MarsNews.com
June 3rd, 2015

Mars Missions to Pause Commanding in June, Due to Sun NASA

In June 2015, Mars will swing almost directly behind the sun from Earth’s perspective, and this celestial geometry will lead to diminished communications with spacecraft at Mars.

The arrangement of the sun between Earth and Mars is called Mars solar conjunction. It occurs about every 26 months as the two planets travel in their sun-centered orbits. The sun disrupts radio communications between the planets during the conjunction period. To prevent spacecraft at Mars from receiving garbled commands that could be misinterpreted or even harmful, the operators of Mars orbiters and rovers temporarily stop sending any commands.

May 28th, 2015

Blue Aurorae in Mars’ Sky Visible to the Naked Eye NASA

For the first time, an international team of scientists from NASA, the Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics of Grenoble (IPAG), the European Space Agency and Aalto University in Finland, have predicted that colorful, glowing aurorae can be seen by the naked eye on a terrestrial planet other than Earth — Mars.

Visible Martian aurorae seemed possible after the SPICAM imaging instrument on-board the ESA satellite Mars Express spotted aurorae from space in 2005. Those observations were confirmed in March 2015 by the NASA-led MAVEN mission, which completed 1,000 orbits around the red planet on April 6, 2015.

Through laboratory experiments and a physical numerical model developed at NASA and IPAG, the study shows that, on Mars, aurorae also occur in the visible range. The most intense color is deep blue. As on Earth, green and red colors are also present. Several times during a solar cycle, after intense solar eruptions, these lights are bright enough to be seen with the naked eye.

May 27th, 2015

NASA Begins Testing Mars Lander for Next Mission to Red Planet NASA

Testing is underway on NASA’s next mission on the journey to Mars, a stationary lander scheduled to launch in March 2016.

The lander is called InSight, an abbreviation for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. It is about the size of a car and will be the first mission devoted to understanding the interior structure of the Red Planet. Examining the planet’s deep interior could reveal clues about how all rocky planets, including Earth, formed and evolved.

The current testing will help ensure InSight can operate in and survive deep space travel and the harsh conditions of the Martian surface. The spacecraft will lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and land on Mars about six months later.

The technical capabilities and knowledge gained from Insight, and other Mars missions, are crucial to NASA’s journey to Mars, which includes sending astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s.

May 14th, 2015

Planting an Ecosystem on Mars, NASA Funds Research For Producing Oxygen On Mars NASA

Taming the brutal environment of Mars for future human explorers to survive and thrive there may demand a touch of “ecopoiesis” – the creation of an ecosystem able to support life.

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program is funding cutting-edge work by Eugene Boland, chief scientist at Techshot Inc. of Greenville, Indiana. The scientist has been busy working in the firm’s “Mars room,” which houses a test chamber capable of simulating the Red Planet’s atmospheric pressure, day-night temperature changes and the solar radiation that cascades upon the planet’s surface.

Inside the Mars room, Boland and his team are testing the viability of using ecosystem-building pioneer organisms to churn out oxygen by using Martian regolith. Some organisms within the test bed experiment planted on the Red Planet also could remove nitrogen from the Martian soil.

May 4th, 2015

Traffic Around Mars Gets Busy NASA

NASA has beefed up a process of traffic monitoring, communication and maneuver planning to ensure that Mars orbiters do not approach each other too closely.

Last year’s addition of two new spacecraft orbiting Mars brought the census of active Mars orbiters to five, the most ever. NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) and India’s Mars Orbiter Mission joined the 2003 Mars Express from ESA (the European Space Agency) and two from NASA: the 2001 Mars Odyssey and the 2006 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The newly enhanced collision-avoidance process also tracks the approximate location of NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor, a 1997 orbiter that is no longer working.

It’s not just the total number that matters, but also the types of orbits missions use for achieving their science goals. MAVEN, which reached Mars on Sept. 21, 2014, studies the upper atmosphere. It flies an elongated orbit, sometimes farther from Mars than NASA’s other orbiters and sometimes closer to Mars, so it crosses altitudes occupied by those orbiters. For safety, NASA also monitors positions of ESA’s and India’s orbiters, which both fly elongated orbits

April 23rd, 2015

Mars Orbiter Views Curiosity Rover in ‘Artist’s Drive’ NASA

A view from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on April 8, 2015, catches sight of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover passing through a valley called “Artist’s Drive” on the lower slope of Mount Sharp.

The image from the orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera shows the rover’s position after a drive of about 75 feet (23 meters) during the 949th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars.

The location of the rover, with its shadow extending toward the right, is indicated with an inscribed rectangle. North is toward the top. The view covers an area about 550 yards (500 meters) across.

April 20th, 2015

NASA Awards Radiation Challenge Winners, Launches Next Round to Seek Ideas for Protecting Humans on the Journey to Mars NASA

NASA awarded $12,000 to five winners of a challenge to mitigate radiation exposure on deep space missions and launched a new follow-on challenge to identify innovative ways of protecting crews on the journey to Mars.

The follow-on challenge offers an award of up to $30,000 for design ideas to protect the crew on long-duration space missions. Anyone can participate in the challenge, which will be open Wednesday, April 29 through Monday, June 29, 2015.

“We are very impressed with the enthusiasm and sheer number of people from the public who showed interest in solving this very difficult problem for human space exploration,” said Steve Rader, deputy manager of the Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation. “We look forward to seeing what people will come up with in this next challenge to find the optimal configuration for these different protection approaches.”

April 12th, 2015

NASA Selects Proposals for Ultra-Lightweight Materials for Journey to Mars and Beyond NASA

NASA has selected three proposals to develop and manufacture ultra-lightweight (ULW) materials for future aerospace vehicles and structures. The proposals will mature advanced technologies that will enable NASA to reduce the mass of spacecraft by 40 percent for deep space exploration.

“Lightweight and multifunctional materials and structures are one of NASA’s top focus areas capable of having the greatest impact on future NASA missions in human and robotic exploration,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington. “These advanced technologies are necessary for us to be able to launch stronger, yet lighter, spacecraft and components as we look to explore an asteroid and eventually Mars.”

April 9th, 2015

They’re Off and Running for NASA Rover Mars Marathon NASA

About 90 employees at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, are running 1.2 mile laps through the laboratory grounds today as part of a marathon-length relay to celebrate the first-ever Martian marathon.
NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which landed on Mars in 2004, surpassed a marathon length of Martian driving on March 24.

Opportunity’s original three-month prime mission in 2004 yielded evidence of environments with liquid water soaking the ground and flowing on planet’s surface. As the rover continued to operate far beyond expectations for its lifespan, scientists chose the rim of Endeavour Crater as a long-term destination. Since 2011, examinations of Endeavour’s rim have provided information about ancient wet conditions less acidic, and more favorable for microbial life, than the environment that left clues found earlier in the mission.

April 8th, 2015

MAVEN Completes 1,000 Orbits around Mars NASA

MAVEN completed 1,000 orbits around the Red Planet on April 6, four-and-a-half months into its one-year primary mission.

MAVEN is in its science mapping orbit and has been taking data since the start of its primary mission on Nov. 16, 2014. The furthest point in the spacecraft’s elliptical orbit has been 6,500 kilometers (4,039 miles) and the closest 130 kilometers (81 miles) above the Martian surface.

“The spacecraft and instruments continue to work well, and we’re building up a picture of the structure and composition of the upper atmosphere, of the processes that control its behavior, and of how loss of gas to space occurs,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN’s principal investigator from the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder.

MAVEN was launched to Mars on Nov. 18, 2013, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The spacecraft successfully entered Mars’ orbit on Sept. 21, 2014.