October 29, 2014
Op/Ed - Human spaceflight: Find asteroids to get to Mars Nature
Interplanetary flight is the next giant leap for humans in space. Yet consensus on even the smallest steps forward has proven elusive. In June, a US National Research Council report1 illuminated many options but offered no recommendations. Return to the Moon? Head straight to Mars? Pluck a boulder off an asteroid and tug it to lunar orbit, just so that idle astronauts have somewhere to go and something to do? NASA must decide which path to follow before President Barack Obama's budget announcement in January 2015. Some options are better than others. The cost and complexity of human space exploration demands that each element be measured by its value towards the ultimate goal: Mars.
October 23, 2014
An Insider's Biography of a Celebrity Mars Rover Smithsonian Magazine
The chief engineer for Curiosity offers a peek at the NASA rover’s tumultuous rise to stardom in a new tell-all book. Back in 2008, Curiosity—technically called the Mars Science Laboratory, or MSL—was being heavily derided for getting behind schedule and going over budget. The mission was originally pitched to NASA as a $1.6-billion spacecraft, and it was supposed to launch in 2009. But a variety of technical hurdles caused the launch schedule to slip to 2011, and costs ballooned to $2.5 billion. According to Rob Manning, the mission’s chief engineer, young Curiosity’s troubles can be traced back to its most celebrated feature: the sky crane landing system.
October 21, 2014
What It Could Be Like to Live on Mars Wired
I'd always wanted to visit Mars. Instead I got Hawaii. There, about 8,200 feet above sea level on Mauna Loa, sits a geodesically domed habitat for testing crew psychology and technologies for boldly going. I did a four-month tour at the NASA-funded HI-SEAS—that's Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation—in 2013, and a new 8-month mission is scheduled to start in October. It's a long time to be cooped up, “so the psychological impacts are extremely important,” habitat designer Vincent Paul Ponthieux says. The key to keeping everybody sane? A sense of airiness. Yep—even on Mars, you're going to need more space.
October 19, 2014
Comet Siding Spring whizzes past Mars Yahoo!
A comet the size of a small mountain whizzed past Mars on Sunday, dazzling space enthusiasts with the once-in-a-million-years encounter. The comet, known as Siding Spring (C/2013 A1), made its closest encounter with Mars on Sunday at 2:27 pm (1827 GMT), racing past the Red Planet at a breakneck 126,000 miles (203,000 kilometers) per hour. At its closest, Siding Spring was 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) from Mars -- less than half the distance between Earth and our moon.
October 17, 2014
How To Watch That 'Once-In-A-Lifetime' Comet Swing By Mars The Huffington Post
A comet will be swinging by Mars this Sunday, and eager astronomers say they're ready for the "once-in a lifetime event." Comet C/2013 A1, or 'Siding Spring' will make its closest approach to Mars at 2:27 p.m. EDT, coming within 87,000 miles of the red planet's surface . That's 16 times closer than any comet has ever come near Earth and less than half the distance from Earth to the moon. “This is a cosmic science gift that could potentially keep on giving, and the agency’s diverse science missions will be in full receive mode,” John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C., said in a written statement. “This particular comet has never before entered the inner solar system, so it will provide a fresh source of clues to our solar system's earliest days.” NASA will be tracking the spectacular flyby with a massive fleet of spacecraft and Earth-based telescopes.
October 15, 2014
UW fusion reactor concept could be cheaper than coal University of Washington
The UW’s reactor, called the dynomak, started as a class project taught by Thomas Jarboe two years ago. After the class ended, Jarboe and doctoral student Derek Sutherland – who previously worked on a reactor design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – continued to develop and refine the concept. The design builds on existing technology and creates a magnetic field within a closed space to hold plasma in place long enough for fusion to occur, allowing the hot plasma to react and burn. The reactor itself would be largely self-sustaining, meaning it would continuously heat the plasma to maintain thermonuclear conditions. Heat generated from the reactor would heat up a coolant that is used to spin a turbine and generate electricity, similar to how a typical power reactor works. “This is a much more elegant solution because the medium in which you generate fusion is the medium in which you’re also driving all the current required to confine it,” Sutherland said.
Lockheed Martin Pursuing Compact Nuclear Fusion Reactor Concept Lockheed Martin
The Lockheed Martin (LMT) Skunk Works® team is working on a new compact fusion reactor (CFR) that can be developed and deployed in as little as ten years. Currently, there are several patents pending that cover their approach. While fusion itself is not new, the Skunk Works has built on more than 60 years of fusion research and investment to develop an approach that offers a significant reduction in size compared to mainstream efforts. "Our compact fusion concept combines several alternative magnetic confinement approaches, taking the best parts of each, and offers a 90 percent size reduction over previous concepts," said Tom McGuire, compact fusion lead for the Skunk Works' Revolutionary Technology Programs. "The smaller size will allow us to design, build and test the CFR in less than a year."
October 14, 2014
Hydrogen cloud blows off Mars Nature
The first images from NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft show a planet in the process of losing parts of itself. Streams of hydrogen atoms drift away from the red planet, into the depths of space. The pictures are the first clear look at how crucial elements erode away from the Martian atmosphere, says Bruce Jakosky, a planetary scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the mission’s principal investigator. MAVEN’s goal is to measure how the solar wind and other factors nibble away at Mars’s atmosphere, so that scientists can better extrapolate how the once-thick atmosphere has thinned over billions of years. That process transformed Mars from a relatively warm, wet planet into a mostly dry, mostly frozen wasteland.
October 13, 2014
Historic Flyby: Comet to Zoom By Mars This Weekend
A comet will buzz Mars this Sunday (Oct. 19) in an epic encounter that has astronomers around the world tingling with excitement. Comet Siding Spring, also known as C/2013 A1, will miss the Red Planet by just 87,000 miles (140,000 kilometers) at 2:27 p.m. EDT (1827 GMT) on Sunday. For comparison, the moon orbits Earth at an average distance of 239,000 miles (384,600 km). While the comet won't put on a show for skywatchers here on Earth, the fleet of robotic explorers at Mars will get an eyeful. They will study the comet, as well as any observable interactions between its shed particles and the thin Martian atmosphere.
October 9, 2014
Mars Comet Update
NASA will host a briefing to outline the space and Earth-based assets that will have extraordinary opportunities to image and study a comet from relatively close range to Mars on Sunday, Oct. 19. Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring will miss Mars by only about 88,000 miles (139,500 kilometers). That is less than half the distance between Earth and its moon and less than one-tenth the distance of any known comet flyby of Earth. The comet's nucleus will come closest to Mars at about 11:27 a.m. PDT (2:27 p.m. EDT), hurtling at about 126,000 mph (56 kilometers per second), relative to Mars. The concerted campaign of observations by multiple spacecraft at Mars and by numerous NASA assets is directed at the comet and its effect on the Martian atmosphere. The observations of the comet may yield fresh clues to our solar system's earliest days more than four billion years ago.