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Phoenix Mars Lander robot tastes water

NASA announced today that the Phoenix Mars Lander has made
the first direct measurement of water on Mars. I’m not involved with the project, but I think it’s pretty amazing to think that they have a robot with a chemistry set, cameras, and various manipulators digging around in the Martian dirt right now.

Some of the pictures taken by the lander are pretty amazing:

It’s getting better and better. The on-board wet chemistry lab seems to have found perchlorate - a highly oxidising substance. Let’s hope it’s not just contamination. I believe aluminium perchlorate is used in rocket fuel.

It is amazing. Some years back I was involved with someone from JPL via a robotics forum who was working on a dust measurement system for the original rover. I remember because he had posted that they wanted to have two optical sensors that measured light through a glass plate. A cover would close over half the plate to protect it, the other half was allowed to collect dust. The cover would lift and a measurement would be taken.

They were talking about the software, a PIC16F84 (I believe) was being used at least in the mockup. Anyway… I wrote a sample code to read 20 samples and discard the highest 5 and the lowest 5, then average the remaining 10. This weeded out inconsistencies. Later I found out that they just cut and pasted my assembled code snippet and went with it. It was only about 5 lines or so I did in PBASIC PRO at the time (then compiled)… but I thought it was neat that in some small way a part of me went to Mars. I can’t imagine the pride of the people who actually got to build this stuff have knowing their hardware is up there forever.

Jerry

Wow! it’s amazing man! it’s been a while…