1. Headline
  1. Headline
Image: Footprint on Mars
NASA / JPL-Caltech / UA
This view from NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander shows the first impression left on Martian soil by the scoop on the lander's robotic arm. The mark, made May 31, is shaped like a wide footprint and has been dubbed "Yeti."
msnbc.com news services
updated 6/2/2008 12:11:50 PM ET 2008-06-02T16:11:50

NASA's new robot on Mars has reached out and touched the soil for the first time, leaving behind a striking impression that looks like a footprint.

The Phoenix Mars Lander's robotic arm was making a test run, just one week after its landing. The spacecraft, which is also its own laboratory, will soon start scooping up soil and ice and running tests on it.

"This first touch allows us to utilize the robotic arm accurately," said David Spencer, Phoenix's surface mission manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

"We are in a good situation" for the future testing, he said Sunday.

The camera on Phoenix's robotic arm also took a number of images of what appears to be exposed ice under the lander.

Phoenix, which touched down on Mars on May 25 after a 10-month, 420 million-mile (676 million-kilometer) journey from Earth, will bore into the ground and study water and soil samples to determine if conditions were ever suitable to support life.

"What we see in the images is in agreement with the notion that it may be ice, and we suspect we will see the same thing in the digging area," said Uwe Keller of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany.

"We could very well be seeing rock, or we could be seeing exposed ice in the retrorocket blast zone," agreed Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis.

"We'll test the two ideas by getting more data, including color data, from the robotic arm camera. We think that if the hard features are ice, they will become brighter because atmospheric water vapor will collect as new frost on the ice," Arvidson added in a statement.

The Viking landers in the 1970s and early 1980s conducted similar tests on surface soils. The detection of subsurface frozen water in 2002 by Mars Odyssey prompted scientists to propose the Phoenix mission.

This report includes information from The Associated Press and Reuters.

© 2013 msnbc.com


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. TODAY

    Generation stress? How anxiety rules the secret life of teens

    9/17/2014 12:17:58 PM +00:00 2014-09-17T12:17:58
  1. Everett Collection

    Ginger or Mary Ann? 'Gilligan' fans still ponder question

    9/17/2014 12:45:37 PM +00:00 2014-09-17T12:45:37
  1. TODAY

    video Vikings bar Adrian Peterson from team

    9/17/2014 11:51:37 AM +00:00 2014-09-17T11:51:37
  1. From Kate Hudson to Robert Duvall: Watch our Orange Room Roulette videos

    When celebrity guests visit TODAY's Orange Room, we have them play a little game called "Orange Room Roulette," where they draw a question from a fishbowl and then give an answer.

    9/17/2014 1:02:23 PM +00:00 2014-09-17T13:02:23