MarsNews.com
March 10th, 2015

Mars Rover Opportunity Finds New Type Of Rock Clapway

Mars rover Opportunity is stopping to investigate some oddly shaped rocks that have a composition never seen on Mars before. The blocky outcrops were spotted when Opportunity climbed an overlook to survey “Marathon Valley”, the current location of the mission of exploration. Matt Golombeck of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) explained the detour: “We drove to the edge of a plateau to look down in the valley, and we found these big, dark-gray blocks along the ridgeline. We checked one and found its composition is different from any ever measured before on Mars. So, whoa! Let’s study these more before moving on.”
Spectrometer analysis indicates that the first of the two rocks has a relatively higher concentration of aluminum and silicon. According to Steve Squyres, Mars Exploration Rover (MER) principal investigator of Cornell University, it seems to be a new type of rock, unlike any other found so far on Mars.

February 3rd, 2015

With an eye on Mars, White House seeks to boost NASA funding The Christian Science Monitor

The White House budget proposal for NASA in 2016 calls for a $500 million boost over the 2015 enacted budget and would keep NASA on its path to Mars, NASA chief Charles Bolden says.
The $18.5 billion budget request, presented by Bolden today (Feb. 2), includes funding for developing a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, and the agency’s asteroid redirect mission (ARM). Officials think ARM could help pave the way for crewed missions to the Red Planet by the 2030s.
“NASA is firmly on a journey to Mars,” Bolden said. “Make no mistake, this journey will help guide and define our generation.”

December 31st, 2014

NASA to try to reconfigure a flash drive—on Mars Ars Technica

NASA is going to try to disable some faulty flash memory on the Opportunity rover, which is over a decade into its planned three-month mission to explore Mars. Defects in one of the rover’s seven banks of flash memory are causing a series of reboots and “amnesia” events that are making it difficult for the rover to continue its scientific mission.
Opportunity uses a combination of volatile memory and flash memory. The volatile memory is used to store data obtained by the scientific instruments, which is sent back to Earth prior to nightfall, when power is cut from the rover’s solar panels. The flash memory is used to store telemetry and command information, which allow the rover to continue its mission as the next day starts. If the flash memory is faulty or unavailable, the rover has to do a reset and wait for new commands from Earth.
This started occurring with regularity by early December, prompting NASA to reformat the flash memory. Problems continued, however, and technicians eventually localized the issue to one of the banks of on-board flash memory that provide Opportunity with 2GB of storage. So NASA started to plan for a software patch that would deactivate that bank and allow the rover to function with the remaining six.

November 11th, 2014

Newest NASA Mars Orbiter Demonstrates Relay Prowess NASA

The newest node in NASA’s Mars telecommunications network — a radio aboard the MAVEN orbiter custom-designed for data links with robots on the surface of Mars — handled a copious 550 megabits during its first relay of real Mars data.
MAVEN’s Electra UHF radio received the transmission from NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover on Nov. 6, using an adaptive data rate as the orbiter passed through the sky over the rover. The data that MAVEN relayed to NASA’s Deep Space Network of large dish antennas on Earth included several images of terrain that Curiosity has been examining at the base of Mars’ Mount Sharp. The test also included relaying data to Curiosity from Earth via MAVEN.

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.)