MarsNews.com
September 24th, 2014

Mars Robotic Spacecraft Population Reaches New High IEEE Spectrum

September has shaped up to be a very exciting month in the annals of Mars exploration. Two new spacecraft, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission and India’s first interplanetary mission, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), have now entered orbit around the Red Planet.
The new arrivals bring the population of active Mars missions to seven—a record high, confirms Bruce Betts of The Planetary Society, a space advocacy organization. On the ground now are Opportunity, which landed in 2004, and NASA’s Curiosity rover, which recently entered its third year of operation.
MAVEN and MOM join a complement of three orbiters: NASA’s 13-year-old Mars Odyssey spacecraft, the European Space Agency’s 11-year-old Mars Express spacecraft, and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which arrived in 2006.

August 15th, 2014

Mars Orbiters Duck for Cover Sky & Telescope

As Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring hurtles toward Mars, NASA is taking steps to protect its Martian orbiters. The plan? Use the planet itself as a shield between the spacecraft and the comet’s potentially dangerous debris.
As part of its long-term Mars Exploration Program, NASA currently has two spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Mars Odyssey, with Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) set to arrive in late September. Teams of scientists at the University of Maryland, the Planetary Science Institute, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) have used data from both Earth-based and space telescopes to model Siding Spring’s journey through the inner solar system, and determined that there is no risk of the comet colliding with Mars. However, at its closest approach to Mars on October 19, 2014, Siding Spring will come within 82,000 miles of the Red Planet, which is about a third of the distance from Earth to the Moon. The closest comets ever to whiz by Earth have been at least ten times more distant.

July 28th, 2014

NASA Long-Lived Mars Opportunity Rover Passes 25 Miles of Driving NASA

NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover, which landed on the Red Planet in 2004, now holds the off-Earth roving distance record after accruing 25 miles (40 kilometers) of driving. The previous record was held by the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 rover.
“Opportunity has driven farther than any other wheeled vehicle on another world,” said Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “This is so remarkable considering Opportunity was intended to drive about one kilometer and was never designed for distance. But what is really important is not how many miles the rover has racked up, but how much exploration and discovery we have accomplished over that distance.”

June 24th, 2014

Aluminum-Bearing Site on Mars Draws NASA Visitor NASA

With its solar panels their cleanest in years, NASA’s decade-old Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is inspecting a section of crater-rim ridgeline chosen as a priority target due to evidence of a water-related mineral.
Orbital observations of the site by another NASA spacecraft, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, found a spectrum with the signature of aluminum bound to oxygen and hydrogen. Researchers regard that signature as a marker for a mineral called montmorillonite, which is in a class of clay minerals called smectites. Montmorillonite forms when basalt is altered under wet and slightly acidic conditions. The exposure of it extends about 800 feet (about 240 meters) north to south on the western rim of Endeavour Crater, as mapped by the orbiter’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM).
“It’s like a mineral beacon visible from orbit saying, ‘Come check this out,'” said Opportunity Principal Investigator Steve Squyres, of Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.

May 24th, 2014

Mars Weathercam Spots Big New Crater npr

Before and after shots taken by a Mars-orbiting satellite have detected a newly created impact crater half the size of a football field near the planet’s equator.
NPR’s Joe Palca says that while objects are striking Mars all the time (with big chunks surviving until impact, thanks to the Red Planet’s thin atmosphere), this is the first time scientists have been able to determine the exact day a meteor struck – in this case, sometime on March 28, 2012.
But it wasn’t noticed until two months ago.

April 9th, 2014

Look how clean Opportunity is now! The Planetary Society

You’ve heard from both Larry Crumpler and A. J. S. Rayl recently about how Opportunity has enjoyed a cleaning event that’s left her solar panels sparkling in the sunshine. Here’s a rover deck panorama to corroborate that story, newly processed by James Sorenson. I love how the position of the rover mast’s shadow across the deck perfectly implies its presence and even height. (Opportunity, of course, cannot see her own camera mast.)

March 17th, 2014

Obama proposes ending Mars Odyssey, Mars Opportunity in NASA budget Examiner.com

According to a March 13, 2014 story on Fox News, two venerable but successful Mars probes face the budget ax by the Obama administration in the FY 2015 funding request for NASA.
“NASA’s baseline budget for the year beginning Oct. 1 pulls the plug on the 10-year-old Mars rover Opportunity, newly released details of the agency’s fiscal 2015 spending plan show.
“The plan, which requires Congressional approval, also anticipates ending the orbiting Mars Odyssey mission on Sept. 30, 2016.”

February 4th, 2014

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover looks to ‘jump’ sand dune BBC

The Curiosity Mars rover is to try to drive over a one metre-high dune.
The sand bank is currently blocking the robot’s path into a small valley and a route with fewer of the sharp rocks that lately have been making big dents in the vehicle’s aluminium wheels.
US space agency engineers will take no risks, however. The rover will be commanded initially to climb only part way up the dune to see how it behaves.
The team is mindful that NASA’s Spirit rover was lost in a sand trap in 2009.
And the Opportunity rover, which has just celebrated 10 working years on the planet, very nearly went the same way in 2005 when it became stuck for several weeks in a deep dirt pile later dubbed “Purgatory Dune”.

January 31st, 2014

The Opportunity Rover Looks Nearly Unrecognizable After 10 Years On Mars Business Insider

The Opportunity rover recently celebrated 10 years on Mars, even though the mission was only planned for three months. Engineers thought the rover would conk out much sooner, in part because they believed its solar panels would quickly become caked with dust and cut off the robot’s power supply. Instead, they found that wind storms actually help to clean the panels.
Over the years, Opportunity has taken several self-portraits — an overhead view of the rover made by combining several images — that give us a good idea of how much dust has accumulated on the solar panels. Compared to its first year on Mars, the rover is looking really dirty today.

January 24th, 2014

Bill Nye and Planetary Radio Live Celebrate the Rovers The Planetary Society

We’ll talk about the accomplishments of both Opportunity and her sister, Spirit, and the legacy of these two little explorers that have gone far beyond their creators’ dreams.
Society Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist Emily Lakdawalla will present stunning images of Mars, and Director of Projects Bruce Betts will join Mat for a live edition of What’s Up. Also returning by popular demand, the great gypsy swing band, Hedgehog Swing!