August 3, 2007
Tomorrow, in the pre-dawn hours at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the newest Mars-bound robotic explorer is slated to lift off on its 422-million-mile (679-million-kilometer) journey.
The 420-million-U.S.-dollar Phoenix Mars Landerseen here in this artist's conceptionis expected to reach Mars in the spring of 2008, touching down near the red planet's north pole. Its mission: to determine whether the icy soil on far northern Mars has conditions that were once suitable for life.
Phoenix currently sits at the launch pad on top of a 13-story-tall stack of rocket engines. If anything delays tomorrow's scheduled 5:26 a.m. launch, NASA officials will have until the end of August to get the craft space-borne.
"We have a three-week launch window, which is quite an extensive period," Deborah Bass, NASA's deputy project scientist for the Phoenix mission, said during an August 1 press briefing. "I feel confident that we'll get off Earth and on toward Mars within that time."
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Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona