March 17th, 2010

Martian Moon in Spotlight MSNBC

Fresh imagery from Europe’s Mars Express orbiter shows the Martian moon Phobos in sharp, 3-D detail. This isn’t the first time Phobos has gotten its close-up, but interest in the irregular moon is rising – in part because it’s increasingly seen as a steppingstone for Mars-bound astronauts.
Last month, NASA shifted its focus from sending humans back to the moon to a “flexible path” that includes the moons of Mars as potential destinations. The idea is that low-gravity locales such as Phobos (and Mars’ other moon, Deimos) should be easier to get to because they’re more accommodating for landing and ascent.

March 11th, 2010

Could the Tumbleweed Rover dominate Mars? MSNBC

Before Mars can become the next great frontier for human exploration, we need to send more robotic missions to gather as much information as possible about our planetary neighbor. But what kind of robot has the right combination of weight, cost and range, while still being able to carry out groundbreaking science?
Cue the Tumbleweed Mars rover, an ingenious concept vying for attention in the hope of becoming an entirely different method to explore vast regions of the Martian surface, one that rolls across the surface instead of six-wheeling.

February 24th, 2010

Bringing back Mars life MSNBC

NASA’s original exobiology plan called for 100 missions to be flown to Mars by this time. But reality has fallen far short of the plan. NASA’s proposals for a Mars sample return have been stymied repeatedly, due to cost and logistical considerations.
Over the past couple of years, scientists have been closing in on another sample return concept – and the radical shift in NASA’s space vision, announced just this month, could conceivably bring the plan for bringing back Mars life into sharp focus.
Here’s the current timeline, as laid out by the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group, or MEPAG:

February 2nd, 2010

Private spaceflight goes public MSNBC

“Apollo on steroids”? Forget about it. Back to the moon? Not anytime soon. NASA’s new vision for space exploration is less specific on a destination, but more focused on making room for new technologies and new players in spaceflight.
Some critics in Congress say they’ll fight to keep some elements of the moon plan in place – but one of the most influential critics says it would be “very difficult” to change NASA’s new course.
In its budget request, released today, the White House is seeking $19 billion for the space agency during fiscal 2011, which is a slight increase from the current fiscal year’s $18.7 billion. But over the next five years, NASA says it will have $6 billion more than previously planned, with most of that going to support technology development and commercialization.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told reporters that the increase represented “an extraordinary show of support in these tough budgetary times.”

September 26th, 2009

Water Found (And Lost) On Mars MSNBC

Researchers have caught Martian water ice in the midst of a triply amazing disappearing act. Why triply amazing? The ice was spotted amazingly close to the Red Planet’s surface, and amazingly far away from the north pole. The third amazing thing about the observations, made using NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and reported in Friday’s issue of the journal Science, is that the researchers knew it was 99 percent pure water ice because of how slowly it disappeared.

March 18th, 2009

Touring Mars, Old And New MSNBC

Google has upgraded its Red Planet browser to reveal fresh as well as long-faded views of Mars, marking the latest advance in a visualization revolution.
Today’s add-ons for Google Earth 5.0 include a “Live From Mars” layer that incorporates the latest available imagery from NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft, as well as historical maps of the planet’s “canali” as seen by 19th-century astronomers and guided tours that are narrated by NPR’s Ira Flatow and Bill Nye the Science Guy.

January 5th, 2009

Mars Rovers Hit 5-Year Mark MSNBC

NASA’s Mars rovers were designed to last for at least 90 days on the Red Planet, and from the start, mission scientists hoped that they’d keep working well after their “warranty” expired. But few dared to predict that both Spirit and Opportunity would still be on the move five Earth years after they bounced to the surface.
To celebrate Spirit’s five-year anniversary, mission managers have released a sweeping new panorama of the rover’s winter refuge in Gusev Crater.
Spirit touched down, cushioned by airbags, on Jan. 3, 2004 (or Jan. 4, depending on your time zone). Since then it has traveled almost 4.7 miles (7.5 kilometers). It spent the last few months waiting out the Martian winter near an intriguing light-colored formation nicknamed Home Plate.
“This last winter was a squeaker for Spirit,” John Callas, the rover mission’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a news release issued Monday. “We just made it through.”

November 9th, 2008


When he was a kid, Jim Bell loved to look at rockets and astronauts through his 3-D Viewmaster toy. He grew up to become a planetary scientist at Cornell University rather than a toymaker – but he still revels in 3-D space scenes, as the leader of the panoramic camera imaging team for NASA’s Mars rover missions.
Following up on his previous picture book, “Postcards From Mars,” Bell offers more than 60 of his all-time favorite stereo images from the rovers in “Mars 3-D,” a weirdly wonderful volume that comes with built-in geek glasses.

August 27th, 2008

Mars rover works its way out of crater MSNBC

NASA’s Opportunity rover is slowly but surely hauling itself out of a vast Martian crater after nearly a year plumbing the interior for secrets of the Red Planet’s ancient past.
Opportunity will take the same route it used to enter Victoria Crater on Sept. 11, 2007, after a year of scouting from the rim. Engineers want the rover to make a graceful exit after seeing an electric current spike in its left front wheel — a reminder of a similar spike that occurred when its robotic twin Spirit lost use of a front right wheel in 2006.
“If Opportunity were driving with only five wheels, like Spirit, it probably would never get out of Victoria Crater,” said Bill Nelson, a rover mission manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “We also know from experience with Spirit that if Opportunity were to lose the use of a wheel after it is out on the level ground, mobility should not be a problem.”

May 25th, 2008

Phoenix Lands Safely On Mars MSNBC

NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander survived its fiery plunge through the Red Planet’s atmosphere in Sunday and made a bull’s-eye touchdown near its north pole. The robotic craft, designed to dig into the icy soil to determine if the permafrost could have supported primitive life, landed as planned at 7:38 p.m. ET Sunday under a sunny Martian sky. It took another 15 minutes for the radio signals confirming the safe landing to travel the 170 million miles (270 million kilometers) from Mars to Earth.