Archive for December, 2017

Opportunity Front Hazcam photo taken on Sol 4941.
Credit: NASA/JPL

NASA’s veteran Mars rover, Opportunity, is continuing her winter exploration of “Perseverance Valley” on the west rim of Endeavour Crater. Next month is will celebrate 14 years of planet prowling.

The robot landed on the Red Planet on January 25, 2004. It has snapped over 223,760 images and wheeled over 28 miles (45 kilometers).

Sols past “warranty”: 4855.

Fork in the road

The rover is positioned upstream of a fork in the flow channels. The team is collecting imagery to decide which fork, the north fork or the south fork, to explore next. To support that decision, extensive imagery is being collected on almost every sol.

Traverse map.
Credit: NASA/JPL

On Sol 4941 (Dec. 17, 2017), the robotic arm was used to collect a Microscopic Imager (MI) mosaic of a surface target within the work volume of the arm. The Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) was then placed on that target.

With the upcoming holidays, the plan calls for the rover to remain in place for a period of time. This will allow multiple sols of APXS integration on this target.

Opportunity Mars rover is nearing 14 years of wheeling and dealing with Mars.
Credit: NASA/JPL


Twilight panorama

Late on Sol 4942 (Dec. 18, 2017), Opportunity collected a twilight panorama using the Panoramic Camera (Pancam) color stereo imager.

As of Sol 4942 (Dec. 18, 2017), the solar array energy production was 390 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.459 and a solar array dust factor of 0.622.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1910, December 20, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Now in Sol 1911, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is “back on familiar ground,” reports Abigail Fraeman, a planetary geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The robot is near the targets “Lismore” and “Leadhills” that it imaged back on sol 1905.

Curiosity Rear Hazcam Left B photo taken on Sol 1910, December 20, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Closer look

“We drove here to take a closer look at the transition between the blue-gray and red rocks in order to understand the geologic processes that may be responsible for this color change,” Fraeman explains. “Since we pulled up right alongside this transition, we were able to plan a monster, 180 frame Mastcam stereo mosaic that will cover the entire area with very high-resolution color information.”

Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1910, December 20, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Downlinking all of these frames from Mars to Earth may take some time, but there are opportunities to get big data downlinks from the rover during the upcoming holiday.

“I’m very much looking forward to spending the break,” Fraeman adds, “unwrapping the data bundles and seeing what’s there!”

Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1910, December 20, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Rim shots

In addition to the projected awesome mosaic, Curiosity will also carry out environmental science observations including an atmospheric tau measurement to monitor dust in the atmosphere, a Mastcam crater rim extinction observation, and a dust devil survey.

The plan calls for the robot to collect Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam), Mastcam, Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), and Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) closed cover data from targets named “Ben Loyal” and “Ben More.”

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1910, December 20, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Back to “Laphroaig”

“Because we’re coming up on a long holiday plan, we want to be extra careful that the MAHLI dust cover doesn’t unintentionally get left open during the long command uploading break, so we’re not opening it in today’s plan. After all this wraps up, we will drive back towards the target “Laphroaig” that we imaged on sol 1905 to do additional follow-up investigations of some interesting, small scale features,” Fraeman explains.

Curiosity Mastcam Left image acquired on Sol 1909, December 19, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Wet chemistry

A final note: terrific news from Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite investigators. Their first wet chemistry experiment on Mars ran successfully, Fraeman points out.

“Over the last few sols, the SAM team mixed some of the sample we’ve been carrying around since our investigation at Ogunquit Beach with special chemicals called “derivatization agents” that are designed to make certain molecules easier to detect,” Fraeman concludes. “I’m looking forward to hearing the results of their experiment once they complete their analyses!”





National Geographic’s online shop has lots of holiday discount specials, including my book, MARS: OUR FUTURE ON THE RED PLANET.

Also, stay tuned in 2018 for season 2 of Mars on the National Geographic channel.


For a sneak peek at all things Mars that requires further investigation and consideration, go to:

Or try this link –

and search for the book – “Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet”

As I post this, it’s selling for $21 on their site, rather than the cover price of $30. That’s about the same price as on – or support your local book store who might have specials too.

Thanks for your inquires and interest!
~ Leonard David

Curiosity Mastcam Left photo acquired on Sol 1907, December 17, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Now in Sol 1909 operations, the NASA Curiosity Mars rover continues its survey of the Vera Rubin Ridge.

Reports Lauren Edgar, a planetary geologist at the USGS in Flagstaff, Arizona, there’s been an important decision about where to drive the robot and how that will set up researchers for exciting science over the holidays.

“After much discussion, the team decided to return to some familiar yet intriguing rocks that we explored last week,” Edgar notes. “These rocks show a lot of color variations and alteration features, and we’re curious how they fit in the overall stratigraphy at Vera Rubin Ridge.”

Wet chemistry

The other main event in Curiosity planning is a Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) wet chemistry experiment on the previously collected Ogunquit Beach sample.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B photo taken on Sol 1908, December 18, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“This is a very power hungry activity, so we had to keep our other remote sensing activities in check. The team planned two Mastcam mosaics to document the context of the site we’re driving back to, and to investigate similar color variations in an outcrop to the southeast,” Edgar explains.

Terrain documentation

After a busy night of SAM activities, Curiosity will spend the second sol driving back toward an area named “Lismore.”

Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 1907, December 17, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

During the drive, the rover a number of Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) images to document the terrain beneath the rover, and typical post-drive Navcam and Mastcam mosaics will be taken to prepare for targeting on Wednesday.

In the afternoon, Curiosity will acquire two Navcam movies to monitor the atmosphere and search for clouds.

“I’m looking forward to seeing some familiar rocks,” Edgar concludes, “and preparing for the long holiday plan!”

Courtesy: To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science

In the high-degree of strangeness department, the New York TimesPolitico and the Washington Post have posted stories on a secret UFO program run by the Department of Defense, who worked with Bigelow Aerospace.

Go to:

The Pentagon’s Secret Search for UFOs

Funded at the request of Harry Reid, the program probed a number of encounters military pilots had with aircraft they believed didn’t operate like anything they had seen before.


Go to:

Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program

Courtesy: To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science




Go to Washington Post story:

Head of Pentagon’s secret ‘UFO’ office sought to make evidence public

Also, go to:

To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science website that discusses GIMBAL, the first of three US military videos of unidentified aerial phenomenon (UAP) that has been through the official declassification review process of the United States government and has been approved for public release.

Video credit: NASA

Peer over the shoulders of Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers as they build hardware for NASA’s Mars 2020 mega-rover mission.
This 360 video transports you to the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Engineer Emily Howard narrates as you walk around the hardware that is intended to softly plant the Mars 2020 robot on the Red Planet.

Note: Not all browsers support viewing 360 videos. YouTube supports their playback on computers using Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Opera browsers. Use the YouTube app to view it on a smart phone. For this impressive 360 video, go to:

Curosity Mastcam Right image taken on Sol 1903, December 13, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


Now in Sol 1906, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is prowling around Vera Rubin Ridge, soaking in the vista in various directions.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

A new Curiosity’s traverse map through Sol 1905 has been issued by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 1905 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars as of December 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 1903 to Sol 1905, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 45.38 feet (13.83 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 11.13 miles (17.90 kilometers).

Curiosity landed on Mars in August of 2012.

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

Meanwhile, here’s a sampling of new imagery from the robot on Mars:

Curosity Mastcam Right image acquired on Sol 1903, December 13, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Navcam Left B photo acquired on Sol 1905, December 15, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Curiosity Navcam Left B photo acquired on Sol 1905, December 15, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Rear Hazcam Right B image taken on Sol 1905, December 15, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Credit: National Academies

A new report, Recapturing a Future for Space Exploration: Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era, highlights the critical need for space life and physical sciences research both for enabling and expanding the exploration capabilities of NASA as well as for contributing unique science in many fields that can be enabled by microgravity.

The report assesses the progress made by NASA so far, and also lays out exploration-related science areas of highest importance that should be addressed in the remaining half of the decade.

ISS: undefined future

While the international partners have all committed to funding their International Space Station (ISS) partnerships through 2024, the strategy for ISS in the post-2024 timeframe is undefined.

The report recommends that NASA should develop this strategy for the ISS or other orbital platforms for research as soon as possible in order to provide a basis for planning and prioritization.

To view this new midterm assessment report by the National Academies (Free Download), go to:

Credit: Blue Origin/Screen Grab

Chief rocketeer for Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos, has released a full video of Mannequin Skywalker’s ride to space, from liftoff to landing.

“Unlike him, you’ll be able to get out of your seat during the zero gee part of the flight. And ignore the pinging sound – it’s just from one of the experiments on this flight,” Bezos tweeted.

Large windows

Onboard camera view of the mannequin sent to space comes from inside Blue Origin’s Crew Capsule 2.0 – a vehicle that has the largest windows in space, the company states. The impressive video also includes sound from inside the vessel.

Blue Origin launched the capsule atop its New Shepard for the 7th time and for the first time in 2017.

The last launch of the rocket (booster / capsule configuration) was in 2016.

Credit: Blue Origin

Weightless somersaults

Designated as M7 (Mission 7), the recent flight took place on December 12, 2017 and featured the next-generation booster and the Crew Capsule 2.0’s on its maiden flight.

The New Shepard reusable rocket was also carrying 12 commercial, research and education payloads with the booster reaching an altitude of 325,000 feet (99 kilometers) while the Crew Capsule 2.0 reached an apogee of 326,000 feet (98 kilometers).

Nearing touchdown….
Credit: Blue Origin/Screen Grab


Blue Origin is testing the capsule and booster to support suborbital space tourism. The New Shepard capsule’s interior offers over 10 times the room Alan Shepard had on his Mercury flight in May 1961. It seats six astronauts and is large enough for you to float freely and turn weightless somersaults.

Credit: Blue Origin/Screen Grab









To watch the video, go to:


U.S. President Donald Trump holds up the Space Policy Directive – 1 after signing it, directing NASA to return to the Moon, alongside members of the Senate, Congress, NASA, and commercial space companies in the Roosevelt room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Dec. 11, 2017.
Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani


An assessment of U.S. President Trump’s new Space Policy Directive-1 has been issued by Steven Aftergood in his Secrecy News report published by the Federation of American Scientists.

“President Trump created an entire new category of presidential directives to present his guidance for the U.S. space program,” Aftergood notes.

Trump’s new Space Policy Directive 1 was signed on December 11 and published in the Federal Register today.

Moon swoon

President Donald Trump is sending astronauts back to the Moon, proclaimed an enthused NASA public affairs in a news release.

“But the directive itself does no such thing. Instead, it makes modest editorial adjustments to the 2010 National Space Policy that was issued by President Obama and adopted in Presidential Decision Directive 4,” Aftergood adds.

Obama’s policy had stated:

“Set far-reaching exploration milestones. By 2025, begin crewed missions beyond the moon, including sending humans to an asteroid. By the mid-2030s, send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth.”

President Barack Obama delivers a speech at the Operations and Checkout Building at NASA Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Thursday, April 15, 2010. Obama visited Kennedy Space Center to deliver remarks on a new course the Administration is charting for NASA and the future of U.S. leadership in human space flight.
Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Deletion, replacement

“Trump’s new SPD-1 orders the deletion and replacement of that one paragraph,” Aftergood advises, with the following text:

“Lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities. Beginning with missions beyond low-Earth orbit, the United States will lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations.”

Earth’s Moon as seen from the International Space Station taken by ESA British astronaut, Tim Peake.
Credit: NASA/ESA

New resources?

At a White House signing ceremony on December 11, President Trump said that “This directive will ensure America’s space program once again leads and inspires all of humanity.”

But it’s hard to see how that could be so, Aftergood explains. “The Trump directive does not (and cannot) allocate any new resources to support a return to the Moon, and it does not modify existing authorities or current legislative proposals,” he notes.


Aftergood concludes: “Interestingly, it also does not modify the many other provisions of Obama’s 14-page space policy, including requirements ‘to enhance U.S. global climate change research’ and ‘climate monitoring.’ Unless and until they are modified or revoked, those provisions remain in effect.”

For a space trip down memory lane, go to the U.S. Space Policy from June 2010 as scripted by the Obama administration at: