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Video: Phoenix Mars Lander - Hunting for Habitats

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Text: The Challenges of Getting to Mars

Text: Chris Lewicki

Phoenix is a lander that's going to the north polar highlands of Mars ...

Phoenix is a mission to land near the north pole of Mars --

kind of up in the "Arctic Circle" area.

We're in an area where the sun doesn't get very high in the sky, where the summer isn't very long --

and it's that type of environment that actually fosters what we're going to study.

It's believed from Mars Odyssey data that there is water ice --

frozen ice near the pole of Mars -- that we can actually

go down with our robotic arm and sample directly.

Text: Leslie Tamppari
In the north polar region, outside of the polar caps that we see,

there actually is maybe up to 80 percent water in that top meter of the soil.

So our job is to dig deep, not to drive out, like some of the rovers have done in the past.

And so we have the robotic arm with its scoop onboard our spacecraft,

to sample the dirt on the top, and dig down and sample the ice,

and deliver those to the onboard experiments.

Text: Deborah Bass
We're hoping that we can learn more about the long-term climate of Mars by looking at the ice;

we're hoping to understand more about the polar regions of Mars --

which is a place we've never gone to;

and finally, we're really interested in looking for a habitable zone --

a place where life might have existed in the past.

Text: Peter Smith
If you get to a place where there's ice, for instance,

you wonder if, over time, the climate could have changed to the point where that ice melted.

Now if you have liquid water, and you have soil, and you have sunlight,

you've got a lot of ingredients -- not all, but a lot of the ingredients --

that can lead to a place where life could actually take a foothold.

And we call that the "habitability" of the soil.

Now whether life actually did take that foothold,

and whether the one place we land actually contains that life, is a different question.

So this is not an easy search -- and our goals are a little more limited than, "We must find life."

We will find if that zone is habitable -- and if it is,

then we would suggest to the community, "This is a good place to go and look for life."

Text: Chris Lewicki
I'm very excited about Phoenix.

I came from the Mars Exploration Rovers, and that was a very different kind of mission.

MER was all about driving, about roving, about going up to rocks and grinding through them.

The science that Phoenix needs to do is a very different type of science.

I think of MER as the "scratch & sniff" mission,

whereas Phoenix is really the "grab & eat" mission.

We have science instruments that are designed to ingest soil.

And it gives you really a kind of a laboratory-class knowledge of the surface of Mars,

which is something that MER, with the instruments that it had, wasn't able to do.

So while Phoenix has its limitations in terms of mobility and where we'll be able to go to,

it's an entirely different type of science.

Text: NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

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