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May 08 Issue - Short Circuit On The Phoenix Mars Lander
By Michael Todd
The scientists in charge of the Phoenix Mars Lander’s mission encountered their first significant problem with an intermittent short circuit discovered on the spacecraft. Apparently, the problem involves the device that is supposed to analyze the soil and ice samples gathered from the planet’s surface.

Even though William Boyton of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory told the Associated Press that this isn’t a critical issue, the causes for the malfunction have been identified and at this point the scientists are working on finding the best way to correct it as soon as possible.

The attention is now directed towards the material just beneath the Phoenix Lander, very likely to have been uncovered by the spacecraft’s landing. Several tests are being prepared, which will involve the use of the robotic arm’s camera, in order to determine whether the mysterious area is made up of dirt or ice.

Phoenix is the sixth successful landing on Mars, out of twelve total international attempts, and was built by Lockheed Martin with additions from several partners. Most notably, the Canadian Space Agency provided a high-tech meteorological station, including an innovative Laser-based atmospheric sensor; and Alliance Spacesystems, LLC built the robotic arm.

The Phoenix was launched on August 4 last year and involved an U.S. investment for the development, science instruments, launch and operations of about $420 million. The Canadian Space Agency also contributed with $37 million for the meteorological station.

The Phoenix Mars Lander has been equipped with six science instruments, each with a series of features: the Robotic Arm, the Robotic Arm Camera, the Surface Stereo Imager, the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer and the Meteorological Station.

As soon as the short circuit will be fixed and a stable platform for the robotic arm to dig on will be found, the mission will advance into its next stage.

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