The Phoenix Mars Mission (MarsHome.org)

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Posted Friday, June 1, 2007 on MarsHome.org

Artist's impression of the powered landing system of the Phoenix Mars Mission lander

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A top priority of future manned missions to Mars will be to find a source of water. In the case of Mars, ice is obvious on the surface in the southern polar cap, but does water exist elsewhere below the seemingly barren red soil where future settlements will be located?

The use of water extends far beyond the obvious human need to drink. Water is also essential for fuel, air, food, plant growth (hydroponics), a source of H2 for polymer/plastic fabrication, industrial process, domestic living (i.e. washing, cleaning) and esthetics in permanent hab in any future settlement that will rely on local acquisition of materials and supplies.

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have launched an armada of highly successful missions to hunt for Martian water and ice. From the detailed mapping of polar ice in the south pole by ESA's Mars Express mission to the discovery of the possibility of liquid water sporadically flowing on the surface by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor mission, there appears to be remote observations of the existence of present-day sub-surface water.

However, direct measurements need to be taken to assess the location and quantity of water ice, so future human settlements can benefit. The Phoenix Mars Lander is one such mission with the aim to find past evidence of surface water and to prospect for today's reserves by correlating orbital data with direct measurements.

As NASA's first "Mars Scout Class" lander, the Phoenix mission is designed to gather data specifically for future manned missions of the Red Planet. It is due for launch August 2007 and has two bold mission 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." - Mission site

A primary goal of the mission will be to understand the soil chemistry. These data will be a critical resource to future human explorers and will give information on how water may be acquired from the planet. Also, an understanding of soil and the permafrost layers will be critical to the design of permanent structures and habitation foundations.

The Mars Foundation™ will be watching this mission closely, in the hope of enhancing our established "Hillside settlement" and new Mars "Plains settlement" blueprints. With improved knowledge of the Martian landscape comes improved designs of advanced habitats, the Phoenix will hopefully start to pave the way to human exploration of Mars.

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