LOS ANGELES - The Phoenix lander's first dig into Martian soil for scientific study was delayed yesterday because of a communications glitch on a spacecraft that relays commands from Earth to the red planet.
The orbiting Odyssey satellite went into safe mode and failed to send instructions to Phoenix to claw into the permafrost to search for evidence of the building blocks of life, said Chad Edwards, chief telecommunications engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
It was the second time a relay problem delayed the lander's schedule. The first occurred two days after it landed, when another satellite, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, turned off its radio.
Engineers worked to fix the problem with Odyssey, which will remain offline until Saturday, Edwards said. A preliminary investigation showed that the safe mode was probably triggered by high-energy particles from space interrupting the satellite's computer memory. "The lander is fine," Edwards said.
Phoenix set down in Mars' northern latitudes to study whether the polar environment could support primitive life. It communicates with Earth through Odyssey and the Reconnaissance Orbiter, which make daily passes over the lander to send commands and beam back images.
With Odyssey temporarily out of service, engineers told the Reconnaissance Orbiter to be the middleman.
Phoenix had planned to dig the first of three shallow pits north of where it landed and dump the dirt into a tiny oven, where it will be baked and studied this week. The earliest the lander can start the excavation will be today.
toilet yesterday at the International Space Station and opened up a grand new science lab.
The toilet problem
had fast become the most pressing issue of Discovery's mission, so much so that a spare pump was rushed from Moscow to Cape Canaveral last week for
a last-minute ride aboard the space shuttle.
Russian Oleg Kononenko
put in the new pump, and the toilet started working normally again. "We'll keep our fingers crossed," said Russian Mission Control.
to the billion-
dollar Japanese lab, called Kibo, was swung open a day after its installation at the station. Two astronauts will float back outside today to set up Kibo's TV cameras and remove covers on its robot arm.
- Associated Press
See more on the Phoenix mission at NASA's Web site via