Is there life on Mars? Was there ever? - These are the answers that NASA hopes will be revealed by a Robotic Spacecraft dubbed Phoenix Mars Lander. The Spacecraft was launched from Florida on August 4th, 2007 and is expected to land on the Red Planet on May 25th, 2008.
NASA commissioned the mission entitled "Follow the Water", in 2003. Led by the University of Phoenix, the two main goals of the mission are to study the geologic history of water on the planet and to find out if any part of the planet can support life.
The Mars Lander has been programmed to land on the section of the planet, which contains water and ice. If successful, it will use its Robotic Arm to start digging about half a meter below the surface for samples of water and dirt, which will immediately be analyzed by instruments on the Lander. Other instruments on Phoenix will help record the weather, take hi-definition photos and analyze the atmosphere.
Unlike the Mars Exploration Rovers, who have been roaming the Red Planet since 2004, the Phoenix Mars Lander which is static, is expected to complete its mission in 90 Martian Days (about 92 Earth Days). Scientists are hoping that the Lander will be able to survive a little more and record at least a small part of the Martian winter and the development of polar ice. They do not expect the Lander to last the whole winter since it is solar powered and will not be able to sustain itself when the planet plunges into darkness during the winter months.
In anticipation of a successful launch, several organizations throughout the U.S.A are holding "Landing Parties" on May 25th. To see if there is one in your area check out: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/events/Mars_Events_108.html
The video below is an animated film made by NASA that shows how the Phoenix Mars Lander will work, once it lands on the surface of the Red Planet. To read updates on the progress of the Mars Lander, go to http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/phoenix/main/index.html
Sources: NASA, Telegragh.com, Wikipedia