Archive for August, 2017

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image taken on Sol 1788, August 17, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now busy at work during Sol 1789.

Christopher Edwards, a planetary geologist from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona reports: “After completing a successful drive back to the strategic route to continue up the Vera Rubin Ridge, we arrived at a workspace filled with sand and a lone rock outcrop dubbed “Dumplings Island.”

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1788, August 17, 2017.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This rock outcrop was the focus of most of planned activities, including high resolution microscopic imaging with the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) to characterize the outcrop’s particle size and small scale textures.


Compositional data point

Edwards adds that MAHLI, Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) observations are geared to understand the composition of the Dumplings Island outcrop, “providing another important compositional data point as Curiosity traverses the Vera Rubin Ridge stratigraphy.”

Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 1788, August 17, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The rover has passed its “Slip Risk Assessment Process (SRAP)” with flying colors, Edwards notes, which was needed to carry out Curiosity’s robotic arm-based activities in a current plan.


Wheel slippage

After finishing the drive to its current location, the Mars machinery ended up on a relatively flat spot with its wheels in good contact with the sandy surface that likely overlies bedrock.

“As such, the likelihood of rover wheel slippage due to arm activities was judged to be very low,” Edwards adds.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1787, August 16, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Wiggle room – not much

Given the strong desire to continue to drive up the Vera Rubin Ridge, there was a trade off between extending the duration of science activities and extending the planned drive, Edwards explains. “As the plan was already quite busy, no additional science duration was able to be allocated and the rover only got a few more minutes of drive time. In all, there wasn’t much wiggle room in today’s plan! Not much additional imaging, other than that required to characterize the compositional targets, made it in to the plan either,” he reports.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) image from Sol 1788, August 17, 2017. MAHLI is located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Strategic route

The path for the coming sols should follow a pre-defined strategic route closely, due to the fact that there’s a lower slope gap in the steep cliffs of the Vera Rubin Ridge.

That being the case, it makes for a safe path to the top.


Concludes Edwards: “It should be an exciting next few days of planning with some great views once Curiosity makes it to the top of the ridge and can look out over the path that’s been driven in the past 5 years of Mars surface operations.”

A recovered Saturn V booster element is showcased by Jeff Bezos who financed an ocean recovery of Apollo-era hardware.
Credit: The Museum of Flight, Seattle, Washington

Jeff Bezos, the billionaire mogul behind and the head of his Blue Origin rocket group, is passionate about space exploration as well as its historical roots.

Bezos recently told his story regarding dredging up Apollo remembrances – hardware resting three-miles deep in Atlantic Ocean waters.

For more information on Bezos and his salvaging of the past, go to my new story at:

Apollo’s Deep-Sea Fisherman: Jeff Bezos Recounts Saturn V Salvage Expedition

The Expedition 52 crew poses for a unique portrait. Pictured clockwise from top right are, Flight Engineers Paolo Nespoli, Jack Fischer, Peggy Whitson, Sergey Ryazanskiy, Randy Bresnik and Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin.
Credit: NASA

Continuously occupied since early November 2000, the International Space Station (ISS) is being viewed as an archaeological site.

The orbiting complex is eyed by The International Space Station Archaeological Project (ISSAP) as the first large-scale space archaeology project.

International Space Station.
Credit: NASA

Boldly going where no archaeologists have gone before are scholars Justin Walsh of Chapman University in Orange, California and Alice Gorman of Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia.


“We are studying the crew of the International Space Station as a microsociety in a miniworld. Our project will have positive effects on the development of long-duration space missions, and it will extend the discipline of archaeology into a new context,” the ISS Archaeology site explains.

The space station serves as evidence for human adaptation to a completely new environment. The ISS undertaking has involved five space agencies, 25 nations, countless private contractors, and several hundred visitors from 18 countries, from scientists, military officers to a few tourists.

Questions to be addressed

Underpinning the project are seeking answers to questions outside the scope of standard histories. These include:

  • How do crewmembers interact with each other and with equipment and spaces originating in other cultures?
  • How does material culture reflect gender, race, class, and hierarchy on the ISS?
  • How do spaces and objects frame interactions of conflict or cooperation?
  • How have crewmembers altered the space station to suit their needs or desires?
  • What are the effects of microgravity on the development of society and culture?

Astronauts Paolo Nespoli and Randy Bresnik are at work in their new home in space where they will live until mid-December.
Credit: NASA

New understanding

“No other site has the potential to illuminate how material culture shapes human experiences of the space environment across this timescale,” the group’s website explains. “We will offer a new understanding of human activity in space, with applications for the development of future missions. The project will also develop new methods for the discipline of archaeology that will enable future study of other remote, unusual, and/or dangerous contexts.”


Dig into the ISS Archaeological Project by going to:


On September 21, Justin Walsh will present the lecture “To Boldly Go Where No Archaeologist Has Gone Before: The Archaeology of a Human Habitation Site in Space.” This open to the public, Archaeological Institute of America/Tampa Bay Society lecture, will be held at the University of South Florida. For more information, go to:

Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1787, August 16, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Now in Sol 1787, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is commissioned to do less driving, more science.

That’s the word from Michael Battalio, an atmospheric scientist from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1787, August 16, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Driving issue

At the start of rover operations in the last day, it was discovered that a recent drive faulted prematurely after about 50 feet (15 meters), “which was roughly half the expected distance,” Battalio notes. “The drive halted because one of the middle wheels experienced a large up and down motion as if going over a large rock.”

Due to the short distance since the last contact science and the uncertain nature of the stability of the terrain at Curiosity’s position, Battalio adds that rover arm activities were ruled out due to the possibility of Curiosity shifting during arm motion.

“Thus, a possible touch and go plan was scaled back to only a drive away from the faulted position,” Battalio explains. This opened up a lot of science time, particularly for the Mars environment scientists.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1785, August 14, 2017. “Hupper” target from the Sol 1786 plan is the outcrop of rock near center of image.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Horizon, cloud movies

The new scripted plan is a late afternoon supra-horizon movie (SHM) and a zenith cloud movie.  The SHM is pointed just above the horizon due north so is sun-safe all day, but the zenith movie must be captured late or early in the day to allow for Navcam imaging to be sun safe, as the camera is pointed nearly vertically, Battalio notes.

“Sandwiched between the cloud movies,” Battalio adds, “Navcam will take a 30-minute dust devil movie to try to catch dust devils in motion.  In the early morning of Sol 1788, there will be a morning imaging suite with second SHM and zenith movies from Navcam, and Mastcam will take a tau and LOS measurement.”

Tau is the optical depth vertically while LOS (line-of-sight) determines the amount of dust towards the direction of the crater rim.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1786, August 15, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

ChemCam – now marked healthy

Now marked “healthy” is Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) after experiencing an anomaly over the weekend plan. But “in an abundance of caution,” Battalio says that geologists will only request one ChemCam observation of “Deadman Ledge,” which is an area of exposed Murray bedrock at the base of Vera Rubin Ridge.

The bulk of science will be performed by Curiosity’s Mastcam that will image “Folly Ledge,” an area of exposed fractures, “Cubby Hole,” an area of sand disturbed by the drive, a mosaic of the “Hupper” target from the Sol 1786 plan, and a documentation image of the ChemCam target.

Lastly, Battalio notes that rover planners also requested a Navcam image part way through the drive to look at what rock might have triggered Curiosity’s drive fault.

Loaded to the brim with samples, a robotic Mars Ascent Vehicle rockets off the planet under the watchful eye of an accompanying mini-rover.
Credit: NASA/JPL



How best to robotically tow back to Earth soil and rock samples of Mars is now in vigorous discussion.

The enterprise calls to mind part of the lyrics from a Stevie Wonder classic: “Here I am baby. Oh, you’ve got the future in your hand. Signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours.”

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission is a spacecraft being cast as the first stage in hauling home specimens of the Red Planet.

Tests are underway at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to demonstrate a direct to Earth Mars return sample capsule and a high-speed desert impact.
Credit: NASA/JPL





Seal the deal

To seal the deal, NASA has created a Returned Sample Science Board. A half-day workshop on where this effort now stands took place last month.

For detailed information, go to my new article:

Mars Sample Return: Scientists Debate How to Bring Red Planet Rocks to Earth

Curiosity Mastcam Left image acquired on Sol 1785, August 14, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now in Sol 1787, driving over last weekend over MSL drove over 105 feet (32 meters) to a sandy area with a few bedrock blocks.

However, the robot’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) has suffered an anomaly, reports Ken Herkenhoff, a planetary geologist and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in Flagstaff, Arizona. Trouble-shooting is underway.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image acquired on Sol 1786, August 15, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Marked sick

The instrument “was marked sick” after the acquisition of the first Remote Micro Imager (RMI) telescope mosaic of Vera Rubin Ridge, Herkenhoff adds.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo of Vera Rubin Ridge taken on Sol 1783, August 12, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

“The instrument is in a safe state and turned off, but no other ChemCam observations were successful last weekend. The instrument team will need at least one sol to recover,” so no ChemCam activities were being planned.

Herkenhoff explains that the team concluded that it is not essential to acquire RMI data from the previous or current position, and agreed that they should stick with the touch-and-go rover activities that were strategically planned.

Curiosity Rear Hazcam Right B image acquired on Sol 1786, August 15, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Target list

On the target list for Curiosity is “Emery Cove” for a short Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) integration and a trio of Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photos.

After Curiosity’s robotic arm is stowed, Herkenhoff says that rover’s Right Mastcam will take a picture of a rock named “Hupper” that appears to show cross-bedding and acquire two mosaics of “Shooting Rock” to test techniques for improving the image resolution while the RMI is unavailable.

“The two mosaics will be identical,” Herkenhoff points out, “except for a small pointing offset between them which should allow them to be combined into a ‘super-resolution’ mosaic.”

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1786, August 15, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech



Dust devil search

Also on tap is use of Curiosity’s Navcam to search for dust devils before a drive, planned to be about 92 feet (28 meters) long. In addition to the usual post-drive imaging, Navcam will take a couple half-frames of the top of Vera Rubin Ridge to enable accurate targeting for an upcoming plan.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Lastly, the robot’s Mastcam will measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere, and the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) will take a standard twilight image before the rover recharges overnight, Herkenhoff concludes.




New road map

A new Curiosity traverse map through Sol 1786 shows the rover’s position as of August 15, 2017.

Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up. The scale bar is 1 kilometer (~0.62 mile).

From Sol 1785 to Sol 1786, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 52.02 feet (15.86 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 10.63 miles (17.10 kilometers).


The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.




New Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) techniques are enhancing the resolution available for studies of the crater.
Courtesy: David A. Kring/Lunar and Planetary Institute


The Barringer, or Meteor Crater in Arizona is arguably the world’s best preserved and most dramatic looking impact crater.

Because of its similarity to lunar terrain, NASA used the crater during the Apollo era as a site for testing equipment that would be used on the lunar surface and for training astronaut crews.

Expanded edition

Courtesy: David A. Kring/Lunar and Planetary Institute

A new free volume — Guidebook to the Geology of Barringer Meteorite Crater, Arizona — is available courtesy of the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI).

They have released a greatly expanded edition of David Kring’s Guidebook to the Geology of Barringer Meteorite Crater, Arizona (a.k.a. Meteor Crater).



The book is being distributed electronically as a complimentary download so that it is available to the entire planetary science community.

100 years of exploration

This volume summarizes over 100 years of exploration at the crater and describes how impact cratering processes excavated the bowl-shaped cavity, distributing over 175 million metric tons of rock on the surrounding landscape.

Courtesy: David A. Kring/Lunar and Planetary Institute

As a leading authority on the crater, Kring explores both the geologic processes that shaped the crater and the biological effects the impact event may have had on an ice-age community of mammoths and mastodons.



Field training and research program

This excellent guidebook now contains over 150 figures with more than 200 photographs of the crater and samples from the crater. A large portion of the expanded material in the second edition is based on research conducted by students in LPI’s Field Training and Research Program at Meteor Crater.

To download your copy of this important and essential guidebook (164 MB), go to:

Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1785, August 14, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech



NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 1786 science tasks.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

A new traverse map through Sol 1785 has been issued showing the robot’s drive and current location.

Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up. The scale bar is 1 kilometer (~0.62 mile).

From Sol 1782 to Sol 1785, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 99.05 feet (30.19 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 10.62 miles (17.09 kilometers).

The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) onboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Curiosity Navcam Right B image taken on Sol 1785, August 14, 2017 .
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Mastcam Right photo acquired on Sol 1783, August 12, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Cargo carrying Peregrine lander.
Credit: Astrobotic

Astrobotic and United Launch Alliance (ULA) released today an end to end mission video for Astrobotic’s projected flight to the Moon during the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 in 2019.

Astrobotic Technology Inc. is a lunar logistics company that delivers payloads to the Moon for companies, governments, universities, non-profits, and individuals.

The Peregrine Lunar Lander is designed to fly 35 kilograms of customer payloads on its first mission, with the option to upgrade to 265 kilograms on future missions.

According to Astrobotic 11 deals from six nations have already been signed for the 2019 mission.

The first mission in 2019 will serve as a key demonstration of service for NASA, international space agencies, and companies looking to carry out missions to the Moon.

To view the end to end mission video of Peregrine, go to:


Space rock slips by Earth.
Courtesy: Texas A&M

One of the largest of the near-Earth asteroids, will approach close to Earth at the end of August, and will shoot safely by our world on September 1.

“Although many known asteroids have passed by closer than this, all of them were smaller asteroids. Florence is the largest asteroid to pass this close to our planet since the first near-Earth asteroid was discovered over a century ago,” explains JPL’s Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for NEO Studies (CNEOS).

The JPL Center for NEO Studies (CNEOS) computes high-precision orbits for Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) in support of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office.

Credit: CNEOS

Detailed measurements

At its closest point, Florence will be 4.4 million miles (7.0 million kilometers) from Earth, or about 18 times the average Earth-Moon distance.

“The September 1 flyby of Florence will provide astronomers with an excellent opportunity to make detailed measurements of a large near-Earth asteroid,” Chodas adds. “In particular, radar scientists expect to obtain high-resolution images of Florence that could reveal surface features as small as about 10 meters (30 feet).”

Chodas says that infrared measurements from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the NEOWISE spacecraft indicate that Florence is roughly 2.7 miles (4.3 kilometers) in size, and measurements of its brightness variations indicate that it rotates once every 2.36 hours.

Fireball and bolide events are recorded by U.S. Government sensors. Chart shows reported fireball events for which geographic location data are provided. Each event’s calculated total impact energy is indicated by its relative size and by a color.
Credit: CNEOS

Easily visible

“As it approaches in late August and early September, it is expected to brighten to 9th magnitude, making it easily visible, even using a small telescope,” Chodas notes.

Asteroid Florence was discovered in 1981 and named in honor of Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), the founder of modern nursing.

Tracking observations of asteroid Florence span nearly 40 years and its orbit is already well known.

“The orbital calculations indicate,” Chodas concludes, “that asteroid Florence poses no risk of colliding with Earth for many centuries to come.”

Griffith Observatory Event