February 2nd, 2016

Mars Curiosity rover gets into VR with a Facebook 360 video

This is Curiosity’s latest selfie in Bagnold Dunes, composed of 57 different photos captured on January 19. To test the sands, the rover recently dug one of its 20-inch wheels into a nearby dune. You can see the tire marks in the center.

NASA has posted a Facebook 360 video taken by the Mars Curiosity rover from the surface of Mars that Mark Zuckerberg himself re-posted and called “neat.” (A one ton, nuclear buggy takes takes a panoramic video from Mars that you can view in a VR headset, and all you got is “neat?” Get a thesaurus, Mark!) Zuckerberg added that the video was stitched together by Facebook’s 360 degree video team, and is made up of 57 separate stills — in fact, it’s more like a panorama than a video. The images were snapped by the rover’s robotic arm-mounted Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp, and show the steep Namib sand dunes.

January 29th, 2016

Elon Musk Says SpaceX Will Send People to Mars by 2025

Nobody can accuse Elon Musk of not shooting for the stars.

The SpaceX and Tesla founder said this week that he personally wants to visit space within the next five years and thinks that his company will send somebody to Mars by 2025.

Speaking at the StartmeupHK Festival in Hong Kong this week, Musk said that he had already taken parabolic flights to prepare for space, but had not done much else.

“I don’t think it’s that hard, honestly,” he said. “It’s not that hard to float around.”

Personal space travel ambitions aside, Musk also talked about how important it was for mankind to reach Mars. He said that SpaceX is planning to reveal its next-generation spacecraft at September’s International Astronautical Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico.

That could be the next step toward eventually sending human beings to the Red Planet — something Musk said he thinks will happen by 2025. It’s an ambitious goal considering that NASA’s current plan is to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.

January 28th, 2016

NASA Day of Remembrance

January 28th, 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the loss of Space Shuttle Challenger. NASA Day of Remembrance commemorates the crews of Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia; along with all the members of its family who lost their lives while furthering the cause of exploration and discovery.

January 27th, 2016

NASA’s Opportunity shatters expectations with 12 years on Mars

The target beneath the tool turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm in this image from NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is “Private John Potts.”

When NASA scientists landed Opportunity on Mars on Jan. 24, 2004, they expected the rover to last for three months.

Opportunity has far outlived its life expectancy, still going strong twelve years later.

And keeping Opportunity alive and moving hasn’t been easy for NASA scientists. Opportunity’s batteries are powered by its own solar panels, an elusive energy source during dark and windy winters.

“Cleaning events have become a critical, yet unplanned component of long-duration solar powered missions on the Martian surface,” explains Discovery News. The rovers’ drivers on Earth optimize windstorms to clean the dusty panels. “Opportunity’s most recent cleaning event occurred toward the end of 2015, before it plunged into Martian winter, thus allowing the rover to continue its valuable work into 2016.”

January 26th, 2016

VFX Breakdown of The Martian [Spoilers!]

The Martian was a stunning film, there’s no denying that. The cinematography, writing, VFX and acting were all superb so it’s only right that we spend some time looking into how this was achieved. How the visuals of a film were achieved is often an overlooked part of any films success. That is, unless you want to work in this industry like a lot of our awesome community. So we like to showcase the best breakdowns we can find and curate them here, on our filmmaking blog. If you’re like us, you’re about to start watching breakdown after breakdown because, well, they’re awesome.

This video was made by the production house, MPC. MPC were the lead studio on Ridley Scott’s The Martian, delivering an epic 425 shots. Production VFX Supervisor Richard Stammers and MPC VFX Supervisors Anders Langlands have created VFX that left us breathless from start to finish. It’s by no means the first film to be shot in Space or on Mars, but we think it’s up there among the best looking films of the genre or any genre, really. Over the past few years we’ve seen some epic films of this genre, Gravity and Interstellar. So when you consider that The Martian is setting a pretty high standard for film in 2016 – and it’s only January – we’re in for a treat this year.

January 18th, 2016

Bigelow Aerospace and NASA Execute NextSTEP Contract to Study B330 Utilization

Dual B330s in Lunar Orbit

NASA has executed a contract with Bigelow Aerospace for the company to develop ambitious human spaceflight missions that leverage its innovative B330 space habitat. The contract was executed under the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (“NextSTEP”) Broad Agency Announcement issued by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems program.

Via its NextSTEP contract, Bigelow Aerospace will demonstrate to NASA how B330 habitats can be used to support safe, affordable, and robust human spaceflight missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. As the name indicates, the B330 will provide 330 cubic meters of internal volume and each habitat can support a crew of up to six. Bigelow expandable habitats provide much greater volume than metallic structures, as well as enhanced protection against radiation and physical debris. Moreover, Bigelow habitats are lighter and take up substantially less rocket fairing space, and are far more affordable than traditional, rigid modules. These advantages make the B330 the ideal habitat to implement NASA’s beyond low Earth orbit (“LEO”) plans and will support the utilization of transportation systems such as the SLS and Orion. Additionally, the B330s, which will initially be deployed and tested in LEO, will be used as private sector space stations that will conduct a wide variety of commercial activities.

January 12th, 2016

Why Martian Concrete Might Be The Best Building Material In The Solar System

luckypic via Shutterstock

Concrete has been critical to the colonization of our own planet. The Romans and Egyptians built their empires upon it, and when their formula for concrete was lost, humanity invented it all over again in the 14th century. Today, over 2 billion tons of concrete are produced every year, and by 2050, that’s expected to quadruple.

When we finally start colonizing other planets like Mars, we’re going to need concrete to make buildings and infrastructure. But concrete needs water, and Mars doesn’t have any. How do we make it, then? A team of researchers at Northwestern think they have the answer: by heating sulfur up to 240 degrees Celsius until it liquefies, and using that instead.

By using simulated Martian soil consisting of silicon dioxide, aluminum oxide, iron oxide, titanium dioxide, and mixing this aggregate 50/50 with molten sulfur, they were able to make blocks of quasi-Martian concrete. And it’s strong: two-and-a-half times as strong as the concrete most commonly used on Earth.

There’s another advantage of Martian concrete over Earth concrete, too. On Earth, concrete production is the third biggest contributor of CO2 emissions, largely because of how much concrete we use. And recycling concrete doesn’t help curb that production, because while we’re tearing down concrete structures all the time, it’s time-consuming and resource-intensive to reuse. But on Mars, the concrete could literally just be re-heated until the sulfur melts, and the entire concrete block becomes malleable again. That means any Martian concrete will be almost infinitely reusable, without taking the same toll on Mars as it took on Earth.

January 8th, 2016

How Fox’s “The Martian VR Experience” Became Hollywood’s Most Ambitious VR Experiment

There is, of course, a short demo of The Martian VR Experience, available on just about any virtual reality platform. Coming in at about three minutes, it offers a tease of the full version, bringing users to Mars and showing them a few glimpses of life inside Watney’s helmet. But with the demo version, there’s no interactivity, except for letting users look around them in 360 degrees. Otherwise, it’s a fully passive experience.

The full version requires a high-end VR system, such as the Oculus Rift, HTC’s Vive, or Sony’s PlayStation VR, all of which have handheld controllers that allow users to do things with their hands, opening the door to potentially far richer active experiences than is possible with mobile-phone-based VR hardware like Samsung’s Gear VR or Google’s Cardboard, which offer less interactivity.

All told, the full Martian VR Experience takes users through seven different scenes, each of which exploit the interactive features of the Rift, the Vive, or the PSVR.

January 7th, 2016

Would You Go to Mars? Meet the Four Women Astronauts Who Can’t Wait to Go

Astronauts Nicole Aunapu Mann, Anne McClain, Jessica Meir, and Christina Hammock Koch, photographed at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

In first grade Jessica Meir made a drawing of herself standing on the moon. Turns out she underestimated her own ambition: Today, at 38, Meir could become the first human to touch down on an even farther destination: Mars. A next step for man? Yes, and a giant leap for womankind.

The mission itself is at least 15 years away—it will take that long to build and test every last piece of equipment. But it’s already the most hotly anticipated space-exploration effort ever. Governments around the world—in China, Europe, and Russia—have plans in the works to at least land robots on Mars, while in the U.S., private companies like SpaceX are partnering with NASA on a human mission and plotting their own commercial trips. And unlike the 1960s race to the moon, this time women are playing pivotal roles—building rockets, designing space suits, and controlling the remote rovers that are already sending momentous insights back from Mars.

January 7th, 2016

U.S. lab generates first space-grade plutonium sample since 1980s

File photo of a plutonium-238 pellet. Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory

For the first time in nearly 30 years, the U.S. Department of Energy has produced a sample of plutonium-238, the radioactive isotope used to power deep space missions, good news for future NASA space probes heading to destinations starved of sunlight.

The 50-gram (0.1-pound) sample is a fraction of the plutonium needed to fuel one spacecraft power generator, but the Energy Department said the material represents the first end-to-end demonstration of plutonium-238 production in the United States since 1988.

The DOE made the new batch of plutonium-238 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.