Archive for July, 2017

Credit: Fusion Media Group (FMG)

Get a first-hand, realistic look at many of the technologies and equipment considered for a human missions to Mars.

An immersive VR experience is now available from Fusion Media Group (FMG) Labs in New York City.

Mars 2030 is an immersive VR experience now available for HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Steam PC, with PlayStation VR debuting soon. Mars 2030 is available for download now for $14.99, alongside a complimentary version for educators and museum staff.

Virtual journey

Users can take a virtual journey to the Red Planet that includes 15 square miles (40 square kilometers) of Martian landscape accurately mapped and modeled from real Mars orbital satellite data.

Credit: Fusion Media Group (FMG)

Mars 2030 includes a range of features using actual data from the leading experts on Mars human mission planning. Martian terrain is modeled via custom Hi-RISE imagery from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Credit: Fusion Media Group (FMG)

Symphony score

Immersion is the primary focus, with graphics and sound that draws the user into Mars’ beauty. “The experience utilizes ambisonic audio filtered to match Mars’ atmospheric pressure and sound propagation, alongside an original score from the London Symphony Orchestra that features situational music cues designed to heighten the emotion of exploring the Red Planet,” explains a company press statement.

Simulating what Mars travelers may use in the future, Mars 2030 features the Augmented Information System, an AR environment accessed using touch controllers to pinpoint astronaut location and set waypoints.

Credit: Fusion Media Group (FMG)

Touch screens

Customizable touch screens with haptic feedback display crucial information in the suit and rover, including control switches, biometric data, life support gauges and more. The experience features interactive objects to inspect and bring back to the lab for scientific research and analysis.

Credit: Fusion Media Group (FMG)

MARS 2030 is the inaugural release for FMG Labs and developed in collaboration with of over a dozen space laboratories including NASA Johnson Space Center, NASA Langley Research Center, and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Visit the Mars 2030 website for more information and store download links:

Credit: FryxGames

Terraforming Mars: A Resource Management Game by Jacob Fryxelius was released late last year and has become a popular game to help tame the Red Planet.

The game board features corporations that are competing to transform Mars into a habitable planet by spending vast resources, and using innovative technology to raise temperature, create a breathable atmosphere, and make oceans of water.

Control a corporation

As terraforming progresses, more and more people will immigrate from Earth to live on the Red Planet.

According to promotional material, in Terraforming Mars, a player controls a corporation with a certain profile. Play project cards, build up production, place your cities and green areas on the map, and race for milestones and awards!

Will your corporation lead the way into humanity’s new era?

Credit: FryxGames

Recede or expand?

The Terraforming Announcement: “Since its inception in 2174, the World Government has continually strived for global unity and peace. Our mission is to be humanity’s shared tool for shaping a better future. Earth is overpopulated and resources are dwindling. We now face the choice either to recede, or to expand into space to find new homes for humanity. For this reason, we need to turn Mars into a habitable planet.”

Credit: FryxGames

World government

“The terraforming of Mars is an endeavor so great that it will take the united effort of mankind to accomplish. The World Government will therefore inaugurate a Terraforming Committee, and instate a universal tax for this purpose. Any corporation or enterprise contributing to the terraforming process will be generously rewarded by the Committee. We believe that these measures will, eventually, result in a habitable planet for our descendants. Thank you for your attention! – Levi Uken, World Government communicator, January 16, 2315 AD.”


Isaac Fryxelius, the graphic designer of Terraforming Mars, has put together an official tutorial for the game.

Go to this video series on Youtube:

As depicted in this illustration, Cassini will plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere on Sept. 15, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

With NASA’s Cassini spacecraft set to end its exploration of Saturn on September 15, 2017 by plunging into the atmosphere of that ringed world, it is worth noting how that impressive mission was enabled by the use of nuclear power and how, if action isn’t taken soon, the U.S. may lose the capability to do future outer-planet flagship missions like Cassini.

That’s the view of Gary Bennett, now retired from NASA headquarters where he served as Manager of Advanced Space Power Systems. He also worked on the General-Purpose Heat Source Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (GPHS-RTG) program as Director of Safety and Nuclear Operations at the U.S. Department of Energy.

Cutaway view of a General Purpose Heat Source RTG.
Credit: NASA

Milestone missions

For almost 20 years, the Cassini spacecraft has been powered by three GPHS-RTGs, Bennett points out, each capable of producing 300 watts of electrical power at the start of the mission.

Originally, the GPHS-RTG was developed for the Ulysses solar-polar mission then GPHS-RTGs were added to the Galileo mission to Jupiter.

Voyager spacecraft.
Credit: NASA/JPL

Most recently, the GPHS-RTG is powering the New Horizons spacecraft which successfully flew past Pluto and is now on its way for a 2019 flyby of the Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) 2014 MU69.

“The GPHS-RTG built on the successful technology employed to power the two Voyager spacecraft which are celebrating 40 years in space this year,” Bennett adds. The Voyager power sources are known as Multi-Hundred Watt RTGs (MHW-RTGs).]

New Horizons spacecraft encountering a Kuiper Belt Object.
Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI)

Dire situation

“Currently, the U.S. has only a limited supply of ‘old’ plutonium-238, the radioisotope that provides the thermal power for the GPHS-RTG,” Bennett explains. “The situation is so dire that in 2009 the National Research Council’s Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board issued the report Radioisotope Power Systems: An Imperative for Maintaining U.S. Leadership in Space Exploration.”

Credit: NRC

Bennett concludes that, “during the forthcoming celebrations of the successes of the Cassini mission and of the 40th anniversary of the launches of the two Voyager spacecraft it should be noted that these missions were enabled by nuclear power and, unless action is taken, that option may not be available in the future.”

To view that 2009 National Research Council report, go to:

Credit: ESA – P.Carril

An observational campaign using an actual close approach of an asteroid will exercise planetary defense preparedness.

The asteroid – 2012 TC4 – will be used on October 12th to test, for the first time, NASA’s network of observatories and scientists who work with planetary defense.

Vishnu Reddy of the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory first suggested the staging of cosmic Homeland Defense.

“So we proposed an observational campaign to exercise the network and test how ready we are for a potential impact by a hazardous asteroid,” Reddy explains in a university press statement.

Vishnu Reddy of the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory first suggested the staging of cosmic Homeland Defense.
Credit: Bob Demers/UANews

Recover, track, characterize

The goal of the TC4 exercise is to recover, track and characterize the space rock as a potential impactor in order to flex the entire system from observations, modeling, prediction and communication.

The incoming asteroid measures between 30 and 100 feet. And that’s roughly the same size as the asteroid that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, on February 15, 2013.

TC4 was discovered by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope on October 5, 2012, at Haleakala Observatory on Maui, Hawaii. The space rock will whisk by Earth’s surface at a scant 4,200 miles (6,800 kilometers) distance.

On Oct. 12, 2017, asteroid 2012 TC4 will safely fly past Earth. Experts say they cannot yet predict exactly how close it will approach, but are certain it will come no closer to Earth than 4,200 miles (6,800 kilometers). Credit:: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Team effort

“This is a team effort that involves more than a dozen observatories, universities and labs across the globe so we can collectively learn the strengths and limitations of our planetary defense capabilities,” adds Reddy, who is coordinating the campaign for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office – the federal entity in charge of coordinating efforts to protect Earth from hazardous asteroids.

“This is the perfect target for such an exercise because while we know the orbit of 2012 TC4 well enough to be absolutely certain it will not impact Earth, we haven’t established its exact path just yet,” said Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “It will be incumbent upon the observatories to get a fix on the asteroid as it approaches, and work together to obtain follow-up observations than make more refined asteroid orbit determinations possible,” Chodas said in a JPL press statement.


Credit: NASA Ames Research Center

A team at NASA’s Ames Research Center has created a simulated lunar environment to study lighting conditions experienced at the unexplored poles of the Moon.

Because of low angle sunlight and soil that reflects light like a blanket of fresh snow, navigating the lunar surface at the poles could be hazardous for rovers.


The team uses a “Lunar Lab” testbed at Ames – a 12-foot-square sandbox containing eight tons of JSC-1A, a human-made lunar soil simulant.

Craters, surface ripples and obstacles are shaped with hand tools, and rocks are added to the terrain in order to simulate boulder fields or specific obstacles. Then they dust the terrain and rocks with an added layer of simulant to produce the “fluffy” top layer of lunar soil, erasing shovel and brush marks, and spreading a thin layer on the faces of rocks.

Each terrain design in the testbed is generated by statistics based on common features observed from spacecraft around the Moon.

A set of photos from over 2,500 pairs of stereo camera images taken from at least 12 scenarios of recreated craters and rock formations that Wong and his team collected to accurately simulate the lighting conditions at the Moon’s poles. The goal is to improve the stereo viewing capabilities of robotic systems to effectively navigate unknown terrain and avoid hazards at the Moon poles.
Credits: NASA/Uland Wong

Stereo imaging

Explains Uland Wong, a computer scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley: “It’s very difficult to be able to perceive anything for a robot or even a human that needs to analyze these visuals, because cameras don’t have the sensitivity to be able to see the details that you need to detect a rock or a crater.”

Early results of the research show that stereo imaging is promising for use on rovers that will explore the lunar poles.

One mission concept is NASA’s Resource Prospector and it could be the first robot to navigate in the polar regions of the Moon.

NASA’s Resource Prospector that could be the first robot to navigate in the polar regions of the Moon.
Credit: NASA Ames Research Center

“And in order to do that,” Wong adds, “we have to figure out how to navigate where nobody’s ever been.”

This research is funded by the agency’s Advanced Exploration Systems and Game Changing Development programs.

NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute provides the laboratory facilities and operational support.

Special thanks to Kimberly Katina Minafra at NASA Ames for her reporting on this lunar research.

Go to this engaging video at:

Credit: NASA

NASA has initiated a contest seeking packaged and deployed concepts for a radiation shield that would envelop the habitation portions of a Mars spacecraft.

“We are seeking novel folding/origami-based patterns and concepts for packaging a large radiation shield within a single launch vehicle that can be deployed around a Mars vehicle in cis-Lunar space,” according to NASA fact sheet on the challenge.

Major concern

One of the major concerns to humans embarking on interplanetary space travel is the space radiation environment and the resulting damage to the human body.

“So, we want to focus on what we know works in protecting humans from space radiation and figure out how to construct a large shield on an interplanetary space vehicle,” NASA explains.

Credit: Inspiration Mars Foundation

Wanted: creative ideas

This challenge seeks creative ideas that can be shown using diagrams, graphics, 3D models, or animations that at a minimum show the stowed and deployed configurations

At least one winner will receive an award of $500. However, multiple submissions may be selected for prize amounts between $100-$500, depending on the submission evaluation.

The opening date of the challenge was 7/26/2017, with a closing date of 8/15/2017.

For more information on this challenge, go to:

Also, go to:

The Red Planet as seen by Europe’s Mars Express.
Credit: ESA/D. O’Donnell – CC BY-SA IGO

China is setting up its first Mars Village analog site to simulate scientific experiments.

According to China Global Television Network, or CGTN, the village is to be situated in the Haixi Mongolian and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in northwest China’s Qinghai Province.

China’s Science and Application Center for Moon and Deep Space Exploration (SACMDE) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences is leading the effort.

Local landscape

According to CGTN, the selected location is expected to serve as a field site to “simulate scientific experiments,” as the local landscape lacks vegetation and shares a range of similarities with the surface of Mars.

As noted by Liu Xiaoqun, director of SACMDE, the Haixi prefecture has a desert area covering 9.5 million square kilometers as well as the largest Yardang landform group in China.

The geological features are “particularly similar to the ones of Mars,” explains Liu.

Once established, the Mars Village could also be considered as a sustainable growth point for Qinghai’s economic development, as well as its tourism industry.

Yang Liwei, deputy director of China Manned Space Agency – and that country’s first astronaut.
Credit: CMSE

Third set of astronauts  

Meanwhile, China announced today that it will select its third group of astronauts this year.

China’s first astronaut, Yang Liwei, now deputy director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, says the first and second astronaut groups were all previously Chinese air force pilots.

The selection of the third group, Yang notes, will also include engineers who will be responsible for maintenance, assembly and other space tasks.

China is eyeing the 2020s as the time frame to develop and occupy a space station.



Valles Marineris in the east of the Tharsis volcanic region. Higher regions are marked red in this topographic map, while yellow and green indicate moderate elevations, and the lowest points are shown in blue (MOLA, NASA/JPL/University of Arizona).
Prepared by: Institute Geophysics of the Czech Academy of Science
Photo: Introductory image shows the group of terrestrial scoria cones in the Harrat Lunayyir area, Saudi Arabia (photographed by John Pallister, U.S. Geological Survey).

Researchers have discovered a region on Mars with 130 small volcanoes at the base of Valles Marineris – a potential site for uncovering fossilized life.

Published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, the study was led by Petr Brož from the Institute of Geophysics of the Czech Academy of Science.

Their work points to magma–water interaction, an environment of astrobiological interest — perhaps associated with late-stage activity in the evolution of Valles Marineris — and suggest that the floor of Coprates Chasma is a promising target for on-the-spot exploration of Mars.

Volcanic cones, solidified lava flows

Scientists have wondered for decades whether there has been volcanic activity within Valles Marineris. The new work by the Mars researchers reveals that the Coprates Chasma canyon — one of the lowest points in Valles Marineris — is home to a large number of volcanic cones and solidified lava flows.

Their findings are based on the analysis of high-resolution images acquired by the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which reveal the cones of scoria and volcanic ash.

In a Czech Academy of Sciences press statement, Brož says: “The 400-meter high cones have also been interpreted as mud volcanoes. But we observed morphological details such as bulging of solidified lava caused by the injection of more recent lava beneath the hardened crust, as well as characteristic surface patterns identical to lava fields on Earth. This reinforces our assumption that we are looking at magmatic rock volcanism, and not liquid mud.”

Young volcanoes at the base of Coprates Chasma on Mars (image obtained by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, NASA/JPL/University of Arizona).

Ideal abode

Along with the existence of volcanoes on the floor of the eastern Valles Marineris, their young age is the second surprise of this study.

“In geological terms, the volcanic cones are very young, just 200 to 400 million years in age,” explains Gregory Michael from the Freie Universität Berlin, one of the study’s four authors. Therefore, the volcanoes in Coprates Chasma are unrelated to the original formation of the Valles Marineris, as they are significantly younger.

According to co-investigator James Wray from the Georgia Institute of Technology, mineralogical compositions detected in their research can be produced by so-called hydrothermal processes.

This also renders Coprates Chasma interesting for astrobiological studies, Wray notes, as microorganisms on Earth find such warm, energy-rich and mineral-rich environments an ideal abode.

Furthermore, Valles Marineris is home to seasonal flows on warm Martian slopes. These features are called recurring slope lineae (RSL) thought to be salty water flows. “I absolutely agree that the RSL provide yet another exciting reason to prioritize Coprates Chasma as a potential future landing site,” Wray told Inside Outer Space.

The valleys of Coprates Chasma in the east of Valles Marineris. This perspective view was created using stereo image data from DLR’s HRSC (High Resolution Stereo Camera) camera on board ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft (ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC-BY-SA 3.0 IGO).

Future investigation

Spacecraft observations from MRO as well as Europe’s Mars Express makes the volcanic field of Coprates Chasma an interesting area for a future investigation of whether life may have emerged in these warm and aqueous environments on Mars.  Therefore, this area may well hold bio-signatures on Mars.

“But Coprates Chasma is not just interesting with regard to the question of previous life on Mars. The region would also be an excellent landing site for future Mars Rovers,” adds planetary geologist Ernst Hauber from the German Aerospace Center (DLR). “Here we could investigate many scientifically important and interesting topics. Analyzing samples for their elemental isotopic fractions would allow us to determine with far greater precision when the volcanoes were actually active.”

Hauber explains that on the towering, steep walls, the geologic evolution of the Valles Marineris acts almost like a history book – gypsum strata and layers of old, crustal rocks can be observed, as well as indications for liquid water trickling down the slopes even today during the warm season.

Hauber concludes: “That is as much Mars geology as you can get!”

For more information on this new Mars research, go to:

“Amazonian volcanism inside Valles Marineris on Mars” at:

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

If you’re shooting for the stars via an interstellar spaceship, start the journey by attending the fifth Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop (TVIW).

A comprehensive schedule of events for TVIW 2017 – “Step by Step: Building a Ladder to the Stars” — is set for October 3-6 in Huntsville, Alabama.

TVIW was founded to outline and develop this Interstellar Vision. The ladder to the stars has many waypoints, attendant milestones and processes. TVIW was founded with a grand vision — to facilitate an “Interstellar” process of knowing and journeying.

Progress and plateaus

According to the group: “To attain grand goals, one must first build an infrastructure that supports steady progress, with plateaus along the way.”  With this technological, philosophical and economic infrastructure, humankind can set foot on the Moon, establish outposts, even cultures, throughout our solar system, and finally, find its (our) pathway to the stars.

Swarm of laser-sail spacecraft leaving the solar system.
Credit: Adrian Mann

Star-studded symposium

The star-studded symposium includes talks by numerous experts, such as Pete Worden, Chairman for the Breakthrough Prize Foundation; Andrew Siemion, Director of the UC Berkley Center for SETI Research; and Slava Turyshev, physicist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as well as Congressman John Culberson and James Benford, sail system director for Breakthrough Star Shot and president of Microwave Sciences Inc.


TVIW partners with the interstellar starship development symposium Starship Century and with Tau Zero Foundation – a coalition of scientists, engineers, artists, and writers seeking practical solutions for interstellar exploration.

A comprehensive schedule of events for the October TVIW 2017 is now available at:

Also, go to the semiannual TVIW newsletter, in PDF format here:

Enhanced-color Cassini spacecraft view of southern latitudes on Enceladus.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Use of digital holographic microscopy, using lasers to record 3-D images, may be our best bet for spotting extraterrestrial microbes.

The technique is being advocated by Caltech’s Jay Nadeau and colleagues as a way to sample and identify living microbes in the outer solar system.

The work has been published this month in the journal Astrobiology within a special issue dedicated to the search for signs of life on Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus.

Self-directed motion

“It’s harder to distinguish between a microbe and a speck of dust than you’d think,” says Caltech’s Nadeau, research professor of medical engineering and aerospace in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science.

Narrow jets of gas and icy particles erupt from the south polar region of Enceladus, contributing to the moon’s giant plume. A cycle of activity in these small-scale jets may be periodically lofting extra particles into space, causing the overall plume to brighten dramatically.
Credits: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

“You have to differentiate between Brownian motion, which is the random motion of matter, and the intentional, self-directed motion of a living organism,” Nadeau said in a press statement.

To study the motion of potential microbes from Enceladus’s plumes, Nadeau proposes using an instrument called a digital holographic microscope that has been modified specifically for astrobiology.

3-D imaging

In digital holographic microscopy, an object is illuminated with a laser and the light that bounces off the object and back to a detector is measured. This scattered light contains information about the amplitude (the intensity) of the scattered light, and about its phase (a separate property that can be used to tell how far the light traveled after it scattered).

With the two types of information, a computer can reconstruct a 3-D image of the object—one that can show motion through all three dimensions.

“Digital holographic microscopy allows you to see and track even the tiniest of motions,” Nadeau says. Furthermore, by tagging potential microbes with fluorescent dyes that bind to broad classes of molecules that are likely to be indicators of life—proteins, sugars, lipids, and nucleic acids—”you can tell what the microbes are made of,” she says.

This view looks toward the Saturn-facing hemisphere of Enceladus (313 miles or 504 kilometers across). North is up. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on April 13, 2017.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Extreme environments

To study the technology’s potential utility for analyzing extraterrestrial samples, Nadeau and her colleagues obtained samples of frigid water from the Arctic, which is sparsely populated with bacteria; those that are present are rendered sluggish by the cold temperatures.

With holographic microscopy, Nadeau was able to identify organisms with population densities of just 1,000 cells per milliliter of volume, similar to what exists in some of the most extreme environments on Earth, such as subglacial lakes.

Next, the team will attempt to replicate their results using samples from other microbe-poor regions on Earth, such as Antarctica.

Nadeau collaborated with Caltech graduate student Manuel Bedrossian and Chris Lindensmith of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.


For more information, go to:

Digital Holographic Microscopy, a Method for Detection of Microorganisms in Plume Samples from Enceladus and Other Icy Worlds

Also, go to this video detailing Nadeau’s work and proposal to use new microscopes on spacecraft that could visit the icy moons of Enceladus (Saturn) and Europa (Jupiter) to collect and search water samples for life. Go to:

Griffith Observatory Event