Phoenix Mission Conducting Extended Activities on Mars

Sep 01, 2008
As NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander excavates trenches, it also builds piles with most of the material scooped from the holes. Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, having completed its 90-day primary mission, is continuing its science collection activities. Science and engineering teams are looking forward to at least another month of Martian exploration.

Due to the spacecraft's sufficient power and experiment capacity, NASA announced on July 31 that the mission would continue operations through Sept. 30. Once the lander finishes collecting science data, the mission teams will continue the analysis of the measurements and observations.

"We have been successful beyond my wildest dreams, and we're not done yet learning from Mars about its secrets," said Peter Smith, Phoenix principal investigator from the University of Arizona, Tucson.

"We are still working to understand the properties and the history of the ice at our landing site on the northern plains of Mars. While the sun has begun to dip below the horizon, we still have power to continue our observations and experiments. And we're hoping to see a gradual change in the Martian weather in the next few weeks," he said.

Among the critical questions the Phoenix science team is trying to answer is whether the northern region of Mars could have been a habitable zone.

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. Chemical analyses continue even as Phoenix's robotic arm reaches out for more samples to sniff and taste.

"It's been gratifying to be able to share the excitement of our exploration with the public through the thousands upon thousands of images that our cameras have taken. They have been available to the public on our web site as soon as they are received on Earth," Smith said. Phoenix's Surface Stereo Imager, Robotic Arm Camera and microscope have returned more than 20,000 pictures since landing day, May 25.

The mission's meteorological instruments have made daily atmospheric readings and have watched as the pressure decreases, signaling a change in the season. At least one ice water cloud has been observed and consistent wind patterns have been recorded over the landing site.

The team is currently working to diagnose an intermittent interference that has become apparent in the path for gases generated by heating a soil sample in the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer to reach the instrument's mass spectrometer. Vapors from all samples baked to high temperatures have reached the mass spectrometer so far, however data has shown that the gas flow has been erratic, which is puzzling the scientists.

Meanwhile, plans call for Phoenix to widen its deepest trench, called "Stone Soup," to scoop a fresh sample of soil from that depth for analysis in the wet chemistry laboratory of the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA). Stone Soup measures about 18 centimeters (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 delivering a sample was deferred.

In coming days the team also plans to have Phoenix test a revised method for handling a sample rich in water-ice. Two such samples earlier stuck inside the scoop.

Provided by NASA

Explore further: Memory reformat planned for Opportunity Mars rover

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Sample-Collection Tests by Phoenix Lander Continue

Jul 09, 2008

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander's science and engineering teams are testing methods to get an icy sample into the Robotic Arm scoop for delivery to the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer, or TEGA.

NASA carbon sleuth gets simulated taste of space

Dec 24, 2013

(Phys.org) —A NASA observatory that will make the most precise, highest-resolution and most complete, space-based measurements of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere to date has marked a key milestone ...

Mars Icebreaker Life mission

May 16, 2013

Missions to Mars have only scratched its surface. To go deeper, scientists are proposing a spacecraft that can drill into the Red Planet to potentially find signs of life.

NASA rover lands on Mars (Update 4)

Aug 06, 2012

NASA has successfully landed its $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory and Curiosity rover on the surface of the Red Planet, breaking new ground in US-led exploration of an alien world.

Recommended for you

Caterpillar comet poses for pictures en route to Mars

14 hours ago

Now that's pure gorgeous. As Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring sidles towards its October 19th encounter with Mars, it's passing a trio of sumptuous deep sky objects near the south celestial pole this week. ...

Hoisting a telescope with helium

14 hours ago

Many a child has forgotten to hold tight to the string of a helium balloon only to have it escape and rise until it disappeared in the glare of the sun. Helium balloons want to rise, but launching a balloon ...

User comments : 0