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Mysterious white light on Mars seen in NASA photo

By Chris Ciaccia | Fox News

NASA has released a photo taken by its Curiosity rover that shows a mysterious, unexplained white light on Mars.

The black-and-white raw image was taken by the rover’s right “navcam” (which acts as sort of an eye) on June 16, 2019 or Sol 2438, and transmitted back to Earth. The navcam snapped the picture at 03:53:59 UTC.

The rover has two navcams and 17 cameras and it has been sending photographs continuously since it landed on the Red Planet in August 2012, nearly seven years ago.

(Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

(Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

It’s unclear exactly what the white spot on the photograph is, as images taken almost immediately before and after do not show the mysterious white light. The images below, also released publicly, were taken at 03:53:46 UTC and 03:54:12 UTC.

This image was snapped by Curiosity at 3:53:46 UTC. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This image was snapped by Curiosity at 3:53:46 UTC. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This image was snapped by Curiosity at 03:54:12 UTC. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This image was snapped by Curiosity at 03:54:12 UTC. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This is not the first time an anomaly of this sort has been spotted by Curiosity on Mars. In 2014, a separate mysterious white spot was seen by the rover on April 3, or Sol 589. At the time, JPL scientist Dr. Justin Maki said he believed the light could be a glint from the “rock surface reflecting the Sun.”

In December 2018, Curiosity detected a “shiny” object which may be a meteorite, but NASA researchers were not sure at the time. “The planning team thinks it might be a meteorite because it is so shiny,” NASA wrote in a November 2018 mission update. “But looks can deceive, and proof will only come from the chemistry.”

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Mars meteorite 1st look at Red Planet’s ancient crust

Sawn surface of the Mars meteorite NWA 7533 showing both light and dark clasts in grey matrix.

Sawn surface of the Mars meteorite NWA 7533 showing both light and dark clasts in grey matrix. (Luc Labenne)

A meteorite found last year in the Sahara Desert is likely the first recognized piece of ancient Martian crust, a new study reports.

The Mars meteorite NWA 7533 is 4.4 billion years old and contains evidence of long-ago asteroid strikes, suggesting that the rock came from the Red Planet’s ancient and cratered southern highlands, researchers said.

“We finally have a sample of the Martian highlands, that portion of Mars that holds all the secrets to Mars’ birth and early development,” lead author Munir Humayun of Florida State University told SPACE.com via email. [Photos: Amazing Meteorites from Mars]

“It’s the part of Mars’ history where the oceans and atmosphere developed, and where life would have developed if it ever did on Mars,” Humayun added. “I will liken this to opening a treasure chest — it may take a while before we find the best treasures, but treasures aplenty lurk in this meteorite.”

Humayun and his colleagues subjected NWA (short for northwest Africa, where the rock was found) 7533 to a series of analyses. The researchers determined the meteorite’s age, for example, by determining that crystals within it called zircons formed about 4.4 billion years ago.

“This date is about 100 million years after the first dust condensed in the solar system,” Humayun said in a statement. “We now know that Mars had a crust within the first 100 million years of the start of planet-building, and that Mars’ crust formed concurrently with the oldest crusts on Earth and the moon.”

The team also found high concentrations of normally rare elements such as nickel, osmium and iridium in NWA 7533, indicating that the rock formed in a region that was pummeled by chondritic meteors, which are relatively enriched in these materials.

Further, after measuring the abundances of certain elements within the meteorite, Humayun and his team were able to calculate a thickness for the Red Planet’s crust.

“The amount of melting on Mars was low, sufficient to accumulate a 50-kilometer-thickness [31 miles] crust, but Mars evidently escaped the giant impact-style melting that affected the Earth and moon,” Humayun told SPACE.com. (Most scientists think the moon formed from material blasted into space when a planet-size body crashed into Earth more than 4 billion years ago.)

“This is the first reliable geochemical estimate of the thickness of Mars’ crust, and it agrees with geophysical estimates from gravity and topography,” he added.

Though researchers believe ancient Mars was relatively warm and wet, the team found no hydrous silicate minerals — which form in the presence of liquid water — within NWA 7533. Scientists will likely unearth more such puzzling details as they study the meteorite further, Humayun said.

“I expect more surprises as we dig deeper into our Martian treasure chest — some we will understand, and others may continue to befuddle us for a while to come,” he said.

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Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar But Whats Inside Caught Him By Surprise

Urban explorer and photographer Ralph Mirebs found something very rare; a find unlike anything we’ve seen before. While venturing around Kazakhstan, Ralph came across an enormous abandoned building.

At first, the building looked similar to a large airport hangar but much larger. After breaking into it, he realized that this was a very special building with some of the most historical items in the world.

In fact, two of the most historical items in the world! Scroll down to see these spectacular images for yourself.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise

The abandoned hangar is located at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Cosmodrome is miles away and still in operation today. Because the NASA Space Program was recently shut down, this is the only area that astronauts can make their way up to the International Space Station via Russian Soyuz space shuttles.

This hangar in particular is from a previous time when the Russians and the Americans were competing in a race for space exploration.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (1)

The hangar was erected in 1974 for the Buran Space Shuttle Program where technology and design would fuse to create some of the most incredible exploration vessels ever conceived. The Buran Shuttle Program was halted in 1988 but the hangar was operational until 1993 and was the home to three of the most advanced pieces of technology of their time.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (2)

The collapse of the Soviet Union caused the demise of this facility in 1993. Sadly, only one shuttle of three ever partook in a mission. The shuttle completed one unmanned orbit before it was grounded and destroyed in a different hangar that collapsed on top of it.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (3)

There are two shuttles from the Buran Space Program left and they sit in idle, turning into historic relics, within a forgotten and abandoned building located in Kazakhstan.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (4)The facility was an incredibly advanced building with atmospheric pressure control systems in place to keep dust and debris outside of its thick walls. Those systems have been turned off and now nature is slowly reclaiming this incredibly massive place.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (7)

The shuttles are being covered with dust and bird droppings more and more every day. The ceramic tiles that wrap the shuttles are starting to fall off and shatter on the floor below. It’s only a matter of time before these two pieces of space exploration history are gone forever.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (8)

Surprisingly only a few windows have been broken out but there is not much damage at all from vandals, which is a very rare sight when it comes to almost anything abandoned these days. It’s a good thing that urban explorers live by the motto, “Leave only footprints, take only photographs.”

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (10)

These two shuttles never made it to launch. One shuttle was actually a mock-up shuttle that was used to test fit everything that would be used to build the two fully functioning shuttles. Of those two shuttles, only one made it to launch for an un-manned orbit. It was grounded soon after and destroyed when the hangar it was being stored in collapsed.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (11)

The facility used to build these shuttles is absolutely massive. We can’t imagine how massive this would be standing on the floor looking up. Isn’t it strange that there is an abandoned relic, completely forgotten about, that contains vehicles our civilization used to travel through space?

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (12)

It seems like just yesterday we were sending robots to Mars and now we have forgotten space vehicles left abandoned.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (13)

These two shuttles need to be sitting in a museum. It’s not like you see space shuttles every day, let alone space shuttles that have been abandoned and left to rot.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (14)

The yellow platforms show the sheer size of this facility. They are on pneumatic rollers that can move around the shuttles and platforms in unison in order to work on them. You would think that all of this would be highly sought after and extremely valuable.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (15)

The paint is starting to peel and the walls are starting to rust now that the climate control systems are dead. It’s only a matter of time before this entire building crumbles to the ground, crushing two iconic pieces of history.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (16)

It looks as if the working shuttle was just about ready for its maiden voyage before it was grounded during the fall of the Soviet Union. With the Russian Space Program still in full effect, it surprises us that these can be left abandoned.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (17)

But what a sight to see. Can you imagine walking into an abandoned building not fully knowing what to expect when you enter? We think that two full space shuttles sitting completely lifeless would be quite a shock.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (18)

Some of the ceramic tiles have fallen off but for the most part these shuttles are in great shape. They’re just covered in years and years of dust and bird droppings.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (20)

This is the nose of the operational prototype shuttle while the shuttle sitting in the front of the building is the test mock-up shuttle.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (21)

They are still surrounded by the working platforms which are still in excellent condition. The paint has just started to peel which means the deterioration process has just been expedited.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (22)

This is the type of thing you would expect to see in a James Bond movie but never in real life.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (23)

It seems like it would make an incredible museum in itself. This is one of the biggest technological advances of our short time on this planet so far.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (24)

Seeing something so beautiful and important falling apart slowly breaks my heart. That being said, seeing it in this state is bittersweet and actually very beautiful. These images are somewhat surreal.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (25)

Just imagine seeing this place in its heyday. Russian scientists and engineers racing to press into the future of space exploration to discover the unknown and make history! It must have been spectacular.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (26)

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (27)

Hopefully this article spreads some attention and these shuttles are restored and placed in a museum.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (28)

The holes on the front of the nose cone are actually thrusters that would be used to slightly steer the shuttle as it is in space. The ceramic tiles that cover the shuttle were used to protect the shell from the insane temperatures that the shuttle would be exposed to.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (29)

The small round opening on the side of the shuttle is the entry hatch leading the Russian astronauts into the cockpit. It’s funny to think that this small piece of metal and tile is the only thing separating these people from the vastness of space as we know it.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (30)

From this facility, the shuttles would have been transported to the launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome which is quite a few miles away. The Cosmodrome is still used today. In fact, American astronauts head to the International Space Station from this location.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (32)

At the time the computer power of this shuttle was less than that of the cell phone in your hand. You would have to be a seriously brave person to take on a challenge like that.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (33)

The cockpit of the shuttle has been stripped of some of its equipment but most of it is still there.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (34)

The amount of equipment that is systematically placed throughout the fuselage is impressive!

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (35)

The best part is that it’s all still there and photographer Ralph Mirebs was able to capture it all.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (36)

It looks like someone had a party in here at one point. Our guess is it was a few employees who found out their most impressive project was just canned.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (37)

The hatch and pressure control systems look like they would turn right on and start working immediately.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (38)

There is so much to salvage here. This door leads into the back half of the fuselage where satellites or other space equipment would be stored and launched into the sky.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (40)

Inside you can see air tanks as well as the giant hatch above that would open allowing space astronauts to release their equipment into orbit.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (41)

Being sealed off from the elements outside, the interior is relatively dust free and in amazing shape.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (42)

Past the rear storage compartment is a huge equipment room.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (43)

The other shuttle contains something inside that we can’t really tell whether that’s a satellite or not.

Man Noticed This Abandoned Hangar. But What's Inside Caught Him By Surprise (44)

Two completely forgotten space shuttles that are sitting to rot and over time they will be crushed by the building that once protected them. These are incredible pieces of history that should be placed in a museum. Stumbling across some epic find when exploring abandoned or forgotten places is inspiring. But what Ralph Mirebs found, makes this the most awesome urban exploration we’ve seen yet!


Ralph Mirebs

Slip Talk



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Curiosity Rover Drills Into Mars Rock, Finds Water

Miriam Kramer
The hole drilled into this rock target, called "Cumberland," was made by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on May 19, 2013.
© NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS The hole drilled into this rock target, called “Cumberland,” was made by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on May 19, 2013.NASA’s Curiosity rover is continuing to help scientists piece together the mystery of how Mars lost its surface water over the course of billions of years.The rover drilled into a piece of Martian rock called Cumberland and found some ancient water hidden within it. Researchers were then able to test a key ratio in the water with Curiosity’s onboard instruments to gather more data about when Mars started to lose its water, NASA officials said. In the same sample, Curiosity also detected the first organic molecules it has found. Mission scientists announced the discovery in a news conference today (Dec. 15) at the American Geophysical Union’s convention in San Francisco, where they also unveiled Curiosity’s first detection of methane on Mars.

“It’s really interesting that our measurements from Curiosity of gases extracted from ancient rocks can tell us about loss of water from Mars,” Paul Mahaffy, Curiosity’s SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) instrument principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement. [Photos: The Search for Water on Mars]

Curiosity measured the ratio of deuterium (heavy hydrogen) to “normal” hydrogen. This D-to-H ratio can help scientists see how long it takes for water molecules to escape, because the lighter hydrogen molecules fly toward the upper atmosphere more freely than deuterium does.

The D-to-H ratio in Cumberland is about half the ratio found in the Martian atmosphere’s water vapor today, NASA officials said. This suggests that the planet lost much of its surface water after the Cumberland rock formed, space agency officials added in the same statement.

But the water sample is also about three times “heavier” than Earth’s oceans. This means that if Mars’ surface water started off with a D-to-H ratio like Earth’s, then most of the Martian water likely disappeared before Cumberland formed about 3.9 billion to 4.6 billion years ago.

The Cumberland measurement fills in a gap for scientists studying different epochs of Martian geological evolution. This sampling marks the first time scientists have been able to measure what the water on Mars may have been like during the Hesperian period, when this rock was formed, said Mahaffy, who is the lead author of a Mars water study published in the journal Science this week.

Previously, scientists have used Martian meteorites on Earth to sample Martian water; however, none of those space rocks date back to the Hesperian period.

“You have the whole period from 2.5 billion to 4 billion years old, and there’s no data that we have from Mars meteorites just because we haven’t found any yet, I guess,” Mahaffy told Space.com. “So, it’s very gratifying to be able to fill in that picture a little bit.”

Follow Miriam Kramer @mirikramer. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

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SH 120_#2 BIG

Ever dream of living out your days on a hostile desert world, exiled from the garden planet of your youth? Who do you think you are? Paul Atreides? Well, maybe it’s not so strange. 78,000 Earthlings (and counting) share that dream. Since late April, the not-for-profit organization, Mars One, has been flooded with applications for a one-way ticket to colonize Mars in 2023.

The trip will be funded in part by proceeds from a reality television show (or as the firm calls it, a “global media event”) covering the epic journey from crew selection to colonization. The Mars One team hopes this media coverage will provide a significant influx of income to help back the estimated $6 billion project. Apart from television, funding may include sale of merchandise—t-shirts, hoodies, coffee mugs, and posters—donations (even Bitcoin donations!), and sponsorships.

SH 120_#3Anyone may apply to become a colonist, and the final crew (at which point, presumably, all participants will be qualified) will be voted to Mars by the viewing public. Applications so far represent a wide range of ages and nationalities, many of whom filmed a video for the Mars One home page. (Check the videos out here.)

The Mars One timeline goes like this. In 2013, the first candidate astronauts will be selected, and an Earthly version of the Mars habitat will be erected in a remote, hostile location. Televised astronaut training will go on in parallel to technical development, which will begin in 2014.

And here’s where things get ambitious.

In October 2016, a 2,500 kilogram supply ship (packed with spare parts, solar panels, and general supplies) will land on Mars. This alone would be a notable feat. No private firm has yet made it outside Earth orbit, though the Google Lunar X Prize may change that before it expires at the end of 2015. Mars, of course, is an even more ambitious target than the Moon.

Five years from now, in 2018, a Mars One rover will land and and nail down the settlement site. A second rover, two living units, two support units, and a second supply unit will land in 2021. The robotic rovers will prepare for the colonists as the life support systems make oxygen and water. And finally, in 2022, the Mars One transit vehicle will be launched in pieces, assembled in orbit, and carry the Mars One team to the Red Planet, landing in 2023.

SH 120_#6It took NASA, with a Cold War inspired blank check from Uncle Sam, about a decade to land on the Moon. It would be a stunning achievement if, in the same timeframe, a private firm not only landed the first humans on Mars, but established a permanent colony there.

Granted, Mars One proposes to stand on the shoulders of giants—using already existing tech, like SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket and Dragon capsule—whereas NASA was assembling said giants from the ground up. But the funding, training, and logistics of human travel to Mars are all unknowns. Perhaps this story gets more plausible as the years go by. Perhaps the opposite happens. Either way, dreaming big is the only way we’ll make this space exploration thing happen.

There are other private plans to go to Mars in the next decade or so too. Space tourist, Dennis Tito, is hoping to send a couple to Mars orbit and bring them safely back to Earth in 2018. Tito’s plan would be no small feat either, but logistically, far more simple. And if expertise, experience, and economics have anything to do with it, Elon Musk and SpaceX may well help lay down the first private prints on Martian soil.

But the private space age is still young. A lot can happen in ten years—new players, new plans, and new technology. Mars One is notable for the originality of its plan. Financing enormously expensive space expeditions with little to no expected economic return is a tough nut to crack. (SpaceX for example has said it would charge colonists $500,000 apiece.) Mars One may prove the doubters dead wrong. But let’s withhold judgement for a year or two at least.

For now, the most intriguing part of the Mars One story is just how many people are willing to leave Earth with no prospect of a return flight. Would you do it?

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Mars ‘flying saucer’ splashes down after NASA test


FILE – In this undated file photo provided by NASA, a saucer-shaped test vehicle known as a Low Density Supersonic Decelerator is shown in the Missile Assembly Building at the US Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility at Kekaha on the island of Kauai in Hawaii.AP/NASA

After several weather delays, NASA on Saturday launched a helium balloon carrying a saucer-shaped vehicle high in Earth’s atmosphere to test technology that could be used to land on Mars.

The craft deployed a novel inflatable braking system on its way back to Earth, but its massive parachute failed to fully unfurl as it descended to a splashdown.

Control room cheers that greeted successful steps in the complex test rapidly died as the parachute appeared to emerge tangled.

“Please inform the recovery director we have bad chute,” a mission official ordered.

Since the twin Viking spacecraft landed on the red planet in 1976, NASA has relied on the same parachute design to slow landers and rovers after piercing through the thin Martian atmosphere.

The $150 million experimental flight tests a novel vehicle and a giant parachute designed to deliver heavier spacecraft and eventually astronauts.

Viewers around the world with an Internet connection followed portions of the mission in real time thanks to cameras on board the vehicle that beamed back low-resolution footage.

After taking off at 11:40 a.m. from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, the balloon boosted the disc-shaped vehicle over the Pacific. Its rocket motor should then ignite, carrying the vehicle to 34 miles high at supersonic speeds.

The environment this high up is similar to the thin Martian atmosphere. As the vehicle prepared to drop back the Earth, a tube around it expanded like a Hawaiian puffer fish, creating atmospheric drag to dramatically slow it down from Mach 4, or four times the speed of sound.

Then the parachute if only partially — and the vehicle splashed down about three hours later. At 110 feet in diameter, the parachute is twice as big as the one that carried the 1-ton Curiosity rover through the Martian atmosphere in 2011.

Despite the parachute problem, “what we just saw was a really good test,” said NASA engineer Dan Coatta with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The test was postponed six previous times because of high winds. Winds need to be calm so that the balloon doesn’t stray into no-fly zones.

Engineers planned to analyze the data and conduct several more flights next year before deciding whether to fly the vehicle and parachute on a future Mars mission.

“We want to test them here where it’s cheaper before we send it to Mars to make sure that it’s going to work there,” project manager Mark Adler of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said during a pre-launch news conference in Kauai in early June.

The technology envelope needs to be pushed or else humanity won’t be able to fly beyond the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit, said Michael Gazarik, head of space technology at NASA headquarters.

Technology development “is the surest path to Mars,” Gazarik said at the briefing.

The Los Angeles Times reported that teams working on the project will report at different times. These teams include specialists who will launch the balloon and communication teams. There are antennas near the base, the report said.

There is a lot that can go wrong, but that’s precisely why the teams say these tests are imperative.

“We learn even more when we fail,” Robert Manning, the chief engineer, told The Times. “If you’re not dropping balls, you’re not learning how to juggle.”

Click for more from LA Times

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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Musk: SpaceX could land humans on Mars in 10 to 12 years

Musk: SpaceX could land humans on Mars in 10 to 12 years

SpaceX founder Elon Musk thinks his private spaceflight company will have the capability to land humans on Mars within 12 years, assuming the availability of funding for the historic mission. Also, once SpaceX starts making steps toward this goal, the company could be floated on the stock market to boost investment for the red planet adventure.

Musk, who also founded the electric car manufacturer Tesla, has always made his interplanetary intentions known, but this recent announcement is a reminder about how far the company has come and how far it is looking into the future.

 During the CNBC interview, Musk said: “I’m hopeful that the first people could be taken to Mars in 10 to 12 years, I think it’s certainly possible for that to occur. But the thing that matters long term is to have a self-sustaining city on Mars, to make life multiplanetary.”

Musk also highlighted NASA’s role in SpaceX’s success, pointing out that without the US space agency’s pioneering work that SpaceX wouldn’t be where it is today. NASA provided funding to help develop SpaceX’s Falcon rocket series and Dragon space capsule, eventually awarding the company a $1.6 billion contract to help resupply the International Space Station.

SpaceX is now competing for the next round of NASA contracts that will be awarded to a private US spaceflight company for commercial crew launches to the space station. Musk unveiled the crewed version of the Dragon capsule — dubbed the Dragon “V2″ (version 2) — at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorn, Calif., last month.

The Dragon V2 will be considered in a 3-way competition to acquire NASA contracts to fly astronauts to the space station (and beyond), ending the US dependence on the Russian Soyuz launch vehicle to get astronauts into space after the Space Shuttle fleet was retired in 2011. Aerospace giant Boeing and spaceflight company Sierra Nevada also have potential “space taxis” in the running, but NASA cannot fund them all.

Should SpaceX not win the commercial crew contract, however, Musk is still confident that his ultimate Mars dream can be fulfilled.

“It’s possible that we may not win the commercial crew contract. … We’ll do our best to continue on our own, with our own money,” he said. “We would not be where we are today without the help of NASA.”

SpaceX is hoping to see the maiden flight of the powerful Falcon Heavy rocket within the next year, a booster that could launch heavy components for a Mars mission into space.

A potential route to funding a Mars mission could come if SpaceX went public and floated on the stock market. But with investors comes pressure for the company to be constantly growing and being profitable, momentum that can be difficult to maintain over a multi-year effort toward the one Mars goal.

“We need to get where things a steady and predictable,” Musk said. “Maybe we’re close to developing the Mars vehicle, or ideally we’ve flown it a few times, then I think going public would make more sense.”

While commenting on Tesla’s pioneering work into driving down the cost of electric cars, Musk joked that a mission to Mars may be an easier task than driving down the cost of electric car batteries to less than $5000. He was, however, optimistic that Tesla could start producing a “compelling” mass-market electric car within the next 3 years.

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NASA solves mystery of ‘jelly donut’ on Mars

NASA solves mystery of ‘jelly donut’ on Mars

Published February 14, 2014

  • mars-mystery-rock-opportunity-rover-full

    This before-and-after pair of images of the same patch of ground in front of NASA’s Mars Rover Opportunity 13 days apart documents the arrival of a strange, bright rock at the scene. The rock, called “Pinnacle Island,” is seen in the right imag (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.)

  • Mars Jelly Donut.jpg

    Feb. 4, 2014: This image from NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity shows where a rock called “Pinnacle Island” had been — before it appeared in front of the rover in early January 2014. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.)

  • mystery-mars-rock

    A comparison of two raw Pancam photographs from sols 3528 and 3540 of Opportunity’s mission (a sol is a Martian day). Notice the “jelly doughnut”-sized rock in the center of the photograph to the right. Minor adjustments for brightness and cont (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

  • mars-mystery-rock-opportunity-rover-squyres

    Steve Squyres, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity, points at a strange rock found by the rover on Jan. 8, 2014, where earlier there had been nothing, during a Jan. 16 presentation. The rock has been named “Pinnacle Island.” (NASA/JPL)

It was a complete unknown — it was a rolling stone.

A mystery rock that appeared before NASA’s Opportunity rover in late January — and bore a strange resemblance to a jelly donut — is no more than a common piece of stone that bounced in front of the cameras, NASA said Friday.

The strange rock was first spied on Jan. 8, in a spot where nothing had sat a mere two weeks earlier. Dubbed “Pinnacle Island” by NASA scientists, it was only about 1.5 inches wide. But the rock’s odd appearance — white-rimmed and red-centered, not unlike a jelly donut — made many sit up and take notice.

‘We drove over it. We can see the track. That’s where Pinnacle Island came from.’

– Opportunity Deputy Principal Investigator Ray Arvidson

Now researchers with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology have finally cleared up the mystery.

Yep. It’s a rock.

“Once we moved Opportunity a short distance, after inspecting Pinnacle Island, we could see directly uphill an overturned rock that has the same unusual appearance,” said Opportunity Deputy Principal Investigator Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis. “We drove over it. We can see the track. That’s where Pinnacle Island came from.”

Examination of Pinnacle Island revealed high levels of elements such as manganese and sulfur, suggesting these water-soluble ingredients were concentrated in the rock by the action of water.

“This may have happened just beneath the surface relatively recently,” Arvidson said, “or it may have happened deeper below ground longer ago and then, by serendipity, erosion stripped away material above it and made it accessible to our wheels.”

Now that the rover is finished inspecting this rock, the team plans to drive Opportunity south and uphill to investigate exposed rock layers on the slope.

Opportunity has trolled the Martian surface since Jan. 24, 2004, far outlasting its original 90-day mission.

Steve Squyres, the rover’s lead scientist at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y said the Red Planet keeps surprising scientists, even 10 years later.

“Mars keeps throwing new things at us,” he said.

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Mars was once covered in water

Ancient Mars was once covered in water — and MAVEN will find out where it went

Published November 14, 2013


Where did all the water go?

Billions of years ago when the Red Planet was young, it likely had a thick atmosphere that was warm enough to support oceans of liquid water, a critical ingredient for life, NASA believes. Mars today is a barren desert however — so what happened?

NASA aims to solve a piece of that puzzle with the launch of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission, which is set to blast off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Complex 41 on Monday, Nov. 18 at 1:28 p.m.

The newest Mars explorer will study the thinning of the planet’s atmosphere and the disappearance of surface water over time to possibly explain the discrepancy between then and now.

There are currently several competing theories to explain how Mars was stripped of its thick atmosphere some 4 billion years ago, the space agency said.

“The leading theory is that Mars lost its intrinsic magnetic field that was protecting the atmosphere from direct erosion by the impact of the solar wind,” said Joseph Grebowsky of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The solar wind is a thin stream of electrically charged particles or plasma blowing continuously from the sun into space at about a million miles per hour.

“Studies of the remnant magnetic field distributions measured by NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor mission set the disappearance of the planet’s convection-produced global magnetic field at about 3.7 billion years ago, leaving the Red Planet vulnerable to the solar wind,” Grebowsky said.

MAVEN was designed to help study and possibly verify that theory. Ahead of its launch, NASA’s Goddard Conceptual Image Lab created a stunning video showcasing what a water-filled Mars would have looked like. After all, if liquid surface water existed billions of years ago, then the planet’s atmosphere had to have had a different climate that was warmer and a pressure near or greater than it currently is.

The video shows how the surface of Mars might have appeared during this ancient warm period, beginning with a flyover of a Martian lake. It ends with an illustration of NASA’s MAVEN mission in orbit around present-day Mars.

The spacecraft will arrive at the Red Planet on Sept. 22, 2014, and slip into an elliptical orbit ranging from a low of 93 miles above the surface to a high of 3,728 miles. It also will take five “deep dips” during the course of the mission, flying as low as 77 miles in altitude and providing a cross-section of the top of the atmosphere.

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Water Found on Mars!

H2 oh my: NASA’s Curiosity rover finds water in Mars dirt

By Mike Wall

Published September 26, 2013

  • curiosity-mosaic-sol-85

    SA’s Mars rover Curiosity is a mosaic of photos taken by the rover’s Mars Hand Lends Imager taken on Sol 85, the rover’s 85th Martian day, as Curiosity was sampling rocks at a stop dubbed Rocknest in Gale Crater. Image released Sept. 26, 2013.(NASA/JPL-CALTECH/MALIN SPACE SCIENCE SYSTEMS)

  • curiosity-rocknest-closeup

    At left, a closeup view of the Mars rock target Rocknest taken by the Curiosity rover showing its sandy surface and shadows that were disrupted by the rover’s front left wheel. At right, a view of Mars samples from Curiosity’s third dirt scoop (SCIENCE/AAAS)

  • curiosity-chemin-science-result

    This image depicts the science result from the Mars rover Curiosity’s CheMin instrument, showing an X-ray diffraction of the rover’s fifth scoop of Martian dirt. The black semi-circle at the bottom is the shadow of the beam stop. Image released(SCIENCE/AAAS)

Future Mars explorers may be able to get all the water they need out of the red dirt beneath their boots, a new study suggests.

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has found that surface soil on the Red Planet contains about 2 percent water by weight. That means astronaut pioneers could extract roughly 2 pints of water out of every cubic foot of Martian dirt they dig up, said study lead author Laurie Leshin, of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.

“For me, that was a big ‘wow’ moment,” Leshin told SPACE.com. “I was really happy when we saw that there’s easily accessible water here in the dirt beneath your feet. And it’s probably true anywhere you go on Mars.” [The Search for Water on Mars (Photos)]

The new study is one of five papers published in the journal ScienceThursday that report what researchers have learned about Martian surface materials from the work Curiosity did during its first 100 days on the Red Planet.

Soaking up atmospheric water
uriosity touched down inside Mars’ huge Gale Crater in August 2012, kicking off a planned two-year surface mission to determine if the Red Planet could ever have supported microbial life. It achieved that goal in March, when it found that a spot near its landing site called Yellowknife Bay was indeed habitable billions of years ago.

‘The dirt is acting like a bit of a sponge and absorbing water from the atmosphere.’

– Laurie Leshin, of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 

But Curiosity did quite a bit of science work before getting to Yellowknife Bay. Leshin and her colleagues looked at the results of Curiosity’s first extensive Mars soil analyses, which the 1-ton rover performed on dirt that it scooped up at a sandy site called Rocknest in November 2012.

Using its Sample Analysis at Mars instrument, or SAM, Curiosity heated this dirt to a temperature of 1,535 degrees Fahrenheit, and then identified the gases that boiled off. SAM saw significant amounts of carbon dioxide, oxygen and sulfur compounds — and lots of water on Mars.

SAM also determined that the soil water is rich in deuterium, a “heavy” isotope of hydrogen that contains one neutron and one proton (as opposed to “normal” hydrogen atoms, which have no neutrons). The water in Mars’ thin air sports a similar deuterium ratio, Leshin said.

“That tells us that the dirt is acting like a bit of a sponge and absorbing water from the atmosphere,” she said.

Some bad news for manned exploration
SAM detected some organic compounds in the Rocknest sample as well — carbon-containing chemicals that are the building blocks of life here on Earth. But as mission scientists reported late last year, these are simple, chlorinated organics that likely have nothing to do with Martian life. [The Hunt for Martian Life: A Photo Timeline]

Instead, Leshin said, they were probably produced when organics that hitched a ride from Earth reacted with chlorine atoms released by a toxic chemical in the sample called perchlorate.

Perchlorate is known to exist in Martian dirt; NASA’s Phoenix lander spotted it near the planet’s north pole in 2008. Curiosity has now found evidence of it near the equator, suggesting that the chemical is common across the planet. (Indeed, observations by a variety of robotic Mars explorers indicate that Red Planet dirt is likely similar from place to place, distributed in a global layer across the surface, Leshin said.)

The presence of perchlorate is a challenge that architects of futuremanned Mars missions will have to overcome, Leshin said.

“Perchlorate is not good for people. We have to figure out, if humans are going to come into contact with the soil, how to deal with that,” she said.

“That’s the reason we send robotic explorers before we send humans — to try to really understand both the opportunities and the good stuff, and the challenges we need to work through,” Leshin added.

A wealth of discoveries
The four other papers published in Science today report exciting results as well.

For example, Curiosity’s laser-firing ChemCam instrument found a strong hydrogen signal in fine-grained Martian soils along the rover’s route, reinforcing the SAM data and further suggesting that water is common in dirt across the planet (since such fine soils are globally distributed).

Another study reveals more intriguing details about a rock Curiosity studied in October 2012. This stone — which scientists dubbed “Jake Matijevic” in honor of a mission team member who died two weeks after the rover touched down — is a type of volcanic rock never before seen on Mars.

However, rocks similar to Jake Matijevic are commonly observed here on Earth, especially on oceanic islands and in rifts where the planet’s crust is thinning out.

“Of all the Martian rocks, this one is the most Earth-like. It’s kind of amazing,” said Curiosity lead scientist John Grotzinger, a geologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “What it indicates is that the planet is more evolved than we thought it was, more differentiated.”

The five new studies showcase the diversity and scientific value ofGale Crater, Grotzinger said. They also highlight how well Curiosity’s 10 science instruments have worked together, returning huge amounts of data that will keep the mission team busy for years to come.

“The amount of information that comes out of this rover just blows me away, all the time,” Grotzinger told SPACE.com. “We’re getting better at using Curiosity, and she just keeps telling us more and more. One year into the mission, we still feel like we’re drinking from a fire hose.”

The road to Mount Sharp
The pace of discovery could pick up even more. This past July, Curiosity left the Yellowknife Bay area and headed for Mount Sharp, which rises 3.4 miles into the Martian sky from Gale Crater’s center.

Mount Sharp has been Curiosity’s main destination since before the rover’s November 2011 launch. Mission scientists want the rover to climb up through the mountain’s foothills, reading the terrain’s many layers along the way.

“As we go through the rock layers, we’re basically looking at the history of ancient environments and how they may be changing,” Grotzinger said. “So what we’ll really be able to do for the first time is get a relative chronology of some substantial part of Martian history, which should be pretty cool.”

Curiosity has covered about 20 percent of the planned 5.3-mile trek to Mount Sharp. The rover, which is doing science work as it goes, may reach the base of the mountain around the middle of next year, Grotzinger said.

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