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Mars NASA Space Science

Mars Soil Frustrates Phoenix Again 221

Posted by timothy
from the pulling-out-doesn't-sound-manly dept.
Tablizer writes "The Phoenix Mars lander has been frustrated yet again by Mars's odd soil. The wet nature of the soil they are targeting appears to have made it get stuck in the scoop rather than drop into the oven. Past problems with similarly clumpy soil may have damaged the lander because the vibrator had to be used longer than it was designed for, resulting in a short circuit."
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Mars Soil Frustrates Phoenix Again

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  • Neato (Score:5, Funny)

    by Datamonstar (845886) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @09:12PM (#24362939)
    It's pretty interesting learning about the problems encountered while analyzing alien soil, but I'm not even going to touch that vibrator comment.
  • Fess up.... (Score:4, Funny)

    by WaxlyMolding (1062736) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @09:16PM (#24362963)
    How many of you saw the word "vibrator" and clicked it?
  • There's got to be a joke in here somewhere.... Wet nature... Drop into the oven... Got to think... Lemme get another beer.

  • Definition of 'wet'? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 27, 2008 @09:29PM (#24363099)
    What exactly is 'wet' about the soil? I see that the soil is icy (H2O ice or CO2 ice?), but as far as I knew 'wet' and 'icy' are mutually exclusive. Perhaps 'sticky' would be a better term? Or... is this some kind of cool ice that is 'wet' at very cold temperatures as opposed to good old fashioned dry ice?
  • by pagewalker (1286802) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @09:33PM (#24363123)

    A Phoenix putting something into an oven... there go our tax dollars! Any competent phoenix would wait until its body burst into flame, then use the spare heat to analyze the sample.

    I don't know about you, but I intend to write to my Congressperson.

    ---
    Thousands are enslaved every day: http://www.riverofinnocents.com/ [riverofinnocents.com]

  • by Joebert (946227) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @09:53PM (#24363251) Homepage
    I don't mean to troll, but I'd like to think that in a mission they're hoping to find water or ice or something along those lines, they'd anticipate the possibility of moist soil when designing their instruments.

    Hopefully the next mission includes an icecream scoop.
    • Unmanned missions (Score:5, Insightful)

      by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @09:59PM (#24363297)
      The nice thing about robomissions is that they are so much cheaper than manned missions and there are no widows when things do wrong.

      Because they are relatively cheap you can screw up plenty and still do the work for less cost than a manned mission.

      • by RetroGeek (206522) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @10:28PM (#24363473) Homepage

        The nice thing about robomissions is that they are so much cheaper than manned missions and there are no widows when things do wrong.

        And yet all it would take is for a human to crumble the soil in his hand.

        • Except.... (Score:3, Insightful)

          He would not have survived the trip or the landing.
        • The nice thing about robomissions is that they are so much cheaper than manned missions and there are no widows when things do wrong.

          And yet all it would take is for a human to crumble the soil in his hand.

          robotic-monotone ***Bzzzt***... Alas, I, POLAREXPLORER, for all the power of my mighty hydraulic crushing claw, cannot duplicate the qualities of a human hand. ***Bzzzraaat*** Next you will tell me cold logic circuits cannot match the sublime qualities of the human heart. ***gzzzzrp*** Tell me of this thing you fleshlings call love.

        • by aepervius (535155)
          And yet all it would take is for a human to crumble the soil in his hand.

          FOr what ? 100 times or more the prices of a robotic mission ? By the time you sent you "human" crumbling in his hand a little soil on Mars, and he comes back, the next bazillon robots which will land , will have taken into account the sticky nature of the soil.
        • You realize teleporting objects to the surface of Mars isn't an option right now...right?

      • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Sunday July 27, 2008 @11:28PM (#24363851) Homepage

        Because they are relatively cheap you can screw up plenty and still do the work for less cost than a manned mission.

        The problem is, they aren't relatively cheap. You pay a fraction of the cost, and you get less than a fraction of the science.

        • by Mattsson (105422)

          I'd say that you get more science per dollar if you send probes.
          There's also the endurance.
          With humans, when the mission plan says "go home", you go home or die.
          With a probe, if you realize that the probe actually can keep going after the mission is over, you can simply prolong the mission, lowering the cost/science every extra mission day you get out of it, since the biggest cost is getting it there.

          On the other hand, a manned mission can bring a few probes and leave them running when they leave...

        • by mblase (200735)

          You pay a fraction of the cost, and you get less than a fraction of the science.

          The Spirit and Endeavor probes respectfully disagree with you. They were still doing useful work, what, over a year after they were landed on the surface of Mars? Try getting that kind of long-term performance out of a starving, gasping astronaut.

      • by jd (1658) <imipak@yahoo.cEINSTEINom minus physicist> on Sunday July 27, 2008 @11:44PM (#24363949) Homepage Journal

        On the other hand, humans are far more adaptable and can modify plans and experiments in a way no robot yet built could. Sometimes, you have to take the risks. If you want to consider costs, then let's say a robust manned mission costs fifty times as much as a robot mission. If you consider the missions that produced uncertain results (Viking landers and early probe photographs), minimal results (Phoenix) or no results at all (everything that has crashed), you are beginning to approach the cost of a manned mission, where a manned mission could have produced ALL of the useful data so far collected AND much of the data that has been lost due to unexpected conditions and unforeseen circumstances.

        Yes, manned missions are extremely risky, and that means a danger of bereavement, but it is better to die with your boots on, making the discoveries of a lifetime, than to live in fear at the back of a cave. Indeed, if we look at places that are most risk-averse, we see that unexpected risks (when they arise) are actually the more dangerous for it. Risk aversity is no healthier than plunging straight into danger without care. Indeed, in a way, it is the same thing, except being risk-averse means you are always plunging into unknown dangers, never known ones. The correct solution is always to be risk-aware, to anticipate and minimize, but never to eliminate, danger. Eliminating danger is probably the most dangerous thing you can ever do.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by blind biker (1066130)

          I strongly agree. One of my life mottos is:

          "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
          Mark Twain

        • by Shihar (153932) on Monday July 28, 2008 @12:46AM (#24364271)

          There are two very large problems with a manned Mars mission.

          1) It cost a shit ton of money. Don't give me "but it just costs X days of Iraq war!!!" crap. That might be true, but Americans will open up their pocket books for "making the world a safer place". They lynch presidents that spend a few trillion on science experiments. Sure, we did it with Apollo, but that fell into the "making the world a safer place... by kick the ass of the communist in a metaphorical sense". If it Apollo had been pure science, it would have never of flown. Because Apollo was about one upping the commies, we were okay with it.

          2) It is a suicide mission. Sure, there are plenty of people that would sign up for a suicide mission if it meant they got to stick their boot print on Mars first. That doesn't change the fact that it would never fly. Americans, and even more extreme, Europeans, are extraordinarily risk adverse to the point of absurdity. Pools kill thousands of kids and no one really cars. Unhealthy food kills an absurd number of Americans (millions) and we just shrug it off. Toss an airplane into a building and kill a couple thousand and all of a sudden it is OMG OMG LETS CHANGE SOCIETY AND TOSS OUT CIVIL LIBERTIES TO MAKE SURE THAT THIS MINOR AMOUNT OF DEATH NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN!!!11!!! KILL ALL THE ARABS!!!! NEVER AGAIN!!!1!!!! Europeans are even sillier these days where NATO and UN have to beg plead and extort to get a handful of European soldiers to come within a few hundred miles of a place where they might possibly get shot at. NASA blows up a shuttle filled with adrenaline junkies every quarter of a century, and now we can't fly the foolish things if a bird happens to fly by and drop a shit on one before it takes off.

          Our (western) priorities are so far out of whack and screwed up that this will never happen. The monetary argument is at least logical and something I can get behind. The utter terror at letting someone willingly sacrifice themselves doing something they want to do is a sign that our lives are way the hell too comfy.

          Space exploration is dead to humans until someone finds a cheap way for individuals to get into space, governments to damned. The second you can head west, hit the California coast, and go up a few thousand miles, you will have the US population drop by 10% as the crazy pioneer genes that are still floating around from the crazy immigrants that pushed into the US over the past few hundred years reassert themselves and people throw themselves into space.

          Until that day, the pragmatic and rational folks are going to tell you to fuck off once they see the price tag, and the people begging for a nanny state will break down into tears cry about the inhumanity of it all to let a person willing sacrifice themselves.

          • by johannesg (664142)

            Europeans are even sillier these days where NATO and UN have to beg plead and extort to get a handful of European soldiers to come within a few hundred miles of a place where they might possibly get shot at.

            Speak for yourself there. Why exactly should we come and clean up after you start not one, but two illegal and pointless wars? Wars that we strongly advised against? That is the reason you don't see too many European soldiers in Afghanistan or Iraq. It has precisely nothing to do with risk adversity, and everything with the american attitude of "we can do it alone".

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward

              Speak for yourself there. Why exactly should we come and clean up after you start not one, but two illegal and pointless wars?

              As a European (a Finn), I'd like to correct you: The war in Aghanistan has at no point been illegal and maybe your memory isn't all that good but European strongly supported action against Aghanistan as a consequence of their decision not to hand over Osama - NATO members to the point that they for the first time in the history of the organization invoced the collective defence clause. One source of many:
              http://www.euractiv.com/en/general/nato-invokes-collective-defence-clause-support-us/article-113773

              The w

              • by Magada (741361)

                Who do you think enlisted first in the "new" iraqi army? Yup. You guessed it. The "old" iraqi army pros, those who've been solidering all their lives and couldn't get a decent civil sector job if they tried.

          • Be it as it may, NASA will have to bite the bullet sooner rather than later, and send a manned mission to Mars. Because it's cheaper - one manned mission will collect more scientific data than 2000 (succesful) robotic probes. Let's count the cost of unsuccesful robotic probes, and the value-for-money calculation becomes quite clear.

            I bet this fuckup here is going to force their hand.

          • by solios (53048)

            1. Money isn't the problem. Desire is the problem. We use "waaaaaaah, it's TOO EXPENSIVE!!!!" as a crutch but the fact is that if we really, really wanted to go to Mars, we'd up and go. It's no big rush because currently there's no competition in manned space exploration. And there won't be until China puts up its own space station or spaceplane. When they start getting serious about space, and start making serious advances, then you can bet it'll light a torch under our asses in a way that "because it

          • Europeans are even sillier these days where NATO and UN have to beg plead and extort to get a handful of European soldiers to come within a few hundred miles of a place where they might possibly get shot at.

            There are plenty of Europeans on UN peacekeeping operations worldwide. We just don't want anything to do with Iraq, which is America's mess and therefore their job to clean up.

          • by Kjella (173770)

            1) (...) Sure, we did it with Apollo, but that fell into the "making the world a safer place... by kick the ass of the communist in a metaphorical sense".

            More like the closest thing you get to an ICBM showoff without actually sending the ICBMs, I'd say. It's a very loud and clear message you got precise rocketry. The Russians instead built the Tsar Bomba to say they don't need precision rockets.

        • The Russian robomissions brought back samples and photos too. The only real difference is that the human missions also played zero-g golf and some poster boys to divert a nation's attention from Vietnam.

          Robotic missions are getting better as designers are learning from their mistakes.

      • by elrous0 (869638) *
        And this is the agency that's going to put a man on Mars? Considering they can't even plan for such obvious contingencies as clumpy soil, wouldn't you just LOVE to be the guy having to rely on them for life-support for 2 years?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by moteyalpha (1228680) *
      I agree with that, I can't imagine sending something that far away and not testing it with every weird thing that you might find in a child's room like gum in hair, silly putty, slinkies, plastic peanuts, ice cream, cheese whiz, dry ice and on and on, It does seem a rather large oversight in testing. BTW the jokes were great and I assume that the article was somewhat of a setup for that. Now -that- is good planning, informative and easy jokes.
      • by Khyber (864651)

        They did test it in every conceivable condition. Even though this thing got stuck, that in itself provides valuable data. You can't just look at just the obvious in a mission like this.

    • by thewiz (24994) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @10:37PM (#24363545)

      Sounds like the soil is the consistency of clay. Trying to get clay out of a scoop takes water and a lot of patience.

  • Obligatory (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    If you use the vibrator, obviously the scoop is going to get wet.

  • by mdemonic (988470) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @09:58PM (#24363289)
    That's how it goes when they send a vibrator to do a mans job. Anyway, are the exploring that hole they found a while back?
  • All that money.. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by handmedowns (628517) <andrew.replogle@ ... m minus math_god> on Sunday July 27, 2008 @10:10PM (#24363359) Homepage
    And we couldn't implement "ice-cream" scoop technology =P
    • by Tablizer (95088)

      And we couldn't implement "ice-cream" scoop technology

      Baskin Robbins didn't bid on the contract for some reason. Perhaps the name "Phoenix" made them fear for their stock, eh?

           

  • Not wet (Score:5, Informative)

    by katakomb (1328459) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @11:52PM (#24363995)
    The word "wet" implies the presence of a meaningful amount of liquid water. In this regard, the soil at the site is very unlikely to be wet (and note that the linked articles don't actually say that it is). The temperature and pressure conditions at the site only allow for solid and gas phases for H2O. Solid ice slowly converts to gas through sublimation when the ice is exposed by the scoop. Materials can clump for a variety of reasons. For example, lunar soil can cling to itself and to things like spacesuits even though absolutely no water is present at all. All sorts of factors can influence the cohesion of planetary soils, including the physical shapes of soil grains, the electrostatic properties of the grains, binding by spatter through micrometeorite bombardment (unlikely on Mars due to atmospheric protection) and, in the case of the Mars soils, even small amounts of ice have the potential to bind grains.
  • Yo mama (Score:3, Funny)

    by devotedlhasa (1298843) on Monday July 28, 2008 @12:03AM (#24364049)
    Yo mama ... may have damaged the lander because the vibrator had to be used longer than designed
  • Don't worry (Score:3, Funny)

    by krkhan (1071096) on Monday July 28, 2008 @12:21AM (#24364145) Homepage
    If Phoenix isn't working, I'm sure Firefox shall fix all that stuff.
  • Woody Allen had a problem with a vibrator in "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)", related?
  • Dear NASA, build a scraper on the next soil sample scooper.

    Kthxbye.
  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Monday July 28, 2008 @03:09AM (#24365011)
    It looks suspiciously similar to the Firefox logo, I wonder if the artist was the same. At least he got the face pointed in the right direction this time [mozilla.com].
  • by EEPROMS (889169) on Monday July 28, 2008 @03:10AM (#24365015)
    NASA scientists break vibrator
  • Silly idea? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by hesaigo999ca (786966)

    I wonder if it would be that silly to try and turn the scooper upside down and LIGHLTY bang it on the inside of the oven so that gravity can do the rest and let it fall out...although I dont know how sturdy that oven is nor do I know if the robot is able to apply small pressure turns instead of full tilt ones.

  • They should have tried it out on some nice sticky Texas clay. The "dirt" near my house seems to give me the same problems they're seeing.

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