Phoenix lifts first scoop of Martian soil

June 3, 2008 at 1:29 PM
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PASADENA, Calif., June 3 (UPI) -- One week after landing on Mars, the U.S. space agency's Phoenix spacecraft has lifted its first scoop of Martian soil as a test of the lander's robotic arm.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the Monday practice scoop was emptied onto the ground after a robotic arm camera photographed the soil inside the scoop. The Phoenix control team said it plans to have the arm deliver its next scoopful later this week to an instrument that heats and sniffs the sample to identify ingredients.

NASA said a bright material appeared in the scooped up soil and in the hole from which it came. "That bright material might be ice or salt," said Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis, co-investigator for the robotic arm. "We're eager to do testing of the next three surface samples collected nearby to learn more about it."

The Phoenix mission is led by Peter Smith at the University of Arizona with project management by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; the Max Planck Institute in Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

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