July 28th, 2010

Meet Google’s Space Commander The New York Times

Google, as you may know, runs a search engine and sells ads. How odd then that Tiffany Montague works at the company. Ms. Montague is the manager of Google’s space initiatives –- overseeing things like sending robots to the moon and ogling Mars. It’s not exactly the stuff that keeps the lights on at the Googleplex, but this type of work seems to make Sergey Brin and Larry Page happy.
Unlike many Google employees, Ms. Montague is not an engineer by trade. Rather, she arrived at Google about five years ago, after serving as an officer for the Air Force and working at the National Reconnaissance Office. Ms. Montague’s specialty centered on flying high altitude aircraft and snooping on stuff.

November 2nd, 2009

A Faster Journey to Mars The New York Times

Science Illustrated – A plasma rocket engine now in development could reduce the travel time to Mars by two-thirds.

September 2nd, 2009

Op-Ed: A One-Way Ticket to Mars The New York Times

Now that the hype surrounding the 40th anniversary of the Moon landings has come and gone, we are faced with the grim reality that if we want to send humans back to the Moon the investment is likely to run in excess of $150 billion. The cost to get to Mars could easily be two to four times that, if it is possible at all.
This is the issue being wrestled with by a NASA panel, convened this year and led by Norman Augustine, a former chief executive of Lockheed Martin, that will in the coming weeks present President Obama with options for the near-term future of human spaceflight. It is quickly becoming clear that going to the Moon or Mars in the next decade or two will be impossible without a much bigger budget than has so far been allocated. Is it worth it?

March 18th, 2009

Blobs in Photos of Mars Lander Stir a Debate: Are They Water? The New York Times

Several photographs taken by NASA’s Phoenix Mars spacecraft show what look like water droplets clinging to one of its landing struts. Some of the scientists working on the mission are asserting that that is exactly what they were. They contend that there are pockets of liquid water just under the Martian surface even though the temperatures in the northern plains never warmed above minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit during the six months of Phoenix’s operations last year.
The scientists believe that salts may have lowered the freezing temperature of the Martian water droplets to perhaps minus 90 degrees, or more than 120 degrees colder than the usual freezing temperature of 32 degrees for pure water.
Nilton O. Renno, a professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences at the University of Michigan who proposed the hypothesis, was careful to say, “This is not a proof.”
But he added: “I think the evidence is overwhelming. It’s not circumstantial evidence.”

May 8th, 2007

Beam It Down From the Web, Scotty The New York Times

Sometimes a particular piece of plastic is just what you need. You have lost the battery cover to your cellphone, perhaps. Or your daughter needs to have the golden princess doll she saw on television. Now. In a few years, it will be possible to make these items yourself. You will be able to download three-dimensional plans online, then push Print. Hours later, a solid object will be ready to remove from your printer.
It’s not quite the transporter of “Star Trek,” but it is a step closer.
Three-dimensional printers have been seen in industrial design shops for about a decade. They are used to test part designs for cars, airplanes and other products before they are sent to manufacturing. Once well over $100,000 each, such machines can now be had for $15,000. In the next two years, prices are expected to fall further, putting the printers in reach of small offices and even corner copy stores.

August 24th, 2004

On Mars, More Water From Pricey Plumbing The New York Times

When NASA decides to send astronauts to Mars and farther out, one of the biggest technological hurdles it will face will be making sure they don’t get thirsty. A $49,000 toilet at Purdue University may provide part of the answer. When NASA engineers first considered manned missions to Mars to follow the moon landings, they imagined that the astronauts would simply pack lots of water and food.

August 10th, 2004

How Is a Martian Rover Like a Bear? The New York Times

Winter is bearing down on the southern hemisphere of Mars, where the days are growing shorter and colder, and the dimming Sun seems to be running out of energy. That means it’s time for the two robotic rovers there, Spirit and Opportunity, to be going into a kind of hibernation. Not that any season anywhere on Mars is ever balmy. By the start of winter in the middle of next month, temperatures are forecast to fall as low as minus 150 degrees Fahrenheit and never rise above zero, a range only a few degrees lower than current autumnal levels.

March 21st, 2004

Off-Off-Off-Roading on Mars in a $414 Million S.U.V. The New York Times

To date, there are no traffic jams on Mars. This is a good thing for John R. Wright, an engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory here, whose daily drive includes time at the controls of the Mars rover Spirit, whose $414 million price tag makes the most luxurious Range Rover look cheap.

March 13th, 2004

A Red Planet Forever in the Orbit of Science and Dreams The New York Times

Mars and science fiction came of age together in the 1890’s, and ever since they have had a tight relationship, a feedback loop that has made both famous.
It began with the American astronomer Percival Lowell, who built a technically advanced telescope and through it saw straight lines on the surface of the red planet. He explained that these had to be the canals of an alien race whose planet was drying out, forcing them to convey water from the polar caps, also visible.

March 7th, 2004

How the Little Green Men Met Their Makers The New York Times

Now that there’s conclusive evidence that at least part of Mars was once a water-soaked place where living things could have wriggled, swam or slithered, it takes only a few more leaps of speculation to wonder how they might have died.
Did their eyes bug out like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s in “Total Recall”? Not likely – hypothetical Martian creatures probably wouldn’t have had enough time to evolve eyes before the planet became the cold and arid place it is today.