Stories tagged mars

Martian exploration in the near future
Martian exploration in the near futureCourtesy NASA
Four Europeans have signed up to join several Russian cosmonauts for a grueling 18 months stint living inside an earthbound metal tube in a project called Mars500. Two entrants will be eliminated, but the lucky erstwhile astronauts who make the cut will be part of a real-time test to see how humans fare physically and psychologically under the stress of a year-and-a-half journey to the planet Mars and back. All food, water, and essentials will be locked inside the tube with the participants for the duration of the fake expedition. The simulation - which is being run by Russia's Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP) - will begin in May and include an excursion on the planet's "surface" (actually another adjacent tube) by three of the cosmonauts. Here's the full story.

Dec
21
2009

The monkeys are probably less enthused about space travel: But who can say what monkeys really want?
The monkeys are probably less enthused about space travel: But who can say what monkeys really want?Courtesy RadioFan
Invest in the Abkhazian monkey industry! Because the derelict research monkey houses of this booming breakaway region of a breakaway region are about to take off! Literally!

No, not literally. Probably not at all. But that’s not stopping those monkey farmers from dreaming.

This is just an utterly bizarre article. I don’t think I can make it any funnier.

It’s about an all but abandoned primate research facility in Abkhazia, a breakaway region of the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Back in its heyday, when the communists were really into monkey-related science, the facility was producing “groundbreaking medical research,” and breeding monkeys to send into space. Then, as some of you may have heard about, the USSR went belly up, and things went down hill fast at The Institute of Experimental Pathology and Therapy.

And then Abkhazia tried to break away from Georgia, and things went further downhill, possibly underground. During the ensuing civil war, “many monkeys were shot.” Others were just let out of their cages to just run around the city. From a prewar population of about 1,000, the facility houses only about 350 apes and monkeys now, not including “at least a few dozen monkeys… believed to be living in the wooded mountains of Abkhazia, descendants of a 1970s experiment where scientists released apes* into the wild.” Ok.

(*If you call me out on monkeys being descended from apes released in the 70s, you’re not my friend, because I’m not friends with people like that. It’s just what the article said.)

But wait! There’s more! Abkhazia recently got a new sugar daddy—the big bear, Mother Russia herself. And with fresh investment, the monkey research facility has some high hopes and big dreams. “Going to Mars?” they say. “Send some of our monkeys instead!”

Granted, the proposed Mars trips would take about a year and a half, and the institute’s best-known space monkey, a rhesus named Yerosha, went, you know, ape during a space trip just thirteen days long. (Yerosha freed a paw somehow, and started hitting buttons and generally messing stuff up. That darn monkey.)

They have a plan to avoid that sort of thing on the Mars mission, however: robots. Yes, as the article puts it, “the project would also include a robot designed to take care of the imprisoned ape.” The robot will feed the monkey and clean up after it. The real challenge, they say, is “to teach the monkey to cooperate with the robot.”

What? That’s the speed bump in the monkey+robot Mars flight plan? They have a point, I guess. Because monkeys are so used to human servants that a robotic butler in space might be a big conceptual jump for them.

Anyway, best of luck to you, Abkhazian monkey farmers.

Mysterious material on the landing strut of the Phoenix Mars Lander
Mysterious material on the landing strut of the Phoenix Mars LanderCourtesy NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech
In photographs taken by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander there appear to be droplets of some kind of liquid. Is it water from just below the planet's surface? Some scientists suspect that this is exactly what you see in the photograph here. Although the temperature of the area where the photographs were taken never warmed above -15 degrees Fahrenheit during the spacecraft's mission, scientists think that salts called Perchlorates may have lowered the freezing point of the water, making liquid droplets possible at this temperature. Other scientists disagree, saying that the low-resolution photographs show clumps of frost or may have been formed by heat from the spacecraft's thrusters. This article explains more about the debate. What do you think?

Earth, Moon and Mars: Size to scale, distance... not so much.
Earth, Moon and Mars: Size to scale, distance... not so much.Courtesy Bluedharma
Imagine being asked to volunteer to live and interact with only five people for 520 days in very cramped quarters. You would only be able to speak with your friends and family via voice communication with a 20-minute delay. Well, the European Space Agency (ESA) made such a request to the general European public, and has finally selected the two candidates to accompany four Russian candidates from the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems to simulate the conditions of a manned mission to Mars.

Opportunity has knocked: And is now moving elsewhere to gather more data about Mars.
Opportunity has knocked: And is now moving elsewhere to gather more data about Mars.Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
This month the two Mars rovers – Opportunity and Spirit – celebrate their fifth anniversary on the Red Planet. Back in January 2004 the two robotic explorers landed within three weeks of each other on opposite sides of the Martian surface, and have spent the last five years investigating its craters, rock outcrops, and soils for signs of water. The data collected has shown conclusively that water once existed on the planet’s now arid surface.

Incredibly, the two robots have far surpassed their original predicted life-spans of three months operating in Mars' hostile environment.

"We realize that a major rover component on either vehicle could fail at any time and end a mission with no advance notice,” said John Callas, project manager at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “But on the other hand, we could accomplish the equivalent duration of four more prime missions on each rover in the year ahead."

BBC website story

There it is! A lonely log!: It's on the left side of the picture, underneath the image of a distant Martian YMCA.
There it is! A lonely log!: It's on the left side of the picture, underneath the image of a distant Martian YMCA.Courtesy NASA
Oh my goodness! It's not my favorite Lil', but that lil' Mars rover has gotten some good shots of the red planet. There were those Yeti prints that turned out to be made by the rover itself, and then there was that rocky little person sitting on a rock.

And now there's this: the rover has discovered a log on Mars. Blogging experts the world over are claiming that this is finally proof of forests on Mars, forests that NASA and the US government have been keeping from us.

Meanwhile, killjoys and critical thinkers are pointing out that it isn't so much a log as it is a rock, and that there are similar rocks all around.

Normally I'm all for finding logs and footprints on Mars, but getting excited about a Martian log that isn't actually a log is sort of missing the point: it's a freaking Mars-rock, and it doesn't have to be a log to be interesting. An unusual looking rock on another planet might tell us something about the planet's geological processes... but only if we accept that it is, in fact, a rock.

Plus, there are probably other, real-er logs lying just outside of the camera frame. I'm content with those.

Evidence of hydrated silica on Mars: The presence of opal in these relatively young rocks tells scientists that water, possibly as rivers and small ponds, interacted with the surface as recently as two billion years ago, one billion years later than scientists had expected.
Evidence of hydrated silica on Mars: The presence of opal in these relatively young rocks tells scientists that water, possibly as rivers and small ponds, interacted with the surface as recently as two billion years ago, one billion years later than scientists had expected.Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
A new category of minerals detected across large areas of the Martian surface by the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MOR) suggests the Red Planet had a much wetter past than thought previously. According to Scott Murchie, Mars researcher at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, the recent discovery of hydrated silica (opal) offers new insights into the planet's watery past.

"This is an exciting discovery because it extends the time range for liquid water on Mars, and the places where it might have supported life. The identification of opaline silica tells us that water may have existed as recently as 2 billion years ago."

You can read the whole story at NASA's MOR site.

Oct
23
2008

2 planets and a moon: We keep candy and waterslides on the one on the left, flags on the one in the bottom right, and astronauts on the one in the top right. Simple.
2 planets and a moon: We keep candy and waterslides on the one on the left, flags on the one in the bottom right, and astronauts on the one in the top right. Simple.Courtesy Bluedharma
Way-hey-haaaiit one second there! Why did I write that headline? That seems a little incendiary for a reasonable proposal from a national hero, JGordon. We had better think things out a little more before we write them down.

So, Buzz Aldrin is in the news. The science news, anyway. The 78-year-old former astronaut—the second man to set foot on the moon—is suggesting that the first manned mission to Mars should leave its astronauts on the planet for good. With all of the expense and effort that a Mars mission would take, he believes that even spending a year or a year and a half on the red planet wouldn’t be worth it. The astronauts, he says, should go with the intention of staying for the rest of their lives, like pioneers.

Eventually the first men and women on Mars could be joined by others, forming a colony of perhaps 30 scientists. After a few decades, when they reach 65 or so, they could retire on Mars, or perhaps get picked up by a ship and returned to earth.

What about that, Buzzketeers? Think about spending the rest of your life on Mars, with just a few people to keep you company (except for, you know, radio communication). Kind of a crazy idea, but kind of awesome, I think. Think about what that’d be like—the isolation, low gravity, greater exposure to cosmic rays (that’s bad)… but a whole new planet!

Would any of you guys be willing to go to Mars, if it meant you’d be leaving the earth forever?

Here in Minnesota, we've turned the corner and we're now heading toward winter. Snow can't be that far behind. This week on Mars, NASA's Phoenix explorer has dectected snow falling on the Red Planet. Here's a complete video report. Unfortunately for Martian school children, the snow was so light that it melted before touching down on land, removing the possiblity of having a snow day off from school.

Phoenix lander dig zone
Phoenix lander dig zoneCourtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University
Rumors are circulating that NASA's Phoenix Lander team has held briefings with the White House regarding some sort of forthcoming big announcement. It's unclear whether any briefings actually took place, but some folks wonder if NASA is hiding something. It could be the space agency is just doing their usual pre-hype of an upcoming announcement. Whatever the case, you can join in the speculation by going here and here or even here. Or you can listen to today's Phoenix Media Telecon and see if you can get some clues of what's happening.