Sunday was a huge day for NASA. The Phoenix Mars Lander touched down softly onto the red planet and thunderbirds were go for the lander to begin digging and start testing for life on Mars.
After a seamless landing, from the deployment of the parachute to the firing up of the thrusters that brought the lander the final stretch of the way, sighs of relief could be heard from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge, California. Now the science part of the mission begins.
The 10 month long journey to get the spacecraft to Mars is just the beginning of what will be 3 long months of digging with the lander. On Tuesday a radio glitch prevented the lander from unfurling its 7.7 ft robotic arm, an essential tool if it was to perform any tests on the alien planet.
The glitch prevented Phoenix from communicating with one of the two orbiters circling the planet, which NASA is using to communicate with the lander.
The radio on the more famous Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, that captured those famous images of Phoenix parachuting onto Mars, apparently went into standby, meaning Phoenix could not receive commands from earth.
According to the Associated Press, officials say the Reconnaissance orbiter may have turned its radio off because of a cosmic ray. While the lander was able to perform back up tasks from commands that were sent through on Monday, communication with the Reconnaissance is necessary for the lander to dig.
NASA said the shortage was short lived and the problem with the Electra UHF radio has been rectified.
Yesterday the wrist actuator was expected to rotate, releasing its launch-restraint pin. Next, the forearm will move up, releasing the elbow launch-restraint pin. The elbow will then move up and over in small steps, a process referred to as "staircasing". The arm is scheduled to straighten all the way out on May 29, after engineers have reviewed images and telemetry data from the spacecraft showing that the biobarrier material the arm was wrapped in has been cleared and is not in the way of digging.
Let’s start digging!