NASA’s Phoenix retests release of Martian soil

By Xinhua,

Washington : Engineers and scientists operating NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander decided early Tuesday to repeat a practice test of releasing Martian soil from the scoop on the lander’s Robotic Arm.

Support TwoCircles

When the arm collected and released its first scoopful of soil on Sunday, some of the sample stuck to the scoop. The team told Phoenix Tuesday morning to lift another surface sample and release it, with more extensive imaging of the steps in the process.

“We are proceeding cautiously,” said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona. “Before we begin delivering samples to the instruments on the deck, we want a good understanding of how the soil behaves.”

After the “dig and dump” practices, Phoenix may begin the actual sample gathering on Wednesday. It will dig underneath the Mars surface, and then deliver the soil to its scientific instruments.

However, mission controllers hit a snag on one of the analytical instruments. On Monday, engineers sent commands to the two spring-loaded doors on one of the tiny ovens of the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer. They wanted the doors to open in preparation for receiving the instrument’s first soil sample.

Images returned that evening showed one door opened fully, the other partially. Phoenix engineers said the opening is wide enough to receive a sample, and they hope the door might open farther on its own, particularly once the sun warms the spring holding the door.

Phoenix landed near the Martian north pole on May 25 on a three-month mission to study whether the environment could be habitable for primitive life forms.