Mars

NASA Considers Autonomous Martian Helicopter To Augment Future Rovers 78

Posted by timothy
from the imperial-probe-droid dept.
SternisheFan (2529412) writes with this story at the Verge about an approach being considered by NASA to overcome some of the difficulties in moving a wheeled or multi-legged ground vehicle around the surface of Mars, which has proven to be a difficult task. Rover teams still have a tough time with the Martian surface even though they're flush with terrestrial data. The alien surface is uneven, and ridges and valleys make navigating the terrain difficult. The newest solution proposed by JPL is the Mars Helicopter, an autonomous drone that could 'triple the distances that Mars rovers can drive in a Martian day,' according to NASA. The helicopter would fly ahead of a rover when its view is blocked and send Earth-bound engineers the right data to plan the rover's route.
Mars

Elon Musk's Proposed Internet-by-Satellite System Could Link With Mars Colonies 105

Posted by timothy
from the in-case-you're-on-mars dept.
MojoKid writes You have to hand it to Elon Musk, who has occasionally been referred to as a real life "Tony Stark." The man helped to co-found PayPal and Tesla Motors. Musk also helms SpaceX, which just recently made its fifth successful trip the International Space Station (ISS) to deliver supplies via the Dragon capsule. The secondary mission of the latest ISS launch resulted in the "successful failure" of the Falcon 9 rocket, which Musk described as a Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly (RUD) event. In addition to his Hyperloop transit side project, Musk is eyeing a space-based Internet network that would be comprised of hundred of micro satellites orbiting roughly 750 miles above Earth. The so-called "Space Internet" would provide faster data speeds than traditional communications satellites that have a geosynchronous orbit of roughly 22,000 miles. Musk hopes that the service will eventually grow to become "a giant global Internet service provider," reaching over three billion people who are currently either without Internet service or only have access to low-speed connections. And this wouldn't be a Musk venture without reaching for some overly ambitious goal. The satellite network would truly become a "Space Internet" platform, as it would form the basis for a direct communications link between Earth and Mars. It's the coming thing.
Mars

Lost Beagle2 Probe Found 'Intact' On Mars 130

Posted by Soulskill
from the so-close-and-yet-so-far dept.
New submitter Stolga sends this report from the BBC: The missing Mars robot Beagle2 has been found on the surface of the Red Planet, apparently intact. High-resolution images taken from orbit have identified its landing location, and it looks to be in one piece. The UK-led probe tried to make a soft touchdown on the dusty world on Christmas Day, 2003, using parachutes and airbags — but no radio contact was ever made with the probe. Many scientists assumed it had been destroyed in a high-velocity impact.

The new pictures, acquired by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, give the lie to that notion, and hint at what really happened to the European mission. Beagle's design incorporated a series of deployable "petals," on which were mounted its solar panels. From the images, it seems that this system did not unfurl fully. "Without full deployment, there is no way we could have communicated with it as the radio frequency antenna was under the solar panels," explained Prof Mark Sims, Beagle's mission manager from Leicester University.
NASA

NASA Update Will Deal With Opportunity Flash Memory "Amnesia" 52

Posted by samzenpus
from the patch-it-up dept.
BarbaraHudson writes Computerworld has some details on NASA's latest fix to allow the Opportunity Mars Rover to store data while in overnight "sleep mode." Opportunity has been suffering from a glitch that's causing what NASA scientists describe as memory and data loss — or robotic "amnesia" — caused by flash memory deterioration since early December. Currently any information gathered is stored temporarily in RAM and must be sent to Earth so it's not lost when Opportunity powers down.
Mars

Scientist Says Potential Signs of Ancient Life in Mars Rover Photos 142

Posted by samzenpus
from the did-you-see-that? dept.
mpicpp notes that a scientist named Nora Noffke says she thinks that the Curiosity rover may have found fossils on Mars. "Time and time again, as we carefully scrutinize the amazing high-resolution imagery flowing to Earth from NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, we see weird things etched in Martian rocks. Most of the time our brains are playing tricks on us. At other times, however, those familiar rocky features can be interpreted as processes that also occur on Earth. Now, in a paper published in the journal Astrobiology, a geobiologist has related structures photographed by Curiosity of Martian sedimentary rock with structures on Earth that are known to be created by microbial lifeforms."
NASA

Space Policy Guru John Logsdon Has Good News and Bad News On NASA Funding 78

Posted by samzenpus
from the can-you-spare-a-dime? dept.
MarkWhittington writes According to a story in Medium, Dr. John Logsdon, considered the dean of space policy, addressed a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle. The author of a book on President Kennedy's decision to go to the moon and an upcoming book on President Nixon's post-Apollo space policy decisions had some good news and some bad news about NASA funding. The good news is that funding for the space agency is not likely to be slashed below its current $18 billion a year. The bad news is that it is not likely to go up much beyond that. If Logsdon is correct, static NASA funding will mean that beyond low Earth orbit human space exploration will remain an unrealistic aspiration. American astronauts will not return to the moon, not to mention go to Mars, in the foreseeable future.
Medicine

Beware Headlines Saying Chocolate Is Good For You 224

Posted by Soulskill
from the if-wishes-were-horses dept.
BarbaraHudson writes: Many news organizations ran stories last fall extolling certain health benefits of chocolate. But it turns out the studies that the articles were based on didn't go quite so far. The CBC is running a pair of stories debunking chocolate's benefits to the average consumer: "Scientists have zeroed in on a family of fragile molecules known as cocoa flavanols. Research suggests they can relax blood vessels, improve blood flow and, as Small found in his study, even increase activity in a part of the brain involved with age related memory loss. But those flavanols largely disappear once the cocoa bean is heated, fermented and processed into chocolate. In other words, making chocolate destroys the very ingredient that is supposed to make it healthy.

That’s why Small’s memory study used a highly concentrated powder prepared exclusively for research by Mars Inc., the chocolate company, which also partially funded the study. ... There are lots of foods that contain potentially healthy flavanols, along with other bioactive compounds in complex combinations. So the question is: Would academic scientists in publicly funded institutions be so interested in the cocoa bean if the chocolate industry wasn't supporting so much of the research?"
Open Source

Slashdot Asks: The Beanies Return; Who Deserves Recognition for 2014? 299

Posted by timothy
from the for-contributions-and-general-awesomeness dept.
It's been a long time since Slashdot has awarded the Beanies -- nearly 15 years, in fact. But there's no time like the present, especially since tomorrow edges on the new year, and in early 2015 we'd like to offer a Beanie once again, to recognize and honor your favorite person, people (or project; keep reading) of the past year. Rather than a fine-grained list of categories like in 2000, though, this time around we're keeping it simple: we can always complicate things later, if warranted. So, please nominate below whoever you think most deserves kudos for the last twelve months. Is it ...

Read on below to see how you can take part, and then nominate your favorite in the comments below.

Mars

10 Years In, Mars Rover Opportunity Suffers From Flash Memory Degradation 105

Posted by timothy
from the over-engineered-is-correctly-engineered dept.
astroengine writes Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has been exploring the Martian surface for over a decade — that's an amazing ten years longer than the 3-month primary mission it began in January 2004. But with its great successes, inevitable age-related issues have surfaced and mission engineers are being challenged by an increasingly troubling bout of "amnesia" triggered by the rover's flash memory. "The problems started off fairly benign, but now they've become more serious — much like an illness, the symptoms were mild, but now with the progression of time things have become more serious," Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told Discovery News.
Mars

New Proposed Path for Manned Trips to Mars: Let Mars' Gravity Capture Spacecraft 105

Posted by timothy
from the very-sun-tzu dept.
As illustrated in this article at io9.com, the conventional method considered for launching a manned craft to Mars might make less sense, even if it takes less time, than a more complicated but more efficient means akin to a method that's been already been successfully used to minimize the amount of fuel used in exploring both within and beyond the solar system. Known as the "Hohmann Transfer" method, this type of maneuver is known to be effective. But it is also quite expensive and relies very heavily on timing. Hence why a new idea is being proposed which would involve sending the spacecraft out ahead of Mars' orbital path and then waiting for Mars to come on by and scoop it up. This is what is known as "Ballistic Capture", a new technique proposed by Professor Francesco Topputo of the Polytechnic Institute of Milan and Edward Belbruno, a visiting associated researcher at Princeton University and former member of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In their research paper, which was published in arXiv Astrophysics in late October, they outlined the benefits of this method versus traditional ones. In addition to cutting fuel costs, ballistic capture would also provide some flexibility when it comes to launch windows.
Space

5,200 Days Aboard ISS, and the Surprising Reason the Mission Is Still Worthwhile 219

Posted by timothy
from the it's-only-tax-money dept.
HughPickens.com writes Spaceflight has faded from American consciousness even as our performance in space has reached a new level of accomplishment. In the past decade, America has become a truly, permanently spacefaring nation. All day, every day, half a dozen men and women, including two Americans, are living and working in orbit, and have been since November 2000. Charles Fishman has a long, detailed article about life aboard the ISS in The Atlantic that is well worth the read; you are sure to learn something you didn't already know about earth's permanent outpost in space. Some excerpts:

"Life in space is so complicated that a lot of logistics have to be off-loaded to the ground if astronauts are to actually do anything substantive. Just building the schedule for the astronauts in orbit on the U.S. side of the station requires a full-time team of 50 staffers.

Almost anyone you talk with about the value of the Space Station eventually starts talking about Mars. When they do, it's clear that we don't yet have a very grown-up space program. The folks we send to space still don't have any real autonomy, because no one was imagining having to "practice" autonomy when the station was designed and built. On a trip to Mars, the distances are so great that a single voice or email exchange would involve a 30-minute round-trip. That one change, among the thousand others that going to Mars would require, would alter the whole dynamic of life in space. The astronauts would have to handle things themselves.

That could be the real value of the Space Station—to shift NASA's human exploration program from entirely Earth-controlled to more astronaut-directed, more autonomous. This is not a high priority now; it would be inconvenient, inefficient. But the station's value could be magnified greatly were NASA to develop a real ethic, and a real plan, for letting the people on the mission assume more responsibility for shaping and controlling it. If we have any greater ambitions for human exploration in space, that's as important as the technical challenges. Problems of fitness and food supply are solvable. The real question is what autonomy for space travelers would look like—and how Houston can best support it. Autonomy will not only shape the psychology and planning of the mission; it will shape the design of the spacecraft itself."
Moon

NASA Tests Feasibility of 3D Printing on the Moon and Other Planets 58

Posted by samzenpus
from the in-space-nobody-can-hear-you-print dept.
ErnieKey writes A major application of 3d printing that could revolutionize space travel would be using 3d printers to create structures on non-terrestrial bodies like the moon, other planets, and even asteroids. Researchers from NASA's Kennedy Space Center have been working to develop solutions to materials issues, and recently presented initial findings on the potential for using in-situ materials like basalt for 3D printing. Their innovative method is based on only using in-situ supplies, and not materials that need to be brought into space.
Space

NASA Study Proposes Airships, Cloud Cities For Venus Exploration 200

Posted by Soulskill
from the billy-dee-williams-volunteers-to-lead dept.
An anonymous reader writes: IEEE Spectrum reports on a study out of NASA exploring the idea that manned missions to Venus are possible if astronauts deploy and live in airships once they arrive. Since the atmospheric pressure at the surface is 92 times that of Earth, and the surface temperate is over 450 degrees C, the probes we've sent to Venus haven't lasted long. The Venera 8 probe sent back data for only 50 minutes after landing. Soviet missions in 1985 were able to get much more data — 46 hours worth — by suspending their probes from balloons. The new study refines that concept: "At 50 kilometers above its surface, Venus offers one atmosphere of pressure and only slightly lower gravity than Earth. Mars, in comparison, has a "sea level" atmospheric pressure of less than a hundredth of Earth's, and gravity just over a third Earth normal. The temperature at 50 km on Venus is around 75 C, which is a mere 17 degrees hotter than the highest temperature recorded on Earth.

The defining feature of these missions is the vehicle that will be doing the atmospheric exploring: a helium-filled, solar-powered airship. The robotic version would be 31 meters long (about half the size of the Goodyear blimp), while the crewed version would be nearly 130 meters long, or twice the size of a Boeing 747. The top of the airship would be covered with more than 1,000 square meters of solar panels, with a gondola slung underneath for instruments and, in the crewed version, a small habitat and the ascent vehicle that the astronauts would use to return to Venus's orbit, and home."
Mars

Curiosity Detects Mysterious Methane Spikes On Mars 68

Posted by Soulskill
from the and-still-hasn't-killed-any-cats dept.
astroengine writes: A gas strongly associated with life on Earth has been detected again in the Martian atmosphere, opening a new chapter in a decade-old mystery about the on-again, off-again appearance of methane on Mars. The latest discovery comes from NASA's Curiosity rover, which in addition to analyzing rocks and soil samples, is sniffing the air at its Gale Crater landing site. A year ago, scientists reported that Curiosity had come up empty-handed after an eight-month search for methane in the atmosphere, leaving earlier detections by ground-based telescopes and Mars-orbiting spacecraft an unexplained anomaly. "We thought we had closed the book on methane. It was disappointing to a lot of people that there wasn't significant methane on Mars, but that's where we were," Curiosity scientist Christopher Webster with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told Discovery News.
Mars

Mysterious Martian Gouges Carved By Sand-surfing Dry Ice 26

Posted by Soulskill
from the Iceman's-vacation-home dept.
sciencehabit writes: After the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter began beaming back close-up images of the Red Planet, researchers spotted peculiar features along the slopes of dunes: long, sharply defined grooves that seem to appear and disappear seasonally. They look like trails left behind by tumbling boulders, but rocks never appear in the sunken pits at the trail ends. Researchers initially took these gullies as signs of flowing liquid water, but a new model suggests they're the result of sand-surfing dry ice that breaks off from the crests of dunes and skids down slopes. This is no ordinary tumble — according to the model, the bases of the chunks are continually sublimating, resulting in a hovercraftlike motion that gouges the dune while propelling the ice down slopes.
China

China Plans Superheavy Rocket, Ups Reliability 86

Posted by Soulskill
from the fly-me-to-the-moon dept.
hackingbear writes: China is conducting preliminary research on a super-heavy launch vehicle that will be used in its manned missions to the moon. Liang Xiaohong, deputy head of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, disclosed that the Long March-9 is planned to have a maximum payload of 130 tons and its first launch will take place around 2028, comparable to U.S.'s SLS Block II in terms of capability and likely beating its schedule. The China National Space Administration has started preliminary research for the Mars exploration program and is persuading the government to include the project into the country's space agenda, according to Tian Yulong, secretary-general of the administration. Separately, China's Long March series of rockets completed its 200th flight on Dec 7. It took 37 years for the Long March series to complete their first 100 flights, but only 7 years for the second 100 flights. In addition, the programclaims (link in Chinese) a success rate of 98%, on par with E.U.'s and beating U.S.'s 97% and Russia's 93% success rates.
NASA

Curiosity's Mars Crater Was Once a Vast Lake 42

Posted by samzenpus
from the how's-the-fishing? dept.
astroengine writes The mountain that NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is exploring appears to have once been a lake, scientists said Monday. Mount Sharp, a three-mile-high mound of layered debris rising from the floor of Gale Crater, is believed to have formed billions of years ago, images posted on NASA's website ahead of conference call with reporters show. Sediments to create the mountain likely originated from the crater rim highlands and were transported toward the center of the crater in alluvial fans, deltas, and wind-blown drifts, scientists said. "During wet periods, water pooled in lakes where sediments settled out in the center of crater," NASA said. "Even during dry periods in the crater center, groundwater would have existed beneath the surface. Then, during the next wet period it would resurface to form the next lake. This alternation of lakes, rivers and deserts could have represented a long-lasting habitable environment."
Mars

Orion Capsule Safely Recovered, Complete With 12-Year-Old Computer Guts 197

Posted by timothy
from the why-that's-barely-a-dozen dept.
Lucas123 writes While NASA's Orion spacecraft, which blasted off on a successful test flight today, may be preparing for a first-of-its-kind mission to carry astronauts to Mars and other deep-space missions, the technology inside of it is no where near leading edge. In fact, its computers and its processors are 12 years old — making them ancient in tech years. The spacecraft, according to one NASA engineer, is built to be rugged and reliable in the face of G forces, massive amounts of radiation and the other rigors of space."Compared to the [Intel] Core i5 in your laptop, it's much slower — much less powerful. It's probably not any faster than your smartphone," Matt Lemke, NASA's deputy manager for Orion's avionics, power and software team, told Computerworld. Lemke said the spacecraft was built to be rugged and reliable — not necessarily smart. That's why there are two flight computers. Orion's main computer was built by Honeywell as a flight computer originally for Boeing's 787 jet airliner. Not only was the launch itself successful, but the sensor-laden craft's splashdown was smooth ("bulls-eye," as NASA puts it), and NASA has now recovered the capsule. ABC News has some good photos, too.
NASA

NASA's Orion Capsule Reaches Orbit 140

Posted by Soulskill
from the well-done-folks dept.
PaisteUser sends word that NASA's Orion capsule successfully reached orbit this morning after a flawless launch atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket. Video of the launch is available on YouTube, and the Orion Mission blog has frequent updates as mission milestones are reached. Mission managers said the rocket and capsule performed perfectly during the initial phases of the test. "It was just a blast to see how well the rocket did," said Mark Geyer, NASA's Orion program manager. After Orion makes its first circuit around the planet, the rocket's upper stage will kick it into a second, highly eccentric orbit that loops as far as 3,600 miles from Earth. Then Orion will come screaming back into Earth's atmosphere at a speed of 20,000 mph — 80 percent of the velocity that a spacecraft returning from the moon would experience. This particular Orion is missing a lot of the components that would be needed for a crewed flight, and it won't be carrying humans. Instead, it's outfitted with more than 1,200 sensors to monitor how its communication and control systems deal with heightened radiation levels, how its heat shield handles re-entry temperatures that are expected to rise as high as 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and how its parachutes slow the craft down for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
NASA

Technical Hitches Delay Orion Capsule's First Launch 71

Posted by timothy
from the despite-not-being-run-by-the-usps dept.
According to NBC news, "A series of delays held up the maiden launch of NASA's Orion capsule on Thursday, adding some extra suspense to the first test of a spacecraft that's designed to take humans farther than they've ever gone — including to Mars." The much-anticipated launch, which had been scheduled for launch 7:05 a.m. Florida time, is to boost into orbit — empty — an instance of the Orion crew capsule intended to be part of a manned mission to Mars. As of shortly after 9 a.m. eastern time, troubleshooting has been in progress on the Alliance Delta 4 launch vehicle's hydrogen fill and drain valves in attempt to make the launch within today's launch window, which extends to 9:44 a.m. Besides the technical problem with those valves, the launch was delayed by wind, as well as by a boat that strayed into a restricted area. (Shades of the stray-boat delay in October for Orbital Science's ISS delivery launch.) Friday and Saturday have been designated as backup dates. Update: 12/04 15:03 GMT by T : The launch has been scrubbed.