The Phoenix has landed… but the dust has not cleared

it’s another  beautiful day in the Mojave, temps will easily pass the century mark, and there will be another batch of emails with various questions and "trolling" remarks about what exactly is or is not on Mars and how badly crippled it is.

So far, among the letters from the public, I’ve received claims of:  "it’s an Apollo moon-shot fake, like the rovers", there’s a short in the robot arm,  the robot arm is broken,  the lander leaked ‘rocket fuel’, the OS crashed the lander and it’s not responding, the lander runs Linux, the lander runs embedded Windows, the lander has a modern computer and uses 128MB of RAM.

Okay.  I’ll go through these to see if I can help clear some of the dust.

None of these were faked in studios in Burbank or anywhere else:  Apollo missions, Mars Missions, rover shots from Mars, Phoenix landing on Mars.  As Mom would say:  Go wash your mouth out!

There’s no short in the Robotic arm, as far as I know.  What I do know – when Phoenix first landed, the protective covering over the arm did not pull back far enough, and was covering part of the arm.  It was a bit short of retracting all the way, and might have gotten in the way of using the arm.  Over the first night, it finished retracting, and was no problem.  If there is an electrical short in the arm, I have not heard nor seen any news stories about it.

The Robotic Arm is not broken.  The have managed to "cook" the first oven samples, and are doing science; the arm is delivering samples to the oven as desired.

The lander "leaked rocket fuel".  Well, if you watched the landing, after it was securely on the ground, it vented rocket fuel.  Venting is kind of like a leak, except leaks are unintentional.  We did this because the pressurized fuel is no longer needed, and it’s better to have the tanks depressurize on our schedule instead of their own.

The OS crashed the lander and it’s not responding.  I give you the day-to-day news item list from the Lander, please point me to the story about this:  Phoenix News.

The Lander Runs embedded Windows / Linux / two hamsters on a treadmill.  Well.  No, no, and hamsters might be faster.  I’m sure even Simon Barret has heard enough about it after this article. The lander runs our VxWorks, which is closer to Unix than Linux and runs our proprietary WIND kernel.  Simon even posted a correction in this interview.   I expect we’ll both be getting emails about this for a short while.

The Rad6000  computer on-board can be switched-up to a whopping 20 Mhz. 20.  Not 200, not 133.  If they’re following earlier design, the OS "knows about" only the bottom 32 MB of Ram, no matter how much is installed; the rest of the ram is used for application specific needs.  The Rad6000 CPU is a RADiation Hardened RS6000 RISC processor, not MIPS, not Intel; it’s a predecessor of PowerPC called Power.  By today’s standards it’s a old war-torn bit of iron, based on what was a high-tech CPU in 1989.
It takes time to take a standard CPU and make it ready for deep space / mega-rad exposure to radiation.

I hope some of the dust is settling..

1 Comment

  1. Simon Barrett

    Indeed I have heard enough about the Unix / Linux aspect. I am sorry for the confusion.
    Simon Barrett
    Simon – no need to apologize, it was an honor to be interviewed.
    -mike

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