Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Russia Mars probe failure underlined by successful U.S. launch

As the NASA rover Curiosity, launched from Cape Canaveral, streaks toward Mars, Russia's Phobos-Ground probe is marooned in near-Earth orbit and largely unresponsive to ground controllers' commands As the NASA rover Curiosity, launched Saturday from Cape Canaveral, Fla., streaks toward Mars, Russia's Phobos-Ground probe is marooned in near-Earth orbit and largely unresponsive to commands from ground controllers.

Russian officials acknowledge that the narrow ballistic window for the spacecraft to reach Mars has closed, making it another in a series of failures for the country's space research. Since the retirement of the last space shuttle in July, U.S. astronauts heading to the International Space Station need to hitch a ride with the Russians, but officials say Russia's space program is suffering from worn-out equipment, a graying workforce and inability to attract a new generation of young specialists The $167-million probe, launched Nov. 9, was intended as a major step back into exploration of the deeper cosmos by Russia's proud space program. It was to land on the Martian moon Phobos next year, pick up samples of dust and deliver them back to Earth.

After the probe separated from its main booster rocket, however, its engines failed to fire properly to set it on a path toward Mars, and it didn't respond to signals from ground control.

Source: http://www.latimes.com

Sunday, November 27, 2011

NASA Launches Super-Size Mars Rover to Red Planet

The world's biggest extraterrestrial explorer, NASA's Curiosity rover, rocketed toward Mars on Saturday on a search for evidence that the red planet might once have been home to itsy-bitsy life It will take 8 1/2 months for Curiosity to reach Mars following a journey of 354 million miles.

An unmanned Atlas V rocket hoisted the rover, officially known as Mars Science Laboratory, into a cloudy late morning sky. A Mars frenzy gripped the launch site, with more than 13,000 guests jamming the space center for NASA's first launch to Earth's next-door neighbor in four years, and the first send-off of a Martian rover in eight years NASA astrobiologist Pan Conrad, whose carbon compound-seeking instrument is on the rover, had a shirt custom made for the occasion. Her bright blue, short-sleeve blouse was emblazoned with rockets, planets and the words, "Next stop Mars!"

The 1-ton Curiosity -- as large as a car -- is a mobile, nuclear-powered laboratory holding 10 science instruments that will sample Martian soil and rocks, and analyze them right on the spot There's a drill as well as a stone-zapping laser machine It's "really a rover on steroids," said NASA's Colleen Hartman, assistant associate administrator for science. "It's an order of magnitude more capable than anything we have ever launched to any planet in the solar system." The primary goal of the $2.5 billion mission is to see whether cold, dry, barren Mars might have been hospitable for microbial life once upon a time -- or might even still be conducive to life now.

Source: http://www.foxnews.com/

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Scientists simulate Moon and Mars exploration

Moon and Mars exploration
NASA and a team of international researchers from Mars Institute and SETI Institute returned to the Mojave Desert this month to complete a series of field tests and simulations aimed at investigating how humans will conduct geotechnical surveys on the moon or Mars the Mojave's inhospitable, sun-scorched environment presents scientists with perfect opportunities to study locations that are similar to what explorers would find on the moon or Mars. Other research partners include Carnegie Mellon University and aerospace companies Hamilton Sundstrand, Windsor Locks, Conn., and Honeybee Robotics, Pasadena, Calif.

The Mojave simulations were designed to study how an astronaut crew would characterize the geotechnical properties of a site, such as the composition and density of surface materials, their water content and roughness of the terrain. As part of the characterization of the sites by human explorers, soil samples were collected for microbiological analysis. The soil samples will be examined in the laboratory for their microbial content to better understand the astrobiological potential offered by similar environments on Mars.

“Our overall goal was to learn how to scientifically explore and validate, as civil engineers would, open areas on the moon and Mars that might be candidate sites for an outpost or other elements of surface infrastructure,” explained Pascal Lee, chairman of the Mars Institute and leader of the field campaign.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

NASA prepares for launch to Mars

mars rover
NASA officials spent much of the weekend putting the last-minute touches on a rover headed to Mars this week NASA will launch the rover — nicknamed Curiosity — using an Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on November twenty six (26), space agency officials said. The launch was originally scheduled to blast off on November 25, however, officials said Sunday that the launch will be delayed in order to replace a suspect battery on the rover’s rocket

“The launch is rescheduled for Saturday, November 26 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.,” NASA officials said in a statement. “The one hour and 43 minute launch window opens at 10:02 a.m. EST.”NASA has until December 18 to launch the new rover toward Mars and still make the current flight window to the Red Planet. Officials expressed confidence that they will launch the rover within the window of opportunity

The mission to Mars will take over eight months, NASA officials say. The rover is expected to arrive on the planet on August 6, 2012. The rover is reportedly nearly seven foot tall and is twice as big as previous Mars’ rovers. Officials say the rover weighs over a ton, and it is expected to carry more than ten times the amount of scientific equipment sent with the Spirit and Opportunity rovers launched in 2004. The mission cost: $2.5 billion.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Botched Mars mission shows Russian industry troubles

mars mission
Russia's unsuccessful launch of a Mars moon probe points up the problems of a once-pioneering space industry struggling to recover after a generation of brain drain and crimped budgets an unmanned craft, launched last Wednesday in what was meant to be post-Soviet Russia's interplanetary debut, got stuck in Earth's orbit and may drop down into the atmosphere within days.

The failure rattled Russian space officials but came as no surprise to many industry veterans who saw the ambitious mission to bring back dirt from the Martian moon Phobos as a pipe dream "Unfortunately, no miracle occurred," veteran cosmonaut Yuri Baturin quipped to the state-run newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

Despite improved budgets and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's pledge to restore pride in the sector, the Russian space industry is saddled the legacy of a lost generation of expertise, in many cases obsolete ground equipment and outdated Soviet-era designs.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Russians desperately try to save Mars moon probe

A Russian space probe became stuck in orbit this week after an equipment failure, raising fears it could come crashing down and spill tons of highly toxic fuel on Earth unless engineers can steer it back to its flight path the spacecraft was headed for one of Mars' two moons when it developed technical problems.

U.S. space and Defense Department officials are tracking it. Officials at NASA in Washington figure it will be at least a week, maybe more, before the errant space probe falls to Earth, if it does. The Russians are trying to get it back on course one independent U.S. expert on the Russian space program said the spacecraft could become the most dangerous manmade object ever to hit the planet. But those at the U.S. space agency and other space debris experts are far less worried. They believe the fuel will probably explode harmlessly in Earth's upper atmosphere.

NASA chief debris scientist Nicholas Johnson said the spacecraft's orbit is already starting to degrade slightly "From the orbits we're seeing from the U.S. Space Surveillance Network, it's going to be a couple weeks before it comes in," Johnson said Wednesday afternoon. "It's not going to be that immediate."

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Russia Struggles to Save Mars Moon Probe

mars moon probe
As Russia's space organization struggled Thursday to fix a probe jump for a moon of Mars that instead got stuck in Earth's orbit,some experts said the chances of saving the $170 million craft looked slim roscosmos spokesman Alexei Kuznetsov said efforts to communicate with the unmanned Phobos-Grunt spacecraft hadn't brought any results yet the probe will come crashing down in a couple of weeks if engineers fail to fix the problem.

The Phobos-Grunt was launched Wednesday and reached preliminary orbit, but its engines never fired to send it off to the Red Planet. Kuznetsov said controllers on Thursday will continue attempts to fix the probe's engines to steer it to its path to one of Mars' two moons, Phobos roscosmos chief Vladimir Popovkin, said the system that keeps the spacecraft pointed in the right direction may have failed. Other space experts suggested that the craft's computer failure was a likely cause.

If a software flaw was the problem, scientists can likely fix it by sending new commands. Some experts think, however, that the failure was rooted in hardware and will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to fix "I think we have lost the Phobos-Grunt," Vladimir Uvarov, a former top space expert at the Russian Defense Ministry, said in an interview published Thursday in the government daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta. "It looks like a serious flaw. The past experience shows that efforts to make the engines work will likely fail."

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Monday, November 07, 2011

Russia back in 'Space Race' with Mars moon lander

Moon Lander
Russia hopes to end a humiliating two-decade absence from deep space with the launch on Wednesday of an ambitious three-year mission to bring back a soil sample from Mars' moon Phobos russian scientists have dreamed of probing the Red Planet's potato-shaped satellite since the 1960s heyday of pioneering Soviet forays into space.

Dust from Phobos, they say, will hold clues to the genesis of the solar system's planets and help clarify Mars' enduring mysteries, including whether it is or ever was suited for life but the USD $163 million Phobos-Grunt mission is haunted by memories of past failures in Moscow's efforts to explore Mars and its moons.

"Mars has always been an inhospitable planet for Russia. The United States has had much more success there," said Maxim Martynov, the project's chief designer at NPO Lavochkin, the major Russian aerospace company that made the Phobos-Grunt Russia kept rocketing cosmonauts into orbit though the purse-pinched 1990s and is now the only country whose craft now carry crews to the international space station.

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Sunday, November 06, 2011

NASA prepares for moon tourism

"Looting, that would be pretty bad," says archaeologist Beth O'Leary of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. Looting is the bane of archaeological sites and O'Leary has spearheaded efforts to declare moon landing sites as historic preserves or national parks, seeking to head off similar depredations before before tourists leave Earth for the moon. "I put landing people on the moon up there with creating fire as a technological achievement."

From 1969 to 1972, NASA sent 6 manned space missions to the moon. Each one landed in a different spot, but in each case American astronauts left behind various artifacts. The first, Apollo 11, for instance, left things ranging from a "Camera, Lunar TV" to a "Urine Collection Assembly (Small)".

NASA isn't expecting the sites to generate the kind of traffic we see at national parks on Earth, but the prospect of future tourists could affect plans to inspect the sites and artifacts in the future. So, the space agency released guidelines this summer on protecting lunar landing sites and artifacts. They call for a 1,200 acre "no-fly" zone around the first Apollo 11 landing site, and final Apollo 17 one. Tourists could only walk within 82 yards of the Apollo 11 landing site where Neil Armstrong first took "One small step for man," on July 20, 1969, under the guidelines.

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Thursday, November 03, 2011

Asteroid to zoom by Earth

An asteroid the size of an aircraft carrier will zoom past Earth on Tuesday just inside the orbit of the moon.

The space rock poses no danger as its nearest approach will be a comfortable 202,000 miles distance. But the event marks the closest flyby of an asteroid this large since 1976, according to NASA.

Asteroid 2005 YU55 has a name only a scientist could love. They’re also loving the chance to stare at the nearly round, slowly spinning chunk of space debris as it flies by at some 30,000 mph.

“It will be scanned and probed and scanned some more,” said Marina Brozovic, an asteroid researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Starting tomorrow, Brozovic will ping the approaching asteroid with radar from giant dishes in Goldstone, Calif. She wants to map every crater and boulder while refining estimates of the asteroid’s path, which swings inside the orbit of Venus and then out near Mars, crossing Earth’s orbit.

Meanwhile, telescopes in Arizona and Hawaii will analyze light reflected from the asteroid to determine more precisely what it’s made of. Already scientists know it’s darker than charcoal because it’s a “C-type” asteroid, heavy with carbon and silicate minerals. Astronomers will also look for signs of water.

Similar asteroids that have plunged to Earth — called carbonaceous chondrites — hold within them amino acids and other building blocks of life.

“These are the objects that probably seeded the early Earth with carbon-based materials and water that allowed life to form,” said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Apollo astronaut surrenders moon camera

Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell has decided to give up the camera he kept as a memento of his 1971 moon mission rather than face a federal lawsuit over its ownership.

In a settlement he reached with the U.S. government filed with the District Court in southern Florida on Thursday (Oct. 27), the sixth man to walk on the moon agreed to "relinquish all claims of ownership, legal title, or dominion" over the data acquisition camera that flew with him aboard NASA's Apollo 14 mission.

Mitchell agreed to allow Bonhams, the New York auction house where he had consigned the camera for sale last June, to release the artifact to the government. Bonhams had estimated the camera's value at $60,000 to $80,000.

The 16-mm camera, which was one of two motion picture cameras on board the Apollo 14 lunar module "Antares" when it landed on the moon on Feb. 5, 1971, will be given within 60 days to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC for display.

According to the the terms of the settlement, which still needs to be signed off by a judge, Mitchell and the federal prosecutors will be responsible for their own legal fees. Earlier this month, MItchell lost his bid for the case to be dismissed after a judge ruled that Florida's statute of limitations did not apply and any determination if the government had abandoned or gifted the camera would need to be made in court.

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Asteroid will pass inside the moon’s orbit this week

According to Scientists, we don’t need to start rolling out the retired space shuttle fleet or suiting Bruce Willis up to save the planet, but an asteroid will pass very close to Earth this week. Close is a relative term when we are talking space, but this giant 1,300 foot wide asteroid will pass between the Earth and the moon. The exact distance the asteroid will streak by the Earth is pegged at 201,700 miles according to NASA.

The details on the asteroid come from NASA’s Don Yeomans, manager of the Near Earth Object Program Office at the JPL in California. The asteroid is called YU55 and Yeomans says it poses no threat to the Earth. Yeomans says that the asteroid will be no threat for at least the next 100 years. NASA has spent the time since the asteroid was discovered refining trajectories to get the best telescope for the job to observe the asteroid.

NASA has used that item wisely and expects to be able to get telescopes on the job and observe the passing asteroid at a resolution of 13 feet. That will provide the sort of surface detail that you would get from a spacecraft fly by. YU55 is classified as a c-type asteroid made of the sort of material left over from the formation of the solar system. Sadly, normal stargazers will not be able to see the asteroid as it streaks by the Earth.

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