Posts Tagged ‘rover’

NASA’s planning to spend another month and $2 million on its Mars robotic rover mission to obtain more icy soil samples, study the weather, and size up the planet’s suitability for human life.

NASA scientists said that the Mars Phoenix Lander mission has been going so well that it plans to extend the rover’s stay through the end of September, instead of August. On May 25, the rover landed more than 200 miles away on the edge of a volcano in the northern hemisphere of Mars, and has since confirmed the existence of frozen ice on the red planet.

Part of the goal of the extended mission is to continue studying icy soil samples in the area of the Lander. Just Wednesday, scientists said that the rover’s robotic arm picked up a sample of Mars soil and put it into the rover’s onboard oven–an act that prompted celebration among the project leads. Early analysis of the sample proved the existence of a small amount of H20 because the ice melted, but the scientists ultimately want to collect a sample with a larger composition of permafrost.

NASA is particularly looking for organic materials, but it has yet to find them. One hypothesis is that the soil might contain a strong oxidant, according to one of the NASA scientists. Instead, it has found potassium–among other minerals–a clay-like component, and properties it has yet to identify.

One goal of the extended mission will be to dig two more trenches around the site of the rover and study their soil. NASA plans to name the trenches with fantasy names like its other ditches–Snow White and Goldilocks. The new ones will be named Cupboard and Neverland .

Phoenix is also giving the scientists their first details about weather in the Mars arctic. The extended mission will help NASA better understand seasonal changes from springtime in Mars, when the rover landed, to high summer, to the end of the mission in its fall timeframe. For example, the team is using sophisticated sensors to measure the atmosphere’s pressure, humidity and winds. So far, the sensors have shown maximum wind speeds of 15 miles per hour on Mars.

One of the mission’s requirements was to capture a color panoramic view of theĀ  with its on-board 1-megapixel digital camera. The Phoenix team completed that task stitching together more than 400 images taken from the rover over a month’s time. According to the team, it took about 15 relay passes to download the data– 100 megabytes worth–from the craft. The image confirmed water ice underneath the site of the rover.

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