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The Phoenix lander's first dig into the Martian soil for scientific study was delayed Wednesday because of a communications glitch on a spacecraft that relays commands from Earth to the red planet.
The orbiting Odyssey satellite went into safe mode and failed to send instructions to Phoenix to claw into the permafrost to search for evidence of the building blocks of life, said Chad Edwards, chief telecommunications engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
It's the second time a relay problem has delayed the lander's schedule. The first glitch occurred two days after it landed, when another satellite, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, turned off its radio.
Engineers worked to fix the problem with Odyssey, which will remain offline until Saturday, Edwards said. A preliminary investigation revealed the safe mode was probably triggered by high-energy particles from space interrupting the satellite's computer memory.