Mars Lander Prepares for 3-Month Digging Mission

Another probe has landed on Mars. If this one comes anywhere close to lasting as long as the last two have, NASA is going to get some wonderful data.

PASADENA, California — NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander spent its first full day in the Martian arctic plains checking its instruments in preparation for an ambitious digging mission to study whether the site could have once been habitable.

The three-legged lander set down Sunday in relatively flat terrain covered by fissures outlining polygon shapes. The geometric cracks are likely caused by the repeated freezing and thawing of buried ice.

Images beamed back late Monday showed the elbow joint of Phoenix’s trench-digging robotic arm still partly covered by a protective sheath. The sheath was supposed to fully unwrap after landing.

Mission scientists downplayed the problem, saying they could still wiggle out the arm for digging.

“This is a minor inconvenience,” said Deborah Bass, deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. “We’re going to have to do a little bit of disentangling.”

Bass said the process of moving the 8-foot-long arm was still scheduled for Tuesday.

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