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Mission to Mars' north poloar region Phoenix Mars Lander
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  Audio Recording of Phoenix Media Telecon for June 11, 2008 June 11, 2008
 


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Images for June 11 Media Telecon


› Image 1. Color View 'Dodo' and 'Baby Bear' Trenches

› Image 2. Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer Illustration

Beginning of recorded material

Jane Platt: Thank you very much. Hello everybody. Thank for joining us for another Phoenix Mars Lander media telecon for Wednesday, June 11. I'm Jane Platt with the Media Relations Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. And we will be going over to Tucson and Sara Hammond with the Public Affairs Office at the University of Arizona.

She will introduce the speakers. And then, we'll go to Q&A after we hear from them. Visuals for today's briefing are posted online at www.nasa.gov/phoenix. If you decide you want to ask a question, just press *1, and we'll get you in the lineup. Let's turn things over to Sara Hammond in Arizona. Good morning.

Sara Hammond: Thanks, Jane. Good day, everybody, from Tucson. We have two speakers today, uh, Peter Smith, our principal investigator for the mission from the University of Arizona and William, Bill, Boynton, B-O-Y-N-T-O-N, the co-investigator for the thermal and evolved gas analyzer from the University of Arizona. Peter, why don't you begin?

Peter Smith: Well, since the beginning when we landed, we've been studying the soil, uh, that we've landed upon. And it's-it's quite interesting and, I think, very unusual. Uh, from the first look at the foot -- uh, the food pad under the Lander, we could see that we broke through a very thin crust on the surface. So the-the soil is definitely, uh, layered in the sense that the very top surface layer is crusted. And then, underneath, is some, uh, uh, looser-looser soil.

And, uh, of course, when we looked under the Lander, we saw Holy Cow, the, uh, exposed, hard layer that, uh, most people suspect is ice but we have yet to verify that. And then, we've been using our arm to dig into a-a part of our, uh, terrain called Dodo. And we've been digging a trench, and-and, uh, we have a picture of the-the latest view of the trench.

And clearly, you can see that, uh, there's some white material exposed in the trench. Uh, there's a debate as to whether this might be a salty layer or just an ice layer. But definitely, it extends, uh, right beneath the surface just about five centimeters or-or, uh, two in -- two inches down below the surface. And, uh, again, in this picture, you see what looks like clods that, uh, apparently are broken off from this crusty surface layer.

We also know now that, not only is it-it crusty and, uh, uh, uh, tends to clump into little, uh, uh, balls, but, uh, when you deliver it to a sloped metal surface, uh, like the TEGA, which is sloped at about 45 degrees, it sticks to the side of the surface. It's, uh, apparently a very sticky material too. Now whether it's, uh, electrically sticky or-or has some chemical property that holds it together is unknown.

But in-in -- this is definitely an interesting material and quite a bit different than all the Mars simulants that we were working with in our laboratory doing, uh, testing. So one of the things we're really interested in doing over the next, uh, day or two is to get a microscopic examination of this soil to try and understand its properties. Uh, one o -- one other property I failed to mention is, the first time we pressed the, uh, Robotic Arm into the soil, you could actually see the imprint of all the fine details on the back of the scoop, uh, even screw heads and little, uh, uh, metal joints that-that, uh, make up the scoop.

They're imprinted in the soil just like you might take a fine powder and-and make an imprint in it. So there must be some very fine, uh, small size material here, which has, uh -- made it very confusing for us as we see it's -- the material stick to the side of a-a sloped, uh, metal surface, which is very smooth and, as one would suspect, slippery and, uh, and fail to go through some of the, uh, screens on-on the TEGA instruments.

So we're-we're quite inst-interested to see the-the microscopic makeup of the soil. Our-our microscope will allow us to look at the magnetic properties, to examine the size distribution. Uh, is it all fine materials? Or are there some kind of larger, uh, [thornier] sort of, uh, uh, uh, grains that, uh, l -- make it sticky. And, uh, finally, we can look at the different colors of the grains and to see if they're made out of different compositions.

But I-I'm quite encouraged, uh, with this-this soil because it looks to be just the kind of unusual chemical, uh, mineral and perhaps, uh, uh, uh, [size] distribution type of soil we're hoping to find. In other words, we can't understand it without using our instruments, which is why we brought them. But there's, uh, also been, uh, uh, really a wonderful new development with the TEGA instrument. And, uh, Bill Boynton's going to tell us a little about that.

Bill Boynton: Yes. As many of you are aware, we've been having some problems dealing with this, uh, very crusty material. And it's been, uh, not very cooperative about trying to work its way through the screens and get into the very small ovens that we have in the TEGA instrument that are going to be used to heat up the soil for our analyses.

Well, it turns out, uh, for the last several days, we've been running our vibrator sometimes several times a day, just kind of in the, uh, uh, off chance we might get lucky and some of the dirt would, uh, fall through the screen. Uh, last night, we, uh, got some data down -- actually, early this morning -- and, uh, found out that in the, uh, run where we were actually running the vibrator for the -- what probably would have been the last time we would have done it, uh, was the seventh time that we ran it, we found that the, uh, the program actually terminated early.

And we were a little surprised at that. And then, we -- once we looked at the data, we realized why. The fact was that the, uh, dirt finally did start to flow, and we actually got a full oven. So we're, uh -- that problem is now behind us. We're ready sometime in the next, uh, day or two to, uh, close the oven and, uh, actually start the process of the analysis.

So we're really very excited and very pleased and, uh, ready to get on with things. Sara, I guess I'll turn things back over to you.

Sara Hammond: Okay. Jane, that's our presentation. We'll be open for questions.

Jane Platt: Okay. Thank you, Sara. And again, uh, if you have a question, press *1, so we can get you in the lineup. And, uh, on this first round, again, I would ask that you, reporters, please keep it to one question and one follow up, so we can give everybody a turn. And then, we'll go back for another round if necessary.

I did want to mention that we do have two very important Phoenix team members here with us at JPL this morning, Barry Goldstein, the project manager for Phoenix and Dave Spencer, the deputy project manager. So in the event you have questions that would pertain to their areas, uh, feel free to pose questions to them.

Uh, and panelists, again, if the question is not directed specifically toward you by name, I would ask that you just identify yourself, even by first name, when you respond. That really helps out a lot. Let's take our first question from Jeremy Manier of the Chicago Tribune. Hello, Jeremy.

Jeremy Manier: Hi. Thanks a lot. Uh, so Bill, uh, w-what, uh, what then will be the schedule with, uh, with the TEGA now? Uh, what -- when do you expect to be, uh, seeing the first, uh, things back? And how-how long is it really -- is it really going to take to, uh, to get some first gleanings from, uh, that analysis?

Bill Boynton: Well, we-we're hopeful that sometime in the next few days, we will close the oven and begin the analysis process. Now, the analysis process, uh, really takes about, uh, five days. We have, uh, four days of heating the samples to different temperature limits and an intervening day to, uh, actually bake out the mass spectrometer to remove any, uh, water vapor that we might have gotten from an earlier day's run.

So it's probably a weeklong process once we begin. Uh, by the end of that time, we have -- should have some preliminary ideas of what we're seeing. Uh, the instrument's really designed to get very quantitative results. And it's likely to be, uh, several weeks after that before we really have definitive, uh, scientific numbers. But we-we should have a pretty good idea somewhere on the order of a week or so after we begin.

Jeremy Manier: Thanks.

Jane Platt: Next question is Dave Perlman in San Francisco with the Chronicle.

Dave Perlman: Yeah. G-good morning. And, uh, I g -- have a small problem. I'm sorry about that. Uh, I dialed into the n -- to the, uh, right number and kept getting, uh, voicemail from the, uh, the system. Uh, so I have no idea who was talking at the very beginning. And, uh, so I have no names. And, uh --

Jane Platt: Okay. Well, let me --

Dave Perlman: Could you help?

Jane Platt: Sure. I'll help you out with that. And let's talk afterwards to see what might have gone wrong with you dialing in.

Dave Spencer: Yeah.

Jane Platt: Uh --

Dave Spencer: Who-who said it was very crusty anyway? At least, tell me that.

Peter Smith: Peter Smith.

Dave Spencer: Oh, okay. All right.

Jane Platt: Yeah. We've got Peter Smith, and we have Bill Boynton today also.

Dave Perlman: Oh, okay. All right. That's all I need I need. Thanks.

Jane Platt: Okay. Well, that was easy.

Dave Perlman: Yeah.

Jane Platt: Yeah. Let's talk afterwards about [your problem].

Dave Perlman: Yeah. You bet.

Jane Platt: Okay. John Johnson, L.A. Times. John, are you with us? John Johnson?

John Johnson: Yes, I'm here.

Jane Platt: Okay. Go ahead with your question.

John Johnson: Okay. Uh, does the difficulty of getting this sample into the TEGA change, uh, what your plans are for further testing. I mean, as I understood it, you were expecting tests as you went down. Uh, does -- are you still planning to do that? Or does this mean you will, uh, s -- you know, skip from here to the ice stage?

Bill Boynton: Uh, no the plans are we will still take, uh, probably one more surface soil at least. Uh, it's going to take us some while to dig down to the ice stage. But my guess is, uh, we may be three, four weeks, something like that before we actually get to sampling, uh, ice.

John Johnson: Thank you.

Sara Hammond: And that was Bill Boynton speaking.

Bill Boynton: Oh, yeah. Sorry.

Jane Platt: Thanks, Sara. Uh, next question is going to come from National Public Radio and David Kestenbaum.

David Kestenbaum: Can you just lay out what, uh, what exactly you might be able to tell from the sample once you actually start to analyze it?

Bill Boynton: Uh, yes. And this is Bill Boynton again. Uh, what we'll be doing is, uh, in the first case, looking for ice. Uh, the instrument can tell us how much ice is in the sample. Uh, when we heat up the sample, we will vaporize the water that constituted the ice and measure the isotopic ratio of the constituents in there.

Uh, on the subsequent days when we heat it to higher temperatures, we'll see different minerals that decompose at high temperatures. And when they do so, they will give off, uh, water or carbon dioxide that they might have reacted with in the past. And by knowing the temperature at which this happens and the nature of the gases given off, we can identify which minerals, uh, they are.

And the-the reason this is important is, we're looking for, uh, evidence of past interactions with water. So if we see minerals that have, uh, water bound into their structure, we know that at some time in the past, they've actually been in a wet environment where they've had a chance to, uh, acquire this, uh, water hydration.

Jane Platt: Our next question is going to come from Ken [Cramer] of Spaceflight Magazine.

Ken Kremer: Hi. Thank you. First, congratulations. That's-that's a really, uh, excellent result. I wonder if you could describe, uh -- did you see the thousands of [blinkings]? Uh, and about how long did you vibrate it for all together?

Bill Boynton: Uh, yes. This is Bill again. And, uh, actually, this time, we didn't see the many thousands of, uh, [blinkings]. Usually, we don't have that many. But, uh, actually, the o -- uh, once the oven started to fill, it went from empty to full in just a little over a second. It really just poured in once the-the dirt started flowing.

We were shaking the system with the vibrator for about five seconds, uh -- actually, no, just for about one second before the dirt started to flow. And then, it, uh, really cascaded and filled the oven up almost instantly.

Ken Kremer: And you said the vibration stopped. You were not expecting that. Is that what was, uh -- what was preprogrammed?

Bill Boynton: Well, we-we were -- uh, yes. That-that was what was preprogrammed. The instrument is preprogrammed. Once it gets its internal oven full signal, it knows it doesn't need to go any further. And so it stops the vibrations. And it, uh, terminates. We-we were not really expecting that just because we weren't very optimistic that, after we've already vibrated this thing many, many times, that this particular one was going to, uh, work. So we were very, uh, surprised to see that it stopped early.

Ken Kremer: So why does it take a day or two to close?

Jane Platt: Ken?

Bill Boynton: I'm-I'm sorry. What was the question again?

Ken Kremer: Why does it take a day or two to close the oven? Thank you.

Bill Boynton: Oh, it -- the oven will close -- I mean, we can close the oven in about 15 minutes from the time we issue the, uh, command. It's just that, uh, at this point, we weren't ready because we didn't know the sample was going to be sealed. So it's not just getting it into the queue and working around all of the other things we want to, uh, do and just-just [starting] things and making sure we've got every T crossed and I dotted for the process.

Peter Smith: Yeah. This is Peter -- [crosstalk]

Jane Platt: I'm sorry. Did you have something you wanted to say, Bill?

Bill Boynton: Uh, uh, Peter's, uh, adding into this too.

Jane Platt: Okay.

Peter Smith: Yes, uh, we've-we've decided that today was going to be a day to deliver to the optical microscopes. And so when we got the late-breaking news of the oven fill, there wasn't time to, uh, redirect the whole day's activities. So we're going to try and do it, uh, on the, uh, the next Sol that we have a chance to upload, uh, our sequences to, if we can get it in. And I'm sure we're going to try.

Jane Platt: Okay. The next question is Dan Vergano from USA Today.

Dan Vergano: Hi, folks. Uh, could you talk a little bit about, uh, delivering a sample for viewing by the-the microscope and-and how that's going to play out? D -- are we going -- we're not going to face the same sort of dumping, sticky that we've seen here, are we?

[Bill Boynton]: No. We're certainly not. We've, uh, developed a new method. Uh, now that we've found that the Martian soil has got unusual properties, uh, and different than the materials we've worked in the past, uh, we found a new way to deliver samples. And that is to tilt the-the scoop with it's, uh, uh, load of soil in it. And, uh, and then, use our-our power tool that we use for digging into ice as sort of a vibrator.

And we sort of just sprinkle material out. It's kind of a saltshaker mode, if you like, or a sprinkler mode. And we'll be doing that over the-the microscope, uh, uh, collection surfaces. And we've practiced this before. And we know it's going to work well. So, uh, we have every confidence we won't get into a similar problem with too much material and sticking in place and that sort of thing.

Dan Vergano: And-and it's results would be in about?

[Bill Boynton]: Uh, well, we're sending up the commands today. The-the data will start to be taken. And we should start to get pictures back tomorrow. It will probably take two or three days to get all of them. But we should have a first look by tomorrow.

Dan Vergano: Very good. We like pictures. Thanks a lot.

[Bill Boynton]: Oh, you'll see them.

Jane Platt: All right. Thanks. Alan Fischer of Tucson Citizen, go ahead with your question.

Alan Fischer: This is a question for Dr. Boynton. Dr. Boynton, uh, when you say that-that the TEGA oven was filled, what kind of quantity are we looking at, uh, f-from that standpoint?

Bill Boynton: Uh, the ovens are really very tiny. They're a little over two millimeters in diameter and about a centimeter long. It works out to 30 microliters. And I'm afraid I don't know how to convert that to any reasonable units that people might understand. But-but it's a tiny fraction of a teaspoon. And, uh, so it -- you know, once the dirt starts flowing, it doesn't take long to, uh, fill it up.

Alan Fischer: Okay. And as a follow up to that, uh, uh, Peter just described the saltshaker method. Is that going to be used, uh, to fill up the other seven TEGA ovens, that same technique of-of shaking a small amount of material on? Because you had said earlier you were concerned about not getting enough material into TEGA, but will be -- will be using the-the saltshaker method in the future?

[Peter Smith]: That is our intention. And, uh, right now, we don't know exactly how long it takes, uh, you know, how-how much shaking of the saltshaker we'll need to do. But we will be collecting data and looking at our signal of particles going by to fill the oven. And, uh, the-the first time, we'll do it slowly and take some data along the way. But that is, in fact, the approach we'll be -- uh, we'll be using for all of the other ovens.

Alan Fischer: Thank you, sir.

Jane Platt: Next question comes from Steve Futterman at CBS Radio Network.

Steve Futterman: Uh, for either one of the gentlemen --

Jane Platt: Steve, can you speak up? You sound like you're in a soup can.

Steve Futterman: I sound like I'm on Mars maybe. Uh, for either of the gentlemen, I'm trying to -- I got in a bit late. When did the actual oven fill take place? When-when was this process going on? When was it completed? Uh, so just some basic information there. And then, I have a follow up.

Bill Boynton: Okay. Uh, this Bill Boynton. We got the, uh, data back this morning that the, uh -- the oven fill actually happened overnight, uh, during Mars day. Uh, but we got the signal back from the instrument even though we had previously on several days been shaking and without any good results, this time the vibrator actually managed to deliver the dirt into the oven. And that's where we are. We found out just, uh, several hours ago.

Steve Futterman: And my follow up, I-I'd like to know if you -- uh, why you may have had some problems early on in initially -- you said there were different properties than-that you expected to see with-with the-the dirt. And why it wasn't working when you, uh, began the shaking process? Andy why it's working now, you think?

Bill Boynton: Well, we think it's because, uh, dirt is very, clumpy. And it's difficult -- we've got a lot of cohesion to it. So it's difficult for it to, uh, pass through the screen that we have. We have a screen with one millimeter holes in it that the, uh, dirt has to go through. And it looks for reasons, as Peter said, we don't really understand completely, uh, why. But, uh, uh, it does look like the soil is rather cohesive and tends to stick together.

Jane Platt: Okay. The next question is Andrea Thompson, SPACE.com

Andrea Thompson: Hi. Uh, now, is it just the-the sort of surface, crusty part that-that is being clumpy? Or is the soil sort of all the way down so far? Or can you tell?

[Peter Smith]: Well, as far as we can tell, it's clumpy all the way down. Uh, the surface tends to be crusted. But if you pick up a scoop of soil that has both that crusty part and the stuff underneath, it tends to clump into little tiny clods. And these don't have much, uh, strength. You -- if you dropped one on the table it would shatter into little dust.

But, uh, apparently, it-it just likes to clump together. That's one of its properties. I-I'm kind of excited actually. This is quite different than from the type of [simulants] we've been told, uh, to expect to-to find on Mars. So, uh, the chemistry and the mineralogy of this material and the mic-microscopic examination should be very interesting.

Andrea Thompson: Great. Thank you.

Jane Platt: We're going to take a question now from Ashley Yeager at Science News.

Ashley Yeager: Hi. I just had one quick question. Does the vibrator method change how much soil you'll put into the scoops for future samples?

Bill Boynton: Uh, this is Bill. No, not really. The -- what we'll be doing differently will probably have about the same amount of material in the scoop. But we're just going to be, uh, vibrating it out of the scoop, uh, more slowly. We-we really, if this hasn't been clear, we've-we've got kind of two different vibrators, the scoop itself as a vibrator. And it's actually an instrument that's designed, as Peter said, to -- as a tool to grind into the ice.

But it serves double duty as a vibrator. And then, the TEGA instrument itself has a different vibrator that gets the soil through the screen and down through the funnel into the oven.

Peter Smith: Yeah. This is Peter. It's a little like sifting flour. You put flour into a sieve that doesn't tend to go through the holes, even though it's smaller, you have to bang on it. And then, it goes through quite nicely.

Ashley Yeager: Okay. Thank you.

Jane Platt: Now, we're going to take a question from Arizona, Aaron Mackey at the Arizona Daily Star.

Aaron Mackey: Thank you. Uh, Peter, you had said that, uh, the soil is exhibiting some unexpected properties. I'm wondering what, uh, the-the team is doing in Tucson maybe to try to simulate this in the pit or, uh, in other experiments as you guys try to move along through the mission.

Peter Smith: Well, they're-they're kind of pulling on their beards at the moment wondering just how to make some of this stuff. Uh, with -- it's going to be very helpful to get our microscopic examination and at least know what the sizes of the little grains are. So we're taking some very fine material that's like a powder. And we're mixing it with, uh, river sand.

And we're trying to make that a sticky -- a sticky mixture. But so far, we haven't been all that successful. It tends to go right through the TEGA screens, uh, with no problem at all. So there's something missing in our mixtures here that, uh, I'm quite anxious to find out what it is.

Aaron Mackey: All right. Thank you.

Jane Platt: Now, we're going to take a question form Jonathan Grupper at WGBH.

Jonathan Grupper: Uh, congrats again to both of you guys and all -- the whole team. Uh, the -- just to get specific with the timing here, the first look by tomorrow is what you said. And I'm assuming that's Earth time. Uh, what time is it -- I'm assuming it's uplink as well. What-what time do you expect that to be?

Peter Smith: Uh, to see the microscopic pictures you mean?

Jonathan Grupper: Y -- to see the results -- were you referring to the results from TEGA or from the microscope?

Peter Smith: Uh, the microscope. We're sending up the commands for the microscope today.

Jonathan Grupper: Okay.

Peter Smith: And TEGA's oven will, according to our current plan, be closed and Bill will be starting his analysis, uh, on the next Sol. So that'll be two days from now.

Jonathan Grupper: Right. [crosstalk] So then, it would be the following morning, uh, Earth time that you'll be getting the first results from TEGA.

Peter Smith: Yes. And that's a low temperature bake that tells you how much ice is in the soil.

Jonathan Grupper: That sounds good. And you -- that would [crosstalk]

Peter Smith: [I think Bill] would like to say more about that.

Bill Boynton: Yeah. In-in fact, we really don't expect there to be much in the way of ice in this soil now because it's been sitting out in the sunshine for, uh, I don't know how many days now, three, four or five days, something like that.

Peter Smith: Trying to get through the screen.

Bill Boynton: Uh, trying to get through the screen. And in fact, one of the hypotheses is that maybe there was some ice in there. And that it, uh, has, uh, sublimated away freeing up some of the, uh, strength that the soil might have had. That's, you know, just speculation right now. But, uh, it-it-it does look like the soil has changed somewhat.

Jonathan Grupper: So that would be Friday morning Earth time.

Bill Boynton: Uh, that's correct.

Jonathan Grupper: And you'll be getting data as well as pictures?

[Peter Smith]: Well, no. You're mixing things together. We-we've got a TEGA oven, which has no camera, and we have a microscope, which is going to be looking at the grains so that we can understand the properties of the soil a little better. And, h, the microscope has been commanded today to receive a sample and to do a-a-a -- the first part of its scan of the sample.

And if that all goes well, we'll have the first pictures from the microscope tomorrow. And TEGA won't be commanded until tomorrow. And it'll be given the -- you get your water scan the first day? Or --

[Bill Boynton]: Yeah. We'll get some data back the first day, but it will be very difficult to interpret it. And probably the most we'll be able to say in that first day is, uh, there was a little bit of ice in it. Or there was not much ice in it. And as I said, we don't really expect to see much in the way of ice. We're -- just the -- in this case, uh, glad that the, you know, the analysis goes through to completion without any hitch.

[Peter Smith]: Yeah. That would be good.

Jonathan Grupper: Thanks.

Jane Platt: The next question is going to come from Alicia Chang at Associated Press. Alicia?

Alicia Chang: Yes. Hi. Uh, I was wondering, you know, with, uh, the scientific study starting on-on TEGA and on microscope, I mean, what-what's your -- what's your, uh, short-term plan now?

[Peter Smith]: Uh, the short-term plan is to try and understand, uh, the first look at these-these two materials. Make sure our instruments are performing as we expect and that we understand how to deliver this unusual Martian soil, unusual in the sense that it's hard for us to create soil like that in our laboratory until -- at least until we know more about it.

Uh, and then, we will be beginning, uh, to dig a trench in an area of our digging area, our workspace called Wonderland, which is on the very right-hand side looking from the Arm's perspective. And that's, uh, uh, an area that we think is in the center of one of these polygons that we've noticed from space and have seen all around us, uh, one of the little [hummix], the little bitty kind of, uh, the highest portion of our digging space.

And we'll start digging a trench. The first thing we'll do is deliver three surface samples from that trench to TEGA, the microscope and the wet chemistry lab. So those will -- that will be our next set of samples.

Alicia Chang: So are you going to skip the wet chemistry this time around?

[Peter Smith]: Yes, we are. And the reason is, there's only four wet chemistry cells. So we want to be digging in the place where we think we have our best scientific opportunities. And, uh, also, the-the wet chemistry lab is not quite ready, uh, with its, uh -- the sequencing blocks to receive a sample. So that'll be happening over the next few days too.

Alicia Chang: Thank you.

Jane Platt: Next, we'll go to Henry Bortman of Astrobiology Magazine.

Henry Bortman: Hi. Uh, I think this is for maybe both of you. Uh, first of all, congratulations on getting the sample in the first oven. Uh, are there any soils on Earth that have properties similar to what you're seeing on Mars? And, uh, what are the instruments, the microscopic imager and the TEGA, going to be able to tell you about why this soil is behaving the way it is?

Peter Smith: Well, Earth has a tremendous variety of soils. This is Peter. And I am sure that we can find analogs of exactly this type of behavior. Once we know what's going on in this soil chemically and with the minerals and with the-the s -- the grain sizes, I'm sure we'll be able to find examples. Uh, we just haven't been using those in our current testing in our laboratory. But I don't think it's probably something that you can't find on the Earth. It's just we haven't known where to look for this kind of analog.

Jane Platt: Okay. We're going to take a question now from [Bryan Rivland] at the Albany Times Union].

Brian Rivlin: Uh, yes. I was wondering, uh, if the vibrator is, uh, away from the power that could be used for the microscope at all and if that is becoming a problem. Because you said earlier that you were running the vibrator for several times a day. Hello?

Peter Smith: Yeah. We're trying to understand the question. I-I think you're mixing the two instruments together. Uh, uh, we have a vibrator on the scoop that helps us get samples out of the scoop and into the entry ports. And, uh, that is what [crosstalk]

Brian Rivlin: Oh, no. No. I was wonder -- uh, you're using the vibrator on the TEGA, and I was just wondering if, uh, you were, if that was complicating the use of the microscope at all.

Peter Smith: Uh, the-the-the microscope is part of a different instrument in a different box on the deck. So they-they have no relationship really.

Bill Boynton: Yeah. And-and we would not be running the vibrator while the microscope is trying to take its, uh, images if you're wondering about vibration or something --

Brian Rivlin: No. No. The overall power. If, uh, if that was complicating the microscope, if you couldn't use the microscope because you were using the vibrator too much because the -- it was clumped up. Uh --

Peter Smith: Well, we do that at different times of the day. So the-the activities Bill's been doing with TEGA take place over short periods of time. And it's been happening several times a day. But we don't tend to do things at the same time.

Brian Rivlin: Okay. Thank you.

Jane Platt: All right. We'll take a question now from Arizona Republic and Anne Ryman.

Ann Ryman: Hi. Good morning. Uh, I wondered if you talk a little bit more about what the microscope may tell you about the soil. And then, also, if you could refresh my memory, about how big is this microscope?

Peter Smith: Hmmm. Well, the microscope is about six inches long. But it has a, uh, uh, a-a sample holder that is a little wheel that's maybe three or four inches in diameter. And by moving this wheel back and forth, you can move it out to collect a sample. And then, rotate it around and move it back in front of the microscope to do an examination of the sample.

So, uh, the whole thing is maybe 10 inches long and four or five inches in diameter. Uh, and what we hope to learn is, we have, uh, six different collection ports for the microscope. And they have different type of substrates. Some are just little bins that just hold the soil. Others are magnets, and some are, uh, silicon surfaces that-that allow particles to stick.

And, uh, by examining these various surfaces and the-the material that's collected on them, we can get some idea of the sizes of the minerals, their magnetic properties, their, uh, sizes, uh, their shapes and also their colors. We have four colors that we can look at it. And we-we can discriminate between different type of mineral grains. But there's-there's really, uh, quite an extensive analysis that goes on with the microscope [uh].

Uh, but the first thing we're interested in is just the size distribution. How big are these particles? And we only look at particles that are smaller than 200 microns. Uh, the rest of them won't come into the, uh, microscope stage. Uh, they tend to get -- clog it up. And they're too big for us. So we'll only be looking at the very smallest particles.

Ann Ryman: Thank you. And if I could ask a quick follow up, could you tell us a little bit about the reaction to the science team when they found out that the oven was, in fact, full?

Bill Boynton: Uh, yes. This is Bill. I'd be glad to talk about that. Uh, w-within our team just for the TEGA instrument, uh, group, we found, uh -- found out about this, uh, perhaps and hour before we have a meeting called the midpoint meeting. And we decided to, uh, keep it quiet just within the group.

And one of the things we do at this, uh, meeting is the moderator of the meeting goes around the table, asks for each instrument team to talk about the status of the instrument and if the data that came down was reasonable, if the instrument's working, usually, just a 30-second, uh, type conversation.

And when it came to me, I, uh, talked about a few other things and then said, uh, at the end, we had a-a problem because the, uh, process terminated, uh, early. And normally, that's a signal of something going wrong. But in this case, it was a signal of something going very right. And then, I announced that it terminated early because the oven was full.

And, uh, the-the group just went up into, uh, uh, cheers. And as Peter pointed out, I got a standing ovation. And, uh, we were playing some shake, shake, shake music. And we just -- we just had a-a good time for a minute or two.

Anne Ryman: [All right]. Thank you.

Jane Platt: Okay.

Bill Boynton: [unintelligible]

Jane Platt: We're going to, uh, finish up with a couple of people who are asking their first questions of the day. And then, we're going to go to those of you who would like to ask, uh, in the second round. So let's take a question now from Sally [Rail] at the Planetary Report.

Sally Rayl: Hi. Can you hear me?

Jane Platt: Absolutely. We can.

Sally Rayl: Okay. Great. Uh, you've kind of danced around this, both Peter and Bill. And it is for both of you. Uh, because of the seventh vibration being the successful vibration -- and congratulations by the way. [crosstalk] Uh, do you -- is there -- are-are-are -- is there any further confidence in any of the leading contenders toward ice or salt or something entirely Martian? In other words, is the debate heating up now because of what's happened with TEGA?

Peter Smith: I-I can start. This is Peter. Uh, I think, uh, there are very few people, if any, on the science team that believe there's no ice under this soil. We all believe the ice is there. The question is whether there's a little crusty layer of salt on top of it caused by evaporation.

Uh, perhaps the ice has melted. That would be something we'd be quite interested in. Or perhaps some other reason. But, uh, I-I don't think there's many people that believe there's no ice under this soil. Bill, you want to add to that?

Bill Boynton: Uh, yes. I-I agree with that. Uh, we-we all have a lot of confidence that we'll get down to the ice. And as Peter pointed out earlier, we may actually have even exposed some underneath the Lander in the process of landing. Uh, the-the WCL instrument is going to be, uh, very favorably disposed towards answering questions about salt. That's really what that instrument is, uh, designed to do.

So right now, we are speculating some way, you know, variety of different people with different ideas. But, uh, we hope, in a time scale of, uh, a week or two, to get enough data to, uh, be able to help, uh, address some of these speculations and see what theories are right and which ones are not.

Sally Rayl: Okay. Great. But are you arguing heatedly? Or are you just still jovially arguing?

Bill Boynton: Oh, it's-it's still at the jovial stage. And we all know that it's just speculation. And without data, it's not much more than just, uh, guesses and things, uh, like that. So there's -- at least I'm-I'm not aware of any heated discussions at all. Peter?

Peter Smith: Well, there was a little bit of a heated discussion last night. Uh, and one of the, uh, scientists was claiming that the pattern of ice in the trench had changed over a few days. And others said, "Well, that's just the sun coming in at a different angle made it look like it was different. Where, in fact, it actually wasn't different."

So they-they tend to kind of face into each other, like, uh, uh, the baseball manager and the umpire, you know, and pointing fingers. And that has changed. No, it hasn't changed. And so, you know, it's kind of at that level right now.

Bill Boynton: I'm s -- I'm sorry I missed that one.

Peter Smith: Yeah. You missed that one, Bill. [laughter]

Sally [Rail]: Thank you.

Jane Platt: All right. The next question, Mary O'Keefe from the La Canada Valley Sun.

Mary O'Keefe: Yes. It's probably for Peter. Can you explain the shaking that -- you said like a saltshaker over, uh, the microscope? Can you explain that a little bit?

Peter Smith: Certainly. Uh, we have a scoop of material. And we-we start to crank the scoop around to where the material starts to slide towards the front. And at just that point, we try and stop. And then, we have a little, uh -- it's kind of like a thumper in the back of the scoop that causes it to vibrate a little bit. And then, the-the, uh, the grains can kind of roll out the end of the scoop.

And they come down in a fine, little rain of particles. And, uh, the trick is to get that rain of particles over the entry point of the instrument and make sure that it falls into the right place and to-to be sure that we take pictures of that entry port right afterwards. And-and, uh, assure ourselves that enough material has gotten into the instrument.

Mary O'Keefe: Thank you.

Jane Platt: We are now entering what I affectionately like to call the bonus round. So if you have already asked a question, you're welcome to jump in now if you have another one just by pressing *1. So let's take a question from Jeremy Manier from the Chicago Tribune.

Jeremy Manier: Thanks. Uh, thanks again. Uh, so, uh, uh, this -- you might have covered in previous, uh, conferences. But I just want to make sure I understand it. Uh, the -- sometimes, I think people are confused about the-the, uh, uh, the whole -- the whole process of communication between ground and the -- and the Lander and how long an exchange, you know, takes and-and what you need to -- because it-it seems like -- I mean, and I don't -- I don't, you know -- I'm not bothered by this.

But some people tend to get a little impatient with, you know, the-the tempo. Uh, what-what does that involve? And how long does it take to have sort of an exchange of, uh, of commands to getting something back from the Lander? [crosstalk]

Peter Smith: Well, there's-there's a long process, of course, to, uh, first validate the commands and make sure we're not doing something foolish, uh, and sending up commands that will either hurt the spacecraft or-or damage an instrument or move an arm into a solar panel. Uh, I mean, you really are having to check everything before you send it. Because once it's up there, the machine just starts doing whatever you told it.

So we-we have a long checking process that is, uh, uh, very in depth and-and detailed. And sometimes, commands aren't ready to be sent up because they fail some of our-our tests. And then, once we're ready to send the commands, we radiate them from here through our fiber optic to the Jet Propulsion Lab. And then, they're sent to the appropriate antenna in the deep space network, which is either in, uh, California or Australia or-or, uh, Spain.

And it's radiated out to the spacecraft, uh, using and X band, uh, uh, frequency. And one of the orbiters -- usually, we're -- we've been using the Odyssey orbiter's lately. And that will receive the commands. And then, once it's received the commands, it has to wait until it's over the Lander itself to turn on the, uh, UHF antenna and radiate the commands down to the spacecraft.

So that whole process can take anywhere from half an hour to an hour. And, uh, and so that's what we have to deal with in terms of a delay. It's-it's 15-minute time delay just in light time from Earth to Mars. But then, there's another delay in-in kind of the, uh, getting from the spacecraft down to the surface. Does that answer your question?

Jeremy Manier: I think so. And then, are-are there certain times of day when-when you get, uh, kind of, uh, messages back from the-the Lander saying what-what it's been able to do and what-what pictures it's been able to take and so forth?

Peter Smith: Absolutely. And so what we tend to do -- there's two opportunities for us to do this communication. And we-we take, uh, one or two passes in the morning. That could be 4:00 a.m., 6:00 a.m., 8:00 a.m., somewhere in that time frame. And the commands will go from Earth up to the spacecraft. And sometimes, we actually get some data down during that communication path.

And then, we do our operations during the Martian day. And late in the Martian afternoon between 3:00 and, say, 6:00, we get, uh, one or two, uh, data dumps back from the spacecraft. And that's when we start our operations here on Earth. When the data comes back, we-we analyze it. That's when Bill got his data that said his oven was full. And, uh, right now, that was about, what? 6:00 a.m. that we got that data. So --

Bill Boynton: About that time.

Peter Smith: [laughs] So we're kind of at a-an odd time of the -- of the Earth day here. But it's evening in Mars.

Jeremy Manier: So-so okay. So I mean, I'm sorry. So-so the conversation is you-you have your part of the conversation, uh, mostly, uh, in-in the morning. It has it's response, uh, for what it's been doing late in the afternoon. That's pretty much it for each day.

Peter Smith: We do have some nighttime operations we've been doing. I know that, uh, Bill's TEGA instrument took some nighttime atmospheric observations. We're trying to coordinate with orbiters for nighttime, uh, atmospheric science. So we can operate at night.

Jeremy Manier: Gotcha. Thanks a lot.

Jane Platt: All right. We're going to jump to a question from [Damien McQueen] of Bloomberg News.

Damien McQueen: Hi. Uh, thanks very much. Uh, I'm wondering how you empty the ovens of soil, uh, once you've analyzed them.

Bill Boynton: [laughs] Uh, this is Bill. And, uh, we don't empty the ovens. Uh, that's why we've actually built the instrument with, uh, eight separate ovens. Each one is designed to be used once. And once the oven is filled, uh, and closed, we can never reopen it again. So, uh, we-we have those eight ovens. And that's the only, uh -- only shots we have.

Damien McQueen: Thank you.

Jane Platt: Next up is David Kestenbaum of National Public Radio.

David Kestenbaum: Can you guys talk for a minute about just, uh, being near the north pole. Why, uh -- why was that an interesting place, uh, for this mission to-to go to?

Peter Smith: You discovered this ice.

Bill Boynton: Uh, this is Bill Boynton. Uh, one of the main reasons we went up there is, uh, because we found there was a-a lot of ice just beneath the surface. In fact, it was, uh, an instrument on board the Mars Odyssey orbiter that Peter was just referring to. It's, uh, another one that we've built here at the University of Arizona called a gamma ray spectrometer that actually discovered all of this ice just beneath the surface.

So that was one of the real motivators for, uh, going there was the idea that, uh, this-this ice is something we haven't been able to get to elsewhere on Mars. And, uh, perhaps, uh, the ice might even provide the kind of environment that might be preserving some organic molecules from the past, if indeed the, uh -- if indeed it is capable of preserving them. That's one of the objectives of the mission.

David Kestenbaum: And which instrument would be able to detect those organic molecules?

Bill Boynton: Uh, that would be the TEGA instrument again, the same one we're talking about here.

Jane Platt: Next --

Bill Boynton: And-and the way we -- the way we detect it is by heating up the sample in the oven, and the organic molecules would vaporize. And then, our evolved gas analyzer can, uh, determine the nature of the constituents that come off as vapors.

Jane Platt: Okay. We're going to go to John Johnson at the Los Angeles Times.

John Johnson: Bill, you described this, uh, celebratory event when you announced the oven was full. Uh, was-was there really music being played? And what -- how was it played? Was there some-somebody have a boombox or something in there?

Bill Boynton: Uh, it wasn't quite that sophisticated. I had a portable laptop computer in front of me that was all queued up with the sound. And after I made my, uh, announcement into a microphone that we all have, I just pressed the button to start playing the, uh, music and held the microphone, uh, near the speaker on the, uh, laptop. Uh, there was enough cheering and screaming and everything that I don't think anybody actually even heard the music. But [crosstalk]

John Johnson: Was anybody dancing around?

Bill Boynton: I was.

Peter Smith: Dr. Boynton was dancing. And -- [laughter]

John Johnson: And the song? [crosstalk]

Peter Smith: I wish you could have been there. It was --

John Johnson: Yeah. I wish I could have too. And the song was-was Shake, Shake, Shake?

Bill Boynton: Yes, indeed.

John Johnson: All right. Thank you.

Jane Platt: Well, we have some interesting visual images today. [laughter] Uh, I'm going to do a last call. If you do have a-a question before we wrap up, again, press * 1 to get in the lineup. We're going to go right now though to Henry Bortman of Astrobiology Magazine.

Henry Bortman: Hi. Uh, this is for Bill. Bill, Peter, uh, explained some details of what they'd be looking for in the -- with the optical imager, uh, to try and help figure out what the nature of the -- what's causing the clumpiness in the soil. Can you talk about what TEGA will be able to see, uh, that will help in figuring out why the soil behaves the way it does?

Bill Boynton: Uh, it's -- I guess a couple of things we might be able to see have to do with, uh, water. We-we suspect that water, in one form or another, might be, uh, at least one of the things, uh, that has something to do with the cohesion of, uh, soil. So if there's any absorbed moisture on the surface of the grains when we begin to heat it, we should see that moisture being given off.

And indeed, if there is any ice in the soils, uh, when we do heat it, we'll see the effect of the melting of that, uh, ice. So we'll-we'll mainly be able to, uh, deal with the water and moisture ends of things. The, wet chemistry lab, as I mentioned earlier, will be able to tell us, uh, about the nature of any salts that might be cementing the soils together.

Peter Smith: Clays too.

Bill Boynton: Yeah. Oh -- no -- yeah. Peter's right. The clay minerals is another thing we'll be, uh, looking at as well. They give off, uh, water at, uh, high temperatures when we, uh, heat those up as well.

Henry Bortman: So that's-that's TEGA again?

Bill Boynton: That's TEGA again. Yes.

Henry Bortman: Okay. Thank you.

Bill Boynton: Mm-hmmm.

Jane Platt: We're going back now to Mary O'Keefe at the La Canada Valley Sun.

Mary O'Keefe: Hi. I just -- the-the sticky material, the sticky soil, when you say that in the way you describe it, to me it sounds like Mississippi mud sticky. Is there any kind of Earth description of it?

Peter Smith: Well, that's what we're --

Mary O'Keefe: The -- I know it would only be visual, but --

Peter Smith: You know, uh -- this is Peter. Uh, we'd love to have an Earth description of it. But right now, sticky applies to so many Earth soils that I think we need more information. And that's where the microscope and the TEGA instrument is going to help us.

And once we find out if there's clays or what kind of size of particles, if they're quartz or-or, uh, different kinds of, uh, you know, basaltic materials or whatever it might be, then we can start to find out where on Earth we might find materials just like this. But right now, I don't think we have enough information. We wouldn't know where to start looking. [crosstalk] That's the power of these instruments.

Jane Platt: And we're going to take a question from Spaceflight Magazine, Ken [Cramer].

Ken [Cramer]: Hi. Thank you. I have a question about the, uh, the sprinkling that you did on Sol 15 on the Lander deck. I was wondering about how long did that take, those series of, uh, very nice images that you put together? And can you guesstimate how much material you may have dropped?

[Peter Smith]: Well, it-it was [just] not much material, actually. It was probably, uh, uh, four or five tablespoons. It wasn't really a lot of material. Uh, and it-it didn't take very long. I think maybe 10 or 15 minutes to do all of that. And so delivering samples is something we're getting better at every day. And now, we're learning about the properties of the soil and how-how we have to handle it to get it into our instruments.

And I think this is exactly what we needed to learn, uh, going to a-another planet and thinking we know the soils ahead of time is really kind of, you know -- kind of foolish. Uh, we-we really have to learn what we're -- what we're sitting on here, what kind of soils we're dealing with. So it's-it's taken a few days. And I know some people are impatient because of that. But I think we're at the end of that now. And we're ready to start all our science.

Jane Platt: We're going to take a question now from SPACE.com and Leonard David.

Leonard David: Hi. Leonard here. I-I just wanted to get back to both of you about, uh, the clumpy nature of the soil, have we discarded hydrazine as far as a contaminate and how big the plume was, uh, that reached out from the Lander?

Bill Boynton: Uh, this is Bill Boynton. I think, uh, our feeling there is that the, uh -- well, based on some lab experiments and so forth, is that the, uh, hydrazine would have been pretty well combusted on the way in. And the reaction products are nitrogen and ammonia. It's-it's not thought that that would be, uh, much involved in this process. Uh, if there is any ammonias, the WCL [cell] will be able to, uh, tell us. It's rather sensitive to that.

But we-we-we really don't think that contributes much to the clumping. For example, when we dig away some of the surface soils and get, uh, soils beneath the surface that have been protected from the hydrazine from the rocket, it shows, uh, comparable amounts of clumpiness.

Leonard David: Okay. Thanks.

Jane Platt: We're going to take a question from Carlos Martino from -- and I do hope I get this right -- Estago J San Paulo. Is that anywhere near correct?

Carlos Martino:

Yeah. Yeah. It's --

Jane Platt: Okay.

Carlos Martino: Quite right.

Jane Platt: I have beenů

Carlos Martino: Well, uh, I was -- I was thinking, uh, the, uh, one of the -- if I understood correctly, one of the causes of the [so the flowing] of the sample into the oven now could have been the-the drying of the sample by the time [it-it-it's to the expose it and-and shaken.] Uh, could this mean that, uh, all samples will have to be -- to be dried. [That to, uh,] we won't be able to-to tell exactly how much water, uh, there is in this -- these, uh, specific kinds of Martian soil?

Bill Boynton: Uh, this is Bill Boynton again. We don't think that's going to be the case. If we had to deliver the samples the way the first one was delivered as a very large clump, then indeed, it might have to dry out before it could get through the screen as this one did. What we're expecting though is when we use the sprinkler or saltshaker method of delivering the sample, uh, that that will fall, uh, more or less immediately right through the screen.

So we're-we're still quite optimistic that we will be able to, uh, preserve the -- any ice and moisture associated with the soil grains and get it into an oven and get it sealed, uh, shortly after it's delivered to the instrument.

Carlos Martino: All right. Thank you.

Jane Platt: Okay. That wraps up the Q&A, wraps up the media telecon. I want to thank all our panelists for joining us today. And I'll let -- I'll let you get back to work. And hopefully, you'll be doing some more dancing and singing in the next few days. We're going to have an audio file of the telecon archived online at www.nasa.gov/phoenix and a couple of other sites as well.

And for seven days, we will have an audio file for replay at 1-800-825-0173. For international callers, 402-998-0031. And actually, the next media event will be this coming Friday, June 13th. That will be a televised briefing from the University of Arizona. That's going to start at noon Arizona and Pacific Time. And we'll be sending out an advisory about that.

And again, a lot of images and info available both at the NASA site and at phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu, the U of A site. Any additional questions, call us at JPL media relations, 818-354-5011 or Sara Hammond at the U of A, 520-626-1974. Thanks, everybody. Take care.

[End of recorded material]

 

 
 
 
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