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The Phoenix lander’s analysis of soil samples taken on Mars has found possible traces of a harmful chemical contaminant called perchlorate, a highly oxidizing substance which is detrimental to life according to NASA.

Perchlorate is a chemical found in rocket fuel; is harmful to life.

Perchlorate is a chemical found in rocket fuel; is harmful to life.

The tests, however were of very preliminary quality.  Thanks to the extended mission, the lander will be able to do more conclusive tests on the substance found in two separate soil samples.  There is a definite possibility that the perchlorate readings were caused by the spacecraft itself rather than the soil sources. 

The water found a few days ago, however, did not contain any perchlorate, adding to the mystery.  The soil samples containing percholorate were analyzed by the Wet Chemistry Lab of the spacecraft’s Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyzer.  The Phoenix team is also waiting for complementary results from the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or TEGA, which also is capable of detecting perchlorate, it added.   This is the device that detected the presence of water on the Martian surface.

And although important nutrients including sodium, potassium and magnesium had been discovered on Mars, no organic materials had been found so far, possibly caused by the perchlorate.

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NASA has put the launch of the final repair flight to the Hubble Space Telescope on hold for 5 weeks due to fuel tank problems.  The original date for take off was in late August.

A Previous Repair Mission to Hubble

Ever since the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster, additional time is required for safety inspections.  Improvements need to be made to the fuel tanks on the shuttle for the Hubble servicing mission, which is to carry a seven-man astronaut crew (at this point) in late September.  The ship Atlantis’ new fuel tank is the first NASA has built from scratch.  The new design will limit the loss of foam insulation that prevents damager to orbiters during liftoff.  During the Columbia disaster, a piece of foam gouged a hole in the left wing of the shuttle, ending in the death of all on board as it reentered the Earth’s atmosphere.  The agency required two new external tanks for the Spaceship Atlantis because the astronauts will not be able to restock in the International Space Station if the craft suffers severe damage.   

 

The Hubble mission’s delay also means NASA will have to push back a restock mission to the International Space Station.  It is not expected to effect NASA’s plan to complete the International Space Station’s construction by 2010.  NASA’s new shuttle, Discovery, is still on track for a May 31 launch. 

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