MarsNews.com
December 11th, 2019

NASA’s Treasure Map for Water Ice on Mars

The annotated area of Mars in this illustration holds near-surface water ice that would be easily accessible for astronauts to dig up. The water ice was identified as part of a map using data from NASA orbiters.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA has big plans for returning astronauts to the Moon in 2024, a stepping stone on the path to sending humans to Mars. But where should the first people on the Red Planet land?

A new paper published in Geophysical Research Letters will help by providing a map of water ice believed to be as little as an inch (2.5 centimeters) below the surface.

Water ice will be a key consideration for any potential landing site. With little room to spare aboard a spacecraft, any human missions to Mars will have to harvest what’s already available for drinking water and making rocket fuel.

NASA calls this concept “in situ resource utilization,” and it’s an important factor in selecting human landing sites on Mars. Satellites orbiting Mars are essential in helping scientists determine the best places for building the first Martian research station. The authors of the new paper make use of data from two of those spacecraft, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Mars Odyssey orbiter, to locate water ice that could potentially be within reach of astronauts on the Red Planet.

“You wouldn’t need a backhoe to dig up this ice. You could use a shovel,” said the paper’s lead author, Sylvain Piqueux of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “We’re continuing to collect data on buried ice on Mars, zeroing in on the best places for astronauts to land.”

December 5th, 2019

Life on Mars? Europe commits to groundbreaking mission to bring back rocks to Earth

Artist’s impression of the Mars 2020 rover. NASA

It will be one of the most daunting, complicated and, potentially, scientifically rewarding missions ever undertaken to the red planet. Ministers at a recent meeting of the European Space Agency (ESA) have fully committed to plans to collect samples from the surface of Mars and return them to Earth, in a joint effort with NASA. Official approval for the NASA budget to cover this mission is anticipated early next year.

The as yet unnamed mission will be accomplished with a series of launches, beginning in July 2020, with the Mars 2020 rover, which was already going ahead. This is a nuclear powered robotic rover which will make a precise touchdown in the Jezero crater in February, 2021.

In the three years between 1969 and 1972, six Apollo missions managed to bring back 380 kilograms of lunar samples. Retrieving any samples from the Martian surface, however, is significantly more difficult due to the vast distances involved.

For this reason, the project comprises three separate spacecraft. The first part of the mission is the deployment of the Mars 2020 rover. Even this will be daunting – it is notoriously difficult to land anything on Mars. Aside from conducting a number of scientific investigations of its own, the rover will gather up to 38 individual samples of Martian soil which it will store in sealed containers. The samples will need to be kept safe until at least 2026.

December 3rd, 2019

IKEA prioritises space for overhaul of living pod in Mars Desert Research Station

IKEA has redesigned the tiny living pod on the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, filling its interior with space-saving furnishings.

The Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) is a simulation site that’s designed to emulate the physical and psychological conditions of Mars, where groups of up to six scientists can visit to carry out investigations into the red planet.

Situated in southern Utah, the station comprises seven elements: a greenhouse, solar observatory, engineering pod, science building, robotics observatory, and a domed, two-floor living habitat nicknamed The Hab.

It measures just eight metres in diameter and is where scientists stay during their periods of research, which can last anything from one week to three months.

November 12th, 2019

With Mars Methane Mystery Unsolved, Curiosity Serves Scientists a New One: Oxygen

Credits: Melissa Trainer/Dan Gallagher/NASA Goddard

For the first time in the history of space exploration, scientists have measured the seasonal changes in the gases that fill the air directly above the surface of Gale Crater on Mars. As a result, they noticed something baffling: oxygen, the gas many Earth creatures use to breathe, behaves in a way that so far scientists cannot explain through any known chemical processes.

Over the course of three Mars years (or nearly six Earth years) an instrument in the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) portable chemistry lab inside the belly of NASA’s Curiosity rover inhaled the air of Gale Crater and analyzed its composition. The results SAM spit out confirmed the makeup of the Martian atmosphere at the surface: 95% by volume of carbon dioxide (CO2), 2.6% molecular nitrogen (N2), 1.9% argon (Ar), 0.16% molecular oxygen (O2), and 0.06% carbon monoxide (CO). They also revealed how the molecules in the Martian air mix and circulate with the changes in air pressure throughout the year. These changes are caused when CO2 gas freezes over the poles in the winter, thereby lowering the air pressure across the planet following redistribution of air to maintain pressure equilibrium. When CO2 evaporates in the spring and summer and mixes across Mars, it raises the air pressure.

Within this environment, scientists found that nitrogen and argon follow a predictable seasonal pattern, waxing and waning in concentration in Gale Crater throughout the year relative to how much CO2 is in the air. They expected oxygen to do the same. But it didn’t. Instead, the amount of the gas in the air rose throughout spring and summer by as much as 30%, and then dropped back to levels predicted by known chemistry in fall. This pattern repeated each spring, though the amount of oxygen added to the atmosphere varied, implying that something was producing it and then taking it away.

November 7th, 2019

China Unveils Plan To Send Astronauts To Mars

Chinese first woman astronaut Liu Yang (L) together with her two male colleagues, Jing Haipeng (C) and Liu Wang (R) wave as they areintroduced during a press conference at the Jiuquan space base, north China’s Gansu province on June 15, 2012.

In a story published by state news network China Daily, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation announced plans to send astronauts to the surface of Mars.

“Sending astronauts there will give man better opportunities to look for traces of life on Mars,” Pang Zhihao, a space technology researcher in Beijing told China Daily. “There are theories that Mars was very similar to Earth in terms of environment billions of years ago.”

According to the statement, it marks “the first time that China’s space industry has publicly unveiled a plan for manned missions to the red planet.”

November 4th, 2019

A Light Touch Required for NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover

The image was taken on Oct. 14, 2019, in the Space Simulator Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

An engineer working on NASA’s Mars 2020 mission uses a solar intensity probe to measure and compare the amount of artificial sunlight that reaches different portions of the rover. To simulate the Sun’s rays for the test, powerful xenon lamps several floors below the chamber were illuminated, their light directed onto a mirror at the top of the chamber and reflected down on the spacecraft. The data collected during this test will be used to confirm thermal models the team has generated regarding how the Sun’s rays will interact with the 2020 rover while on the surface of Mars.

October 31st, 2019

The self-hammering probe on NASA’s Mars lander can’t seem to actually dig into the ground

InSight’s Heat Probe Partially Backs Out of Hole: This GIF shows NASA InSight’s heat probe, or “mole,” digging about a centimeter (half an inch) below the surface last week. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA’s latest Mars lander is having problems with one of its main instruments — a self-hammering probe that just can’t seem to hammer itself into the interplanetary dirt. Over the weekend, the probe was attempting to dig itself into the Martian soil when it popped out of the ground unexpectedly. Now, NASA engineers are trying to troubleshoot to see if they can get this instrument to burrow underneath Mars’ surface as intended.

InSight’s second main instrument is the heat probe — nicknamed the mole. It’s supposed to hammer down into the ground just next to InSight and take Mars’ temperature. If it works as planned, it could give scientists more information about how much heat is leaving the planet’s interior. But the mole hasn’t had as much luck as the seismometer. In fact, it pretty much started having problems as soon as InSight got to the Red Planet. Since it started digging at the end of February, it hasn’t been able to travel more than 14 inches (35 centimeters), even though it’s designed to dig up to 16 feet (5 meters).

The InSight team thinks that the soil surrounding the mole may be to blame. While it digs, the mole needs the soil to fall around the probe uniformly, providing friction that allows the instrument to hammer farther underground. Otherwise, it’d just bob up and down in one place, according to NASA. But testing has indicated that the soil in this particular spot is unlike soil encountered by previous landers on Mars. It’s clumping around the probe and not providing any friction. That may explain the slow movement.

October 23rd, 2019

SpaceX ‘excited’ about building moon bases and Mars cities at the same time

SpaceX has big dreams to build cities on Mars and bases on the moon at the same time, one of the plan’s key architects revealed over the weekend.

Paul Wooster, SpaceX’s principal Mars development engineer, explained that the Starship vessel under development is designed for versatility. That means, as the company aims to complete its first city on Mars by 2050, there’s no need to switch development priorities or move the focus to complete one or the other.

“The [Starship] system also opens up capabilities, for example, to deliver very large payloads to the moon, set up and operate lunar bases,” Wooster explained on Saturday at the 22nd annual Mars Society Convention at the University of Southern California. “Because it’s the same system that’s being used for going to the moon and going to Mars, it’s not something where you have to stop going to the moon in order to go to Mars…we’re really excited about the possibilities of doing both, having bases on the moon while we’re also setting up these cities on Mars.”

October 16th, 2019

NASA demos spacesuits for its Moon and Mars missions

Amy Ross, a spacesuit engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, left, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, second from left, watch as Kristine Davis, a spacesuit engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, wearing a ground prototype of NASA’s new Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU), and Dustin Gohmert, Orion Crew Survival Systems Project Manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, wearing the Orion Crew Survival System suit, right, wave after being introduced by the administrator, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019 at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The xEMU suit improves on the suits previous worn on the Moon during the Apollo era and those currently in use for spacewalks outside the International Space Station and will be worn by first woman and next man as they explore the Moon as part of the agency’s Artemis program. The Orion suit is designed for a custom fit and incorporates safety technology and mobility features that will help protect astronauts on launch day, in emergency situations, high-risk parts of missions near the Moon, and during the high-speed return to Earth. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Today, NASA revealed the two spacesuits that it will use for its Project Artemis. It shared a video of a spacesuit engineer wearing a bulky, red-white-and-blue suit that will be used for work on the Moon and another spacesuit engineer rocking a thinner, orange suit. The latter is what the crew will wear on their way to and from the Moon, and in the event that there’s a sudden depressurization of their spacecraft, they’ll be able to live inside the suit for days.

October 15th, 2019

Op/Ed : I’m Convinced We Found Evidence of Life on Mars in the 1970s

Viking 2 lander image looking back across the craft. Dark boulders are prominent against the reddish soil. The landing site, Utopia Plantia, is a region of fractured plains. The lander is about 200 km south of Mie crater, and may be on top of one of the crater’s ejecta blankets. The largest rocks are about half a meter in size. The view is approximately to the southwest. (Viking 2 Lander, 22A158)

We humans can now peer back into the virtual origin of our universe. We have learned much about the laws of nature that control its seemingly infinite celestial bodies, their evolution, motions and possible fate. Yet, equally remarkable, we have no generally accepted information as to whether other life exists beyond us, or whether we are, as was Samuel Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, “alone, alone, all, all alone, alone on a wide wide sea!” We have made only one exploration to solve that primal mystery. I was fortunate to have participated in that historic adventure as experimenter of the Labeled Release (LR) life detection experiment on NASA’s spectacular Viking mission to Mars in 1976.

On July 30, 1976, the LR returned its initial results from Mars. Amazingly, they were positive. As the experiment progressed, a total of four positive results, supported by five varied controls, streamed down from the twin Viking spacecraft landed some 4,000 miles apart. The data curves signaled the detection of microbial respiration on the Red Planet. The curves from Mars were similar to those produced by LR tests of soils on Earth. It seemed we had answered that ultimate question.

When the Viking Molecular Analysis Experiment failed to detect organic matter, the essence of life, however, NASA concluded that the LR had found a substance mimicking life, but not life. Inexplicably, over the 43 years since Viking, none of NASA’s subsequent Mars landers has carried a life detection instrument to follow up on these exciting results. Instead the agency launched a series of missions to Mars to determine whether there was ever a habitat suitable for life and, if so, eventually to bring samples to Earth for biological examination.