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NASA Phoenix Media Telecon - June 9
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Images for June 9 Media Telecon

Image 1 - Small Effect of Vibrating Martian Soil Sample on Oven Door
Image 2 - Metal Spring near Phoenix Footpad
Image 3 - Robotic Arm Biobarrier Cable
Image 4 - Clumps in Phoenix Scoop
Image 5 - TEGA Whirligig Model

Beginning of recorded material

Jane Platt: Thank you. Good morning. And, welcome to another Phoenix Mars Lander media telecon. I'm Jane Platt with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Media Relations Office here in Pasadena. And, the University of Arizona is joining us from Tucson. This morning, we'll get the latest from two panelists. And, then, we'll do our usual Q&A with reporters.

The visuals for today's briefing are on online. You should find them at And, if you decide you'd like to ask a question, the routine as usual is press *1, and we'll get you in the queue. Right now, let's go straight out to Sara Hammond at the University of Arizona. Hi, Sara.

Sara Hammond: Good morning, Jane. Thank you. Uh, with us this morning are Doug Ming, M-I-N-G. He's a member of the science team from Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. And, William Boynton, B-O-Y-N-T-O-N. He's the co-investigator for the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, also known as TEGA from the University of Arizona in Tucson. Doug, would you like to kick it off this morning?

Doug Ming: Absolutely. Good morning. Uh, we are now in the early m -- uh, hours of Sol 15 on Mars. And, any day you can go to work on Mars in a fantastic day. So it's a fantastic here, uh, at the, uh, Operations Center in Tucson. Uh, what I thought I'd do is briefly tell you what we just, uh, uh, got downlinked, uh, from our last Sol, which is Sol 14. And, present you with some of the things that we plan on our next Sol, Sol 15.

Uh, we, uh, did a TEGA shake on Sol 14. And, uh, Dr. Boynton will talk about that in more detail. But we also did another move, uh, with the robotic arm to acquire a sample. So we have just recently, uh, acquired this sample. It's now in our scoop. And, we do have some images of that, uh, that is on the Web site that I'll talk about in more detail here in a second.

Uh, we are also continuing to do our atmospheric measurements. Uh, we get regular atmospheric measurements throughout the Sol. And, we are also getting some images with, uh, the, uh, [steroscopic] imager, uh, from interesting targets, uh, in our work area, uh, as well as some, uh, materials that are on the spacecraft.

Uh, in the pictures, uh, there are -- the first picture that, uh, is, uh, here has a, uh, yellow kind of a circle around it, uh, showing an object that is on the ground next to the foot pad of the Lander. Uh, this is a spring. We saw this image, uh, pretty early in the mission after we had just landed. And, of course, one of the first questions we ask ourselves was where did this particular object, uh, come from?

Uh, we were pretty sure it came from the spacecraft and wasn't there before we landed. Uh, so we did some surveys on the spacecraft. And, the second image, uh, that is in line here shows the actual Lander, uh, uh, itself. And, if you look on this particular image, uh, you will see that there is a spring. [Put it back.]

There is a spring. And, on this, uh, spring, there's a cable. Uh, the cable does -- uh, kind of goes across the center of this image. And, then, if you will notice, uh, just below that table, there appears to be another little, uh, bar that's sticking out where the spring we think is on the ground has, uh, uh, broken loose. It's, uh -- it's part of the biobarrier, uh, that, uh, was encasing the Robotic Arm.

And, when we unfurled the r -- uh, this biobarrier, uh, we think that this particular cable broke, and the spring then popped loose. And, that is what we see now, uh, l -- uh, standing next to the landing pad on the ground. Now, I mentioned that we have, uh, uh, some sample in the scoop right now. Uh, the next image shows this sample.

And, the one thing that you'll see here is that this material appears to be quite cloddy. Uh, what we plan to do with this material is do what we call a sprinkle test. Uh, and we're going to do this in two different stages. And, the reason we want to do this is to try to get rid of some of the larger clods, so that we can deliver finer particles to the optical microscope, which we hope to deliver, uh, a sample to, uh, in about two Sols.

But today's, uh, activities in Sol 15, one of the principal things we will be doing is doing a pre, uh, sprinkle test on the ground, getting rid of some of the larger clods. Then, we will move the Robotic Arm and the scoop up over the MECA instrument. Uh, we will then do a sprinkle test where we try to deliver a small amount of the sample on top of the MECA, so that we can show that we can deliver small amounts of the material to the actual optical microscope tongue, uh, in two Sols when we plan on doing these measurements.

Uh, also in the upcoming Sol, we plan to do, uh, optical microscope documentation. We want to document all the substrates that we will be depositing this material on before, uh, we deposit it, so we can have before and after pictures. So we can compare, uh, the-the materials. Uh, we will also continue to do the TEGA shake. And, Dr. Boynton will talk to that.

Uh, but we hope that on Sol 16, we will actually deliver, uh, the sample -- this sprinkle sample to the optical microscope. And, with that, I'll turn it over to Dr. Boynton, and he can talk about the TEGA.

William Boynton: Thank you, Doug. Yes. Uh, on Saturday, we found out that we had, uh, a very large amount of soil that had been delivered to the screen, which is the opening into a funnel, which ultimately is, uh, uh -- leads the dirt into the oven itself, which is going to do the heating. What we found is that, although we had, uh, an awful lot of dirt on that screen, virtually none of it made it down into the oven.

Since then, we have tried, uh, an -- a slightly different approach where we ran a vibrator that we have designed to help move the soil. We ran it at a higher frequency, which we thought might possibly move the soil a little bit more effectively. Uh, we found out today that, uh, that did not work. We got a very few soil particles, uh, passed through into the oven but still was not enough for us to, uh, be able to do an analysis.

We did get some, uh, indication though that the vibrator is, in fact, working. We can see that with the, uh, image. I think it's image number one, where you can -- we're actually having two images. One is just before we turned on the vibrator, and one was after. And, so you can see that the soil has actually moved. But it hasn't moved very far. This soil is very cohesive and is very hard for it to get through the screen.

Uh, on the next image, it's, uh, last one there in [brass]. Uh, this shows a blowup of what the mechanism is that actually serves to help transfer the soil from the top of the screen down in through that very small hole you see in the bottom of the funnel. The device there, uh, consists of a whirligig, that's that little three-bladed propeller. And, it moves up and down based on the rotation of that shaft.

That shaft moves, uh, based on a solenoid. And, when it rises up, that screw head at the end of that, uh, protrusion actually knocks on the screen and vibrates the screen. When it goes down, the whirligig is free -- is, uh, free to swivel on the wire. And, that actually stirs up the soil. And, finally, there's a little wire, uh, that goes right down through the hole into the throat of the funnel.

So it's a pretty elaborate mechanism that we've tested pretty well to actually move the soil. Uh, [what are plans is], we're going to try one more time running the vibrator. If that doesn't work, then some of these new approaches that, uh, Doug Ming was talking about with sprinkling small amounts of the soil on. We're going to try that on another one of our analyzers.

We do have eight separate thermal analyzers. And, uh, we think they'll be much more effective if we can just transfer a very small amount of soil, so that it doesn't clog up the, uh, the screen. So that's where we are now. It'll be, uh, several more days before we know for sure, exactly, uh, what path we're going to be taking. I'll turn things back over to, uh, Sara now.

Sara Hammond: Okay. Thanks, Bill. Jane, uh, can we open it up for questions?

Jane Platt: Yes. Absolutely. And, I did want to mention that they are literally posting images even as we speak. So they're not all there on all the sites yet. Uh, so hopefully, that will happen momentarily. But, uh, in the meantime, we're going to start out Q&A with Leo Enright of Irish Television. And, I would ask everybody please on the first round to limit questions to one question and one follow up. And, if you have more, we'll catch you on the second round. So with that, go ahead, Leo.

Leo Enright: Uh, thanks, Jane. Are you hearing me okay?

Jane Platt: Absolutely.

Leo Enright: And, uh, I-I'm sorry. I wasn't expecting to be asked, uh, to be called for a question. I was frantically signaling the, uh, the service provider to get on to you to say that I couldn't see any of the pictures, uh, as Doug was talking. So I'm afraid a lot of what he said was pretty much meaningless because I was struggling to get the pictures up on the screen. I had both a PC and an Apple both working, and neither could call up the pictures.

Anyway, since, uh -- since I'm up, uh, Bill, uh, uh, Boynton, could I -- could I just ask you what you think is-is causing this clumping? Is this a-an electrostatic effect? Or is it something to do with salts? Or-or do you have any idea? Uh, and B, if you -- if it's an electrostatic effect, is there not some way that you can, you know, uh, touch to ground and-and destatic the, uh, the soil?

William Boynton: Uh, we-we aren't sure, uh, what's actually causing this. Uh, uh, the soil, as, uh, Doug mentioned, is very, uh, clumpy. It could due just to, uh, a very tiny amount of absorbed moisture. It could be due to salts that in it, possibly electro, uh, static may be contributing as well.

Uh, we are going to try, uh, operating the vibrator and three different times of day at different temperatures with the idea there might be different amounts of relative humidity that could make a difference if moisture has anything to do with it. Uh, otherwise, we're not really sure. We, uh -- Saturday, when we had this, uh, uh, -- the last time we had this, uh, press briefing, we weren't sure whether the vibrator was malfunctioning or whether it was just a soil mechanics problem.

We now, at least, know that the vibrator is, uh, functioning because we did see the soil move. And, it looks like the-the soil is just too cohesive to make it through the screens when it's put down there as one very large mass. We're actually quite optimistic that when we, uh, dribble it on slowly that we'll be able to vibrate it down the screen, and some of it will pass through.

Leo Enright: Uh, and just one follow up. I take it, from what you were saying about seeing something go in, that this isn't, uh, uh, an instrument problem. You-you-you're pretty sure you know when stuff goes in. And, that [nothing isn't just full] that you didn't realize it.

[William Boynton]: Uh, yes. We do have a, uh, a-a- very good mechanism to see that. We actually have a, uh, light-emitting diode that shines across the, uh, exit of the funnel. And, the light is detected by photocell. And, we tested this mechanism, uh, before we asked for the soil to be delivered by measuring the light output as determined by the photocell when the light-emitting diode is turned on.

And, then, we turn it off again and, uh, make some other measurements. And, looking at that difference tells us that, indeed, the photocell and the light-emitting diode are both functioning properly.

Jane Platt: Okay. Uh, thanks, Leo. And, I do want to remind, uh, Doug and Bill that if you are responding to a question, and you've not specifically been asked, uh, please just identify yourself, so the reporters can follow along. Next question comes from the Tucson Citizen and Alan Fischer. Go ahead.

Alan Fischer: Hello. This is a question and follow up for Dr. Boynton. Uh, Dr. Boynton, you mentioned this morning that the-the LED and photocell determined that some material had gone through, uh, the screen to the oven. But you could not -- you -- it wasn't enough for a full sample. Could you give us some sort of a quantity, like how much do you need for a -- for a sample to work, uh, in the oven? And, how much has gone through today?

William Boynton: Uh, I can answer the first part of that. We need somewhere on the order of 20 to 30 milligrams to get a good, uh, sample through. We have a very good measure of when the oven gets, uh, full. But when we just have one or two particles, we really can't say. My guess is we have substantially less than a-a milligram. We just saw one or two particles where we really are expecting, uh, thousands of particles to fall through.

Alan Fischer: Okay. And, as a follow up, sir, the-the images show that-that-that-that the oven four, uh, from the first delivery is-is fairly well covered with soil at this point. Uh, is that going to impede in any way the operation of any of the other oven doors or any of the other ovens, the fact that we do have a large amount of-of Martian soil sitting on top of the TEGA instrument.

William Boynton: W-we don't believe it will. Uh, in fact, we, uh, intend -- at least I'm-I'm thinking now is that we probably would next go to the, uh, oven that's adjacent to it, be number five. And, the springs on these doors are actually strong enough that we expect it's actually going to thrown some of that soil up in the, uh, air. And, it might come down elsewhere on the Lander. So we're pretty optimistic that it's not going to be an impediment to the other door.

Alan Fischer: Thank you, sir.

Jane Platt: Next, we're going to take a question from Jonathan Grupper of WGBH Nova.

Jonathan Grupper: Hi. Uh, so, uh, this is a question for, uh, Dr. Boynton. The, uh -- the tests you're doing up on Mars, uh, why not do them on the, uh, engineer's model? And, uh, as a follow up, uh, uh, in that case, uh, when is the engineer's model going to c -- be coming in handy for you to run tests?

William Boynton: Uh, we've actually been running tests on the engineering model, uh, uh, quite often. Uh, we've run some tests just recently in the -- what we call the PIT, the Payload Interoperability Test Bed, uh, where we've actually had the Robotic Arm or a model of it deliver soil samples.

Uh, one of the difficulties we have is coming up with an analog that behaves exactly the same way as, uh, the soil on, uh, Mars. But the-the bottom line is we have been using the engineering model. Uh, the-the problem is in-in coming up with the soil with exactly the right properties that we, uh, are seeing with these soils.

Jonathan Grupper: Thanks.

Jane Platt: Next, we're going to take a question from the Los Angeles Times and John Johnson.

John Johnson: Uh, thank you. Uh, I just want to know. Is anybody, uh, fearful that this is not going to work, that you're not going to be able to get a good enough sample in any of these ovens? I mean, aren't-aren't the oven -- other ovens the same as this one?

William Boynton: Uh, the ovens are the same as this one. One of the things that's different -- uh, this is Bill Boynton. Uh, one of the things that's different is that, uh, in the past when we've been testing it, the soil has, uh, always been -- sort of flowed out onto the screen kind of like pouring water from a pitcher or something like that.

In this particular case, it looks like we got much more soil than we had been used to, uh, working with. And, it might just have clogged the screen. We actually are pretty optimistic that, uh, uh, if we can't get this one to work by, uh, dribbling soil onto the other ovens, uh, I'd say we've got a pretty high likelihood that, uh, that technique is going to work.

Jane Platt: All right. The next question is from Sally [Rail] at the Planetary Report. Sally, are you there?

Sally Rayl: Can you hear me?

Jane Platt: Yes, we can hear you.

Sally Rayl: Okay. I'm sorry. I had my mute button on, so you wouldn't hear me type.

Jane Platt: Not a problem.

Sally Rayl: Uh, uh, this is a question for Bill Boynton. Is-is the [clottiness] of this material -- has that come as a surprise to you?

William Boynton: Not too much. We actually, uh, knew from the, uh, Viking site as well as the MER Rovers that the, uh, soil can tend to clump and clod. Uh, we were thinking it would be easier to break up and that, with the vibrator, which is actually pretty strong, that it wouldn't have any problem moving the stuff through the screen.

Uh, w -- for that to work, the, uh, soil actually has to move relative to the screen. In other words, you have to see the little grains bouncing on the screen so that they have a chance of bouncing through the hoil -- uh, through the holes in the screen. Uh, here, we're thinking that there's just so much dirt on the screen that it's really weighing it down. And, we can't get any relative motion between the screen and the soil particles.

Sally Rayl: Okay. Thank you for that clarification. And, can you just clarify one other thing, is the clump now. the-the one that fell in, is that actually blocking the entryway?

William Boynton: No. By no means. The one that, uh, went through was actually a very tiny, uh, particle. Uh, uh, we can get a rough idea of the size by how much light has been blocked. When a-a particle falls through that beam of the light-emitting diode in the photocell, if it gets very dark, then we know we had a big particle fall through.

If it only darkens by a very small amount, we know it was a small particle that went through. And, it has to go all the way through the beam for us to detect it. And, in this particular case, the one or two particles we did see were, uh, very small, barely at our, uh, detection limit.

Sally Rayl: Okay. I'm sorry. You d -- uh, I thought you said that a larger clob -- uh, clod had fallen down. I misunderstood you. So [crosstalk]

William Boynton: Uh, a large amount of dirt on top of the, uh, oven screen, but only a very -- a few very tiny particles actually made it through the screen, through the funnel into the oven.

Sally Rayl: Great. Thank you very much.

William Boynton: Mm-hmmm.

Jane Platt: Okay. Next, we go to Jeremy Manier of the Chicago Tribune.

Jeremy Manier: Thanks very much. Uh, quick question and a follow up. Uh, uh, just really basically here, uh, when-when do you start to sort of get worried about this? I mean, uh, and when should we be worried? Are-are you -- is there -- I know you've built in some, uh, time to-to deal with these kind of problems in the mission. But, uh, as the week goes on and-and you don't -- and if you're not getting samples into the oven, does that start to become an issue of, you know, when you're going to start to get it to work?

William Boynton: Uh, actually, I think it-it would be, uh, at least a week or two, I think, before we'd start to get, uh, terribly concerned. We do have a fair number of, uh, things we're going to be, uh, trying. As I mentioned, we are running the vibrators one last time tonight. We're not too optimistic that that's going to be effective. But we did see that it moves the soil a little bit. And, maybe if it moves it a little bit more, uh, we'll get enough grains to come through.

But we actually aren't terribly optimistic on that one. Uh, where we are a lot more optimistic is this, uh, new, uh, technique that Dr. Ming talked about where we'll just be, uh, dribbling a little bit of soil into the instrument. And, we're reasonably confident that that's going to, uh, work. We also have-have an alternate, uh, delivery mechanism. We have this device called a [raft], which can actually, uh, -- is designed to grind up the ice samples.

And, uh, of course, before too long, we expect to be down at the level where the ice is. And, the ice is going to behave very differently. So we're still really pretty optimistic that, uh, one or another one of these techniques is going to work for us.

Jeremy Manier: Uh, and just to follow up, is it -- I mean, have you -- hindsight being 20/20, has anyone, uh, thought of ways this could have been designed that would have avoided this kind of problem?

William Boynton: Uh, it's a little hard to, uh, to say. I -- we can't think of any other ways now. Of course, this is a relatively inexpensive mission. And, one of the things we did was make the oven, uh, intentionally small. And, with the idea of once they're sealed, they cannot be opened again.

So we have eight separate, uh, ovens rather than one big oven that could be opened and closed, uh, many times. It was just kind of a-a tradeoff. And, as I say, it-it's not obvious how we would do this, uh, differently even with the knowledge we have, uh, today in the present.

Jeremy Manier: Thanks a lot.

Jane Platt: Okay. Uh, before we take our next question, I did want to point out that, uh, you should be able to see the images, all of them now, at They should all be posted and visible. And, as you can see, they literally are coming hot off the press. So let's take a question now from Anne Ryman at the Arizona Republic.

Anne Ryman: Oh, hi. I just wondered if you could clarify for us a little bit how you'll do the sprinkle test. Uh, and also, uh, when will you know whether the sprinkle test, uh, worked or not? Will it be as early as tomorrow? Or will it be a couple days?

Doug Ming: Uh, yeah. This is Doug Ming. And, uh, I-I think we'll know tomorrow. Uh, the downlink tomorrow should give us that information. Uh, the way it's going to work is, uh, we, first of all, will take the material that's now in the scoop, and one of the photos that, uh, is on the Web site shows that scoop. And, you can see some fairly large particles in there. Uh, what we will do is, we will move the scoop over, uh, an area we call the dump site.

This is where we've been dumping some of our digs from our trenches that we've been digging right in front of us. Uh, we will, uh, lower the scoop just a little bit, uh, towards about level. We will turn the [rasp] on and let that [rasp] vibrate, uh, for a while. And, some of the larger particles will come to the front and fall off of the front of the scoop.

Uh, we will then take the scoop up to over the top of the MECA instrument itself. Uh, there's a nice flat area on top of the MECA where we will then do a-a couple different stages of, uh -- of lowering the angle of the, uh, scoop towards the, uh, deck of the MECA. Uh, we will then vibrate this o -- uh, this [raft] that Bill was talking about, uh, and take pictures of that, uh, between each of those steps to see how much material we are actually delivering, uh, on top of the instrument.

Uh, this will be a test. Uh, it will give us, uh, information about, uh, how long or how, uh, much, uh, of these, uh, the different, uh, angles that we-we go down to-to the -- to the, uh, surface of the box, how many we actually do, uh, to get enough sample that would be adequate for, in this case, delivery to the optical microscope. And, as Bill was talking about, uh, we will ho-hopefully use this same technique to limit the amount of material that we will, uh, be applying to the screen, uh, on top of the TEGA instrument.

Ann Ryman: And, if I could just ask a quick follow up. Uh, did I hear you say you're going to be doing the microscope test now first instead of the TEGA?

Doug Ming: Uh, well, the microscope may be first. Uh, if we do get sample in the TEGA tomorrow, uh, I would anticipate that we would run the TEGA immediately. Uh, however, uh, we are getting ready to deliver this sample to the optical microscope. If we do get this sprinkle test successful tomorrow, uh, our game plan is to run the, uh, optical microscope, uh, with the sample in it on Sol 16, which is the day after tomorrow.

Ann Ryman: Thank you.

Jane Platt: Okay. Next question. Ken [Cramer] of Spaceflight Magazine.

Ken Kremer: Hi. Thank you. I have a question about, uh, how you're going to sprinkle onto the TEGA. I guess, as far as the technique, would you just try, like, a very thin coating? Would you put just a very small of mater -- amount of material in the scoop? And, one thing that was mentioned over the weekend, would you try crushing it, uh, with the back of the arm first?

Doug Ming: Yeah. Those are excellent questions and ones that we've all asked in the science team and, uh, with the -- with our engineering team. Uh, anticipate that what we would do with TEGA is, uh, once we get, uh, the operations down and understand how this material re -- uh, will react when we do this -- these -- this sprinkle, uh, process, uh, we will then probably try to deliver a very small amount of material initially, uh, to TEGA.

And-and if you look at how TEGA is oriented on the space craft, uh, this-this view that you have on the Web site is a little bit misleading in that the -- uh, there's, uh, about a 45 degree angle. And, what we would try to do, uh, to that screen is put the sprinkle material at the very upper end of that screen, which would then allow very, uh, uh -- a small amount of particles to bounce along that screen and bounce down, uh, towards the bottom of that screen.

And, we think that this will give us a much better chance of getting the samples to pass through the screen itself. Uh, so right now, that is our-our-our game plan with regards to the sprinkle. Uh, your other question was about potentially crushing materials.

And, we have, uh, toyed with the possibility of, uh -- before we acquire a sample is actually to take the tip of the, uh, Robotic Arm scoop and actually kind of chop it up a little bit and try to, uh, destroy or break up some of these cemented blocks. Uh, and then, uh, acquire those and then deliver those to the instruments using the sprinkle, uh, technique.

Ken Kremer: Okay. Good. So I guess you can -- you can also test this out in your arm. Uh, and I'm wondering, uh, just because you might move onto an oven doesn't mean you -- another oven -- you wouldn't give up, necessarily, on number four, right? You could come back to it later and still use it at a later date, right?

William Boynton: Uh, this is Bill Boynton. And, yes, that's exactly right. We would be, uh, deferring it, we might say. We wouldn't be abandoning it forever with the idea that we could come back to it, uh, later on as we learn more and more about the, uh, properties of the Mars soil and things along those lines.

Jane Platt: Okay. We're going to take a question now from Alicia Chang at Associated Press.

Alicia Chang: Hi. Uh, this question is for Bill. Uh, I was curious, you know, just looking at the pictures before you put the TEGA sample on, it-it looked like, you know, it was very clumpy. I'm wondering why did you guys make the decision to just drop everything in there as opposed to doing the sprinkle technique?

William Boynton: I think it's because we, uh, weren't thinking it would come out necessarily all so rapidly. Uh, in the past, we were concerned about not having enough soil, uh, delivered to the instrument. And, to be honest, we never thought it would be working so well that we'd have to worry about a-a riches of-of just too much.

And, uh, now that we see the nature of that soil and the fact that it doesn't flow downhill very well, even when we are running the-the vibrator, uh, made us realize that we-we really are much better off with very small amounts of soil rather than having, uh, large amounts. [As I say], originally, we were concerned that the problem would be in the other way, that we would, uh, find it difficult to get enough soil delivered to it.

Alicia Chang: And, just as a follow up. For the other sample to oven number five, d -- where do you expect to dig for that? Is it -- would it -- would it be in the same area as sample number f -- or oven number four?

William Boynton: [unintelligible]

Doug Ming: Yeah. This is Doug Ming. Uh, we have not defined the exact sample that we would take for the next TEGA sample. Uh, but I would anticipate that we may move over, uh, more in what is called the National Park System. I don't know if you've heard us talk about that --

Alicia Chang: Mm-hmmm.

Doug Ming: But this is an area that we've kind of kept off limits early in the mission, uh, so that we understood how the, uh, Robotic Arm reacted with the surface materials, uh, areas that we think are going to be much more scientifically interesting. Uh, so we may take that next sample, uh, more over in this area that we're calling the-the National Parks.

Alicia Chang: Thank you very much.

Jane Platt: Next, we go to Kelly Beatty of Sky and Telescope.

Kelly Beatty: Uh, thanks very much. Uh, just one question and no follow up, uh, for Bill or Doug. Uh, I know you're being cautious and you should, but if things had gone exactly as you planned, where would you be in your, uh, analysis, uh, schedule at this point? Would you have completed at least one sample all the way through TEGA and, uh, MECA or, uh -- and working on a second? Or what?

Doug Ming: Yeah. This is Doug Ming. Uh, the answer to that question is we had anticipated, if everything worked perfectly well, that we would be through our first TEGA sample by now. Uh, although, as we all know in the-the space industry and particularly when you're working remotely on the surface of Mars, that we build in, uh, some, uh, contingency that things are going to take longer than what you expect.

And, I've been involved in, uh, the Mars Exploration Rovers, and-and Bill's been involved in other missions. And, we know that things n -- things never go absolutely, uh, perfectly planned. Uh, but, uh, I think that, uh, the, uh, TEGA instrument, uh, would probably have been done now. And, we would have probably, uh, started, uh, getting some samples to the orga -- uh, the optical microscope or the, uh, the wet chemistry laboratory by now if everything went absolutely perfectly.

Kelly Beatty: Thank you.

Jane Platt: We're going to take our next question from David Perlman at the San Francisco Chronicle.

David Perlman: Yeah. Hi, folks. Uh, good morning. Uh, could one of you, uh, repeat for me -- go through, uh, the alternative hypothesis as to why this clumpiness, uh, has proved frustrating? What-what is the cause? Is it water vapor? Frozen soil? What are the alternatives? I want to sort of get a picture of that.

Doug Ming: Yeah. So this is Doug Ming. Uh, uh, and, uh, the answer to that is we don't know. Uh, there are a variety of different mechanisms that might cement these particles together or cause them to so-called clump. Uh, Bill has mentioned a couple of those. Uh, the, uh, material might have gotten a little bit wet when we landed. Uh, you recall that we had the thrusters, uh, that were blasting into the surface.

If the surface was, uh, under the-the spacecraft is ice, then there's a chance that maybe water mixed with the materials. And, when it's then sublimated away, it kind of cemented or interlocked the particles. Uh, there is also the, uh, alternative that, uh, some of this material may be cemented by, uh, salt.

Uh, we're expecting to potentially encounter salt in this, uh, northern, uh, plains of Mars. And, so it's not unexpected that there might be some salt [fermentation]. Uh, another one is that there could be, uh, interlocking particles. Uh, uh, that is one of the primary causes for causing duricrust of formation of clods, is just that, uh, when particles, uh begin to roll or-or go over the top of each other, they have a tendency to lock if the particles are of different size and have different geometries.

Uh, so those are some of the leading candidates. And, of course, we mentioned that there might be electrostatic forces as well or weak-weak forces that are holding or attracting these materials.

David Perlman: Thanks a lot. That's exactly what I needed to know. Thank you.

Jane Platt: Okay. And, uh, again, if you do have a question, please press *1, so we can get you in the queue. We have some folks who have been waiting. Uh, let's get a question from Bruce [Muma]. Go ahead, Bruce.

Bruce Moomaw: Uh, yes. Uh, this is Bruce [Muma] of Astronomy Magazine. As I understand it, you have [extendable ribbing tines] on the bottom of the scoop. Is that another technique you could use to soften up soil by raking and extending the [tines] and then raking back and forth across the bottom of the, uh, trench in order to loosen up the soil before you take the sample?

William Boynton: Uh, yes. This is Bill Boynton. That's exactly right. That is another one of the options we have for, uh, breaking up the soil clods and perhaps making a-a sample that's more amenable to, uh, making it through the screen.

Bruce Moomaw: Okay. And, a second question, which actually is entirely different and has to do with the MECA microscopy section. There are little ultraviolet lights on the stage of the optical microscopy stage, which are, uh, uh -- have been explicitly described as being included because they make some minerals [fluoresce] to be identified. But ultraviolet can also make organic [fluoresce], sometimes in very small amounts. Was that any consideration in adding the, uh, ultraviolet light to the microscopy stage?

William Boynton: Uh, this is Doug and Bill together shrugging our shoulders saying we don't know what the o -- uh, those guys with MECA were planning when they did that. But, uh, uh, I think that's a question we would have to run one of those guys down and ask.

Bruce Moomaw: Okay. Thank you.

Jane Platt: All right. The next question comes from Alan Fischer at the Tucson Citizen. Go ahead, Alan.

Alan Fischer: Uh, last week, there was some discussion of-of a digging maneuver to get down -- you know, gradually go down until you reached the, uh, level of where you could no longer dig, which would presumably be to ice. I was wondering is-is that anything that was accomplished over the weekend?

Doug Ming: Uh, this is Doug Ming. Uh, we have not got down to what I call ice yet. Uh, we are, uh, working our way, uh, digging a little bit more out of our very first test dig, uh, just kind of widening out, getting a better feel for what is, uh, in front of us as far as the material. Uh, we will probably start digging down to the more, uh, likely ice layer, uh, after we deliver the sample to the optical microscope. So it may be a couple, three days before we really get, uh, going down in depth to find out where that ice table is.

Alan Fischer: Thank you.

Jane Platt: Okay. And, uh, again, we are into the follow up, bonus round, I guess you'd say. And, uh, if anybody does have a question, press *1. This is sort of the last call. Uh, we'll take a question right now thought from Ken [Cramer] at Spaceflight Magazine]. Go ahead, Ken.

Ken Kremer: Hi. Thank you. Uh, you mentioned [the] melting a few minutes ago. I was wondering, uh, do you think maybe the Snow Queen could have suffered some melting. And, how far -- how many feet or meters out from the spacecraft do you think melting could possibly have happened?

William Boynton: Well, first of all, uh, we are, uh, making a hypothesis, uh, of several that the material underneath the spacecraft is ice. It may or may not be ice. Uh, I think, uh, Dr. [Arbenson] in one press conference, uh, put it pretty well. It's either ice or not ice. At this point in time, we're not 100 percent sure.

Uh, one of the things we hope to do is do further imaging with the Robotic Arm camera is to get a better idea of that material, whether it is ice or not. And, uh, so we're kind of waiting for that to happen. But if it was ice, then there could have been some melting of material. So that could be one of the hypotheses of maybe, uh, uh, water mixing with the surface materials, uh, if-if that truly was ice.

Ken Kremer: Yes. That's what I meant, if it was water -- I mean, if it was water ice [again]. Okay. And, inside the Dodo trench, it looks like [the splotch] of what could be ice or this bright material has gotten a little bit larger in some of the images. Is that real? Or is that just an optical illusion?

Doug Ming: I don't know if it's really -- this is Doug Ming. I don't know if it's really gotten bigger or not. Uh, I think that's probably more of an optical illusion. Uh, and the one thing that, uh, we noticed is that, depending upon the time of day you take it, there are-are photometric effects, uh, that might make it look a little bit larger and a little bit smaller. Uh, so right now, I would say that we don't have enough information to say whether it's getting larger or smaller.

Jane Platt: Okay. We're going to go back to a question from John Johnson with the Los Angeles Times.

John Johnson: Hi. I know in situations like this, there's always somebody or some group planning for a worst-case scenario. Uh, if you reached a worst case scenario in this situation, would it be along the lines of, uh, saying, well, we can't get the soil into TEGA. So now, let's just go straight for the ice?

William Boynton: Uh, I don't think we've actually gotten to the point of, uh, thinking about worst case yet. Uh, we're just going, uh, m-m-methodically down a decision tree, trying different things and seeing where we, uh, go. We're-we're, uh -- really haven't thought at all about, uh, uh problems if we can never do soils. We've got -- we've got a longs way to go before we, uh, start worrying about those kind of worst-case things.

John Johnson: All right. Thank you.

Jane Platt: Okay. And, we're going to take a quick follow-up question from Bruce [Muma] at Astronomy.

Bruce Moomaw: Uh, yes. Two, actually. First of all, have you gotten any results from the atmospheric analyses on TEGA? And, specifically, have you, uh, looked yet for any [traces] of methane in the air?

William Boynton: Uh, this is Bill Boynton. We have, uh, done some preliminary analyses, uh, of the atmosphere. Uh, we don't believe we're going to have sufficient sensitivity for, uh, methane that we could detect it, uh, in the amounts that people have, uh, suspected, uh, it-it exists on the surface.

Bruce Moomaw: Uh --

William Boynton: Uh -- oh, go ahead.

Jane Platt: Bruce, did you have a second question?

Bruce Moomaw: Uh, yes, I did. Uh, given that fact that you've fallen back on the backup filament on TEGA, is there any possibility that you might, uh, accelerate the measurements on TEGA and analyze most of the samples with it before you use the MECA instrument on the, uh -- to avoid any possibility that the backup filament in the mass spectrometer might fail before you could finish the TEGA analyses?

William Boynton: I don't think that's really, uh, uh, a likely, uh, avenue for us to take. And, the reason for that is, more than likely, any problems we might have with that filament would be a function just like with a light bulb of however many times you turn it on and off and for however long you run it. So, uh, whether we ran it for, uh, 100 hours in the first two weeks or 100 hours spread over the first -- uh, over the whole 90 Sols, uh, it probably would be about the same.

The one advantage of going slowly is you learn as you're going along. And, you may find, uh, different ways of being more efficient with your analyses and things like that. So there's, uh, I think, a lot of things, uh, suggesting we, uh, if anything, go more slowly rather than, uh, more rapidly.

Bruce Moomaw: Uh, I see. Thank you.

Jane Platt: Okay. And, uh, that wraps it up for the Q&A portion and actually wraps it up for the whole media telecon for today. I want to thank our panelists for joining us from Arizona. And, thanks to Sara Hammond as well. Uh, an audio file of this telecon will be archived online at a couple of Web sites, including, the one where the images are posted right now.

And, uh, there's also the University of Arizona site. That's And, we will have, for seven days, a telephone replay line. And, those are 1-866-475-1456. International line, 203-369-1504. As always, if you need anything, call us here at JPL Media Relations, 818-354-5011 or the U of A, Sara Hammond, 520-626-1974.

And, we will be posting on our Web site and sending out advisories on the next media event. So stay tuned. And, thanks and have a great day.

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