First Time Jitters Cause Inaugural Mars Lander Load To Miss Target

Our favorite Martian gadget of the moment is experiencing some performance anxiety. While all of Phoenix's parts are working just fine, including the 8-foot scoop arm, the little guy just couldn't seal the deal when NASA scientists gave the green light to scoop dirt and put the bun in the oven. None of the inaugural sample made it into the first oven, you see, and scientists at the University of Arizona are scrambling today to find out why.

The latest glitch arrived after a week of successful tests involving the sleepy scoop arm, and could dash the earlier sense of optimism that arose at mission control when Phoenix spied a shiny ice sheet just beneath its feet.


Photos of the fail were released by the University of Arizona team on Saturday, and showed "a scoopful of dirt sitting on and around the open oven door after being dumped by the craft's 8-foot robot arm." None of the dirt made it into the tiny chamber, however. If it had, the miniature oven housed within would have begun heating the soil to test it for gasses, water or organic compounds.

It's a minor issue, considering there are seven more ovens to work with, so let's have a bit of fun at the Lander's expense, courtesy of CNN's "story highlights" (which sound just like a stammering Jason Biggs in American Pie after he, too, fails to seal the deal):

• Photos show dirt around oven door, but none made it into chamber (premature excavation)

• "We think everything is working correctly," says scientist in charge of oven (the classic, "I swear, this is the first time this has ever happened!")

• If oven is unusable, lander has seven more ("I've got reserves!")

• Scientists will spend next several days trying to figure out the problem (porn)


There's also a potentially malfunctioning vibrator to consider, although initial tests showed it was working as designed (seriously, read the article). In the meantime, NASA reports scientists will continue to poke around in the soil and do additional digging. [The Associated Press]

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