MarsNews.com
December 3rd, 2018

Five planned missions to Mars

An artist’s impression of SpaceX’s Starship and Super Heavy Rocket. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Space agencies around the world are set to explore the red planet, while Elon Musk has even grander plans.

November 29th, 2018

Opinion: Mars Beckons

Niv Bavarsky

The science and technology behind NASA’s latest space explorer to land on Mars are so awe-inducing that it’s hardly surprising when scientists commenting on the triumph drop their usual jargon to speak like excited schoolchildren.

“It’s nice and dirty; I like that,” was how Bruce Banerdt, the principal investigator behind the InSight mission, reacted when, shortly after setting down Monday on the flat and featureless Martian plain known as the Elysium Planitia, the lander beamed back an image speckled with red dust. “This image is actually a really good argument for why you put a dust cover on a camera. Good choice, right?”

Unlike the [rovers], InSight — Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport — is meant to stay in one spot and deploy instruments to measure marsquakes (yes, on Earth they’re “earthquakes”) in order to learn about what’s going on in the innards of the planet. One gizmo will take Mars’s temperature by hammering itself 16 feet below the surface. Deploying the instruments alone is expected to take two months, and the entire mission is meant to last a Martian year, roughly two Earth years.

What for? A random sampling of comments from the public suggests not everyone is convinced that digging on Mars is money well spent. But the basic answer is that whether it’s practical or not, humans will continue to explore the heavens so long as the moon, Mars and the myriad celestial bodies beyond fire our imagination and curiosity. What happened in the earliest days of the universe? How were Earth and its fellow planets formed? And the question of questions: Is there life out there?

November 12th, 2018

Early Days On Mars: A Primer For The Issues First Colonists Would Face

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Imagining life in space has been part of our collective fictions for some time. Many of us grew up watching some iteration of Star Trek with our parents or we have a strong opinion on the best Doctor Who or we still say that Firefly was robbed of its rightful hundreds of seasons. As a species, we’re drawn to shows, books, and movies about discovery — humans pushing the boundaries of what we know and where we’ve been. It’s in our very nature to explore.

“For 95% of our existence, we’ve been nomadic,” Stephen Petranek, author of the book How We’ll Live on Mars, says. “Humans are two million-years-old. Up until just 20,000 years ago, we spent our time moving over the horizon to the next area where there was more game, more fruits, and more things that we could eat. Then, we would move beyond that.”

It makes sense then that, now that we’ve explored the corners of our own planet so thoroughly, we would feel the longing to move again. To go beyond the horizon we can see. And Mars is the next great frontier — wild and untamed.

Mars became Stephen Petranek’s scientific obsession when he interviewed Elon Musk for a TED project. Talking to the Tesla visionary and hearing his plans blew Petranek’s mind. Through their conversations, the writer realized that going to Mars wasn’t just possible in the future, the current technology makes it possible now. Bigger still, he felt certain that a mass pilgrimage to the famed “red planet” could save our species from extinction.

No wonder Petranek’s book, How We’ll Live On Mars, grabs people’s imaginations so strongly. This isn’t purely fiction but it does inspire the imagination. Enough so that it became the inspiration for the NatGeo show, MARS — a hybrid of real scientific interviews and scripted drama about the first Martian colony. Recently, we talked to Stephen Petranek in advance of the second season of MARS (out November 12th 9/8c) and he addressed problems on Earth that could still plague us on another planet.

November 9th, 2018

The Mars Society Launches $10,000 Prize for Designing the Best Plan For a Mars Colony of 1,000 People

Each contestant will need to submit a report of no more than 20 pages presenting their plan by no later than March 31, 2019.

The Mars Society is holding a contest for the best plan for a Mars colony of 1000 people. There will be a prize of $10,000 for first place, $5,000 for second and $2500 for third. In addition, the best 20 papers will published in a book “Mars Colonies: Plans for Settling the Red Planet.”

The colony should be self-supporting to the maximum extent possible – i.e. relying on a minimum mass of imports from Earth. In order to make all the things that people need on Earth takes a lot more than 1000 people, so you will need to augment both the amount and diversity of available labor power through the use of robots and artificial intelligence. You will need to be able to both produce essential bulk materials like food, fabrics, steel, glass, and plastics on Mars, and fabricate them into useful structures, so 3-D printing and other advanced fabrication technologies will be essential. The goal is to have the colony be able to produce all the food, clothing, shelter, power, common consumer products, vehicles, and machines for 1000 people, with only the minimum number of key components, such as advanced electronics needing to be imported from Earth

As noted, imports will always be necessary, so you will need to think of useful exports – of either material or intellectual products that the colony could produce and transport or transit back to Earth to pay for them. In the future, it can be expected that the cost of shipping goods from Earth to Mars will be $500/kg and the cost of shipping goods from Mars to Earth will be $200/kg . Under these assumptions, your job is to design an economy, cost it out, and show that after a certain initial investment in time and money, that it can become successful.

November 7th, 2018

This Space Station Air Recycler Could Help Astronauts Breathe Easier on Mars

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst poses on Oct. 19, 2018, with the ACLS life-support rack, newly installed on the International Space Station.
Credit: ESA/NASA

A new life-support system that can recycle breathable air is being installed at the International Space Station, promising to dramatically decrease the amount of water that needs to be brought to the orbital outpost to make oxygen.

The system represents an important step toward so-called closed-loop life-support systems that could one day sustain space crews indefinitely without supply missions from Earth. Such systems will be crucial for future long-duration missions to the moon and Mars.

The newly installed Advanced Closed Loop System (ACLS), developed by the European Space Agency (ESA), arrived at the space station in late September aboard the Japanese HTV-7 cargo ship. This system could slash the amount of water needed for the oxygen system by 400 liters (100 gallons).

This Space Station Air Recycler Could Help Astronauts Breathe Easier on Mars
ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst poses on Oct. 19, 2018, with the ACLS life-support rack, newly installed on the International Space Station.
Credit: ESA/NASA
A new life-support system that can recycle breathable air is being installed at the International Space Station, promising to dramatically decrease the amount of water that needs to be brought to the orbital outpost to make oxygen.

The system represents an important step toward so-called closed-loop life-support systems that could one day sustain space crews indefinitely without supply missions from Earth. Such systems will be crucial for future long-duration missions to the moon and Mars.

The newly installed Advanced Closed Loop System (ACLS), developed by the European Space Agency (ESA), arrived at the space station in late September aboard the Japanese HTV-7 cargo ship. This system could slash the amount of water needed for the oxygen system by 400 liters (100 gallons). [The International Space Station: Inside and Out (Infographic)]

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The 750-kilogram (1,650 lbs.) system, housed in a payload rack 2 meters by 1 m by 90 centimeters in size (6.5 by 3.3 by 3 feet), recycles 50 percent of the carbon dioxide (CO2) exhaled by the astronauts back into oxygen. As the air passes through the system, the CO2 is trapped in small beads made of amine, an organic compound similar to ammonia.

“Once we remove CO2 from the cabin air, we extract it from these materials and we get almost pure CO2,” Daniele Laurini, who led the ESA team that developed the system, told Space.com. “Then, we react the CO2 with hydrogen and we extract water and methane.”

Water is further split into hydrogen and — more importantly — oxygen, which the astronauts can breathe. In the past, all water for making oxygen would have to be brought from Earth. The new process extracts an equal amount of water and methane, Laurini said.

November 2nd, 2018

Elon Musk thinks he’ll die on Mars

SpaceX Mars launch: Elon Musk hopes to send people to Mars by 2024.
SpaceX/Getty

Elon Musk has been talking about his plans to colonize Mars for years, most notably at a September 2016 conference in Mexico, at which he said that he would need just 40 to 100 years to create a self-sustaining civilization of 1 million people there.

At the time, he also said that an individual trip would cost around the median price for a house in the United States: $200,000. The Big Falcon Rocket is still unbuilt but is crucial to that goal, as it can carry between 100 and 200 passengers — far more than established rockets using what he calls “traditional methods.” At the time of the Mexico conference, The Verge’s Loren Grush pointed out that Musk had yet to answer some of the biggest questions about what a Mars trip would entail.

The first and biggest is that, so far, there is no plan in place to protect Mars voyagers from dying of radiation before they even get there; nor do we really even know very much about what it would entail to keep all the muscles inside a typical human body from atrophying over the course of an 80-day trip in zero gravity.

There is no plan for what the housing on Mars would look like, or what, say, would happen to an embryo if it gestated entirely in one-third gravity. We have no idea what kind of cross-contamination would result from swapping microbes between Mars and Earth, and we also don’t know if Musk is still planning to artificially raise the temperature on Mars and give it a thicker atmosphere to allow the flow of water. (At the 2016 press conference, he said he would leave many of these questions “up to the decision of the people on Mars.”)

October 31st, 2018

The Mars Generation Suits Up

Testing Final Frontier Design’s 3G Mark III space suit.
Photo: Final Fontier Design

Whenever Hollywood stars venture out into infinity and beyond, they get a slick new wardrobe upgrade. Gravity’s Sandra Bullock has her hip-hugging Sokol suit. The Martian’s Matt Damon sports color-coordinated Red Planet gear.

ut real astronauts aren’t as lucky. They get stuck wearing the same old space duds, sometimes for decades. Space travel is expensive, and space attire itself is costly and difficult to make. So even if some of our current space suits are based on patents from the 1950s, why not keep using those same designs if they’ve already been tested and still work?

Nonetheless, because of the burgeoning human-travel commercial space industry, and renewed interest in going to Mars spurred on by the spectacular Curiosity rover mission and the Mars One space settler effort, space suits are getting another look.

October 30th, 2018

How NASA Will Use Robots to Create Rocket Fuel From Martian Soil

This artist’s rendering shows excavating robots that may one day operate on Mars, long before humans ever set foot on the planet.
Illustration: Marek Denko/NoEmotion

The year is 2038. After 18 months living and working on the surface of Mars, a crew of six explorers boards a deep-space transport rocket and leaves for Earth. No humans are staying behind, but work goes on without them: Autonomous robots will keep running a mining and chemical-synthesis plant they’d started years before this first crewed mission ever set foot on the planet. The plant produces water, oxygen, and rocket fuel using local resources, and it will methodically build up all the necessary supplies for the next Mars mission, set to arrive in another two years.

This robot factory isn’t science fiction: It’s being developed jointly by multiple teams across NASA. One of them is the Swamp Works Lab at NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center, in Florida, where I am a team lead. Officially, it’s known as an in situ resource utilization (ISRU) system, but we like to call it a dust-to-thrust factory, because it turns simple dust into rocket fuel. This technology will one day allow humans to live and work on Mars—and return to Earth to tell the story.

But why synthesize stuff on Mars instead of just shipping it there from Earth? NASA invokes the “gear-ratio problem.” By some estimates, to ship a single kilogram of fuel from Earth to Mars, today’s rockets need to burn 225 kilograms of fuel in transit—launching into low Earth orbit, shooting off toward Mars, slowing down to get into Mars orbit, and finally slowing to a safe landing on the surface of Mars. We’d start with 226 kg and end with 1 kg, which makes for a 226:1 gear ratio. And the ratio stays the same no matter what we ship. We would need 225 tons of fuel to send a ton of water, a ton of oxygen, or a ton of machinery. The only way to get around that harsh arithmetic is by making our water, oxygen, and fuel on-site.

October 22nd, 2018

A first look at China’s Mars simulation base out in the Gobi Desert

China’s Mars simulation base in Gansu Province. CCTV/Framegrab

China’s first Mars simulation base opened to the press on Friday in Gansu Province in the northwest of the country, providing a glimpse of the project mainly intended to popularise space among youth.

The base is located in the Gobi Desert, 40 kilometres away from the downtown area of Jinchang, a city in Gansu. The natural features, landscape and climate are being described as resembling Martian conditions.

The newly-built base has an extravehicular site and nine modules, including an airlock module, a general control module and a bio-module.

“[The base] has several sections. It can tell us how to survive in severe environment when we arrive in the Mars, including such questions as where we can stay, where we can do scientific experiments to serve the globe and which experiments are more valuable,” said Tian Rusen, an expert on space and science outreach.

October 19th, 2018

Chabad on Mars? Pondering Jewish Life in Space

“Shabbat on Mars” Original design by Sefira for Tech Tribe.

In the 1960s, the world became captivated by the possibility of landing on the moon. Today, the space race has refocused on a new frontier: Mars. But if, or perhaps when, humans do journey to Mars, what will Jewish life look like?

Rabbi Mordechai and Chana Lightstone, co-founders of Tech Tribe—a center for Jews in the technology and digital media industries and an affiliate of Chabad Young Professionals—is not only posing this question but exploring some possible answers. Tech Tribe is known for producing innovative and varied events like #openShabbat, an annual Shabbat meal at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, and Chanukah parties that showcase a plethora of unique menorahs, including one made with a 3D printer, one with animated GIFs on it, and last year, one that incorporated augmented reality.

Tech Tribe’s newest project, though, is literally out of this world. “Jews in Space: An artistic exploration of Jewish life on Mars” is “a proof of concept in how Judaism can be brought to the red planet,” Lightstone tells Chabad.org. “If Silicon Valley is set on colonizing Mars, we’re going to show how Judaism can thrive there.”