April 16th, 2015

Why Is Elon Musk so Hellbent on Going to Mars? Slate

“I know Mars is a long-term goal for SpaceX,” I started. Then, pretty much as an aside, I said, “because you want to retire on Mars … ”

Musk got a pained look on his face. “No, that’s wrong. That’s not why I want to get to Mars. That quote is from an article in the Guardian. They pushed me for a sound bite, asking if I wanted to retire on Mars. I eventually said yes. When I retire—hopefully before I go senile—and eventually die, then Mars is as good a place to die as any.”

That line made me laugh; it’s far better than anything printed in the Guardian article.

But still, I was taken aback. “OK then, the article wanted a sexy quote and got one. But if that’s not the reason, what is it?”

Musk didn’t hesitate. “Humans need to be a multiplanet species,” he replied.

August 22nd, 2013

No, Mars Won’t Be as Big as the Moon. Ever. Slate

Every year in August, somewhere, somehow, this silly claim springs from the cold, dead ground, rising once again to shamble across the Internet. The first time it was just a mistake, but ever since then it’s been a hoax. Simple as that.

February 28th, 2013

Mars May Get Hit By a Comet in 2014 Slate

In case you just can’t get enough impact news, it looks like Mars may actually get hit by a comet in 2014! As it stands right now, the chance of a direct impact are small, but it’s likely Mars will get pelted by the debris associated with the comet.
I know. This is pretty amazing. Still, let me preface this with a caveat: Trying to get precise predictions of comet orbits can be difficult, and for this one we’re talking about a prediction for 20 months from now! Things may very well change, but here’s what we know so far.
The comet is called C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring), discovered on Jan. 3, 2013 by the Australian veteran comet hunter Robert McNaught. As soon as it was announced, astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey looked at their own data and found it in observations from Dec. 8, 2012, which helped nail down the orbit. Extrapolating its orbit, they found it will make a very near pass of Mars around Oct. 19, 2014, missing the planet by the nominal distance of about 100,000 kilometers (60,000 miles).

February 15th, 2013

A Laser Built for Mars Has a New Gig: Authenticating Honey Slate

Scientists in England have found they can identify counterfeit honey using a laser originally built to explore the universe. Seven years ago at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in England, work began to build a laser that could identify isotopes in space. Specifically, the researchers wanted to get into the Martian atmosphere and investigate the Red Planet’s mysterious methane. Identifying carbon isotopic ratios, for instance, could set off a string of hyperbolic headlines here on Earth. As Dr. Damien Weidmann, Laser Spectroscopy Team Leader at RAL Space explained on their website, “If it’s bacterial in origin, it would mean a form of life occurred on Mars.”

August 20th, 2012

The Best Photos of Mars Since Curiosity’s Landing Slate

It’s now been over a week since NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity landed on Mars, after successfully surviving the notorious final “seven minutes of terror.” Curiosity has been busy at work since, taking measurements, sending back data, and capturing all kinds of images on its various cameras. In case you haven’t been carefully paying attention as the photos make their way to Earth bit by bit, these are the most interesting images among the hundreds that have emerged so far.

December 29th, 2011

Man Will Be on Mars in 20 Years—for Less Than $5 Billion, Says Elon Musk Slate

Elon Musk, the man who helped make Internet commerce possible for the everyman by creating PayPal, wants to bring space travel to the masses as well. And not that just putting a proverbial foot in space and then returning right away to Earth. Musk hopes his private space company SpaceX will bring millions to Mars. Says the New Scientist’s Greg Klerkx:
In his Heinlein prize acceptance speech, he said he wants to put 10,000 people on Mars. Musk rarely makes public statements merely for effect but a call for 10,000 would-be Martians is extraordinary, even by his standards. When I query him on this point, he pauses. Is he reconsidering? Yes… but, as with so much else about Musk, not in a predictable way. “Ultimately we don’t really want 10,000 people on Mars,” he says, after letting the pause linger a few seconds more. “We want millions.”

May 28th, 2004

Dispatches from Mars, Utah Slate

It took an hour to get the EVA team prepped and out the airlock door for Crew 28’s first exploratory mission into the Martian landscape. As they exited, Gregorio narrated the whole process into the HabCom radio, his voice rising with excitement. “They are opening the hatch,” his voice crackled. “And … EVA No. 1 … of the Crew 28 … is a go! Over.”

May 26th, 2004

Dispatches from Mars, Utah Slate

Technically, we were dead. The diesel generator had quit, cutting power to the Hab and, presumably, our life support systems. Like any good Mars base, the Hab had a backup power source. But that generator failed as well. Don Foutz, our local mission support team and proprietor of the Whispering Sands Motel in Hanksville, drove out to have a look at the problem.

January 19th, 2004

Op/Ed: Bush’s Mars Plan Attacked Slate

Can anybody be surprised that most of the world’s papers were less than impressed by President Bush’s plans for a manned mission to Mars? While the thrill of interplanetary exploration makes for a hot election-year topic at home, much of the foreign press saw it as rocket-fueled American imperialism.

January 7th, 2004

Op/Ed: Is Mars Ours? Slate

What a joy and a relief that we’re back on Mars. The fourth stone from the sun has taunted us for centuries with shifting but persistent visions of nearby alien life. Finally, after several conspicuous failures, we have a conspicuous success: a six-wheeled, mini-Cooper-sized robot preparing to crawl across an ancient lake-bed, scratching and sniffing for subtle signs of past habitability. What we will do on Mars for the next few months and, with future missions, for the rest of the decade, is clear: dig in the dirt and take in the air to learn the history of landscapes far more ancient than any left on Earth. But what should we plan to do on Mars over the following decades, centuries, and millennia?