Scientists begin freeing Mars robot arm

Scientists begin freeing Mars robot arm

Scientists have begun releasing the robotic arm on Nasa’s new Mars spacecraft, one day late because of a radio problem.

The Phoenix lander, which arrived on Mars on Sunday, was in excellent shape, said project manager Barry Goldstein. He said the communications glitch was only a blip in the robot’s three-month exploration of the planet’s northern arctic region.

The outage happened on Tuesday in one of two Nasa satellites circling Mars when a radio shut off before it could relay commands to the lander to get the 8ft arm moving, Mr Goldstein said.

The robotic arm was folded on the lander’s science deck to protect it from the vibrations of the launch and landing. Before Phoenix can flex its arm, it must rotate its wrist to release the latches on its forearm and elbow and “move it out in a staircase fashion” to remove its protective sleeve, said robotic arm manager Bob Bonitz of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Controllers sent the instructions yesterday to begin the two-day process. Mr Goldstein said he hoped photos of the partially unfurled arm would be available today.

Phoenix’s arm will eventually dig into the soil surrounding it, seeking ice believed to be within inches to a foot below the surface. It is part of the effort to study whether the site could have supported primitive life.

The robotic arm has four joints in all – two at the shoulder to allow it to move side to side as well as up and down, an elbow and a wrist, which allows it to move its crucial scoop and digging device.

Phoenix has delighted scientists with the first-ever peek of the planet’s northern arctic region since its landing on Sunday on to relatively flat terrain containing few rocks. Twin rovers have been operating near the Martian equator since 2004.

Texas A&M University’s Mark Lemmon, who is in charge of the lander’s camera, said scientists were still investigating geometric patterns in the surface probably caused by the expansion and contraction of underground ice. Some areas immediately surrounding the lander would be designated a no-digging “natural preserve”, he said.

A few features on nearby terrain have been given such nicknames as Humpty Dumpty and Sleepy Hollow.

The €265m mission is led by University of Arizona, Tucson, and managed by JPL.

More in this Section

We can do it: Johnson adopts Merkel’s ‘notorious’ phrase during Berlin visitWe can do it: Johnson adopts Merkel’s ‘notorious’ phrase during Berlin visit

Brazilian leader suggests NGOs are setting Amazon firesBrazilian leader suggests NGOs are setting Amazon fires

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn branded ‘cowards’ for dodging TV interviewsBoris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn branded ‘cowards’ for dodging TV interviews

Ancient skull suggests complex brain evolution in primatesAncient skull suggests complex brain evolution in primates


Lifestyle

Triathlete Carolyn Hayes is flat out. Since October 2018, she’s literally been racing around the world.On the treble: Triathlete Carolyn Hayes goes flat out to win a place in the Olympics

Children starting or going back to school is a reminder of how we all need an energy boost when sitting at a desk for hours, no matter what our age.Energy fix: Top 8 snacks for children

A sommelier shares her top tips.The dos and don’ts of serving wine – you just might have been doing it all wrong

It’s that time of year again; the long summer days are numbered, summer’s lease is all too short as she takes her last few breaths.Learning Points: Top tips on coping with back to school stress for you and the kids

More From The Irish Examiner