Friday, August 29, 2008

Phoenix Mars Lander - many successes, more challenges

With the completion of the initial 90-day mission, the Phoenix Mars Lander team noted a number of successes: Phoenix has already confirmed the presence of water ice, determined the soil is alkaline and identified magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride and perchlorate in the soil. The Stereo Imager, Robotic Arm Camera and microscope have returned more than 20,000 pictures since landing day, May 25.

The Lander will widen its deepest trench, called "Stone Soup," to scoop a fresh sample of soil from that depth for analysis in the wet chemistry laboratory. Stone Soup measures about 7 inches deep. The first attempt to collect a sample from Stone Soup, on Aug. 26, got 2 to 3 cubic centimeters (half a teaspoon) into the scoop. This was judged to be not quite enough, so in coming days the team plans to have Phoenix test a revised method for handling a sample rich in water-ice. [above, the Lander's Robotic Arm's workspace after 90 sols. Credit, NASA-JPL, Caltech; UA, Texas A&M]

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