MarsNews.com
December 13th, 2016

Trump could replace Obama’s asteroid catcher with a SpaceX-backed mission to Mars

Getty Images/Shutterstock/NASA; illustration by Dave Mosher/Business Insider

Getty Images/Shutterstock/NASA; illustration by Dave Mosher/Business Insider

When Donald Trump is sworn in on January 20, there’s a good chance he could scrap one of President Obama’s boldest visions for NASA: the asteroid redirect mission, or ARM.

ARM would ostensibly launch a robotic probe to an asteroid in 2023, capture the space rock, and tow it near the moon. Next, astronauts would ride NASA’s shiny new Space Launch System and Orion space capsule (which aren’t finished yet) to visit and dig into the asteroid sometime in 2025.

But ARM’s slipping deadlines, ballooning costs, redundancy with the recently launched asteroid-sampling OSIRIS-REx probe, and seeming incongruence with the space agency’s larger ambitions to send people to Mars will almost certainly doom the mission, Eric Berger reported for Ars Technica in February. (The Trump-friendly House Committee on Science, Space and Technology also recently sent an unfriendly letter about ARM to NASA, and it appears to be yet another presumed nail in ARM’s coffin.)

So what could a Trump-controlled NASA replace it with?

Physicist and former astronaut John Grunsfeld, who recently retired as the leader of NASA’s science mission directorate, is pitching a popular idea involving a retrieving a sample of Martian soil, as Berger reported on Monday.

October 31st, 2016

Look up: Halloween offers treats for stargazers

Dusk falls (end of civil twilight) tonight at 6:45. The new moon makes for a very dark sky, so equip your trick or treaters with a flashlight and make sure they are otherwise easy for motorists to see.

That dark sky is great for sidewalk astronomy. If you have a telescope gathering dust under a bed or in a closet somewhere, get it out and enjoy the night sky. You don’t have to be an expert to share either. I like to have a step stool handy for smaller trick-or-treaters and a card table to set plastic pumpkins or masks while looking through the telescope.

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

PIA19801

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.