Mars Science Laboratory
April 26, 2013
NASA proves 3D printing is headed to the stars
3D-printed space technology is no longer science fiction, as NASA and other space companies are making it a reality.
Engineers and researchers at the Ames Research Center are already working with 3D printing technology to make it applicable for use in both space travel and the study of our universe, according to a recent CNET report.
Earlier this year, MakerBot, one of the foremost producers of 3D printers, confirmed that NASA engineers were using the technology to build parts for models, including the Mars Rover Curiosity. NASA is now the company’s biggest customer, the company told Forbes.
April 04, 2013
Mars missions scaled back in April because of sun
It's the Martian version of spring break: Curiosity and Opportunity, along with their spacecraft friends circling overhead, will take it easy this month because of the sun's interference.
For much of April, the sun blocks the line of sight between Earth and Mars. This celestial alignment — called a Mars solar conjunction — makes it difficult for engineers to send instructions or hear from the flotilla in orbit and on the surface.
Such communication blackouts occur every two years when the red planet disappears behind the sun. No new commands are sent since flares and charged particles spewing from the sun can scramble transmission signals and put spacecraft in danger.
April 03, 2013
Used Parachute on Mars Flaps in the Wind
Photos from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show how the parachute that helped NASA's Curiosity rover land on Mars last summer has subsequently changed its shape on the ground.
The images were obtained by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Seven images taken by HiRISE between Aug. 12, 2012, and Jan. 13, 2013, show the used parachute shifting its shape at least twice in response to wind.
March 29, 2013
4-Gigapixel Mars Panorama Created Using 407 Photos Taken by Curiosity
For a while now we’ve been sharing photos beamed home by NASA’s rovers on Mars. From panoramas by the old timer Opportunity to selfies by the new kid Curiosity, we’re starting to see more and more of the Red Planet many millions of miles away. Andrew Bodrov, however, has taken it to the next level.
By putting together 407 photos taken by both the Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) and Medium Angle Camera (MAC) on Curiosity, Bodrov has created the amazing 4-gigapixel 360-degree panorama you see below. A panorama so vast it’ll make you feel like you’re using street view on Mars.
March 28, 2013
Why a Mars Comet Impact Would be Awesome
When Jupiter’s tides ripped Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 to shreds, only for the icy chunks to succumb to the intense Jovian gravity, ultimately slamming into the gas giant’s atmosphere, mankind was treated to a rare cosmic spectacle (in human timescales at least). That was the first time in modern history that we saw a comet do battle with a planet… and lose.
But next year, astronomers think there’s a chance — albeit a small one — of a neighboring planet getting punched by an icy interplanetary interloper. However, this planet doesn’t have a generously thick atmosphere to soften the blow. Rather than causing bruises in a dense, molecular hydrogen atmosphere, this comet will pass through the atmosphere like it wasn’t even there and hit the planetary surface like a cosmic pile-driver, ripping into the crust.
What’s more, we’d have robotic eyes on the ground and in orbit should the worst happen.
March 20, 2013
Mars Rover Curiosity Stands Down After New Problem
After recovering from a computer problem, the Mars rover Curiosity is sidelined again, further delaying the restart of science experiments.
The latest complication occurred over the weekend when the six-wheel rover entered safe mode after experiencing a software file error.
Curiosity remained in contact with ground controllers, but it can’t zap rocks, snap pictures or roam around until the problem is fixed. Rover team members had expected to resume activities Monday, but they now have to wait a bit longer — perhaps until the end of the week.
March 15, 2013
To the stars: After a 25 year hiatus, NASA restarts plutonium production
After a quarter-century hiatus, the United States has begun producing plutonium-238 once more. The decision was made to ensure that future NASA projects would have access to the valuable fuel. As US stocks dwindled, NASA began buying plutonium-238 from Russia, but that agreement came to an end in 2010. When most people think of plutonium, they think of nuclear weapons — but that’s not what plutonium-238 is used for.
If you need a power source that can last for decades, plutonium-238 is fantastically useful stuff. It’s got a half life of nearly 88 years and it emits 560 watts of heat per kilogram of material. It’s a vital component of the radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) used on Curiosity and in a number of space probes, including Cassini. One of the best features of plutonium-238 is that, while it’s radioactive as hell (275 times more so than plutonium-239, it takes a minimal amount of shielding to protect spacecraft or humans from contamination. Plutonium-powered pacemakers (yes, that was a thing for a little while) have operated as long as 25 years without running out of power.
March 12, 2013
NASA Rover Finds Conditions Once Suited for Ancient Life on Mars
An analysis of a rock sample collected by NASA's Curiosity rover shows ancient Mars could have supported living microbes.
Scientists identified sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon -- some of the key chemical ingredients for life -- in the powder Curiosity drilled out of a sedimentary rock near an ancient stream bed in Gale Crater on the Red Planet last month.
"A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "From what we know now, the answer is yes."
March 06, 2013
Curiosity sleeps as solar blast races toward Mars
Curiosity hunkered down Wednesday after the sun unleashed a blast that raced toward Mars.
While the hardy rover was designed to withstand punishing space weather, its handlers decided to power it down as a precaution since it suffered a recent computer problem.
"We're being more careful," said project manager Richard Cook of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which runs the $2.5 billion mission.
While Curiosity slept, the Opportunity rover and two NASA spacecraft circling overhead carried on with normal activities.
March 01, 2013
Mars Rover Curiosity Has First Big Malfunction
The Mars rover Curiosity experienced its first significant malfunction on Wednesday, when one of its two onboard computers became corrupted and failed to turn off and enter "sleep mode" as planned.
The Curiosity team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory sent up commands to switch all operations from the corrupted A computer to the twin B computer early Thursday morning, according to a Thursday NASA statement.
Most spacecraft have a backup computer to step in if the primary computer fails. Richard Cook, project manager for the Curiosity project, said the problem was the most serious experienced by the rover so far in its nearly 7 months on the red planet.
February 21, 2013
Mars rover drills, sees planet's true colors
Mars may have a lot of orangey dust flying around, but now that a rover has retrieved a sample by drilling a rock there, scientists believe the Red Planet may have another color beneath the surface.
The two-ton Mars rover Curiosity, which has been exploring Gale Crater since its miraculous landing on August 6, has become the first robot to drill into a rock to collect a sample on Mars, scientists reported Wednesday. Chemical analyses are still to come, but for now the big news is that the material from the drill appears to be gray.
February 15, 2013
National Space Club Honors Mars Curiosity
The National Space Club will honor NASA's Curiosity/Mars Science Laboratory team with three awards, including the prestigious Dr. Robert H. Goddard Memorial Trophy.
The Goddard Trophy recognizes the team for significant contributions to developing the most capable deep space mission ever and initiating the most ambitious science mission ever conducted on the surface of another planet.
The team will also receive the organization's Nelson P. Jackson Aerospace Award for its significant role in successfully landing on and exploring the Martian surface.
February 13, 2013
Step into the Twilight Zone: Can Earthlings Adjust to a Longer Day on Mars?
"Mutinous" is not a word frequently used to describe teams of NASA scientists and engineers.
But that's precisely the term employed by Harvard University sleep scientist Charles Czeisler to explain what happened when the group operating the Pathfinder mission's rover in 1997 was required to live indefinitely on Mars time.
"They didn't really have a plan for dealing with the Martian day before they went up, and the rover lasted a lot longer than it was supposed to, so they actually had a mutiny and wanted to shut the thing off because they were so exhausted," he says, drily adding the obvious: "NASA wasn't too happy with that notion."
February 10, 2013
NASA Curiosity Rover Collects First Martian Bedrock Sample
NASA's Curiosity rover has, for the first time, used a drill carried at the end of its robotic arm to bore into a flat, veiny rock on Mars and collect a sample from its interior. This is the first time any robot has drilled into a rock to collect a sample on Mars.
The fresh hole, about 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) wide and 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) deep in a patch of fine-grained sedimentary bedrock, can be seen in images and other data Curiosity beamed to Earth Saturday. The rock is believed to hold evidence about long-gone wet environments. In pursuit of that evidence, the rover will use its laboratory instruments to analyze rock powder collected by the drill.
February 07, 2013
Another Weird Shiny Thing on Mars
The Curiosity Mars rover has found some strange-looking little things on Mars – you’ve likely heard of the Mars ‘flower,’ the piece of benign plastic from the rover itself, and other bright flecks of granules in the Martian soil. Now the rover has imaged a small metallic-looking protuberance on a rock. Visible in the image above (the green lines point to it), the protuberance appears to have a high albedo and even projects a shadow on the rock below. The image was taken with the right Mastcam on Curiosity on Sol 173 — January 30, 2013 here on Earth — (see the original raw image here), and was pointed out to us by Elisabetta Bonora, an image editing enthusiast from Italy.
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