NASA is Twittering Phoenix

Every few minutes I get an email from NASA telling me which button they've pressed on the Phoenix Robot, recently landed on Mars. And I'm only slightly exaggerating. OK, I'm exaggerating a lot.

The latest: Phoenix has been commanded to move its arm:

Scientists leading NASA's Phoenix Mars mission from the University of Arizona in Tucson sent commands to unstow its robotic arm and take more images of its landing site early today.

The Phoenix lander sent back new sharp color images from Mars late yesterday. Phoenix imaging scientists made a color mosaic of images taken by the lander's Surface Stereo Imager on landing day, May 25, and the first two full "sols," or Martian days, after landing.

The panorama, now about one-third complete, shows a fish-eye perspective from the camera, a view from the lander itself all the way to the horizon. Phoenix adjusts its color vision with "Caltargets," calibrated color targets on disks mounted on the landing deck.
Its color vision isn't quite like human color vision, but close.

"These images are very exciting to the science team," said the Surface Stereo Imager co- investigator Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University. "We see the polygons we're looking for, and we're very excited to fill in the context with more site pan images that go beyond the workspace." Images to complete the panorama are planned today and tomorrow, Sols 3 and 4, Lemmon said.

"We appear to have landed where we have access to digging down a polygon trough the long way, digging across the trough, and digging into the center of a polygon. We've dedicated this polygon as the first national park system on Mars -- a "keep out" zone until we figure out how best to use this natural Martian resource," Lemmon said.

Phoenix will use its robotic arm to dig first in another area seen in the panorama, an area outside the preserved polygon.

Robotic arm manager Bob Bonitz of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., explained how the arm is to be unstowed today. "It's a series of seven moves, beginning with rotating the wrist to release the forearm from its launch restraint. Another series of moves releases the elbow from its launch restraints and moves the elbow from underneath the biobarrier."

The robotic arm is a critical part of the Phoenix Mars mission. It is needed to trench into the icy layers of northern polar Mars and deliver samples to instruments that will analyze what Mars is made of, what its water is like, and whether it is or has ever been a possible habitat for life.

"Phoenix is in perfect health," JPL's Barry Goldstein, Phoenix project manager, said Wednesday morning, May 28.

The robotic arm's first movement was delayed by one day when Tuesday's commands from Earth did not get all the way to the Phoenix lander on Mars. The commands went to NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as planned, but the orbiter's Electra UHF radio system for relaying commands to Phoenix temporarily shut off. Without new commands, the lander instead carried out a set of activity commands sent Monday as a backup.
Images and other information from those activities were successfully relayed back to Earth by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Tuesday evening.

Wednesday morning's uplink to Phoenix and evening downlink from Phoenix were planned with NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter as the relay. "We are using Odyssey as our primary link until we have a better understanding of what happened with Electra,"
Goldstein said.


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Man, I was excited for a second. They SHOULD be Twittering!

By Tim Murtaugh (not verified) on 28 May 2008 #permalink

They should be laying down a virtual play-by-play. Complete with not only what they are doing and what is happening but full of as much background color, technical details and what the people at NASA are thinking, as possible. That is what makes up drama and a good story line.

If you want to get funding you need to get as many people emotionally involved as possible. Now they needn't deluge every news cycle with such detail but it should be readily available to anyone with any desire for it. Nobody should have to dig.

In fact I was a little disappointed when I went to the NASA web site and read the blogs. They are very sparse and short with little detail. At least one person with a blog link has no entries. There are gaps of many weeks and months even in the best blogs.

Now I realize that engineers and scientist with the program are busy. But the blogs don't show this. Come on folks. Why not just a line every day or two? Something like: 'Hard day working on the ______. Can't get it to register with the ______." Anything that represents the work and worry and effort involved. A blank blog makes it seem like they are 'feet-up-mind-in-neutral'. I realize that isn't the case but at the least a blank blog represents a missed opportunity.

I wouldn't worry about to much detail. I have to assume you signed up for the e-mail. I really think it is pretty much impossible to get too detailed as long as there is some mechanism to allow people to filter the detail. The NASA fans want details. Probably down to the serial numbers of each fastener.

Twitter away NASA.

That is how you build a fan base, get people involved and stimulate kids to become people who want build the next generation of projects.

The best thing about it, is the twitterer is sending tweets as if he or she is the Phoenix.

By Travis McDermott (not verified) on 28 May 2008 #permalink

The Boy is experimenting with Twitter, and the Phoenix Lander is one of the first on his follow list.

I'm not seeing Twitter as terribly useful yet, though. It's sort of a quick-blog thing. I may hold off on using it extensively for a while, and see how it pans out.