Archive for March, 2019


Effective countermeasures are needed for astronauts to be able to live in space, on the Moon or on Mars for long periods of time in the future.

Artificial Gravity as a countermeasure (AGBRESA) is a major long-term bed-rest study that will be carried out by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR), in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA.

DLR’s short-arm human centrifuge.
Credit: :envihab

To be launched later this month, a first is use of artificial gravity as a possible means of overcoming the negative effects of weightlessness on the human body. The artificial gravity will be created by having the test participants lie down in the DLR short-arm human centrifuge once per day.

State-of-the-art facility

This unique research effort makes use of :envihab (from the words “Environment” and “Habitat”), a one-story, 3500-square-meter, state-of-the-art facility.

Eight separate modules are used in a “house within a house” design.

Credit: :envihab

:envihab includes a short-arm human centrifuge to, for instance, conduct cardiovascular, bone and muscle research, laboratories for studying the effects of oxygen reduction and pressure decrease on test subjects, MRI/PET analysis facilities, rooms for psychological stress simulations and rehabilitations, microbiological and molecular biological research tools, as well as places to house and monitor test subjects.

At :envihab, super-targeted research is conducted in space and flight physiology, radiation biology, space psychology, operational medicine, biomedical research and analogous terrestrial situations.


Credit: NASA

The surface conditions on the Moon are clearly a harsh mistress of a world, with high doses of ultraviolet irradiation, wide temperature extremes and low pressure – then toss in high levels of ionizing radiation.

A new report takes a look at microbial survival on lunar spacecraft – even suggesting where best to go to capture microbes sent to the Moon onboard lunar spacecraft.

Model developed

A Lunar Microbial Survival (LMS) model was developed that estimates the total viable bioburden of all spacecraft landed on the Moon. The work was led by Andrew Schuerger at the University of Florida.

The research — A Lunar Microbial Survival Model for Predicting the Forward Contamination of the Moon – has been published in the journal, Astrobiology.

Although noteworthy articles have characterized microbial diversity of spacecraft before launch, almost no literature exists on how terrestrial microorganisms might survive the journey to the lunar surface or how long they might survive after delivery.

Soviet Union’s Luna-2.
Credit: NASA Space Science Data Coordinated Archive/GSFC

Landed, crashed missions

Since the Soviet Union’s Luna 2 spacecraft impacted the Moon on September 14, 1959, well over 54 missions have either landed or crashed on the lunar surface. The paper notes that 77 spacecraft, boosters, payloads, rovers, and other structures have made it to the surface of the Moon. But there has not been a systematic estimate compiled of the microbial bioburdens on all of this Moon-bound hardware.

“The primary reasons for developing the LMS model was to predict whether previously landed spacecraft might harbor viable bioburdens over time and identify for Earth return the most promising landed or crashed spacecraft hardware for future human missions,” the research paper explains.

Arrival of humans: 2030

The research paper says that LMS model predictions for 2030 (a reasonable date for the return of humans to the Moon) indicate that China’s Chang’e-3 lander/Yutu-1 rover is likely to retain significant numbers of viable bacteria, and only on deeply embedded surfaces.

Chang’e-4 farside mission – lander and Yutu-2 rover

“The newest Yutu rover would also be expected to have spores/cells surviving by January 1, 2030,” said Schuerger. “Also, there are other landers planned for the near future that have not yet been launched. I hope some of those teams add-in biological samples to be checked by a future astrobiologist collecting spacecraft parts in 2030,” he told Inside Outer Space.

NASA’s Surveyor III – new insight

Schuerger and his research colleagues also took note of the recovery of a single colony of Streptococcus mitis from foam insulation that was deeply embedded within the NASA Surveyor III camera recovered by Apollo 12 astronauts and brought back to Earth in November 1969.

Apollo 12’s visit to Surveyor III landing site.
Credit: NASA

During the Apollo 12 mission, astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean piloted their lander Intrepid within ‏1,640 feet (500 meters) of the Surveyor III spacecraft that was present on the Moon for 942 days (31.9 “lunations”) from April 20, 1967 to November 20, 1969.

Some scientists have previously reported that a single pure culture of Streptomyces mitis was recovered from circuit board foam insulation that was deeply embedded within the Surveyor III camera body. However, later research points to that hardware not handled on return by appropriate aseptic protocols.

The research paper backs the view that “the most likely explanation of the presence of S. mitis in the single positive culture tube from the assayed Surveyor III equipment was through contamination during the post-landing processing of the camera.”

China’s lander/rover – bioburden experiment

According to the paper, the last 10 lunar spacecraft may have residual viable microorganisms that are deeply embedded near the central cores of each spacecraft.

For January 1, 2030, again, a reasonable date for the return of humans to the Moon), five of the last ten lunar spacecraft would be expected to harbor no viable microorganisms. Only the Chang’e/Yutu landers and rovers could plausibly harbor significant bioburdens on deeply embedded components. That is, a population of viable microbes that might be detected on returned spacecraft components.

For all earlier spacecraft landed or crashed between September 14, 1959 (Luna 2) and August 18, 1976 (Luna 24) the LMS model predicts them to be free of viable Earth microorganisms.

The first picture Neil Armstrong took during the Apollo 11 moonwalk shows a jettison bag under Eagle’s descent stage.
Credit: NASA


The new paper concludes by spotlighting high-priority astrobiology targets for collecting lunar archived payloads and equipment for microbial study.

For example, the highest priority for an Apollo-era microbial survey would be the nylon jettison (JETT) bags placed underneath the lunar module (LM) descent stages or tossed onto the lunar surface before leaving the Moon.

The JETT bags contain disposable materials from within the crewed LM ascent stages before landing, including water containers, human waste, food wrappers, Lithium hydroxide canisters (for airborne spores), and sleep restraints.

“If the JETT bags with human waste and sleep restraints were placed under the LM descent stages,” the research paper asserts, “they would have the richest microbial bioburdens and species diversity of the accessible materials on the Moon (i.e., materials directly handled by human astronauts), and the bags have been mostly shielded from the worst of the thermal cycling conditions on the Moon. Furthermore, the LM descent stages are the largest intact structures on the Moon and would provide insights into shielding against ionizing radiation effects on biological systems.”

Picking up the trash – new assignment for future Moonwalkers!
Credit: NASA

Microbial survival

Lastly, the researchers suggest that any new lunar spacecraft landed or crashed to the lunar surface during the next decade should be fitted with astrobiology payloads that could be recovered and analyzed for microbial survival, biosignature degradation, and materials alterations when humans return to the Moon around 2030.

“Such astrobiological experiments would require very little mass, but could greatly advance our understanding of how Earth microorganisms can withstand the perils of the lunar environment,” Schuerger and his fellow researchers conclude.

Key finding

One of the key findings of the LMS model was that spacecraft hardware on the Moon were exposed to incredibly high biocidal conditions in which the outside surfaces were very likely sterilized during the first lunation on the Moon.

On-the-spot investigation – Earth’s Moon, lunar microbial survival? Credit: NASA

The biocidal and interactive effects of UV irradiation, high-temperatures, cis-lunar vacuum, and ionizing radiation would have induced as many as 23 “lethal doses” on all bacteria on spacecraft external surfaces during each and every lunar day –roughly 14.45 days, Schuerger concludes.

“Thus, over the course of 30, 40, and roughly 50 years, we should expect absolutely no microbial survivors on external surfaces. The only sites in which surviving bacteria ‘might’ persist would be on deep internal structures that are protected from all biocidal factors except the high-vacuum environment on the Moon,” Schuerger told Inside Outer Space.

For a copy of this paper — A Lunar Microbial Survival Model for Predicting the Forward Contamination of the Moon — go to:

Geologist Harrison Schmitt performs Moon tasks during Apollo 17 mission in December 1972.
Credit: NASA


Unopened treasures rocketed back to Earth by Apollo moonwalkers. They are lunar collectibles returned to our planet in 1971-72.

A new NASA program — the Apollo Next Generation Sample Analysis (ANGSA) — has selected nine teams to continue the science legacy of the Apollo missions by studying pieces of the Moon that have been carefully stored and untouched for nearly 50 years.

Team selections

A total of $8 million has been awarded to the teams.

The nine institutions include:

NASA Ames Research Center/Bay Area Environmental Research Institute: A team led by Alexander Sehlke will complete an experiment started 50 years ago by studying the frozen lunar samples from Apollo 17 to see how volatiles like water are stored in the radiation environment of the lunar surface, which is not protected by an atmosphere like Earth.

NASA Ames: A team led by David Blake and Richard Walrothwill study the vacuum-sealed sample to study “space weathering” or how exposure to the space environment affects the Moon’s surface.

NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center: A team led by Jamie Elsila Cook will study the vacuumed-sealed sample to better understand how small organic molecules—namely, precursors to amino acids—are preserved on the Moon.

NASA Goddard: A team led by Barbara Cohen and Natalie Curran will study the vacuum-sealed sample to investigate the geologic history of the Apollo 17 site. They’ll specifically be looking at the abundance of noble gases in the sample, which can tell them about the sample’s age.

University of Arizona: A team led by Jessica Barneswill study how curation affects the amount of hydrogen-bearing minerals in lunar soil, which will help us better understand how water is locked in minerals on the Moon.

University of California Berkeley: A team led by Kees Welten will study how micrometeorite and meteorite impacts may have affected the geology of the lunar surface.

US Naval Research Laboratory: A team led by Katherine Burgess will look at the frozen samples and the samples stored in helium to study how airless bodies are affected by exposure to the space environment.

University of New Mexico: A team led by Chip Shearer will look at the vacuum-sealed sample to study the geologic history of the Apollo 17 site. They will be studying samples from a region that had been cold enough for water to freeze—called a “cold trap.” This will be the first time a sample from one of these cold traps will be examined in the lab.

Mount Holyoke College/Planetary Science Institute: A team led by Darby Dyar will look at both the vacuum-sealed samples and samples stored on helium to study volcanic activity on the Moon. They’ll specifically look at tiny glass beads that formed rapidly during an ancient lunar eruption.

Astronaut David Scott, commander of Apollo 15, standing on the slope of Hadley Delta.
Credit: NASA

Open up

The samples won’t be opened right away, a NASA press statement explains.

First, the teams will work together and with the curation staff at NASA Johnson Space Center to determine the best way to open the sample to avoid contaminating them and maximize the science to be gained.

The teams for the Apollo Next-Generation Sample Analysis grants were selected by NASA’s Planetary Science Division and will be funded by the space agency’s Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program.

The goal of the ANGSA program is to maximize the science derived from samples returned by the Apollo Program in preparation for future lunar missions anticipated in the 2020s and beyond.

One of the Apollo 16 sample boxes being opened in the Lunar Receiving Laboratory on Earth. The box contains a large rock and many small sample bags.
Credit: NASA/Johnson Space Center

Wholly or largely unstudied

Although most Apollo samples have been well characterized over the years, there remain several types of samples that have remained wholly or largely unstudied since their return, and have been curated under special conditions.

Unopened vacuum-sealed Apollo samples: Nine “special samples” were collected in containers that had indium knife-edge seals to maintain a lunar-like vacuum, and three such containers remain sealed from Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions.

Frozen Apollo samples: Several Apollo 17 samples were initially processed under nominal laboratory conditions in a nitrogen cabinet at room temperature, but placed into cold storage (-20°C) within one month of return: six subsamples of Apollo 17 drill core, nine subsamples of permanently shadowed soils, a subsample of soil, and all of the lunar rock identified as 71036.

Apollo samples stored in Helium: Apollo 15 Special Environmental Sample Container (SESC) specimens were opened in a helium cabinet inside an organic clean room at the University of California, Berkeley. A total of 21 subsamples have been continuously stored in Helium since this initial processing.

Vice President Mike Pence, center, views Sample 15014, which was collected during Apollo 15 with NASA’s Apollo Sample Curator Ryan Zeigler, left, and Apollo 17 astronaut and geologist Dr. Harrison Schmitt, right, in Lunar Curation Laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018 in Houston, Texas. Sample 15014 is one of nine samples out of the 2,196 collected during the Apollo missions that was sealed inside its container on the Moon and still contains gasses from the Moon. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Advance our understanding

“By studying these precious lunar samples for the first time, a new generation of scientists will help advance our understanding of our lunar neighbor and prepare for the next era of exploration of the Moon and beyond,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, DC.

“This exploration will bring with it new and unique samples into the best labs right here on Earth.”

Research avenues

Once the teams have reported the output from their research, how will all this new analysis be aggregated and shared to offer, perhaps, different views of the Moon?

“The big consortium will need to organize itself, and make overall plans as a group,” responded Jeffrey Grossman, Discipline Scientist for ANGSA at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Studied Apollo 15 sample 15445 was melted during the Imbrium basin-forming impact 3.84 billion years ago. This sample is about 6 centimeters across.
Credit: NASA/Johnson Space Center

“They have a wide array of individual scientific goals, and all of the selected proposals had some kind of publication plan,” Grossman told Inside Outer Space. “The interesting thing,” he added, “is what kinds of synergy will develop within the consortium as all these avenues of research are pursued on a single sample.”

“Behind the scenes,” Grossman said, “we are also increasing the resources available to the Johnson Space Center curation team, to make sure that lots of great science can be done within the three-year period of the consortium awards. It’s hard to predict how this will come out, but I think NASA has chosen a fantastic team and is doing the right things to enable it to function as a group.”

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover on the prowl and geared to collect and cache samples for future return to Earth.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Update: NASA’s fiscal year 2020 budget released today initiates a Mars sample return mission to retrieve specimens from Mars, and return those samples with the first launch from another planet.

A Mars sample return mission would incorporate commercial and international partnerships.

The NASA budget provides funding for a Mars sample return mission launching as early as 2026 that will bring samples collected by Mars 2020 back to Earth.

Return of samples from the surface of Mars has been a goal of the international Mars science community for many years.

Strategies for the collection of such Red Planet collectibles have ranged from “grab and go” acquisition from the surface, to dust collection in the atmosphere, to scientific selection by geologically capable rovers.

For state‐of‐the‐art high‐precision radioisotope analyses, sample handling and chemical processing in a clean laboratory such as the one shown here are typically required.
Credit: Center for Meteorite Studies at Arizona State University

Cooperation and collaboration

In 2017, the space exploration programs associated with the International Mars Exploration Working Group (IMEWG) began discussion of a formal program of cooperation and collaboration among space‐faring nations related to Mars sample return, or MSR for short.

As input to this, the international MSR Objectives and Samples Team (iMOST) was chartered by IMEWG to address key science planning questions.

The outcome of this study – “The potential science and engineering value of samples delivered to Earth by Mars sample return” — has been issued in the journal, Meteoritics & Planetary Science, published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of The Meteoritical Society.

NASA Mars 2020 rover is designed to collect samples, store the specimens in tubes, then deposit the tubes on the surface for later pick-up.
Credit: NASA/ESA

Sharp focus

The deployment of NASA’s Mars 2020 sample‐collecting rover has brought the issues associated with the completion of Mars sample return into sharp focus.

That rover is set to collect and cache geological samples for possible eventual return to Earth. The transportation to Earth would require a sample‐retrieval mission, one that could also collect atmospheric samples, and an Earth‐return mission.

Involvement of the international community in these missions would be very beneficial in terms of sharing cost, risk, and benefit, according to the iMOST report.

The five geologic environments of primary interest to interpret the primary geologic processes and history that formed the Martian geologic record, with an emphasis on the role of water.
Credit: iMOST

Retrieval questions

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover has more sample tubes than are intended to be returned.

In that case, some future team associated with the retrieval missions will make decisions about which samples to return. The iMOST report may help provide the technical basis for those decisions.

iMOST report notes there’s need to constrain the nature of the potential hazards to future human exploration. The five primary knowledge gaps are highlighted.
Credit: iMOST



Additionally, among other aspects of the report, its aimed at supporting planning for the curation needed to preserve the samples and instrumental facilities required to make the measurements associated with achieving the objectives of Mars sample return.


To go to this open access article, go to:

Credit: NASA


The International Space Station partners have endorsed plans to continue the development of the Gateway, an outpost around the Moon that will act as a base to support both robots and astronauts exploring the lunar surface.

The Multilateral Coordination Board, which oversees the management of the Space Station, stressed its common hope for the Gateway to open up a cost-effective and sustainable path to the Moon and beyond.

Orion and ESA Service Module.
Credit: NASA/ESA/ATG/Medialab

A possible commitment towards building Europe’s contributions to the Gateway will be one of the key decisions to be made by Ministers at the Space19+ Conference in November 2019.

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) potential involvement includes the ESPRIT module to provide communications and refueling of the Gateway and a science airlock for deploying science payloads and cubesats.

During the 2020s, the Gateway will be assembled and operated in the vicinity of the Moon, where it will move between different orbits and enable the most distant human space missions ever attempted.
Credit: NASA/ESA


The endorsement comes after several years of extensive study among space agencies who have developed a technically achievable design. The partnership includes European countries (represented by ESA), the United States (NASA), Russia (Roscosmos), Canada (CSA) and Japan (JAXA).

The Cosma Hypothesis: Implications of the Overview Effect by Frank White; Morgan Brook Media (March 2019; paperback: 269 pages, $19.95.

It takes a special kind of person to come up with a special kind of effect.

Frank White coined the term: “The Overview Effect” – the experience of seeing the Earth from orbit or the Moon – on humanity’s perceptions of our home world and our place in the cosmos.

White’s book, The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, was first published by Houghton-Mifflin in 1987. This trailblazing work is now in its third edition, and is a seminal work in the field of space exploration and development. His just released new book is The Cosma Hypothesis: Implications of the Overview Effect.

In short, this impressive volume puts forward that our purpose in exploring space should transcend focusing on how it will benefit humanity. We should ask how to create a symbiotic relationship with the universe, giving back as much as we take, and spreading life, intelligence, and self-awareness throughout the solar system and beyond.

Given the wistful and wishful space futurism of the day – space tourism, mining space rocks, living on the Moon and occupying cities on Mars — White argues that developing a philosophy of space exploration and settlement is more than an intellectual exercise: it will powerfully influence policy and practices that are now unfolding.

The reader will enjoy pondering a number of themes in the book, from the appropriate approach to mining asteroids and the moon, the possible need to revise the UN 1967 Outer Space Treaty, to the role Artificial Intelligence (AI) will play in helping humans explore and develop the cosmos.

Of special interest are 16 content-specific task forces that are a healthy part of the New Human Space Program chapter – key issues arising out of human expansion into our “solar neighborhood.”

This heartfelt book is thought-provoking. Why has the evolutionary process brought humanity to the brink of becoming a spacefaring species?” The author concludes that our purpose, or ecological function, is to support the universe (Cosma) in reaching a higher level of life, intelligence, and self-awareness.

White adds: “As Cosma become more conscious, the universe will become a more welcoming place for Homo sapiens, and we will evolve together.”

In an author’s note, White requests that a reader can learn more about The Human Space Program, contact him at:

For more information on this book, go to:

Prototype of the Tianhe core module. China’s space station is expected to be operational around 2022. CCTV/Screengrab

China will ramp up their human spaceflight program, tied to the establishment of the country’s space station.

Zhang Bonan, chief designer of the space program of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, has stated that China intends to realize bulk production of crew-carrying spacecraft in the future instead of today’s customization.

As reported by China’s Science and Technology Daily report over the weekend, Zhang said to meet the space station’s demands around 2022, the country has to prepare enough spacecraft in advance.

Credit: CMSA

Dramatic increase

The number of personnel and the volume of goods that transport between the ground and the space station will increase dramatically, Zhang said.

They will be launched based on the needs of the replacement of astronauts and the freight, “just like air flights,” Zhang said.

“Today’s China aerospace manufacturing industry has gained the ability to do small volume production through improved digitization and automation technology,” Zhang said.

Docking of China’s Shenzhou 10 spacecraft with the Tiangong-1 space station June 13, 2013.
Credit: CCTV


Spacecraft in quantity

Following the Shenzhou-10 spacecraft mission in June 2013, Zhang said, the country now has the ability to produce crew-carrying spacecraft in quantity.

In 1992, China launched its manned space flight program. The success of Shenzhou-5 in 2003 made China the third country to acquire human space travel technology on its own.

China’s most recent, and the sixth piloted space mission, Shenzhou-11, lifted off in mid-October 2016. The two-person crew made the first piloted docking with the Tiangong-2 space laboratory.

Credit: AIA

The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) has issued its vision for the future — one that includes morning commutes via flying air taxi, supersonic business travel between continents, and an emerging market for space-based research and manufacturing in 2050

This new study – What’s Next for Aerospace and Defense: A Vision for 2050 — The result is a comprehensive look at innovations that will shape the world over the next thirty years.

The study was launched today with an interactive experience at South by Southwest (SXSW) now underway in Austin, Texas.

AIA represents more than 300 aerospace and defense manufacturers and suppliers, with the study built on interviews with over 70 industry leaders.

The variety of activities characterized in the study includes space mining.

Given the mineral riches floating in the cosmos, the study points out, commercial space manufacturing and mining “may move from the realm of science fiction into reality.”

“The underlying technology to enable such a space use case could even become widespread once the economics become viable,” the report explains.

Credit: AIA

Nascent stages

The study explains that, as interest in the commercial potential of space grows, exploration will likely become the focus of increasing public attention again.

In-depth research and exploration in space will be in its initial stages, but commercial research activity in support of that interest will likely increase:

  • Nascent: Space infrastructure—including off -Earth bases, supply hubs, and orbital fuel stations—will support expanded activities in space and make space travel safer and more sustainable.
  • Nascent: Space-based research, resource extraction, and manufacturing will take advantage of space’s unique conditions, such as extreme heat, zero gravity, and consistent solar energy.

Launch cost reduction

Furthermore, an increasingly dense constellation of low Earth orbiting (LEO) satellites is setting the stage for low-cost research across a variety of fields.

“Reductions in launch cost and improved sensor sensitivity across the electromagnetic spectrum will combine to make exploration and commercial activity in space more economical,” the study suggests.

To get a glimpse into this technology-driven future, read the full-study at:

Watch a brief video inspired by Vision 2050 at:

InSight’s Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC) acquired this image of the HP3 experiment on Sol 99, March 8, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mixed news from the “mole” probe onboard NASA’s Mars InSight – part of Germany’s HP3 (Heat and Physical Properties Package) instrument.

It began hammering into the surface of Mars on February 28. However, the device may have come up against a rock or something else that is proving highly resistant beneath the surface. The researchers are now analyzing the data before it can continue hammering.

InSight’s Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC) acquired this image showing the HP3 experiment and SEIS seismometer (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structures) on Sol 99, March 8, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The mole had come about three-quarters of the way out of its housing structure before stopping. Data also suggests that the device is at a 15-degree tilt.

Pause the hammering

“The team has therefore decided to pause the hammering for about two weeks to allow the situation to be analyzed more closely and jointly come up with strategies for overcoming the obstacle,” explains Tilman Spohn of the  German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Institute of Planetary Research and principal investigator of the HP3 experiment.

The HP3 team has commanded a large number of images to be taken by the cameras on the InSight lander and its robotic arm.

Play it safe

“Some of the images we already have, indicate that part of the mole is actually visible,” Spohn reports. “The consensus is that the mole is about 30 centimeters in the regolith and probably still 7 centimeters in the tube of the support structure. It is approximately pointing 15° away from the vertical and has undergone either some rotation or precession of its rotation axis.”

The instrument remains healthy. But the team wants to play it safe and get all the evidence that could become available including seismic data together to assist the mole overcome the obstacle (or to get through a possible layer of gravel). “Once we have all the data, we will decide on how to proceed best,” Spohn explains.

Components of the HP3 heat flow probe. Top left: the radiometer (RAD), which is used to measure the radiation temperature (roughly equivalent to the ground temperature) of the surface. Right: the casing with the mole penetrometer, the temperature measuring cable (TEM-P) and the data cable (ET) connected to the lander. In addition, the casing contains an optical length meter for determining the length of the temperature measuring cable that has been pulled from the casing. The mole contains the TEM-A active thermal conductivity sensor and the STATIL tiltmeter. Bottom left: the electronic control unit, known as the back end electronics (BEE), which remains on the lander and is connected to the probe via the ET.
Credit: DLR


Design heritage

The mole penetrometer was developed at the DLR Institute of Space Systems. It draws upon earlier developments at DLR and in Russia. An earlier version of the probe was built at the former DLR Institute of Space Simulation in Cologne as a sample collector for the Beagle II lander – flown as part of the Mars Express mission – which crashed onto the Martian surface in 2003. The hammering mechanism for the HP3 mole was developed by Astronika in Warsaw, Poland.



Phobos eclipse

Meanwhile, Spohn says there’s excellent news concerning the Mars moon, Phobos.

“We just got the data from the first Phobos eclipse observation and the cooling by the shadow passing through the fields of view of the radiometer in about 30 seconds is clearly visible,” Spohn notes. “So the team is happy and is rejoicing about the first eclipse on Mars ever observed with a radiometer.”

Set of three images shows views three seconds apart as the larger of Mars’ two moons, Phobos, passed directly in front of the sun as seen by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on Aug. 20, 2013.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems/Texas A&M Univ.

The Radiometer (RAD) is mounted underneath the platform of the lander and monitors the area beside the lander where HP3 is installed.

The team will analyze the RAD data and come up with a model of the uppermost millimeters or so of the Mars surface material. This measurement is called the thermal inertia. This quantity depends on the thermal conductivity of the near surface material, its density and its heat capacity.

“So, it is part of our efforts to measure the geophysical parameters of Mars,” Spohn says.

Data from the SwRI-led LAMP instrument aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter indicate that water molecules scattered on the surface of the Moon are more common at higher latitudes and tend to hop around as the surface heats up. Characterizing the water on the Moon is critical to planning future exploration.
Courtesy of NASA/JPL/USGS

An instrument onboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) indicates that water molecules scattered on the surface of the Moon are more common at higher latitudes and tend to hop around as the surface heats up.

“These results aid in understanding the lunar water cycle and will ultimately help us learn about accessibility of water that can be used by humans in future missions to the Moon,” said Amanda Hendrix, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute.

Hot topic

The findings have been reported in the Hendrix-led paper – “Diurnally‐Migrating Lunar Water: Evidence from Ultraviolet Data” — published in the American Geophysical Union’s Geophysical Research Letters.

LRO-carried Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP).
Credit: NASA/SwRI

“This is an important new result about lunar water, a hot topic as our nation’s space program returns to a focus on lunar exploration,” said SwRI’s Kurt Retherford, the principal investigator of the LRO LAMP instrument.

“We recently converted the LAMP’s light collection mode to measure reflected signals on the lunar dayside with more precision,” Retherford said, “allowing us to track more accurately where the water is and how much is present.”

Surface water

According to a SwRI press statement, up until the last decade or so, scientists thought the Moon was arid, with any water existing mainly as pockets of ice in permanently shaded craters near the poles.

However, more recently, scientists have identified surface water in sparse populations of molecules bound to the lunar soil, or regolith. The amount and locations vary based on the time of day. This water is more common at higher latitudes and tends to hop around as the surface heats up.

A source of water on the Moon could help make future crewed missions more sustainable and affordable.
Credit: RegoLight, visualization: Liquifer Systems Group, 2018

As rough, irregularly shaped grains heat up over the course of a day, the molecules detach from the regolith and hop across the surface until they find another location cold enough to stick.

“A source of water on the Moon could help make future crewed missions more sustainable and affordable,” Hendrix explains. “Lunar water can potentially be used by humans to make fuel or to use for radiation shielding or thermal management; if these materials do not need to be launched from Earth, that makes these future missions more affordable”

To review the paper — “Diurnally‐Migrating Lunar Water: Evidence from Ultraviolet Data” – go to:


Griffith Observatory Event