MarsNews.com
April 3rd, 2020

NASA’s Mars helicopter spins blades for last time before launch

NASA’s Mars Helicopter and its cruise stage undergo functional testing in the airlock inside Kennedy Space Center’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility on March 10, 2020.
Credits: NASA/Cory Huston

NASA is making the final preparations for its Mars 2020 mission, set for launch in July.

The space agency recently reported the completion of important testing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, close to where the rocket and spacecraft carrying the recently named Perseverance rover will lift off in three months’ time.

The testing included the last spin of NASA’s Mars Helicopter rotor blades, which will be heading to the Red Planet attached to Perseverance. In the trial, engineers rotated the blades at 50 revolutions per minute, far slower than the approximately 2,500 revolutions per minute that the blades will make during actual deployment.

March 13th, 2020

Mars Rover Launch Delayed Until 2022 Over Software Tests And Coronavirus

A team prepares the European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover to leave the Airbus plant in Stevenage, England in August.
Aaron Chown/AP

A scheduled joint European-Russia launch of a planetary rover to Mars this summer has been scrubbed, for now. The European Space Agency and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency said the ExoMars mission, planned for July, won’t happen now until at least the latter part of 2022.

Both space agencies acknowledged items like the rover’s parachutes and landing and decent modules were going through final testing, but in announcing the delay, officials said concerns over the coronavirus pandemic were a factor.

“We have made a difficult but well-weighed decision to postpone the launch to 2022,” Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin said in a statement.

Rogozin said agencies needed to “maximise the robustness of all ExoMars systems,” but also that European experts involved in the project had no ability to travel to “partner industries” because of the “exacerbation of the epidemiological situation in Europe.”

The space agencies also said further tests to the spacecraft’s hardware and software were needed before a mission launch.

March 5th, 2020

Virginia Middle School Student Earns Honor of Naming NASA’s Next Mars Rover

NASA’s next Mars rover has a new name. Alexander Mather, a 13-year-old student from Virginia submitted the winning name and explains why he chose the name of NASA’s next robotic scientist to visit the Red Planet.
Credits: NASA

NASA’s next Mars rover has a new name – Perseverance.

The name was announced Thursday by Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate, during a celebration at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia. Zurbuchen was at the school to congratulate seventh grader Alexander Mather, who submitted the winning entry to the agency’s “Name the Rover” essay contest, which received 28,000 entries from K-12 students from every U.S. state and territory.

“Alex’s entry captured the spirit of exploration,” said Zurbuchen. “Like every exploration mission before, our rover is going to face challenges, and it’s going to make amazing discoveries. It’s already surmounted many obstacles to get us to the point where we are today – processing for launch. Alex and his classmates are the Artemis Generation, and they’re going to be taking the next steps into space that lead to Mars. That inspiring work will always require perseverance. We can’t wait to see that nameplate on Mars.”

Perseverance is the latest in a long line of Red Planet rovers to be named by school-age children, from Sojourner in 1997 to the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, which landed on Mars in 2004, to Curiosity, which has been exploring Mars since 2012. In each case, the name was selected following a nationwide contest.

March 4th, 2020

NASA Reveals Bizarre Picture Of Mysterious Hole On Slopes Of Massive Martian Volcano

An image of the hole on the slopes of Pavonis Mons captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
NASA, JPL, U. ARIZONA

NASA has posted an image of an unusual hole on the slopes of a giant Martian volcano known as Pavonis Mons.

In the photo,which was snapped in 2011 by the space agency’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), a circular crater can be seen with very steep walls. At the center of this crater is an opening measuring around 115 feet across, which is the entrance to an underground cavern.

Much of the material that once filled the crater has sunk through the hole forming a pile of debris inside the cavern, according to the University of Arizona’s Lunar & Planetary Laboratory (LPL.)

Using a digital model of the terrain around the hole, researchers have estimated that this debris pile is at least 203 feet tall. Furthermore, the top of the pile lies about 92 feet below the rim of the central opening, indicating that the underground cavity was once 295 feet deep, before the material from the crater fell inside.

March 3rd, 2020

The future of Mars colonization begins with VR and video games

ROBERT RODRIGUEZ/CNET

A pristine white rocket stirs up the dusty terracotta surface of Mars, coming in for a smooth landing. A hatch opens, and two rovers make their way across the rugged orange-red terrain. There are no humans — at least, not yet. But this is one small step — or a short wheel roll — to a new world that could be our future home.

I’m playing Surviving Mars, a 2018 survival strategy game from Tropico developers Haemimont Games and Paradox Interactive. The goal? Build the infrastructure to sustain human life on the red planet.

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“Humanity is in a weird situation right now — my smartphone has more computing power than NASA had when they sent people to the moon, but we’re using that to exchange pictures of cats and argue on Twitter,” said Bisser Dyankov, producer of Surviving Mars.

Video games and virtual reality simulations are bringing the average person closer than ever to experiencing life on Mars. For many, these pop culture tours make the actual missions to colonize the planet proposed both by NASA and private companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX feel more achievable.

These games, along with other pop culture representations of Mars, have vastly increased interest in human missions to Mars, said James Burk, IT director of the space advocacy nonprofit the Mars Society. In particular, the 2015 movie adaptation of the novel The Martian was a major turning point in piquing public curiosity in colonizing the planet. And now, SpaceX’s plan to send an unmanned mission to Mars as soon as 2022 “is throwing gasoline on it all,” he added.

“It’s getting easier all the time to tell the story of sending people to Mars because now we have all these tools,” Burk said. “People are more accepting of that reality now.”

March 2nd, 2020

Will NASA’s Curiosity Rover Die On This Hill?

View of a potentially passable route onto the top of the Greenheugh pediment. (Area on the left).
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA’s Curiosity rover may have just found the ultimate shortcut on Mars.

Rather than driving downhill to reach its designated location on Mars’ Greenheugh pediment, a journey that may take up to several months or even years, the rover will instead journey its way uphill and take a path that has never been driven by a NASA rover before.

The new path would get the rover to its new destination way ahead of schedule. And should the little rover find itself at risk, it would simply turn back and follow the longer route.

The Curiosity rover was parked at a drill site by the Hutton crater on the Red Planet where it was analyzing samples that it had dug up. Next up on its exploration to-do-list was to get to the Greenheugh pediment.

February 28th, 2020

Look down into a pit on Mars. The caved-in roof of a lava tube could be a good place to explore on the Red Planet

NASA/JPL/UArizona

Want to look inside a deep, dark pit on Mars? The scientists and engineers from the NASA’s HiRISE Camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have done just that.

From its orbit about 260 km (160 miles) above the surface, HiRISE can spot something as small as a dinner table, about a meter in size. But look inside a cave-like feature on the Red Planet? Could this super-camera actually resolve any details inside this pit?

Dark pits on Mars are fascinating – probably because they provide mysteries and possibilities. Could anything be inside? Or this could be a place where humans could set up a base since it would provide shelter from Mars’ harsh environment. If a future rover mission were to land nearby, this pit might be worth a look – from a safe distance around the rim.

February 26th, 2020

What can the coronavirus outbreak teach us about bringing Mars samples back to Earth?

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

A new virus called SARS-CoV-2 is a coronavirus that has caused an outbreak of a disease called COVID-19.

Public health groups, such as the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are still learning about the virus, monitoring the disease it causes, and researching potential ways to stop it. You can read all about the coronavirus and COVID-19 at our sibling site, LiveScience.

But me being me, my mind went straight to Mars. I have long been aware of science fiction’s vision of Earth receiving space souvenirs that carry organisms that might be dangerous to Earth’s fragile biosphere — that’s me, and you, too! Such arrivals could be accidental, or they could be purposeful.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s budget request for NASA supports the development of the Mars sample return mission, a robotic program that would haul back the goods from the Red Planet.

What if such samples turned out to be dangerous, and contagiously so? Are there some Mars-oriented lessons to be learned from COVID-19 and other major infectious diseases?

February 24th, 2020

NASA’s InSight Lander Detects Hundreds of ‘Marsquakes,’ Proving Mars is Seismically Active

This view of Cerberus Fossae, created using stereo data collected by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft, shows fault cracks cutting across the Red Planet. New data released from NASA’s InSight lander show this region is still active today. (Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin)

Not far from Mars’ equator, a series of strange fissures rip deep into the Red Planet’s surface. The cracks of Cerberus Fossae run for hundreds of miles, cutting through craters, hills and everything in their path. Relatively young-looking volcanoes nearby, combined with trails of tumbling rocks, have long fueled speculation over whether the region is still active today.

Now, there’s no need to wonder anymore. In a series of papers published Monday in the journals Nature Geoscience and Nature Communications, scientists released the first 10 months of discoveries from NASA’s Mars InSight lander. Its findings, among many others, include a resounding answer to the mystery of Cerberus Fossae — the Red Planet is geologically active and bustles with marsquakes.

The InSight lander was designed to study martian seismology, geophysics, meteorology and magnetism. It carries the first working seismometer and first magnetometer to ever land on the Red Planet’s surface. And while InSight’s lack of wheels might bring fewer news headlines than a rover like Curiosity, astronomers say its findings will ultimately help them better understand the geological processes that have shaped our neighboring world.

February 21st, 2020

Japan will launch the first-ever sample return mission from the Martian system

Mission to travel to Mars and survey the red planet’s two moons; Phobos and Deimos.
The spacecraft will explore both moons and collect a sample from one of the moons to bring back to Earth.

JAXA, Japan’s national space agency, has just approved a robotic mission to visit the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos and retrieve a small sample from the former to bring back to Earth.

The mission plan: It’s called Martian Moon eXploration, or MMX. JAXA currently plans to launch MMX in 2024 and make it to the Martian system the following year. MMX will spend three years in the system studying and mapping the moons. The mission will make use of 11 different instruments, including a NASA-funded instrument called MEGAE that will measure the elemental composition of both bodies (perhaps revealing signs of ancient water).

The mission will also deploy a small rover to zip around the surface of Phobos, not unlike what JAXA’s Hayabusa2 mission deployed on the surface of the asteroid Ryugu.

Bringing home the Phobos dust: This is the mission’s marquee event. The four-legged MMX will attempt to land on Phobos and scoop up at least 10 grams of material from the surface, using a geological core sampler that can dig at least two centimeters deep.

It may seem a long way to travel to come back with such a tiny piece of the Martian system, but it’s actually a hundred times more material than Hayabusa2 is bringing back from Ryugu. If MMX is successful, it will return to Earth in 2029, completing the first round-trip mission to Mars and back.