A Delta II rocket lit up the early morning sky over Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida as it carried the Phoenix spacecraft on the first leg of its journey to Mars. The powerful three-stage rocket with nine solid rocket motors lifted off at 5:26 a.m. EDT.
An hour and a half later, the Phoenix spacecraft separated from the Delta II and ground controllers at NASA's Deep Space Network acquired its signal and begun assessing its health. The solar panels that provide power for the mission's cruise phase deployed and Phoenix was pointed to best receive solar power and communicate with Earth.
The cruise phase will last for approximately 10 months as Phoenix makes its way to Mars. Targeted for touchdown in May 2008, Phoenix will travel 422 million miles in an outward arc from Earth to Mars. Once on the surface, it will determine whether icy soil on far northern Mars has conditions that have ever been suitable for life.