MarsNews.com
July 22nd, 2019

Footprints on the Moon and cemeteries on Mars: interview with space archaeologist Alice Gorman

Who will be the first person to be buried on Mars? Nick Brookes / flickr, CC BY-NC

It’s 50 years since humans went to the Moon – and now people are so focused on getting to Mars.

But what happens when another planet becomes home, when the first generations are born, live, and just as importantly, die in space?

I often think the first death in space is going to be a big turning point for how we relate to it. There haven’t really been any so far. There was the unfortunate USSR Soyuz 11 mission to Earth orbit, where three cosmonauts died when they left the spacecraft – but they were recovered on Earth. [The crew died on their descent back to Earth after a technical fault caused their Soyuz capsule to depressurise.]

There have been other deaths, for example on the tragic Space Shuttle accidents, but they haven’t actually been in space.

It’s something people often overlook when talking about the prospect of settling on Mars. The risks are so great. People are going to die. They’re probably going to die if there’s any human settlement on the Moon as well.

So how will that impact how we look at space?

July 19th, 2019

For First Time, Majority in U.S. Backs Human Mission to Mars

Americans’ views about landing an astronaut on Mars have shifted, with a majority now favoring the idea for the first time since 1969 and 1999, when majorities opposed the idea.

The latest figure comes as President Donald Trump has committed to a manned Mars mission. In his Fourth of July speech, the president said, “We’re going to be back on the moon … and, someday soon, we will plant the American flag on Mars.”

Gallup first asked Americans about attempting to land astronauts on Mars in 1969, shortly after the U.S. accomplished the same feat on the moon. At that time, just 39% were in favor and 53% opposed. A subsequent update on the 30th anniversary of the moon landing found public opinion had changed little, with 43% in favor and 54% opposed to going to Mars.

The recent increase in support for putting an astronaut on Mars is consistent with Americans’ more positive views of the U.S. space program, just ahead of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

As was the case 20 years ago, support for a manned Mars mission is highest among young adults aged 18 to 29 (65%) and lowest among adults aged 65 and older (46%). But support has increased substantially among older adults — as well as younger adults, to a smaller degree — thus boosting the national average.

July 18th, 2019

Drinking Red Wine on the Red Planet: Ingredient in Grapes May Protect Against Musculoskeletal Atrophy in Partial Gravity

You may remember Tang – the sugar-sweetened orange-flavored drink mix – as the official beverage of the Apollo 11 mission that landed the first men on the moon fifty years ago this month. But, according to a new report published in Frontiers in Physiology, the first men and women who set foot on Mars might be better off choosing a nice merlot.

Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) have demonstrated that resveratrol – a naturally occurring ingredient in grapes and blueberries – can preserve muscle function and mitigate muscle atrophy under conditions that mimic the gravity on Mars – which is about 40 percent as strong as that experienced on Earth. The team’s findings suggest that supplementing future astronauts’ diets with resveratrol could help maintain their musculoskeletal health even on a long-term mission to Mars.

“Resveratrol has been extensively studied for its health benefits, including its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-diabetic effects,” said senior author Seward B. Rutkove, MD, Chief of the Division of Neuromuscular Disease in the Department of Neurology at BIDMC. “Resveratrol has also been shown to preserve bone and muscle loss, however there’s a lack of research regarding its effects on the musculoskeletal system in partial gravity. We hypothesized that a moderate daily dose would help mitigate muscle deconditioning under conditions that replicate the partial gravity on Mars.”

July 17th, 2019

Op/Ed: Young Americans deserve a 21st-century Moonshot to Mars

Mars should be the next destination for humankind. Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock.com

I then see the decline in scientific education in the U.S., the decline in interest in the sciences and statistic after statistic showing American high school students ranking below the international average in mathematics and science proficiency. Is it surprising, then, that NASA is having trouble in every step of its meager plan for landing humans on the Moon again?

I cannot help but think that all this would change should the U.S. challenge itself with a Moonshot once again. And no, a return to the Moon won’t do. A real Moonshot isn’t a single mission, but a decades-long plan that educates generations, challenges its scientists and engineers, ignites the imagination and aspirations of its children, and once again glues the eyes of humanity on the livestream of that first footstep on Mars.

The Moonshot we need will have humanity establishing its first off-world colonies. It will send the first spacecraft to the distant stars. It will, more importantly, restore the United States to the forefront of science and technology. Fifty years after that first giant leap for mankind, it is finally time to take not just the second leap, but each and every leap that we’ve prevented ourselves from taking for five long decades.

July 16th, 2019

50 Years After Apollo 11 Moon Landing, NASA Sets Its Sights On Mars

Jim Bridenstine became NASA administrator in April 2018. He says that before the space agency can send humans to Mars, it has to get them back to the moon.
Olivia Falcigno/NPR

In the past year or so, scientists have discovered more evidence for liquid water under the surface of Mars. They’ve found complex organic compounds — the building blocks of life. And they’ve found that methane levels in Mars’ atmosphere vary with the seasons.

“Each of these things adds up to say that the probability of finding life on a world that’s not our own is going up,” says NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “And Mars, I think, is that best opportunity in our own solar system to find life on another world.”

The former Republican congressman from Oklahoma became the head of NASA in April 2018. Since then, he has had a lot to do to get ready for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, but he’s making sure the agency continues to look forward for its next mission: a crewed mission to Mars.

But before humans can go to Mars, they have to get back to the moon.

“It just so happens that the moon is a proving ground, so we can go to the moon and we can learn how to live and work on another world,” says Bridenstine. “How do we retire the risk? Prove the technology and then take all of that to Mars.”

July 12th, 2019

Medical care at the final frontier

CU students in the “Medicine in Space and Surface Environments” class perform CPR on a “fallen” crewmate in the Habitat at the Mars Desert Research Station in southern Utah.

Ben Easter, MD, steps onto a rocky ledge overlooking a dry riverbed. He cranes his neck and points into the canyon.

“Right here,” the emergency medicine doctor says with a gleeful glint, belying his boyish looks, “we’re going to foment some chaos and see what happens.”

The simulation is designed to test whether students, thrust into a search-and-rescue scenario where they must navigate rugged topography and rapid-fire events, are able to organize into teams and solve cascading problems, all the while racing the clock to save injured and ill crewmates.

“We want them to walk up onto this ridge and not know where exactly the patient is, and have a kind of ‘oh crap’ moment,” says Easter, on the teaching staff of a new class that blends wilderness medicine and aerospace engineering.

In a remote part of southern Utah – at the Mars Desert Research Station to be precise – 21 University of Colorado Boulder aerospace engineering students, a mix of graduate students and undergrads, became Martians. They experienced seven days of gut-knotting, brain-twisting moments along with after-burner bursts of inspiration – nudging more than a few students into changed-life territory.

July 11th, 2019

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover still taking a beating from red planet rocks

The Curiosity rover’s wheel has some damage in this image from July 7. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity rover is equipped with tough aluminum wheels, but they’re not getting off easy on Mars. The red planet’s rocky landscape continues to take a toll on the rover, as new images of wheel damage show.

The rover used the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on the the end of its robotic arm to take a close look at its wheels on July 7. This is pretty much the rover equivalent of inspecting the bottom of your boots after going for a rocky hike.

The wheels are dented and pockmarked from traversing rough ground. What’s most concerning are the many cracks and outright holes visible across the treads.

While the damage looks scary, the wheels are actually doing a pretty good job of hanging in there.

“Although the wheels have developed some holes, the testing and modeling that have been done since early 2014 indicate that Curiosity can still travel a number of kilometers on these wheels,” Curiosity team member Roger Craig Wiens wrote in a mission update.

The rover has traveled 12.99 miles (20.91 kilometers) since reaching Mars in 2012, so the wheels should still be serviceable for quite some time.

July 2nd, 2019

Landing the Mars 2020 rover: Autopilot will avoid terrain hazards autonomously

NASA’s Mars 2020 mission will have an autopilot that helps guide it to safer landings on the Red Planet.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The view of the Sea of Tranquility rising up to meet Neil Armstrong during the first astronaut landing on the Moon was not what Apollo 11 mission planners had intended. They had hoped to send the lunar module Eagle toward a relatively flat landing zone with few craters, rocks and boulders. Instead, peering through his small, triangular commander’s window, Armstrong saw a boulder field—very unfriendly for a lunar module. So the Apollo 11 commander took control of the descent from the onboard computer, piloting Eagle well beyond the boulder field,to a landing site that will forever be known as Tranquility Base.

“There had been Moon landings with robotic spacecraft before Apollo 11,” said Al Chen, entry, descent and landing lead for NASA’s Mars 2020 mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “But never before had a spacecraft on a descent toward its surface changed its trajectory to maneuver out of harm’s way.”

Chen and his Mars 2020 colleagues have experience landing spacecraft on the Red Planet without the help of a steely-eyed astronaut at the stick. But Mars 2020 is headed toward NASA’s biggest Martian challenge yet. Jezero Crater is a 28-mile-wide (45-kilometer-wide) indentation full of steep cliffsides, sand dunes, boulders fields and small impact craters. The team knew that to attempt a landing at Jezero—and with a rover carrying 50% more payload than the Curiosity rover, which landed at a more benign location near Mount Sharp—they would have to up their game.

“What we needed was a Neil Armstrong for Mars,” said Chen. “What we came up with was Terrain-Relative Navigation.”

July 1st, 2019

Earth To Mars In 100 Days? The Power Of Nuclear Rockets

Artist’s concept of a Bimodal Nuclear Thermal Rocket in Low Earth Orbit. Credit: NASA

The Solar System is a really big place, and it takes forever to travel from world to world with traditional chemical rockets. But one technique, developed back in the 1960s might provide a way to dramatically shorten our travel times: nuclear rockets.

Of course, launching a rocket powered by radioactive material has its own risks as well. Should we attempt it?

On May 22, 2019, US Congress approved $125 million dollars in funding for the development of nuclear thermal propulsion rockets. Although this program doesn’t have any role to play in NASA’s Artemis 2024 return to the Moon, it – quote – “calls upon NASA to develop a multi-year plan that enables a nuclear thermal propulsion demonstration including the timeline associated with the space demonstration and a description of future missions and propulsion and power systems enabled by this capability.”

June 18th, 2019

Meteors help Martian clouds form

This image, taken from a computer simulation, shows middle altitude clouds on Mars. (Courtesy Victoria Hartwick)

How did the Red Planet get all of its clouds? CU Boulder researchers may have discovered the secret: just add meteors.

Astronomers have long observed clouds in Mars’ middle atmosphere, which begins about 18 miles (30 kilometers) above the surface, but have struggled to explain how they formed.

Now, a new study, which will be published on June 17 in the journal Nature Geoscience, examines those wispy accumulations and suggests that they owe their existence to a phenomenon called “meteoric smoke”—essentially, the icy dust created by space debris slamming into the planet’s atmosphere.

The findings are a good reminder that planets and their weather patterns aren’t isolated from the solar systems around them.

“We’re used to thinking of Earth, Mars and other bodies as these really self-contained planets that determine their own climates,” said Victoria Hartwick, a graduate student in the Department of Atmospheric and Ocean Sciences (ATOC) and lead author of the new study. “But climate isn’t independent of the surrounding solar system.”

The research, which included co-authors Brian Toon at CU Boulder and Nicholas Heavens at Hampton University in Virginia, hangs on a basic fact about clouds: They don’t come out of nowhere.

“Clouds don’t just form on their own,” said Hartwick, also of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at CU Boulder. “They need something that they can condense on to.”

On Earth, for example, low-lying clouds begin life as tiny grains of sea salt or dust blown high into the air. Water molecules clump around these particles, becoming bigger and bigger until they form the large puffs that you can see from the ground.

But, as far as scientists can tell, those sorts of cloud seeds don’t exist in Mars’ middle atmosphere, Hartwick said. And that’s what led her and her colleagues to meteors.