In the late 1970s, through the initiative of its director, Bruce Murray, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) studied a range of possible Mars missions, including Mars Sample Return (MSR). Murray and others at the Pasadena, California-based lab were aware that funds for new Mars missions would be hard to come by; the U.S. economy was under strain and NASA, JPL’s main customer, was devoting most of its resources to developing the Space Shuttle. In addition, equivocal data from the astrobiology experiments on the twin Vikings, the first successful Mars landers, had damped public enthusiasm for the Red Planet. Would-be Mars explorers reasoned that, if an MSR mission would stand a chance of acceptance, then they would need to find technologies and techniques that could dramatically trim its anticipated cost.
Google Mars has been available since 2009 as part of the free downloadable Google Earth. It allows viewers to zoom around the Red Planet in much higher resolution than the simpler browser version and will even render certain locations in 3-D. You can reach it by clicking the little orange Saturn-shaped button at the top of the screen in Google Earth. Google has now updated their Mars coverage by including large swaths from the Context Camera (CTX) on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. CTX offers great details with around 20 feet per pixel. Each of the gray bands in the picture above represents one of CTX’s imaged areas, showing the extent of the coverage.
When a man tells you about the time he planned to put a vegetable garden on Mars, you worry about his mental state. But if that same man has since launched multiple rockets that are actually capable of reaching Mars—sending them into orbit, Bond-style, from a tiny island in the Pacific—you need to find another diagnosis. That’s the thing about extreme entrepreneurialism: There’s a fine line between madness and genius, and you need a little bit of both to really change the world.
All entrepreneurs have an aptitude for risk, but more important than that is their capacity for self-delusion. Indeed, psychological investigations have found that entrepreneurs aren’t more risk-tolerant than non-entrepreneurs. They just have an extraordinary ability to believe in their own visions, so much so that they think what they’re embarking on isn’t really that risky. They’re wrong, of course, but without the ability to be so wrong—to willfully ignore all those naysayers and all that evidence to the contrary—no one would possess the necessary audacity to start something radically new.
While the landing of the Curiosity rover last week got people imagining what it would be like to send humans to Mars, likely no one was picturing the way artists Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick show it.
Their photo-montages depict a Martian landscape populated by two stoic women climbing rock formations, walking among romanesque ruins, examining technological relics and giving birth to children – and all the while in their space suits.
Mars turns from dusty dead zone to Earth-like paradise in Terraform, a striking sci-fi short created by five recent graduates of French visual-effects school ArtFx.
“Terraform is a short film mixing live-action footage and CGI,” wrote team member Thomas Nivet in an e-mail to Wired. “It tells the story of the planet Mars, being terraformed.”
The six-minute short (above) flows like a folk tale being read to a child in a far-distant future. “One day, the fire birds tore the sky apart,” says the voiceover, just before a wave of terraforming machines blaze through the Martian atmosphere and land on the rocky red planet. Splendid shots of spaceships and other machinery follow.
Serial entrepreneur Elon Musk says SpaceX is developing a plan for trips to Mars that will eventually cost just $500,000 per seat. Musk founded SpaceX 10 years ago and interplanetary travel has always been one of his goals for the company. Few details were provided about the Martian voyage, but Musk did say we can expect to hear more about the plan in less than a year.
The bargain basement price for a trip to Mars also highlights Musk’s main effort behind SpaceX, to bring down the cost of delivering a payload — human or cargo — into space. In an interview with the BBC, Musk acknowledged the first seats won’t be selling for $500,000. It will take a while to get down to that price. But Musk says the half-million dollar ticket could happen a decade after trips begin.
“Land on Mars, a round-trip ticket — half a million dollars. It can be done,” he told the BBC.
Nasa is pondering three potential missions as it picks its next interplanetary project. Depending on its final choice the US space agency could examine the interior of Mars, study a comet over time or float a robot boat in the icy seas of Titan.
The agency’s Discovery Program invited proposals for cosmic investigations in June 2010. The panel received 28 submissions and has now whittled the competition down to the final three. Each team will receive $3 million to further study, conceptualise and design their plans.
In 2012 Nasa will pick the winner and supply the team with a sizable budget (cost-capped at $425 million) to carry out development and embark on the mission by around 2016.
One of the few inland bases occupied year-round, the two-nation station is built for long-term habitation in the most extreme conditions. The buildings’ drumlike contours maximize thermal efficiency, while a wastewater system developed by the European Space Agency recycles water from showers and sinks. The space agency’s interest in Concordia extends beyond the plumbing: Because the isolation, confinement, and cramped quarters here resemble conditions on a long space journey, the ESA is studying the physiological and psychological effects that life at the station has on its 15 winter residents. There are no plans for a spinoff reality TV show.
James Kochalka is a bit of a nerd wizard.
He’s a renowned comic book artist with a daily strip and several graphic novels to his name, and he’s almost finished designing his first videogame. He’s also a songwriter and musician who fronts his own rock band, called James Kochalka Superstar.
Now, the Vermont native can add another gold star to his resume: science fiction film actor.
Kochalka plays a supporting role in the new film Mars, an animated feature centering on a love story between two astronauts aboard the first manned mission to the red planet. Kochalka saw Mars for the first time here at the South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival, where it had its world premiere last week.
A space-loving animator has created stunning flyovers of Mars from data captured by NASA’s HiRISE imager, which is mounted on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter satellite.
HiRISE creates detailed digital-elevation models. Crunch that data, add perspective and some cinematic effects, and you have the movies that Doug Ellison, founder of UnmannedSpaceflight.com, posted to YouTube this morning.