MarsNews.com
March 31st, 2017

NASA orbiter shows Mars lost 90 per cent of its CO2 to space

It vanished into thin air. Around 90 per cent of the Red Planet’s atmosphere was probably lost to space over just a few hundred million years, according to a key measurement from NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft.

Today Mars is a freezing, arid desert with an atmosphere 1 per cent as dense as Earth’s and its water mostly locked up in polar ice caps.

But most planetary scientists think it was not always so. Certain Mars soils contain minerals that on Earth are produced in the presence of water, and some Martian features seem to point towards ancient lakebeds and even fast-flowing rivers. To have retained this liquid water, the planet’s carbon dioxide-dominated atmosphere must once have been much thicker to limit surface evaporation.

MAVEN has been orbiting Mars since 2014 on a quest to find out where all that CO2 went. It could have gone into the ice caps, into the rocks as carbonate minerals or it could have been lost to space.

March 24th, 2017

‘Life’ horror movie sparks reality check on procedures for studying Mars samples

Rebecca Ferguson plays Miranda North, a planetary protection officer aboard the International Space Station, in the movie “Life.” (Sony Pictures Digital Productions)

Rebecca Ferguson plays Miranda North, a planetary protection officer aboard the International Space Station, in the movie “Life.” (Sony Pictures Digital Productions)

Spoiler Alert! This article doesn’t reveal any major plot twists, but wait to read it if you’re trying to stay totally in the dark about the plot of the movie “Life.”

Let sleeping Martians lie, particularly if they have a strong grip: That’s one of the lessons you could take away from “Life,” the first monster movie set on the International Space Station.

The movie – which opens today and stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds – blends the gory horror of “Alien” with the harrowing suspense of “Gravity.” It’s a tour de force of simulated zero-G acrobatics (done mostly with ropes and wires). And it’s an orbital illustration of Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong with having an alien on board does go wrong.

Purists may have questions about just how wrong it goes. Could a minuscule life form brought back from Mars really get that big that quickly? Is it really possible to combine neural, muscular and sensory functions in one cell? And just how easy is it for things to come loose (or get loose) on the space station?

The deepest question may well be, does this nightmare have any chance of happening in real life?

March 23rd, 2017

Mars Spacesuits: Designing a Blue-Collar Suit for the Red Planet

The MarsSuit Project is underway at UC Berkeley, led by professor Lawrence Kuznetz (right). Credit: Lawrence Kuznetz

The MarsSuit Project is underway at UC Berkeley, led by professor Lawrence Kuznetz (right).
Credit: Lawrence Kuznetz

The first explorers on Mars will need a new kind of spacesuit, and a university-based team has taken a novel approach to design the equipment.

Researchers have set up a “collaboratory” at the University of California, Berkeley, to come up with a spacesuit that will allow expeditionary crews to work effectively on Mars.

“The kind of suit that we’re talking about is a blue-collar suit. You’ve got to be able to be out and about on Mars 7 to 8 hours a day, seven days a week,” said project leader Lawrence Kuznetz, a UC Berkeley professor and former NASA engineer with a long history of investigating Mars spacesuit concepts.

About 50 Berkeley students are now taking part in this MarsSuit Project, via a design class that began in mid-January. That core group, Kuznetz said, is one slice of a larger, interactive talent pool that includes the University of Helsinki, Texas A&M University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and students at the Technical University of Ljubljana in Slovenia and at other institutions, along with several NASA centers, nonprofits and private organizations, such as Paragon Space Development Corporation in Tucson, Arizona.

Teams have been established to delve into everything from hardware, soft goods and software to boots, gloves, thermal control and waste management.

“The long-range vision is to have this course semester after semester,” Kuznetz said, “with each semester building upon the work of the prior semester … all intent on maturing the MarsSuit design.”

March 22nd, 2017

Simulated Mars dust makes for weird 3D-printed objects

Copyright Fotec

Credit: ESA

When humans finally get to Mars, they’ll need to use local resources in their quest for survival. Mars has a lot of dust, and the European Space Agency is looking at how to transform it into useful 3D-printed objects. On Wednesday, the ESA posted the fascinating results of a 3D-printing test using simulated Mars soil on Wednesday.

The team 3D-printed an igloo-like structure and a wall corner. They’re sized for a small mouse, but they show that it’s possible to create sturdy objects using the local resources on Mars.

The researchers used a Mars soil simulant called JSC-Mars-1A, which contains volcanic material, mixed with phosphoric acid as a binder. The mixture was extruded through a nozzle and layered in typical 3D-printing fashion.

The igloo and corner won’t win many points for aesthetics, but that’s OK.

March 21st, 2017

President Trump signs bill authorizing NASA funding, Mars exploration

President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 21, 2017, after signing a bill to increase NASA’s budget to $19.5 billion and directs the agency to focus human exploration of deep space and Mars. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 21, 2017, after signing a bill to increase NASA’s budget to $19.5 billion and directs the agency to focus human exploration of deep space and Mars. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

President Donald Trump signed a bill into law Tuesday that updates NASA’s mission to add exploration of Mars and authorizes $19.5 billion in spending for the U.S. space agency for the current budget year.

It’s the first time in seven years that there has been an authorization bill for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, also known as NASA, said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a chief sponsor of the bill. Cruz joined several astronauts and other lawmakers in the Oval Office to watch Trump sign the bill.

Last week, Trump sent Congress a budget proposal that would authorize $19.1 billion in agency spending next year. Congress appropriates funding for all government departments and agencies.

“For almost six decades, NASA’s work has inspired millions and millions of Americans to imagine distant worlds and a better future right here on earth,” Trump said. “I’m delighted to sign this bill. It’s been a long time since a bill like this has been signed, reaffirming our commitment to the core mission of NASA: human space exploration, space science and technology.”

The measure amends current law to add human exploration of the red planet as a goal for the agency. It supports use of the International Space Station through at least 2024, along with private sector companies partnering with NASA to deliver cargo and experiments, among other steps.

March 17th, 2017

Colonizing Mars Will Depend on Low-Tech Know-How

Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

Colonizing Mars will be no easy feat. It will require billions of dollars and years of specialized research led by some of the smartest scientists and engineers in the world. It will demand advanced technologies, yet to be invented — new kinds of spacecraft, for example, advanced rocket propulsion, deep-space life-support systems and high-speed communications.

But when humans arrive at the Red Planet, their best chances for success and survival will depend on simple materials, low-tech solutions and a broad set of problem-solving skills that will allow people to adapt.

“Here on the Earth, when we go to a remote location to do an engineering development project, we’ve learned that taking high-tech equipment isn’t really the right approach. What you want is appropriate technology,” said planetary scientist Phil Metzger, who is also a co-founder of NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Swamp Works. “You want technology to be maintained using the local resources and local labor.”

March 16th, 2017

Budweiser Is Exploring How to Brew Beer on Mars

Credit: Budweiser

Credit: Budweiser

As scientists search for life on Mars and plot a way for people to live there in the future, Budweiser is hard at work figuring out how to make life in space a little more fun by developing a beer made just for the Red Planet.

Today at South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, Texas, Budweiser announced its plans to research and produce a microgravity brew, on a panel moderated by The Martian star, Kate Mara, with retired astronaut Clayton Anderson, who discussed the future of space colonization. Ricardo Marques, vp of Budweiser, and Val Toothman, Anheuser-Busch’s vp of marketing innovation, outlined the experiments and research that will go into the Martian beer.

The biggest challenge of brewing beer a space is the lack of gravity. “When you’re in a zero-gravity environment, a beverage with carbonation is going to be an issue,” Anderson explained. However, Budweiser is researching options to work with the micro-gravity environment that exists on Mars to develop a beer that can be consumed there.

March 10th, 2017

Indicators show potatoes can grow on Mars

Lima (Peru) The International Potato Center (CIP) launched a series of experiments to discover if potatoes can grow under Mars atmospheric conditions and thereby prove they are also able to grow in extreme climates on Earth. This Phase Two effort of CIP’s proof of concept experiment to grow potatoes in simulated Martian conditions began on February 14, 2016 when a tuber was planted in a specially constructed CubeSat contained environment built by engineers from University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) in Lima based upon designs and advice provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in Ames Research Center (NASA ARC), California. Preliminary results are positive.

The Potatoes on Mars project was conceived by CIP to both understand how potatoes might grow in Mars conditions and also see how they survive in the extreme conditions similar to what parts of the world already suffering from climate change and weather shocks are already experiencing.
“Growing crops under Mars-like conditions is an important phase of this experiment,” says Julio Valdivia-Silva, a research associate with the SETI Institute who has worked at NASA’s Ames Research Center (NASA ARC) and now works at UTEC in Lima. “If the crops can tolerate the extreme conditions that we are exposing them to in our CubeSat, they have a good chance to grow on Mars. We will do several rounds of experiments to find out which potato varieties do best. “We want to know what the minimum conditions are that a potato needs to survive,” he said.

March 9th, 2017

Congress just passed a bill that tells NASA to send humans to Mars by 2033

For the first time in more than six years, both chambers of Congress passed a bill that approves funding for NASA and gives the space agency new mandates.

The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 is a bill that the Senate and House collaborated on for months, and it appropriates $19.5 billion to the agency. (NASA received $19.3 billion in 2016, or 0.5% of the total federal budget.)

When the Senate brought the bill before the House of Representatives for a vote on March 7, “no members spoke against the bill” and it passed, according to Jeff Foust at Space News.

The document asks NASA to create a roadmap for getting humans “near or on the surface of Mars in the 2030s.” It also calls on the space agency to continue developing the Space Launch System (SLS) — a behemoth rocket — and the Orion space capsule in order to eventually go to the moon, Mars, and beyond.

Now it’s up to President Trump to sign the bill into law — or veto it.

March 2nd, 2017

NASA Orbiter Steers Clear of Mars Moon Phobos

Illustration of a previous close encounter between MAVEN and Phobos – Image: NASA, CU/LASP

Illustration of a previous close encounter between MAVEN and Phobos – Image: NASA, CU/LASP

NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft performed a previously unscheduled maneuver this week to avoid a collision in the near future with Mars’ moon Phobos.

The Mars Atmosphere and VolatileEvolutioN (MAVEN)spacecraft has been orbiting Mars for just over two years, studying the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind. On Tuesday the spacecraft carried out a rocket motor burn that boosted its velocity by 0.4 meters per second (less than 1 mile per hour). Although a small correction, it was enough that — projected to one week later when the collision would otherwise have occurred — MAVEN would miss the lumpy, crater-filled moon by about 2.5 minutes.

This is the first collision avoidance maneuver that the MAVEN spacecraft has performed at Mars to steer clear of Phobos. The orbits of both MAVEN and Phobos are known well enough that this timing difference ensures that they will not collide.