MarsNews.com
May 31st, 2017

NASA’s Developing a Whopping 40 Technologies for Its Mars Mission

The NASA Nuke Cart.

The NASA Nuke Cart.

Getting astronauts to Mars will be far from a cakewalk. In order to safely land a crewed ship on the surface of the red planet, the agency needs to invent things that don’t yet exist. And we’re not talking about just one or two or five new gadgets. NASA is working on a staggering 40 new technologies in order to meet a 2033 deadline for launching a crew to Mars that can live on the planet for at least a few months.
Yes, Thomas Edison was awarded thousands of patents, but the man wasn’t trying to get human beings to safely land on the surface of another world sitting 33.8 million miles away, separated by a cold, eternal vacuum. Each of those 40 technologies is a hell of a lot more complex than a light bulb.

Stephen Jurczyk, the associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, is the person in charge of making sure NASA’s engineers stay on task and get these technologies ready on time. He seems optimistic NASA can pull off a trip to Mars, but he says the agency just needs to remain flexible while moving forward. “This is a tremendous challenge, and we absolutely can do this,” he tells Inverse.

April 27th, 2017

Mars-like soil makes super strong bricks when compressed

Photo by David Baillot, materials processed by Brian J. Chow and Yu Qiao

Photo by David Baillot, materials processed by Brian J. Chow and Yu Qiao

Elon Musk’s vision of Mars colonization has us living under geodesic domes made of carbon fiber and glass. But, according to a study recently published in the journal Scientific Reports, those domes may end up being made of brick, pressed from the Martian soil itself.

A team of NASA-funded researchers from UC San Diego, and led by structural engineer Yu Qiao, made the surprising discovery using simulated Martian soil — that’s dirt from Earth which has nearly the same physical and chemical properties. They found that by compressing the simulant under high pressure, it readily created blocks stronger than steel-reinforced concrete.

This isn’t the first time that researchers have attempted to create building materials from native resources on alien worlds. Last year, a team from Northwestern University figured out that you could create concrete by mixing Martian soil with molten sulphur. Qi’s own team had previously sought to make bricks from lunar soil material, managing to reduce the amount of binder needed from 15 percent of the final weight to just 3 percent, before turning their attention to the red stuff.

April 26th, 2017

Scientists Hatch Wild Plan to Terraform a Region of Mars

A research team has devised a plan to make a portion of Mars more Earth-like by slamming an asteroid into it.

This Mars Terraformer Transfer (MATT) concept would create a persistent lake on the Red Planet’s surface in 2036, potentially accelerating Mars exploration, settlement and commercial development, the team said.

“Terraformation need not engineer an entire planetary surface. A city-region is adequate for inhabitation. MATT hits this mark,” the Lake Matthew Team, the group behind the idea, wrote in a press release last month.

Key to the plan is a “Shepherd” satellite, which would steer an asteroid or other small celestial body into the Red Planet. That impactor would inject heat into the Martian bedrock, producing meltwater for a lake that would persist for thousands of years within the warmed impact zone, Lake Matthew Team members wrote.

April 20th, 2017

3D-Printing Tools from Martian Dust Will One Day Help Us Colonize Mars

Tools and building blocks made by 3D printing with lunar and Martian dust. McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University

Tools and building blocks made by 3D printing with lunar and Martian dust. McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University

One of the many challenges of colonizing Mars is that the planet is lacking many of the natural resources we rely on here on Earth. We’ll need to bring as much of what we need to survive as possible, but you can only pack so much into a spaceship. So scientists are developing ways to utilize at least one of the red planet’s most abundant resources: dust.

We’ve had a hard time coming up with reasons as to why everyone needs a 3D printer here on Earth, but on Mars the machines could be used to manufacture tools, spare parts, even entire structures, habitats, and vehicles, given there’s no hardware stores for astronauts to visit if we eventually send humans on the 34 million mile journey. But 3D printers don’t make things out of thin air.

You’ve probably seen an affordable consumer-friendly 3D printer at work, melting and extruding thin lengths of plastic to build up a model. There’s no plastic on Mars, however, and packing miles of filament on a ship takes up valuable space that could be better used for transporting oxygen, water, and other essentials. So scientists at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering have developed a way to turn extraterrestrial materials, like Lunar and Martian dust, into a 3D printing material.

April 12th, 2017

NASA Likely to Break Radiation Rules to Go to Mars

Despite the radiation risks, NASA is forging ahead with plans for a trip to Mars. Last month, engineers evaluated how crew interacted with a new control scheme.

Despite the radiation risks, NASA is forging ahead with plans for a trip to Mars. Last month, engineers evaluated how crew interacted with a new control scheme.

NASA’s biggest obstacle to sending humans to Mars may not be related to line items in budgets, but to the safety of the astronauts themselves.

Despite having sent humans into space for nearly 55 years, NASA doesn’t quite understand what risks the radiation out there poses. More importantly, the agency doesn’t know exactly how to manage those risks—and it might not be able to.

Space radiation presents the tallest hurdle to NASA’s future travel plans that extend beyond low-Earth orbit and for periods longer than a year. On the International Space Station, astronauts are bombarded with 10 times as much radiation as they experience on Earth in a given period; on a Mars, they will encounter 100 times the terrestrial dose.

April 7th, 2017

Two Cupertino students shine in Mars Medical Challenge

Lauren Lee, 12, a seventh-grader at Kennedy Middle School in Cupertino, shows off her 3-D printed drug-delivery device that will allow the user to inject any medically needed drug without assistance. Lauren was a winner in the “Mars Medical Challenge” sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation and with support from NASA. (Photograph by Jacqueline Ramseyer)

Lauren Lee, 12, a seventh-grader at Kennedy Middle School in Cupertino, shows off her 3-D printed drug-delivery device that will allow the user to inject any medically needed drug without assistance. Lauren was a winner in the “Mars Medical Challenge” sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation and with support from NASA. (Photograph by Jacqueline Ramseyer)

Two young Cupertino residents have been recognized for truly out-of-this world science projects.

Lauren Lee, 12, has been selected as a junior division winner of the “Mars Medical Challenge” sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation with technical support from NASA. Ansel Austin, 14, was selected as one of four finalists in the challenge’s teen division.

The challenge tasked youngsters nationwide with creating a digital model of a medical or dental device that is entirely 3-D printable and can be used by astronauts on a three-year round trip to Mars.

Lauren, a seventh-grader at Kennedy Middle School, created a drug delivery device, with inspiration from a family member.

Ansel, a freshman at Valley Christian, created the wearable “Flex Brace,” to protect astronauts’ bones.

March 24th, 2017

‘Life’ horror movie sparks reality check on procedures for studying Mars samples

Rebecca Ferguson plays Miranda North, a planetary protection officer aboard the International Space Station, in the movie “Life.” (Sony Pictures Digital Productions)

Rebecca Ferguson plays Miranda North, a planetary protection officer aboard the International Space Station, in the movie “Life.” (Sony Pictures Digital Productions)

Spoiler Alert! This article doesn’t reveal any major plot twists, but wait to read it if you’re trying to stay totally in the dark about the plot of the movie “Life.”

Let sleeping Martians lie, particularly if they have a strong grip: That’s one of the lessons you could take away from “Life,” the first monster movie set on the International Space Station.

The movie – which opens today and stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds – blends the gory horror of “Alien” with the harrowing suspense of “Gravity.” It’s a tour de force of simulated zero-G acrobatics (done mostly with ropes and wires). And it’s an orbital illustration of Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong with having an alien on board does go wrong.

Purists may have questions about just how wrong it goes. Could a minuscule life form brought back from Mars really get that big that quickly? Is it really possible to combine neural, muscular and sensory functions in one cell? And just how easy is it for things to come loose (or get loose) on the space station?

The deepest question may well be, does this nightmare have any chance of happening in real life?

March 23rd, 2017

Mars Spacesuits: Designing a Blue-Collar Suit for the Red Planet

The MarsSuit Project is underway at UC Berkeley, led by professor Lawrence Kuznetz (right). Credit: Lawrence Kuznetz

The MarsSuit Project is underway at UC Berkeley, led by professor Lawrence Kuznetz (right).
Credit: Lawrence Kuznetz

The first explorers on Mars will need a new kind of spacesuit, and a university-based team has taken a novel approach to design the equipment.

Researchers have set up a “collaboratory” at the University of California, Berkeley, to come up with a spacesuit that will allow expeditionary crews to work effectively on Mars.

“The kind of suit that we’re talking about is a blue-collar suit. You’ve got to be able to be out and about on Mars 7 to 8 hours a day, seven days a week,” said project leader Lawrence Kuznetz, a UC Berkeley professor and former NASA engineer with a long history of investigating Mars spacesuit concepts.

About 50 Berkeley students are now taking part in this MarsSuit Project, via a design class that began in mid-January. That core group, Kuznetz said, is one slice of a larger, interactive talent pool that includes the University of Helsinki, Texas A&M University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and students at the Technical University of Ljubljana in Slovenia and at other institutions, along with several NASA centers, nonprofits and private organizations, such as Paragon Space Development Corporation in Tucson, Arizona.

Teams have been established to delve into everything from hardware, soft goods and software to boots, gloves, thermal control and waste management.

“The long-range vision is to have this course semester after semester,” Kuznetz said, “with each semester building upon the work of the prior semester … all intent on maturing the MarsSuit design.”

March 22nd, 2017

Simulated Mars dust makes for weird 3D-printed objects

Copyright Fotec

Credit: ESA

When humans finally get to Mars, they’ll need to use local resources in their quest for survival. Mars has a lot of dust, and the European Space Agency is looking at how to transform it into useful 3D-printed objects. On Wednesday, the ESA posted the fascinating results of a 3D-printing test using simulated Mars soil on Wednesday.

The team 3D-printed an igloo-like structure and a wall corner. They’re sized for a small mouse, but they show that it’s possible to create sturdy objects using the local resources on Mars.

The researchers used a Mars soil simulant called JSC-Mars-1A, which contains volcanic material, mixed with phosphoric acid as a binder. The mixture was extruded through a nozzle and layered in typical 3D-printing fashion.

The igloo and corner won’t win many points for aesthetics, but that’s OK.

March 21st, 2017

President Trump signs bill authorizing NASA funding, Mars exploration

President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 21, 2017, after signing a bill to increase NASA’s budget to $19.5 billion and directs the agency to focus human exploration of deep space and Mars. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 21, 2017, after signing a bill to increase NASA’s budget to $19.5 billion and directs the agency to focus human exploration of deep space and Mars. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

President Donald Trump signed a bill into law Tuesday that updates NASA’s mission to add exploration of Mars and authorizes $19.5 billion in spending for the U.S. space agency for the current budget year.

It’s the first time in seven years that there has been an authorization bill for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, also known as NASA, said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a chief sponsor of the bill. Cruz joined several astronauts and other lawmakers in the Oval Office to watch Trump sign the bill.

Last week, Trump sent Congress a budget proposal that would authorize $19.1 billion in agency spending next year. Congress appropriates funding for all government departments and agencies.

“For almost six decades, NASA’s work has inspired millions and millions of Americans to imagine distant worlds and a better future right here on earth,” Trump said. “I’m delighted to sign this bill. It’s been a long time since a bill like this has been signed, reaffirming our commitment to the core mission of NASA: human space exploration, space science and technology.”

The measure amends current law to add human exploration of the red planet as a goal for the agency. It supports use of the International Space Station through at least 2024, along with private sector companies partnering with NASA to deliver cargo and experiments, among other steps.