What’s up in Mars?

by

Amber sky, phantom vapor rising
Over a stretch of land, away from home
Ruddy-brown rocks,
Marbles polished by time
Furrowed river covered by sand
Jigsaw puzzles abound
Parched relics of ages
One must understand
.

AFM, 02/03/04

After the successful Martian travels of Viking in 1976 and the two rovers Spirit and Opportunity in 2004, Phoenix Mars Lander arrives on Sunday, May 25, 2008 on the north pole of the red planet—an intrepid odyssey of a spacecraft, 171 million miles from its earth launch in Cape Canaveral, Florida on August 4, 2007.

With a scaled price of $420 million and powered by solar panels and lithium batteries, the 3 month mission led by scientists from University of Arizona, aims to unravel more of the planet’s secrets whose polar latitudes might harbor clues of life or carry its building ingredients.

The Phoenix will dig down to the icy layer. It will examine soil in place at the surface, at the icy layer and in between. It will scoop up samples for analysis by its onboard instruments….Has Mars ever had life? How should humans prepare for exploring the planet? What can Mars teach us about climate change? (Phoenix Landing, Mission to the Martian Polar North, NASA, 5/08).

There are many questions to answer. The mission ignites fresh hopes and old controversies—- Will it find evidence of habitability in the Martian surface? Is money poured to fund the space program better spent in solving some of the world’s serious problems? What will the military do with the enormous potentials of outer space? Who’ll gain ownership of space and determine the property rights of celestial bodies? Is robotic exploration better than sending humans to the cosmos? For God believers, agnostics, and atheists, what does it mean if life is discovered away from planet earth?

A minor radio problem hinders the smooth operation of the lander two days after the successful landing, but Gary Napier of the Lockheed Martin Space Systems which built the spacecraft assured, “Phoenix has performed extremely well, beyond our expectations. Currently it is in great shape.” AFP (05/27/08.) ==0==

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