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Phoenix mission graphic

Phase: Past

Launch Date: August 04, 2007

Mission Project Home Page -

Program(s):Mars Exploration

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Named for the mythological bird that rose out of the fire to be reborn, Phoenix was the new Lander for NASA's last Mars mission landing in the Martian northern plains in May 2008.

The Mission had two bold objectives: (1) study the history of water in the Martian arctic and (2) search for evidence of a habitable zone and assess the biological potential of the ice-soil boundary.

Mars is a cold desert planet with no liquid water on its surface. But in the Martian arctic, water ice lurks just below ground level. Discoveries made by the Mars Odyssey Orbiter in 2002 show large amounts of subsurface water ice in the northern arctic. This information dovetails with other scientific information sent back to Earth from other Mars missions suggesting that water played an important role in Mars past.  The Phoenix lander targets the northern circumpolar region using a robotic arm to dig through the protective top-soil layer to study the soil and water-ice below.

The Phoenix platform carries a scientific laboratory.  Samples of soil and water-ice were delivered by the robotic arm to instruments on the platform where sample chemistry was explored by a host of sophisticated scientific instruments.  As Phoenix dug deeper into the Martian subsurface it was able to literally peer back in time by analyzing successively deeper layers of soil and permafrost.

Phoenix also delivered images from the Marian surface on all different scales.  Its Surface Stereo Imager delivered panoramic stereoscopic images of the surface.  A camera on the robotic arm transmitted close up images of the soil and water-ice found in the trench dug by the robotic arm.  Microscopes in Phoenix’s laboratory took images of the microscopic structure of the delivered samples.

No study of water on Mars would be complete without studying the Martian atmosphere.  Phoenix has a weather station that delivered weather reports from Mars and allowed the spacecraft to investigate the properties of the atmosphere and clouds high above the spacecraft.

Phoenix provided an important contribution to the overall Mars science strategy of "Follow the Water". It was instrumental in contributing to the four science goals of NASA's long-term Mars Exploration Program.

  • Determine whether Life ever arose on Mars
  • Characterize the Climate of Mars
  • Characterize the Geology of Mars
  • Prepare for Human Exploration

The complement of the Phoenix spacecraft and its scientific instruments were ideally suited to uncover clues to the geologic history and biological potential of the Martian arctic.  Phoenix was the first mission to return data from either polar region.


In May 2009, Phoenix Mars Lander ended operations after repeated attempts to contact the spacecraft were unsuccessful.