Thoughts on Mars Past Goals and Future Exploration

“The tests we have done in our test facility during the past few days show the robotic arm can deliver the simulated Martian soil through the opening with the doors in this configuration,” said William Boynton of the University of Arizona, Tucson, lead scientist for TEGA. “We plan to save the cells where doors can open wider for accepting ice samples.” With this in mind, one needs to have a wide open mind regarding the past goals and future explorations of Mars, especially now that we have discovered ice on the red planet. This will now influence our overall concept of the planet and our thought process of going there or not.

While analyzing the newly found samples with tiny chunks of ice, a small sample of the NASA Phoenix Mars Lander was placed in its wet chemistry laboratory for the first time, which is expected to provide the very first Martian measurement of its soil’s acidity or alkalinity. With the spacecraft’s Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer doing all the hard work, the results will help the researchers figure out whether ice located beneath the soil has ever been melted before, and whether or not it has favorable qualities to sustain life on the red planet.

Previously, problem areas have occurred within the TEGA instrument of the Phoenix, the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer part of the operation. Yet the information that was obtained over a four-day-vibration-process is still being processed by TEGA’s analysis of the very first soil sample. Future TEGA operations of the remaining three ovens are expected to have one door open fully and one door that only opens partially, as in the first oven used. Newer methods are being used for the delivery of soil samples into the TEGA area, with the newer method involving more of a “sprinkling method of soil into the instrument” which is hopefully going to make everything a lot easier than before.

The University of Arizona is the very first public university to lead a mission to Mars, with the Phoenix lander the first in NASA’s Scout Program. The scouts have been designed to be highly innovative and relatively low-cost complements to major missions that are to be part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. For this reason, the Phoenix’s purpose is to study the history of water and habitability potential in the ice-rich soil of the Martian arctic.

With a collaborative approach to space exploration, the Phoenix combines several things in a framework of true companionship, such as government, industry, and academia. The scout class missions are led by scientist Peter Smith, the Principal Investigator of the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, who is responsible for all of the mission’s aspects.