June 4th, 2015

NASA wants to cut travel time to Mars “in half” with new propulsion tech Ars Technica

Speaking at an Aerojet Rocketdyne plant, NASA administrator Charles Bolden said the program is looking into advanced propulsion technologies that can cut the current eight-month journey to Mars “in half.” Technologies such as solar-electric propulsion are definitely in the cards, but NASA may look towards more unconventional solutions such as nuclear rockets as well. The main problem with getting humans to Mars is that, with our current liquid-fuelled rocket engines, it takes a very long time to get there; about eight months or so. If we can cut the journey in half, we significantly reduce the amount of food and water needed—which in turn cuts down the weight of the spacecraft, which in turn reduces the amount of fuel needed, which in turn feeds a very positive feedback loop. Less time in outer space means astronauts will be bombarded by less radiation too.

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.

June 9th, 2014

Want to design a Mars base for NASA? Now’s your chance Ars Technica

Would you like a 3D printer? Of course you would. Would you like to collaborate with Nasa? Please, we won’t insult you while waiting for an answer. MakerBot has launched a competition tailored for you then, in collaboration with Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory: MakerBot Mars Base Challenge. It wants you to deliver inspiration for a human base on Mars, considering future visitors will have to combat extreme temperatures, radiation spikes, dust storms and the whole you-can’t-breath-on-Mars thing. The brief provided is to design, with all these considerations in mind, “a utilitarian Mars base that can withstand the elements and maybe even make you feel at home, despite being 140 million miles away from Earth, on average”. And if you win, they’ll give you a MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer.

August 4th, 2011

Orbiter spots possible water seepage on surface of Mars Ars Technica

Over the last several decades, evidence has piled up that Mars once played host to liquid water on its surface. But in its current geological era, the red planet is too cold and has too little atmosphere to allow liquid to survive for long. Even at the peak of Martian summer, water would evaporate off quickly during the day, or freeze solid as soon as night hit. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t exist beneath the surface, where pressures and temperatures might be quite different, so researchers have been looking for signs that some subterranean liquid might bubble to the surface. Now, scientists are reporting some changes on the Martian surface that seem to be best explained by a watery seep.