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NASA robot to dig on Martian surface Print E-mail

NASA is set to launch a robotic spacecraft next month that will dig into the soil near the northern pole of Mars to check for conditions favourable to microbial life now or in the planet's past.

The Phoenix Mars Lander is due to launch some time between August 3 and August 24 from Florida for a landing on the frigid northern plains of Mars on May 25, 2008, NASA officials and mission scientists say.

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 100 degree Celsius.

It is the latest mission by the US space agency to seek a deeper understanding of Earth's next-door neighbour in the solar system, including whether Mars has ever harboured life.

Assuming it survives a risky descent and landing, the lander will wield a robotic arm 2.3 meters long to dig up to 1-meter deep to get at soil and frozen water thought to be lurking just under the surface, scientists say.

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