Robot Geologist Heads to Mars

NASA launches lander with years-long mission to red planet
By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 4, 2007 7:05 AM CDT
The Delta II rocket carrying the Phoenix Mars lander lifts off early Saturday, Aug. 4, 2007 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Phoenix is scheduled to land on Mars in May of 2008. (AP Photo/ Terry...   (Associated Press)
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(Newser) – An unmanned rocket carrying a robotic excavation machine is on its way to Mars following a successful launch from Cape Canaveral this morning. The AP reports that the Phoenix Mars Lander should arrive on Mars in May, 2008, when it will collect and analyze soil and ice in search of organic compounds on the red planet.

NASA decided to launch the rocket towards the north of Mars, where organic material may be preserved under a sheet of ice as hard as concrete. This mission marks the first attempt by the space agency to land on north Mars after several failed touchdowns; NASA's 1999 lander sent to the planet's south pole failed to communicate.