winter.

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