March 30th, 2015

The atmosphere of Mars is a lot weirder than we thought Business Insider

Just earlier this week, NASA’s MAVEN probe observed two mysterious phenomena on Mars.

In its examination of the planet’s thin atmosphere, the probe captured images of a high altitude dust cloud and an aurora deep in the Martian atmosphere.

The discoveries have captivated the field of planetary science, as their origins are beyond the current understanding of Mars’s atmospheric processes.

MAVEN, an acronym that stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution and intentionally harkens to the English word for an expert in a field who seeks to bestow knowledge onto others, was launched in the fall of 2013 and reached Mars’s orbit in September 2014.

March 27th, 2015

NASA’s longest-running and most successful Mars rover may be brought to a halt by budget cuts Business Insider

It’s been a long time coming, but this week NASA’s Mars Opportunity rovercompleted the first-ever Martian marathon. After landing on the Red Planet in January 2004 on a mission originally planned to only last 90 days, Opportunity has instead endured for more than a decade, and has taken eleven years and two months to travel the marathon-standard 42.195 kilometers. On average, that’s only about ten meters per day—slower even than a snail’s pace.

“This is the first time any human enterprise has exceeded the distance of a marathon on the surface of another world,” says John Callas, Opportunity’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “A first time happens only once.”

March 26th, 2015

NASA Finds New Evidence of Life-Supporting Ingredient on Mars ABCNews

NASA’s Curiosity rover has found new evidence of nitrogen on Mars, proving that the red planet has — or at least had — the right stuff to sustain life.

The rover drilled into Martian rocks and discovered evidence of nitrates, which are essential compounds to the building blocks of life.

“The discovery adds to the evidence that ancient Mars was habitable for life,” NASA said in a blog post.

March 23rd, 2015

Mangalyaan completes six months in Mars orbit Zee News

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), lovingly called Mangalyaan on Tuesday completed six months in the red planet’s orbit.

Previously it was estimated that India’s first inter-planetary expedition will have a lifespan of 6 months, but now, it has emerged that the spacecraft has about 37 kilograms of fuel left, and hence the mission can last for few more days, weeks or even months.

India created history in space to become the first Asian country to reach the Red Planet and the first in the world to reach the Martian orbit on maiden attempt.

March 19th, 2015

Mars One Colony Project Delays Manned Red Planet Mission to 2026

The private colonization project Mars One has pushed its planned launch of the first humans toward the Red Planet back by two years, to 2026. The delay was necessitated by a lack of investment funding, which has slowed work on a robotic precursor mission that Mars One had wanted to send toward the Red Planet in 2018, Mars One CEO Bas Lansdorp said in a new video posted today (March 19).

March 19th, 2015

Successful Test Flights for Mars Landing Technology NASA

It’s tricky to get a spacecraft to land exactly where you want. That’s why the area where the Mars rover Curiosity team had targeted to land was an ellipse that may seem large, measuring 12 miles by 4 miles (20 by 7 kilometers). Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have been developing cutting-edge technologies that would enable spacecraft to land at a specific location on Mars — or any other planetary body — with more precision than ever before. In collaboration with Masten Space Systems in Mojave, California, they have recently tested these technologies on board a high-tech demonstration vehicle called the Autonomous Descent and Ascent Powered-flight Testbed (ADAPT). ADAPT is a test system built on Masten’s XA-0.1B “Xombie” vertical-launch, vertical-landing reusable rocket. The Xombie platform provides a good approximation of Mars-like descent conditions through high-speed descent rates at low altitudes. Those conditions are difficult to achieve through conventional flight test platforms. Onboard this rocket, two sophisticated lander technologies were recently tested: Terrain Relative Navigation with a sensor called the Lander Vision System (LVS), and the Guidance for Fuel-Optimal Large Diverts (G-FOLD) algorithm.

March 17th, 2015

Are Humans Really Headed To Mars Anytime Soon? npr

With recent news headlines proclaiming that dozens of people have been selected as finalists for a Martian astronaut corps, it might seem like a trip to this alien world might finally be close at hand. But let’s have a little reality check. What are the chances that we really will see people on the Red Planet in the next couple of decades? Most people just don’t get how hard this would be, says Mary Lynne Dittmar, an aerospace consultant in Washington, D.C. “The distances that are involved and the complexities that are involved in going and staying there are really enormous,” she says.

March 12th, 2015

NASA Eyeing Landing Site for 2016 Mars Mission

NASA is leaning toward one particularly smooth patch of terrain just north of the Martian equator as the landing site for its next robotic Red Planet explorer.
The site lies at about 4 degrees north latitude and 136 degrees east longitude, agency officials said. It’s the leading candidate for NASA’s InSight Mars lander, which is scheduled to launch in March 2016 and touch down on the Red Planet in late September of that year.
“This is wondrous terrain, exactly what we want to land on because it is smooth, flat, with very few rocks in the highest-resolution images,” InSight’s site-selection leader, Matt Golombek of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.

March 11th, 2015

NASA’s Space Launch System Booster Passes Major Ground Test NASA

The largest, most powerful rocket booster ever built successfully fired up Wednesday for a major-milestone ground test in preparation for future missions to help propel NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft to deep space destinations, including an asteroid and Mars.
The booster fired for two minutes, the same amount of time it will fire when it lifts the SLS off the launch pad, and produced about 3.6 million pounds of thrust. The test was conducted at the Promontory, Utah test facility of commercial partner Orbital ATK, and is one of two tests planned to qualify the booster for flight. Once qualified, the flight booster hardware will be ready for shipment to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the first SLS flight.
“The work being done around the country today to build SLS is laying a solid foundation for future exploration missions, and these missions will enable us to pioneer far into the solar system,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations. “The teams are doing tremendous work to develop what will be a national asset for human exploration and potential science missions.”

March 10th, 2015

Mars Rover Opportunity Finds New Type Of Rock Clapway

Mars rover Opportunity is stopping to investigate some oddly shaped rocks that have a composition never seen on Mars before. The blocky outcrops were spotted when Opportunity climbed an overlook to survey “Marathon Valley”, the current location of the mission of exploration. Matt Golombeck of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) explained the detour: “We drove to the edge of a plateau to look down in the valley, and we found these big, dark-gray blocks along the ridgeline. We checked one and found its composition is different from any ever measured before on Mars. So, whoa! Let’s study these more before moving on.”
Spectrometer analysis indicates that the first of the two rocks has a relatively higher concentration of aluminum and silicon. According to Steve Squyres, Mars Exploration Rover (MER) principal investigator of Cornell University, it seems to be a new type of rock, unlike any other found so far on Mars.