MarsNews.com
February 13th, 2018

Piece of Mars is Going Home

A slice of a meteorite scientists have determined came from Mars placed inside an oxygen plasma cleaner, which removes organics from the outside of surfaces. This slice will likely be used here on Earth for testing a laser instrument for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover; a separate slice will go to Mars on the rover.

A chunk of Mars will soon be returning home.

A piece of a meteorite called Sayh al Uhaymir 008 (SaU008) will be carried on board NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission, now being built at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. This chunk will serve as target practice for a high-precision laser on the rover’s arm.

Mars 2020’s goal is ambitious: collect samples from the Red Planet’s surface that a future mission could potentially return to Earth. One of the rover’s many tools will be a laser designed to illuminate rock features as fine as a human hair.

That level of precision requires a calibration target to help tweak the laser’s settings. Previous NASA rovers have included calibration targets as well. Depending on the instrument, the target material can include things like rock, metal or glass, and can often look like a painter’s palette.

But working on this particular instrument sparked an idea among JPL scientists: why not use an actual piece of Mars? Earth has a limited supply of Martian meteorites, which scientists determined were blasted off Mars’ surface millions of years ago.

These meteorites aren’t as unique as the geologically diverse samples 2020 will collect. But they’re still scientifically interesting — and perfect for target practice.

January 30th, 2018

Evonik and Siemens to generate high-value specialty chemicals from carbon dioxide and eco-electricity

In the fermentation process–here at lab scale–, special bacteria are converting CO-containing gases to valuable chemicals through metabolic processes. (Copyright: Evonik Industries AG)

Germans lead the world in implementing renewable energy infrastructure. But sometimes, there is too much of a good thing: the inability to store excess electricity reduces the efficiency of the renewable energy installations.

Meanwhile, carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, and hardly anyone doubts anymore that projects to pull carbon dioxide emissions out of the air will be a necessary transitional measure if the population of humans on Earth hope to continue energy-spurred growth while converting to renewable energy sources.

The Rheticus project offers solutions for both conundrums. Researchers from two German industrial giants, Siemens and Evonik, just announced that they will team up to demonstrate the feasibility of “technical photosynthesis.” The idea is to use eco-electricity and harness the power of nature to convert CO2 into more complex chemical building blocks, like the alcohols butanol and hexanol.

January 15th, 2018

Students Discover How To Grow Hops On Mars

Dr. Edward F. Guinan, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Villanova University, with two of his students in the “Mars Garden.” Credit Villanova University

Hops and Rye grow “fairly well” on Martian soil with the help of coffee beans and fertilisers produced back on Earth, according to a student experiment at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.

“I was trying to come with a project for the students to do, a catchy project that would be fairly easy,” Dr. Guinan, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, told the New York Times.

NASA’s Phoenix Mars lander have analysed Martian soil in great detail, and scientists have since replicated its unique characteristics in order to test its crop-growing potential.

Guinan ordered 45kg worth of “Martian soil” — which is made with crushed basalt from an extinct volcano in California’s Mojave Desert.

Guinan set his students to work. Each were assigned their own patch within a greenhouse and asked to grow crops of their choice in order to feed a hypothetical colony of migrants to Mars.

“I kept telling them, ‘You’re on Mars, there’s a colony there and it’s your job to feed them. They’re all depending on you.”

January 3rd, 2018

American Girl’s 2018 Girl of the Year wants to be an astronaut when she grows up, and same

Dolls can be an inspirational part of girls’ and boys’ lives. The latest doll that has us shooting for the stars is Luciana Vega, American Girl’s 2018 Girl of the Year. Luciana is an 11-year-old aspiring astronaut who wants to go to space! Specifically, she’d like to be the first person on Mars. No doubt about it, we’d board that spaceship too.

“For us, it’s all about helping girls develop their strength of character — something that is more important in our world than ever,” American Girl spokesperson Julie Parks told Refinery29. “Luciana shows girls what it means to be a girl of strong character — where creative thinking, collaboration, and STEM literacy provide opportunities for meaningful growth and development. Luciana empowers girls to push boundaries, defy stereotypes, and embrace risks that will teach them about failure and success as they chart their own course in life.”

If that doesn’t sound like a doll with amazing #careergoals, we don’t know what does. Luciana is legit when it comes to being an astronaut: Her accessories are modeled after IRL ones. American Girl worked with an advisory board, and part of that board included a former NASA chief scientist, as well as a former astronaut.

December 26th, 2017

Inside SpaceX: What It’s Like Working for a Company on a Mission to Mars

When you learn that SpaceX’s mission is to make humans multi-planetary, it might sound kind of crazy. But, as Vice President of Human Resources at SpaceX Brian Bjelde points out, people used to think that a private company being able to develop and launch a vehicle into orbit was crazy, too.

“Today, we’ve got 19 launch vehicles that we’ve flown back from space, and three that we’ve re-flown,” Bjelde says. “We’re starting to turn the critics into fans.”

SpaceX’s biggest fans of all, though, might just be their own employees. For the second year in a row now, SpaceX has been honored as a Best Place to Work in Glassdoor’s annual Employees’ Choice Awards. And with a rating of 4.3 out of 5 and hundreds of glowing reviews, it’s not hard to see why.

“The stuff you get to see here will blow your mind. Every day. People here are friendly, super smart, and dedicated to SpaceX’s mission of enabling space exploration and human life on Mars,” says one current Software Engineer. “I wake up every morning knowing that I’ll be proud to have been part of something like this.”

So what’s it really like inside the company on a mission to Mars and helmed by Elon Musk? Glassdoor’s Emily Moore caught up with Bjelde to find out.

December 19th, 2017

NASA creates amazing ‘chain mail’ wheel for future Mars rovers

Engineer Colin Creager attaches the latest version of the SMA Spring Tire to a test rig in the lab. Imaging Technology Center at NASA Glenn

Reinventing the wheel is generally considered a bad idea. But engineers at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland are doing just that — designing an entirely new wheel that will give upcoming Mars rovers the ability to drive long distances on the Red Planet without sustaining damage.

The wheel, made of an ultra-flexible metal mesh, is designed to deform as it rolls over sharp rocks and other irregular features on the Martian surface — and then snap back to its original shape.

NASA hopes the wheel will be more durable than the wheels on NASA’s Curiosity rover. Selfies snapped by Curiosity in 2013 showed that the treads on the rover’s aluminum wheels had sustained significant damage after only about a year on Mars.

December 13th, 2017

NASA’s Opportunity Rover Withstands Another Harsh Winter On Mars

Artist’s impression of the Opportunity Rover, part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. NASA/JPL-Caltech

When the Opportunity rover landed on Mars on January 25th, 2004, its mission was only meant to last for about 90 Earth days. But the little rover that could has exceeded all expectations by remaining in operation (as of the writing of this article) for a total of 13 years and 231 days and traveled a total of about 50 km (28 mi). Basically, Opportunity has continued to remain mobile and gather scientific data 50 times longer than its designated lifespan.

And according to a recent announcement from NASA’s Mars Exploration Program (MEP), the rover managed to survive yet another winter on Mars. Having endured the its eight Martian winter in a row, and with its solar panels in encouragingly clean condition, the rover will be in good shape for the coming dust-storm season. It also means the rover will live to see its 14th anniversary, which will take place on January 25th, 2018.

At present, both the Opportunity and Spirit rover are in Mars’ southern hemisphere. Here, the Sun appears in the northern sky during the fall and winter, so the rovers need to tilt their solar-arrays northward. Back in 2004, the Spirit rover had lost the use of two of its wheels, and could therefore not maneuver out of a sand trap it had become stuck in. As such, it was unable to tilt itself northward and did not survive its fourth Martian winter (in 2009).

December 11th, 2017

Trump to send astronauts back to the moon — and eventually Mars

President Donald Trump wants to send astronauts where no man has gone before.

Trump will authorize the acting NASA administrator Robert M. Lightfoot Jr. to “lead an innovative space exploration program to send American astronauts back to the moon, and eventually Mars” during a White House signing ceremony.
“The President listened to the National Space Council’s recommendations and he will change our nation’s human spaceflight policy to help America become the driving force for the space industry, gain new knowledge from the cosmos, and spur incredible technology,” deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley said Monday.
The directive, Gidley said, will push NASA to “refocus … on its core mission of space exploration” and if Trump does send astronauts back to the moon, they would be the first to visit the lunar landscape since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

December 8th, 2017

Boeing’s Dennis Muilenburg says he’ll beat SpaceX to Mars; Elon Musk says ‘Do it’

SpaceX’s Elon Musk and Boeing’s Dennis Muilenburg have something of a space rivalry going on. (Elon Musk via Twitter; Dennis Muilenburg via Boeing)

So what does SpaceX CEO Elon Musk think of Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg’s claim that the first people to set foot on Mars will arrive on a Boeing rocket? “Do it,” Musk tweeted, in one of many two-word comebacks that might have come to mind.

The latest round of media jousting started when CNBC’s Jim Cramer brought up Mars during an interview with Muilenburg. “Who’s going to get a man on Mars first, you or Elon Musk?” Cramer asked.

In response, Muilenburg touted the Space Launch System, the heavy-lift rocket that Boeing is helping NASA build for deep-space missions.

“We’re going to take a first test flight in 2019, and we’re going to do a slingshot mission around the moon,” he said. “Eventually, we’re going to go to Mars, and I firmly believe the first person that sets foot on Mars will get there on a Boeing rocket.”

Muilenburg said pretty much the same thing last year during an industry conference in Chicago, but since then, Musk has laid out a vision that calls for sending settlers to Mars on SpaceX’s yet-to-be-built monster spaceship starting in the 2020s.

If Musk and NASA stick to their current schedules, the first bootprints on the Martian surface would be left by folks arriving on a SpaceX rocket as much as a decade before the Space Launch System sends a spaceship there.

November 28th, 2017

Worms born in Martian soil suggest farming on Mars is possible BGR

The prospect of a human colony on Mars has rapidly moved from science fiction to reality in recent years, with space agencies like NASA, ESA, and others openly discussing the possibility of manned missions to the red planet and eventually the establishment of full-on settlements. Of course, a self-sustaining Mars colony would need the same things we need here on Earth, including the ability to farm, and scientists in the Netherlands are now reporting that they’ve taken a big step towards that goal by successfully getting worms to reproduce in Mars-like soil.