MarsNews.com
September 27th, 2019

Getting mac and cheese to Mars

WSU graduate student Juhi Patel, an author on the mac and cheese paper, puts packages of purple potatoes into an incubator, which speeds up the food quality changes at a consistent rate.

Washington State University scientists have developed a way to triple the shelf life of ready-to-eat macaroni and cheese, a development that could have benefits for everything from space travel to military use.

If human beings go to Mars, they need food. Food that won’t spoil during the long travel between planets, and while they’re on the surface.

Currently, plastic packaging can keep food safe at room temperature for up to twelve months. The WSU researchers demonstrated in a recent paper in the journal Food and Bioprocess Technology they could keep ready-to-eat macaroni and cheese safe and edible with selected nutrients for up to three years.

“We need a better barrier to keep oxygen away from the food and provide longer shelf-life similar to aluminum foil and plastic laminate pouches,” said Shyam Sablani, who is leading the team working to create a better protective film. “We’ve always been thinking of developing a product that can go to Mars, but with technology that can also benefit consumers here on Earth.”

In addition to having space travel in mind, the researchers are working closely with the U.S. Army, who want to improve their “Meals Ready to Eat” (MREs) to stay tasty and healthy for three years.

In taste panels conducted by the Army, the mac and cheese, recently tested after three years of storage, was deemed just as good as the previous version that was stored for nine months.

September 13th, 2019

Bigelow Aerospace wants Mars trip to go through North Las Vegas

The Olympus, Bigelow’s massive space station prototype, is seen during a tour at Bigelow Aerospace in North Las Vegas on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. (Elizabeth Page Brumley/Las Vegas Review-Journal @EliPagePhoto)

Robert Bigelow is working to make sure the pathway to Mars runs through North Las Vegas.

Bigelow and his Bigelow Aerospace manufacturing facility played host to eight NASA astronauts and 60 engineers this week — some spending several days getting to know the company’s B330 autonomous, expandable space station.

The versatile inflatable module can be used as a transport vehicle on a lengthy space voyage, and can be attached by airlock to existing space stations or serve as a base of operations on a planet surface or the moon.

Bigelow and his staff hosted reporters Thursday to show off a mock-up of the B330 and provide updates on other Bigelow projects, including the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which recently observed its third anniversary attached to the International Space Station.

The company also showed off Olympus, Bigelow’s massive space station prototype that’s only in concept stages today, but for which there is a life-size model within the production facility.

“We’re in competition with other companies that are going through this testing process where NASA has been sending in their astronauts to critique the good, the bad and the ugly of companies’ hardware, their enclosures, their architecture and whatever and that’s the process we’re going through,” Bigelow said in a briefing.

Bigelow said the company has made modifications based on the astronauts’ comments, changing a handhold grip or slide-out seating here or there.

September 4th, 2019

Soon you can test a cabin designed for Mars right here on planet Earth

Marsha in Mars with AI. plomp

Martian architecture has come a long way—the habitable future of the red planet is all about new materials, imaginative forms, and cutting edge concepts.

If it’s good enough for the atmosphere of Mars, it’s safe to assume that it’s good enough for Earth. That’s the thinking behind Tera, a high-tech eco cabin that’s modeled after a Martian habitat.

AI SpaceFactory designed the cylindrical cabin after Marsha, its concept for a Mars-ready dwelling that won first place in the final phase of NASA’s 3D-printed Mars Habitat Challenge. The luxury eco-cabin takes what was novel about the Marsha and reformatted it for Earth.

August 14th, 2019

Nuclear Reactor for Mars Outpost Could Be Ready to Fly by 2022

NASA and NNSA engineers lower the wall of the vacuum chamber around the Kilowatt Reactor Using Stirling TechnologY (KRUSTY system). The vacuum chamber is later evacuated to simulate the conditions of space when KRUSTY operates.
Credits: Los Alamos National Laboratory

A new type of nuclear reactor designed to power crewed outposts on the moon and Mars could be ready for its first in-space trial just a few years from now, project team members said.

A flight test is the next big step for the Kilopower experimental fission reactor, which aced a series of critical ground tests from November 2017 through March 2018. No off-Earth demonstration is on the books yet, but Kilopower should be ready to go by 2022 or so if need be, said Patrick McClure, Kilopower project lead at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

“I think we could do this in three years and be ready for flight,” McClure said late last month during a presentation with NASA’s Future In-Space Operations working group.

“I think three years is a very doable time frame,” he added, stressing that this is his opinion, not necessarily that of NASA, which is developing the Kilopower project along with the DOE.

August 7th, 2019

How This Video Game Company Will Help Keep Mars Astronauts Healthy

Illustration of an astronaut in front of Mars.GETTY

Level Ex isn’t your average video game company. Instead of stealing cars or street fighting, its games focus on the human body, creating video games for doctors and other medical professionals that want to practice complicated procedures. Now the company aims to help astronauts stay healthy on long-term missions, such as going to Mars.

On Wednesday, Level Ex announced that it received a year-long grant of an undisclosed amount from the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH), an organization that is led by Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Space Medicine and is funded by NASA’s Human Research Program. The grant will provide funding for Level Ex to create a virtual simulation that can show how human anatomy and medical procedures will differ in space versus on Earth. Eventually, the company hopes to create medical video games that can be used to train astronauts on health situations they may encounter while in space. Level Ex has made many exciting products over its four year history, says founder and CEO Sam Glassenberg, but “this one is something special.”

August 1st, 2019

NASA Announces US Industry Partnerships to Advance Moon, Mars Technology

Illustration of a human landing system and crew on the lunar surface with Earth near the horizon.
Credits: NASA

As NASA prepares to land humans on the Moon by 2024 with the Artemis program, commercial companies are developing new technologies, working toward space ventures of their own, and looking to NASA for assistance. NASA has selected 13 U.S. companies for 19 partnerships to mature industry-developed space technologies and help maintain American leadership in space.

NASA centers will partner with the companies, which range from small businesses with fewer than a dozen employees to large aerospace organizations, to provide expertise, facilities, hardware and software at no cost. The partnerships will advance the commercial space sector and help bring new capabilities to market that could benefit future NASA missions.

“NASA’s proven experience and unique facilities are helping commercial companies mature their technologies at a competitive pace,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). “We’ve identified technology areas NASA needs for future missions, and these public-private partnerships will accelerate their development so we can implement them faster.”

The selections were made through NASA’s Announcement of Collaboration Opportunity (ACO) released in October 2018. They will result in non-reimbursable Space Act Agreements between the companies and NASA. The selections cover the following technology focus areas, which are important to America’s Moon to Mars exploration approach.

July 2nd, 2019

Landing the Mars 2020 rover: Autopilot will avoid terrain hazards autonomously

NASA’s Mars 2020 mission will have an autopilot that helps guide it to safer landings on the Red Planet.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The view of the Sea of Tranquility rising up to meet Neil Armstrong during the first astronaut landing on the Moon was not what Apollo 11 mission planners had intended. They had hoped to send the lunar module Eagle toward a relatively flat landing zone with few craters, rocks and boulders. Instead, peering through his small, triangular commander’s window, Armstrong saw a boulder field—very unfriendly for a lunar module. So the Apollo 11 commander took control of the descent from the onboard computer, piloting Eagle well beyond the boulder field,to a landing site that will forever be known as Tranquility Base.

“There had been Moon landings with robotic spacecraft before Apollo 11,” said Al Chen, entry, descent and landing lead for NASA’s Mars 2020 mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “But never before had a spacecraft on a descent toward its surface changed its trajectory to maneuver out of harm’s way.”

Chen and his Mars 2020 colleagues have experience landing spacecraft on the Red Planet without the help of a steely-eyed astronaut at the stick. But Mars 2020 is headed toward NASA’s biggest Martian challenge yet. Jezero Crater is a 28-mile-wide (45-kilometer-wide) indentation full of steep cliffsides, sand dunes, boulders fields and small impact craters. The team knew that to attempt a landing at Jezero—and with a rover carrying 50% more payload than the Curiosity rover, which landed at a more benign location near Mount Sharp—they would have to up their game.

“What we needed was a Neil Armstrong for Mars,” said Chen. “What we came up with was Terrain-Relative Navigation.”

July 1st, 2019

Earth To Mars In 100 Days? The Power Of Nuclear Rockets

Artist’s concept of a Bimodal Nuclear Thermal Rocket in Low Earth Orbit. Credit: NASA

The Solar System is a really big place, and it takes forever to travel from world to world with traditional chemical rockets. But one technique, developed back in the 1960s might provide a way to dramatically shorten our travel times: nuclear rockets.

Of course, launching a rocket powered by radioactive material has its own risks as well. Should we attempt it?

On May 22, 2019, US Congress approved $125 million dollars in funding for the development of nuclear thermal propulsion rockets. Although this program doesn’t have any role to play in NASA’s Artemis 2024 return to the Moon, it – quote – “calls upon NASA to develop a multi-year plan that enables a nuclear thermal propulsion demonstration including the timeline associated with the space demonstration and a description of future missions and propulsion and power systems enabled by this capability.”

June 13th, 2019

NASA’s Mars 2020 Will Blaze a Trail – for Humans

This artist’s concept depicts astronauts and human habitats on Mars. NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will carry a number of technologies that could make Mars safer and easier to explore for humans. Credit: NASA

When a female astronaut first sets foot on the Moon in 2024, the historic moment will represent a step toward another NASA first: eventually putting humans on Mars. NASA’s latest robotic mission to the Red Planet, Mars 2020, aims to help future astronauts brave that inhospitable landscape.

While the science goal of the Mars 2020 rover is to look for signs of ancient life – it will be the first spacecraft to collect samples of the Martian surface, caching them in tubes that could be returned to Earth on a future mission – the vehicle also includes technology that paves the way for human exploration of Mars.

The atmosphere on Mars is mostly carbon dioxide and extremely thin (about 100 times less dense than Earth’s), with no breathable oxygen. There’s no water on the surface to drink, either. The landscape is freezing, with no protection from the Sun’s radiation or from passing dust storms. The keys to survival will be technology, research and testing.

Mars 2020 will help on all those fronts. When it launches in July of 2020, the spacecraft will carry the latest scientific and engineering tools, which are coming together as the rover is built at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Here’s a closer look:

Touchdown, Oxygen, Water, Spacesuits, Shelter

June 11th, 2019

Device seeks to brew oxygen on Mars from dangerous salt

Professor John Coates, PhD, describing the process of how the device works with the two chambers separating the oxygen from the water using electricity and a Chlorate solution at the Coates Lab at UC Berkeley on October 20.2015.
Photo: Franchon Smith, The Chronicle

Having discovered flowing, liquid water on the once-imagined arid surface of Mars, NASA scientists are looking to the next missing element needed for human habitability on the Red Planet: oxygen.

Finding a way to produce oxygen on the planet is vital if the space agency is to fulfill its goal of sending humans to Mars sometime during the 2030s, they say.

They have considered sending microbes on the journey to fill large bio domes to be built by the astronauts on the planet’s surface. Another idea they’ve pondered is sending along a large machine to split up the oxygen-containing carbon dioxide that makes up most of Mars’ thin atmosphere.

Then there is the Bay Area scientist who has NASA’s ear with his idea that a dangerous salt compound believed to exist on Mars’ surface can be converted into breathable oxygen.

The compound, a perchlorate, is known to be a threat to human health on Earth, interfering with the production of human growth hormones.

John Coates, a microbiologist at UC Berkeley, has patented a mechanism he says can turn the perchlorate into oxygen fit for humans. Throughout the development process, he consulted NASA scientists who see Coates’ invention as a partial answer to the oxygen issue, but not the entire solution.

“What happens if astronauts are 10 miles from home (base) and they have a big problem and need oxygen? That is the niche that the perchlorate would fill,” said Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View. “When you are (on Mars) out in middle of nowhere, scooping up a bag of dirt to produce oxygen would be easy to do.”