1. Headline
  1. Headline
By
updated 7/9/2008 6:19:07 PM ET 2008-07-09T22:19:07

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has hit a roadblock while trying to scoop a sample of dirt into one of its ovens.

  1. More from TODAY.com
    1. Robin Williams' daughter Zelda returns to Twitter 'to say thank you'

      "I just want to say thank you for all the stories and letters I've been receiving," she wrote early Tuesday morning, "espe...

    2. Mom's last dance with son at wedding 'most beautiful thing'
    3. Baby of pay-it-forward parents gets heart: 'He's a brave little boy'
    4. Facebook goes to the dogs! Pooch pics unleashed in hottest new group
    5. Reward for sweating? We drink more alcohol when we exercise

For the past day, Phoenix has been using its robotic arm to scrape away at a hard icy surface on the red planet, trying to claw enough dirt out to pour into its onboard instrument. So far, it has only accumulated small piles of shavings, which it has not been able to scoop into the oven.

Phoenix robotic arm co-investigator Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis compared the probe's task to trying to scrape away at a sidewalk.

"We have three tools on the scoop to help access ice and icy soil," Arvidson said. "We can scoop material with the backhoe using the front titanium blade; we can scrape the surface with the tungsten carbide secondary blade on the bottom of the scoop; and we can use a high-speed rasp that comes out of a slot at the back of the scoop."

He said the team hoped to make some progress with a motorized rasp tool on Phoenix's robotic arm to help dig into the hard icy soil and ice deposits.

Though the probe managed to scrape away a bit of material from the surface, the small piles it accumulated were smaller than on previous digs, and it wasn't able to get any of the dirt into its scoop.

"It's like trying to pick up dust with a dustpan, but without a broom," said Richard Volpe, an engineer on Phoenix's robotic arm team from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

On Monday Phoenix performed 50 scrapes in a trench called "Snow White" it had previously dug. The material is intended to be analyzed in Phoenix's onboard oven instrument, the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA), to determine its chemical properties.

The $420 million Phoenix probe landed May 25 in the northern polar region of Mars in search of signs the environment could be habitable to life.

© 2013 Space.com. All rights reserved. More from Space.com.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. Kevin Winter / Getty Images

    Robin Williams' daughter Zelda returns to Twitter 'to say thank you'

    9/23/2014 9:10:44 PM +00:00 2014-09-23T21:10:44
  1. Hudson's Heart via Facebook

    Baby of pay-it-forward parents gets heart: 'He's a brave little boy'

    9/23/2014 6:13:39 PM +00:00 2014-09-23T18:13:39
  1. Prime Minister David Cameron: Certain ISIS is plotting attacks in Europe

    Cameron told NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams Tuesday that he is certain ISIS is plotting attacks in Europe. “These people want to kill us," Cameron said.

    9/23/2014 4:27:04 PM +00:00 2014-09-23T16:27:04