Courtesy RHorningWould you be willing to take a one-way trip to Mars? More than 200,000 people said "yes" to a venture by Mars One, a private space exploration team that says it wants to take a team to Mars and keep them living there the rest of their natural lives. The target mission date is 2024. The winnowing process to get to the final 24 candidates is right now whittling down the remaining 600 applicants to a finalist field of 24. The Washington Post, today, interviews a number of US candidates who are being considered for the mission.
Courtesy NASACan we expect to get more than 10 years out of our cars today? At best, they get listed as a "late model" vehicle in some classified ads. So how about our space cars?
This week the Mars rover Opportunity is marking its tenth year of rolling around the Red Planet. Not too shabby for something that was designed for just a quick three-month life span. It's partner rover, Spirit, seized up and got permanently stuck in sand three years ago. And now both vehicles are being overshadowed by Curiosity, the high-tech rover that just landed on Mars five months ago.
Like any older vehicle, Opportunity has its quirks. It gets around mostly in reverse these days because one of the front wheels doesn't turn well. Its robot arm needs some extra coaxing from operators to get jobs done. But it's still collecting samples and data. It total, it's logged 22 miles across the Martian terrain. Not too shabby for a late model rover.
Here's a link to NASA's webpage of photos and information that Opportunity has collected over the years.
Tonight, as you're wondering if your level 81 dark elf mage and her sweet double-enchanted dragonscale armor makes up for the girlfriend you lost playing Skyrim, turn your xbox over to the live streaming of the landing of the new Mars rover, Curiosity. Because it's right there on your console's dashboard!
It's really a win-win situation. Arborea Darkshadow can wait a few minutes, I'm sure, and you'll either get to witness an action-packed landing of a big new Mars rover, or you'll get to see the hopes and dreams of hundreds of scientists and engineers crash and disintegrate on the cold surface of a dead planet millions of miles away!
You know what JGordon will be doing approximately 12 hours from now? Definitely not watching the Curiosity landing! But that's only because I don't have an internet connection at my apartment. No, I'll probably be forcing the cat to participate in the St. Paul Cat Olympics. As far as I know, there will be only one contestant, but it promises to be hilarious! Why? Because she probably can't swim very well.
Mars! Be there!
The music is a little over-the-top, but the machine is epic. Even for a girl who isn't particularly interested in space stuff.
Check it out.
Courtesy NASA JPLWait, who was I quoting in that headline? Me. I was quoting me, from when I described the upcoming Mars rover landing in my head as "pretty frickin' awesome." Or ... that was very nearly what I thought, but the specifics of what goes on in my brain pit are for adult ears only.
Which adult? This one. Me.
Anyway, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has produced a video about how the landing of the Mars rover Curiosity will go down, when the spacecraft carrying it reaches the Martian atmosphere on August 4. As you'll see when you watch the video below, there's dramatic music, scientists and engineers speaking dramatically, and dramatic flashing graphics. All very nice and of high production value, but it makes me want to say, "Hey, don't be dorks, dorks. Geez."
But I can't. Because it actually looks pretty awesome. The spacecraft is going to enter the atmosphere going 13,000 miles an hour, which will heat it up to about 1600 degrees. Then a giant, super tough parachute will shoot out, and slow it down to a couple hundred miles an hour. And then the capsule will break open (before it hits the ground), and another flying device will fall out, the "Sky Crane." The Sky Crane will use rockets to zoom away, and then hover above the surface of the planet. It will then lower the actual rover down on a cable. Once the rover touches down, the crane will blast off again, so it doesn't crash into the rover. Pretty amazing. Take a look:
Courtesy xkcdThe current Mars rovers are, not surprisingly, still on Mars. The surprising bit is that one, Opportunity, is still operating, nearly seven years after landing. The other, Spirit, is stuck, possibly in a hibernation mode, and could "wake up" during the Martian summer solstice , this coming March. It’s pretty incredible that these rovers operated so long after they landed – in Opportunity's case 20 times longer and counting.
And, orbiting above the rovers is the Odyssey spacecraft, which last week broke the record for longest-working spacecraft at Mars. The previous record was set by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, which orbited Mars from 1997 to 2006.
And amidst all this history, a little under a year from now, the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity will be launched and is scheduled to land in August 2012. Curiosity is also a rover, but is larger than either Opportunity or Spirit. Its mission is to assess whether Mars ever was, or is still today, an environment able to support microbial life.
Remember the Russian Mars-flight simulation? Six volunteers in Russia were sealed up in a space ship sized structure in June, and would remain there for 520 days—the length of a trip to Mars and back.
It sounds like a stinky, claustrophobic situation, but it looks... kinda fun. Popular Science has a photo gallery of the "astronauts" ("cosmonauts"?) in their natural habitat. They have the Rock Band video game, and a lot of time on their hands. Sounds a little like life here on Earth.
Courtesy lttizJoining my list of most-pleasing words (ala Donny Darko's "cellar door"), which includes such old favorites as "jasper geode" and "top banana," is the phrase "Martian ocean." And, as it happens, a Martian ocean may have once been a real thing.
Based on the analysis of dozens of the red planet's geographical features, a team of scientists from the University of Colorado at Boulder believe that an ocean may have covered about one-third of Mars' surface, about 3.5 billion years ago. Most of the river delta-like features on Mars, they claim, likely marked the boundaries of the ancient ocean. And although the ocean would have been only about one-tenth the volume of Earth's oceans, the amount of sediment in the deltas suggests that there was once a significant amount of precipitation on Mars, carrying silt through the many river valleys to the ocean.
If the theory is true, Mars would have had a water cycle very similar to Earth's, with "precipitation, runoff, cloud formation, and ice and groundwater accumulation."
And, most importantly, a Martian ocean. Martian ocean. Maaartiiaaan ooocceeaaan. Martian ocean.
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.
Courtesy NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory-CaltechIn 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?