Archive for February, 2017

Laser spotting Mars sand dunes. Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1621, February 26, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is performing a range of Sol 1623 tasks, with a two-sol plan scoped out that’s devoted to remote sensing and Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) diagnostics.

The plan is to kick off with arm activities to better understand the fault that MAHLI experienced last week, reports Lauren Edgar, a research geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1620, February 25, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Interesting color variations

Then the plan involves Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) investigation of “Dunn Brook.”

“The target shows some interesting color variations so ChemCam will be used to investigate changes in composition,” Edgar explains. “We’ll also acquire a ChemCam observation of “Leighton,” to study the coarse sand grains at the crest of a ripple.”

Also on tap is use of Curiosity’s Navcam to look for dust devils and clouds, in response to orbital observations that suggest recent increasing atmospheric opacity, Edgar adds.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) image taken on Sol 1619, February 24, 2017. MAHLI is located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Targeting features

On the second sol, Mastcam is on schedule to acquire a multispectral observation on “Dunn Brook,” and will be used to document the previous Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) locations at “Tomhegan” and “Waweig.”

“We’ll also acquire a Mastcam image for deck monitoring to assess the movement of fines, and an upper tier Navcam mosaic to enable us to target features on Mt. Sharp,” Edgar notes.

Mars rover Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image taken on Sol 1622, February 27, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The second sol plan includes a number of environmental monitoring observations, using both Mastcam and Navcam to monitor the color and opacity of the atmosphere and search for dust devils.

The plan also includes an APXS thermal characterization test and a number of change detection observations.

By the way, Curiosity has taken nearly 391,000 images since its landing in August of 2012.


The left side of this 360-degree panorama from NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows the long rows of ripples on a linear shaped dune in the Bagnold Dune Field on the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp.
The view is a mosaic of images taken with Curiosity’s Navigation Camera (Navcam) on Feb. 5, 2017, during the 1,601st Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars. The view is centered toward west-southwest, with east-southeast on either end. A capped mound called “Ireson Hill” is on the right.


An artificial magnetosphere of sufficient size
generated at L1 allows Mars to be well protected by
the magnetotail.
Credit: J.L.Green, et al.

Transforming Mars to make it more livable for humankind could involve creating an artificial magnetosphere for the Red Planet.

This idea has been suggested by a team of researchers, presenting the concept at the Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop 2017 being held this week in Washington, D.C.

Arid and cold

Their paper – A Future Mars Environment for Science and Exploration – notes that today, that planet is an arid and cold world with a very thin atmosphere that has significant frozen and underground water resources.

Mars’ thin atmosphere not only prevents liquid water from residing permanently on its surface and makes it difficult to land missions since it is not thick enough to completely facilitate a soft landing.

The research paper, led by James Green, Director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters, explains that when Mars lost its protective magnetosphere, three or more billion years ago, the solar wind was allowed to “directly ravish” the Red Planet’s atmosphere.

Scene from “Mars,” a National Geographic Channel miniseries due to air in November.
Credit: National Geographic, Imagine, RadicalMedia, Robert Viglasky

Simulation tools

A new approach to greatly enhance Mars’ atmosphere to a higher pressure and temperature can be appraised by a number of existing simulation tools that reproduce the physics of the processes that model today’s Martian climate.

A series of simulations can be used, the research team asserts, to assess how best to largely stop the solar wind stripping of the Martian atmosphere and allow the atmosphere to come to a new equilibrium.

Models hosted at the Coordinated Community Modeling Center (CCMC) can be used to simulate a magnetic shield, and an artificial magnetosphere, for Mars. The CCMC is situated at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

“My approach was to see if we could force nature to do it,” NASA’s Green told Inside Outer Space. “It will be a progress report. But we have some fascinating results already,” he said.

Mars L1

That modeling involves generating a magnetic dipole field at the Mars L1 Lagrange point within an average solar wind environment.

New research is starting to emerge revealing that a miniature magnetosphere can be used to protect humans and spacecraft.

Credit: Monash University

In the future it is quite possible, the research team suggests, that an inflatable structure(s) can generate a magnetic dipole field at a level of perhaps 1 or 2 Tesla (or 10,000 to 20,000 Gauss) as an active shield against the solar wind.

“A greatly enhanced Martian atmosphere, in both pressure and temperature, that would be enough to allow significant surface liquid water would also have a number of benefits for science and human exploration in the 2040s and beyond,” the researchers explain.

“Open air” greenhouses

An enhanced Mars atmosphere, among a list of benefits, would allow larger landed mass of equipment to the surface, shield against most cosmic and solar particle radiation, extend the ability for oxygen extraction, and provide “open air” greenhouses to exist for plant production.

A future Mars protected from the direct solar
wind should come to a new equilibrium allowing an extensive atmosphere to support liquid water on its
Credit: J.L.Green, et al.

“These new conditions on Mars would allow human explorers and researchers to study the planet in much greater detail and enable a truly profound understanding of the habitability of this planet,” the research team concludes. “If this can be achieved in a lifetime, the colonization of Mars would not be far away.”

The Museum of Contemporary Art on the Moon (MOCAM for short) was conceived in 2016 by visual artist Julio Orta. The concept is seen as a response to the inevitable creation of human communities on the moon in the near future.

According to a MOCAM mission statement:

“Although governments and private entities are working on tourism and colonization of the moon, they seem to have no concern whatsoever for the arts because they are not seen as a source of profit.”

Inaugural show

MOCAM is dedicated in displaying the most interesting, cutting edge, relevant art from the world.

MOCAM is on the watch for emerging artists, new works, and proposals from curators.

An inaugural show, Mystic Hyperstitians in the Heart of Empire, has been curated by Joey Cannizzaro, an undisciplinary artist, curator, and critic. The shows are currently presented on MOCAM’s website.

The intent is that the shows would be on display in the physical museum on the Moon.

Lunar acreage

One small step for art has been taken by Orta last year, procurement of 20 acres on the Moon via

Courtesy: Julio Orta


According to a “Moon Deed,” the property is located just South of craters Helicon and Leverrier, in an area identified as D6, Quadrant Charlie, Lot Number 1/0581-0600.’s website notes that since 1980, over 300 million acres have been sold.


Museum complex

The Moon-based museum architecture has been designed by Mauricio Mastropiero a Mexican architect.

“The Mountain” will be the first component built, and will host a visitor center, temporary galleries, storage areas, dressing rooms, restrooms, sleeping rooms, a restaurant, and a store.

The Moon structure also consists of the “Central Patio.” It is one the main areas for the exhibition of contemporary art. This outdoor esplanade features 480 poles used as structure for a light architecture that can be configured depending on different exhibition needs. This is a space to experience art under the moon’s natural environment.

At the core of the complex is “The Plateau”, a two-story building that levitates using electromagnetic technology. As the principal gallery, the interior of this building also features a controlled atmosphere and hosts the main exhibitions. The second level of this rotating building is the highest point of the museum, a viewpoint to gaze beyond its physical limits.


MOCAM is accepting proposals for 2017 shows.

For more information on the Museum of Contemporary Art on the Moon, go to:

For a video detailing the effort, go to:

Curiosity’s Front Hazcam Right B image taken on Sol 1617 February 22, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The NASA Curiosity rover is now departing Sol 1617 activities.

Stuck in the middle on Mars – Curiosity’s right wheel.

That’s the word from Ken Herkenhoff of USGS’s Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.

“The drive planned for Sol 1616 halted early, apparently because the right rear wheel got stuck between two rocks,” Herkenhoff reports. “The mobility team concluded that it is safe to continue, so the drive planned for Sol 1617 is essentially the same as the previously-planned drive.”

Layered bedrock

Before the drive, the robot’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Right Mastcam were set to observe a sand target named “New Sweden” and Right Mastcam will acquire mosaics of a layered bedrock outcrop dubbed “Hobbstown” and of the dunes that are the target of the drive. measure dust in the atmosphere before the drive begins, Herkenhoff notes.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1617, February 22, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech



Testing of drill

After the drive and more testing of Curiosity’s drill, along with post-drive imaging to support planning on Wednesday, ChemCam will use special software to autonomously select a target for chemical analysis.

Curiosity Mastcam Right image acquired on Sol 1614, February 19, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Meanwhile, a new map of Curiosity’s whereabouts has been issued.

The map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 1617 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (February 22, 2017).




From Sol 1616 to Sol 1617, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 26.59 feet (8.11 meters). Since touching down in Bradbury Landing in August 2012, Curiosity has driven 9.71 miles (15.63 kilometers).

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

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star.This artist’s concept allows us to imagine what it would be like to stand on the surface of the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1f, located in the TRAPPIST-1 system in the constellation Aquarius.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) released the following statement today on NASA’s discovery of the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star, three of which are in the habitable zone.

Public imagination

Chairman Smith: “Space discoveries have long captured the public’s imagination, and NASA’s discoveries like the one today continue to inspire us to explore beyond the boundaries of today,” Smith said.

“The discovery of seven Earth-size planets offers information from uncharted territory that will aid in scientific analysis. As these discoveries continue, we aim to put the United States back on top as a first rate space pioneer. My colleagues and I will ensure that NASA has the tools, resources, and guidance necessary to build upon these new developments and chart new courses space exploration for the next generation,” chairman Smith advised.

Bill in transition

The U.S. Senate recently passed the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 which builds upon years of work by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

“I look forward to seeing this bill pass the House quickly and move to the President’s desk for signature to unlock the mysteries of space as President Trump said in his inaugural address,” Smith concluded.


Credit: Tulane University


A novel approach to creating a reusable solar electric space (SEP) “tug” for toting payloads to the Moon, Mars or elsewhere is dubbed “Sunflower” – a Modular, Hexagonally Symmetric, SEP Cargo Transport Spacecraft.

Sunflower was the winner in NASA’s 2017 BIG Idea Challenge, a concept forged by students from Tulane University.

Credit: NASA

The Sunflower’s structure, power, and navigation systems are distributed across a large surface composed of 12 identical and connected modules. Each module contains an independent set of solar panels, fuel, propulsion, and navigation systems.

To form a 200 kilowatt array, the required surface area of solar panels is roughly 800 meters.

Docking techniques

The modules of the Sunflower are launched in two separate launch vehicles and aggregate in low Earth orbit within 60 days.

Sunflower modules are connected via reversible electro-permanent magnet joints, and a secondary mechanical locking mechanism. This docking technique eliminates the need for a secondary robotic assembly entirely.

Big Idea 2017 winning team from Tulane University are shown holding a model of their winning design.
Top row from left to right are: Professor Timothy Schuler, Otto Lyon and Matthew Gorban.
On the bottom row are Afsheen Sajjadi, Ethan Gasta, John Robertson and Maxwell Woody.
Credit: NASA/Harlen Capen

The power, mass, and thrust of the tug is proportional to the number of modules connected. Additional modules can be added to the Sunflower to achieve more power. Unwanted modules can be jettisoned from the Sunflower and replaced by new modules, allowing for operational refurbishment.

NASA’s Idea Challenge is a university-level design competition sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, managed by the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA), and hosted by NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

UK Spaceports.
Credit: UK Space AgencyLaunch UK


The United Kingdom has put in motion a draft Spaceflight Bill, promoting the construction and operation of spaceports across the UK for the first time, as well as giving the go for spacecraft to be rocketed spaceward from British soil.

Tariq Ahmad, aviation minister, said: “We have never launched a spaceflight before from this country. Our ambition is to allow for safe and competitive access to space from the UK, so we remain at the forefront of a new commercial space age.” The UK’s space sector is the future of the British economy, he added.


Safe and cost-effective access to space

The bill has been presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Transport by Command of Her Majesty.

“This draft spaceflight legislation will be fundamental to enabling safe and cost-effective access to space from the UK so creating high-value jobs and economic benefits across the country. It is important we get this complex new legislation right to create a safe, competitive and sustainable commercial spaceflight market,” notes the foreword to the bill.




To review the draft UK bill, go to:

Mars attacks…this time in a new movie called Life.

To be released in the U.S. on March 24, the going-in theme as advertised for Life is that an international space crew discovers life on Mars.

That’s the good news.

But the delivery package of samples to their spacecraft from the Red Planet has an edgy side.

As one poster for the movie notes: “Be careful what you search for.”

This horror, sci-fi thriller features actors Rebecca Ferguson, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Ryan Reynolds. The film is directed by Daniel Espinosa known for Safe House (2012), Child 44 (2015) and Easy Money (2010).


Unintended consequences

At quick glance, the film appears part Andromeda Strain and Alien – but the outcome is TBD.

According to early details from Sony pictures, Life tells the story of the six-member crew of the International Space Station that is on the cutting edge of one of the most important discoveries in human history: the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on Mars.

As the crew begins to conduct research, their methods end up having unintended consequences and the life form turns out to be more intelligent than anyone ever expected.

The production company for Life is Skydance and will be distributed by Columbia Pictures.

To view a Life movie trailer, go to:


The United Arab Emirates has the Red Planet in its sights, not only moving forward on a Mars orbiter but also establishing the first inhabitable human settlement on the planet by 2117.

Space visionary, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai. He recently unveiled, along with Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the “Mars 2117 Project” during the 5th World Government Summit, held February 12 to 14 in Dubai.

Mars on his mind – His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Credit: Government of Dubai Media Office

“The landing of people on other planets has been a longtime dream for humans. Our aim is that the UAE will spearhead international efforts to make this dream a reality,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum said.

First phase

According to the Government of Dubai Media Office website, the first phase of the project will focus on preparing the human cadres able to achieve scientific breakthrough to facilitate the arrival of human to the Red Planet in the next decades.

The Mars 2117 Project also aims to prepare an Emiratis scientists team and to develop an international scientific consortium to speed up the research project, the website explains. “The project will start with an Emiratis scientific team and will be extended to include international scientists and researchers, in addition to streamline the human efforts in term of exploring and settlement of the red planet.”

Lifestyle on Mars

The initiative also focuses on developing faster means of transportation to and from the Red Planet, along with integrating the scientific visualization the settlement itself, and how life will be sustained there in terms of such items as food, transportation and energy supplies.

Hope Mars orbiter.
Credit: UAE Space Agency

Earlier, the website adds, an Emirati team of engineers, along with a group of scientists and researchers, have sketched out the first human city on Mars, one that would be built by robots. The plan showcased during the recently held summit highlighted the expected lifestyle on Mars in terms of transport, power production and providing food, as well as materials used for the construction of the city.

Hope orbiter

Meanwhile, UAE engineers are at work on building the “Hope” Mars orbiter. It is the Arab world’s and Muslim nation’s first spacecraft to the Red Planet in a scientific exploration mission to be lofted in 2020 via Japan’s H-2A booster.

Credit: UAE Space Agency

Hope would arrive at Mars in 2021 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the founding of the UAE. The orbiter’s science task is to search for connections between current weather and the planet’s ancient climate.

Orbital operations of the craft are to start mid-2021. Its primary science operations duration is two years, with a potential extended mission of two further years.

At the recent two-day Global Space Congress in Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE, Hope is on track and on time, said Mohammed Al Ahbabi, director general of UAE Space Agency.

Go to this CCTV-Plus interview recorded during the UAE Global Space Congress:


There are indications of U.S. President Donald Trump shaping his space policy agenda.

Among those agenda items:

— His policies will be aimed at human exploration of the solar system.

— His policies will make NASA’s prime mission to reach beyond low earth orbit.

— He will turn over non-military and intelligence activities in low earth orbit (LEO) exclusively to the commercial sector.

— He intends to use private-public partnerships to expand the resources available to do space exploration and create space investment.



Taking the beachhead


That’s the view of Robert S. Walker, former Chairman of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, U.S. House of Representatives.

Walker was a Senior Space Policy Advisor to the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, served as an outside advisor to the Trump transition team, and currently provides outside advice to the administration’s beachhead teams working on civil, commercial, and space policy.

Walker expressed his space thoughts on The Cipher Brief, a digital, security-based conversation platform that connects the private sector with the world’s leading security experts.




For Walker’s space posting brief, go to:

Unlocking the Mysteries of Space—Trump Space Policy