The robotic arm of the Phoenix Lander is scooping Martian soil that appears to be clumping together. This is not ideal for the tests the spacecraft is designed to perform on the soil.

Engineers are testing a revised method in light of the clumpy soil problem. The soil is intended to pass through a screen for the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA) to test. After 20 minutes of vibrating the screen, only a few particles fell from the clumpy soil to pass through the screen.

The revised method will hold the scoop at an angle above the delivery target and attempt to sprinkle out a small sample through vibrating the scoop which is assisted by a motorized rasp on the bottom of the scoop.

Hopefully the tests will be able to go forward with this new method. I’d like to know why the soil is clumpy. It is wet clumpy or merely clay clumpy?

Phoenix mission 06.08.08


An American flag and a mini-DVD are attached to the Phoenix Lander’s deck as show in this photo. The DVD is the round object to the left of the flag at the bottom of the picture.Lander flag and dvd

The DVD, supplied by the Planetary Society, contains a message to future Martian explorers.

Perhaps this is a tacit admission that life doesn’t exist on Mars? At least the sort of life that uses DVD players?

It’s possible future Martian explorers from Earth won’t be using this technology either. Anyway, it is an inexpensive addition to the Lander which helps generate interest in the program. The fact that more than a quarter million people requested their name be included on the DVD speaks to the interest factor.

The DVD contains a message to future explorers, science fiction stories, art inspired by Mars, and the names of more than 250,000 residents of Earth.

Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

The clarity and crisp resolution of the images being taken by the Phoenix Lander on Mars is astounding. The image below is a view of the ground underneath the Lander which points to evidence that descent thrusters dispersed overlying soil exposing what appears to bee ice. This is good, since one main objective of the robotic arm is to scoop soil samples containing ice for analysis

 Underneath Lander

This image taken by Robotic Arm Camera shows patches of smooth and level surfaces beneath the thrusters.

“We were expecting to find ice within two to six inches of the surface,” said Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson, principal investigator for Phoenix. “The thrusters have excavated two to six inches and, sure enough, we see something that looks like ice. It’s not impossible that it’s something else, but our leading interpretation is ice.”

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) took this picture of the Phoenix Lander gliding to the surface of Mars while it orbited overhead.

The Lander will soon be testing its robotic arm; first by unlatching its wrist and then flexing its elbow. This is critical to the success of the mission as the arm will be scooping soil samples of ice for analysis.Phoenix landing

 Image: NASA/ JPL/ Caltech/ Univ of Arizona











This image shows the Phoenix craft parachute during its descent on May. It landed near the Heimdall crater at at distance of 12 miles in front of the crater. NASA is using both the MRO and another vehicle orbiting Mars, Odyssey, to communicate with the Phoenix Lander. Commands have been sent for the Lander to take pictures of the area around it and to begin to move its robotic arm.

During the next three months, the arm will dig in the soil near the lander and scoop samples of soil and ice to instruments on the lander deck. Following the commands this morning, its movements will begin with unlatching the wrist, then moving the arm upwards in a stair-step manner. These movements are schedule for Wednesday, May 28.

Overall, the Lander team is quite pleased with the landing of the craft and the position where it is situated on the surface of Mars.

The image below was taken today and relayed with other information to the MRO this evening, which transmitted the image and data to earth from its orbit around Mars.

Lander image 052708

At fifty-three minutes past 6 pm, Central Standard Time, the Phoenix Lander confirmed to Mission Control that it landed in the northern polar region of Mars. The first successful landing without airbags to cushion the landing on the planet since Viking 2 landed in 1976. Thruster jets were used to control the landing. Over the next three months, its mission will be to use its robotic arm to dig for frozen water.

Phoenix 05.25.08

The photo at left is a picture of one of the feet of the lander and the photo below is of the surrounding Martian landscape. Credit for the photo’s: NASA/ JPL-Caltech/ Univ. of Arizona.

During its 422-million-mile flight from Earth to Mars, which launched on August 4, 2007, Phoenix relied on electricity from solar panels during the spacecraft’s trip, known as the cruise stage. The cruise stage was jettisoned seven minutes before the lander, encased in a protective shell to protect against heat from entry into the thin Martian atmosphere, entered the Martian atmosphere proceeding toward the surface of the planet. Batteries provided electricity until the lander’s own pair of solar arrays spread open.

Another critical deployment will be the 7.7-foot-long robotic arm on Phoenix, which will not be attempted for at least two days. Scientists will use the robotic arm during the weeks ahead to obtain samples of soil and ice and put them into laboratory instruments on the lander deck.

Pulled by Mars’ gravity, Phoenix was speeding along at 12,700 mph before it entered the atmosphere, which slowed the craft so it could pop out a parachute and fire thruster rockets to glide softly to the ground.

The journey took 10 months and spanned a distance of 423 million miles. NASA attempted a landing on Mars’ south pole in 1999, but a problem developed during the final minutes of descent and ended the mission.

NASA canceled its next Mars lander but successfully deployed Spirit and Opportunity to the planet’s equatorial region to search for signs of past surface water.Mars landing area

Phoenix was created from spare parts out of the failed Polar Lander mission and a mothballed probe. Unlike the rovers, Phoenix did not bounce to the planet’s surface in airbags, which are not suitable for larger spacecraft.

Instead, like the 1970s-era Viking probes and the failed Polar Lander mission, Phoenix used a jet pack to lower itself to the ground and fold-out legs to land on.

This is a picture of the landing site that the Phoenix lander is heading to on Mars. Phoenix landing site The landing should be at around 6:50 pm CST. 










You can watch the operations center here on NASA tv. 

Not much is happening right now, the odd communications, people sitting in front of monitors, a photographer walking around taking pictures. I would expect the excitement level to pick up closer to the landing time.

Here is a web link for the lander: