Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Case For Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must

Fifteen years ago, aerospace engineer Robert Zubrin published The Case for Mars, and issued a clarion call to his fellow scientists, and the people of Earth. We need to plan our Mars colony, and we need to do it now.

Today Zubrin has released an updated and revised version of his classic book, outlining the most realistic way to get ourselves to Mars and start setting up a human society there. Smart, idealistic, and pragmatic, this book is more important than ever. And we've got an excerpt from it.

A lot has happened in the 15 years since The Case for Mars was first published. A string of robotic mission were launched to the Red Planet, including Mars Pathfinder and Mars Global Surveyor in late 1996, Mars Polar Lander and Mars Climate Orbiter in 1999, Mars Odyssey in 2001, Spirit, Opportunity, and Mars Express in 2003, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2005, and Phoenix in 2007. With the exception of the 1999 flights, all of these missions have been brilliantly successful. As a result, our knowledge of the planet has greatly increased.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Small asteroid swings harmlessly past Earth

An asteroid the size of a tour bus streaked harmlessly past Earth on Monday, passing within 7,600 miles (12,230 kilometers).

Discovered only last week, the relatively small space rock made a hairpin turn around the planet at about 10 a.m. PDT (1800 GMT), sailing high over the southern Atlantic Ocean.

In truth, there was never any doubt it would miss. But given the vastness of the universe, 7,600 miles (12,230 kilometers) is practically a stone’s throw away, at about three times the distance between New York and Los Angeles.

The asteroid, dubbed 2011 MD, was initially mistaken by astronomers for a piece of space junk because it was so small, at up to 60 feet (18 meters) wide. Later observations confirmed it was an asteroid that had no chance of hitting Earth.

Asteroids of this size typically brush by Earth every six years. In fact, earlier this year, a smaller one came even closer to our planet, passing within 3,500 miles (5,630 kilometers).

Even if the latest one had aimed straight for us, it would have burned up in the atmosphere and not caused any damage on the ground.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Missing Apollo 11 moon dust is returned to NASA

Moon Dust
The few specks of dust stuck to a small swatch weren't much to look at, but federal prosecutors said Thursday they came from the moon via Apollo 11 and have been sent back to NASA, where they belong.

U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan in St. Louis said the dust is believed to be at least part of what was smuggled out of Johnson Space Center by a NASA worker years ago. It was discovered in St. Louis last month, just before it was to be auctioned.

It is illegal for individuals to own moon material, but Callahan's office said the auction consignor was a woman who didn't know how the dust had come to her late husband. She was not charged.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Scientists: Saturn moon could support life

Saturn's Moon
Where there's salt, there's water and rock, it seems. And where there's water and rock, there could be life.

NASA's Saturn-exploring Cassini spacecraft has gathered new evidence that conditions on Enceladus, one of Saturn's 53 named moons, could support life, said Dr. Carolyn Porco, director of the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

"On Enceladus we have conditions under the surface that we know could be enjoyed by organisms similar to types of organisms we find right here on Earth," she said Friday.

Several years ago, Cassini, launched in 1997, spotted jet sprays shooting out of fissures called tiger stripes in Enceladus' southern polar region. Lighter particles from those jets provide most of the material for Saturn's outermost ring, called the E ring. But heavier particles fall back to the moon's surface, Porco explained. Cassini took measurements of the spray during three passes and found a greater concentration of sodium and potassium grains (that is, salt) nearer Enceladus' surface than farther out, according to a paper published in this week's edition of the journal Nature.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

NASA Moves Closer to Manned Missions to Mars

NASA has moved one step closer to sending astronauts into deep space with the announced development of the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV).

The MPCV replaces the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, commissioned under President Bush and nixed under President Obama due to budgetary constraints. Funds used in the development of the Orion ship had exceeded five billion dollars at the time of the project’s cancellation.

President Obama has instead set goals of a manned mission to a near-earth asteroid in the next twenty years, and a possible manned mission to Mars in the next thirty. NASA hopes the MPCV will help meet these goals. Unlike the Orion, which had been developed with the moon as its only destination, the MPCV will be used as the primary vehicle in the manned exploration of entirely new frontiers, such as asteroids or the Martian moons.

The development of the MPCV was brought about by the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, which shifted NASA’s focus away from the moon and towards a “permanent human presence beyond low Earth orbit.” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden spoke on the Authorization Act and development of the MPCV in a statement released Tuesday.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Saturn's 'ice queen' captured

Saturn's Ice Queen
NASA's Cassini orbiter has captured another close-up view of the Saturnian moon Helene, clearing the way for a global map of the 20-mile-wide "ice queen."

The spacecraft got its latest look at the icy moon on Saturday from a distance of 4,330 miles (6,968 kilometers), more than a year after its closest-ever Helene flyby in March 2010. This time, the pictures provided sunlit views of the moon's Saturn-facing side, improving on last year's imagery. Taken together, these pictures will enable astronomers to finish a global map that could shed additional light on the grooved, pockmarked moon's impact history, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in today's image advisory.

Helene sticks out among Saturn's more than 60 moons for a couple of reasons: First of all, it is gravitationally bound in the same orbit as another, much larger icy moon called Dione. This makes it one of four "Trojan moons" in the Saturnian system, along with Polydeuces (which is also bound to Dione) and Telesto and Calypso (both bound to Tethys).

Helene's surface also reveals a network of gully-like features that may have been created by landslides (or, in this case, dustslides or iceslides). Working up a detailed map of the moon should help astronomers get a better grip on the gullies' genesis.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

An Austrian Scientists Use LASER & iPhone To Detect Microbes On Mars Space Suit

Finding out life on other planets has always been a human endeavor. Many missions have been planned and sent to outer space in search of some alien life. However the possibility that microorganisms clinging to the space suit of astronauts who are out on the mission to find aliens cannot be neglected. It may lead to confusion whether the organisms are from earth or other planets. Well it may be a tricky aspect but it has been solved by scientists for astronauts going to mars.
he program of developing foolproof techniques for detection of microbes on space suit is a part of Austrian Space Forum’s PolAres mission. Austrian scientists are taking use of the laser-induced-fluorescence emission (L.I.F.E) technique which was also earlier used in detection of microbes in Antarctica. The technique may sound difficult one but it is actually simple. It requires only a LASER pointer and an iPhone. The LASER pointer is directed towards the space suit and if it contains any microbe, it emits a fluorescent glow. The glow is then processed with digital photography and laptops. If the microbe is any known one, it takes only a few seconds. The scientists want to be sure for the samples being brought from Mars to be genuine. The technique is designed for both forward and reverse contamination. While returning to earth, there may be contamination from microbes, if present on mars.

The development of new techniques is not only limited to detection alone. Austrian scientists are also developing techniques to shake away the organisms. The team of scientists led by Gernot Groemer, president of the Austrian Space Forum has designed an electromagnetic method for the same. For that all the astronauts have to do is that to attach the space suit to high voltage electric charge which would make the dust particle and micro organisms to levitate away from the space suit. The dust particles can then be blown away with the help of a stream of air. Earlier, vibration techniques were used for the purpose; however they are not as effective as this one. As per the simulations conducted by scientists, it is found that around 60 to 405 bacteria can cling within minutes of cleaning the suit.

The techniques developed are expected to be the part of The ExoMars rover to be launched in 2018. The current research and studies are conducted in the desert of San Rafael, Utah. The technology developed would increase the credibility of samples from mars. It will be a step ahead in human search for Alien life.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Mars moon spotted eclipsing Jupiter

Mars Moon
A European satellite circling Mars has captured an interesting astronomical intersection -- the tiny moon, Phobos, passing in front of Jupiter.

The European Space Agency's Mars Express satellite positioned itself in orbit to capture the alignment of the 11.4-mile-wide moon passing in front of Jupiter, as seen from Mars.

By knowing the exact moment when Jupiter passed behind Phobos, the observation will help to verify and even improve our knowledge of the orbital position of the martian moon, says the ESA statement released Friday.

The spacecraft was 7,077 miles from the moon when it snapped the passage and 328 million miles from Jupiter.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mars exhibit opens with NASA scientist’s talk

Ever wonder what it would be like to walk on Mars?

Beginning today, Helena residents have the opportunity to experience the sensation of just one-third of the Earth’s gravity at a new ExplorationWorks exhibit, and it kicks off with a presentation by NASA scientist Dr. Darlene Lim.

Her presentation, “A Deep Dive Toward the Moon and Mars: How underwater science is informing exploration concepts of the future,” is said to appeal to anybody who is curious, because curiosity drives science.

Lim is a research scientist with interests that span both the Earth and outer space sciences. She is the principal investigator of the Pavilion Lake Research Project at a remote lake in British Columbia. The project brings together scientists, engineers, astronauts and artists to conduct science and exploration in an underwater setting. The team’s exploration research is focused on developing operational strategies and technologies to prepare humans for exploration of the solar system.

Lim says the presentation is a human story of exploration.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Lunar Eclipse Images from Around the World; June 15, 2011

Lunar Eclipse
It was an event that hasn’t happened in 11 years and won’t happen again until 2018. The total lunar eclipse of June 15, 2011 didn’t disappoint. Take a look at some of the amazing images taken by astrophotographers from around the world — well, the “eastern” side of the world anyway, as the eclipse wasn’t visible in North America. Our lead image is a fantastic mosaic taken by Marko Posavec in Koprivnica, Croatia. We have another image by Posavic below, but you can see more of his images via his Twitter account.

A the redness of the Moon during the eclipse was perhaps enhanced by the major volcanic eruption in Chile which has polluted the stratosphere with a haze, making the eclipse appear dark red. This image was taken by Leonard Mercer in Malta. You can see more of his images at his website.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The giant bubbles at the solar system's edge

Solar system Edge
A pair of NASA spacecraft on a decades-long journey in deep space have found a "big surprise": Giant magnetic bubbles churning near the outer edges of our solar system. (See an image below.) Here, a guide to the findings:

What exactly has NASA found?
Unexpected magnetic bubbles, "shaped like sausages, more than 100 million miles across," says William Harwood at CNET. Scientists had believed the structure of the magnetic field at the boundary between our solar system and interstellar space "was relatively smooth." But the data NASA has gotten from its two Voyager spacecraft suggest otherwise. "It's very bubbly as far as we can tell," says Jim Drake, a University of Maryland physicist, as quoted by National Geographic. "This entire thing is like the most bubbly part of your Jacuzzi."

Why are these bubbles there?

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Monday, June 13, 2011

The irreplaceable Space Shuttle

space shuttle

On June 1 the shuttle Endeavour glided to its final landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. If all goes according to NASA’s current plans, the final shuttle mission, the flight of Atlantis on STS-135, will launch on July 8.

When Atlantis lands, it will mark the end of the operational life of a remarkable spacecraft. It will also mark the end of all American manned spaceflight, at least for the next few years. Leaving aside the bitter arguments over future NASA policy, it is worthwhile to look back to see why the shuttle was developed and what lessons we can draw from the program.

Many in the space industry consider the Space Shuttle to have been a major failure. Many experts see the whole program as a waste of time, money, and worst of all, of fourteen precious lives in two major accidents in 1986 and 2003. The shuttle certainly never lived up to the 1970s-era hype that promised that it would become the DC-3 of space. In the 1930s, the DC-3 made commercial airline travel safe and economically viable. The shuttle was supposed to do the same for spaceflight. It would fly as often as once a week and radically reduce the cost of getting into orbit. By this standard it failed miserably.

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

NASA Robot Moon Lander Test Sparks Grass Fire

Moon Lander
NASA engineers are forging ahead with a project to test a futuristic moon lander, despite a grass fire that broke out during a Wednesday (June 1) test.

The fire started around 2:30 p.m. local time (1530 GMT), during a tethered test of the Morpheus robot lander at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The Morpheus project is designed to test an amalgam of cutting-edge technologies NASA is developing to take humans to the moon, Mars or beyond.

When the lander lifted off its concrete launch pad, it kicked up some of the concrete, which set off the fire in the dry field around it.

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Is there life on Mars?

life on mars
Forty years ago, space engineers launched a probe that would play a pivotal role in changing our understanding of our place in the cosmos. On May 30, 1971, Mariner 9 was dispatched to Mars on an Atlas Centaur rocket and in November that year slipped into orbit around the Red Planet.

In doing so, the American robot spaceship became the first man made object to be placed in orbit around another planet. Humans had added an artificial satellite to another world.

A few days later, two other spacecraft, Mars 2 and Mars 3, both built by the Soviet Union, followed suit and achieved Martian orbit. In three weeks, the Red Planet had become a scientific hotspot.

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Thursday, June 09, 2011

Is NASA's $2.5 billion Mars rover doomed?

Mars Rover
NASA's next Mars rover, a nuclear-powered marvel nicknamed Curiosity, is supposed to blast off for the Red Planet later this year. But an audit issued this week by the space agency's inspector general finds a host of unresolved issues that could put the mission in jeopardy. Here, a brief guide to the mess:

What makes this rover so special?
It's "the most ambitious Mars project NASA has ever mounted," says Michelle Norris at NPR. Officially, the rover is called Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), but it's more commonly known as Curiosity

A nuclear-powered, car-sized vehicle, Curiosity is "the product of almost 10 years of work by 1,000 people," says Eryn Brown in the Los Angeles Times. Weighing four times as much as previous models (Spirit and Opportunity), it can drive long distances over rough terrain, and uses an unprecedented array of instruments to hunt for Martian life, says Lisa Grossman at Wired.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Mars Science Lab Needs $44 Million More For It to Launch This Year, NASA Says

mars rover
NASA’s newest Mars rover faces further hurdles and could require another $44 million in funds before it is ready for launch this fall, according to an agency audit announced today.

The Mars Science Laboratory is supposed to launch in a window between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the alignment between Earth and Mars is the most favorable for an interplanetary trip. But as it stands now, the MSL team won’t finish all their work before launch unless they get more money, according to an internal audit prepared by NASA Inspector General Paul Martin.

“The project may have insufficient funds to complete all currently identified tasks prior to launch and may therefore be forced to reduce capabilities, delay the launch for 2 years, or cancel the mission,” he wrote.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Biotechnology Instruments Being Used to Detect Alien Life

Alien Life
In 1998, NASA established its virtual Astrobiology Institute (NAI) to develop the field and provide a scientific framework for flight missions. Astrobiology encompasses the search for habitable environments in “our Solar System and on planets around other stars; the search for evidence of prebiotic chemistry or life on Solar System bodies such as Mars, Jupiter’s moon Europa, and Saturn’s moon Titan; and research into the origin, early evolution, and diversity of life on Earth,” according to NASA.

European countries have also combined scientific and financial resources to form the 18-nation European Space Agency (ESA), which has some collaborative initiatives with NASA focused on astrobiology. For example, in 2016, they expect to launch the NASA/ESA ExoMars/Trace Gas Orbiter (EMTGO) mission, part of the ExoMars Rover Project.

The primary objective is to characterize the chemical composition of the Martian atmosphere, particularly trace species that may be signatures of extant biological and/or geological processes and its variability in space and time. These measurements, along with a good understanding of the contemporaneous atmospheric state, may allow localization of the surface source(s) of “exotic” trace gases.

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Monday, June 06, 2011

For Mars rovers, a friendly rivalry

Mars Rover
NASA's newest Mars rover, Curiosity, will be deployed to the planet to study rocks that may shed light on whether life existed there. But its cousin Opportunity, which is already there, may steal its thunder.

NASA's newest Mars rover — or a replica of it, anyway — sat expectantly at the bottom of a hill. After years in design and construction, the grandly named Mars Science Laboratory was ready to test its wheels on a 20-degree flagstone slope in the "Mars Yard" at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La CaƱada Flintridge.

Engineers crowded around to see whether the rover's aluminum wheels and titanium suspension were ready for Martian terrain, which varies from bedrock to rocky soil to soft sand. The first wheel slowly pivoted into position. Then another. Then a third, fourth, fifth and sixth — all making a crinkly sound as they slid through the soil. Once in position, the craft crept up the flagstone slope at about 8 feet per minute.

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Sunday, June 05, 2011

NASA’s Spirit sits silent on Mars

The Mars rover showed more pluck than even NASA thought possible, exploring the planet more extensively and for far longer than expected. Somehow, the rover’s advanced technology gave it something like gusto; even after it got hopelessly stuck two years ago, Spirit sent back data of interest from the dust and rocks where it sat.

Gusev Crater, where the rover landed Jan. 4, 2004 — and roamed for five years among features with names like McCool Hill, Low Ridge Haven and Goddard — is Spirit’s gravesite now. NASA, in a sense, pulled the plug several days ago. It hadn’t been heard from since March 2010, so engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California sent a last command, and gave up.

It’s a fond farewell. Spirit proved its mettle on Mars time and again, earning gratitude and admiration back home. Geological evidence, gathered via a robotic arm and other gizmos, spoke to scientists of a planet that seems to have had water and might once have supported life. And the rover sent back images nothing short of stunning: of the Gusev Crater’s rubble-strewn volcanic plain, and also the distant Earth, the sun setting low on a Martian horizon.

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Thursday, June 02, 2011

NASA Study Finds Even More Water on the Moon (100 Times More!)

It wasn't long ago that scientists were saying the Earth's moon may have more water than the Great Lakes. Now comes another study, also funded like the one last, by NASA, that says the moon may have 100 times as much water as previously thought. Moon water?! It's contained in ... wait for it ... lunar magma.

NASA officials say the latest data comes from newly discovered lunar melt inclusions found in high-titanium "orange glass soil" of volcanic origin collected during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. What took so long?

The long-time-coming results were achievable due to a state-of-the-art ion microprobe instrument, the space agency says. Specifically, the NanoSIMS 50L ion microprobe. And speaking of long, the inclusions were formed during moon eruptions about 3.7 billion (with a b) years ago.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Mars Rover is dead but not gone

Mars Rover
NASA will no longer be sending commands to the Spirit rover on Mars, which has been sending satellite signals back to Earth since Jan. 2004. Prior to its loss of consciousness, Spirit’s mission was to search for signs of past water activity on Mars, according to SPACE.

Spirit found a great deal of evidence, which indicated that Mars was once a much wetter, warmer place, according to SPACE. However due to extreme cold temperatures, the cause of the robot’s fatality is most likely due to hypothermia, which has caused damaged to the rover’s electronics.

According to SPACE after Spirit lost power during the Martian winter in 2009-2010, the robot went into hibernation.

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NASA Moves Closer to Manned Missions to Mars

NASA has moved one step closer to sending astronauts into deep space with the announced development of the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV).

The MPCV replaces the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, commissioned under President Bush and nixed under President Obama due to budgetary constraints. Funds used in the development of the Orion ship had exceeded five billion dollars at the time of the project’s cancellation.

President Obama has instead set goals of a manned mission to a near-earth asteroid in the next twenty years, and a possible manned mission to Mars in the next thirty. NASA hopes the MPCV will help meet these goals. Unlike the Orion, which had been developed with the moon as its only destination, the MPCV will be used as the primary vehicle in the manned exploration of entirely new frontiers, such as asteroids or the Martian moons.

The development of the MPCV was brought about by the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, which shifted NASA’s focus away from the moon and towards a “permanent human presence beyond low Earth orbit.” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden spoke on the Authorization Act and development of the MPCV in a statement released Tuesday.

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