Phoenix Mars Lander Working With Sticky Soil

July 29, 2008
NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander collected a soil sample and attempted to deliver some of it to a laboratory oven on the deck during the mission's 62nd Martian day, or sol, (July 28, 2008). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Max Planck Institute

( -- Scientists and engineers on NASA's Phoenix Mars Mission spent the weekend examining how the icy soil on Mars interacts with the scoop on the lander's robotic arm, while trying different techniques to deliver a sample to one of the instruments.

"It has really been a science experiment just learning how to interact with the icy soil on Mars -- how it reacts with the scoop, its stickiness, whether it's better to have it in the shade or the sunlight," said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona.

The team tried two methods over the weekend to pick up and deliver a sample of icy soil to a laboratory oven of the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA). In both cases, most of the sample stuck inside the lander's inverted scoop. Images returned early Monday showed a small amount of soil reached the screened opening, but other data indicated that not enough had been funneled into the oven for beginning an analysis of the composition.

Samples obtained Friday and late Sunday contained material churned up from a hard layer by the motorized rasp on the scoop. That layer is believed to include water ice mixed with the soil.

Sunday's attempt to deliver a sample to cell number zero of Phoenix's TEGA instrument used more vibration with a motor inside the scoop and held the scoop upside down over the opened doors for longer than was used on Friday. The team plans to keep gaining experience in handling the icy soil while continuing with other Phoenix studies of the soil and the atmosphere.

Smith said, "While we continue with determining the best way to get an icy sample, we intend to proceed with analyzing dry samples that we already know how to deliver. We are going to move forward with a dry soil sample."

Provided by NASA

Explore further: Coming to your solar system soon: A rendezvous with an asteroid

Related Stories

NASA rover game released for Curiosity's anniversary

August 4, 2016

As Curiosity marks its fourth anniversary (in Earth years) since landing on Mars, the rover is working on collecting its 17th sample. While Curiosity explores Mars, gamers can join the fun via a new social media game, Mars ...

Curiosity Mars rover resumes work with first scooped sample

October 11, 2012

(—The team operating Curiosity decided on Oct. 9, 2012, to proceed with using the rover's first scoop of Martian material. Plans for Sol 64 (Oct. 10) call for shifting the scoopful of sand and dust into the mechanism ...

Recommended for you

Gaia spies two temporarily magnified stars

October 28, 2016

While scanning the sky to measure the position of over one billion stars in our Galaxy, ESA's Gaia satellite has detected two rare instances of stars whose light was temporarily boosted by other celestial objects passing ...

More than 15,000 near-Earth objects and counting

October 28, 2016

The international effort to find, confirm and catalogue the multitude of asteroids that pose a threat to our planet has reached a milestone: 15 000 discovered – with many more to go.

How planets like Jupiter form

October 28, 2016

Young giant planets are born from gas and dust. Researchers of ETH Zürich and the Universities of Zürich and Bern simulated different scenarios relying on the computing power of the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

3 / 5 (2) Jul 30, 2008
...didn't they try this here before they sent it? I mean, they went there looking for water, right?....didn't they actually try the thing with wet soil and ice shavings? this whole mission seems to have been makeshift from the start.
The two rovers were (are) their finest accomplishments to date, but this thing seems pretty useless!
3 / 5 (2) Jul 30, 2008
I agree with DGBEACH comment (above). Sounds like planning that came from the White House (let's fix it after we get there!).
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 30, 2008
of course they did, they're interacting with a basically unknown substance on an alien world, its inevitable that there would be some glitches
1 / 5 (1) Jul 30, 2008
Well, if 'we' aren't yet in the WH then 'we' will have to pay off the demos' (that's a Greek word BTW) homeless gangsta-boyz shock troops first - maybe with NASA jobs.
4.3 / 5 (3) Jul 30, 2008
gmurphy: There is nothing unknown up there. Its all stuff you can find here on earth. Our entire solar system is made from the same stuff.
3.5 / 5 (2) Jul 30, 2008
They could vibrate it intelligently, i.e. estimate the mass of the stuck material, model the known arm's size and mass, figure out the optimal vibrational frequency to resonate and shake it off with the most efficiency.
5 / 5 (2) Jul 30, 2008
If people were doing the experiment, they could just tap the collecting tool to drop the sample into the oven. Of course, we all know that a human presence is just for show, and not essential to space exploration.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.