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.

February 27th, 2017

Mars: Ripe for an Atmospheric Overhaul?

An artificial magnetosphere of sufficient size generated at L1 allows Mars to be well protected by the magnetotail. Credit: J.L.Green, et al.

An artificial magnetosphere of sufficient size
generated at L1 allows Mars to be well protected by the magnetotail.
Credit: J.L.Green, et al.

Transforming Mars to make it more livable for humankind could involve creating an artificial magnetosphere for the Red Planet.

This idea has been suggested by a team of researchers, presenting the concept at the Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop 2017 being held this week in Washington, D.C.

Arid and cold

Their paper – A Future Mars Environment for Science and Exploration – notes that today, that planet is an arid and cold world with a very thin atmosphere that has significant frozen and underground water resources.

Mars’ thin atmosphere not only prevents liquid water from residing permanently on its surface and makes it difficult to land missions since it is not thick enough to completely facilitate a soft landing.

The research paper, led by James Green, Director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters, explains that when Mars lost its protective magnetosphere, three or more billion years ago, the solar wind was allowed to “directly ravish” the Red Planet’s atmosphere.

February 24th, 2017

Andy Weir’s Best Seller ‘The Martian’ Gets a Classroom-Friendly Makeover

There are more than 160 swear words in Andy Weir’s sci-fi thriller, “The Martian,” including two memorably deployed F-words in the novel’s first three sentences.

The profanity did not strike Mr. Weir as excessive when he wrote the book nearly a decade ago. After all, the story’s narrator, an astronaut named Mark Watney, is stranded alone on Mars with a dwindling supply of food and a rescue mission that is four years away — circumstances that warrant constant cursing.

But shortly after the book came out, Mr. Weir started hearing from a subset of readers who objected to the obscenities.

“I got a lot of emails from science teachers who said, ‘Man I’d love to use your book as a teaching aid, but there’s so much profanity in it that we can’t really do that,’” said Mr. Weir, 44, who is cheerful, hyper-analytical and casually profane, much like his protagonist. “It’s hard to get that by a school board.”

February 22nd, 2017

Did Mars Once Have Three Moons?

Rather than the two Moons we see today, a collision followed by a circumplanetary disk may have given rise to three moons of Mars, where only two survive today. Image credit: Labex UnivEarths / Université Paris Diderot.

Rather than the two Moons we see today, a collision followed by a circumplanetary disk may have given rise to three moons of Mars, where only two survive today. Image credit: Labex UnivEarths / Université Paris Diderot.

Mars’ two moons, Phobos and Deimos, are small, irregular, but orbit in the same equatorial plane as the red planet. Although they’ve long been thought to be captured asteroids, those orbits would be supremely unlikely. Another possibility would have been if a massive impact created a debris disk, similar to how Earth’s Moon was formed. That alternative creates equatorial orbits, but normally produces at least one very large moon. However, a new simulation was performed, showing how an impact could create three moons around Mars, where the largest, inner one decays, creating Martian system we see today.

February 15th, 2017

Mars 2020: Could this be Red Planet round-trip?



Nearly 20 years after Pathfinder rolled onto an ancient Martian flood plain called Ares Vallis, NASA’s four Mars rovers have only covered about 38 miles of the Red Planet. That leaves plenty of territory for the next lander, Mars 2020, to explore.

At a conference last week, scientists determined three possible landing sites for the rover: Columbia Hills, Northeast Syrtis, and Jezero Crater. Orbital observations and previous rovers have found that the first two sites were likely once home to hot springs; Jezero Crater may have held a large lake.

“If you find where the liquid water was,” Bruce Betts, director of science and technology for the Planetary Society, tells The Christian Science Monitor, “if there were ever life on Mars, that would be a good place to look.”

This “follow the water” paradigm has guided NASA’s missions to Mars since the 1990s. The Mars 2020 mission, scheduled for launch in three years, continues this approach and adds a new goal: returning samples for Earth-based study.

February 14th, 2017

UAE seeks to build human settlement on Mars by 2117

Government of Dubai Media Office

Government of Dubai Media Office

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has unveiled a new project that aims to establish the first inhabitable human settlement in Mars by 2117.

The initiative called “Mars 2117 Project” was announced on Tuesday by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and Vice President of the UAE, on the sidelines of the 5th World Government Summit, currently being held in the Emirate.

“The landing of people on other planets has been a longtime dream for humans. Our aim is that the UAE will spearhead international efforts to make this dream a reality,” said Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid.