Sunday, December 18, 2011

Blue moons? Kepler-22b offers NASA habitable world hopes

kepler 22b
And NASA? NASA's Kepler space telescope team this month unveiled "Kepler-22b." A planet some 600 light-years away, Kepler-22b circles its star squarely in a "habitable zone" — the orbital distance where a world's surface temperature would neither boil nor freeze water, perhaps allowing oceans to survive as on Earth. Water is widely seen as one of life's vital ingredients by planetary scientists.

Catchy names, clearly, aren't a priority in astronomy. Other proposed habitable zone worlds reported by astronomers (among the more than 700 planets detected in the last two decades orbiting nearby stars) sport monikers such as "55 Cancri f" and "HD 85512 b.

But at least some solace comes from the Kepler space telescope team's estimate that just in our Milky Way galaxy alone, some 500 million planets likely orbit inside their star's habitable zone.

"We have many candidates in that region," said Kepler principal scientist William Borucki of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., at a briefing unveiling Kepler-22b to his colleagues earlier this month. At his briefing, Borucki showed a chart depicting more than 50 possible habitable zone planets, as well as Kepler-22b, among the 2,326 planetary candidates detected by Kepler since its 2009 launch.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Russian scientist apologizes for failed Mars moon mission

Mars Mission
In an open letter Thursday, a prominent Russian scientist lamented the failure of the country's Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, which was meant to collect samples from Mars' moon Phobos, but instead is languishing in Earth orbit.

"We are deeply sorry about the failure" of Phobos-Grunt, wrote Lev Zelenyi, director of the Space Research Institute and Chair of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Solar System Exploration Board, in a letter to fellow scientists and mission team members. "We hope in (the) future to continue our collaboration on space science projects."

The troubled spacecraft has been stranded since its Nov. 8 launch, when it failed to propel itself off into a deep space trajectory toward Mars.

Not giving up
In yesterday's message, Zelenyi said the reason for the failure has yet to be determined. He saluted the dedicated efforts of the European Space Agency, NASA, as well as the U.S. military space trackers and amateur skywatchers that helped in efforts to establish communication with the wayward probe and to assist in determining the exact orbit, orientation and attitude of Phobos-Grunt.

"However, despite people being at work 24/7 since the launch, all these attempts have not yield(ed) any satisfactory results," Zelenyi said. "Lavochkin Association specialists will continue their attempts to establish connection with the spacecraft and send commands until the very end of its existence."

Russia's NPO Lavochkin was the main contractor of the Phobos-Grunt project.

The spacecraft is expected to enter Earth's atmosphere in early January as a piece of space debris. Zelenyi explained that Russian space experts are now working on the issue of re-entry and the "probability of where and which fragments may hit the ground (if any)," he said.

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Monday, December 05, 2011

Mars Mission Hoping To Satisfy Curiosity

mars rover
The University of Leicester is to play a key role in NASA's $2.5 billion mission to Mars. Dr. John Bridges of the University's Space Research Centre leads a team from the University of Leicester, the Open University, and CNES France which have been accepted as participating scientists on the Mars Science Laboratory Mission, which lands in August 2012.

John Bridges will be among the first people to study images returned after landing. The Leicester-led team will focus on determining the conditions associated with the presence of water in past epochs at the landing site.

Launched on 26th November, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is a NASA mission with the aim to land and operate a rover named Curiosity on the surface of Mars. The 900-kg rover, which is the size of a small car, will travel on the Red Planet's surface for 23 months, looking at sediments that could help explain the planet's past and help to assess Mars's habitability.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Russia Mars probe failure underlined by successful U.S. launch

As the NASA rover Curiosity, launched from Cape Canaveral, streaks toward Mars, Russia's Phobos-Ground probe is marooned in near-Earth orbit and largely unresponsive to ground controllers' commands As the NASA rover Curiosity, launched Saturday from Cape Canaveral, Fla., streaks toward Mars, Russia's Phobos-Ground probe is marooned in near-Earth orbit and largely unresponsive to commands from ground controllers.

Russian officials acknowledge that the narrow ballistic window for the spacecraft to reach Mars has closed, making it another in a series of failures for the country's space research. Since the retirement of the last space shuttle in July, U.S. astronauts heading to the International Space Station need to hitch a ride with the Russians, but officials say Russia's space program is suffering from worn-out equipment, a graying workforce and inability to attract a new generation of young specialists The $167-million probe, launched Nov. 9, was intended as a major step back into exploration of the deeper cosmos by Russia's proud space program. It was to land on the Martian moon Phobos next year, pick up samples of dust and deliver them back to Earth.

After the probe separated from its main booster rocket, however, its engines failed to fire properly to set it on a path toward Mars, and it didn't respond to signals from ground control.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

NASA Launches Super-Size Mars Rover to Red Planet

The world's biggest extraterrestrial explorer, NASA's Curiosity rover, rocketed toward Mars on Saturday on a search for evidence that the red planet might once have been home to itsy-bitsy life It will take 8 1/2 months for Curiosity to reach Mars following a journey of 354 million miles.

An unmanned Atlas V rocket hoisted the rover, officially known as Mars Science Laboratory, into a cloudy late morning sky. A Mars frenzy gripped the launch site, with more than 13,000 guests jamming the space center for NASA's first launch to Earth's next-door neighbor in four years, and the first send-off of a Martian rover in eight years NASA astrobiologist Pan Conrad, whose carbon compound-seeking instrument is on the rover, had a shirt custom made for the occasion. Her bright blue, short-sleeve blouse was emblazoned with rockets, planets and the words, "Next stop Mars!"

The 1-ton Curiosity -- as large as a car -- is a mobile, nuclear-powered laboratory holding 10 science instruments that will sample Martian soil and rocks, and analyze them right on the spot There's a drill as well as a stone-zapping laser machine It's "really a rover on steroids," said NASA's Colleen Hartman, assistant associate administrator for science. "It's an order of magnitude more capable than anything we have ever launched to any planet in the solar system." The primary goal of the $2.5 billion mission is to see whether cold, dry, barren Mars might have been hospitable for microbial life once upon a time -- or might even still be conducive to life now.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Scientists simulate Moon and Mars exploration

Moon and Mars exploration
NASA and a team of international researchers from Mars Institute and SETI Institute returned to the Mojave Desert this month to complete a series of field tests and simulations aimed at investigating how humans will conduct geotechnical surveys on the moon or Mars the Mojave's inhospitable, sun-scorched environment presents scientists with perfect opportunities to study locations that are similar to what explorers would find on the moon or Mars. Other research partners include Carnegie Mellon University and aerospace companies Hamilton Sundstrand, Windsor Locks, Conn., and Honeybee Robotics, Pasadena, Calif.

The Mojave simulations were designed to study how an astronaut crew would characterize the geotechnical properties of a site, such as the composition and density of surface materials, their water content and roughness of the terrain. As part of the characterization of the sites by human explorers, soil samples were collected for microbiological analysis. The soil samples will be examined in the laboratory for their microbial content to better understand the astrobiological potential offered by similar environments on Mars.

“Our overall goal was to learn how to scientifically explore and validate, as civil engineers would, open areas on the moon and Mars that might be candidate sites for an outpost or other elements of surface infrastructure,” explained Pascal Lee, chairman of the Mars Institute and leader of the field campaign.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

NASA prepares for launch to Mars

mars rover
NASA officials spent much of the weekend putting the last-minute touches on a rover headed to Mars this week NASA will launch the rover — nicknamed Curiosity — using an Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on November twenty six (26), space agency officials said. The launch was originally scheduled to blast off on November 25, however, officials said Sunday that the launch will be delayed in order to replace a suspect battery on the rover’s rocket

“The launch is rescheduled for Saturday, November 26 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.,” NASA officials said in a statement. “The one hour and 43 minute launch window opens at 10:02 a.m. EST.”NASA has until December 18 to launch the new rover toward Mars and still make the current flight window to the Red Planet. Officials expressed confidence that they will launch the rover within the window of opportunity

The mission to Mars will take over eight months, NASA officials say. The rover is expected to arrive on the planet on August 6, 2012. The rover is reportedly nearly seven foot tall and is twice as big as previous Mars’ rovers. Officials say the rover weighs over a ton, and it is expected to carry more than ten times the amount of scientific equipment sent with the Spirit and Opportunity rovers launched in 2004. The mission cost: $2.5 billion.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Botched Mars mission shows Russian industry troubles

mars mission
Russia's unsuccessful launch of a Mars moon probe points up the problems of a once-pioneering space industry struggling to recover after a generation of brain drain and crimped budgets an unmanned craft, launched last Wednesday in what was meant to be post-Soviet Russia's interplanetary debut, got stuck in Earth's orbit and may drop down into the atmosphere within days.

The failure rattled Russian space officials but came as no surprise to many industry veterans who saw the ambitious mission to bring back dirt from the Martian moon Phobos as a pipe dream "Unfortunately, no miracle occurred," veteran cosmonaut Yuri Baturin quipped to the state-run newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

Despite improved budgets and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's pledge to restore pride in the sector, the Russian space industry is saddled the legacy of a lost generation of expertise, in many cases obsolete ground equipment and outdated Soviet-era designs.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Russians desperately try to save Mars moon probe

A Russian space probe became stuck in orbit this week after an equipment failure, raising fears it could come crashing down and spill tons of highly toxic fuel on Earth unless engineers can steer it back to its flight path the spacecraft was headed for one of Mars' two moons when it developed technical problems.

U.S. space and Defense Department officials are tracking it. Officials at NASA in Washington figure it will be at least a week, maybe more, before the errant space probe falls to Earth, if it does. The Russians are trying to get it back on course one independent U.S. expert on the Russian space program said the spacecraft could become the most dangerous manmade object ever to hit the planet. But those at the U.S. space agency and other space debris experts are far less worried. They believe the fuel will probably explode harmlessly in Earth's upper atmosphere.

NASA chief debris scientist Nicholas Johnson said the spacecraft's orbit is already starting to degrade slightly "From the orbits we're seeing from the U.S. Space Surveillance Network, it's going to be a couple weeks before it comes in," Johnson said Wednesday afternoon. "It's not going to be that immediate."

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Russia Struggles to Save Mars Moon Probe

mars moon probe
As Russia's space organization struggled Thursday to fix a probe jump for a moon of Mars that instead got stuck in Earth's orbit,some experts said the chances of saving the $170 million craft looked slim roscosmos spokesman Alexei Kuznetsov said efforts to communicate with the unmanned Phobos-Grunt spacecraft hadn't brought any results yet the probe will come crashing down in a couple of weeks if engineers fail to fix the problem.

The Phobos-Grunt was launched Wednesday and reached preliminary orbit, but its engines never fired to send it off to the Red Planet. Kuznetsov said controllers on Thursday will continue attempts to fix the probe's engines to steer it to its path to one of Mars' two moons, Phobos roscosmos chief Vladimir Popovkin, said the system that keeps the spacecraft pointed in the right direction may have failed. Other space experts suggested that the craft's computer failure was a likely cause.

If a software flaw was the problem, scientists can likely fix it by sending new commands. Some experts think, however, that the failure was rooted in hardware and will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to fix "I think we have lost the Phobos-Grunt," Vladimir Uvarov, a former top space expert at the Russian Defense Ministry, said in an interview published Thursday in the government daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta. "It looks like a serious flaw. The past experience shows that efforts to make the engines work will likely fail."

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Monday, November 07, 2011

Russia back in 'Space Race' with Mars moon lander

Moon Lander
Russia hopes to end a humiliating two-decade absence from deep space with the launch on Wednesday of an ambitious three-year mission to bring back a soil sample from Mars' moon Phobos russian scientists have dreamed of probing the Red Planet's potato-shaped satellite since the 1960s heyday of pioneering Soviet forays into space.

Dust from Phobos, they say, will hold clues to the genesis of the solar system's planets and help clarify Mars' enduring mysteries, including whether it is or ever was suited for life but the USD $163 million Phobos-Grunt mission is haunted by memories of past failures in Moscow's efforts to explore Mars and its moons.

"Mars has always been an inhospitable planet for Russia. The United States has had much more success there," said Maxim Martynov, the project's chief designer at NPO Lavochkin, the major Russian aerospace company that made the Phobos-Grunt Russia kept rocketing cosmonauts into orbit though the purse-pinched 1990s and is now the only country whose craft now carry crews to the international space station.

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Sunday, November 06, 2011

NASA prepares for moon tourism

"Looting, that would be pretty bad," says archaeologist Beth O'Leary of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. Looting is the bane of archaeological sites and O'Leary has spearheaded efforts to declare moon landing sites as historic preserves or national parks, seeking to head off similar depredations before before tourists leave Earth for the moon. "I put landing people on the moon up there with creating fire as a technological achievement."

From 1969 to 1972, NASA sent 6 manned space missions to the moon. Each one landed in a different spot, but in each case American astronauts left behind various artifacts. The first, Apollo 11, for instance, left things ranging from a "Camera, Lunar TV" to a "Urine Collection Assembly (Small)".

NASA isn't expecting the sites to generate the kind of traffic we see at national parks on Earth, but the prospect of future tourists could affect plans to inspect the sites and artifacts in the future. So, the space agency released guidelines this summer on protecting lunar landing sites and artifacts. They call for a 1,200 acre "no-fly" zone around the first Apollo 11 landing site, and final Apollo 17 one. Tourists could only walk within 82 yards of the Apollo 11 landing site where Neil Armstrong first took "One small step for man," on July 20, 1969, under the guidelines.

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Thursday, November 03, 2011

Asteroid to zoom by Earth

An asteroid the size of an aircraft carrier will zoom past Earth on Tuesday just inside the orbit of the moon.

The space rock poses no danger as its nearest approach will be a comfortable 202,000 miles distance. But the event marks the closest flyby of an asteroid this large since 1976, according to NASA.

Asteroid 2005 YU55 has a name only a scientist could love. They’re also loving the chance to stare at the nearly round, slowly spinning chunk of space debris as it flies by at some 30,000 mph.

“It will be scanned and probed and scanned some more,” said Marina Brozovic, an asteroid researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Starting tomorrow, Brozovic will ping the approaching asteroid with radar from giant dishes in Goldstone, Calif. She wants to map every crater and boulder while refining estimates of the asteroid’s path, which swings inside the orbit of Venus and then out near Mars, crossing Earth’s orbit.

Meanwhile, telescopes in Arizona and Hawaii will analyze light reflected from the asteroid to determine more precisely what it’s made of. Already scientists know it’s darker than charcoal because it’s a “C-type” asteroid, heavy with carbon and silicate minerals. Astronomers will also look for signs of water.

Similar asteroids that have plunged to Earth — called carbonaceous chondrites — hold within them amino acids and other building blocks of life.

“These are the objects that probably seeded the early Earth with carbon-based materials and water that allowed life to form,” said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Apollo astronaut surrenders moon camera

Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell has decided to give up the camera he kept as a memento of his 1971 moon mission rather than face a federal lawsuit over its ownership.

In a settlement he reached with the U.S. government filed with the District Court in southern Florida on Thursday (Oct. 27), the sixth man to walk on the moon agreed to "relinquish all claims of ownership, legal title, or dominion" over the data acquisition camera that flew with him aboard NASA's Apollo 14 mission.

Mitchell agreed to allow Bonhams, the New York auction house where he had consigned the camera for sale last June, to release the artifact to the government. Bonhams had estimated the camera's value at $60,000 to $80,000.

The 16-mm camera, which was one of two motion picture cameras on board the Apollo 14 lunar module "Antares" when it landed on the moon on Feb. 5, 1971, will be given within 60 days to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC for display.

According to the the terms of the settlement, which still needs to be signed off by a judge, Mitchell and the federal prosecutors will be responsible for their own legal fees. Earlier this month, MItchell lost his bid for the case to be dismissed after a judge ruled that Florida's statute of limitations did not apply and any determination if the government had abandoned or gifted the camera would need to be made in court.

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Asteroid will pass inside the moon’s orbit this week

According to Scientists, we don’t need to start rolling out the retired space shuttle fleet or suiting Bruce Willis up to save the planet, but an asteroid will pass very close to Earth this week. Close is a relative term when we are talking space, but this giant 1,300 foot wide asteroid will pass between the Earth and the moon. The exact distance the asteroid will streak by the Earth is pegged at 201,700 miles according to NASA.

The details on the asteroid come from NASA’s Don Yeomans, manager of the Near Earth Object Program Office at the JPL in California. The asteroid is called YU55 and Yeomans says it poses no threat to the Earth. Yeomans says that the asteroid will be no threat for at least the next 100 years. NASA has spent the time since the asteroid was discovered refining trajectories to get the best telescope for the job to observe the asteroid.

NASA has used that item wisely and expects to be able to get telescopes on the job and observe the passing asteroid at a resolution of 13 feet. That will provide the sort of surface detail that you would get from a spacecraft fly by. YU55 is classified as a c-type asteroid made of the sort of material left over from the formation of the solar system. Sadly, normal stargazers will not be able to see the asteroid as it streaks by the Earth.

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Russian mission to Mars’s moon to last 3 years

Mar's moon

The space station which Russia intends to send to one of Mars’s moons, Phobos, will work there for a about year. Its main task is to take samples of Phobos’s soil, which will be later examined by Russian scientists.

It is also planned that the station will deliver the Chinese satellite “Inho-1” to Mars’s orbit.

In total, the mission will last 3 years.

These plans have been revealed by the head of the Lavochkin construction office Maxim Martynov.

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

NASA considers 'fuel stops' in space

Nasa Fuel depot
NASA is looking to accelerate plans to send astronauts to distant destinations by considering a proposal to put filling stations in the sky.

The filling stations - NASA calls them propellant depots - would refuel a spacecraft in orbit before it headed out to the moon, an asteroid or eventually Mars. Currently, all of the fuel needed for a mission is carried up with the rocket. The weight of the fuel limits the size of the spacecraft.

Next month, engineers will meet at NASA headquarters in Washington to discuss how propellant depots could be used to reach farther into space and make possible more ambitious missions using the heavy-lift rocket that NASA is planning to build. The discussions grow out of a six-month NASA study of propellant depots, completed in July.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

NASA sets buffers for Apollo moon landing sites

NASA has begun drafting guidelines to protect the Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 landing sites, listing them as off-limits, and including ground-travel buffers and no-fly zones to avoid spraying rocket exhaust or dust onto aging, but historic, equipment Robert Kelso, NASA’s director of lunar commercial services at Johnson Space Center in Houston, has taken a hard look at future revisits to the Apollo sites and how to protect U.S. government artifacts on the moon.

Kelso has carved out a set of guidelines intended to safeguard the historic and scientific value of more than three dozen "heritage sites" on the lunar surface.

The report, which was released on July 20, is titled "NASA’s Recommendations to Space-Faring Entities: How to Protect and Preserve the Historic and Scientific Value of U.S. Government Lunar Artifacts."
A greater urgency for guidelines has been sparked by the Google Lunar X Prize’s offer of $20 million to any private team that lands a robotic rover on the moon’s surface. An additional $4 million has been offered for any team that snaps pictures of artifacts near or at the Apollo landing sites.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Gaddafi's Gone -- All Hail the TNC!

Gaddafi's Gone
The Libyan people have paid a heavy price to bring about this day of euphoria since their uprising began in mid-February. Tens of thousands of Libyans are dead and wounded, or homeless. Most of Libya's cities abutting the Mediterranean between Tripoli and Benghazi have been destroyed. The country is awash in militias, self-anointed revolutionaries, and a population thirsting for justice and a better life in a free society. All tall orders for Libya's triumphant governing Transitional National Council (TNC).

Libya's celebration will be fleeting unless the TNC can transform this popular anti-Gaddafi force into a "pro-Libya" force which marshals the goodwill of all Libyans to prevent an Egyptian-like post Mubarak slide into dissension and instability. And it will be a major test of endurance for Libyans to find the patience to give the TNC's leaders the time they need to turn from war to find a durable path to peace.

I have carefully followed the deliberations of the TNC, and its leadership has done a commendable job allocating responsibilities and tasks to subcommittees composed of very capable individuals in anticipation of this day. What is set forth below is really less my own list of priorities than a summary of what the TNC's goals and objectives will be in the weeks and months to come.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Will China take over the moon?

China Moon
Is China on course to surpass the United States as the world's space superpower and stake a claim on the moon in the next 15 years? Billionaire space executive Robert Bigelow is deeply worried about that scenario — and he says Americans need a "kick in the ass" to respond to the challenge.

Bigelow delivered that kick today at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight in Las Cruces, N.M. — but the general consensus among experts on China policy is that it's a bit too early to start rattling the sabers.

The founder of the Budget Suites hotel chain and Bigelow Aerospace promised to "cause a stimulation" with his remarks at the ISPCS conference, and delivered on that promise by laying out an argument for China's growing space dominance. He said the trend could conceivably lead to a lunar takeover in the 2022-2026 time frame.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Moon Packed with Precious Titanium, NASA Probe Finds

Titanium on Moon
A new map of the moon has uncovered a trove of areas rich in precious titanium ore, with some lunar rocks harboring 10 times as much of the stuff as rocks here on Earth do.

The map, which combined observations in visible and ultraviolet wavelengths, revealed the valuable titanium deposits. These findings could shed light on some of the mysteries of the lunar interior, and could also lay the groundwork for future mining on the moon, researchers said.

"Looking up at the moon, its surface appears painted with shades of grey — at least to the human eye," Mark Robinson, of Arizona State University, said in a statement. "The maria appear reddish in some places and blue in others. Although subtle, these color variations tell us important things about the chemistry and evolution of the lunar surface. They indicate the titanium and iron abundance, as well as the maturity of a lunar soil."

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Phobos-Grunt: The Mission Poster

Phobos Grunt
Russia is marking the upcoming blastoff of their dauntingly complex Phobos-Grunt sample return mission to the Martian moon Phobos with the release of a quite cool looking mission poster – see above. Phobos-Grunt translates as Phobos-Soil and is due to liftoff on or about November 7, 2011 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome atop a Zenit rocket.

The holy grail of Mars exploration has long been a sample return mission. But with severe cutbacks to NASA’s budget that goal is realistically more than a decade away. That’s why Phobos- Grunt is so exciting from a scientific standpoint.

If successful, this audacious probe will retrieve about 200 grams of soil from the diminutive moon Phobos and accomplish the round trip in three years time by August 2014. Scientists speculate that martian dust may coat portions of Phobos and could possibly be mixed in with any returned samples.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

New mystery could rewrite Mars’ history

A geologist at the University at Buffalo has suggested that one of the supposedly best understood and least interesting landscapes on Mars is hiding something that could rewrite the planet’s history.

Tracy Gregg found that decades of assumptions regarding the wide, flat Hesperia Planum are not holding up very well under renewed scrutiny with higher-resolution, more recent spacecraft data.

New mystery could rewrite Mars’ history
After early Mars scientists decided Hesperia Planum looked like a lava-filled plain, no one really revisited the matter and the place was used to exemplify something rather important: The base of a major transitional period in the geologic time scale of Mars, she stated.

But when Gregg and her student Carolyn Roberts started looking at this classic Martian lava plain with modern data sets, they ran into trouble.

“There’s a volcano in Hesperia Planum that not many people pay attention to because it’s very small,” Gregg said.

“As I started looking closer at the broader region — I can’t find any other volcanic vents, any flows. I just kept looking for evidence of lava flows. It’s kind of frustrating. There is nothing like that in the Hesperia Planum.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Early Mars likely warm and wet

Researchers have directly determined the surface temperature of early Mars for the first time, providing evidence that’s consistent with a warmer and wetter Martian past.

By analyzing carbonate minerals in a four-billion-year-old meteorite that originated near the surface of Mars, the scientists determined that the minerals formed at about 18 degrees Celsius (64 degrees Fahrenheit).

“The thing that’s really cool is that 18 degrees is not particularly cold nor particularly hot,” says Woody Fischer, assistant professor of geobiology at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and coauthor of the paper, published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “It’s kind of a remarkable result.”

Knowing the temperature of Mars is crucial to understanding the planet’s history—its past climate and whether it once had liquid water.

The Mars rovers and orbiting spacecraft have found ancient deltas, rivers, lakebeds, and mineral deposits, suggesting that water did indeed flow. Because Mars now has an average temperature of −63 degrees Celsius, the existence of liquid water in the past means that the climate was much warmer then.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Future of Space Travel Launches at AMNH

Space Travel
The American Museum of Natural History announces Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration, a new exhibition that offers a vision of the future of space travel as it boldly examines humanity's next steps in our solar system and beyond. The exhibition features a re-creation of a lunar habitat, a model of a space elevator rising up from the surface of the Moon, one of the world's largest color holograms depicting 1,000 exoplanets, and engaging, immersive simulations. The exhibition celebrates the pioneering accomplishments of both manned and unmanned space missions and considers the critical partnership of robotic spacecraft and astronauts as humanity journeys farther beyond Earth.

Although NASA's final Space Shuttle mission ended this summer, numerous exciting missions are underway or being planned. Beyond Planet Earth envisions a future when humans travel out of low-Earth orbit to explore the next frontier-our Solar System and eventually the Milky Way galaxy. Missions described in the exhibition were once limited to the realm of science fiction, but today are discussed by leading scientists and engineers: mining for rare gasses on the Moon, landing on or deflecting a potentially deadly asteroid, traveling to Mars-and perhaps even establishing colonies there. Using a new augmented reality (AR) app created as a companion to the exhibition Beyond Planet Earth, visitors will also be able to find a Mars-bound spaceship, glimpse a near-Earth asteroid, watch a Mars rover, and more. They can download the app before visiting the exhibition, then look for eleven AR icons sprinkled throughout the show. By using the camera on their iPod touch or iPhone they can activate the icon and unlock animations. Then, visitors can share images by email or post to Facebook and Twitter. A link to a special site will let visitors collect other icons, find out the science behind space technologies, and share photos with friends."

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Russian Space objectives

russian objectives
Russia plans to carry out an unmanned lunar flight before 2050, head of the Russian Federal Space Agency Vladimir Popovkin said. Speaking at a State Duma session, he emphasized that further research will be primarily aimed at exploring planets of the Solar System, particularly Mars and the Moon.

Present-day cosmonautics is on the threshold of a new stage in its development - the exploration of the most remote edges of the universe. A landmark move along this track will be made as early as in autumn this year, says Vladimir Popovkin:

"November will see the launch of the Phobos-Grunt interplanetary automatic research station aimed at delivering samples of the Martian natural satellite's soil to Earth. Yes, we will send a 700-ton spaceship for just 50 grams of soil. Do you realize how difficult it will be to send a human to Mars?"

Over the 11 months of its operation, the spacecraft will reach the Martian orbit alongside a Chinese scientific micro-satellite, undock from the interplanetary station and engage in studying the Red Planet's magnetic field. The next few months will witness a distanced examination of Mars and procedures to choose a landing site for Phobos.

The latter will actually have a number of passengers on board - a collection of microorganisms and insect larva that will come back to Earth to help scientists find out more about the Solar System's ongoing processes. For the time being, Roscosmos is engaged in building the most capacious and comfortable manned spacecraft to replace Soyuz ships, Vladimir Popovkin goes on to say:
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Monday, October 10, 2011

Mars Express Finds Supersaturated Water Vapor in Mars' Atmosphere

Mars Express was able to accomplish what so many other spacecraft have tried and failed by using a SPICAM(2) spectrometer

The search for water on Mars has been ongoing for quite some time now, with Mars rovers like NASA's Spirit and Opportunity being two examples of those who have found clues that point to a once-tropical past on the dusty red planet billions of years ago.

Now, the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft has discovered that Mars' atmosphere holds water vapor in a supersaturated state.

Mars Express was able to accomplish what so many other spacecraft have tried and failed by using a SPICAM(2) spectrometer. While other spacecraft have used tools that concentrate only on surface data, which only analyzes the horizontal component of the Martian atmosphere, SPICAM(2) utilizes solar occultation to observe the vertical component of the atmosphere, which is critical for understanding Mars' hydrological cycle. Solar occultation studies light from the Sun in Martian atmosphere during sunrise and sunset.

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

NASA ‘Can’ be the Midpoint of Geoengineering

Geoengineering has been in the news in recent weeks after the announcement of Stratospheric Particle Injection Climate Engineering (SPICE) experiment by UK Scientists; Geoengineering also came to further light after recommendations on Climate Remediation Research by the US Bipartisan Policy Center some days ago.

Geoengineering or climate engineering is an artificial procedure directed to correct excesses responsible for Global Warming within the Earth atmosphere. Geoengineering is common for Climate Change fix but may be applied to other procedures like Ozone Layer Repair and more.

Experiments of Geoengineering are ‘very’ workable but issues with Geoengineering are huge like aftereffects and agreements between Nations. These issues however are small compared to challenges Global Warming hold for planet earth in some years from now.

There are a number of geoengineering procedures proposed, some are in forefront of discussions while others are mere hypothesis. Some of the most talked about include mimicking a super volcano by pumping aerosols into the atmosphere for global cooling; installing giant reflectors in orbit to return incident solar energy; using plants in oceans to capture carbon dioxide and spraying sea water in the atmosphere to form clouds

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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Turning point for jobs at NASA

Nasa Jobs
The Space Shuttle Atlantis successfully completed its last mission on July 21st of this year, officially ending the thirty-year program. With this came a transitional phase at NASA, one that had been predicted for a long time prior. NASA has spent the last generation with its 1970's shuttle technology, to which its veteran scientists and engineers grew accustomed. With the end of the program, it was feared than many technical employees would either retire or leave to work in private industry for higher salaries.

In a recent hearing by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) expressed serious concern about NASA's future. "If NASA doesn't move out quickly, more and more of our industrial base, skilled engineers and technicians and hard-won capabilities are at risk of withering away," he announced. In addition, Hall was concerned about the future of aerospace if support for new NASA programs is not strong. "Bright young engineers about to enter our workforce will likely look to disciplines other than aerospace."

According to Roger Launius, Senior Curator at the Smithsonian Air and Space Division of Space History and former Chief Historian at NASA, there are two sides to the issue of losing so many experienced engineers. "We have all of this expertise which is walking out the door," said Dr. Launius in an interview with the News-Letter, adding that "we're going to have to rebuild that." At the same time though, these are the engineers "who kept us in low earth orbit for the last 40 years [we need] new perspectives and new ways of doing things," said Launius.

Since the Apollo 17 mission to the moon in 1972, human space flight has been limited to Low Earth Orbit, a region of space defined as between 80 and 200 km above Earth's surface, in which the International Space Station resides.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

NASA Invites Students To Name Moon-Bound Spacecraft

Moon Space Craft
NASA has a class assignment for U.S. students: help the agency give the twin spacecraft headed to orbit around the moon new names.

The naming contest is open to students in kindergarten through 12th grade at schools in the United States. Entries must be submitted by teachers using an online entry form. Length of submissions can range from a short paragraph to a 500-word essay. The entry deadline is Nov. 11.

NASA’s solar-powered Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL)-A and GRAIL-B spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. on Sept. 10 to begin a three-and-a-half-month journey to the moon. GRAIL will create a gravity map of the moon using two spacecraft that orbit at very precise distances. The mission will enable scientists to learn about the moon’s internal structure and composition, and give scientists a better understanding of its origin. Accurate knowledge of the moon’s gravity also could be used to help choose future landing sites.

“A NASA mission to the moon is one of the reasons why I am a scientist today,” said GRAIL Principal Investigator Maria Zuber from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. “My hope is that GRAIL motivates young people today towards careers in science, math and technology. Getting involved with naming our two GRAIL spacecraft could inspire their interest not only in space exploration but in the sciences, and that’s a good thing.”

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Monday, October 03, 2011

NASA Tests a Versatile Habitat for Long-Term Missions

Versatile Habitat
Despite recent cuts to its manned space program, NASA continues to research ways that astronauts might live safely in space during prolonged missions. The agency recently completed tests of a prototype astronaut habitation unit in the rugged, barren, almost-Martian landscape of the Arizona desert. The habitat could be tested in space within a decade, and might one day serve as a home away from home for astronauts on the moon or Mars.

The tests, completed last month, included sending in crews for overnight stays, and running simulations of work that would be done in a single day.

The current prototype housing unit has a hard cylindrical shell, contains four rooms, two outside additions for dust mitigation and hygiene, and an inflatable component that adds a second level for sleeping and relaxing.

The inflatable loft design was part of a university competition called XHab. The researchers explain that a final design could be fully inflated, or could have a small hard shell inside an inflated exterior. Hard shells, while heavier to transport, are better at blocking dangerous radiation from space.

Inflatable space habitats have been a popular idea since the 1970s, but the new project is the most advanced to date. Inflatable units are a typical option because they offer a lot of volume for the weight of materials, so the cost of getting the housing to space is lower.

The team also tested a prototype robot that could explore the surface of Mars and be controlled by an astronaut from inside the habitation.

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Help NASA explore Mars with Mapper. Poke around secret lakes and earn achievements

Mars with Mapper
Hidden Object games suck… right? You’re usually finding things like umbrellas and beach balls. Mapper does not suck. Mapper has you staring at the lakes of British Columbia, looking for things like “dark sediment” and super rare “microbialite.” It’s like Facebook with with less fancy dress and more sci-fi. You could potentially find a sea beast. Or at least end up on a leaderboard.

What’s all this for? NASA are testing strategies to help us explore the moon, mars and asteroids. Do well enough and we’ll be playing Mapper on Mars soon. Potentially.

Mapper is completely free and comes with a set of achievements for you to earn. To play, you just need to sign up at the official site and log in. Then, you can start tagging photos. You don’t get to control where and when the photos are taken, but this is a secret lake we’re talking about, don’t expect too much.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

NASA launches moon research mission

Moon Mission
NASA launched twin satellites on Saturday morning on a mission to unveil the inner secrets of the moon, the US space agency said. After a couple of weather delays, NASA finally launched its moon research mission.

The two probes will study the moon’s internal structure in unprecedented detail, shedding light on whether a second moon crashed into it long ago.

The probes, together called GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory), lifted off on Saturday at 0908 EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, New Scientist reported.

GRAIL will study how the moon was formed. It will explore “the structure of the lunar interior, from crust to core… to advance understanding of the thermal evolution of the moon,” NASA said.

The crafts — GRAIL-A and GRAIL-B — will eventually separate from the Delta rocket. GRAIL stands for Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It's time to reconsider the nuclear option for spaceflight

Nuclear Space Flight
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — For weeks to come, NASA will be working with the aerospace industry on its plans to develop its new super-sized rocket for missions back to the moon, the nearest Lagrangian point, asteroids, Mars and other ports of call in deep space.

The agency will be working with the latest technology, as well as innovations yet to be invented. Some even dare to whisper rocketry's N-word: nuclear.

But first, it seems logical to assume that NASA will use what it has.

For the initial flight tests, NASA’s new heavy-lift rocket will use two five-segment versions of the space shuttle’s solid-rockets. The solids will be strapped to a tank structure equipped with shuttle-style main engines, forming the basic “core stage.”

The second stage will use the J-2X engine, an updated version of the upper-stage rocket that powered the Saturn 1B and Saturn V rockets in the 1960s and '70s. The system was used for 16 manned space missions, including nine Apollo flights that carried crews to the moon and back.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Russia restarts Mars projects

Mars Project
After a many years break, Russia resumes Mars exploration projects.

It is planned that in November, Russia will launch a space station to one of Mars’s two moons, Phobos, to take samples of its soil.

The station will be launched from Baykonur, a cosmodrome in Kazakhstan which is rented by Russia. It is expected to reach Mars’s orbit in 11 months.

For several months, the station will study Mars from its orbit, and “look” for a better way to land on Phobos.

Scientists hope that studying the Mars’s moon’s soil will help them better understand the origins of the Solar System.

The station will be equipped with many brand-new apparatuses – both Russian, foreign and jointly-made. One of them is a facility for exploring the distribution of methane in Mars’s atmosphere, made jointly by Russia and France.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

NASA Wants Internet Access In Space

Nasa Internet Access
NASA hopes to extend the use of the Internet across the solar system as one of a host of key enabling technologies to help achieve future goals for human space exploration.

The space agency recently published the Global Exploration Roadmap, the result of collaboration between multiple space agencies around the globe, to find "feasible and sustainable exploration pathways to the Moon, near-Earth asteroids, and Mars," according to the document.

Now that NASA has ended its space shuttle program, the agency is turning its attention to developing a new space-launch system and crew vehicle that can carry astronauts beyond near-Earth orbit and deeper into space, among other technologies. The rpadmap identifies two mission key goals, Asteroid Next and Moon Next, and outlines some of the technologies that will be needed to facilitate them and other future space missions.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

See Mars near the moon on equinox Friday

Mars near the moon
On Friday, Sept. 23, the sun will cross the celestial equator, heading south, in the annual equinox marking the start of the fall season in the Northern Hemisphere and the spring in the south. But this year's equinox brings a special treat: the moon and planet Mars shining together at dawn.

The north's autumnal equinox will occur Friday at 5:05 a.m. EDT (0905 GMT). If you look high toward the east-southeast at sunrise, you’ll see a lovely crescent moon, and hovering above and to its left will be a modestly bright "star" with a yellow-orange tinge. That's no star, but rather the famous Red Planet, Mars.

The sky map of Mars and the moon here shows how they will appear on the Friday's equinox.

These days, Mars is coming up about five hours before sunrise — around 1:50 a.m. local daylight time. It currently resides in the dim constellation of Cancer, the Crab. It's currently 173 million miles from Earth and shines as brightly as a first-magnitude star. (Remember, astronomers measure the brightness of objects as "magnitude." The lower an object's magnitude, the brighter it appears

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

'Asteroid Next', 'Moon Next' to dominate future space programs, Mars much later: NASA

“Asteroid Next” and “Moon Next” will dominate NASA and ISEC group’s future space exploration efforts over the next 25 years while “Mars Next” will also follow soon.

NASA has released the Global Exploration Roadmap (GER) developed by the International Space Exploration Coordination Group with 12 space agencies, including NASA, during the past year to advance coordinated space exploration.

The GER begins with the International Space Station and expands human presence throughout the solar system, leading ultimately to crewed missions to explore the surface of Mars.

The roadmap identifies two potential pathways: “Asteroid Next” and “Moon Next.” Each pathway represents a mission scenario that covers a 25-year period with a logical sequence of robotic and human missions. Both pathways were deemed practical approaches to address common high-level exploration goals developed by the participating agencies, recognizing that individual preferences among them may vary.

The following space agencies participated in developing the GER (in alphabetical order): ASI (Italy), CNES (France), CSA (Canada), DLR (Germany), ESA (European Space Agency), ISRO (India), JAXA (Japan), (KARI (Republic of Korea), NASA (United States of America), NSAU (Ukraine), Roscosmos (Russia), UKSA (United Kingdom).

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bigger than Saturn, at last

THE history of manned space flight since the end of America's moon missions in 1973 can be summed up by a single fact: nearly half a century after its maiden flight in 1967, the Saturn V, the immense, building-sized rocket that powered the Apollo programme, remains the most powerful space vehicle ever flown. After 1973 the space-faring nations were content to confine themselves to low earth orbit. With no appetite to return to the moon, let alone venture any farther afield (at least among the politicians who control the purse strings), comparably powerful rockets have simply not been needed.

Over the past few years, though, manned space exploration has come back onto the agenda. China has announced a lunar programme of its own. In 2005 George Bush announced a plan to send Americas back to the moon as well, with a view to building a permanent base there as a precusor to trips further afield. Last year, Barack Obama cancelled that plan, instead instructing America's space agency to send a manned mission to an asteroid as a prelude to a flight to Mars, pencilled in for some time in the 2030s.

Sending astronauts into the solar system would require a beefier rocket than any currently operating. On September 14th NASA unveiled its design for just such a rocket. Dubbed the "Space Launch System" (one might think that NASA's legion of PR people might have come up with a less quotidian name), the $18 billion rocket is a mish-mash of previous designs that will eventually be able to loft 130 tons into low-earth orbit, compared with 119 for the Saturn V.
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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Spending Longer Time in Space Could Damage Astronauts' Eye-Sight

space Travel Eye Sight
Astronauts in space are exposed to a newly identified medical condition, something that NASA should consider seriously. It is the blurring vision of some of the astronauts who have spent months in space that has made NASA to think about possible impacts it may have on long-term space trips.

According to NASA researchers, if astronauts stay in space for long period of time, the risk of blurred vision increases. Doctors are worried that long space travels, such as a multi-year trip to Mars, may end up blinding the space explorers.

In response to the serious threat, NASA has asked a number of researchers to study the issue and has also sent special eye-glasses to the International Space Station to help those affected, Los Angeles Times reported.

NASA has done a survey on 300 astronauts and found that almost 30 percent of those who have flown two-week shuttle missions, and 60 percent of those who have continued to stay for six months longer in the space station noticed things became blurry either during or after the missions.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Stargazing: Waning crescent moon passes Mars

Crescent Moon
The official end of summer, and the beginning of autumn, will occur on Friday at 5:06 p.m. when the sun passes halfway between its summer high point and winter low point in the sky.

This morning's last quarter moon signals that the current lunar month is also coming to an end. The moon will shrink this week to a left-hand crescent in the eastern morning sky before disappearing into the glare of the sun next Tuesday. As the crescent sinks to the horizon this week, stargazers should look toward the eastern sky one hour before sunrise to see the crescent pass Mars Thursday and Friday mornings.

Mars is currently located in Cancer and rises around 2 a.m. It's headed for an encounter with M44, the Beehive Star Cluster, on Oct.1. The Red Planet will continue to brighten and rise earlier this autumn and winter. It will return to prominence in the evening sky in February and March, shining at it brightest in more than two years.

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Mars micro-rover Kapvik may tether to larger vehicles

Micro Rover
Engineers at Carleton University in Canada have demonstrated a small-scale rover that could be used as a risk-assessment tool in explorations of the surface of Mars and the moon.

The Kapvik micro-rover is inspired by design concepts seen in NASA's Sojourner, Spirit, and Opportunity rovers. It has six wheels, weighs less than 66 pounds, and could be deployed by larger unmanned rovers to scout out specific areas.

One problem that has dogged Martian rovers is getting stuck in sand or other topographic features. The Kapvik, named for an Inuktitut term for "wolverine," has a tethering system for winching it up hills.

The Canadian Space Agency is coordinating development of the rover, and partners include aerospace company MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates as well as Toronto's Ryerson University, which created a utility arm that will collect surface samples and perform trenching operations.

Sensors planned for Kapvik include ultraviolet-visible spectrum, infrared imaging, and mapping tools to detect water and ice content.

Kapviks could serve as low-cost, adaptive rovers that would be remotely piloted and lower the chances of losing more elaborate, expensive rovers to inhospitable terrain.

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