NASA's Phoenix extends its mission on Mars till September 30

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Washington, August 30 : NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, which has completed its 90-day primary mission on the Red Planet, has extended its activities till September 30.

NASA made the decision after the confirmation that the spacecraft has sufficient power and experiment capacity.

Once the Lander finishes collecting science data, the mission teams will continue the analysis of the measurements and observations.

"We have been successful beyond my wildest dreams, and we're not done yet learning from Mars about its secrets," said Peter Smith, Phoenix principal investigator from The University of Arizona, Tucson.

"We are still working to understand the properties and the history of the ice at our landing site on the northern plains of Mars," he added.

According to Smith, "While the sun has begun to dip below the horizon, we still have power to continue our observations and experiments. And we're hoping to see a gradual change in the Martian weather in the next few weeks."

Among the critical questions the Phoenix science team is trying to answer is whether the northern region of Mars could have been a habitable zone.

Phoenix has already confirmed the presence of water ice, determined the soil is alkaline and identified magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride and perchlorate in the soil.

Chemical analyses continue even as Phoenix's robotic arm reaches out for more samples to sniff and taste.

"It's been gratifying to be able to share the excitement of our exploration with the public through the thousands upon thousands of images that our cameras have taken. They have been available to the public on our web site as soon as they are received on Earth," said Smith.

Phoenix's Surface Stereo Imager, Robotic Arm Camera and microscope have returned more than 20,000 pictures since landing day, May 25.

The mission's meteorological instruments have made daily atmospheric readings and have watched as the pressure decreases, signaling a change in the season.

The team is currently working to diagnose an intermittent interference that has become apparent in the path for gases generated by heating a soil sample in the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer to reach the instrument's mass spectrometer.

Meanwhile, plans call for Phoenix to widen its deepest trench, called "Stone Soup," to scoop a fresh sample of soil from that depth for analysis in the wet chemistry laboratory of the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA).

In the coming days, the team also plans to have Phoenix test a revised method for handling a sample rich in water ice.

ANI

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