MarsNews.com
February 14th, 2019

The new $1.37 billion border-security deal might save SpaceX’s launch site in Texas, where Elon Musk hopes to launch Mars rockets

A prototype of SpaceX’s Starship rocket stands vertically at the company’s launch site in Boca Chica, Texas. Copyright Jaime Almaguer

Elon Musk’s aerospace company, SpaceX, is working around-the-clock to build a rocket-launch site at the southern tip of Texas.

Most immediately, SpaceX plans to fly a stainless-steel “test hopper” vehicle: a squat prototype for a much larger launch system that Musk calls Starship. When finished, that system — a Starship spaceship and Super Heavy rocket booster stacked together — may stand about 39 stories high.

SpaceX’s launch site is between one and three miles from the Mexican border. Firing off rockets to the moon or Mars from that site might be impossible, though, if a border wall cuts through the launch facility. Yet lawmakers said that is precisely what proposed maps from the US Department of Homeland Security showed, according to Bloomberg.

However, a $1.37 billion, 1,159-page border-security agreement drafted by a bipartisan group of lawmakers would spare SpaceX’s nascent launch site from DHS bulldozers.

“None of the funds made available by this Act or prior Acts are available for the construction of pedestrian fencing … within or east of the Vista del Mar Ranch tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge,” the text states.

That wildlife refuge region encompasses SpaceX’s 50-acre site launch site.

January 28th, 2019

Overcoming the Challenges of Farming on Mars

The study was conducted in a climate-regulated growth chamber in the Netherlands.
Image credit: Silje Wolff, NTNU Social Research (CIRiS)

Scientists in Norway and the Netherlands may have brought us closer to workable space farms, which experts agree are necessary if astronauts are ever going to reach the red planet.

“Astronauts stay on the International Space Station for six months and they can bring everything they need in either freeze-dried or vacuum packs, but the next goal for all space agencies is to reach Mars where travel is much longer,” explained Silje Wolff, a plant physiologist at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Space in Trondheim, Norway.

In the best possible conditions, it would take a spacecraft between six and nine months to reach Mars and the same to get back — not to mention the additional months they would likely spend there.

“It’s very challenging, if not impossible, for them to take everything they would need for such a long mission,” she said.

Growing plants in space is tough — low gravity means water distribution is difficult to manage, the roots are often starved of oxygen, and stagnant air reduces evaporation and increases the leaf temperature.

But in a recent study, published in the journal Life, Wolff conducted a sequence of trial-and-error tests to perfect the process of growing lettuce, data which the researchers plan to use to grow salad in space.

January 25th, 2019

Inside an otherworldly mission to prepare humans for Mars

Crew members Gernot Grömer and João Lousada stand inside the habitat module of Kepler Station, the temporary base for a simulated Mars mission called AMADEE-18.
PHOTOGRAPH BY FLORIAN VOGGENEDER

On an average day, you might find Kartik Kumar in the Netherlands, where he’s finishing up his Ph.D. in aerospace engineering at Delft University of Technology or tending to his startup company. But in February 2018, Kumar was standing on the surface of Mars.

Well, almost. After intensive training, Kumar became one of six “analog astronauts” who volunteered for a month-long simulated mission to the red planet called AMADEE-18. The project’s main goal: to test the tools, procedures, and mental and physical challenges that a real future Mars mission might face.

The more weak points the team can identify, the better. Screwing up on Earth is nothing compared to screwing up on Mars, a frozen desert with unbreathable air that swirls with toxic dust. Even the smallest mistake there could be lethal.

January 22nd, 2019

Elon Musk: Why I’m Building the Starship out of Stainless Steel

Twitter/SpaceX

So SpaceX is making a huge rocket out of stainless steel. As far as we know, this marks the first time the material has been used in spacecraft construction since some early, ill-fated attempts during the Atlas program in the late 1950s.

We know he is doing this this because, after weeks of rumors about a tweak to the design, a few days before Christmas Musk revealed that there would be much more than a tweak. The state-of-the-art carbon fiber forming the body of the Starship rocket (formerly known as the BFR, or Big Falcon Rocket, or Big F-other-word Rocket) and its Super Heavy booster would be replaced by 300-series stainless.

On January 10, Musk tweeted a photograph of a test version of Starship—essentially a prototype that can be used for suborbital VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) test flights, reaching around 16,400 feet. He is calling these “hops.”

Since the quasi-unveiling, Musk has briefly answered some direct questions from the curious space-watchers of cyberspace via Twitter. But two weeks before the announcement he sat down with Popular Mechanics editor in chief Ryan D’Agostino at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, for an exclusive interview in which he discussed, in great detail, the thinking behind the change. He talked about a lot more than that—we’ll be bringing you more soon. For now, here’s what he said about the big change.

January 18th, 2019

Musk vs. Bezos: The Battle of the Space Billionaires Heats Up

Illustration: Blood Bros.

The commercial space business has blossomed over the past decade. Two companies, though, have grabbed the spotlight, emerging as the most ambitious of them all: Blue Origin and SpaceX.

At first glance, these two companies look a lot alike. They are both led by billionaires who became wealthy from the Internet: Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin earned his fortune from Amazon.com, and Elon Musk of SpaceX got rich initially from Web-based businesses, notably PayPal. Both companies are developing large, reusable launch vehicles capable of carrying people and satellites for government and commercial customers. And both are motivated by almost messianic visions of humanity’s future beyond Earth. This coming year, we’ll likely see some major milestones as these two titans continue to jockey for position.

Even further down the road, both Bezos and Musk see their companies truly enabling the expansion of humanity beyond Earth. But they have different visions of where we should go and how.

January 17th, 2019

Op/Ed: The Anthropocene Is Coming to Mars

Universities participating in NASA’s Mars Ice Challenge try to devise innovative ways to drill for water on the Red Planet. (NASA Langley Advanced Concepts Lab/Analytical Mechanics Associates)

Astrobiologist Alberto Fairén of Cornell University and the Center of Astrobiology in Madrid, Spain, asks a provocative question in a paper published recently in EOS: How will our exploration of Mars change the Red Planet?

The term Anthropocene has been widely used for the current period in Earth’s geological history, in which human actions have had enough impact on the planet that we see a clear distinction from the previous period, the Holocene. The geological signatures of that transition include a variety of features such as the extinction of many animal and plant species, an increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (resulting in global warming), deposition of plastic in sediments, movements of soil from mining, and the construction of highways, dams, and residential areas.

The Anthropocene as a geological epoch is not formally recognized, but has been widely used to indicate a period where humans majorly affect planet Earth, beginning sometime in the mid-20th century. Fairén suggests that the same nomenclature should be used for Mars, starting with the first human mission slated for the mid-21st century. The thinking is that with the arrival of the first humans, we will inevitably leave topographic changes such as buildings and excavations, especially when utilizing natural resources on Mars as currently envisioned by NASA. To some extent we already have made changes, considering all our abandoned or crashed spacecraft on the planet and the tracks from our rovers. But once we see the first astronaut bootprints in the Martian sands, the impact will be so significant that, according to Fairén, we ought to speak no longer of the Late Amazonian period on Mars, but of the Mars Anthropocene. Earth and Mars will then have a shared geological epoch.

January 15th, 2019

Microbes Might Be Key to a Mars Mission

Credit: NASA, Clouds AO and SEArch Wikimedia

Picture a group of adventurous companions setting out into the great frontier to explore a barren, wild land. They must bring only the most important things they’ll need to survive on their own. Every ounce of weight they decide to take with them means another ounce they must transport. It sounds like an extreme backpacking trip, but I’m actually talking about a future mission to the surface of Mars.

We take for granted all the things we have on Earth that support human life—air for breathing, water for drinking and nutrients in the soil that allow us to grow food. On Mars, however, astronauts will need to bring their own life support systems, which can be prohibitively costly to transport. Without a lightweight flexible technology that can manufacture a variety of products using limited resources, the first Mars explorers won’t survive their journey.

Typically, microbes are considered a threat to space missions because they could cause illnesses. But non-pathogenic microbes might in fact be part of the solution for getting to Mars. Microbes can convert a wide variety of raw materials into a large number of essential products. Using engineering principles, synthetic biology can be harnessed to turn microbes into tiny programmable factories.

January 11th, 2019

Meet The Leader Of “The Mars Generation”

The Mars Generation founder Abigail Harrison. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Abigail Harrison wants to be the first person on Mars and she’s on a mission to inspire other to to help with those efforts.

That’s why she stated The Mars Generation, a non-profit dedicated to getting young people involved in STEM and space exploration. The group hosts various outreach events and offers a scholarship for low-income students to attend space camp.

Abigail Harrison, otherwise known as Astronaut Abby, joins us from her home in the Twin Cities, to talk about these efforts.

January 10th, 2019

140 Million Miles From Home

Astronauts are already preparing for the long trip to Mars. How can medicine protect them from the dangers of deep space and the accidents that are bound to happen along the way?
Eschliman Studio

NASA wants to send astronauts to Mars by the 2030s. The private aerospace company SpaceX is even more ambitious, aiming for 2024, and on the engineering side, it’s possible that the necessary spacecraft, launch rockets and guidance systems could be good to go by then. Preparing a crew, however, may turn out to be more daunting. Although people have been going into space for more than half a century, the longest anyone has stayed away from Earth is about 438 days, and no one has ventured farther than the Moon, a mere 239,000 miles away. A crewed mission to Mars would be an exponential leap, especially for the human body.

The first visitors to Mars will most likely spend one year or so in microgravity, pummeled by levels of interstellar and solar radiation no previous humans have endured, while riding in a cramped metal craft to a destination some 140 million miles from Earth. Unlike previous astronauts, who have enjoyed real-time communication with Earth and could return relatively quickly if a medical emergency arose, a Mars crew will soon be too far away to do either of those things. A communication lag of up to 21 minutes each way will require crews to be medically self-reliant in emergency situations, and they’ll have to be able to diagnose and treat anything that comes up—physical problems such as broken bones and bacterial infections, but also depressed or delusional crewmates—without immediate guidance from the ground.

January 8th, 2019

SpaceX’s ‘Starship’ Hopper Prototype Could Make 1st Test Flight in Weeks, Elon Musk Says

“Starship test vehicle under assembly will look similar to this illustration when finished. Operational Starships would obv have windows, etc.” @ElonMusk

SpaceX could take its prototype Mars-colonizing spaceship out for a spin very soon.

The flight-test version of SpaceX’s Starship vehicle could be ready to take its first short “hopping” excursion in a matter of weeks, company founder and CEO Elon Musk said over the weekend.

“Aiming for 4 weeks, which probably means 8 weeks, due to unforeseen issues,” Musk tweeted on Saturday morning (Jan. 5), in response to a Twitter follower who asked when the first hopper test would take place.

SpaceX is developing Starship and a giant rocket called the Super Heavy to take people to and from the moon, Mars and other destinations throughout the solar system. (The reusable duo was previously known as the BFR, but Musk changed the name recently.)

The first crewed Red Planet mission for the rocket and 100-passenger Starship could come as early as the mid-2020s if development and testing go well, Musk has said.