MarsNews.com
November 15th, 2018

Mars Researcher Takes A Journey To The Red Planet — Through Her Family Tree

Dr. Tanya Harrison holds up a copy of Ira Sweet Bunker’s short story.
Annika Cline/KJZZ

You can refer to Tanya Harrison as “Dr. Harrison,” but there’s another title she likes, too.

“I’m what I like to call a professional Martian,” she said.

She’s a geologist who explores Mars through the eyes of NASA’s Opportunity rover, which recently celebrated its 5,000th Martian day out there on the planet’s dusty surface. Harrison is also director of research for the NewSpace Initiative at ASU.

“I get to spend a lot of my time looking at images from Mars, which I think is really exciting, especially if you’re doing something with the rovers were you might be one of the first people in history to ever see that piece of Mars from the rover,” she said.

“I’d always been interested in space. I grew up watching a lot of Star Trek with my parents. But in 1997 when the Mars Pathfinder mission landed, NASA released a little animation of photos of the Sojourner rover driving off the lander onto the surface of Mars,” Harrison recalled. “And I remember seeing that and thinking, we’re driving a robot on another planet tens of millions of miles away. And my brain just couldn’t comprehend how awesome that was. And so that kind of shifted my focus from just kind of general space to — I really want to work on Mars.”

So she did. Not literally, but as close as anyone can get right now. Every image she sees from the rover unravels another little mystery about the red planet.

Then last year, her mom made a discovery.

“So my mother is really into genealogy,” Harrison said. “And she told me at one point recently that she had come across my great great uncle, whose name is Ira Sweet Bunker. And she found out from his obituary, of all things, that he had written a story called: ‘A Thousand Years Hence; Or, Startling Events In The Year 3000.’”

Subtitle: “A Trip To Mars, Incidents By The Way.”

November 14th, 2018

NASA Brings Mars Landing, First in Six Years, to Viewers Everywhere November 26, 2018

This illustration shows a simulated view of NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander firing retrorockets to slow down as it descends toward the surface of Mars.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Mars Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander is scheduled to touch down on the Red Planet at approximately 3 p.m. EST Nov. 26, and viewers everywhere can watch coverage of the event live on NASA Television, the agency’s website and social media platforms.

Launched on May 5, InSight marks NASA’s first Mars landing since the Curiosity rover in 2012. The landing will kick off a two-year mission in which InSight will become the first spacecraft to study Mars’ deep interior. Its data also will help scientists understand the formation of all rocky worlds, including our own.

InSight is being followed to Mars by two mini-spacecraft comprising NASA’s Mars Cube One (MarCO), the first deep-space mission for CubeSats. If MarCO makes its planned Mars flyby, it will attempt to relay data from InSight as it enters the planet’s atmosphere and lands.

InSight and MarCO flight controllers will monitor the spacecraft’s entry, descent and landing from mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, where all landing events will take place.

November 13th, 2018

Storm that silenced Mars Opportunity rover has finally settled

Opportunity snapped this selfie in 2014 after winds cleaned dust off its solar panels.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

NASA’s solar-powered Opportunity rover has had a rough year. The machine went silent in June when a global dust storm engulfed the planet and cut off its access to sunlight. The good news is the storm has finally cleared completely. The bad news is the rover is still silent.

NASA posted a mission update covering late October into early November, noting the rover site is now storm free.

The space agency measures the atmospheric opacity, known as “tau,” to determine how much dust is swirling around in the Martian sky. It’s at a level of 0.8, down from 10.8 on June 10, when NASA last heard from the rover. NASA uses its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to monitor the atmosphere from above.

November 12th, 2018

Early Days On Mars: A Primer For The Issues First Colonists Would Face

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Imagining life in space has been part of our collective fictions for some time. Many of us grew up watching some iteration of Star Trek with our parents or we have a strong opinion on the best Doctor Who or we still say that Firefly was robbed of its rightful hundreds of seasons. As a species, we’re drawn to shows, books, and movies about discovery — humans pushing the boundaries of what we know and where we’ve been. It’s in our very nature to explore.

“For 95% of our existence, we’ve been nomadic,” Stephen Petranek, author of the book How We’ll Live on Mars, says. “Humans are two million-years-old. Up until just 20,000 years ago, we spent our time moving over the horizon to the next area where there was more game, more fruits, and more things that we could eat. Then, we would move beyond that.”

It makes sense then that, now that we’ve explored the corners of our own planet so thoroughly, we would feel the longing to move again. To go beyond the horizon we can see. And Mars is the next great frontier — wild and untamed.

Mars became Stephen Petranek’s scientific obsession when he interviewed Elon Musk for a TED project. Talking to the Tesla visionary and hearing his plans blew Petranek’s mind. Through their conversations, the writer realized that going to Mars wasn’t just possible in the future, the current technology makes it possible now. Bigger still, he felt certain that a mass pilgrimage to the famed “red planet” could save our species from extinction.

No wonder Petranek’s book, How We’ll Live On Mars, grabs people’s imaginations so strongly. This isn’t purely fiction but it does inspire the imagination. Enough so that it became the inspiration for the NatGeo show, MARS — a hybrid of real scientific interviews and scripted drama about the first Martian colony. Recently, we talked to Stephen Petranek in advance of the second season of MARS (out November 12th 9/8c) and he addressed problems on Earth that could still plague us on another planet.

November 9th, 2018

The Mars Society Launches $10,000 Prize for Designing the Best Plan For a Mars Colony of 1,000 People

Each contestant will need to submit a report of no more than 20 pages presenting their plan by no later than March 31, 2019.

The Mars Society is holding a contest for the best plan for a Mars colony of 1000 people. There will be a prize of $10,000 for first place, $5,000 for second and $2500 for third. In addition, the best 20 papers will published in a book “Mars Colonies: Plans for Settling the Red Planet.”

The colony should be self-supporting to the maximum extent possible – i.e. relying on a minimum mass of imports from Earth. In order to make all the things that people need on Earth takes a lot more than 1000 people, so you will need to augment both the amount and diversity of available labor power through the use of robots and artificial intelligence. You will need to be able to both produce essential bulk materials like food, fabrics, steel, glass, and plastics on Mars, and fabricate them into useful structures, so 3-D printing and other advanced fabrication technologies will be essential. The goal is to have the colony be able to produce all the food, clothing, shelter, power, common consumer products, vehicles, and machines for 1000 people, with only the minimum number of key components, such as advanced electronics needing to be imported from Earth

As noted, imports will always be necessary, so you will need to think of useful exports – of either material or intellectual products that the colony could produce and transport or transit back to Earth to pay for them. In the future, it can be expected that the cost of shipping goods from Earth to Mars will be $500/kg and the cost of shipping goods from Mars to Earth will be $200/kg . Under these assumptions, your job is to design an economy, cost it out, and show that after a certain initial investment in time and money, that it can become successful.

November 7th, 2018

This Space Station Air Recycler Could Help Astronauts Breathe Easier on Mars

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst poses on Oct. 19, 2018, with the ACLS life-support rack, newly installed on the International Space Station.
Credit: ESA/NASA

A new life-support system that can recycle breathable air is being installed at the International Space Station, promising to dramatically decrease the amount of water that needs to be brought to the orbital outpost to make oxygen.

The system represents an important step toward so-called closed-loop life-support systems that could one day sustain space crews indefinitely without supply missions from Earth. Such systems will be crucial for future long-duration missions to the moon and Mars.

The newly installed Advanced Closed Loop System (ACLS), developed by the European Space Agency (ESA), arrived at the space station in late September aboard the Japanese HTV-7 cargo ship. This system could slash the amount of water needed for the oxygen system by 400 liters (100 gallons).

This Space Station Air Recycler Could Help Astronauts Breathe Easier on Mars
ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst poses on Oct. 19, 2018, with the ACLS life-support rack, newly installed on the International Space Station.
Credit: ESA/NASA
A new life-support system that can recycle breathable air is being installed at the International Space Station, promising to dramatically decrease the amount of water that needs to be brought to the orbital outpost to make oxygen.

The system represents an important step toward so-called closed-loop life-support systems that could one day sustain space crews indefinitely without supply missions from Earth. Such systems will be crucial for future long-duration missions to the moon and Mars.

The newly installed Advanced Closed Loop System (ACLS), developed by the European Space Agency (ESA), arrived at the space station in late September aboard the Japanese HTV-7 cargo ship. This system could slash the amount of water needed for the oxygen system by 400 liters (100 gallons). [The International Space Station: Inside and Out (Infographic)]

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The 750-kilogram (1,650 lbs.) system, housed in a payload rack 2 meters by 1 m by 90 centimeters in size (6.5 by 3.3 by 3 feet), recycles 50 percent of the carbon dioxide (CO2) exhaled by the astronauts back into oxygen. As the air passes through the system, the CO2 is trapped in small beads made of amine, an organic compound similar to ammonia.

“Once we remove CO2 from the cabin air, we extract it from these materials and we get almost pure CO2,” Daniele Laurini, who led the ESA team that developed the system, told Space.com. “Then, we react the CO2 with hydrogen and we extract water and methane.”

Water is further split into hydrogen and — more importantly — oxygen, which the astronauts can breathe. In the past, all water for making oxygen would have to be brought from Earth. The new process extracts an equal amount of water and methane, Laurini said.

November 6th, 2018

The Mars InSight Landing Site Is Just Plain Perfect

This map shows the single area under continuing evaluation as the InSight mission’s Mars landing site, as of a year before the mission’s May 2016 launch. The finalist ellipse marked is within the northern portion of flat-lying Elysium Planitia about four degrees north of Mars’ equator. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU.

“Picking a good landing site on Mars is a lot like picking a good home: It’s all about location, location, location,” said Tom Hoffman, InSight project manager at JPL. “And for the first time ever, the evaluation for a Mars landing site had to consider what lay below the surface of Mars. We needed not just a safe place to land, but also a workspace that’s penetrable by our 16-foot-long (5-meter) heat-flow probe.”

The site also needs to be bright enough and warm enough to power the solar cells while keeping its electronics within temperature limits for an entire Martian year (26 Earth months).

So the team focused on a band around the equator, where the lander’s solar array would have adequate sunlight to power its systems year-round. Finding an area that would be safe enough for InSight to land and then deploy its solar panels and instruments without obstructions took a little longer.

“The site has to be a low-enough elevation to have sufficient atmosphere above it for a safe landing, because the spacecraft will rely first on atmospheric friction with its heat shield and then on a parachute digging into Mars’ tenuous atmosphere for a large portion of its deceleration,” said Hoffman. “And after the chute has fallen away and the braking rockets have kicked in for final descent, there needs to be a flat expanse to land on – not too undulating and relatively free of rocks that could tip the tri-legged Mars lander.”

Of 22 sites considered, only Elysium Planitia, Isidis Planitia and Valles Marineris met the basic engineering constraints. To grade the three remaining contenders, reconnaissance images from NASA’s Mars orbiters were scoured and weather records searched. Eventually, Isidis Planitia and Valles Marineris were ruled out for being too rocky and windy.

That left the 81-mile long, 17-mile-wide (130-kilometer-long, 27-kilometer-wide) landing ellipse on the western edge of a flat, smooth expanse of lava plain.

November 2nd, 2018

Elon Musk thinks he’ll die on Mars

SpaceX Mars launch: Elon Musk hopes to send people to Mars by 2024.
SpaceX/Getty

Elon Musk has been talking about his plans to colonize Mars for years, most notably at a September 2016 conference in Mexico, at which he said that he would need just 40 to 100 years to create a self-sustaining civilization of 1 million people there.

At the time, he also said that an individual trip would cost around the median price for a house in the United States: $200,000. The Big Falcon Rocket is still unbuilt but is crucial to that goal, as it can carry between 100 and 200 passengers — far more than established rockets using what he calls “traditional methods.” At the time of the Mexico conference, The Verge’s Loren Grush pointed out that Musk had yet to answer some of the biggest questions about what a Mars trip would entail.

The first and biggest is that, so far, there is no plan in place to protect Mars voyagers from dying of radiation before they even get there; nor do we really even know very much about what it would entail to keep all the muscles inside a typical human body from atrophying over the course of an 80-day trip in zero gravity.

There is no plan for what the housing on Mars would look like, or what, say, would happen to an embryo if it gestated entirely in one-third gravity. We have no idea what kind of cross-contamination would result from swapping microbes between Mars and Earth, and we also don’t know if Musk is still planning to artificially raise the temperature on Mars and give it a thicker atmosphere to allow the flow of water. (At the 2016 press conference, he said he would leave many of these questions “up to the decision of the people on Mars.”)

October 31st, 2018

The Mars Generation Suits Up

Testing Final Frontier Design’s 3G Mark III space suit.
Photo: Final Fontier Design

Whenever Hollywood stars venture out into infinity and beyond, they get a slick new wardrobe upgrade. Gravity’s Sandra Bullock has her hip-hugging Sokol suit. The Martian’s Matt Damon sports color-coordinated Red Planet gear.

ut real astronauts aren’t as lucky. They get stuck wearing the same old space duds, sometimes for decades. Space travel is expensive, and space attire itself is costly and difficult to make. So even if some of our current space suits are based on patents from the 1950s, why not keep using those same designs if they’ve already been tested and still work?

Nonetheless, because of the burgeoning human-travel commercial space industry, and renewed interest in going to Mars spurred on by the spectacular Curiosity rover mission and the Mars One space settler effort, space suits are getting another look.

October 30th, 2018

How NASA Will Use Robots to Create Rocket Fuel From Martian Soil

This artist’s rendering shows excavating robots that may one day operate on Mars, long before humans ever set foot on the planet.
Illustration: Marek Denko/NoEmotion

The year is 2038. After 18 months living and working on the surface of Mars, a crew of six explorers boards a deep-space transport rocket and leaves for Earth. No humans are staying behind, but work goes on without them: Autonomous robots will keep running a mining and chemical-synthesis plant they’d started years before this first crewed mission ever set foot on the planet. The plant produces water, oxygen, and rocket fuel using local resources, and it will methodically build up all the necessary supplies for the next Mars mission, set to arrive in another two years.

This robot factory isn’t science fiction: It’s being developed jointly by multiple teams across NASA. One of them is the Swamp Works Lab at NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center, in Florida, where I am a team lead. Officially, it’s known as an in situ resource utilization (ISRU) system, but we like to call it a dust-to-thrust factory, because it turns simple dust into rocket fuel. This technology will one day allow humans to live and work on Mars—and return to Earth to tell the story.

But why synthesize stuff on Mars instead of just shipping it there from Earth? NASA invokes the “gear-ratio problem.” By some estimates, to ship a single kilogram of fuel from Earth to Mars, today’s rockets need to burn 225 kilograms of fuel in transit—launching into low Earth orbit, shooting off toward Mars, slowing down to get into Mars orbit, and finally slowing to a safe landing on the surface of Mars. We’d start with 226 kg and end with 1 kg, which makes for a 226:1 gear ratio. And the ratio stays the same no matter what we ship. We would need 225 tons of fuel to send a ton of water, a ton of oxygen, or a ton of machinery. The only way to get around that harsh arithmetic is by making our water, oxygen, and fuel on-site.