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NASA / JPL-Caltech / UA / TAMU
The Phoenix Mars Lander took this picture of the spacecraft's crumpled heat shield, lying about 1,000 feet (300 meters) to the south, on Sept. 16. The dark area to the right of the heat shield is a bounce mark.
updated 9/18/2008 8:37:27 PM ET 2008-09-19T00:37:27

NASA is extending the Phoenix Mars mission for what's likely to be one last time.

The three-legged spacecraft has been digging trenches near the Martian north pole since landing on May 25, and its work was supposed to end this month. Phoenix is studying whether the site could have been favorable for microbial life to emerge.

NASA spokesman Dwayne Brown said Thursday the space agency will invest about $6 million to keep the $422 million mission going through December.

It’s the second and possibly last extension, since the solar-powered lander is not expected to survive the upcoming Martian winter. Mission team members said some of the spacecraft's instruments may be turned off as early as next month to conserve power.

Phoenix is the first craft to touch Martian ice with its robotic scoop. The probe will turn into a weather station once its digging job is finished.

This report was supplemented by msnbc.com.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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