MarsNews.com
April 17th, 2018

SpaceX to Build its Massive Mars Rocket in Los Angeles

SpaceX is getting closer to making its next big rocket a reality. The company has chosen to build its “BFR” rocket in the Port of Los Angeles, pending city approval.

Los Angeles’ mayor revealed the news during his “state of the city” speech on Monday. A final lease agreement for the proposed project will come before a city harbor commission on Thursday.

“SpaceX has called the Port of Los Angeles home to our west coast recovery operations since 2012 and we truly appreciate the City of Los Angeles’ continued partnership,” the company’s president Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement.

The BFR is part of SpaceX’s plan to send humans to the Moon, Mars and beyond. Last September, the company’s CEO Elon Musk unveiled the design for the next-generation rocket, which will eventually replace its current Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy models.

April 13th, 2018

‘Kilopower’ Could Power a Mars Colony and Deep Space Missions

Science fiction writer Douglas Adams said it best — “Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is.” Getting from one point to another takes a very, very long time, especially with our present technology. Right now, the closest neighboring star system is roughly 4.24 light years away. With our current spacecraft, it would take more than 81,000 years to reach it!

Unfortunately, NASA doesn’t currently have a solution for shortening that journey in any meaningful way, but the space agency might just have a way to power an interstellar mission. What is the Kilopower Project, and what could it mean for the future of spaceflight?

A reliable power source is essential to survival in space — or on any currently uninhabited planet. The Kilopower project utilizes nuclear fission, with small portable reactors that can handle any rough or unfriendly environment. Prototypes are currently being tested, and if they are successful, they will be able to handle everything from the cold vacuum of space to the dust storms of Mars.

Rather than using plutonium, like previous spacecraft reactors, the Kilopower devices run on uranium. Each unit is designed to create about 10 kilowatts (10,000 watts) of power, and if more is needed, multiple Kilopower reactors can be daisy-chained together. For comparison, the average home in the United States uses roughly 10,700-kilowatt hours a year, roughly equivalent to using one Kilopower reactor for about 42 days. Power needs for human habitats on other planets would be higher, due to the need to produce things like oxygen, heat and water, but many Kilopower reactors could efficiently meet the needs of a human colony on the Moon or Mars.

April 12th, 2018

Inside The Cleanroom Where NASA’s New Mars Lander Waits to Launch

A few rule for the cleanroom where NASA’s new InSight Mars lander waits for launch. One, if you must sneeze, sneeze away from the spacecraft. Two, if you drop anything, let one of NASA’s escorts pick it up for you. Three, do not under any circumstances cross the black-and-yellow-striped tape and touch the spacecraft.

Oh also—an engineer tells a dozen media in a conference room at Vandenberg Air Force Base—do not lick the spacecraft. There’s always that one rebel, I suppose.

The reasons to behave ourselves are many, and they are serious. For one, InSight costs nearly a billion dollars, and although it’s engineered to survive the punishing journey to Mars, it’s not engineered to be licked. And two, this conference room is loaded with planetary protection specialists, whose oh-no-big-deal job is to make sure Earthling microbes don’t end up colonizing Mars. And not just for the solar system’s sake—NASA is obligated by international treaty to keep other planets clean. In just a month, it’ll fire InSight to the Red Planet, where the lander will drill to unravel the geological mysteries of our solar system’s rocky bodies.

March 27th, 2018

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Enjoys Its 2000th Day On Mars

This mosaic taken by NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover looks uphill at Mount Sharp, which Curiosity has been climbing since 2014. Highlighted in white is an area with clay-bearing rocks that scientists are eager to explore; it could shed additional light on the role of water in creating Mount Sharp. The mosaic was assembled from dozens of images taken by Curiosity’s Mast Camera (Mastcam). It was taken on Sol 1931 back in January. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Since it landed on Mars in 2012, the Curiosity rover has made some rather startling scientific discoveries. These include the discovery of methane and organic molecules, evidence of how it lost its ancient atmosphere, and confirming that Mars once had flowing water and lakes on its surface. In addition, the rover has passed a number of impressive milestones along the way.

In fact, back in January of 2018, the rover had spent a total of 2,000 Earth days on Mars. And as of March 22nd, 2018, NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover had reached its two-thousandth Martian day (Sol) on the Red Planet! To mark the occasion, NASA released a mosaic photo that previews what the rover will be investigating next (hint: it could shed further light on whether or not Mars was habitable in the past).

The image (shown at top and below) was assembled from dozens of images taken by Curiosity‘s Mast Camera (Mastcam) on Sol 1931 (back in January). To the right, looming in the background, is Mount Sharp, the central peak in the Gale Crater (where Curiosity landed back in 2012). Since September of 2014, the rover has been climbing this feature and collecting drill samples to get a better understanding of Mars’ geological history.

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.