Archive for July, 2016
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is presently at work on Sol 1417.
Back on Sol 1414, the rover drove nearly 145 feet (44 meters), wheeling into an area with larger blocks of bedrock.
“This looks like a good area to drill into the Murray Formation, so nearby targets were selected and we are planning a short drive to position the vehicle for drilling,” reports Ken Herkenhoff of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.
But first, the robot’s Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam were slated to observe bedrock targets “Chibia” and “Dondo.”
Mastcam will also measure the dust in the atmosphere and take an image of the Sol 1414 ChemCam Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS) target.
From there, the arm was to be deployed for lots of contact science and standard images of the wheels, Herkenhoff adds.
Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) was on tap to take pictures of Chibia before the robot’s Dust Removal Tool (DRT) was to brush it off, then take lots of stereo images of the brushed spot.
Search for clouds, dust devils
MAHLI was also set to acquire a full suite of images of Dondo before the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) was to measure its elemental chemistry.
After sunset, the APXS was to be placed on Chibia for an overnight integration.
Early on Sol 1417, Curiosity’s Navcam is scheduled to search for clouds and dust devils. Mastcam was also to measure atmospheric dust, and ChemCam will measure atmospheric chemistry.
“The bump to the potential drill targets will be followed by acquisition of imaging and other data needed to plan the drill campaign and other activities next week,” Herkenhoff explains.
Finally, the AEGIS is slated to be used for the first time to autonomously select two targets and acquire ChemCam data on both of them.
“This is a very full and complex plan,” Herkenhoff concludes.
From Sol 1410 to Sol 1412, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 147.85 feet (45.06 meters).
Since touching down in Bradbury Landing in August 2012, Curiosity has driven 8.40 miles (13.51 kilometers).
NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security – Regolith Explorer asteroid sample return mission is best called — for breathing purposes — as OSIRIS-REx). It is the first U.S. mission to collect a sample of an asteroid and return it to Earth for study.
OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to be launched on September 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
The launch window opens at 7:05pm EDT and lasts for approximately 120 minutes.
The big day
“With only 39 days to go until we launch OSIRIS-REx our schedule is packed with activities,” explains Dante Lauretta, a professor of planetary science in the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona. He is the Principal Investigator for the NASA OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Mission.
“The big day!” is near at hand. “If the weather is clear and we don’t have any wayward aircraft or boats in restricted areas,” the Atlas V will send OSIRIS-REx on its way to Bennu and back, Lauretta notes via a July 31 blog.
“If launch is delayed – we can try again on September 9. Our last opportunity to launch this year is October 12 so we have plenty of chances to get off the Earth,” Lauretta explains.
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is traveling to Bennu, a carbonaceous asteroid whose regolith may record the earliest history of our solar system. Bennu may contain the molecular precursors to the origin of life and the Earth’s oceans.
This asteroid is also on the “hit list” – that is it’s one of the most potentially hazardous asteroids, as it has a relatively high probability of impacting the Earth late in the 22nd century.
OSIRIS-REx will determine Bennu’s physical and chemical properties, which will be critical to know in the event of an impact mitigation mission.
On the more cheerful side, asteroids like Bennu contain natural resources such as water, organics, and precious metals. In the future, these asteroids may one day fuel the exploration of the solar system by robotic and crewed spacecraft.
If the launch of the spacecraft goes as planned, in August 2018 the approach by OSIRIS-REx’s to Bennu will begin, rendezvousing with the space rock.
The spacecraft will begin a detailed survey of Bennu two months after slowing to encounter Bennu.
This “site inspection” process will last over a year, and, as part of it, OSIRIS-REx will map potential sample sites.
In picking the final site, the spacecraft will then briefly touch the surface of Bennu to retrieve a sample. The sampling arm will make contact with the surface of Bennu for about five seconds, during which it will release a burst of nitrogen gas.
This touchy-feely procedure will cause rocks and surface soil to be stirred up and captured in the sampler head.
The spacecraft has enough nitrogen to allow three sampling attempts, to collect between 60 and 2000 grams 2–70 ounces (60–2000) grams.
In March 2021, the window for departure from the asteroid will open, and OSIRIS-REx will begin its return journey to Earth, arriving two and a half years later in September 2023.
The sample return capsule will separate from the spacecraft and enter the Earth’s atmosphere. It will be slowed by a heat shield and then a parachute, landing at the Utah Test and Training Range.
Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company built OSIRIS-REx at its facility near Denver. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is providing overall mission management, systems engineering and safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages New Frontiers for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C.
The global event series MARS, produced by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, is landing on the TV watch list, premiering on the National Geographic Channel in 171 countries and 45 languages this November.
National Geographic will extend the MARS storytelling in an unprecedented cross-platform effort, including a six-part digital companion prequel series.
As part of rollout activities, I am pleased to have authored the companion standalone book for National Geographic: “MARS: Our Future on the Red Planet,” on sale October 25.
You’ll find scenes from the miniseries in the book, along with some 200 color images that underscore the technical, physiological, psychological, sociological, political, biological, cultural and ethical issues that confront the human reach to the Red Planet.
Present day future
MARS, the TV miniseries, is set both in the future and in the present day. This six-part series tells the story from the vantage point of a fictitious crewed mission in 2033.
MARS envisions the future of space travel funded through a corporate-public partnership of two fictional organizations:
- The Mars Mission Corporation (MMC), a consortium of aerospace corporations formed in 2022 and headquartered in London that builds and manages the technological hardware for the Mars program.
- The International Mars Science Foundation (IMSF), which was created by a coalition of space-faring nations to carry out a mission to Mars.
The scripted portion focuses on Earth’s first crewed mission to MARS aboard the spacecraft Daedalus. Its maiden voyage in 2033 is crewed by a carefully selected international crew of six uniquely qualified astronauts.
The MARS miniseries – as does the companion book — showcases a collection of interviews with the top scientific minds currently working to overcome the many obstacles that stand in the way of eventual human missions to Mars.
Among those interviewed is Elon Musk, chief rocketeer at SpaceX:
“The future of humanity is fundamentally going to bifurcate along one of two directions: either we’re going to become a multi-planet species and a spacefaring civilization, or we’re going to be stuck on one planet until some eventual extinction event. In order for me to be excited and inspired about the future, it’s got to be the first option,” Musk says in the series.
To view a July 29th trailer for National Geographic Channel’s global event series MARS, premiering in November, go to:
Before MARS premiers, there will be an extensive digital virtual-reality experience available at:
For more information on the book – Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet — to be released October 25th, go to:
Also go to Amazon at:
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida – A convergence of reality and science fiction took center stage here July 23 during a salute to the 47th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing and the 50th anniversary of the iconic Star Trek television show and follow-on franchise.
An audience of some 250 people took part in the evening event; a scene dominated by a huge Saturn 5 booster perched overhead. The occasion raised funds for Aldrin’s ShareSpace Foundation – a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring children to be passionate regarding science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
The Apollo 11 anniversary gala was hosted by George Takei, best known for his portrayal of Mr. Sulu in the acclaimed television and film series Star Trek.
Apply warp speed and view my new Space.com story on the event. Go to:
George Takei, William Shatner Help NASA Celebrate Apollo 11 Anniversary
July 29, 2016 07:00 am ET
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued two new reports on the overall status of NASA’s Space Launch System and the space agency’s next piloted program, Orion.
What GAO found in summary is that the SLS has resolved some technical issues and matured its design since GAO’s July 2015 report, but pressure remains on the program’s limited cost and schedule reserves.
This pressure, in turn, threatens its committed November 2018 launch readiness goal, the GAO reported.
Software: substantial risk
In reviewing the Orion program, what GAO found the project has overcome several technical challenges and made design changes to the crew capsule to reduce risk.
Known challenges, however, remain—such as development of the service module and the crew capsule heat shield, among others—that could cause cost increases and schedule delays as the program undergoes integration and test.
“Technical challenges are inherent in complex programs such as Orion, but if not carefully managed, they could result in cost overruns and schedule delays. For example, the program has identified software development as an area of substantial risk with a potential cost impact of more than $90 million and which may result in schedule delays,” the GAO report explains.
NASA Human Space Exploration: Opportunity Nears to Reassess Launch Vehicle and Ground Systems Cost and Schedule: GAO-16-612, July 27.
- Report: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-16-612
- Highlights: http://www.gao.gov/assets/680/678693.pdf
- Podcast: http://www.gao.gov/multimedia/podcasts/678379
Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle: Action Needed to Improve Visibility into Cost, Schedule, and Capacity to Resolve Technical Challenges: GAO-16-620, July 27.
A NASA technical memorandum has taken a detailed look at the prospect of putting in place a sustainable colony of people on the Red Planet. Such a settlement can be safe, affordable, and nurture independence of residents on Mars from Earth.
The document is titled Frontier In-Situ Resource Utilization for Enabling Sustained Human Presence on Mars, authored by Robert Moses and Dennis Bushnell of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
“There are massive resources on Mars obtainable from the atmosphere and extracted from the regolith which are capable of supporting human colonization,” the report explains. Using Martian resources, existing technologies could supply water, oxygen, fuel, and building materials, they write, “to relax the dependence on Earth during the buildup of a colony on Mars.”
Check out my new Space.com story on this important and wide-ranging paper. Go to:
Mars Colonists Must ꞌLive Off the Landꞌ: NASA Report
July 27, 2016/07:30am ET
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now in Sol 1412.
Last weekend the rover made good progress, driving almost 223 feet (68 meters).
Before the drive, Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam were to observe bedrock targets “Jamba” and “Huambo” and the Right Mastcam was on tap to acquire a 3-image mosaic of a small depression called “Mungo.”
After acquiring the post-drive imaging needed to plan future mobility, ChemCam was slated to use special software to autonomously select a new target for a Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) raster.
According to Ken Herkenhoff of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona, the robot’s Navcam was set to search for clouds and dust devils, and its Mastcam would measure the dustiness of the atmosphere. The dust measurements will be repeated at noon and mid-afternoon to look for changes during the day.
Also on tap, Curiosity’s Right Mastcam was to acquire a 14-image mosaic of the Murray Buttes.
Dates of planned rover activities are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.
Now in Sol 1409, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has focused its observations on a blocky deposit dubbed “Bimbe.”
Other targets over the weekend that are under scrutiny with rover instruments are “Seeis”, “Seeheim”, “Wilhelmstal”, “Oranjemund” , “Funda” and “Zambezi”.
On Sol 1410, the rover’s Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) has an observation of the target “Mariental” with support from Mastcam.
“After that, we drive and do the usual post-drive imaging,” explains Ryan Anderson, a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Rover deck deposits
On Sol 1411, the rover’s Mastcam has an observation of the rover deck to watch for dust and sand that end up on top of the rover, Anderson adds.
Dates of planned rover activities are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the martian environment, communication relays and rover status.
Meanwhile, a new map has been released showing the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 1405 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (July, 20, 2016).
Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up.
From Sol 1401 to Sol 1405, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 89.50 feet (27.28 meters).
Since touching down in Bradbury Landing in August 2012, Curiosity has driven 8.31 miles (13.37 kilometers).
There are new developments in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI for short.
In the SETI business, two game-changers are notable, explains Jill Tarter, Director, Center of SETI Research and the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI.
“I’ve spent my professional life searching for alien life. Over the span of my career, I’ve seen our equipment change dramatically, from custom built microchips and signal processors we had to design and build ourselves to the enterprise servers that run our search algorithms today,” Tarter explains in a newly issued communiqué from SETI central.
Those two game-changers are:
- The discovery that there are more planets than stars in the Milky Way; and
- The evidence of life thriving in the most extreme environments here on Earth.
“The universe appears to be a lot more bio-friendly to life than we once thought,” Tarter observes. “Now we want to find out if any of that potentially habitable real estate is actually inhabited.”
Tarter underscores that SETI is a unique exploratory science that began in 1984 in partnership with NASA.
“Since 1993, however, we’ve had to rely on private sources of funding to continue this search that costs us $590,000 annually to cover staff and basic equipment. We need to raise $70,000 this summer to stay on track,” Tarter explains.
Campaign for SETI
The SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array scans the sky for signals 365 days a year.
“It is the only facility that searches for SETI signals in near real time and thus it can better filter out interference from our own technologies,” Tarter points out. “Our tools are improving daily, but we need your help to keep them scanning the skies,” Tarter adds, “because it’s a pretty big search out there with so many exoplanets having the potential for life, and so many different types of signals to examine.”
To learn more about the campaign, go to:
Also, tune into this informative You Tube video on SETI at:
New imagery has become available of NASA’s Mars Curiosity, busily at work on the Red Planet.
The rover is now in Sol 1406.
The rover landed in Mars’ Gale Crater in August 2012.
NASA recently approved an additional two-year extension, beginning Oct. 1, 2016, for the Mars Science Laboratory Project, which developed and operates Curiosity.
Well suited for life?
During its first year on Mars, the robot and science teams achieved a major goal by determining that — more than 3 billion years ago — the region offered fresh-water lakes and rivers with environmental conditions well-suited to supporting microbial life – if life has ever existed on Mars.
In continuing its investigations, Curiosity continues to gather more data in regards to ancient wet environments on Mars and how and when they evolved to drier and less habitable conditions.