MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph obtained this image of Mars on July 13, 2016, when the planet appeared nearly full when viewed from the highest altitudes in the MAVEN orbit. The ultraviolet colors of the planet have been rendered in false color, to show what we would see with ultraviolet-sensitive eyes. The ultraviolet (UV) view gives several new perspectives on Mars. Valles Marineris, a two-thousand-mile canyon system, appears prominently across the middle of the image as a blue gash. The deep canyon appears blue due to the scattering of ultraviolet light by the atmosphere, so strong that we cannot make out the bottom of the canyon. The greenish cast of the planet as a whole is a combination of the reflection of the surface plus the atmospheric scattering. The three tall Tharsis volcanoes appear near the left edge, dotted by white clouds forming as the winds flow over them. Bright white polar caps appear at both poles, typical for this season, in which there is a transition from southern-hemisphere winter to summer. The magenta-colored region visible at the south pole shows where ozone is absorbing ultraviolet light — the same property of ozone that protects life on Earth from harmful UV radiation. While ozone tends to be destroyed by chemical processes in the winter on Earth, different atmospheric chemistry at Mars caused it to build up in the winter there. A hint of ozone is also visible near the north pole; more will accumulate there as winter is coming. IUVS obtains images of Mars every orbit when the sunlit portion of the planet is visible from high altitude. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Colorado/LASP
Today, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission completed one Mars year of science observations. One Mars year is just under two Earth years.
MAVEN launched on Nov. 18, 2013, and went into orbit around Mars on Sept. 21, 2014. During its time at Mars, MAVEN has answered many questions about the Red Planet.
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.
New findings from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars. Using an imaging spectrometer on MRO, researchers detected signatures of hydrated minerals on slopes where mysterious streaks are seen on the Red Planet. These darkish streaks appear to ebb and flow over time. They darken and appear to flow down steep slopes during warm seasons, and then fade in cooler seasons. They appear in several locations on Mars when temperatures are above minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius), and disappear at colder times.
“Our quest on Mars has been to ‘follow the water,’ in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we’ve long suspected,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water — albeit briny — is flowing today on the surface of Mars.”
NASA is giving university and college students an opportunity to be part of the agency’s journey to Mars with the Breakthrough, Innovative, and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge.
NASA’s Game Changing Development Program (GCD), managed by the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington, and the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) are seeking innovative ideas for generating lift using inflatable spacecraft heat shields or hypersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator (HIAD) technology.
“NASA is currently developing and flight testing HIADs — a new class of relatively lightweight deployable aeroshells that could safely deliver more than 22 tons to the surface of Mars,” said Steve Gaddis, GCD manager at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. “A crewed spacecraft landing on Mars would weigh between 15 and 30 tons.”
Mars enthusiasts around the world can participate in NASA’s journey to Mars by adding their names to a silicon microchip headed to the Red Planet aboard NASA’s InSight Mars lander, scheduled to launch next year.
“Our next step in the journey to Mars is another fantastic mission to the surface,” said Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “By participating in this opportunity to send your name aboard InSight to the Red Planet, you’re showing that you’re part of that journey and the future of space exploration.”
Submissions will be accepted until September 8, 2015. To send your name to Mars aboard InSight, go to: http://go.usa.gov/3Aj3G
Mars has held a central place in human imagination and culture for millennia. Ancients marveled at its red color and the brightness that waxed and waned in cycles over the years. Early observations through telescopes led some to speculate that the planet was covered with canals that its inhabitants used for transportation and commerce. In “The War of the Worlds”, the writer H.G. Wells posited a Martian culture that would attempt to conquer Earth. In 1938, Orson Welles panicked listeners who thought they were listening to a news broadcast rather than his radio adaptation of Wells’s novel.
The real story of humans and Mars is a little more prosaic but no less fascinating. Telescopes turned the bright red dot in the sky into a fuzzy, mottled disk that gave rise to those daydreams of canals. Just 50 years ago, the first photograph of Mars from a passing spacecraft appeared to show a hazy atmosphere. Now decades of exploration on the planet itself has shown it to be a world that once had open water, an essential ingredient for life.
The fascination hasn’t waned, even in the Internet Age. A former computer programmer named Andy Weir, who enjoyed writing for its own sake and posted fiction to his blog, started a serial about a NASA astronaut stranded on Mars. The popularity ultimately led him to turn it into a successful novel, “The Martian”, which has been made into a movie that will be released in October 2015.
“The Martian” merges the fictional and factual narratives about Mars, building upon the work NASA and others have done exploring Mars and moving it forward into the 2030s, when NASA astronauts are regularly traveling to Mars and living on the surface to explore. Although the action takes place 20 years in the future, NASA is already developing many of the technologies that appear in the film.
With its biggest orbit maneuver since 2006, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) will prepare this week for the arrival of NASA’s next Mars lander, InSight, next year.
A planned 77-second firing of six intermediate-size thrusters on July 29 will adjust the orbit timing of the veteran spacecraft so it will be in position to receive radio transmissions from InSight as the newcomer descends through the Martian atmosphere and touches down on Sept. 28, 2016. These six rocket engines, which were used for trajectory corrections during the spacecraft’s flight from Earth to Mars, can each produce about 22 newtons, or five pounds, of thrust.
“Without making this orbit change maneuver, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter would be unable to hear from InSight during the landing, but this will put us in the right place at the right time,” said MRO Project Manager Dan Johnston of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
Science-team members for NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are soliciting help from the public to analyze exotic features near the south pole of Mars.
By categorizing features visible in images from the orbiter’s Context Camera (CTX), volunteers are using their own computers to help the team identify specific areas for even more detailed examination with the orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera. HiRISE can reveal more detail than any other camera ever put into orbit around Mars.
Information about how to participate is at the “Planet Four: Terrains” website, at:
NASA has selected four astronauts to train and prepare for commercial spaceflights that will return American launches to U.S. soil and further open up low-Earth orbit transportation to the private sector. The selections are the latest major milestone in the Obama Administration’s plan to partner with U.S. industry to transport astronauts to space, create good-paying American jobs and end the nation’s sole reliance on Russia for space travel.
“I am pleased to announce four American space pioneers have been selected to be the first astronauts to train to fly to space on commercial crew vehicles, all part of our ambitious plan to return space launches to U.S. soil, create good-paying American jobs and advance our goal of sending humans farther into the solar system than ever before,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “These distinguished, veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail — a trail that will one day land them in the history books and Americans on the surface of Mars.”
NASA named experienced astronauts and test pilots Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley and Sunita Williams to work closely with The Boeing Company and SpaceX to develop their crew transportation systems and provide crew transportation services to and from the International Space Station (ISS).
When NASA launches its next mission on the journey to Mars – a stationary lander in 2016 – the flight will include two CubeSats. This will be the first time CubeSats have flown in deep space. If this flyby demonstration is successful, the technology will provide NASA the ability to quickly transmit status information about the main spacecraft after it lands on Mars.
The twin communications-relay CubeSats, being built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, constitute a technology demonstration called Mars Cube One (MarCO). CubeSats are a class of spacecraft based on a standardized small size and modular use of off-the-shelf technologies. Many have been made by university students, and dozens have been launched into Earth orbit using extra payload mass available on launches of larger spacecraft.