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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.”

February 12th, 2020

NASA Will Soon Use ‘Space Lasers’ To Give Us Live Video From Mars And The Moon

Deep space communications via laser could increase spacecraft communications performance and efficiency by 10 to 100 times over conventional means. NASA/JPL-CALTECH

Ever since its inception, NASA has used radio waves to send and receive data, which are very dependable, but slow. In fact, it’s rare for any spacecraft to send back images at more than a couple of megabits per second (Mbps). That’s virtually dial-up speed, and it seriously hampers the exchange of real-time scientific data.

There are three complexes in the DSN, each placed 120º from each other; California, Madrid in Spain and Canberra in Australia.

Goldstone’s new antenna will include some capability to test optical communications and, specifically, a new technology NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is working on called Deep Space Optical Communication (DSOC).

“Space lasers” will be critical for Mars missions; the astronauts on Mars will communicate with Earth far more than the robotic missions currently do, and NASA will need real-time data on life support systems and equipment on any Mars base.

However, you won’t be able to see them; the lasers will be in the near-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum.

February 11th, 2020

The Journey to Mars Begins in South Texas

Loren Elliott / HECTOR MATA / Getty / Arsh Raziuddin / The Atlantic

Boca Chica’s residents have learned to live with a rocket company, or at least tolerate it, over more than five years. But SpaceX’s work is about to become even more disruptive. So the company has offered to buy their homes. Some have taken the offer. Others, such as McConnaughey, have rejected it, even as Musk prepares to launch a giant rocketship just a short hop from their houses. SpaceX is already hard at work on the next Starship prototype, and Musk says the company might launch it into orbit as soon as this year. “We love Texas,” James Gleeson, a SpaceX spokesperson, said in a statement, “and believe we are entering a new and exciting era in space exploration.”

Few people in this part of South Texas could have predicted the recent trajectory of their life when SpaceX moved in. They have become space fanatics and legal experts, Musk supporters and thorns in his side, trying to make sense of their place in a strange story that could someday end millions of miles away from Earth. All because they got new neighbors.

February 10th, 2020

Trump calls for $25 billion NASA budget for 2021 to boost moon and Mars goals

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine discusses the fiscal year 2021 budget proposal during a State of NASA address, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s facility at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
Credits: NASA/Joel Kowsky

President Donald Trump wants to raise NASA’s budget to $25.2 billion for the fiscal year beginning in October, an increase of 12% over the current year’s funding.

Nearly half of that total would fund activities directed toward getting humans first to the moon, then to Mars. The budget request includes $3.3 billion for human lunar landers, part of NASA’s Artemis program that aims for a lunar landing in 2024. The new documents also cut several long-targeted programs and introduce a new mission that would study ice on Mars.

These details come from materials released today (Feb. 10) by NASA and the White House Office of Management and Budget. The materials are part of the administration’s overall budget request, an annual submission to Congress that lays out the president’s vision for the federal government and begins the budgeting process. NASA’s full materials packet is available here.

“This is a 21-century budget worthy of 21st-century space exploration and one of the strongest NASA budgets in history,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a State of NASA event unveiling the budget. “If the president’s support for NASA wasn’t clear before, it sure is now.” Under Trump, NASA’s annual budget has increased from about $19 billion during his first year to $22 billion for the fiscal year that began in October, according to The Washington Post.

February 7th, 2020

Trump touts Space Force, moon and Mars plans in State of the Union address

President Donald Trump speaks during his State of the Union address on Feb. 4, 2020. (Image credit: WhiteHouse.gov)

Space exploration got a couple of shout-outs in President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday night (Feb. 4).

During the nearly 80-minute speech, Trump touted the recent establishment of the Space Force — the first new U.S. military branch to be stood up since the Air Force in 1947 — as one of his administration’s key accomplishments thus far.

“In the gallery tonight, we have a young gentleman,” Trump said. “And what he wants so badly — 13 years old — Iain Lanphier, he is an eighth-grader from Arizona. Iain, please stand up. Iain has always dreamed of going to space. He was the first in his class and among the youngest at an aviation academy. He aspires to go to the Air Force Academy, and then he has his eye on the Space Force. As Iain says, ‘Most people look up at space; I want to look down on the world.'”

We’ll soon see what kind of funding he has in mind; the White House is expected to unveil its 2021 federal budget request on Monday (Feb. 10).

January 31st, 2020

Mars Desert Research Station Hosting Historic Dual Habitat Simulation

The Mars Society’s MDRS – Mars Desert Research Station, the world’s largest and longest-running Mars analog program, welcomed a special Mars Academy USA (MAU) crew to its campus last week to begin an historic dual habitat simulation lasting two weeks.

During this mission, one crew is operating at MDRS, while a second crew works out of the MAU habitat, which consists of a series of interlocking geometric tents that house crew quarters and a research area. The crew is made up of medical professionals who are testing how two teams on the same planet would collaborate on emergency medical procedures.

Located in southern Utah, MDRS serves as a home base for crews participating in Mars surface simulation testing and training. Depending on the individual crew’s specialization, its scientific focus ranges from geology to engineering, communications to human factors, robotics to microbiology. A wide variety of scientific and engineering research and educational outreach are typically conducted by crews at MDRS.

January 17th, 2020

Elon Musk drops details for SpaceX Mars mega-colony

This futuristic render shows a collection of Starships hanging out on the surface of Mars. Elon Musk and SpaceX envision astronauts initially living out of the spaceships while constructing a more permanent human settlement on the Red Planet.

The first SpaceX Starship orbital prototypes aren’t even built yet, but Elon Musk already has big plans for his company’s spacecraft, which includes turning humans into an interplanetary species with a presence on Mars. He crunched some of the numbers he has in mind on Twitter on Thursday.

Musk doesn’t just want to launch a few intrepid souls to Mars, he wants to send a whole new nation. He tossed out a goal of building 100 Starships per year to send about 100,000 people from Earth to Mars every time the planets’ orbits line up favorably.

A Twitter user ran the figures and checked if Musk planned to land a million humans on Mars by 2050. “Yes,” Musk replied. The SpaceX CEO has suggested this sort of Mars population number before. This new round of tweets give us some more insight into how it could be done, though “ambitious” doesn’t do that timeline justice. Miraculous might be a more fitting description.

The distance between Earth and Mars gets reasonably close roughly every 26 months. Musk’s vision involves loading 1,000 Starships into orbit and then sending them off over the course of a month around prime time for a minimal commute. Travelers would still be looking at spending months on board before reaching the Red Planet.

December 11th, 2019

NASA’s Treasure Map for Water Ice on Mars

The annotated area of Mars in this illustration holds near-surface water ice that would be easily accessible for astronauts to dig up. The water ice was identified as part of a map using data from NASA orbiters.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA has big plans for returning astronauts to the Moon in 2024, a stepping stone on the path to sending humans to Mars. But where should the first people on the Red Planet land?

A new paper published in Geophysical Research Letters will help by providing a map of water ice believed to be as little as an inch (2.5 centimeters) below the surface.

Water ice will be a key consideration for any potential landing site. With little room to spare aboard a spacecraft, any human missions to Mars will have to harvest what’s already available for drinking water and making rocket fuel.

NASA calls this concept “in situ resource utilization,” and it’s an important factor in selecting human landing sites on Mars. Satellites orbiting Mars are essential in helping scientists determine the best places for building the first Martian research station. The authors of the new paper make use of data from two of those spacecraft, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Mars Odyssey orbiter, to locate water ice that could potentially be within reach of astronauts on the Red Planet.

“You wouldn’t need a backhoe to dig up this ice. You could use a shovel,” said the paper’s lead author, Sylvain Piqueux of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “We’re continuing to collect data on buried ice on Mars, zeroing in on the best places for astronauts to land.”

December 3rd, 2019

IKEA prioritises space for overhaul of living pod in Mars Desert Research Station

IKEA has redesigned the tiny living pod on the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, filling its interior with space-saving furnishings.

The Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) is a simulation site that’s designed to emulate the physical and psychological conditions of Mars, where groups of up to six scientists can visit to carry out investigations into the red planet.

Situated in southern Utah, the station comprises seven elements: a greenhouse, solar observatory, engineering pod, science building, robotics observatory, and a domed, two-floor living habitat nicknamed The Hab.

It measures just eight metres in diameter and is where scientists stay during their periods of research, which can last anything from one week to three months.