Ion Thruster Prototype Breaks Records in Tests, Could Send Humans to Mars
By Tereza Pultarova, Space.com Contributor October 13, 2017
A thruster that's being developed for a future NASA mission to Mars broke several records during recent tests, suggesting that the technology is on track to take humans to the Red Planet within the next 20 years, project team members said. The X3 thruster, which was designed by researchers at the University of Michigan in cooperation with NASA and the U.S. Air Force, is a Hall thruster — a system that propels spacecraft by accelerating a stream of electrically charged atoms, known as ions. In the recent demonstration conducted at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Ohio, the X3 broke records for the maximum power output, thrust and operating current achieved by a Hall thruster to date, according to the research team at the University of Michigan and representatives from NASA.
"We have shown that X3 can operate at over 100 kW of power," said Alec Gallimore, who is leading the project, in an interview with Space.com. "It operated at a huge range of power from 5 kW to 102 kW, with electrical current of up to 260 amperes. It generated 5.4 Newtons of thrust, which is the highest level of thrust achieved by any plasma thruster to date," added Gallimore, who is dean of engineering at the University of Michigan. The previous record was 3.3 Newtons, according to the school.
Hall thrusters and other types of ion engines use electricity (usually generated by solar panels) to expel plasma — a gas-like cloud of charged particles — out a nozzle, thus generating thrust. This technique can propel spacecraft to much greater speeds than chemical propulsion rockets can, according to NASA.
That's why researchers are so interested in ion propulsion's potential application for long-distance space travel. Whereas the maximum velocity that can be achieved by a chemical rocket is about 5 kilometers per second, a Hall thruster could get a craft up to 40 kilometers per second, Gallimore said. Ion engines are also known to be more efficient than chemical-powered rockets, featuring what Gallimore described as a better "miles per gallon" ratio. A Hall-thruster-powered spacecraft would get cargo and astronauts to Mars using much less propellant than a chemical rocket, he said. (A common propellant for ion thrusters is xenon; indeed, NASA's Dawn spacecraft, which is currently orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres, uses this gas.)
"You can think of electric propulsion as having 10 times the miles per gallon compared to chemical propulsion," Gallimore told Space.com.
The trade-off with ion thrusters, however, is that they are very low thrust and therefore must operate for a long time to accelerate a spacecraft to high speeds, according to NASA. (In addition, ion thrusters aren't powerful enough to overcome Earth's gravitational pull, so they cannot be used to launch spacecraft.)
"Chemical propulsion systems can generate millions of kilowatts of power, while the existing electrical systems only achieve 3 to 4 kilowatts," Gallimore said.
Commercially available Hall thrusters are not nearly powerful enough to propel a crewed Mars spacecraft, he added.
"What we would need for human exploration is a system that can process something like 500,000 watts (500 kW), or even a million watts or more," Gallimore said. "That's something like 20, 30 or even 40 times the power of conventional electric propulsion systems."
That's where the X3 comes in. Gallimore and his team are addressing the power problem by making the thruster bigger than these other systems and by developing a design that addresses one of the technology's shortcomings.
"We figured out that instead of having one channel of plasma, where the plasma generated is exhausted from the thruster and produces thrust, we would have multiple channels in the same thruster," Gallimore said. "We call it a nested channel."
According to Gallimore, using three channels allowed the engineers to make X3 much smaller and more compact than an equivalent single channel Hall thruster would have to be.
A side shot of the X3 ion thruster firing at 50 kilowatts. Credit: NASA
The University of Michigan team has been working on the technology in cooperation with the Air Force since 2009. First, the researchers developed a two-channel thruster, the X2, before moving on to the more powerful X3, which has three channels.
In February 2016, the team partnered with California-based rocket-maker Aerojet Rocketdyne, which is developing a new electrical propulsion system, called XR-100, for NASA's Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships, or NextSTEP program. The X3 thruster is a central part of the XR-100 system.
Scott Hall, a Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan who has worked on the X3 project for the past five years, said the work has been rather challenging because of the thruster's size.
"It's heavy — 500 pounds [227 kilograms]. It's almost a meter in diameter," Hall said. "Most Hall thrusters are the kind of thing that one or two people can pick up and carry around the lab. We need a crane to move X3 around."
Next year, the team will run an even bigger test, which aims to prove that the thruster can operate at full power for 100 hours. Gallimore said the engineers are also designing a special magnetic shielding system that would keep the plasma away from the walls of the thruster to prevent damage and enable the thruster to operate reliably for even longer periods of time. Gallimore said that without the shielding a flight version X3 would probably start experiencing problems after several thousand hours of operations. A magnetically-shielded version could run for several years at full power, according to Gallimore.
T he Okarian rover was in trouble. The yellow Humvee was making slow progress across a frigid, otherworldly landscape when planetary scientist Pascal Lee felt the rover tilt backward. Out the windshield, Lee, director of NASA’s Haughton Mars Project, saw only sky. The rear treads had broken through a crack in the sea ice and were sinking into the cold water.
True, there are signs of water on Mars, but not that much. Lee and his crew were driving the Okarian (named for the yellow Martians in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel The Warlord of Mars) across the Canadian Arctic to a research station in Haughton Crater that served in this dress rehearsal as a future Mars post. On a 496-kilometer road trip along the Northwest Passage, crew members pretended they were explorers on a long haul across the Red Planet to test what to expect if and when humans go to Mars.
What they learned in that April 2009 ride may become relevant sooner rather than later. NASA has declared its intention to send humans to Mars in the 2030s (SN Online: 5/24/16). The private sector plans to get there even earlier: In September, Elon Musk announced his aim to launch the first crewed SpaceX mission to Mars as soon as 2024.
“That’s not a typo,” Musk said in Australia at an International Astronautical Congress meeting. “Although it is aspirational.”
Musk’s six-year timeline has some astrobiologists in a panic. If humans arrive too soon, these researchers fear, any chance of finding evidence of life — past or present — on Mars may be ruined.
“It’s really urgent,” says astrobiologist Alberto Fairén of the Center for Astrobiology in Madrid and Cornell University. Humans take whole communities of microorganisms with them everywhere, spreading those bugs indiscriminately.
Planetary geologist Matthew Golombek of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., agrees, adding, “If you want to know if life exists there now, you kind of have to approach that question before you send people.”
A long-simmering debate over how rigorously to protect other planets from Earth life, and how best to protect life on Earth from other planets, is coming to a boil. The prospect of humans arriving on Mars has triggered a flurry of meetings and a spike in research into what “planetary protection” really means.
One of the big questions is whether Mars has regions that might be suitable for life and so deserve special protection. Another is how big a threat Earth microbes might be to potential Martian life (recent studies hint less of a threat than expected). Still, the specter of human biomes mucking up the Red Planet before a life-hunting mission can even launch has raised bitter divisions within the Mars research community.
A thought just occurred to me. What if mars still has oceans and lakes on it but they froze solid because of the extreme cold temperatures? Then over time dust would blow all over the surface covering up the ice so the planet just looks like it's dry. There could be tons of water up there.
Photo illustration, Mental Floss. Rugby antenna, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain. Other images iStock.
Earthlings often like to imagine Martians as belligerent, as in the War of the Worlds radio broadcast of 1938 or the 1996 movie Mars Attacks!. But for Dr. Hugh Mansfield Robinson, a London lawyer and former town clerk of Shoreditch, the Martians were a gentle people who only wanted peace.
Sure, the inhabitants of the Red Planet might look a little alarming—they were often more than 7 feet tall with huge ears and large shocks of hair, according to Robinson—but other than that they were much like humans, living in houses and driving cars, and enjoying simple pleasures such as drinking tea and smoking pipes.
Robinson knew all this because he had been telepathically communicating with a Martian woman named Oomaruru since the early 1920s, or so he claimed. In March of 1926, he had also held a séance with a psychic researcher and a medium whose hand wrote the Martian alphabet and drew a sketch of Oomaruru. A British newspaper, the Sunday Referee, later described the drawing, saying she had a “whimsical, half-smiling mouth, dark, penetrating eyes, curious nose, and very large ears.”
Though this all of this may sound absurd today, at the start of the 20th century, many scientists believed in the possibility of life on Mars. The discovery of what astronomers identified as canals on the Red Planet (first observed by Giovanni Schiaparelli in 1877) had excited imaginations, and with inventions like the telephone and radio, science was continually turning what had once seemed impossible into the possible. Furthermore, the rise of Spiritualism in the 19th century—based on the idea of communication with the dead—remained popular, with notable advocates like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle encouraging people to believe contacting the beyond was a worthwhile pursuit. Was contacting Mars really so much of a stretch?
In October 1926, Robinson decided to take his communications with Oomaruru to the next level—by going to the post office. At the time, London’s General Post Office had recently opened Rugby Radio Station, which served as a global radio telegraph hub.
A memo unearthed from London’s Central Telegraph Office explains that Robinson made arrangements to transmit a message for a standard long-distance rate of one shilling, six pence per word (then about 35 cents).
“Dr. Mansfield Robinson is singularly serious in this business, and we may expect other messages from him,” the memo reads. “I do not think we could have any conscience pricks as regards taking the money for he is perfectly sane and seems to have devoted his life to the study of possible intercommunication with the planet.”
The transmission, scheduled for 11:55 on the evening of October 27, used Robinson’s requested wavelength of 18,240 meters. It consisted of three words: Opesti, Nipitia, Secomba. Their meanings remain a mystery.
Postal clerks stood by with a receiver tuned to a wavelength of 30,000 meters, which Robinson said was the Martian’s preference. Sadly, they received no response.
Undeterred, Robinson waited two years for the Red Planet to get close to Earth again. And then in October 1928 he made another attempt.
Once more, the post office agreed to dispatch his message. A memo states that its reasons were “mainly in order to obtain free publicity for Rugby.” Officials reasoned that press coverage would promote its rate far more efficiently than paid advertising.
This time, the messages read, “M M Lov to Mars x Erth" and "M M God is lov." They were transmitted at 2:15 am on October 24.
Again, no discernible message from Mars came through.
Robinson blamed the equipment. “The wavelength of 18,700 meters used by the post office does not go through the heavy-side layer of rarefied air, and therefore the signals are reflected around the earth,” he told the Associated Press. “The Martians were very annoyed that the signals could not come to them. They were sitting up for hours to receive signals.”
In December, Robinson made another attempt. This time he used a radio tower from Brazil, armed with wavelengths of more than 21,000 meters.
Unfortunately, changing hemispheres did not change the results.
WORLD PEACE VIA TELEPATHY
Robinson’s mission went quiet until January 1930, when he apparently dispensed with radio communication and reported that he’d telepathically conducted an interview with Oomaruru for the United Press. In his alleged conversation, she suggested opening a College of Telepathy. She also expressed dismay at the lack of world peace after nearly 2000 years of “listening to the teachings of Jesus.”
Telepathy, Oomaruru believed, would make the world a better place. Not only would it help humans reach Mars, it would also help simplify communication right here on Earth. Robinson believed it was the “missing link in progress.” He was frustrated by the inefficiencies of the telephone (wrong numbers, busy signals), which would disappear, he said, “when the world learns to telepathize.”
Six months later, a United Press correspondent reported that Robinson had opened the College of Telepathy, staffed with six teachers and a telepathic dog named Nell. To help build the student body, Robinson offered free tuition for a month to the first seven pupils. He explained that each would be required to have “complete chastity and abstinence from flesh, alcohol and tobacco, coupled with good health and a desire to seek spiritual development.” Nell’s role was not clarified.
The article also noted that at the time of its writing there was only one student, named Claire. In addition to meeting the aforementioned requirements, she also signed a membership declaration in which she agreed to obey its rules, keep its secrets (unless “compelled by a competent court of justice”), and use her powers for the benefit of others.
No further details on attendance or successes were ever reported in the press. However, Robinson made headlines again in 1933 after claiming to be telepathically in touch with Cleopatra, who was living on Mars as a farmer’s wife. This may not have pleased his own wife, who once told reporters that she wouldn’t allow his experiments to be conducted at home. “There will be no foolishness around this house,” she said.
Robinson continued his telepathic communications with Oomaruru and Cleopatra for a few years, but died in 1940 at age 75 without ever having made radio contact with Mars. For the last several years of his life, at least, it seems he respected his wife's wishes and kept the foolishness to a minimum.
By Eddie Irizarry in HUMAN WORLD | SPACE April 4, 2018
Launch window for Mars InSight opens May 5, 2018. It’s the 1st interplanetary mission to go up from the U.S. West Coast. NASA said: “InSight’s pre-dawn launch may be visible for more than 10 million Californians … “
Mars InSight carries a suite of instruments designed to measure Mars on the inside. Illustration via NASA/JPL.
The next NASA robot to explore Mars will launch in just a few weeks. The launch window opens as soon as May 5, 2018, for Mars InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport), with the lander due to set down on Mars’ surface in November 2018. The six-month journey to Mars will go up from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, a site that’s less rocket-congested than the launch pads at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Mars Insight will be the first interplanetary mission to launch from the U.S. West Coast. The Atlas V rocket will have an initial trajectory towards the south-southeast, and NASA said:
"Weather permitting, InSight’s pre-dawn launch (approximately 4 a.m.) may be visible for more than 10 million Californians without a need for them to drive to a special location. Just wake up early, check the InSight website for assurance the launch is still on schedule, go outside, look at the western sky, marvel at the rocket’s flare as it travels southward…"
In past decades, orbiters have peered down on Mars from above, and robotic rovers have crept along its surface. Mars InSight is designed to study what’s inside Mars. The stationary lander – similar to the 2008 Phoenix lander on the red planet – will help scientists understand how the rocky planets in our solar system – like Mars, Venus and Earth – formed. The mission’s objective is to detect seismic activity on Mars and analyse the subsurface by studying the thickness and size of Mars’ core, mantle and crust.
InSight will also detect the frequency of ongoing meteorite impacts. Mars is closer than Earth to the asteroid belt, which lies between it and the next plant outward, Jupiter. Mars’ atmosphere is thinner than Earth’s. These two conditions might contribute to hundreds of small space rocks reaching the surface of our neighboring planet.
The solar-powered lander will deploy a seismometer built by the Centre National d’études Spatiales (CNES) from the French Space Agency. It also contains a heat probe to monitor heat flow from Mars’ interior, which was provided by the German Aerospace Center, and other instruments built by Italy, Spain, and NASA’s JPL. The mission is scheduled to last two years.
Landing on Mars is hard, and some spacecraft have crashed while attempting it. Before the Curiosity rover mission landed in 2012, the mission team described the lander’s planned descent through Mars’ thin atmosphere and (ultimately successful) landing attempt as "seven minutes of terror".
InSight will be landing in a way similar to Curiosity. InSight will enter Mars’ atmosphere at 14,100 miles per hour (22,692 km/h). During the entry phase, it will use very small rockets to adjust its initial trajectory toward the surface. Then it uses a large parachute, and then 12 descent engines or “retrojets,” whose firings will be continuously adjusted by an onboard computer in order to keep the spacecraft leveled and slowing down until the moment of touchdown. This type of landing technology was successfully used by the Viking 1 and 2 landers in 1976, and by the Phoenix lander in 2008. The Curiosity rover, which descended on Mars on 2012, added a skycrane with cables to this technology, to avoid dust over the rover’s instruments and cameras.
InSight will attempt to land in Elysium Planitia, an area not far from the Curiosity’s landing site, along the equator of the red planet.
By the way, Mars will be having a close encounter with Earth this summer. It’ll be the best Mars viewing since 2003, which was the best viewing in some 60,000 years. In addition providing earthly skywatchers with grand views of the red planet’s features through a telescope, this 2018 opposition of Mars also provides a good opportunity to send a Mars spacecraft winging its way.
Bottom line: Mars InSight lander launch window opens May 5, 2018. Californians will be able to see the launch, which will be at Vandenberg Air Force Base to avoid Florida’s heavy rocket traffic.
In 1972, citizen scientist Sir Elton John hypothesized that Mars "ain't the kind of place to raise your kids."
While John's remarks were never published in a peer-reviewed journal (though they did peak at No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart), he's not wrong about the Red Planet's inhospitality. With its freezing climate, thin atmosphere and weak gravity, Mars will be a hard place to raise the children necessary to sustain a permanent colony there. And according to a new paper published in the June issue of the journal Futures, conceiving kids on Mars will be even harder.
Thinking about fertility on Mars isn't just for philosophical fun; in fact, Elon Musk's SpaceX is developing a rocket with the primary purpose of bringing settlers to Mars.
"Reproduction on Mars will be necessary for colony survival and subsequent expansion," a team of researchers from Brazil, the United States and Poland wrote in the new paper. "Unfortunately, such an endeavor comes with titanic challenges."
In their new paper, titled "Biological and social challenges of human reproduction in a longterm Mars base," the researchers dig into exactly what those challenges would be — and the morally questionable solutions that may accompany them.
Your body on Mars The biological challenges of rearing Mars babies are easy enough to wrap one's head around. For starters, Mars' atmosphere is about 1 percent as thick as Earth's, meaning the planet is hit by a lot more solar radiation than humans are currently used to. NASA studies have shown that radiation exposure might damage astronauts' brain cells and increase their risk of developing cancer. (More to the point of this new paper, it can also severely reduce sperm count.)
The effects of microgravity are also concerning. Mars' gravitational pull is about one-third as strong as Earth's, and that means less pressure and stress are exerted on astronauts' bodies. Nice as that sounds, it's not how human bodies have adapted to function; previous studies of microgravity have shown that astronauts experience vision loss, dehydration, accelerated muscle and bone deterioration, significantly reduced heart rates and even a weakened immune response when living in sub-Earth gravity.
That last bit is especially worrisome for the hopes of Mars reproduction, as pregnant women already experience significant immunosuppression. "Such a state may aggravate the risks of infection-induced abortions and facilitate the dissemination of diseases among pregnant and non-pregnant individuals," the authors wrote.
Your body's rights on Mars Fortunately, all of these risks can be addressed with better technology and medical care — improvements that agencies like NASA are already developing. The tougher nut to crack, according to the authors, might be in adjusting social and ethical standards to fit a new, dangerous way of living.
"The idea to protect life at every stage of development may not be suited to a Mars colony," the authors wrote. "An inhospitable environment and a small mission crew may result in the elevation of the value of group over individual."
Establishing a culture that values the survival of the colony over individual members would require some serious ethical changes, including more liberal practices regarding abortion of nonviable offspring and "euthanasia of terminally ill persons," the authors wrote.
Furthermore, mating couples may have to be carefully chosen based on their genetic compatibility, while some colonists might have to forgo reproduction altogether if their traits did not favor the survival of a Martian populace. To prepare for these challenges, the researchers recommended that a psychological training regimen for would-be Martians be developed immediately.
If mentally prepared, such a culture "may evolve to favor the preservation of personal and physiological traits more suitable to Martian residents," the authors said; however, if that proves too hard, it may be worth considering the idea of genetically engineering a more Mars-friendly populace instead.
"The method of CRISPR makes possible adaptive genetic engineering," the authors wrote. "We should consider the idea of genetic human enhancement before and during that mission."
Doing so could literally result in a "new kind of human species" with a nature better suited for life on Mars, the authors wrote. Such human-made Martians could give a future colony its best shot at survival, even as a biological and moral gulf widens between them and their Earthling ancestors. Mars may still not be the kind of place to raise your kids — but it might become a serviceable place to raise Martians.
By the way, Mars will be having a close encounter with Earth this summer. It’ll be the best Mars viewing since 2003, which was the best viewing in some 60,000 years. In addition providing earthly skywatchers with grand views of the red planet’s features through a telescope, this 2018 opposition of Mars also provides a good opportunity to send a Mars spacecraft winging its way.
NASA to Host Live Discussion on New Mars Science Results
Dwayne Brown / JoAnna Wendel June 4, 2018
NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover snaps a self-portrait on Vera Rubin Ridge back in February. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
The media and public are invited to ask questions during a live discussion at 2 p.m. EDT Thursday, June 7, on new science results from NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover. The results are embargoed by the journal Science until then.
Michelle Thaller, assistant director of science for communications, in NASA’s Planetary Science Division will host the chat. Participants include: • Paul Mahaffy, director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland • Jen Eigenbrode, research scientist at Goddard • Chris Webster, senior research fellow, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California • Ashwin Vasavada, Mars Science Laboratory project scientist, JPL
Media who would like to participate by phone must email their name, media affiliation and phone number to Nancy Jones by 1 p.m. on June 7.
The public can send questions on social media by using #askNASA.
The event can also be watched on Facebook Live, Twitch TV, Ustream, YouTube and Twitter/Periscope.
For information about NASA’s Curiosity rover, visit:
NASA Finds Ancient Organic Material, Mysterious Methane on Mars
June 7, 2018 Editor: Sean Potter
NASA’s Curiosity rover has found new evidence preserved in rocks on Mars that suggests the planet could have supported ancient life, as well as new evidence in the Martian atmosphere that relates to the search for current life on the Red Planet. While not necessarily evidence of life itself, these findings are a good sign for future missions exploring the planet’s surface and subsurface.
The new findings – “tough” organic molecules in three-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks near the surface, as well as seasonal variations in the levels of methane in the atmosphere – appear in the June 8 edition of the journal Science.
Organic molecules contain carbon and hydrogen, and also may include oxygen, nitrogen and other elements. While commonly associated with life, organic molecules also can be created by non-biological processes and are not necessarily indicators of life.
“With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, in Washington. “I’m confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the Red Planet.”
“Curiosity has not determined the source of the organic molecules,” said Jen Eigenbrode of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who is lead author of one of the two new Science papers. “Whether it holds a record of ancient life, was food for life, or has existed in the absence of life, organic matter in Martian materials holds chemical clues to planetary conditions and processes.”
Although the surface of Mars is inhospitable today, there is clear evidence that in the distant past, the Martian climate allowed liquid water – an essential ingredient for life as we know it – to pool at the surface. Data from Curiosity reveal that billions of years ago, a water lake inside Gale Crater held all the ingredients necessary for life, including chemical building blocks and energy sources.
“The Martian surface is exposed to radiation from space. Both radiation and harsh chemicals break down organic matter,” said Eigenbrode. “Finding ancient organic molecules in the top five centimeters of rock that was deposited when Mars may have been habitable, bodes well for us to learn the story of organic molecules on Mars with future missions that will drill deeper.”
Seasonal Methane Releases In the second paper, scientists describe the discovery of seasonal variations in methane in the Martian atmosphere over the course of nearly three Mars years, which is almost six Earth years. This variation was detected by Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite.
Water-rock chemistry might have generated the methane, but scientists cannot rule out the possibility of biological origins. Methane previously had been detected in Mars' atmosphere in large, unpredictable plumes. This new result shows that low levels of methane within Gale Crater repeatedly peak in warm, summer months and drop in the winter every year.
"This is the first time we've seen something repeatable in the methane story, so it offers us a handle in understanding it," said Chris Webster of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, lead author of the second paper. "This is all possible because of Curiosity's longevity. The long duration has allowed us to see the patterns in this seasonal breathing.'"
Finding Organic Molecules To identify organic material in the Martian soil, Curiosity drilled into sedimentary rocks known as mudstone from four areas in Gale Crater. This mudstone gradually formed billions of years ago from silt that accumulated at the bottom of the ancient lake. The rock samples were analyzed by SAM, which uses an oven to heat the samples (in excess of 900 degrees Fahrenheit, or 500 degrees Celsius) to release organic molecules from the powdered rock.
SAM measured small organic molecules that came off the mudstone sample – fragments of larger organic molecules that don’t vaporize easily. Some of these fragments contain sulfur, which could have helped preserve them in the same way sulfur is used to make car tires more durable, according to Eigenbrode.
The results also indicate organic carbon concentrations on the order of 10 parts per million or more. This is close to the amount observed in Martian meteorites and about 100 times greater than prior detections of organic carbon on Mars’ surface. Some of the molecules identified include thiophenes, benzene, toluene, and small carbon chains, such as propane or butene.
In 2013, SAM detected some organic molecules containing chlorine in rocks at the deepest point in the crater. This new discovery builds on the inventory of molecules detected in the ancient lake sediments on Mars and helps explains why they were preserved.
Finding methane in the atmosphere and ancient carbon preserved on the surface gives scientists confidence that NASA's Mars 2020 rover and ESA’s (European Space Agency's) ExoMars rover will find even more organics, both on the surface and in the shallow subsurface.
These results also inform scientists’ decisions as they work to find answers to questions concerning the possibility of life on Mars.
“Are there signs of life on Mars?” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program, at NASA Headquarters. “We don’t know, but these results tell us we are on the right track.”
This work was funded by NASA's Mars Exploration Program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) in Washington. Goddard provided the SAM instrument. JPL built the rover and manages the project for SMD.
Huge Dust Storm on Mars Hits NASA's Opportunity Rover
By Tariq Malik, Space.com Managing Editor | June 10, 2018
A growing dust storm on Mars is seen blurring the planet's features in this photo taken on June 6, 2018 by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The blue dot shows the location of NASA's Opportunity rover, which is in the dust storm. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
A massive dust storm on Mars has sidelined NASA's Opportunity rover, stalling the robot's science work as it waits out the still-growing tempest.
The Martian dust storm was first spotted from space by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, NASA officials said.
"As soon as the orbiter team saw how close the storm was to Opportunity, they notified the rover's team to begin preparing contingency plans," NASA officials said in a statement. "In a matter of days, the storm had ballooned."
As of Friday (June 8), the storm covers more than 7 million square miles of Mars (18 million square kilometers), according to NASA. That's an area larger than all of North America on Earth.
"Full dust storms like this one are not surprising, but are infrequent," NASA officials said in the statement. "They can crop up suddenly but last weeks, even months."
The area blanketed by the dust storm includes Perseverance Valley, Opportunity's current home on the vast Martian plains of Meridiani Planum.
Opportunity has been exploring Mars since 2004, but it runs on solar power. With the dust storm clogging up the sky, the amount of sunlight the rover can use to recharge has dropped. NASA compared the conditions to "an extremely smoggy day that blots out sunlight."
By Wednesday (June 6), Opportunity's power levels saw a major drop, forcing the rover to stop all science to conserve power. If the storm lasts too long, the main concern will be the Martian cold, a danger Opportunity has faced in the past, NASA officials said.
"There is a risk to the rover if the storm persists for too long and Opportunity gets too cold while waiting for the skies to clear," NASA wrote in the statement. Cold is thought to be what killed NASA's Spirit rover, Opportunity's twin, in 2010 after that robot got stuck in the Martian sand.
But Opportunity is a survivor. And it's seen dust storms bigger than the one it's experiencing now.
In 2007, a dust storm on Mars covered the entire planet and forced Opportunity to hunker down for two weeks in a sort of survival-mode of minimal operations. To save power, the rover went days without phoning home to its controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
It was during that 2007 storm that Opportunity's handlers worried about the rover's ability to power its vital survival heaters with the low power levels caused by that dust storm. But Opportunity survived.
In fact, Opportunity has been surviving for 15 years.
The rover (and its twin Spirit) launched separately to Mars in 2003 and landed in January 2004 for what was originally scheduled to be a 90-day mission. But like the dust storm now battering Opportunity, the rover's mission ballooned from 3 months to 15 years, 14 of them on the Martian surface.
"Guys, we're losing our magnetic field! Let's go check out that planet, Earth!"
Life on Mars Could Have Gotten an Early Start, 'Black Beauty' Meteorite Suggests
By Mike Wall, Space.com Senior Writer | July 9, 2018
It didn't take long for Mars to become a potentially habitable world, a new study suggests.
The planet-formation process generates a lot of heat, so rocky worlds such as Mars and Earth are covered by oceans of molten rock shortly after they form. Life as we know it cannot get a foothold until these oceans freeze into a crust — and this apparently happened quite early on the Red Planet, the new study reports.
"Already 20 million years after the formation of the solar system, Mars had a solid crust that could potentially house oceans and perhaps also life," study co-author Martin Bizzarro, director of the Center for Star and Planet Formation at the Natural National History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, said in a statement.
That's about 130 million years sooner than this key event occurred here on Earth, study team members said.
The researchers — led by Laura Bouvier and Maria Costa, both also of the Center for Star and Planet Formation — studied tiny pieces of an 11.3-ounce (320 grams) Mars meteorite known as "Black Beauty," which was discovered in the Sahara Desert in 2011.
A year ago, Bizzarro acquired 1.55 ounces (44 grams) of Black Beauty (whose official name is NWA 7034) — no small feat, given that pieces of the space rock sell for about $10,000 per gram. (Bizzarro pulled it off by getting funding help from several sources and exchanging meteorites from the Natural National History Museum of Denmark's collection.)
The Martian meteorite known as "Black Beauty." Credit: NASA
The team then crushed about 0.18 ounces (5 grams) of their Black Beauty bits to get a detailed look at its zircons, hardy minerals that scientists often use to figure out the precise age of samples. (This is done by measuring how much of zircons' native uranium has radioactively decayed into lead — a process that occurs at a regular and well-understood rate.)
"Zircon also acts as a small time capsule, as it preserves information about the environment where and when it was created," Bizzarro said in the same statement.
The researchers isolated seven zircons, which they found had formed between 4.43 billion and 4.48 billion years ago. The oldest of these seven is the most ancient Martian material ever dated directly, study team members said.
The team then analyzed the isotopic composition of another element in the zircons, called hafnium. (Isotopes are varieties of an element that have different numbers of neutrons in their atomic nuclei.) This hafnium must originally have come from a solidified Martian crust, which the researchers' work suggested had formed no later than 4.547 billion years ago — just 20 million years after the solar system's birth.
"Thus, a primordial crust existed on Mars by this time and survived for around 100 Myr [million years] before it was reworked, possibly by impacts, to produce magmas from which the zircons crystallized," the researchers wrote in the study, which was published last week in the journal Nature.
Scientists have already determined that at least some parts of the Red Planet were likely capable of supporting Earth-like life long ago. NASA's Curiosity rover, for example, discovered that Mars' Gale Crater hosted a long-lived lake-and-stream system in the ancient past.
But things changed greatly when Mars lost its global magnetic field around 4 billion years ago. The solar wind began stripping the planet's once-thick atmosphere, and the world transitioned to the cold, dry desert it is today.
There’s water on Mars! Signs of buried lake tantalize scientists
The lake would be the first body of liquid water ever detected on the red planet, if observations by a European spacecraft are confirmed.
Alexandra Witze | 25 July 2018
Mars was warmer and wetter billions of years ago than it is today. Credit: NASA
A large saltwater lake seems to lurk under ice near Mars’s south pole. If confirmed, it would be the first body of liquid water ever detected on the red planet and a significant milestone in the quest to determine whether life exists there.
“It’s a very promising place to look for life on Mars,” says Roberto Orosei, a planetary scientist at the National Institute of Astrophysics in Bologna, Italy. “But we do not know for sure if it is inhabited.” On Earth, similar ‘subglacial’ lakes are home to microbial life.
A team of Italian researchers, led by Orosei, reported the discovery on 25 July in Science. They spotted evidence of the buried lake in radar data from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft.
Others say that the work is tantalizing but, like anything else in the controversial hunt for water on Mars, it needs more supporting evidence. “It’s not quite a slam dunk yet,” says Jeffrey Plaut, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who has searched for water using data from Mars Express.
If further studies confirm the existence of a lake, it could open new avenues for investigating Mars. Researchers have drilled into subglacial lakes on Earth and sampled the water for signs of microbes, while others are developing technologies to reach a buried ocean on Jupiter’s moon Europa. There are no ice-drilling missions currently slated for Mars — but the latest discovery could change how scientists think about exploring the planet.
“It begins a new line of inquiry that’s very exciting,” says Jim Green, NASA’s chief scientist.
Tantalizing trail Water appears across Mars today in various forms, left over from a time billions of years ago when the planet was warmer and wetter. Orbiting probes have spotted ice, including buried glaciers, in many locations. Spacecraft have photographed steep slopes whose appearance changes seasonally, as if liquid water is running downhill and leaving dark marks. And NASA’s Curiosity rover has measured water vapour in the planet’s atmosphere.
Orosei and his colleagues found the lake using a radar instrument called MARSIS aboard Mars Express, which launched in 2003. It sends radio waves bouncing off the surface and subsurface layers; the way in which the radar signal reflects back reveals the type of material that is present, such as rock, ice or water. The scientists focused their search on the layers of ice and dust that cover the planet’s south pole.
But the observations were frustratingly inconsistent. Mars Express sometimes saw a bright reflection in several locations, which did not reappear the next time the spacecraft flew over those sites. Finally, in 2012, the scientists decided to have MARSIS send back raw data, instead of performing automated processing before beaming the data to Earth. “This changed everything, and it was much more obvious to spot the bright reflectors,” says Orosei.
The data showed bright reflections coming from a 20-kilometre-long zone in a region known as Planum Australe. After ruling out other possible explanations, such as carbon dioxide ice, the scientists concluded that the reflections were coming from subsurface water.
Radar tracks on Mars's Planum Australe show the location of a potential buried lake (in blue). Credit: USGS Astrogeology Science Center, Arizona State University, INAF
Briny depths The lake is about 1.5 kilometres beneath Mars’s surface and is at least 1 metre deep. To keep from freezing, the water must be very salty, Orosei says — perhaps similar to super-salty subglacial lakes reported in the Canadian Arctic earlier this year3. Salt-rich rocks beneath the Canadian lakes infuse the water and allow it to remain liquid, says Anja Rutishauser, a glaciologist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. On Mars, salts known as perchlorates might be what’s making the brine; in 2008, NASA’s Phoenix spacecraft found perchlorates in soils near the planet’s northern polar ice.
Mars might have had many similar lakes in the past, when heat rising from deep within the planet melted some of the ice covering its polar regions, says Stephen Clifford, a planetary scientist who proposed the idea in 19874 and now works for the Planetary Science Institute in Houston, Texas. If life once thrived in ancient subsurface lakes, he says, the latest finding “raises support for the idea that life could still persist on Mars”.
With liquid water and the right chemical elements available to supply energy, a buried martian lake would have the ingredients needed to sustain life — as long as it's not too salty, says John Priscu, a biogeochemist at Montana State University in Bozeman. But exploring it won't be easy. Priscu leads a team that aims to drill into Antarctica's subglacial Lake Mercer later this year; hauling tonnes of equipment and fuel to that remote location required weeks of tractors traversing the Antarctic ice sheet. "There's no way you're going to get all that to Mars," he says.
But there are ways to learn more with spacecraft already in play. Green notes that NASA’s InSight probe, which is scheduled to land near the martian equator in November, will measure heat flow in the top 5 metres of the surface there. Scientists can use that data to extrapolate how much heat might be rising from beneath the south polar cap, melting the ice and creating more potential lakes.
Orosei says his team has glimpsed other bright reflections, but isn’t ready to say whether or not they are lakes. More studies using MARSIS, as well as the radar on board NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter — which has looked in Planum Australe and not seen the reflections — could help to reveal whether these are actually liquid water or something else, Plaut says.
I am really trying to picture this as actual dark streaks in the soil.
My “mind” can not grasp this- I see it as a shadow of something....
Today,, I see it as “in the soil” (not a shadow). 🙂
Looks like it is “painted on” the soil (not saying that it is).
Really, it would be better to see this as part of the landscape from higher up, and then focus down onto this soil as a close up; for me to personally “comprehend” it.
It would make it easier for my mind to accept that this is truly foreign soil, different atmosphere, and so I should NOT expect it to look “a certain way”. How can I even mindfully compare it to Earth?
So You Want to Go to Mars? Episodes 1&2: What Does it Take to be a NASA Hero?
NASA Johnson Published on Jul 17, 2018
There are many heroes at NASA, and they’re not just astronauts. In this episode of “So You Want to Go to Mars?” we take a special behind the scenes look at spaceflight and discover the heroes that are solving the major challenges of our space missions today and in the future.
So you want to go to Mars? The International Space Station (ISS) is helping us get there. This short 1.18 minute video highlights several ways the ISS is helping NASA extend human presence into deep space.
An image taken by the Curiosity rover on 4 September shows a US 1-cent coin covered in Martian dust. The coin is used as a target by Curiosity to calibrate the Mars Hand Lens Imager, a camera fastened to the end of the rover’s robotic arm. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
Source: Nature Briefing
The penny in this image is part of a camera calibration target on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity. The Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on the rover took this and other images of the MAHLI calibration target during the 34th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (Sept. 10, 2012 UTC).
The image was acquired with MAHLI at a distance of 5 centimeters (2 inches). MAHLI can acquire images of even higher resolution and can be positioned as close as 2.5 centimeters (about 1 inch); however, as this is the first checkout of the robotic arm, it was decided not to attempt to place the MAHLI at its closest focus distance during this test.
The image shows that the calibration target already has a coating of Martian dust on it. This is unsurprising - the target was facing directly toward the plume of dust stirred up by the sky crane's descent engines during the final phase of the 6 August 2012 landing.
The penny is a nod to geologists' tradition of placing a coin or other object of known scale as a size reference in close-up photographs of rocks, and it gives the public a familiar object for perceiving size easily when it will be viewed by MAHLI on Mars.
The specific coin, provided by MAHLI's principal investigator, Ken Edgett, is a 1909 "VDB" penny. That was the first year Lincoln pennies were minted and the centennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth. The VDB refers to the initials of the coin's designer, Victor D. Brenner, which are on the reverse side. Brenner based the coin's low-relief portrait of Lincoln on a photograph taken Feb. 9, 1864, by Anthony Berger in the Washington, D.C. studio of Mathew Brady.
The calibration target for the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instrument also includes a "Joe the Martian" character, color references, a metric bar graphic, and a stair-step pattern for depth calibration. The MAHLI adjustable-focus, color camera at the end of Curiosity's robotic arm can be used for taking extreme close-ups of rocks and soil on Mars, as well as images from greater distances. The Joe the Martian character appeared regularly in a children's science periodical, "Red Planet Connection," when Edgett directed the Mars outreach program at Arizona State University, Tempe, in the 1990s. Joe was created earlier, as part of Edgett's schoolwork when he was 9 years old and NASA's Mars Viking missions, launched in 1975, were inspiring him to dream of becoming a Mars researcher.
It looks and sounds as if this cloud could be volcanic, doesn’t it? Yet that would be highly unlikely, since scientists have never detected any form of volcanic activity on Mars; it appears to be a geologically dead world. ESA said the cloud isn’t volcanic. Instead, it’s driven by ordinary meteorological conditions, not unlike those found on Earth. ESA explained:
InSight is a Mars lander – not a rover – designed to study a whole world from just one spot. It’s due to arrive at Mars in November. Here are 5 highlights of the mission.
This artist’s concept depicts NASA’s InSight lander after it has deployed its instruments on the Martian surface. Image Via NASA/JPL-Caltech.
NASA’s InSight spacecraft is currently hurtling toward Mars, due to touch down on the Red Planet’s surface on November 26, 2018. Unlike recent missions to Mars, which have included rovers, Mars InSight will stay put where it lands, on a high plain near Mars’ equator called Elysium Planitia, chosen for its flatness.
NASA calls what InSight will be doing on Mars sedentary science. It said in an October 24, 2018 statement that – from its perch on Elysium Planitia – InSight will be able to detect geophysical signals deep below Mars’ surface, including marsquakes and heat. Scientists will also be able to track radio signals from the stationary spacecraft, which will vary based on the wobble in Mars’ rotation. Understanding this wobble could help solve the mystery of whether Mars has a solid core.
InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. Keep reading for five highlights of the Mars InSight mission.
The Mars InSight mission will touch on Elysium Planitia, a flat and smooth plain just north of Mars’ equator. This site is just 370 miles (600 km) from Gale Crater, whose vicinity NASA’s Curiosity rover has been exploring since August, 2012. Image via NASA.
1. How can InSight measure quakes anywhere on Mars?
Quakes on Earth are usually detected using networks of seismometers. InSight has only one – called SEIS (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure) – so its science team will use some creative measurements to analyze seismic waves as they occur anywhere on the planet.
SEIS will measure seismic waves from marsquakes and meteorite strikes as they move through Mars. The speed of those waves changes depending on the material they’re traveling through, helping scientists deduce what the planet’s interior is made of.
Seismic waves come in a surprising number of flavors. Some vibrate across a planet’s surface, while others ricochet off its center. They also move at different speeds. Seismologists can use each type as a tool to triangulate where and when a seismic event has happened.
This means InSight could have landed anywhere on Mars and, without moving, gathered the same kind of science.
2. InSight’s seismometer needs peace and quiet
Seismometers are touchy by nature. They need to be isolated from “noise” in order to measure seismic waves accurately.
SEIS is sensitive enough to detect vibrations smaller than the width of a hydrogen atom. It will be the first seismometer ever set on the Martian surface, where it will be thousands of times more accurate than seismometers that sat atop the Viking landers.
To take advantage of this sensitivity, engineers have given SEIS a shell: a wind-and-thermal shield that InSight’s arm will place over the seismometer. This protective dome presses down when wind blows over it; a Mylar-and-chainmail skirt keeps wind from blowing in. It also gives SEIS a cozy place to hide away from Mars’ intense temperature swings, which can create minute changes in the instrument’s springs and electronics.
3. InSight has a self-hammering nail
Have you ever tried to hammer a nail? Then you know holding it steady is key. InSight carries a nail that also needs to be held steady.
This unique instrument, called HP3 (Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package), holds a spike attached to a long tether. A mechanism inside the spike will hammer it up to 16 feet (5 meters) underground, dragging out the tether, which is embedded with heat sensors.
At that depth, it can detect heat trapped inside Mars since the planet first formed. That heat shaped the surface with volcanoes, mountain ranges and valleys. It may even have determined where rivers ran early in Mars’ history.
4. InSight can land in a safe spot
Because InSight needs stillness – and because it can collect seismic and heat data from anywhere on the planet – the spacecraft is free to land in the safest location possible.
InSight’s team selected a location on Mars’ equator called Elysium Planitia – as flat and boring a spot as any on Mars. That makes landing just a bit easier, as there’s less to crash into, fewer rocks to land on and lots of sunlight to power the spacecraft. The fact that InSight doesn’t use much power and should have plenty of sunlight at Mars’ equator means it can provide lots of data for scientists to study.
5. InSight can measure Mars’ wobble
InSight has two X-band antennas on its deck that make up a third instrument, called RISE (Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment). Radio signals from RISE will be measured over months, maybe even years, to study the tiny “wobble” in the rotation of the planet. That wobble is a sign of whether Mars’ core is liquid or solid – a trait that could also shed light on the planet’s thin magnetic field.
Collecting detailed data on this wobble hasn’t happened since Mars Pathfinder’s three-month mission in 1997 (although the Opportunity rover made a few measurements in 2011 while it remained still, waiting out the winter). Every time a stationary spacecraft sends radio signals from Mars, it can help scientists improve their measurements.
Bottom line: Five highlights of the Mars Insight mission, due to touch down on Mars on November 26, 2018.
Bill Nye says Mars colonies won't happen: 'Are you guys high?'
By Christopher Carbone | Fox News November 20, 2018
Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk can forget about their dreams of colonizing and transforming Mars for human settlement, at least according to Bill Nye.
The popular science commentator told USA Today that the entire idea of making the Red Planet more Earth-like is purely the stuff of "science fiction."
"This whole idea of terraforming Mars, as respectful as I can be, are you guys high?" Nye said. "We can't even take care of this planet where we live, and we're perfectly suited for it, let alone another planet."
The science educator also ruled out the idea of living on Mars permanently.
"Nobody's gonna go settle on Mars to raise a family and have generations of Martians," Nye, who appears on National Geographic Channel's series "MARS," explained. "It's not reasonable because it's so cold. And there is hardly any water. There's absolutely no food, and the big thing, I just remind these guys, there's nothing to breathe."
Although the National Geographic Channel series depicts humans living on Mars, Nye doesn't agree with it.
"People disagree with me on this, and the reason they disagree is because they're wrong," he added, noting that while scientists are even stationed on Antarctica during the cold winter months, no one lives there permanently.
Scientists have long dreamed of setting up research bases on the Red Planet. NASA even held a competition to see what such infrastructure could look like. Bezos has been a longtime proponent of space tourism and colonizing Mars via his efforts with his space exploration company, Blue Origins. Musk, who runs SpaceX in addition to Tesla, called for a colony on Mars at South By Southwest last year as a way to prevent a new dark age.
Nye said living in a dome just isn't feasible.
"When you leave your dome, you're gonna put on another dome, and I think that will get old pretty quick," he said. "Especially the smell in the spacesuit – all the Febreze you can pack, I think it will really help you up there."
The Red Planet does share some similarities with Earth, such as ice caps and seasons, and has captured the imagination of humanity since the dawn of the space age.
But as for the exploration of Mars, Nye is on board.
"I want to find evidence of life on another world in my lifetime, so Mars in the next logical place to look," he said. "People say what are you gonna find there? We don't know, and that's why we go and explore the unknown horizon."
Mars 2020 Rover Will Land at Ancient Lakebed to Search for Signs of Life
By Meghan Bartels, Space.com Senior Writer | November 20, 2018
temporary picture upload This crater on Mars, named Jezero, was once a lake — and on the right-hand side of this image, a flood long ago burst through its edge, creating a canyon. Credit: Tim Goudge/NASA
Scientists have identified 24 ancient lakes on Mars that once overflowed and burst through their walls, forming steep-sided canyons — and NASA's Mars 2020 rover will explore the neighborhood of one of these paleolakes, looking for traces of ancient life.
Jezero Crater is one of two dozen sites that a team of geologists examined for signs of how canyons formed: by massive individual flooding events or by slower flows over longer periods of time. Their findings suggest that for the chosen canyons, the former occurred, with a sudden flood rapidly carving canyons across the Martian surface.
"These breached lakes are fairly common and some of them are quite large, some as large as the Caspian Sea," lead author Tim Goudge, a geoscientist at the University of Texas at Austin, said in a statement. "So we think this style of catastrophic overflow flooding and rapid incision of outlet canyons was probably quite important on early Mars' surface."
The team came to that conclusion by looking at the relationship between the canyon measurements and the crater rims that once enclosed all that water. Because the canyon size increased in proportion to the size of the nearby lake, the team believes that all 24 lakes violently burst through their walls, carving the canyons in perhaps just a few weeks. If they hadn't seen such a correlation, they would have instead suspected that the canyons formed gradually from more gentle water flow.
And unlike geologic features here on Earth, lake beds and canyons remain etched on the surface of Mars, since there are no modern plate tectonics to shuffle crust around and destroy them.
"The landscape on Earth doesn't preserve large lakes for a very long time," co-author Caleb Fassett, a planetary scientist at NASA, said in the same statement. "But on Mars ... these canyons have been there for 3.7 billion years, a very long time, and it gives us insight into what the deep time surface water was like on Mars."
That long-lived Martian surface offers scientists hope that they might be able to access ancient sediments that may hold the remains of any life that once existed on Mars. That's part of why NASA chose to send its Mars 2020 rover, due to touch down on the Red Planet in 2021, to Jezero Crater, where it can study five different types of rock and hunt for any remains of ancient life that could be hiding in such a formerly wet environment.
The new research is described in a paper published on Nov. 16 in the journal Geology.
By Eleanor Imster in HUMAN WORLD | SPACE | November 20, 2018
On November 26, 2018, NASA’s InSight lander will make its daring descent to Mars’ surface. The spacecraft is scheduled to touch down Monday at approximately 20:00 UTC (3 p.m. EST), with live landing commentary starting about an hour before.
Artist’s concept shows a simulated view of NASA’s InSight lander firing retrorockets to slow down as it descends toward the surface of Mars. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech.
On Monday, November 26, 2018, NASA’s Mars Insight is scheduled to land on Mars. The spacecraft will touch down at approximately 20:00 UTC (3 p.m. EST). Watch coverage of the event on NASA TV. Live landing commentary runs from 19:00-20:30 UTC (2-3:30 p.m. EST). Translate UTC to your time.
Ways to watch: Watch on NASA TV. Watch NASA TV on USTREAM Follow the mission and watch the landing on Twitter and Facebook.
Launched on May 5, 2018, InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) marks NASA’s first Mars landing since the Curiosity rover in 2012. The landing will kick off a two-year mission in which InSight will become the first spacecraft to study Mars’ deep interior. Its data also will help scientists understand the formation of all rocky worlds, including our own.
InSight is being followed to Mars by two mini-spacecraft comprising NASA’s Mars Cube One (MarCO), the first deep-space mission for CubeSats. If MarCO makes its planned Mars flyby, it will attempt to relay data from InSight as it enters the planet’s atmosphere and lands. Here’s where Insight will touch down: earthsky.org/space/site-mars-insight-spacecraft-landing
There’s a reason space engineers describe landing on Mars as “7 minutes of terror.”
Engineers and scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are working hard this weekend, preparing for another daring attempt to land a spacecraft on the surface of the planet Mars. The InSight spacecraft – designed to study Mars’ interior – is scheduled to land on Monday, November 26, 2018. (Watch coverage of the event on NASA TV. Live landing commentary runs from 2:00 p.m.-3:30 p.m. EST.) It’ll be NASA’s 10th Mars landing attempt, and NASA has been mostly successful. But, because of its thin atmosphere, Mars overall has a much lower success rate for spacecraft landings than the Earth, the moon or Venus. And – along with other nations of the world – NASA has had its failures. And that’s why Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said late last week in a statement:
"Landing on Mars is hard. It takes skill, focus and years of preparation …"
No doubt about it, Monday’s Mars landing attempt will be a nail-biter. Consider the speed at which the craft has to hit Mars’ atmosphere, and then, in a very short time, slow down enough to land. When NASA’s InSight spacecraft hits the top of the Martian atmosphere on Monday, it’ll be traveling at 12,300 mph (19,800 kph). During its descent through Mars’ atmosphere, it needs to slow down to 5 mph (8 kph) – about human jogging speed – before its three legs touch down on Martian soil.
That extreme deceleration has to happen in just under seven minutes, a timeframe known to NASA engineers as:
"… seven minutes of terror."
In that seven minutes, the InSight lander has to deploy its parachute and landing legs, spot the surface with radar instruments, and fire 12 engines to help it slow down. All of these actions are preprogrammed because, due to the finite speed of light, NASA engineers can’t make changes to the procedure if something goes wrong. They can’t even track the descent in real time.
In fact, traveling at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second or about 300 km per second), signals from the InSight craft will need about eight minutes to reach Earth. That means that, by the time NASA engineers – and the rest of us – learn that InSight has reached the top of Mars’ atmosphere, the lander will have already touched down safely or crashed.
Why is landing on Mars so hard? The video below, from MinutePhysics, does a good job explaining it:
InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. It’s the first mission designed to study the deep interior of Mars. InSight blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California on May 5, 2018, and, so far, engineers have described InSight’s flight to Mars as “uneventful.” But, said Rob Grover, about InSight’s entry, descent and landing:
"There’s a reason engineers call landing on Mars ‘seven minutes of terror.’ We can’t joystick the landing, so we have to rely on the commands we pre-program into the spacecraft. We’ve spent years testing our plans, learning from other Mars landings and studying all the conditions Mars can throw at us. And we’re going to stay vigilant till InSight settles into its home in the Elysium Planitia region."
Want more details on the landing? The video below is for you:
Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters, commented:
"Landing on Mars is exciting, but scientists are looking forward to the time after InSight lands. Once InSight is settled on the red planet and its instruments are deployed, it will start collecting valuable information about the structure of Mars’ deep interior – information that will help us understand the formation and evolution of all rocky planets, including the one we call home."
Sue Smrekar, the InSight mission’s deputy principal investigator at JPL, added:
"Previous missions haven’t gone more than skin-deep at Mars. InSight scientists can’t wait to explore the heart of Mars."
Bottom line: Landing on Mars is hard. Watch on Monday, November 26, 2018, as NASA’s InSight lander – designed to study Mars’ interior – attempts to land.
lois: Very Happy to see you Ron. Missed you. Glad you are doing better now. Sorry for your lost. I did not know your brother had passed. hugs lois
Jul 10, 2018 0:52:45 GMT -6
paulette: Ron - hope you've hit a quiet spot. Sorry for your loss.
Aug 3, 2018 10:49:30 GMT -6
lois: I picked up my phone a few days ago and I looked at the name of the caller. Boy was I surprise. It has been a couple of years. So good to hear your voice Ron. Hope you make it a habit again. love and hugs .
Aug 15, 2018 23:21:38 GMT -6
leia77: Spotless, I am glad that you are feeling better and welcome back! I too am back from a long time away...
Aug 31, 2018 2:08:32 GMT -6
jcurio: I am much relieved to see that you have been on here, Spotless! I hope that things are going much better for you now
Sept 19, 2018 16:46:42 GMT -6
jcurio: And Lois, And Lorelei!
Sept 19, 2018 16:47:07 GMT -6
casper: And Meeeeeee!!
Oct 16, 2018 18:41:31 GMT -6
lois: Sorry guys I cannot see the print. On is tiny hand computer
Oct 21, 2018 20:42:09 GMT -6
lois: Casper your page stops at page five in 2016
Nov 15, 2018 23:54:01 GMT -6
lois: How did your Halloween night go this year?
Nov 15, 2018 23:54:58 GMT -6
skywalker: He posted on the Halloween thread this year.
Nov 25, 2018 18:33:36 GMT -6
lois: Oh ok Sky I will check it out. Thanks.
Dec 21, 2018 21:45:31 GMT -6
lois: What topic was it under.
Dec 21, 2018 21:51:07 GMT -6