Talk about a tough road to climb. On 24 June, mission scientists endorsed two landing sites for NASA’s next Mars rover from a shortlist of four. One of the two would see Curiosity tackle a mound of rocks nearly as high as mount Kilimanjaro. Where to land the $2.5 billion robot, due to blast off in November, has been debatedMovie Camera for years. NASA will now mull over the mission scientists’ recommendations but is not obliged to follow either of them.
Rover may tackle Kilimanjaro-sized mound on Mars The New Scientist
Lava tubes snapped snaking across Mars The New Scientist
Dramatic 3D images of ancient lava tubes on the Martian volcano, Pavonis Mons, have been captured by the Mars Express spacecraft.
Lava tubes are produced when lava on the top of a lava flow cools and forms a crust, while the subsurface lava remains molten. This molten lava continues to flow until the lava source is exhausted. In the case of Pavonis Mons, researchers believe the roofs of these tubes eventually collapsed, leaving long channels in the planet’s surface.
Mars rover’s broken wheel is beyond repair The New Scientist
Mission managers have given up hope of fixing a broken wheel on NASA’s Spirit rover and will simply have to drag the wheel on future drives. The glitch means NASA must avoid terrain with loose soil as it maps out a route to a safe winter haven for the rover.
The rover’s right-front wheel stopped turning about two weeks ago – apparently because of a broken circuit in the motor that powers the wheel. The same wheel had experienced a surge in current in 2004 but later returned to normal.
Mars rover to seek safe winter haven The New Scientist
While Spirit busily studies a finely layered outcrop dubbed Home Plate, mission planners say the rover’s daily power supply is steadily dropping. And with the Martian winter looming and dust accumulating on Spirit’s solar arrays, the team is preparing to drive Spirit to a safe haven.
The Martian winter does not officially begin until August, but Byron Jones, rover mission manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, US, says the team would like to get Spirit situated on a slope called McCool Hill, with its solar arrays tilted northward, in plenty of time.
That tilt maximises the sunlight falling on the arrays and worked well for the rovers during their first Martian winter, which peaked in September 2004.
Mars rover makes its first tracks The New Scientist
The Mars rover Spirit has passed perhaps its most important milestone after nearly 12 days on the planet – rolling off its lander craft and onto the red soil. Its planned three month mission of scientific exploration can now begin.
NASA boosts nuclear propulsion plans The New Scientist
NASA has requested a “very significant” increase in funding for the development of nuclear propulsion systems for spacecraft, according to Sean O’Keefe, the administration’s chief. Existing chemical rocket technologies have restricted missions to the same speed for 40 years, he said. “With the new technology, where we go next will only be limited by our imagination.”
Lander risks missing Mars trip The New Scientist
The British scientists building the lander they hope will explore the surface of Mars have vowed to have their robotic probe ready for launch, amid concerns over the project’s financial status. The European Space Agency (ESA) plans to launch Mars Express, Europe’s first ever mission to the red planet, in June 2003. This will carry the lander, called Beagle 2, as well as an array of analytical instruments that will be deployed in orbit around Mars.