Mars lander ordered to start digging

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image none"><span>none</span></div><span class="caption-text">This view from the Surface Stereo Imager on NASA&#39;s Phoenix Mars Lander shows the first impression ?- dubbed Yeti and shaped like a wide footprint -- made on the Martian soil by the robotic arm scoop on Sol 6, the sixth Martian day of the mission, &#40;May 31, 2008&#41;. Touching the ground is the first step toward scooping up soil and ice and delivering the samples to the lander&#39;s onboard experiments.  The Phoenix Mission is led by the University of Arizona, Tucson, on behalf of NASA. Project management of the mission is by NASA&#39;s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Spacecraft development is by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver.  Image Credit: NASA&#47;JPL-Caltech&#47;University of Arizona </span></div>
June 4, 2008 11:28:28 AM PDT
NASA's Phoenix lander has begun its long-awaited exploration of Mars' north pole region.

Scientists on Wednesday told the long-armed spacecraft to dig up three scoops of soil. Over the next several days, it will dump a soil sample into a tiny oven where it will be baked and studied.

Phoenix landed in the Martian arctic plains about 10 days ago on a three-month mission. The robot will study whether the polar environment is capable of supporting primitive life forms.

The mission is led by the University of Arizona in Tucson and managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.