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Phoenix lander launched to Mars

Washington, August 4
A US space probe named Phoenix Mars Lander was successfully launched early today from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and began its nine-month journey to Mars, where it will dig for clues to past and present life.

The lander blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard a Delta II rocket at 5:36 am (1506 IST) in a flawless launch that illuminated the dark night sky.

Phoenix had been originally scheduled to launch on Friday, but the mission was postponed 24 hours after bad weather on Tuesday prevented fueling of the two-stage rocket.

If everything goes as planned, Phoenix should complete its 680 million km $420-million journey to Mars on May 25, 2008.

About 90 minutes after launch, the Delta II rocket will give the probe the final push it needs to send it from Earth orbit to Mars.

The lander's assignment is to dig through the Martian soil and ice in the arctic region and use its onboard scientific instruments to analyse the samples it retrieves.

"We have worked for four years to get to this point, so we are all very excited," said Phoenix project manager Barry Goldstein at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

NASA hopes to land the probe on flat ground with few or no rocks at a Martian latitude equivalent to northern Alaska on Earth.

Phoenix is likely to face Martian temperatures that range from minus 73 degrees Celsius to minus 33 degrees.

Once it lands safely on the Martian surface, the probe will deploy a set of research tools never before used on the planet. AFP

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