Archive for August, 2022

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity took 31 images in Gale Crater using its mast-mounted Right Navigation Camera (Navcam) to create this mosaic. Curiosity took the images on August 28, 2022, Sol 3576.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is now performing Sol 3579 duties.

It is a whole new world reports Elena Amador-French, Science Operations Coordinator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

After a successful weekend drive of 43 feet (13 meters), Curiosity finds itself in the middle of “Marker Band” valley.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3578, August 30, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Dramatic change

“The underlaying bedrock has changed dramatically over the last week, from dark and nodular to light-toned and relatively smooth,” Amador-French adds. “This area has been of interest to the science team since Gale crater was first selected as the landing site, 10 years in the making!”

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B photo acquired on Sol 3578, August 30, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The orbital mineralogical information suggests the presence of Magnesium sulfate (Mg-sulfate) bearing rocks in this area.

A newly scripted two sol plan (Sols 3578-3579) provides scientists their first opportunity to measure the dust-free chemical composition of this new type of bedrock with the rover’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) instrument, the team chose the target “Micobie.”

Local context

In addition to Micobie, the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) will image “Jacamim,” another bedrock target.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo taken on Sol 3578, August 30, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo taken on Sol 3578, August 30, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Also on the plan is using the Chemistry and Camera Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) on the bedrock target Jacamim.

“These measurements will help place our orbital measurements into local context and help us piece together the story of how the chemical composition of Mt. Sharp has changed over its history,” Amador-French points out. “Beyond studying the local bedrock, we are taking advantage of the fantastic 360 degree view around us to image exposures of the marker band on top and west of the ‘Bolivar’ butte, as well as the stratigraphy expressed on the ‘Orinoco’ and ‘Kulenan’ buttes using Mastcam and ChemCam.”

The plan calls for continuing the regular cadence of environmental monitoring measurements.

“Our drive will take us another 14 or so meters into Marker Band valley as we investigate how the orbital indicator of Mg-sulfate is expressed in the bedrock at the rover scale over the next week,” Amador-French concludes.

Curiosity’s location as of Sol 3576. Distance driven at that sol:17.79 miles/28.64 kilometers.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is now performing Sol 3578 duties.

Keri Bean, Rover Planner Deputy Team Lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, reports that the robot has approached an area with different type of rocks.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3577, August 29, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The plan for Sol 3575 called for a big block of science activities.

First was a Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) activity on “Nova Estrela” which scientists will later look at with the robotic arm, followed by a ChemCam mosaic in the distance.

Then Mastcam was slated to take pictures of Nova Estrela, “Candado”, some of the recent rover tracks, some scouting images for a potential drill location nearby, and some of the Orinoco butte nearby, Bean adds.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 3576, August 28, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Atmospheric monitoring

“Finally, that block of science observations will end with an atmospheric monitoring activity, Bean notes. “After that the rover will take a short nap, and mid-afternoon wake up to take a Mastcam sky observation. We’ll take another nap before beginning the robotic arm activities in the late afternoon.”

As the arm Rover Planner, Bean was responsible for the arm commanding. “We are taking a look at three targets with the arm.”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3577, August 29, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

First, Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photos of the “Los Rosos” target and a 1.8 centimeter offset of it, then some MAHLIs of Nova Estrela, then finally some MAHLIs of “Enamuna” before placing the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) down on Los Rosos for an APXS measurement.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3577, August 29, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On the move

“Later in the Martian evening we’ll re-place APXS on the Los Rosos offset target to get a slightly different measurement. Later in the night we’ll stow the arm to prepare for the drive on the next sol,” Bean reports.

On sol 3576, the plan was to begin with a Mastcam of Bolivar, a ChemCam observation of Enamuna and a ChemCam mosaic, before following up with a Mastcam of Enamuna.

After that, Curiosity was to drive about 40 feet (12 meters) to a rock for robotic arm work in the next plan. After the drive, the plan called for use of the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) active activity.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3577, August 29, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Midday science

For the third sol of the plan, Sol 3577, there was to be a midday science observation set with ChemCam autonomously selecting a target and a slew of Navcam atmospheric observations.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3577, August 29, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

After a long nap, the rover was to take a single Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) image along with a cosmic ray survey.

Overnight there was scheduled use of the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) to make an atmospheric observation.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3577, August 29, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Curiosity will awake quite early in the morning of sol 3578 to do a Navcam pre-dawn cloud survey and slightly later in the morning another block of Navcam and Mastcam atmospheric observations,” Bean adds.

Also on tap, a lot of passive DAN measurements and background Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) and Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) observations, Bean concludes.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s Shenzhou-14 crew is engaged in a plant cultivation experiment onboard the country’s in-construction space station.

The plants cultivated in the Wentian lab module are growing well, said the Chinese Academy of Sciences on Monday. The goal of the plant cultivation experiment is to study the whole life cycle of rice in space, and explore possible ways to use space environmental factors to control plant flowering to maximize plant productivity in a relatively small sealed space.

Current configuration of China’s in-construction space station.
Credit: China National Space Administration (CNSA)/China Media Group(CMG)/China Central Television (CCTV)/Inside Outer Space screengrab

According to China Central Television (CCTV) the plant cultivation experiment was launched on July 29. The trios of taikonauts — Chen Dong, and Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe – take care of seeds of arabidopsis thaliana and rice, which later successfully germinated.

The arabidopsis seedlings now have grown four leaves, the tall rice seedlings have grown to about 14 centimeters high, and the dwarf rice is 4-5 centimeters high and in good condition.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab


Sample harvesting

“The preliminary plan is that around late September, the taikonauts will collect the plant samples for the first time, which means a harvest of the samples before the Shenzhou-14 crew returns to earth,” said Zhao Liping, a leading designer of the Wentian lab module.

Zhao told CCTV that the plant samples will be handled and reserved in rigorous environment, so that scientists can conduct further research on them.

“As for the experiment on plants launched with the cabin, once the plants are collected, they will be handled in the glove box by the taikonauts, before they are placed in a temperature zone of minus 80 degrees Celsius. Then the seeds will be collected by the taikonauts, and placed in a temperature zone of four degrees Celsius, and the taikonauts will put them in a cold pack with passive life protection before returning to earth, so that the scientists can conduct more in-depth studies,” said Zhao.

For a video on the space plant experiment, go to:

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab


China’s Shenzhou-14 crew — Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe — are preparing for their first spacewalk duties. Activities including physical trainings and spacesuit inspections in the airlock cabin of the Wentian lab module which will become the main exit-entry point for extravehicular activities.

Shenzhou-14 crew enters new lab module. Credit: China National Space Administration (CNSA)/China Media Group(CMG)/China Central Television (CCTV)/Inside Outer Space screengrab

According to China Central Television (CCTV) the preparatory work includes regular inspection of spacesuits to ensure safety and smooth operation of extravehicular activities.

The new-generation spacesuits named Feitian (meaning flying to space) have been worn on 4 spacewalks by crew members of Shenzhou-12 and Shenzhou-13.

These spacewalking suits are now placed in Wentian lab module’s airlock cabin waiting for the next mission.

Current configuration of China’s in-construction space station.
Credit: China National Space Administration (CNSA)/China Media Group(CMG)/China Central Television (CCTV)/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Multi-element space station

China launched Wentian, the first lab module of its space station Tiangong, on July 24. The second lab module Mengtian is set to be launched in October.

The Tianhe core module was launched in April 2021.

The construction of the Tiangong space station is expected to be completed by year’s end.

Go to video at:

Meteor Crater in Winslow, Arizona.
Credit: Dale Nations, Northern Arizona University/Arizona Geological Survey


That huge, bowl-shaped Meteor Crater in Arizona that was formed some 50,000 years ago continues to yield new information, surprisingly so. In addition, it is a go-to spot for preparing Artemis crews how to explore the moon – as that place once did to train Apollo astronauts for lunar duties in the 1960s.

Astrogeologist Gene Shoemaker at Meteor Crater with Apollo astronauts during field trip in May 1967.
Credit: NASA


Research payoffs from the out-of-this-world Meteor Crater is ongoing said David Kring, principal scientist at the Universities Space Research Association’s Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas. He has carried out field training and research at the Winslow, Arizona site for a decade.

For more information on Meteor Crater and the on-going research at that impact site, go to my new story – “Meteor crater: The hole from space that keeps on giving – Research payoffs from the out-of-this-world Meteor Crater are ongoing” at:

Credit: Blue Origin

Blue Origin has announced that on August 31, the New Shepard suborbital vehicle will fly its 23rd mission. This flight will not include human passengers.

It will be a dedicated payloads flight, packed with 36 payloads from academia, research institutions, and students across the globe.

The launch window opens at 8:30 AM CDT / 13:30 UTC from Launch Site One in West Texas.

This mission brings the total number of commercial payloads flown on the vehicle to more than 150.

Two of the payloads will fly on the exterior of the New Shepard booster for ambient exposure to the space environment. Eighteen of the payloads on this flight are funded by NASA, primarily by the space agency’s Flight Opportunities program.

This will be the fourth flight for the New Shepard program this year, the first dedicated payload flight since New Shepard (NS-17) in August 2021, and the ninth flight for this vehicle, which is dedicated to flying science and research payloads to space.

To date, the New Shepard program has flown 31 humans to space.

For details on the flight, go to:

A “State of the Space Industrial Base” report flags a number of concerns, particularly that strategic competition in space remains a paramount worry.

“China continues to compete toward a strategic goal of displacing the U.S. as the dominant global space power economically, diplomatically and militarily by 2045, if not earlier,” the report stresses.

The summary report is based on workshop meetings and has been written by officials of the United States Space Force, the Defense Innovation Unit, the Department of the Air Force and Air Force Research Laboratory.

North Star vision

The report represents the collective voice of approximately 350 industry experts who gathered between May 25 and June 3, 2022 to provide inputs and recommendations on how best to nurture and grow a healthy space industrial base and national security innovation base.

The report calls for proactive measures, such as:

An enduring North Star vision for America in space is an essential guidepost to remain competitive with a rapidly advancing China. Workshop participants recommend “Economic Development and Human Settlement” is a vision to retain U.S. economic leadership, a way to motivate the American people, and protect U.S. national interests.

Credit: NASA

Space ecosystem: at risk

In other findings, the report stresses that the space ecosystem is at risk.

The agile engineering ecosystem that has become the hallmark of the modern space era, the report notes, is at risk due to some U.S. policy and procurement practices within the bureaucracy that are not aligned with, or work counter to, national space strategy.

“The national enterprise must adopt and further implement the U.S. National Space Strategy and modify practices to ensure U.S. competitiveness.

In order to protect the planet, we must get off-planet, the report explains.

“Advancements in off-world power production, manufacturing and lunar resource extraction will be foundational to the trillion-dollar space economy.”

Go to this video: State of the Space Industrial Base 2022 at:

For the full report, go to:

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Has NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover uncovered a “biosignature” of life on Mars?

The wheeled robot investigator of Jezero Crater is gathering detailed data on desert varnish – a potential biosignature.

But is this coating enriched in manganese? If so, then that elevates the case that it is desert varnish…and may well be a potential biosignature, or does it?

“Yes, there are definitely features that look ‘desert varnish-y’ in Jezero right now,” said Amy Williams, a Mars specialist on the Curiosity and Perseverance rover missions at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida.

Signs of ancient life on Mars could be preserved in layered rocks like those shown in this illustration of NASA’s Perseverance rover in Jezero crater.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“On Earth, desert varnish is certainly intimately tied with microbial interactions. But we do know of some unique instances wherein these types of rock coatings can be generated abiotically [absence of life or living organisms]. The question then remains whether microbes ever played a role in the formation of similar rock coatings on Mars,” Williams said.

Sample return

“My take on the biogenicity part [produced by living organisms] is that on Earth we see microbiology associated with desert varnish because Earth is widely inhabited,” Williams told Inside Outer Space. “Based on our findings in terrestrial analog environments, we’re therefore interested in the biogenicity of desert varnish on Mars.”

Williams said, however, that Mars researchers don’t have the ability to determine biogenic character in these Mars varnishes. To do so will take back-on-Earth, lab-based techniques, she said. “But that’s the beauty of Mars Sample Return…we could send these samples back to Earth to address that profound question!”

Depiction shows Jezero Crater — the landing locale of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover — as it might have appeared billions of years ago when it was perhaps a life-sustaining lake. An inlet and outlet are also visible on either side of the lake.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Controversial, complicated question

So what Perseverance is snooping out at present is looking for an answer to a complicated question. 

On Earth, microbes appear to be involved in at least some, if not all, desert varnishes that we find. But that appraisal is still controversial in some people’s minds, notes astrobiologist Penelope Boston, Associate Director for Science Business Development at NASA Ames Research Center in the heart of Silicon Valley in California.

“There is a huge range of compositions in desert varnish, and indeed varnishes even in wetter environments, e.g. protruding boulders in some streams or rivers,” Boston told Inside Outer Space. “The diversity in the varnish makes it hard to make generalities about the phenomenon.”

Newly revised Mars Sample Return campaign makes use of a set of machines, including use of helicopters, to collect Martian soil, rock and atmospheric specimens for return to Earth.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Manganese components

Boston said that under Earth’s surface and near-surface conditions, the iron components of varnish don’t need the presence of microbes to drive the oxidation processes because it so easily oxidizes by itself, albeit microbes are usually present in samples that researchers have examined. 

“The situation with the manganese components is much more indicative of microbial interaction because chemically reduced forms of manganese do not oxidize anywhere near as easily as the iron,” Boston said. “However, a number of organisms have been shown to greatly facilitate the oxidation of manganese compounds, thus, Mn [manganese] could be a more indicative potential biosignature.”

Varnish compositions range from all iron to all manganese or somewhere in between, Boston advised. In addition, usually some sort of clays are present which could be either blown in materials deposited on the rock, or clay weathering products of the rock itself.  Then varnishes vary a great deal in terms of whether an amorphous glassy layer of silica is or is not present, she said.

Credit: NASA

“Lastly, many varnishes have lots of trace metals or other elements also present.  The presence of microorganisms on and partially within varnishes is tantalizing, and I believe them to be intimately involved with the geological processes that produce varnish, but of course, it is hard to definitively demonstrate that…and there are other nuances too,” Boston noted.

Look and see

Definitely, the varnish is an important feature on Mars, Boston added, one that Mars researchers have known to be present for a long time.

“Perseverance is giving us a close-up look at such materials.  Studying it in detail could yield a lot of information about surface climate to which these rocks have been exposed, either with or without biological influences,” Boston said.

Can we tell whether the varnish is bio or abio? 

“I don’t know. Would the biosignatures that we see in Earthly varnish be preserved after the much greater periods of time that the Martian varnish has endured?  I don’t know.  We can only look and see,” Boston concluded.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Adds planetary scientist at Ames, Carol Stoker, desert varnish on Earth is high in manganese. It is Mn that makes the coating dark. 

In another Mars location, NASA’s Curiosity rover has seen a lot of rocks with high Mn which were thought to be coatings, Stoker explains.

“Since Mn coatings are potentially biologically mediated, this should be a high priority rock for sample return,” Stoker said.

Bottom line: Thin dark coatings known as desert varnish are common on rocks in arid regions on Earth and they’re thought to form in part from microbial activity.  Now, on Mars, the Perseverance rover has found similar coatings.

For a short course on this issue, go to this episode of Mars Guy [aka Steve Ruff at ASU] at:

Curiosity’s location on Sol 3571. Distance driven to that sol: 17.76 miles/28.58 kilometers.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is now performing Sol 3572 duties.

“We are almost through Paraitepuy pass, an area between two large buttes that has made for tricky driving while dealing with communication challenges, sand and broken-up rocks,” reports Lucy Thompson, a planetary geologist at University of New Brunswick; Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image taken on Sol 3572, August 24, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“But the end is in sight as we near an area identified from orbit as probably containing hydrated magnesium sulfates, in contrast with the clay-bearing unit that we have been transitioning out of,” Thompson adds.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image taken on Sol 3572, August 24, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Broken-up bedrock

“Before we get there though, the team noticed that there is an area that appears quite different from what we have been driving over, and the upcoming, potentially sulfate-rich area. The broken-up bedrock is characterized by numerous, relatively large, resistant features,” Thompson points out.

Although researchers recently had these rocks in front of the rover, because of a low data volume downlink from the previous plan, they did not have the imaging necessary to safely place the arm and the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) instruments on the rocks.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3572, August 24, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Thompson, as the APXS strategic planner this week, advocated for trying to get APXS compositional data on these rocks before the robot drives away.

“We therefore prioritized driving in this plan to put us in a good position to do contact science on one of these interesting rocks in tomorrow’s plan. Given that these ‘nodule-rich’ rocks occur in the vicinity of the ‘sulfate-bearing’ area mapped from orbit, the team decided that it was important to fully characterize them,” Thompson reports. “They could provide insights into the processes that occurred in the rocks as we change from clay-bearing to sulfate-bearing.”

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3572, August 24, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Document textures

Although Mars researchers could not do contact science, they took full advantage of Curiosity’s remote sensing instruments to investigate the rocks immediately in front of the rover, as well as attempting to place them in context with outcrops exposed in the surrounding buttes.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 3572, August 24, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) was slated to acquire compositional data on an exposure of the nodular bedrock, “Isla Cangrejo,” which will also be imaged with Mastcam.

Mastcam images were to also be obtained of “Kulishiri,” “Jiboia,” and “Altana Creek” to further document textures.

Nodule rich material

Also in the plan is producing a Mastcam mosaic of a section of the Bolivar butte to look at possible exposures of the nodule rich material, and the relationship with underlying and overlying strata.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 3571, August 23, 2022.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

To fully document the terrain around and below us, a Mastcam starboard mosaic and Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) image were also planned.

Also busy, the environmental science team planned several observations to continue monitoring changes in atmospheric conditions. These included: a Navcam large dust devil survey and cosmic ray survey. Standard Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS), Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) activities round out this plan, Thompson concluded.

Group photo of the Galileo Project members during their first-year conference at the Harvard College Observatory on August 1–3, 2022.
Image credit: Andy Mead, courtesy Avi Loeb

The Galileo Project is the first systematic scientific research program in a search for artifacts or remnants of extraterrestrial technological civilizations.

Team members of the initiative held a conference on August 1–3 at the Harvard College Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts to make note of its first-year accomplishments and to chart plans for the year ahead.

Layout diagram of the all-sky Galileo Observatory for UAP on the roof of the Harvard College Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Image credit: Avi Loeb

One action item of note was the opening up of a rooftop set of instruments to look into the issue of Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon (UAP), also frequently characterized as Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs).

Avi Loeb details the Galileo Project effort.
Image credit: Matt Checkowski/Galileo Project archive




Heading the Galileo Project is noted astrophysicist Avi Loeb of Harvard University.

For details, go to my new story – “On the trail of unidentified aerial phenomenon: the Galileo Project looks ahead” – at: