Looking for Water on Mars

NASA bounced back from the disappointing delay of the Dawn asteroid mission this weekend, reminding space fans that another exciting project is about to launch soon. At some point within a three-week window starting August 3, the Phoenix Mars Lander is slated to begin its journey to the Red Planet, ideally touching down in the northern plains sometime next spring. Once on the surface, Phoenix's two large solar panels will open up, and the lander will start to explore nearby ground with its nearly eight-foot-long robotic arm. A miniature weather station onboard will monitor the climate conditions, including the amount of water and dust in the atmosphere, while the arm will dig down beneath the soil, where scientists expect it will find ice. This isn't just wishful thinking: In 2002, the Mars Odyssey Orbiter uncovered evidence that big sections of Mars have water ice buried inches below the soil. The mission is only set to last for three months, but would be the first time that scientists actually use an instrument to come in direct contact with ice on Mars.—Gregory Mone