The Mars Phoenix Lander has been thwarted yet again in its attempts to scoop up Martian soil into one of its lab instruments. You might remember the previous occasion when the soil was too clumpy to fall through the screen over the instruments. The same stickiness that made the soil clump together struck again in a worse way, where the soil wouldn't even drop from the scoop.
One crazy idea why the Martian soil got stuck on the scoop is because of the slime oozed from Martian life. Of course, realistically it's the half-melted water getting frozen on the scoop, although there could be some other chemical phenomenon that is the cause. While the researchers hoped to have analyzed a sample with water ice mixed in, they'll be analyzing dry samples while they figure out how to get watery samples into the instruments. I hope a short circuit doesn't break the instruments before watery samples can be analyzed.
This is yet another reason to send humans to Mars instead of just robots. With a human around, they could have just scraped off the dirt from the scoop, and we would probably done the same amount of science that the Phoenix has done so far weeks ago. I wish we had something like a space elevator to make space exploration much cheaper.
Despite all the anticipation, the Mars Phoenix Lander has failed to get Martian soil into its laboratory instrument. For some reason, while the robotic arm was able to scoop up some soil and drop it on the laboratory instrument, none of the soil seemed to have passed through the screen which protected unwanted dust from entering. It appears that the soil is more clumpy than expected, so that the standard shaking by the instrument isn't enough to break up the soil into small enough particles.
They're trying to figure out ways to work around the problem, such as breaking up the soil with the robotic arm before scooping it up or alternative ways to shake up the dirt. I just hope that the opening to the laboratory instrument doesn't get covered by too much excess and cohesive soil such that no further samples could be picked up for analysis. Otherwise, the lander would be a waste that couldn't accomplish its primary mission, only being able to take pictures of a very small region near the Martian north pole.
The picture of the Martian soil scooped up by the lander is from NASA.
The Mars Phoenix Lander is finally going to scoop up its first Martian soil sample into its laboratory instrument. It's been about ten days since the landing, during which they've only managed to take pictures of the surroundings and try out the robotic arm for a couple of test scoops. Now the lander is finally about to embark on what it's been sent for. I'm looking forward to seeing what it discovers, whether it be actual water, minerals formed with the help of water, or even organics that might be the result of life.
While ten days might seem like a long time, it's quite understandable that NASA would want to take its time testing out the equipment and scouting out the surroundings. If something breaks because they hurry, there is no one around that can just unjam a certain joint or replace a singe cheap part, so they would want to make sure they don't break anything when they operate the lander.
On the other hand, this makes me wish we had manned space flight to Mars. If cost was not an issue, then a manned mission would be a whole lot better for our patience, since an astronaut would have been able to scoop up a sample for analysis on the first day. It's too bad that manned space flight is so expensive.
The image of the robotic scoop poised above the laboratory instrument is courtesy of NASA.