HBO Vice, the network’s award-winning news program, will broadcast a 15-minute report about current planning for a human mission to Mars on Friday, July 1st at 11:00 pm EDT (8:00 pm PDT). The segment will include a visit to the Mars Society’s Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, which took place last December during the field rotation of Crew 158. The program can be viewed on television, but can also be seen online via HBO GO immediately after the show is aired.
A booster for the most powerful rocket in the world, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), successfully fired up Tuesday for its second qualification ground test at Orbital ATK’s test facilities in Promontory, Utah. This was the last full-scale test for the booster before SLS’s first uncrewed test flight with NASA’s Orion spacecraft in late 2018, a key milestone on the agency’s Journey to Mars.
“This final qualification test of the booster system shows real progress in the development of the Space Launch System,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Seeing this test today, and experiencing the sound and feel of approximately 3.6 million pounds of thrust, helps us appreciate the progress we’re making to advance human exploration and open new frontiers for science and technology missions in deep space.”
The booster was tested at a cold motor conditioning target of 40 degrees Fahrenheit –the colder end of its accepted propellant temperature range. When ignited, temperatures inside the booster reached nearly 6,000 degrees. The two-minute, full-duration ground qualification test provided NASA with critical data on 82 qualification objectives that will support certification of the booster for flight. Engineers now will evaluate these data, captured by more than 530 instrumentation channels on the booster.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is no longer the highly funded juggernaut that it was in the 1960s, and these days private companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are becoming more and more important in the development of spacefaring technology.
According to Bezos, this can actually be a good thing for the future of space travel and research, and during a recent on-stage interview during the John H. Glenn Lecture in Space History at the National Air and Space Museum, Bezos said that the government could do more to encourage a private space race for a potential mission to Mars.
Specifically, Bezos said that one possible method the government should consider is to offer a substantial prize for certain milestones.
“I think big prizes would be an interesting thing to do,” Bezos said during his interview. “… One thing that the government could do is just offer a very large prize to whoever first brings back some Mars samples. It would be very interesting. That kind of horse race would create lots of attention. People would compete for it.”
The 2016 University Rover Challenge concluded on Saturday (June 4th) at the Mars Society’s Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in southern Utah as 28 rovers and more than 300 college students took on the harsh Mars-like terrain of this unique venue. Following two rounds of competition and five different events over a three-day period, the Legendary Rover Team from Rzeszow University of Technology in Poland defended their title from 2015 with another amazing victory.
The podium was rounded out by the second place WSU Everett Engineering Club from Washington State University Everett and third place Continuum team from the University of Wroclaw in Poland. The WSU team’s performance was particularly amazing in light of the fact that this was their first year attending this ambitious contest. This year’s entire field of student participants was extremely well prepared and ready to compete. While the nearly-flawless performance of the Legendary Rover Team separated them from the second place finisher by 82 points, second through ninth place were separated by only a mere 78 points.
The international robotics competition for college students, which is part of the Mars Society’s Rover Challenge Series, featured an elite field of teams vying to build the world’s best student-designed Mars rover. A record 63 teams from 12 countries took part in URC2016. Following a rigorous two-stage down-select process 30 teams were invited to the field competition at MDRS. 28 teams from seven countries (both records for URC) arrived with their rovers ready for the exciting challenges in the Utah desert.
You may think that you’ve already heard this news before. One month ago (almost to the day), Elon Musk famously penciled in “2018” as the date SpaceX will launch its first Red Dragon space capsule to Mars. Specifically, the company will use its new Falcon Heavy lift vehicle to carry a specially designed Dragon 2 spacecraft to Mars, then land said capsule vertically on the Red Planet, firing SuperDraco thrusters to brake its descent.
From that position, SpaceX’s Red Dragon would theoretically be able to relaunch from Mars, where the gravity is less than 38% of Earth normal, and return to Earth — fuel permitting. (That’s not Musk’s plan, however. He’s running this mission himself, and paying out of pocket, just to collect information in preparation for subsequent manned and unmanned missions to Mars.)
The commercial spaceflight company SpaceX announced on Twitter today that it plans to send its robotic Dragon capsule to Mars as early as 2018. “Red Dragons will inform the overall Mars architecture,” SpaceX representatives tweeted today (April 27), referring to the company’s eventual plans to set up a colony on Mars — a key goal of SpaceX and its founder, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk.
Lockheed Martin’s Generation Beyond initiative aims to “inspire the next generation of innovators, explorers, inventors and pioneers to pursue STEM careers.” And what better way to spark young students’ curiosity than to give them ride on a bus that simulates a ride across the Martian surface? Passengers aboard the Mars Experience bus are treated to an immersive virtual reality adventure. As the bus moves, it makes the students feel like they’re driving across the red planet by showing 200 square miles of its surface on the boarded-up windows.
The aerospace company says the VR experience was built with the same software used for “the most advanced video games” today, which hopefully means it has great graphics. Lockheed Martin’s high-tech vehicle will tour the US to give students from different regions a chance to try it out. It’s not Generation Beyond’s only projects, though. The company is also providing a free deep space curriculum to all middle school teachers and has released an app that sends you real-time Mars weather reports.
By tracking the gravitational pull on spacecraft over Mars, NASA has created one of the most detailed maps yet of the Red Planet’s surface, and what lies beneath.
“Gravity maps allow us to see inside a planet, just as a doctor uses an X-ray to see inside a patient,” Antonio Genova of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) said in a statement.
“The new gravity map will be helpful for future Mars exploration, because better knowledge of the planet’s gravity anomalies helps mission controllers insert spacecraft more precisely into orbit about Mars.”
As well as providing insight for future missions, the gravity map also offers explanations for developments in the planet’s past.