MarsNews.com
July 21st, 2020

How NASA Built a Self-Driving Car for Its Next Mars Mission

Like the self-driving cars on Earth, Perseverance will navigate using an array of sensors feeding data to machine vision algorithms.PHOTOGRAPH: NASA/JPL-CALTECH

Later this month, NASA is expected to launch its latest Mars rover, Perseverance, on a first-of-its-kind mission to the Red Planet. Its job is to collect and store geological samples so they can eventually be returned to Earth. Perseverance will spend its days poking the Jezero Crater, an ancient Martian river delta, and the samples it collects may contain the first evidence of extraterrestrial life. But first it has to find them. For that, it needs some damn good computers—at least by Martian standards.

Perseverance is significantly more autonomous than any of NASA’s previous four rovers and is designed to be what Philip Twu, a robotics system engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, calls a “self-driving car on Mars.” Like the ones on Earth, Perseverance will navigate using an array of sensors feeding data to machine vision algorithms. But whereas terrestrial autonomous vehicles are packed with the best computers money can buy, the main computer on Perseverance is about as fast as a high-end PC … from 1997. The only way Perseverance’s poky brain is able to handle all this autonomous driving is because NASA gave it a second computer that acts like a robotic driver.

July 20th, 2020

The United Arab Emirates successfully launches its first spacecraft bound for Mars

A screen broadcasting the launch of the “Hope” Mars probe at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai. Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images

Today, the United Arab Emirates’ first interplanetary mission successfully took off from the southern tip of Japan, sending up a car-sized probe bound for the planet Mars. The launch marks the beginning of the country’s most ambitious space project yet, aimed at studying the weather on Mars as it evolves throughout the planet’s year.

The spacecraft, called Hope, took off on top of a Japanese H-IIA rocket from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center at 6:58AM at the launch site (or 5:58PM ET this afternoon on the East Coast of the US). The probe will now spend the next seven months traveling through deep space, periodically correcting its course with a series of engine burns. Then sometime in February of 2021, it’ll attempt to put itself into an elongated orbit around Mars, where it will analyze the atmosphere and climate throughout the course of each Martian day.

For the UAE, the timing of this launch was absolutely critical. The UAE government conceived of this project in 2014 to inspire young Emirati teens, and as a bold way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the nation’s founding in December 2021. To ensure that Hope is in orbit by the anniversary, the team behind the spacecraft had to launch this summer, during a small window when Earth and Mars come closest together during their orbits around the Sun. This planetary alignment happens once every 26 months, so the UAE team had to launch this year to meet the 2021 deadline.

July 13th, 2020

Mars missions: NASA, China and the UAE launch new spacecraft this month

We’re not sending astronauts to Mars yet, but July marks a significant month for launches to the red planet, aimed at seeking signs of life.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

With travel greatly restricted across the planet, you might feel a little jealous of the three robotic explorers scheduled to depart to Mars in the next month. From this week until mid-August, a bevy of spacecraft will depart Earth with a one-way ticket to the red planet, tasked with uncovering secrets about past life and the planet’s unusual atmosphere.

NASA will send the Perseverance rover, a next-gen wanderer that will explore an ancient lake bed, looking for evidence of alien life. The Chinese space agency is launching a triple threat: An orbiter, lander and rover are on a mission to make China just the third country to land on Mars. And then there’s Hope, the United Arab Emirates’ orbiter, set to study the Martian atmosphere like never before.

It might seem unusual so many Mars missions are launching in such a small amount of time, but I can assure you it’s not because the robots have achieved sentience and decided to flee the garbage fire that 2020 has become. It’s just physics.

May 21st, 2020

NASA Seeking US Citizens for Social Isolation Study for Moon and Mars Missions

Credits: NASA and the Institute for Biomedical Problems

Astronauts experience various aspects of social isolation and confinement during their missions, NASA researchers are working to develop methods and technologies to mitigate and counteract potential related problems on future spaceflight missions.

As many around the world are staying at home in response to the global coronavirus pandemic, NASA is preparing for its next spaceflight simulation study and is seeking healthy participants to live together with a small crew in isolation for eight months in Moscow, Russia. The analog mission is the next in a series that will help NASA learn about the physiological and psychological effects of isolation and confinement on humans in preparation for Artemis exploration missions to the Moon and future long-duration missions to Mars.

NASA is looking for highly motivated U.S. citizens who are 30-55 years old and are proficient in both Russian and English languages. Requirements are: M.S., PhD., M.D. or completion of military officer training. Participants with a Bachelor’s degree and other certain qualifications (e.g., relevant additional education, military, or professional experience) may be acceptable candidates as well.

April 14th, 2020

What A Simulated Mars Mission Taught Me About Food Waste

Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) Crew 214 – Oct 26 -Nov 10 – MSA ExBoomerang

As a food waste researcher, I’m interested in how humans prepare food, eat and manage leftovers. This interest is not just confined to Earth – it extends to other planets.

I recently spent two weeks at the Mars Desert Research Station in the US state of Utah, and experienced the intimate and challenging conditions of a Mars mission simulation. I was part of a small, isolated team of four with limited choice of food, preparation and cooking options.

I wanted to know how these conditions would affect the food waste we generated. This research is particularly pertinent now, as COVID-19 forces people into social isolation and raises the (real or imagined) risk of food scarcity.

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.

bug.png
“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.”