Archive for January, 2023

Curiosity Left Navigation Camera took this image on Sol 3724. Image shows the rock, “Cacao” and the shadow of the unstowed arm in the afternoon light. Is it a meteorite?
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is wheeling about finding and photographing some interesting features, including “foreign stones,” reports Ashley Stroupe, a mission operations engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

A recent photo taken by the robot shows a rock about which Mars researchers are intrigued.

The rock Curiosity parked in front of is one of several very dark-colored blocks in this area which seem to have come from elsewhere, and are dubbed “foreign stones.”

“Our investigations will help determine if this is a block from elsewhere on Mars that just has been weathered in an interesting way or if it is a meteorite,” Stroupe notes.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image taken on Sol 3724, January 27,2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Mast Camera Right image taken on Sol 3724, Janaury 27, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Meanwhile, Curiosity is taking a look at some other interesting terrain, as well as a look up into the sky of Mars to scan wispy clouds floating by.

At the moment, the Curiosity Mars rover is now ending Sol 3728 tasks.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 3728, January 31, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 3728, January 31, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Image credit: NASA

Taking a whiz on Mars, it’s a must-do for future Red Planet crews.

But doing so turns out to be good for on-the-spot cultivation of food to help sustain the extraterrestrial experience.

A new study suggests the possibility of using a blend of astronaut urine and Mars regolith to grow cyanobacterium called Synechococcus nidulans.

“We chose to investigate Synechococcus nidulans because it is an extremophile cyanobacterium capable of adapting to extreme environments such [as] the ones taking place on Mars,” explains Alessandro Concas of the Department of Mechanical, Chemical and Materials Engineering at the University of Cagliari in Italy.

Concas is lead author of a paper – “Modeling and experimental assessment of Synechococcus nidulans cultivation using simulated Martian medium and astronauts’ urine” – set to appear in the journal, Acta Astronautica.

Planting life on Mars – future “Martians” set up habitats on the Red Planet.
Credit: NASA

Potential food source

Concas and colleagues report that, while efforts are being made to develop novel techniques to cultivate microalgae on Mars, “further research activity is needed to verify the possibility to use microalgae and cyanobacteria as potential food source” in the framework of human expeditions to Mars that rely on in-situ (living off the land) resource utilization (ISRU) technologies.

The research paper explains that, while urine could supply macronutrients such as phosphates and ammonium, “regolith leachate” could provide relevant micronutrients and in particular iron which is known to strongly affect the growth microalgae and cyanobacteria.

Nutritional characteristics

The investigators also make note of the nutritional characteristics of the biomass produced using the selected growth media were investigated for the first time.

“The experimental results have been interpreted by a mathematical model that allows the identification of the set of operating conditions to maximize the biomass, and thus food productivity,” the research team explains.

Starships on Mars.
Credit: SpaceX

The team investigated the capability of the autotrophic strain Chrococcidiopsis sp. CCMEE 029 to tolerate perchlorate salts that are typically found top-side on the Red Planet.

Edible biomass

The results of the research show that the growth of this strain was not affected by Mars-relevant concentrations of Magnesium (Mg) or Calcium (Ca) perchlorate, thus demonstrating that Chrococidiopsis is a good candidate for bio-ISRU contexts on Mars.

According to Concas and collaborators, the results of this activity provide a first assessment on the possibility of growing this strain within a pressurized and heated dome on Mars to produce edible biomass and photosynthetic oxygen.

The growth of microalgae as food for astronauts is one of the main challenges ahead to support humans on Mars.

“The possibility of cultivating the cyanobacterium Synechococcus nidulans in a medium consisting of a mixture of simulated regolith leachate and astronauts’ urine, called Martian Medium, is investigated with the aim of reducing the payload deriving from nutrients to bring from Earth,” the paper notes.

UAP have been reported by Navy pilots unlike anything they have ever witnessed.
Image credit: Enigma Labs/Lt. Cmdr. Alex Dietrich

The coming year will surely see a persistence of debate, discussion and disbelief regarding anonymous airborne occurrences.

Today they are branded as Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon (UAP). But perhaps UAP is an off-shoot of “flying saucers” from afar, and once identified will satisfy those hungry for a governmental confession that over the decades Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) have assaulted our atmospheric, as well as mental airspace.

Image credit: Scientific Coalition for UAP Studies

Enigma Labs is offering a new public platform for sighting reports of unidentified aerial objects.
Image credit: Enigma Labs

Whatever is at play here, organizations are taking close encounters with weirdness seriously.

2023: Year of the “big reveal“?

What confidently looms ahead is an entire year of UAP and UFO banter. Could 2023 become the year of the great reveal, the “truth” that Earth is on the receiving end of full-body contact with other star folk?

Conversely, will it be one more calendar of time that adds up to a nothing burger and confusing brouhaha?

Go to my new story – “Unidentified aerial annoyance: Full disclosure or dubious nonsense? – Whatever is at play here, organizations are taking close encounters with weirdness seriously” – at:

Artwork of Ingenuity Mars helicopter.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech



NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter that’s overflying Jezero Crater on behalf of the space agency’s Perseverance rover produced several color images during its 41st flight on January 27th.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech






The mini-chopper acquired these images using its high-resolution color camera, mounted in the helicopter’s fuselage and pointed approximately 22 degrees below the horizon.

The final stats of Flight 41, as posted by JPL:

Horizontal distance: roughly 600 feet (183 meters);

Maximum altitude: roughly 33 feet (10 meters);

Maximum ground speed: roughly 6.7 miles per hour (3 meters per second);

Duration of flight: 109.1 seconds.

Space Vault #1
Image credit: Leonard & Barbara David


For more than six decades of reporting on and assessing global space activities I have amassed loads of paper, reports/documents, books, photos, and countless tape recordings of space experts (some now long-gone) – never mind years of swag that I have accumulated.

Wernher von Braun signed recording.
Image credit: Leonard & Barbara David

Signed von Braun recording.
Image credit: Leonard & Barbara David

This combined “collected works” now resides within a home office, but for the most part is parked within two large storage facilities that are packed and stacked!

Recently, I have begun the dreaded (but fun!) task of sorting through hundreds of boxes. It’s an onerous chore, a dusty, deep-dive into space history…right up to today.

All that said, and as a 1946 graduate of life, I am now engaged in organizing this compilation.

But wait a minute!

How many out there have taken on a similar task of treasure trove hunting and gathering?

Any ideas welcomed!

Image credit: Leonard & Barbara David

Image credit: Leonard & Barbara David

Image credit: Leonard & Barbara David

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


New Imagery: Flight 41 from Ingenuity Mars Helicopter: NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter acquired these images using its navigation camera mounted in the helicopter’s fuselage and pointed directly downward to track the ground during flight.

This select set of Images were acquired on Jan. 27, 2023:

Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Pre-flight: 41 Stats via NASA/JPL-Caltech

Flight date: No earlier than 01/25/2023

Horizontal flight distance (nominal, w/ max divert): 587 feet (179 meters)

Flight time: 103.57 seconds

Flight altitude: 33 feet (10 meters)

Heading: Out to North West and return

Flight speed: 6.7 mph (3 meters per second)

Goal of flight: Scouting




Perseverance rover images show a gust of wind sweeping dust across the Martian plain beyond the rover’s tracks on June 18, 2021.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Serving as the exploration zone for NASA’s Perseverance rover is Jezero Crater. It turns out to be a site for swirls of dust…so much so that one device has been damaged on the rover by two passing dust devils.

The rover’s Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer is known as MEDA. It produces weather measurements such as wind speed and direction, temperature and humidity, and also gauges the amount and size of dust particles in the Martian atmosphere. The instrument suite was developed and provided by the Spanish Astrobiology Center at the Spanish National Research Council in Madrid, Spain.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Dust devils on Mars are whirlwinds of warm air with winds strong enough to lift dust, and they are abundant on Mars, where they are one of the elements that bring dust to the atmosphere.

Since its landing in February 2020, Perseverance has observed a plethora of dust devils via its MEDA instrument. Word is that a couple of dust devils damaged part of the hardware of the wind sensors of MEDA.

Wind Sensors (a) Image of WS2 on sol 339. (b) Detail of one of the boards of
WS1 on sol 339 showing the thin filament possibly damaged in the boards of WS2. (c) MEDA
data for the DD on sol 313. Wind data from WS2 was unavailable after the vortex produced its
peak pressure drop. Note the shift between pressure and RDS Top 7 data and the failure of WS2
at the time the dust content increases (d) MEDA data for the DD on sol 413. Yellow lines on (c)
and (d) indicate the moment when the failure in one of the WS boards occurred.
Image credit: Ricardo Hueso, et al.

A new paper – “Convective vortices and dust devils detected and characterized by Mars 2020” – details the wicked winds of Mars, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

High abundance of events

“Results for more than 400 Martian days from spring to autumn indicate a high abundance of events with small seasonal variability,” reports the paper, led by Ricardo Hueso of Física Aplicada, Escuela de Ingeniería de Bilbao, Universidad del País Vasco in Bilbao, Spain.

“Terrains with lower thermal inertia warming more efficiently at noon favor the appearance of dust devils. We also found an increased dust devil activity during a short dust storm that covered the region,” Hueso and colleagues note.

Large vortices with diameters of over 300 feet (100 meters) form frequently enough to dominate dust lifting at Jezero. Thanks to MEDA data, three dust devils that size were detected passing within less of 100 feet (30 meters) of the rover.

Intense vortices can put at risk surface hardware on Mars, as evidenced by the MEDA experience. The instrument has two booms. Two dust devils were responsible for damaging part of the hardware of the MEDA wind sensors. These sensors contain fragile elements such as sub-millimeter-wide conducting filaments exposed to the Martian atmosphere.

MEDA location. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Different seasons, different terrains

Since dust devils – DDs for short — are common features over most of the surface of Mars, new missions may have to take into account the risks of impacts by speedy sand particles or granules.

“Convective vortices in Jezero seem to be able to raise dust much more efficiently than in locations such as Elysium and Gale crater,” the research paper explains. That’s where NASA’s InSight Mars lander and the Curiosity rover have found no dust lifting activity (InSight), or very low dust lifting activity (Curiosity).

Image credit: NASA

The swirling dust lifting activity at Jezero is probably smaller than the dust lifting at Gusev crater observed by Spirit, but in most of these missions observations over different Martian Years have found strong differences.

“Thus, new observations by Perseverance over different seasons and terrains, exploring properties such as surface roughness and particle size and cohesion from surface images, will help to understand the characteristics that make Jezero so active in developing DDs within its rich population of convective vortices,” the paper concludes.

For access to “Convective vortices and dust devils detected and characterized by Mars 2020,” go to:

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3723, January 26, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is now performing Sol 3724 duties.

Susanne Schwenzer, a planetary geologist at The Open University; Milton Keynes, U.K., reports that recent planning started with a discussion where the robot should drive next.


Triple junction

“We had spotted features in the distance, including a triple junction of rock layers, and are now aiming for those, and for a large, dark rock just before that,” Schwenzer explains. “Carefully surveying each image for features that look different allows us to spot the unknown, the new, and the change, and then put all our instruments to work to understand what we see.”

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3723, January 26, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 3723, January 26, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Schwenzer adds that, piece by piece, the picture of the geology of Gale crater grows and with it our understanding of Mars as a planet. “The triple junction is especially important, as it is expected to allow us to see how the different rock layers are related to each other.”

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image taken on Sol 3723, January 26, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Dogs-eye view

Before the drive of Curiosity, Mars researchers will be busy at its current parking location with two Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) targets that will also be documented by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI): “El Descanso” and “Peters Mine.”

“MAHLI in addition performs a dogs-eye view to document sedimentary features on a target named ‘Semang Peak.’ All of those will add to the understanding of the chemistry and formation conditions of the differently textured rocks.”

Mastcam is to also document the various features around the rover and at a distance.

“There will be a mosaic to further look at the marker band feature,” Schwenzer notes. “Yes, that’s the rock that so far was too hard to drill, most recently as target Encanto.”

Laser strikes: Curiosity Chemistry & Camera Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) photo acquired on Sol 3723, January 26, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL




New parking lot location

Mastcam is also slated to document an area around target “Cacao” and “Telhiero,” as well as take single frame images of the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) targets “Mapiripana” and “Potaro.”

ChemCam is to also perform a long distance Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) inspection of target “Amapa.

”Atmospheric observations include a dust devil survey and horizon movie. The Curiosity Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) experiment is to take a passive measurement, allowing investigators to get a full set of data once more, including atmospheric measurements and water in the subsurface under the rover.

Meteorite? Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 3721, January 24, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


“Then the rover will drive off to Cacao, the large rock spotted at a distance, and upon arrival take a [Mars Descent Imager] (MARDI) image and a set of Navcam and Mastcam images that will allow understanding the new parking location for the planning in two days’ time,” Schwenzer concludes.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Left B image taken on Sol 3721, January 24, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is now performing Sol 3722 duties.

Despite giving it the “old college try,” Curiosity’s attempt to drill into the Marker Band at the “Encanto” site did not reach sampling depth, reports Sharon Wilson, a planetary geologist at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

“Because other rocks around the rover look similar to ‘Encanto’ and are likely also too hard to drill,” Wilson adds, “the Science Team decided to convert the plan to a ‘Touch and Go.’”

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 3721, January 24, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Up Mt. Sharp!

While the Science Team is disappointed to leave the Marker Band location without a sample, Curiosity will use the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), and the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) device to analyze the chemistry and texture of the shallow “Encanto” drill hole and tailings, targeting the intriguing light-toned material exposed in the wall of the drill hole, Wilson explains.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 3721, January 24, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“We may see another location in the Marker Band worth sampling in the near future, but even if we don’t,” Wilson notes, “there will certainly be many more exciting drilling opportunities to look forward to as Curiosity continues her climb up Mt. Sharp!”

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 3721, January 24, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera photo taken on Sol 3721, January 24, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Document the terrain

Wilson reports that, in addition to a drive of roughly 82 feet (25 meters) to the south on Sol 3721, Mastcam will take an image of the “Cacao” target to document the terrain in the direction that the rover is driving as well as a multispectral image of “Cana Dulce,” a dark-toned rock that is perched on the surface of the Marker Band.

Curiosity will round out the sol by observing the sky and looking for dust devils, Wilson concludes.

Coolant spraying instrument-assembly compartment of the Soyuz spacecraft.
Image credit: NASA

That human-rated Soyuz MS-23 that will fly uncrewed as a replacement craft for a compromised Soyuz now docked at the International Space Station has completed vacuum chamber testing.

The Soyuz MS-23 has also been tested for leaks and is now in a workplace for further pre-flight preparation, according to Russia’s Roscosmos in a Telegram posting.

Soyuz MS-23 in testing. Image credit: RSC Energia


Image credit: RSC Energia“In the coming days, specialists will check the functioning of the automatics of the combined propulsion system and the system of the descent executive bodies, will conduct control testing of the onboard digital computer complex and equipment of radio engineering systems, as well as refueling the lines of the ship’s thermal regime system with coolant,” the Roscosmos posting adds.



Coolant leak

It was a coolant leak in the Soyuz MS-22 last December that has created all the rush to checkout and fast track the launch of the Soyuz MS-23.

Due to a possible meteoroid strike, the vehicle’s radiator pipeline discharged into free space its coolant, putting to question the overall integrity and safety of the craft to return crew members back to Earth.

The hurried launch of a Soyuz-2.1a launch vehicle, topped by the unpiloted Soyuz MS-23, is slated for February 20, 2023.