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The Phoenix spacecraft has separated from the Delta II rocket and ground controllers at NASA's Deep Space Network have acquired its signal and begun assessing its health. The solar panels that will power the mission's cruise phase will be deployed and Phoenix will be pointed to best receive solar power and communicate with Earth.
The spacecraft has oriented itself to the sun as it was programmed to do. It will use solar panels to generate electricity during the nine-month coast to Mars.
If all goes as planned - a big if considering only five of the world's 15 attempts to land on Mars have succeeded - the spacecraft will set down on the Martian Arctic plains on May 25, 2008, and spend three months scooping up soil and ice, and analyzing the samples in minuscule ovens and mixing bowls.
The Phoenix Mars Lander won't be looking for evidence of life on Mars but rather traces of organic compounds in the baked and moistened samples, which would be a possible indicator of conditions favorable for life, either now or once upon a time.