NASA will launch a new robotic spacecraft in August that will search for life under the Martian surface. Reuters reports the robotic explorer is expected to arrive on Mars on May 25, 2008 and that it will digg into the soil near the northern pole of Mars to search for traces of microbial life.
The mission is due to last three months. NASA is eyeing a landing site devoid of boulders at a latitude equivalent to northern Alaska on Earth. Scientists expect the lander to operate in temperatures as low as minus 148 Fahrenheit(minus 100 C).
It is the latest mission by the U.S. space agency to seek a deeper understanding of Earth's next-door neighbor in the solar system, including whether Mars has ever harbored life.
"I think it's going to be a really exciting mission to the north pole -- first time we've been up there -- and I'm really looking forward to this," Doug McCuistion, NASA's Mars exploration program director, told a news conference.
Assuming it survives a risky descent and landing, the lander will wield a robotic arm 7.7 feet long to dig up to 3 feet (1 meter) deep to get at soil and frozen water thought to be lurking just under the surface, scientists said.
It will rely on a variety of equipment to assess whether this water may provide conditions that could support microbes.
"It's going to analyze the water," said Bobby Fogel, a NASA scientist. "It's going to get its chemical composition, its physical properties, and try to tell us something about the history of water on Mars and potential habitability for microbes on Mars."