MarsNews.com
March 2nd, 2020

Will NASA’s Curiosity Rover Die On This Hill?

View of a potentially passable route onto the top of the Greenheugh pediment. (Area on the left).
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA’s Curiosity rover may have just found the ultimate shortcut on Mars.

Rather than driving downhill to reach its designated location on Mars’ Greenheugh pediment, a journey that may take up to several months or even years, the rover will instead journey its way uphill and take a path that has never been driven by a NASA rover before.

The new path would get the rover to its new destination way ahead of schedule. And should the little rover find itself at risk, it would simply turn back and follow the longer route.

The Curiosity rover was parked at a drill site by the Hutton crater on the Red Planet where it was analyzing samples that it had dug up. Next up on its exploration to-do-list was to get to the Greenheugh pediment.

February 28th, 2020

Look down into a pit on Mars. The caved-in roof of a lava tube could be a good place to explore on the Red Planet

NASA/JPL/UArizona

Want to look inside a deep, dark pit on Mars? The scientists and engineers from the NASA’s HiRISE Camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have done just that.

From its orbit about 260 km (160 miles) above the surface, HiRISE can spot something as small as a dinner table, about a meter in size. But look inside a cave-like feature on the Red Planet? Could this super-camera actually resolve any details inside this pit?

Dark pits on Mars are fascinating – probably because they provide mysteries and possibilities. Could anything be inside? Or this could be a place where humans could set up a base since it would provide shelter from Mars’ harsh environment. If a future rover mission were to land nearby, this pit might be worth a look – from a safe distance around the rim.

February 26th, 2020

What can the coronavirus outbreak teach us about bringing Mars samples back to Earth?

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

A new virus called SARS-CoV-2 is a coronavirus that has caused an outbreak of a disease called COVID-19.

Public health groups, such as the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are still learning about the virus, monitoring the disease it causes, and researching potential ways to stop it. You can read all about the coronavirus and COVID-19 at our sibling site, LiveScience.

But me being me, my mind went straight to Mars. I have long been aware of science fiction’s vision of Earth receiving space souvenirs that carry organisms that might be dangerous to Earth’s fragile biosphere — that’s me, and you, too! Such arrivals could be accidental, or they could be purposeful.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s budget request for NASA supports the development of the Mars sample return mission, a robotic program that would haul back the goods from the Red Planet.

What if such samples turned out to be dangerous, and contagiously so? Are there some Mars-oriented lessons to be learned from COVID-19 and other major infectious diseases?

February 24th, 2020

NASA’s InSight Lander Detects Hundreds of ‘Marsquakes,’ Proving Mars is Seismically Active

This view of Cerberus Fossae, created using stereo data collected by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft, shows fault cracks cutting across the Red Planet. New data released from NASA’s InSight lander show this region is still active today. (Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin)

Not far from Mars’ equator, a series of strange fissures rip deep into the Red Planet’s surface. The cracks of Cerberus Fossae run for hundreds of miles, cutting through craters, hills and everything in their path. Relatively young-looking volcanoes nearby, combined with trails of tumbling rocks, have long fueled speculation over whether the region is still active today.

Now, there’s no need to wonder anymore. In a series of papers published Monday in the journals Nature Geoscience and Nature Communications, scientists released the first 10 months of discoveries from NASA’s Mars InSight lander. Its findings, among many others, include a resounding answer to the mystery of Cerberus Fossae — the Red Planet is geologically active and bustles with marsquakes.

The InSight lander was designed to study martian seismology, geophysics, meteorology and magnetism. It carries the first working seismometer and first magnetometer to ever land on the Red Planet’s surface. And while InSight’s lack of wheels might bring fewer news headlines than a rover like Curiosity, astronomers say its findings will ultimately help them better understand the geological processes that have shaped our neighboring world.

February 21st, 2020

Japan will launch the first-ever sample return mission from the Martian system

Mission to travel to Mars and survey the red planet’s two moons; Phobos and Deimos.
The spacecraft will explore both moons and collect a sample from one of the moons to bring back to Earth.

JAXA, Japan’s national space agency, has just approved a robotic mission to visit the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos and retrieve a small sample from the former to bring back to Earth.

The mission plan: It’s called Martian Moon eXploration, or MMX. JAXA currently plans to launch MMX in 2024 and make it to the Martian system the following year. MMX will spend three years in the system studying and mapping the moons. The mission will make use of 11 different instruments, including a NASA-funded instrument called MEGAE that will measure the elemental composition of both bodies (perhaps revealing signs of ancient water).

The mission will also deploy a small rover to zip around the surface of Phobos, not unlike what JAXA’s Hayabusa2 mission deployed on the surface of the asteroid Ryugu.

Bringing home the Phobos dust: This is the mission’s marquee event. The four-legged MMX will attempt to land on Phobos and scoop up at least 10 grams of material from the surface, using a geological core sampler that can dig at least two centimeters deep.

It may seem a long way to travel to come back with such a tiny piece of the Martian system, but it’s actually a hundred times more material than Hayabusa2 is bringing back from Ryugu. If MMX is successful, it will return to Earth in 2029, completing the first round-trip mission to Mars and back.

February 18th, 2020

From Dubai to Mars, With Stops in Colorado and Japan

The Hope robotic probe in Colorado. The ruler of Dubai wanted to offer inspiration for youth in the wider Arab world. “That’s why he called the spacecraft Hope,” said Omran Sharaf, the mission’s project manager.

In December, a spacecraft named Hope was motionless in the middle of a large clean room on the campus of the University of Colorado, mounted securely on a stand.

But engineers were tricking Hope — a foil-wrapped box about the size and weight of a Mini Cooper — into thinking it was speeding at more than 10,000 miles per hour as it pulled into orbit at Mars. It was a simulation to make sure that the guidance, navigation and control systems would respond correctly to a variety of less-than-perfect circumstances when it arrives at Mars for real next year.

While this spacecraft was assembled on American soil, it will not be exploring the red planet for NASA. Hope is instead an effort by the United Arab Emirates, an oil-rich country smaller than the state of Maine and one that has never sent anything out into the solar system.

February 17th, 2020

Set your alarm: Moon, Mars and Earth to align before dawn on Tuesday

An eclipse-like event will cause Mars to vanish from the sky over North America early Tuesday morning in a rare event known to astronomers as a lunar occultation.

Similar to an eclipse when the Earth, moon and sun fall in line, during an occultation, the Earth, moon and a planet align. As a result, the Red Planet will be hidden from sight as it appears to pass directly behind the moon during Tuesday’s event.

“A lunar occultation involving a planet is a rare event,” AccuWeather Astronomy Blogger Dave Samuhel said. “There are only a few per decade as seen from any given spot on the globe.”

People do not need a telescope to see the event as the moon and Mars are both bright enough to see with the unaided eye, but knowing when to look will be extremely important — as will the weather conditions.

February 12th, 2020

NASA Will Soon Use ‘Space Lasers’ To Give Us Live Video From Mars And The Moon

Deep space communications via laser could increase spacecraft communications performance and efficiency by 10 to 100 times over conventional means. NASA/JPL-CALTECH

Ever since its inception, NASA has used radio waves to send and receive data, which are very dependable, but slow. In fact, it’s rare for any spacecraft to send back images at more than a couple of megabits per second (Mbps). That’s virtually dial-up speed, and it seriously hampers the exchange of real-time scientific data.

There are three complexes in the DSN, each placed 120º from each other; California, Madrid in Spain and Canberra in Australia.

Goldstone’s new antenna will include some capability to test optical communications and, specifically, a new technology NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is working on called Deep Space Optical Communication (DSOC).

“Space lasers” will be critical for Mars missions; the astronauts on Mars will communicate with Earth far more than the robotic missions currently do, and NASA will need real-time data on life support systems and equipment on any Mars base.

However, you won’t be able to see them; the lasers will be in the near-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum.

February 11th, 2020

The Journey to Mars Begins in South Texas

Loren Elliott / HECTOR MATA / Getty / Arsh Raziuddin / The Atlantic

Boca Chica’s residents have learned to live with a rocket company, or at least tolerate it, over more than five years. But SpaceX’s work is about to become even more disruptive. So the company has offered to buy their homes. Some have taken the offer. Others, such as McConnaughey, have rejected it, even as Musk prepares to launch a giant rocketship just a short hop from their houses. SpaceX is already hard at work on the next Starship prototype, and Musk says the company might launch it into orbit as soon as this year. “We love Texas,” James Gleeson, a SpaceX spokesperson, said in a statement, “and believe we are entering a new and exciting era in space exploration.”

Few people in this part of South Texas could have predicted the recent trajectory of their life when SpaceX moved in. They have become space fanatics and legal experts, Musk supporters and thorns in his side, trying to make sense of their place in a strange story that could someday end millions of miles away from Earth. All because they got new neighbors.

February 10th, 2020

Trump calls for $25 billion NASA budget for 2021 to boost moon and Mars goals

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine discusses the fiscal year 2021 budget proposal during a State of NASA address, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s facility at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
Credits: NASA/Joel Kowsky

President Donald Trump wants to raise NASA’s budget to $25.2 billion for the fiscal year beginning in October, an increase of 12% over the current year’s funding.

Nearly half of that total would fund activities directed toward getting humans first to the moon, then to Mars. The budget request includes $3.3 billion for human lunar landers, part of NASA’s Artemis program that aims for a lunar landing in 2024. The new documents also cut several long-targeted programs and introduce a new mission that would study ice on Mars.

These details come from materials released today (Feb. 10) by NASA and the White House Office of Management and Budget. The materials are part of the administration’s overall budget request, an annual submission to Congress that lays out the president’s vision for the federal government and begins the budgeting process. NASA’s full materials packet is available here.

“This is a 21-century budget worthy of 21st-century space exploration and one of the strongest NASA budgets in history,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a State of NASA event unveiling the budget. “If the president’s support for NASA wasn’t clear before, it sure is now.” Under Trump, NASA’s annual budget has increased from about $19 billion during his first year to $22 billion for the fiscal year that began in October, according to The Washington Post.