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Tag Archives: space exploration

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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Glass Invented for Drinking Whiskey in Space – Finally!

A Special Whisky Glass for Special Space Whisky

If Galactic’s first commercial flights are any indication, life in space could use a bit more glamour. Astronauts may be fine drinking recycled pee, but celebrities and wealthy space enthusiasts, who have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to get beyond Earth’s atmosphere, may want to sip something a little stronger. Enter Scotch-maker Ballantine’s new space glass, designed for drinking in microgravity.

Without Earth’s gravity, a regular snifter would send droplets of fancy Scotch soaring into the air—and away from mouths. The Ballantine’s glass is designed to keep the whisky where it belongs. A metal plate at the bottom of the glass creates surface tension to keep the Scotch—poured into the bottom of the cupcontained. Rivulets running up the side of the glass channel the liquid directly into the mouth via a gold mouthpiece. (The company details the design process here.)

Scotch whisky companies seem particularly determined to corner the space drinking market. Ardberg whisky, for instance, is already an old pro at intergalactic refreshments, as vials of the Scotch spent several years on the International Space Station before returning last year. (The verdict: space makes smoky Scotch even smokier.) Several breweries also offer beer made from yeast that’s left Earth and returned, in case hard liquor isn’t your cup of astro-tea.

Naturally, those of us who are earthbound can still buy Ballantine’s space glass for an out-of-this-world experience.

[h/t: The New York Times]

All images by Ballantine’s via Medium

September 8, 2015 – 5:00pm

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New ESA chief proposes building a full-fledged human village on the moon

There’s a new head of the European Space Agency, and after just two weeks on the job, he’s bringing some ambitious ideas to the table. First up: A human village on the moon.

In an interview with the BBC, new ESA head Johann-Dietrich Woerner chatted about the priorities for the agency in the coming years — and dropped a really big one currently on his wish list. According to Woerner, it’s all about testing out this technology before we actually try to ship humans off to somewhere like Mars. So, his idea is to have several nations team up for a legitimate settlement on the moon, so we can work out all the kinks to man an eventual Mars trip less of a suicide mission.

Here’s an excerpt from his comments:

“We should look to the future beyond the International Space Station. We should look for a smaller spacecraft in low-Earth orbit for microgravity research and I propose a Moon village on the far side of the Moon.

A Moon village shouldn’t just mean some houses, a church and a town hall. This Moon village should mean partners from all over the world contributing to this community with robotic and astronaut missions and support communication satellites.”

This is an awesome idea, to say the least, though we should obviously caution that it’s currently a pipe dream. The amount of money and time needed to pull this off would be incredible, and right now it’s just a spitball idea. But regardless, it’s nice to know the idea is at least on the whiteboard.

What do you think? Mars first, or a lunar village?

(Via BBC, io9)

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Curiosity Rover Drills Into Mars Rock, Finds Water

Space.com
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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78,000 APPLY FOR A ONE-WAY TICKET TO COLONIZE MARS

78,000 APPLY FOR A ONE-WAY TICKET TO COLONIZE MARS

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

mars-saucer-cropped-internal.jpg

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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