October 13th, 2016

Retired basketball star Yao Ming takes on new mission as China’s ambassador to Mars

China has appointed retired basketball star Yao Ming and 10 other celebrities as “Ambassadors to Mars” to promote the nation’s first mission to Mars in 2020.

The 11 ambassadors will help publicise the Mars programme, encourage interest in science and technology among young Chinese people and also promote China’s international image.

The 2020 mission would be launched on a Long March-5 carrier rocket from the Wenchang space launch centre in southern China’s Hainan province, Xinhua reported.

June 1st, 2016

SpaceX News: Send Your Stuff to Mars — Today!

SpaceX is taking reservations for Mars.

You may think that you’ve already heard this news before. One month ago (almost to the day), Elon Musk famously penciled in “2018” as the date SpaceX will launch its first Red Dragon space capsule to Mars. Specifically, the company will use its new Falcon Heavy lift vehicle to carry a specially designed Dragon 2 spacecraft to Mars, then land said capsule vertically on the Red Planet, firing SuperDraco thrusters to brake its descent.

From that position, SpaceX’s Red Dragon would theoretically be able to relaunch from Mars, where the gravity is less than 38% of Earth normal, and return to Earth — fuel permitting. (That’s not Musk’s plan, however. He’s running this mission himself, and paying out of pocket, just to collect information in preparation for subsequent manned and unmanned missions to Mars.)

May 22nd, 2016

Mars Appears At Its Brightest Tonight As Planet Moves Into Opposition

Get your telescopes ready — tonight’s sky is expected to be a bright one.

Mars will be the brightest it’s been in two years as it undergoes what’s called Mars opposition, an orbital placement that puts the Earth directly between the sun and the Red Planet.

As a result, Mars will be brightly illuminated by the sun’s rays, making it the brightest object in the Earth’s sky, just behind the sun and moon.

It’s a phenomenon that happens once every two years (or 26 months), about the time the Red Planet takes to completely orbit the sun.

On Sunday, NASA estimates that Mars will be 47.4 million miles away from the Earth.

February 16th, 2016

New Mars map could provide directions for a visitor’s walk on the red planet

Ordnance Survey map of Mars (reduced version)

The British mapping agency Ordnance Survey has created an easy-to-read map of Mars’ surface using Nasa open data.

The map – posted to Flickr on Friday – covers 3.8m sq miles or approximately 7% of the red planet’s surface. It was produced to a scale of one to 4m.

The landing sites of past rovers are featured on the map, including the Mars Pathfinder in north-west Ares Vallis and the Opportunity rover, east of Margaritifer Terra.

Cartographic designer Chris Wesson “designed the map over a couple of months”, according to the Ordnance Survey blog. It is the first landscape the agency has mapped from another planet.

January 28th, 2016

NASA Day of Remembrance

January 28th, 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the loss of Space Shuttle Challenger. NASA Day of Remembrance commemorates the crews of Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia; along with all the members of its family who lost their lives while furthering the cause of exploration and discovery.

November 10th, 2015

Mars’ moon Phobos is slowly falling apart

New modeling indicates that the grooves on Mars’ moon Phobos could be produced by tidal forces – the mutual gravitational pull of the planet and the moon. Initially, scientists had thought the grooves were created by the massive impact that made Stickney crater (lower right).
NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

The long shallow grooves lining the surface of Phobos are likely early signs of the structural failure that will ultimately destroy this moon of Mars.

Orbiting a mere 3,700 miles (6,000 kilometers) above the surface of Mars, Phobos is closer to its planet than any other moon in the solar system. Mars’ gravity is drawing in Phobos, the larger of its two moons, by about 6.6 feet (2 meters) every 1 hundred years. Scientists expect the moon to be pulled apart in 30 to 50 million years.

“We think that Phobos has already started to fail, and the first sign of this failure is the production of these grooves,” said Terry Hurford of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

September 29th, 2015

Op/Ed: Why do Earthlings care so much about Mars?

Why does anyone care about what’s happening on Mars when there’s so much to worry about here on Earth? Why do we continue to spend a lot of time and a lot of money finding out more about that distant red planet? What’s the big deal?

A fair question – and one that I hear a lot, as a planetary geologist. The fascination is apparent, everywhere you look: The media is ablaze with the “breaking news” headlines of Monday’s announcement of flowing water on Mars’s surface. The movie The Martian has been receiving accolades left and right. And let’s not forget, tens of thousands of people signed up without hesitation for the chance at a one-way trip to Mars.

So – the big deal. For most, it’s the search for an answer to this persistent, currently unanswerable question: Are we alone in the universe?

July 13th, 2015

The Curiosity Rover Is Helping NASA Study the Far Side of the Sun Gizmodo


As Curiosity works its way up Mount Sharp on Mars, studying rock and soil samples, it’s also helping scientists observe sunspots on the far side of the Sun.

From its vantage point on Mars, Curiosity currently has a good view of the side of the Sun that’s pointed away from Earth, and its mast camera (Mastcam) is sending home images of sunspots that can help scientists better understand solar emissions.

That’s not just a matter of academic interest. Sunspots that form on the far side of the Sun will rotate to face Earth within a few days, since it only takes about a month for the Sun to rotate completely. “One sunspot or cluster that rotated out of Curiosity’s view over the July 4 weekend showed up by July 7 as a source area of a solar eruption observed by NASA’s Earth-orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory,” said NASA in a press release.

July 9th, 2015

NASA Selects Astronauts for First U.S. Commercial Spaceflights NASA

NASA has selected four astronauts to train and prepare for commercial spaceflights that will return American launches to U.S. soil and further open up low-Earth orbit transportation to the private sector. The selections are the latest major milestone in the Obama Administration’s plan to partner with U.S. industry to transport astronauts to space, create good-paying American jobs and end the nation’s sole reliance on Russia for space travel.

“I am pleased to announce four American space pioneers have been selected to be the first astronauts to train to fly to space on commercial crew vehicles, all part of our ambitious plan to return space launches to U.S. soil, create good-paying American jobs and advance our goal of sending humans farther into the solar system than ever before,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “These distinguished, veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail — a trail that will one day land them in the history books and Americans on the surface of Mars.”

NASA named experienced astronauts and test pilots Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley and Sunita Williams to work closely with The Boeing Company and SpaceX to develop their crew transportation systems and provide crew transportation services to and from the International Space Station (ISS).

June 3rd, 2015

Mars Missions to Pause Commanding in June, Due to Sun NASA

In June 2015, Mars will swing almost directly behind the sun from Earth’s perspective, and this celestial geometry will lead to diminished communications with spacecraft at Mars.

The arrangement of the sun between Earth and Mars is called Mars solar conjunction. It occurs about every 26 months as the two planets travel in their sun-centered orbits. The sun disrupts radio communications between the planets during the conjunction period. To prevent spacecraft at Mars from receiving garbled commands that could be misinterpreted or even harmful, the operators of Mars orbiters and rovers temporarily stop sending any commands.