September 20th, 2016

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover to produce oxygen on the Red Planet

Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE) is an exploration technology investigation that will produce oxygen from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide. Image Credit: NASA

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will not only investigate the Red Planet, searching for evidence of past life on Mars, but also it is expected to lay the foundations for future human exploration of the planet. One of the mission’s instruments, called MOXIE, will have a special task – testing technology essential for Mars colonization.

“MOXIE is one of nine instruments, but it is the only one that is relevant to human exploration,” Donald Rapp, one of the co-investigators of MOXIE, told

MOXIE stands for the Mars OXygen In-situ resource utilization Experiment. With a diameter of 9.4 by 9.4 by 12.2 inches (23.9 cm × 23.9 cm × 30.9 cm), the instrument will produce oxygen from the Martian carbon dioxide atmosphere at a rate of about 0.35 ounces (10 grams) per hour. It is a 1:100 scale test model of a future instrument that would be efficient for human explorers on Mars.

“The object is not to produce a lot of oxygen. The object is to show that the process works on Mars. MOXIE produces only about 10 [grams] per hour of oxygen, less than one percent of full scale,” Rapp said.

September 19th, 2016

Moon-walker Buzz Aldrin opens new Mars exhibit at Kennedy Space Center

Apollo 11 moon-walker Buzz Aldrin says he hopes the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s new “Destination: Mars” experience will help inspire human exploration of the Red Planet.

Aldrin was at the complex on Sunday at a media preview and ribbon-cutting for the attraction, which features a holographic image of Aldrin, as he guides visitors on a walk along the virtual Martian surface.

A proponent of colonization of Mars, Aldrin told reporters that he would like to see the next president make a bold statement shortly after taking office in January for accelerating the timeline for human spaceflight to Mars, so that we can one day “call two planets ‘home.'”

August 4th, 2016

The future of Mars will be 3D-printed in the Mojave Desert

Growing up in Jakarta’s polluted slums, Vera Mulyani loved building things. As a child, she dreamed of becoming an architect.

More than two decades later, Mulyani is a self-proclaimed “Marschitect,” and spends her time brainstorming how human life might be sustained on the red planet. After studying at École d’Architecture de Nantes in France and at New York Film Academy, in January 2015 she founded Mars City Design, a think tank of sorts aimed at developing blueprints for the first self-sustaining city on Mars.

Earlier this month, Mars City Design raised $30,382 on Kickstarter to realize the next phase of its mission: Within the next three years, the group wants to 3D-print three to-scale habitat prototypes of Martian cities at Reaction Research Society’s test area in the Mojave Desert.

June 28th, 2016

NASA’s Space Launch System Booster Passes Major Milestone on Journey to Mars

A booster for the most powerful rocket in the world, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), successfully fired up Tuesday for its second qualification ground test at Orbital ATK’s test facilities in Promontory, Utah. This was the last full-scale test for the booster before SLS’s first uncrewed test flight with NASA’s Orion spacecraft in late 2018, a key milestone on the agency’s Journey to Mars.

“This final qualification test of the booster system shows real progress in the development of the Space Launch System,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Seeing this test today, and experiencing the sound and feel of approximately 3.6 million pounds of thrust, helps us appreciate the progress we’re making to advance human exploration and open new frontiers for science and technology missions in deep space.”

The booster was tested at a cold motor conditioning target of 40 degrees Fahrenheit –the colder end of its accepted propellant temperature range. When ignited, temperatures inside the booster reached nearly 6,000 degrees. The two-minute, full-duration ground qualification test provided NASA with critical data on 82 qualification objectives that will support certification of the booster for flight. Engineers now will evaluate these data, captured by more than 530 instrumentation channels on the booster.

February 23rd, 2016

Laser Propulsion Can Get a Probe to Mars in 3 Days, Scientists Say

Photonic propulsion could get a 100 kg object to Mars in 3 days—a spaceship in a month—and we already have the technology to build it, scientists say.

Scientists from the University of California, Santa Barbara, are proposing a road map to building laser arrays in orbit capable of launching probes to nearest star systems and spacecraft-sized loads to our nearest planets.

January 12th, 2016

Why Martian Concrete Might Be The Best Building Material In The Solar System

luckypic via Shutterstock

Concrete has been critical to the colonization of our own planet. The Romans and Egyptians built their empires upon it, and when their formula for concrete was lost, humanity invented it all over again in the 14th century. Today, over 2 billion tons of concrete are produced every year, and by 2050, that’s expected to quadruple.

When we finally start colonizing other planets like Mars, we’re going to need concrete to make buildings and infrastructure. But concrete needs water, and Mars doesn’t have any. How do we make it, then? A team of researchers at Northwestern think they have the answer: by heating sulfur up to 240 degrees Celsius until it liquefies, and using that instead.

By using simulated Martian soil consisting of silicon dioxide, aluminum oxide, iron oxide, titanium dioxide, and mixing this aggregate 50/50 with molten sulfur, they were able to make blocks of quasi-Martian concrete. And it’s strong: two-and-a-half times as strong as the concrete most commonly used on Earth.

There’s another advantage of Martian concrete over Earth concrete, too. On Earth, concrete production is the third biggest contributor of CO2 emissions, largely because of how much concrete we use. And recycling concrete doesn’t help curb that production, because while we’re tearing down concrete structures all the time, it’s time-consuming and resource-intensive to reuse. But on Mars, the concrete could literally just be re-heated until the sulfur melts, and the entire concrete block becomes malleable again. That means any Martian concrete will be almost infinitely reusable, without taking the same toll on Mars as it took on Earth.

January 7th, 2016

U.S. lab generates first space-grade plutonium sample since 1980s

File photo of a plutonium-238 pellet. Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory

For the first time in nearly 30 years, the U.S. Department of Energy has produced a sample of plutonium-238, the radioactive isotope used to power deep space missions, good news for future NASA space probes heading to destinations starved of sunlight.

The 50-gram (0.1-pound) sample is a fraction of the plutonium needed to fuel one spacecraft power generator, but the Energy Department said the material represents the first end-to-end demonstration of plutonium-238 production in the United States since 1988.

The DOE made the new batch of plutonium-238 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

December 14th, 2015

Mapping Astronauts’ Behavior On The ISS Could Make A Better Ride To Mars

The first Martians are going to have a long ride to red planet, and NASA isn’t quite sure what they’ll ride in. The cramped Orion capsule will have to dock with a larger habitat that provides room for astronauts to live, sleep, work, and exercise. That habitat’s design is still TBD at this point.
To help figure out the best layout for long-term human spaceflight, a company called Draper is developing a way to monitor every aspect of how astronauts use the International Space Station. The idea is to track the astronauts as they move around in microgravity, to learn how much space each person needs to exercise, perform maintenance tasks, and more.

November 30th, 2015

Inside (literally) wind turbines meant to work at the South Pole—and Mars

It started with Mars. In 1993, NASA gave a Small Business Innovation Research grant to Vermont-based Northern Power Systems (NPS) to build a very southern wind turbine—as in, a turbine that could reliably work at the South Pole.

NASA was interested in a wind turbine that could potentially provide power for human exploration of Mars, and the National Science Foundation was interested in some electricity at its South Pole station that didn’t require flying in fuel. NPS set about tackling both challenges in one fell swoop, designing a low-maintenance turbine using components that could survive the deathly Antarctic (or Martian) cold. A few years later, a 3 kilowatt turbine was spinning away at the South Pole.

November 16th, 2015

The Next Generation of Suit Technologies NASA

NASA is developing the next generation of suit technologies that will enable deep space exploration by incorporating advancements such as regenerable carbon dioxide removal systems and water evaporation systems that more efficiently provide crew members with core necessities such as breathing air and temperature regulation. Mobility and fit of a pressurized suit are extremely important in keeping astronauts productive, so NASA is focusing on space suit designs to help crews work more efficiently and safely during spacewalks. NASA is evaluating pressurizable space suits for missions to a variety of exploration destinations. The EMU (operational spacesuit on ISS) is pictured above on the left, the PXS (advanced prototype) is in the middle and the Z2 (advanced prototype) is on the right.