Yesterday, Mars Odyssey failed to send Phoenix instructions for the day — and so engineers have switched back to Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as the go-to relay link.
This is the second time that Phoenix has lost a day due to a balky communications link. When it happens, Phoenix still stays reasonably busy, following “run-out” instructions that tell it to take panoramic pictures. But it isn’ t what the scientists want to be doing. Yestersol (sorry, hooked on the term), Phoenix was supposed to move its first soil sample to the edge of TEGA’s maw. That’s going to happen today, assuming the MRO uplink works. Tomorrow Phoenix will tilt the scoop and drop the soil in. And so on, day by day.
The team is prepared for the slow work — even budgeting for down days like yestersol. JPL flight systems engineer Chris Lewicki says that the team should accomplish all its science goals even if 30 of the mission’s 90 days are lost to the unforseen.
The press conference focused on some of the first optical microscope pictures in MECA. Some really cool images of three grains, likely kicked up during the landing, can be found here. MECA lead scientist Michael Hecht said these pictures had 10 times better resolution than microscopic pictures from the Mars rovers. That’s a nice superlative: The tiniest things ever seen on Mars.