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Off to Mars: 10-month trek begins

CAPE CANAVERAL AFS, Fla. -- The 45th Space Wing supported Saturday's successful launch of a probe that will study Mars. NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander was launched at 5:26 a.m. aboard a Delta II booster from Space Launch Complex 17-A at Cape Canaveral AFS.

After a 422 million-mile journey, the Phoenix spacecraft should arrive in May 2008. It will land in the arctic region of northern Mars and attempt to answer questions such as: Can the Martian arctic support life? What is the history of water at the polar landing site? How is the Martian climate affected by polar seasonal change?

"This launch was a great start for what should be a very exciting mission," said Brig. Gen. Susan Helms, 45th SW commander. "Our Air Force launch crews effectively teamed with our NASA and contractor mission partners. We wish NASA continued success as the Phoenix spacecraft helps unlock the secrets of the Red Planet."

Several units across the wing played vital roles, including providing weather forecasts, assisting with media relations and safety support. The wing also provided a vast network of radar, telemetry, optical and communications instrumentation that helped facilitate a safe launch.

Capt. Liza Dillard and Capt. Chin Hiransomboon of the 1st Space Launch Squadron were the Air Force launch crew commanders for this mission. They went on-console during the final countdown to coordinate actions at the launch control center and relay information to senior Air Force leadership.

"The count was not filled with excitement, but that's how we like it," said Captain Hiransomboon, "excitement usually equals problems."

However, the launch went off with no difficulties, sending the Phoenix lander on its important mission.

"It was a spectacular view," said Captain Hiransomboon of watching the rocket soar into the sky. "This was a memorable night for me and the whole Phoenix team."