NASA approved the mission, known as
On Earth, the arctic regions hold the history of the planet's climate changes, which are locked layer by layer into the ice core.
"This is where the history of life is preserved in its purest form -- organic molecules and cellular bacterial microbes and so forth," Smith said.
"We're wondering if this is true on Mars," he said.
"This will be a very nail-biting time for us," said Fuk Li, the Mars Exploration program manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
From 170 million miles (274 million km) away, flight controllers will only be able to watch and wait to learn
"All of these events have to occur exactly as planned," said project manager Barry Goldstein. "The team is very confident in that we've done everything we can."
(Editing by Tom Brown and Vicki Allen)