By 6:45 on a chilly desert evening, a deep indigo sky has squeezed what remains of the day into thin lines of pink and turquoise twilight along the horizon. Satisfied with nightfall’s progress, NASA engineer Joe Kosmo gives the word, and his crew begins to pressurize a spacesuit glistening under a floodlit canopy. Tonight’s objective: to test new helmet lights to see how effectively they might illuminate an astronaut’s path. If you’ve ever wondered how exploration equipment makes its way into space, welcome to the rolling flanks of Arizona’s famed meteor crater. For two weeks a year, this stark landscape becomes a surrogate planet – a place where a small team of scientists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration drive a futuristic electric tractor, guide small robotic “scouts,” and test an array of other gear astronauts may need in their cosmic garages for future explorations of the moon and Mars.
How to reach space – on a pair of junkyard shocks The Christian Science Monitor
Faces in unusual places The Christian Science Monitor
Several years ago, I noticed that a roadside electrical outlet looked like a face. So I photographed it. Later, I began to notice that ordinary items around my home – doorknobs, a bathtub drain – also seemed to have eyes, noses, and mouths. Once I started seeing such faces, I began to spot them everywhere! Was I going crazy? No, I was just seeing my world in a new way.
Money that grows on crops The Christian Science Monitor
He can’t quite make money grow from trees, but a New Zealand scientist has devised a way to harvest gold from plants. The idea: Use common crops to soak up contaminants in soil from gold-mining sites and return the areas to productive agriculture. The gold harvested from the process pays for the cleanup – with money left over for training in sustainable agriculture.
A new space race? The Christian Science Monitor
From the time Sputnik first orbited Earth in 1957 to the fall of the Soviet Union 34 years later, Western cooperation in manned spaceflight was cemented by a common ideology and a common foe. Its capstone was the International Space Station. But today, the United States and Europe, which built the space station, have reached a crossroads as they search for ways to put astronauts on Mars. One path could lead to tighter cooperation, not only between the US and Europe, but also with Russia, China, and other nations interested in manned spaceflight. The other path could lead to an international space race in which the US may find itself still in the lead but increasingly isolated.
Mars finding shifts focus to inner planets The Christian Science Monitor
This week, a mechanical geologist the size of a golf cart and nearly 156 million miles away galvanized the world with news that Mars bears unequivocal evidence of once-watery conditions capable of supporting life as we know it. Yet for all the excitement surrounding the discovery, the value of the Mars exploration program may lie as much in what it suggests about the early history of Earth and about the prospects for habitable planets around other stars as it does about Mars.
Europe’s cosmic ambitions The Christian Science Monitor
When the US Mars rover Spirit weakened last month – sending unintelligible data – Opportunity knocked for NASA, as its second rover landed safely on the Red Planet. But when Europe’s lander, Beagle 2, failed to bark and disappeared, there was no backup vehicle for consolation. The recent dramas on Mars offer a graphic illustration of the challenges facing European space scientists as they battle to keep up with their American counterparts exploring our solar system. Sometimes rivals, sometimes partners of their US colleagues, torn between competition and cooperation, the Europeans face one overriding reality: Their budgets are only one-sixth that of the US.
Another rover to land – on another Mars The Christian Science Monitor
Saturday night, if the heat shield holds, if the retro-rockets fire at just the right time, and if the airbags survive an estimated 40-foot drop, NASA’s rover Opportunity will emerge from its protective shell to look upon a Mars unlike any humans have ever seen. Opportunity is now descending toward a Martian Mordor barely imaginable, where much of the characteristic salmon soil has been swept away and dark fields of puzzling ridges ripple as far as the eye can see.
On firm dirt, Rover ready to paw Mars The Christian Science Monitor
With a flood of photos, scientists knew that they were once again on the surface of Mars. They came like cosmic “Wish You Were Here” postcards on an early Thursday morning when scientific achievement seemed strangely like a slumber party. In crisp black and white, the images showed wheels caked in dust, intriguing rocks at arm’s length, and the first tracks on a pristine landscape – all to the whoops of mission control.
Earth and Mars share a clock in the sky The Christian Science Monitor
What time is it on Mars? Just as on Earth, the time of day on Mars depends on where you are on the planet. When NASA’s two Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, land on the red planet a few days from now, they’ll be able to tell us the time there using a system that is thousands of years old here on Earth: the sundial. You’ll be able to watch these first-ever “MarsDials,” and many more sundials all across our own planet, thanks to a project called EarthDial. If you like, you can even join in by making your own sundial for everyone on the Web to see.
Invasion from Earth The Christian Science Monitor
Friday, scientists are set to unleash a robotic “hound,” dubbed Beagle 2, from its mother ship to hunt a tiny piece of Mars for the geochemical scent of past – and perhaps present – life. Beagle 2’s release from its mother ship – the Mars Express orbiter – will represent a milestone in an unprecedented international exploration of the red planet over the next month and a half.