July 14th, 2015

Pluto flyby marks 50th anniversary of first Mars encounter The Christian Science Monitor

How’s this for timing? NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is winging past Pluto this morning (July 14) exactly 50 years after the first robotic visit to Mars.

On July 14, 1965, NASA’s Mariner 4 probe flew by the Red Planet, becoming the first spacecraft ever to capture up-close looks at another planet. (NASA’s Mariner 2 spacecraft gathered data but no images when it zoomed past Venus in December 1962.)

“You couldn’t have written a script that was better,” New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, told

February 3rd, 2015

With an eye on Mars, White House seeks to boost NASA funding The Christian Science Monitor

The White House budget proposal for NASA in 2016 calls for a $500 million boost over the 2015 enacted budget and would keep NASA on its path to Mars, NASA chief Charles Bolden says.
The $18.5 billion budget request, presented by Bolden today (Feb. 2), includes funding for developing a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, and the agency’s asteroid redirect mission (ARM). Officials think ARM could help pave the way for crewed missions to the Red Planet by the 2030s.
“NASA is firmly on a journey to Mars,” Bolden said. “Make no mistake, this journey will help guide and define our generation.”

January 8th, 2015

Are there fossils on Mars? The Christian Science Monitor

A careful study of images taken by the NASA rover Curiosity has revealed intriguing similarities between ancient sedimentary rocks on Mars and structures shaped by microbes on Earth. The findings suggest, but do not prove, that life may have existed earlier on the Red Planet.
The photos were taken as the Mars rover Curiosity drove through the Gillespie Lake outcrop in Yellowknife Bay, a dry lakebed that underwent seasonal flooding billions of years ago. Mars and Earth shared a similar early history. The Red Planet was a much warmer and wetter world back then.
On Earth, carpet-like colonies of microbes trap and rearrange sediments in shallow bodies of water such as lakes and coastal areas, forming distinctive features that fossilize over time. These structures, known asmicrobially-induced sedimentary structures (or MISS), are found in shallow water settings all over the world and in ancient rocks spanning Earth’s history.

October 15th, 2012

NASA rover Curiosity finds a rock not seen before on Mars (+video) The Christian Science Monitor

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has indentified a type of rock scientists have never seen on Mars before, but it’s one familiar to geologists on Earth. The Martian rock, a form of basalt, has a composition very similar to volcanic rocks found in ocean-island settings such as Hawaii and the Azores, as well as in rift zones – regions where Earth’s continents split and begin separating into separate land masses.
The rock, named Jake Matijevic for a key member of the rover engineering team who passed away shortly after Curiosity arrived on the red planet, can form in a number of ways, says Edward Stolper, provost of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and a member of Curiosity’s science team.

March 10th, 2012

Solar flares: Be glad you’re on Earth, not Mars (+video) The Christian Science Monitor

When solar storms strike Earth, as they have this week, the planet’s magnetic field is a first line of defense against fast-moving clouds of charged particles hurtling from the sun. A new study hints at how important that line of defense is in fostering a livable planet.
During a bout of turbulence in the solar wind in 2008, researchers found that Mars lost oxygen atoms in its atmosphere 10 times faster than did Earth – an observation the team attributes at least in part to the relative strength of each planet’s magnetic field. It marks the first time researchers have measured the effects of the solar wind on two planets at the same time and under the same windy conditions, and there is hope that the study can be extended to Venus, which has no magnetic field at all.

May 28th, 2011

New spaceship to take astronauts to asteroids, Mars moons The Christian Science Monitor

NASA’s announcement of a new role and name for the Orion space capsule was welcome news in Colorado on Tuesday, where about 750 Lockheed Martin employees, subcontractors and suppliers are working on the project. Orion was originally part of the Constellation program, former President George W. Bush’s plan to return humans to the moon. President Barack Obama scrapped that project but spared Orion for possible use as an escape pod for the space station. NASA said Orion would be used to carry four astronauts on 21-day missions outside Earth’s orbit, possibly to an asteroid. On return, it would land in the Pacific Ocean. NASA is renaming it the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.

November 21st, 2010

One-way ticket to Mars? The Christian Science Monitor

Humans could be walking on Mars within the next couple decades, for only a fraction of the cost the United States has already budgeted for space exploration. How? The answer is simple, say a pair of Mars researchers: Give the explorers a one-way ticket.
The most costly and tricky part of any manned space mission is providing life-support for its human crew: food, oxygen, and protection from radiation and other hazards of space travel. On a human mission to Mars, most of the cost – some 80 percent of it – would involve returning the crew to Earth, say Dirk Schulze-Makuch and Paul Davies in the October-November issue of the Journal of Cosmology. Rather than quintuple the cost, those funds could go toward building a permanent settlement, the two scientists argue.
They propose that, after several unmanned missions drop supplies at a base station on the Red Planet, two spacecraft carrying two humans each would be sent on the six- to eight-month voyage to Mars to begin the first human colony on another planet.
Further missions would continue to supply the first settlers, who would be older, beyond child-bearing age, and – of course – volunteers.

May 11th, 2010

Is terraforming Mars impossible? The Christian Science Monitor

It looks like humanities hope of turning Mars into a second Earth may never translate into reality thanks in part to the red planet’s lack of a magnetic field. Scientists have discovered that our Sun’s solar radiation may thwart all attempts at increasing the atmospheric pressure of the crimson world, which means we may never get the chance of witnessing a green Mars, let alone a blue one. Although this means that Mars may never become a second eden (unless we can create a global magnetic field), it does not mean that humanity will never settle the planet en mass.
Future colonists will have to adapt to living within specialized biospheres (with portable magnetic shields to protect them from radiation), although doing so is probably much cheaper than terraforming the entire planet.

April 21st, 2006

If Mars had life, it was a long time ago, researchers find The Christian Science Monitor

For more than a decade, orbiters and landers have assaulted Mars, their handlers driven by the mantra “follow the water.” Now, scientists have pulled the results together in the most comprehensive look yet at what the rocks and minerals on the red planet are saying about its climate history and the potential that life may have briefly appeared there.

October 1st, 2005

Where to find $200 billion to pay for Katrina The Christian Science Monitor

Postponing the new Medicare prescription-drug benefit for one year could save the US government $30 billion. Cutting controversial bridges and bikeways from the highway funding bill might reduce spending by $6 billion per year. In the science category, cancelling research on Project Prometheus, slated to develop nuclear reactors for use in space, could eliminate $5 billion over 10 years. As these examples show, it’s easy to find potential cuts to offset Washington’s spending on recovery from hurricane Katrina, as President Bush has vowed to do. A $2.6 trillion annual budget provides lots of targets. But actually making those cuts? That’s another story. One person’s unnecessary program is often vital to another. It’s difficult to save big bucks without infuriating powerful constituencies, such as the elderly, farmers, or the Pentagon.