MarsNews.com
March 22nd, 2019

NASA films fascinating SpaceX Falcon 9 reentry, paving way for Mars missions

As NASA eyes future missions to Mars, it needs to accumulate data on how large-payload rockets behave in atmospheric reentry conditions. A recent collaboration between NASA and SpaceX allowed the space agency to capture some unique data on the reentry of a large rocket under Mars-like conditions in the upper atmosphere. Thermal video of the event is not only full of useful scientific data, it’s cool to watch.

The video follows the path of the Falcon 9 first stage, which is the largest section of the rocket. It’s what launches the payload from the launch pad and takes it most of the way into orbit. After the second stage separates to complete the job, the first stage is either discarded, or recovered. Perfecting a method of landing and recovering the first stage is what SpaceX is working on right now (the Falcon 9R).

The Falcon 9 is a perfect vehicle to provide this sort of reentry data because its first stage is capable of powered descent. Specifically, part of the return procedure is firing the rocket engines in retrograde, or in the direction of travel. NASA calls this supersonic retro-propulsion. This is the part of landing where the rocket slows its descent, and would be an important component of future Mars missions, both manned and unmanned.

March 20th, 2019

The road to Mars includes a detour through Lakewood, Colorado

The Mars Society has two practice Mars exploration sites, one of which is in a desert near Hanksville, Utah.

In Robert Zubrin’s Lakewood office hangs a photo he took in 2009 of a space shuttle taking off to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, a mission he strongly advocated for, despite pushback from former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe.

Zubrin, an aerospace engineer, sees two versions of the future for humanity. The first is where new worlds are being explored, and even if things can go wrong, there’s an optimistic future of infinite possibilities. The other future is bleak in which the world is crowded and lacks enough resources to go around.

“I want the first version, and Mars is the closest planet that has all the resources needed for life and civilization. If we can go there, that’s the first step in becoming a multi-planet species,” said Zubrin. “They say the Earth is only so big. It isn’t, because it comes with an infinite sky.”

Zubrin co-founded The Mars Society in 1998, a Lakewood based organization that is dedicated to human exploration and settlement on Mars. The organization, which has at least 7,000 members, works on public outreach and educational programs, political advocacy and research.

The Mars Society has two simulated sites that mirror conditions on Mars — one in the Canadian Arctic and the other in a Utah desert. The sites are used for practice Mars missions to further understand the technology and science needed for humans to operate on the planet. Crews of typically six people attempt to conduct a sustained program of field exploration while operating as if they are on Mars. In the Utah location, a crew found a dinosaur bone, something that Zubrin says a robotic rover might have missed.

March 18th, 2019

Is the best way to communicate with future astronauts on Mars by texting?

Shannon Kobs Nawotniak

Texting may be one of the best ways to communicate with future astronauts on Mars and other planets.

This is one of the conclusions of a study published by Idaho State University geosciences Associate Professor Shannon Kobs Nawotniak in a special collection edition of the journal Astrobiology that was published March.

The article she was the main author on was titled “Opportunities and Challenges of Promoting Scientific Dialog throughout Execution of Future Science-Driven Extravehicular Activity.” In this article Nawotniak compared communicating through voice, video, still images, text messaging and other methods.

“Text-based communication is far preferable to audio transmission over latency [the time delay caused by the distance between the planets], allowing message recipients to prioritize their own tasks in the moment and maintain a written record of communication for review throughout the EVA (extravehicular activity or “spacewalk”) as desired,” she said in the article.

Texting has several other advantages and could be used in conjunction with other communication methods.

March 8th, 2019

Researchers Report on Simulated Extravehicular Activity Science Operations for Mars Exploration

Astrobiology
Editor-in-Chief: Sherry L. Cady, PhD

ISSN: 1531-1074 | Online ISSN: 1557-8070 | Published Monthly | Current Volume: 19

A new study describes the Science Operations component and new results from NASA’s Biologic Analog Science Associated with Lava Terrains (BASALT). The goal of BASALT was to provide evidence-based recommendations for future planetary extravehicular activity (EVA), simulating in particular the conditions associated with conducting human scientific exploration on Mars. The article appears in a Special Issue on BASALT led by Guest Editor Darlene Lim, PhD, NASA Ames Research Center and published in Astrobiology, a peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers. Click here to read the entire Special Issue free on the Astrobiology website.

The article entitled “Using Science-Driven Analog Research to Investigate Extravehicular Activity Science Operations Concepts and Capabilities for Human Planetary Exploration” was lead-authored by K.H. Beaton, KBRwyle (Houston, TX) and NASA Johnson Space Center (Houston) and a team of researchers from these institutions, Jacobs Technology (Houston), Idaho State University (Pocatello), McMaster University (Hamilton, Canada), University of Edinburgh (Scotland), BAER Institute (Moffett Field, CA), and NASA Ames Research Center (Moffett Field).

In the article, the researchers focus on the study design and results of the second field deployment of BASALT. They describe the overall scientific objectives and rules of the EVA, critical capabilities needed for science-driven EVAs and specific activities such as sampling and communication, EVA distance and duration of deployment, individual roles and responsibilities of the extravehicular and intravehicular crews, needs for data and image capture. They also present recommendations for future directions and subsequent research objectives.

“As we move human exploration back to the Moon, into deep space and onwards to Mars, it will be important for the science and exploration communities to identify EVA design requirements that will simultaneously uphold safety and operational standards, while enabling flexibility for scientific exploration,” says Dr. Lim. “Beaton et al, along with many of the research papers included in the BASALT special issue, used systematic analytical approaches to spearhead this process of identifying which capabilities and operational concepts will enable science and discovery during human missions to Mars.”

March 4th, 2019

New Moon/Mars mission in progress at HI-SEAS habitat

The six-member crew at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Hawaiʻi Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) habitat on the slopes of Mauna Loa on Hawaiʻi Island has been hard at work with geological and drone surveys, lava tube exploration and space technology testing. They have been cooking with shelf stable ingredients and passing some of their free time playing cards.

They are also performing a research experiment designed by high school students in Slovakia who won a Mission to Mars competition last year organized by HI-SEAS and International Moonbase Alliance (IMA) chief investigator Michaela Musilova.

Musilova explained, “It is focused on being able to fertilize soils and grow things like spinach in these soils by using human hair. So it’s a very interesting experiment and the whole crew is going to be part of this.”

Musilova, who is also serving as crew commander, says the mission is off to a “very good start,” in spite of some challenges with power cycling on and off and a temporary “disconnection from Earth.”

February 25th, 2019

Elon Musk: This Is How We’ll Build a Base on Mars

GETTY IMAGESCHRIS SAUCEDO

In January, [Popular Mechanics] ran an exclusive interview with Elon Musk in which he explained, for the first time, his full thinking—and the complex engineering questions—behind his decision to construct SpaceX’s Starship rocket and booster with stainless steel. The previous design for the rocket (which was then known as the BFR) had called for carbon fiber, but Musk recalculated and went with steel due to its durability, cost-effectiveness, and ductility.

Here, in a continuation of that interview, Musk goes deep on what it takes to actually travel beyond orbit and into space. Also, it sounds like Mars will have a nice park.

February 18th, 2019

Artificial intelligence — and a few jokes — will help keep future Mars crews sane

The crew of the fictional Daedalus spaceship touches down on the Red Planet in “Mars,” a National Geographic miniseries that delves into the dynamics of future Mars crews. (Credit: National Geographic Channels)

When the first human explorers head for Mars, they’re likely to have a non-human judging their performance and tweaking their interpersonal relationships when necessary.

NASA and outside researchers are already working on artificial intelligence agents to monitor how future long-duration space crews interact, sort of like the holographic doctor on “Star Trek: Voyager.” But there’ll also be a need for the human touch — in the form of crew members who could serve the roles of social directors or easygoing jokesters.

That’s the upshot of research initiatives discussed over the weekend here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Using AI to assess astronauts’ mental state is the focus of a NASA program known as Human Capabilities Assessments for Autonomous Missions, or H-CAAM, said Tom Williams, a researcher at NASA’s Johnson Space Center who concentrates on human factors and performance for the space agency’s Human Research Program.

The aim is to develop an autonomous system that could assist the crew if it noticed that their performance wasn’t up to par.

“If they’re hit with radiation … a system onboard that’s monitoring their performance offers an assist, just like a driver assist on a car, alerting you that, ‘Hey, your performance on this task is not within the parameter of what we would expect. Do you need assistance?’ ” Williams said. “Or do we need to take over if it drops below a certain threshold that the crew member has worked on and selected?”

NASA psychiatrists currently check in with crew members on the International Space Station during private consultations that take place every couple of weeks, but that kind of real-time, face-to-face check-in will be harder to manage during Mars mission, when delays in two-way communications could add up to as much as 48 minutes. Having an AI system aboard the spaceship could provide more of a real-time backstop.

The system draws upon research being conducted at Johnson Space Center’s Human Exploration Research Analog, or HERA.

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.