The other night I was talking with my daughters about exploring Mars. I was telling them about the Viking landers, the Mars Rovers, and I was showing them all the cool pictures that have been returned by the orbiters. So my oldest daughter asks me “what’s next?” and I told her we were getting ready to launch a new orbiter called Mars Atmospheric and Volatile EvolutioN or just MAVEN for short. She sat and thought about it for a second and then asked “so what’s it going to photograph?” I answered “nothing – it has no cameras”. The two of them in unison replied “that’s stupid!” with the younger one continuing “why would you send something all the way to Mars if your not going to take any pictures?” Then they both scampered off to watch Vampire Diaries leaving me alone to ponder the question.
Now anybody who has followed my work knows that Mars has a special place in my heart and the idea that we were sending a probe to Mars without a camera did not sit well with me. I mean, you guys couldn’t have stuck a little one on there just to give us common folk something to look at? But to understand why MAVEN has no cameras you first need to understand why MAVEN is being sent to Mars. MAVEN is going to Mars to explore something that for the most part no longer exists – the Martian atmosphere.
To date, every other spacecraft that has successfully visited Mars has been designed to explore the Martian surface. MAVEN is different, it’s not even going to look at the surface; it’s going to look at the air. You see there is a great deal of mystery when it comes to the Martian atmosphere. Based on findings from NASA’s Curiosity Rover we now know with certainty that Mars was once a habitable world with a thick atmosphere, temperate climate, and large bodies of liquid water on the surface. But today the atmosphere is thin –very thin. It’s so thin that if you stood on the surface your feet would be one temperature and your head perhaps 50 degrees F colder! So what happened? How did Mars change from a habitable world to a frozen desert? Could it happen here on Earth? That’s what MAVEN is going to find out.
There are many theories about why Mars is the way it is. Some say that it’s locked in a global ice age and as a result the atmosphere has frozen to the surface - eventually it will though out and become habitable again. Others say that Mars has died. That the core has cooled and the volcanoes have shut down. Without volcanism the atmosphere could not replenish itself and it simply leaked off into space - never to return. There are other theories about what happened on Mars but there seems to be one central theme. Something happened and the atmosphere became much thinner than it once was. Find out what happened to the atmosphere and you will know how Mars changed from a habitable world to the one we know today. This is why MAVEN has no cameras – what are you going to photograph - the air?
Instead of cameras, NASA has provided MAVEN with a small arsenal of scientific instruments that can see things that no camera could ever detect. It has a Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer, an Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph, a device to measure Solar Energetic Particles, a Solar Wind Analyzer, a Solar Wind Electron Analyzer, a device to measure the Super Thermal and Thermal Ion Composition of the atmosphere, a device called Langmuir Probe and Waves, and a Magnetometer.
Now I don’t know about you but when I see all those big words strung together like that my brain starts to hurt and I feel a little stupid. But it’s not as intimidating as it may seem. Scientists just like to be real descriptive and as a result they often crank out names that are real long and often confusing to the lay person. Basically all of these “things”, taken as a whole, will act as MAVEN’s cameras except instead of creating photos they are going to produce data with each data point acting like a pixel in a photograph. Put enough of them together and a picture emerges of something that hasn’t existed for a billion years – the missing Martian atmosphere.
For example, you will notice that MAVEN carries with it three instruments that will explore the solar wind – the Solar Energetic Particle experiment, the Solar Energetic Particles device, and the Solar Wind Ion Analyzer. The solar wind is a stream of charged particles that flows off the surface of the Sun as a result of solar storms. Earth is protected from the solar wind by its magnetic field but Mars has no magnetic field so this wind hits the planet and gradually strips away its atmosphere. By studying the solar wind at Mars scientists can calculate just how fast the atmosphere is being stripped away. This allows them to calculate how much atmosphere disappears each year. Once you know how much is disappearing each year, you can simply work backwards to figure out how long ago it was thick enough to support water on the surface. You have just painted one part of the picture. The other instruments will fill in the rest.
This is a part of Mars that has never been explored before and the results promise to revolutionize our thinking about our somewhat older and smaller sister. Mars is unique amongst the planets in that it is the only world that we can conclusively state was once Earthlike. This makes it a very special place in that it is the only world where we can make a direct comparison to Earth - one habitable world to another. It offers us a unique cosmic laboratory where we can study how the Earth once was and, quite possibly, what it one day may become. The more we learn about Mars, the more we learn about ourselves and this is the reason we need to send MAVEN to Mars – even without a camera.
Back in April of 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama came to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to announce a bold new direction for America’s space program – the commercialization of low Earth orbit. Under this program NASA would no-longer own the spacecraft it flies to Earth orbit. Instead it would buy rides on vehicles owned, developed, and operated, by several competing corporations.
The crap hit the fan almost as soon as the words left his mouth. Everyone from congressmen to Apollo astronauts began bemoaning what they believed to be the “gutting” of NASA. They claimed that industry was not ready for such an endeavor and that the project was doomed to failure. But, here we are just three years later, and already we have not one but two brand new and fully operational commercial space systems - the SpaceX Falcon-9/Dragon and Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares/Cygnus. What’s more there are no fewer than six manned spacecraft under development – everything from sub-orbital hoppers to inflatable space stations*. Within the next three years NASA will have something that its never had before - an entire fleet of manned spacecraft! Far from being gutted NASA has been enhanced.
This is capitalism in action – the economic bedrock upon which the United States was built. It drives everything in this country and the space program is no exception. Who do you think has been building all the rockets and spacecraft anyway? NASA has no manufacturing facilities – it designs the spacecraft and then contracts the job out to industry. Privatization simply works but don’t take my word for it - history can speak for itself.
Arguably, the U.S. space program began in 1958 with the launch of the first US satellite Explorer-1. From the beginning NASA wanted its satellites to be useful so it began developing a series of “proof of concept” missions. They launched the world’s first weather satellite, the first communications satellite, the first geostationary satellite, the first land satellite, and more. Over and over again NASA was showing the world what could be done with orbiting spacecraft and it did not go unnoticed.
Almost immediately private companies saw the potential satellites had to offer and began moving ahead with plans to build their own. At first these were launched using NASA’s rockets but with the advent of the Space Shuttle, in the early 1980s, all of NASA’s rockets were scrapped. The Shuttle would now carry the nation’s payloads into space. Following the Challenger disaster, in the mid-1980s, this decision was reversed and it was decided that a mixed fleet of boosters would best guarantee the nation’s access to space. So Lockheed Martin (manufacturer of the Atlas) and Boeing (manufacturer of the Delta) were told to dust off their assembly lines and begin producing rockets again – only this time the boosters and the launch facilities would be totally owned and operated by the companies themselves. The satellite launch market had been privatized.
Far from destroying NASA’s unmanned space program, which was now totally dependent on these commercial rockets, the move actually enhanced it.
When Explorer-1 was launched it cost the US tax payer about $1,000,000.00 per pound ** to get it into space. Today, thanks to commercial launch services, this number has dropped to around $7,000.00 per pound. This remarkable drop in cost not only benefited NASA, but it allowed for the creation of entire new industries including satellite television, GPS, the global internet, and more. We’re not talking spin-offs here; these are entire industries that are completely dependent on space travel for their existence. Thanks to these new industries we now live in a world with instant communication anywhere on Earth and a giant global knowledge bank that anybody can access from their phone – private spacecraft had changed the world.
As demand for launch services to support these new industries skyrocketed, more and more companies began tossing their hats into the ring. Orbital Sciences Corporation developed Antares, Taurus, Minatare, and Pegasus. Lockheed Martin created Athena and the Atlas V family of rockets. Boeing developed the Delta IV family and continues to market its venerable Delta 2, SpaceX developed the Falcon family of rockets and so on.
If NASA needs a rocket to launch an un-manned spacecraft it simply shops the market for the one best suited to its needs. It then buys it directly from the manufacturer who oversees all aspects of the launch. NASA takes control only after the spacecraft has been inserted into orbit. When the boosters are not being used to launch government payloads they are used to launch private payloads which creates two space programs – a government one and a private one. Today, this private market is a $189.5 billion dollar per year global industry that grew 7% in 2012 outstripping global economic growth which was 2.3% and U.S. economic growth which was 2.2 %. ***
The number one argument I have heard against spaceflight is that it is academic – there are no “practical” benefits. Well nobody is going to argue that satellites, which NASA showed us how to build and launch and private industry now handles on its own, are not essential to the economy. In fact they are so important that the US military has declared satellites to be U.S. sovereign territory and has made it clear that they are willing to fight to protect them. This is because satellites have become integrated into the national economy. They generate income, create jobs, help keep us safe, and have improved the lives of us all.
The same thing now needs to happen with the manned spaceflight program.
Up to this point the manned space program has been based on exploration. Dr Werner von Braun came up with this concept believing that spaceflight should be for the benefit of all mankind. It’s a very noble concept but Thomas Edison didn’t develop the light bulb because it was noble. He did it because he thought it would make him rich. There has to be a reason to invest all this money or the money stops. Exploration that isn’t followed by exploitation is purely academic and in the long run will prove to be unsustainable.
Commercialization provides us with a justification for the manned space program – expand the human presence out into the solar system. NASA does the exploration and then industry follows with the exploitation. In this way manned spaceflight becomes integrated with the national economy and produces tangible benefits. If the un-manned program has taught us anything it’s that commercialization will lower the cost, increase the efficiency, and lead to the creation of new and hear-to unimagined industries. The exploration opens up the frontier for exploitation and exploitation provides justification for the exploration. It’s symbiotic, its natural, and it is simply how it works.
NASA was founded on the promise that it would open up a new frontier. Well it has. Low Earth orbit has been explored. We already know how to live and work there. Now we need to own it, to integrate it with our lives and make it a part of who we are. NASA can then use its resources to expand the frontier outward first to the Moon and then into the Solar System finally lifting the human species out of its cradle to establish a permanent and sustainable human presence in space.
Over the course of the last year some game changing discoveries have been made about the planet Mars. In my opinion, these discoveries should have been front page news on all the world’s newspapers – but they weren’t. In fact most news outlets didn’t even carry the stories. This begs me to ask the question why? I brought this question up to a group of friends the other night and to my astonishment their reply was simply “why should I care about Mars?” Uh - okay fair question. After all Mars is over a hundred million miles away – it’s a desert where the temperatures drop so low that carbon dioxide freezes out of the atmosphere at night! So why should anybody care about Mars?
On August 6, 2012, NASA landed an incredible new rover on Mars. Its formal name was the “Mars Science Laboratory” but most of us knew it simply as Curiosity. Curiosity was sent to Mars not to find out if there was life on the planet; it was sent to find out if Mars ever had an environment that could have supported life. If the planet was never capable of supporting life to begin with, why bother looking for life there in the first place?
To accomplish this task NASA equipped the rover with a battery of scientific instruments and cameras – 19 in all! Among these was a suite of instruments called Sample Analysis at Mars. Sample Analysis at Mars is a miniature science laboratory designed to study samples from the planet, be they from the surface or the atmosphere, and determine their composition in unprecedented detail. NASA also gave the rover a drill so that it could bore several inches into the rocks it found - a depth at which the material would have been un-effected by the solar radiation that bathes the planet unimpeded by its thin atmosphere.
To land Curiosity on Mars NASA used a new landing technique called “Sky Crane”. As the rover descended towards the surface, a hypersonic parachute was deployed to slow the rover down to the point where it could drop out of its protective aeroshell. A back pack then took over and guided the spacecraft to within a few hundred feet of the surface. It then hovered and a crane lowered the rover down to the ground. This successfully got the rover to the surface but while the back pack was hovering, its rockets blasted the surface and contaminated it with their exhaust.
So once Curiosity landed, the first thing the scientists wanted to do was to drive the rover away from the landing site to an area that was not contaminated. Here they would find a suitable target and then unleash their entire science package on it to make sure all the instruments had survived the trip from Earth and were ready for action. They would then drive to their primary exploration site which was some miles away.
The area they picked was called Yellowknife bay. Not only was the area close by and uncontaminated but as it turned out, it was also very interesting. Yellowknife bay appeared to lie within an ancient stream bed that had long since gone dry. Sedimentary rocks were everywhere and there were what appeared to be white veins of minerals deposited within them.
The team used the spacecraft’s drill to bore into one of these rocks and to everybody’s surprise, instead of being red like everything else on Mars, the interior of the rock was grey. They next used the robot arm to scrape up a sample of the mysterious grey material and deliver it to the Sample Analysis at Mars suite. The mysterious grey matter turned out to contain clay. Ok my kid plays with clay what’s so special about clay? Clay is special in this case because it only forms in the presence of clear, fresh, water. Curiosity had just found evidence for the long term presence of drinkable water on Mars!
But there was more. Sample Analysis at Mars also preformed detailed chemical analyses of the sample and not only did it find organics, the basic building blocks of life, but it also found every chemical ingredient necessary for life to exist! It then analyzed the atmosphere and found that the planets atmosphere had been eking away for eons. By working backwards the team was able to conclude that the planet once possessed a much thicker atmosphere capable of supporting clouds and other forms of weather.
Taken hand in hand with the rest of Curiosity’s findings there was only one logical conclusion – Mars was once a habitable world! For the first time in history we can now say with certainty that at least at one time, our solar system had two habitable worlds. This is Earth shaking news and this is why people need to care about Mars.
For over 200,000 years, as long as modern people have been around and probably longer than that, humankind has been asking certain fundamental questions. Who are we? Where do we fit in the greater scheme of things? Are there other worlds like our own? Now we can at last answer one of those questions. Yes, there are other worlds like our own. In fact there was once one right next door.
If habitable worlds like our own are so common that the one solar system we can examine in detail produced two, what does that say about the rest of the galaxy? What does that say about the universe? And what does that say about our place within it? This is why people should care about Mars.
The question is no longer did Mars once have life? The question now is if Mars does not, and never did have life, why not? Complex life exists on Earth because the Earth has been stable enough, for long enough, to allow evolution to occur. If Mars was once a habitable world then what happened to it? Something stunted its growth. Was there some sort of cataclysm? Or was it a slow lingering death during which the atmosphere leaked out into space turning Mars into a desert? What ever it was the big question is could it happen here on Earth? This is why people need to care about Mars.
Mars is the only place in the universe that we know with certainty was once a habitable world. That by itself makes Mars the most Earth like planet in the solar system and the only place we know of where we can study, all be it through an ancient record, a habitable world other than the Earth. This is totally new. Never before have we been able to compare one habitable world to another. What new insights will we find? How will these effect how we view ourselves and our own world? This is why we people should care about Mars.
Earth, Carl Sagan compared it to a pale blue dot. I think of it more like a sapphire. A tiny but brilliant creation cast upon the thick velvet blackness of space and time. For as long as civilization has existed we have believed her to be alone and unique within the cosmos. We now know this to be untrue. For at one time, at least for a while, the Earth had a sister and her name was Mars. And perhaps above all other reasons this is why people should care about Mars.
STENNIS - NASA plans to begin testing RS-25 engines for its new Space Launch System (SLS) in the fall of 2014, and the agency's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi has a very big -- literally -- item to complete on the preparation checklist.
Fabrication recently began at Stennis on a new 7,755-pound thrust frame adapter for the A-1 Test Stand to enable testing of the engines that will provide core-stage power for NASA's SLS. The stand component is scheduled to be completed and installed by November 2013.
"We initially thought we would have to go offsite to have the equipment built," said Gary Benton, RS-25 test project manager at Stennis. "However, the Stennis design team figured out a way to build it here with resulting cost and schedule savings. It’s a big project and a critical one to ensure we obtain accurate data during engine testing."
Each rocket engine type requires a thrust frame adapter unique to its specifications. On the test stand, the adapter is attached to the thrust measurement system. A rocket engine then is attached to the adapter, which must hold the engine in place and absorb the thrust produced during a test, while allowing accurate measurement of the engine performance.
The J-2X equipment installed on the A-1 Test Stand now cannot be used to test RS-25 engines since it does not match the engine specifications and thrust requirements. For instance, the J-2X engine is capable of producing 294,000 pounds of thrust. The RS-25 engine will produce approximately 530,000 pounds of thrust.
NASA and the Lockheed Martin Test Operations Contract Group team worked together in designing the new adapter to make sure such requirements were met. They also communicated closely with the Jacobs Technology welding and machine shop teams to make sure what was being designed actually could be built.
The design had to account for a number of considerations, such as specific stresses on the equipment as an engine is fired and then gimbaled (rotated) during a test; what type and strength of bolts are needed to fully secure the equipment; and what materials can be used to build the adapter.
"This is a very specific process," Benton said. "It is critical that thrust data not be skewed or compromised during a test, so the adapter has to be precisely designed and constructed."
The fabrication process itself involves handling and shaping large segments of certain material, which required welders to receive specialized training. In addition, shop personnel had to create a welding procedure for dealing with the chosen construction material. For instance, the area of material being welded must maintain a heat of 300 degrees in order to ensure welds bond properly. That procedure and other specifications are being incorporated into Stennis standards.
"It's a challenging project," said Kent Morris, RS-25 project manager for Jacobs Technology. "It's similar to the J-2X adapter project, but larger. It will take considerable man hours to perform the welding and machining needed on the material. The material used for the engine mounting block alone is 32 inches in diameter and 20 inches thick."
Physically, the adapter is the largest facility item on the preparation checklist for RS-25 testing, but it is far from the only one, Benton said. Additional modifications will be made to the test stand configuration and equipment once J-2X gimbal testing is complete this summer.
Once testing begins, engineers and test team personnel at Stennis will draw on a wealth of engine testing experience. The RS-25 engines, previously known as the space shuttle main engines were tested at Stennis for more than three decades.
PARIS - ESA’s fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle, Albert Einstein, completed a flawless rendezvous with the International Space Station on 15 June when it docked smoothly with orbital outpost at 14:07 GMT (16:07 CEST). The Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) is now connected to the Space Station.“Bravo Europe, bravo ESA, bravo ATV. Thank you Member States, thank you industry, thank you CNES, thank you Russian partner,” commented Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of ESA.
“With the fourth ATV now ready to support and supply the Space Station with essential supplies and scientific experiments, ESA again proves itself to be a reliable partner in the international station upon which the future can be developed.”
The 20-tonne ferry, the heaviest spacecraft ever launched by Europe, flew autonomously and docked with the 420-tonne complex with a precision of a few cm as both circled Earth at 28 000 km/h.
“Such a gentle contact between a spacecraft the size of a double-decker bus and a Station 20 times larger is an amazing achievement, highlighting the impressive level of control achieved by this European space system developed by our industry under ESA’s direction,” said Thomas Reiter, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations.
“These impressive technological capabilities will live on in the service module of NASA’s upcoming Orion crew vehicle.”
The rendezvous and docking were performed autonomously by ATV’s own computers, closely monitored by flight controllers from ESA and France’s CNES space agency at the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France, and by Luca Parmitano and his crewmates on the Station. Like its predecessors, ATV-4 is much more than a simple supply vessel: it is a space tug, a tanker, a freighter and a temporary habitation module.
To compensate for the natural decay in altitude of the Station’s orbit caused by atmospheric drag, it is loaded with 2580 kg of propellant to perform regular reboosts. It can even move the entire space complex out of the path of hazardous space debris. ATV also provides attitude control when other spacecraft are approaching the Station.
In its tanks, it carries 860 kg of propellant, 100 kg of oxygen and air, and 570 kg of drinking water, all to be pumped into the Station’s tanks. In its pressurised cargo module, it carries more than 1400 items packed into 141 bags, including 2480 kg of dry cargo such as scientific equipment, spare parts, food and clothes for the astronauts.
During its four months attached to the Station, ATV will provide 45 cubic metres of extra crew quarters. On previous missions, the addition was welcomed by the astronauts as “the quietest place in the Station” and was often the preferred area for working.
At the end of its mission, scheduled for 28 October, ATV-4 will separate from the Station, packed with waste bags. The following day, it will be directed to burn up safely in the atmosphere during reentry over the South Pacific Ocean.
PARIS - The module carrying the telescope and scientific instruments of ESA’s Euclid ‘dark Universe’ mission is now being developed by Astrium in Toulouse, France. Euclid will be launched in 2020 to explore dark energy and dark matter in order to understand the evolution of the Universe since the Big Bang and, in particular, its present accelerating expansion.Dark matter is invisible to our normal telescopes but acts through gravity to play a vital role in forming galaxies and slowing the expansion of the Universe.
Dark energy, however, causes a force that is overcoming gravity and accelerating the expansion seen around us today.
Together, these two components are thought to comprise 95% of the mass and energy of the Universe, with ‘normal’ matter, from which stars, planets and we humans are made, making up the remaining small fraction. Their nature remains a profound mystery.
“Euclid will address the cosmology-themed questions of ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015–25 program with advanced payload technologies, enabling Europe to become a world leader in this field of research,” says Thomas Passvogel, Head of the Project Department in ESA’s Directorate of Science and Robotic Exploration.
Astrium will deliver a fully integrated payload module incorporating a 1.2 m-diameter telescope feeding the mission’s two science instruments, which are being developed by the Euclid Consortium.
The two state-of-the art, wide-field instruments – a visible-light camera and a near-infrared camera/spectrometer – will map the 3D distribution of up to two billion galaxies and the associated dark matter and dark energy, spread over more than a third of the whole sky.
By surveying galaxies stretched across ten billion light-years, the mission will plot the evolution of the very fabric of the Universe and the structures within it over three-quarters of its history.
In particular, Euclid will address one of the most important questions in modern cosmology: why is the Universe expanding at an accelerating rate today, rather than slowing down due to the gravitational attraction of all the matter in it?
The discovery of this cosmic acceleration in 1998 was rewarded with the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2011 and yet there is no accepted explanation for it.
By using Euclid to study its effects on the galaxies and clusters of galaxies across the Universe, astronomers hope to come much closer to understanding the true nature and influence of this mysterious dark energy.
“We are excited that Euclid has reached this important milestone, allowing us to progress towards launch in 2020, and bringing us ever closer to uncovering some of the Universe’s darkest secrets,” says Giuseppe Racca, ESA’s Euclid Project Manager.
PASADENA, Calif. -- Researchers using NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have found that temperatures in the Martian atmosphere regularly rise and fall not just once each day, but twice.
"We see a temperature maximum in the middle of the day, but we also see a temperature maximum a little after midnight," said Armin Kleinboehl of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., who is the lead author of a new report on these findings.
Temperatures swing by as much as 58 degrees Fahrenheit (32 kelvins) in this odd, twice-a-day pattern, as detected by the orbiter's Mars Climate Sounder instrument.
The new set of Mars Climate Sounder observations sampled a range of times of day and night all over Mars. The observations found that the pattern is dominant globally and year-round. The report is being published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
Global oscillations of wind, temperature and pressure repeating each day or fraction of a day are called atmospheric tides. In contrast to ocean tides, they are driven by variation in heating between day and night. Earth has atmospheric tides, too, but the ones on Earth produce little temperature difference in the lower atmosphere away from the ground. On Mars, which has only about one percent as much atmosphere as Earth, they dominate short-term temperature variations throughout the atmosphere.
Tides that go up and down once per day are called "diurnal." The twice-a-day ones are called "semi-diurnal." The semi-diurnal pattern on Mars was first seen in the 1970s, but until now it had been thought to appear just in dusty seasons, related to sunlight warming dust in the atmosphere.
"We were surprised to find this strong twice-a-day structure in the temperatures of the non-dusty Mars atmosphere," Kleinboehl said. "While the diurnal tide as a dominant temperature response to the day-night cycle of solar heating on Mars has been known for decades, the discovery of a persistent semi-diurnal response even outside of major dust storms was quite unexpected, and caused us to wonder what drove this response."
He and his four co-authors found the answer in the water-ice clouds of Mars. The Martian atmosphere has water-ice clouds for most of the year. Clouds in the equatorial region between about 6 to 19 miles (10 to 30 kilometers) above the surface of Mars absorb infrared light emitted from the surface during daytime. These are relatively transparent clouds, like thin cirrus clouds on Earth. Still, the absorption by these clouds is enough to heat the middle atmosphere each day. The observed semi-diurnal temperature pattern, with its maximum temperature swings occurring away from the tropics, was also unexpected, but has been replicated in Mars climate models when the radiative effects of water-ice clouds are included.
"We think of Mars as a cold and dry world with little water, but there is actually more water vapor in the Martian atmosphere than in the upper layers of Earth's atmosphere," Kleinboehl said. "Water-ice clouds have been known to form in regions of cold temperatures, but the feedback of these clouds on the Mars temperature structure had not been appreciated. We know now that we will have to consider the cloud structure if we want to understand the Martian atmosphere. This is comparable to scientific studies concerning Earth's atmosphere, where we have to better understand clouds to estimate their influence on climate."
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, provided the Mars Climate Sounder instrument and manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.
Beijing – The Shenzhou-10 crew, who successfully launched out of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center yesterday aboard a modified Long March 2B booster, spent their first full day in space today offering the country Dragon Festival (Chinese New Year) greetings from within the spacecrafts descent module. Astronauts Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguang and Wang Yaping appeared on camera around 1pm local time today to thank those who were stuck working because they were in orbit and to send greetings to the rest of the country.
"We wish all Chinese around the world a happy Dragon Boat Festival," the astronauts said while holding a banner reading "Happy Dragon Boat Festival." Within the next day or two the crew should reach their destination – the Tiangong-1 space laboratory. Chinese technicians describe Tiangong-1 as a “mini Space Station”, a uniquely Chinese construction where Chinese astronauts can begin honing their skills before graduating to a full sized space station before the year 2020.
Tiangong 1 is 35 feet long and is 11 feet in diameter at its widest part. It weighs just 8.5 tons (compare that to the first Russian space station which weighed 25 tons). It is made up of two major modules. At the front is a docking port. Tiangong 1 has been fitted with a modified APAS-89 docking unit. The same unit currently used by Russia and the United States to dock with the International Space Station. It is believed that the Chinese chose this system deliberately in order to make their spacecraft compatible with ISS.
From the docking port, a cone shaped adapter leads to the first module known as the “experiment” module. This is a two steeped pressurized module with the back half being slightly larger than the front. This is the area in which the crew will do most of their work. The experiment module is connected to the second module, known as the resource module, via a second cone like structure. The resource module is a cylinder which contains all of the crew’s life support systems as well as all of the mechanical systems and fuel. Power is generated using two foldable solar panels that attach to the module. There are also at least two maneuvering engines in the back. It is entirely possible that this section is a modified Shenzhou service module. This would be similar to how the Russians used modified Soyuz service modules on their early space stations.
Shenzhou – 10 is the first operational flight of a Shenzhou spacecraft. Up to this point, the Chinese have been using each manned mission to develop certain key technologies. First was to simply fly a man in space, then to fly a crew into space, next was to conduct a spacewalk, and after that was to dock with an orbiting lab (Tiangong-1). Now they are seeking to utilize these key technologies to begin living and working in space.
High on the priority list for Shenzhou-10 will be docking operations. In fact this is mission critical objective. Once Shenzhou-10 reaches Tiangong-1 the crew will attempt to dock with it. This will be done autonomously from the ground. If Shenzhou-10 fails to dock the mission will be over. Upon docking the crew will enter Shenzhou-10’s orbital module. Unlike the Russian Soyuz and the American Space Shuttle, which normally stay passive during docked operations, Shenzhou-10 will play a very active roll. One of the Unique capabilities of the Shenzhou system is the fact that the orbital module can function independent of the rest of the spacecraft. It acts like a third module housing the kitchen, bathroom, and a single sleep station (two more are on the lab). It is interesting to note that on this particular mission the crew will be using a new and improved toilet as well as testing out new food.
Once the post docking checks are complete the crew will open the hatch and one of them, most likely the commander, will enter the lab. The first thing he will do is give the interior a thorough look over. Tiangong-1 has been in space now for over 600 days, during this time it has only been visited once. Early Russian space stations that were left un-occupied so long were often found to have mold or slime growing on the walls by the next crew. Chinese scientists believe that they have that problem under control but they want to make sure. Following his inspection the commander will invite the other two astronauts inside where they will hold a brief news conference before beginning work.
Over the course of the next few days the crew will work to resupply the station (something the Chinese have never done before) and begin work on science experiments. Earth observations and observations of China’s farm lands will be conducted using a special hyperspectral camera that has been installed inside the experiment module. The camera will enable scientists to monitor such things as heavy metal pollution, pesticide residue, and plant disease. In addition to the camera, the spacecraft comes equipped with facilities to study photonic crystals, a material that is expected to revolutionize information technologies here on Earth, and other experiments involving life sciences.
Taking a que from NASA, the crew plans to host a live broadcast with school children in China. Astronaut Wang Yaping plans to give Chinese primary and middle school students on Earth a lesson in the effects of the zero-gravity environment. This is intended to inspire them to pursue careers in science or mathematics.
After a period of time the crew will once again enter Shenzhou-10 and un-dock from the station. After performing a series of maneuvers meant to simulate relocating a spacecraft from one station port to another, the crew will re-dock with the station only this time they will do it manually.
The crew will spend the rest of the mission finishing up their experiments and packing away the results. During the time between the last Shenzhou visit and this one, the station has been working autonomously so there is a lot of data to collect. The crew will then return to Earth. The entire mission is expected to last 15 days.
This will probably be the last time a Chinese spacecraft visits Tiangong-1. The spacecraft is getting old and China is already working on the Tiangong-2 follow-up module. Tiangong-2 will be more capable and able to support crews for longer stays than Tiangong-1 could. This is expected to be followed by Tiangong-3.
PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA research indicates hunks of frozen carbon dioxide -- dry ice -- may glide down some Martian sand dunes on cushions of gas similar to miniature hovercraft, plowing furrows as they go.
Researchers deduced this process could explain one enigmatic class of gullies seen on Martian sand dunes by examining images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and performing experiments on sand dunes in Utah and California.
"I have always dreamed of going to Mars," said Serina Diniega, a planetary scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and lead author of a report published online by the journal Icarus. "Now I dream of snowboarding down a Martian sand dune on a block of dry ice."
The hillside grooves on Mars, called linear gullies, show relatively constant width -- up to a few yards, or meters, across -- with raised banks or levees along the sides. Unlike gullies caused by water flows on Earth and possibly on Mars, they do not have aprons of debris at the downhill end of the gully. Instead, many have pits at the downhill end.
"In debris flows, you have water carrying sediment downhill, and the material eroded from the top is carried to the bottom and deposited as a fan-shaped apron," said Diniega. "In the linear gullies, you're not transporting material. You're carving out a groove, pushing material to the sides."
Images from MRO's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera show sand dunes with linear gullies covered by carbon-dioxide frost during the Martian winter. The location of the linear gullies is on dunes that spend the Martian winter covered by carbon-dioxide frost. By comparing before-and-after images from different seasons, researchers determined that the grooves are formed during early spring. Some images have even caught bright objects in the gullies.
Scientists theorize the bright objects are pieces of dry ice that have broken away from points higher on the slope. According to the new hypothesis, the pits could result from the blocks of dry ice completely sublimating away into carbon-dioxide gas after they have stopped traveling.
"Linear gullies don't look like gullies on Earth or other gullies on Mars, and this process wouldn't happen on Earth," said Diniega. "You don't get blocks of dry ice on Earth unless you go buy them."
That is exactly what report co-author Candice Hansen, of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., did. Hansen has studied other effects of seasonal carbon-dioxide ice on Mars, such as spider-shaped features that result from explosive release of carbon-dioxide gas trapped beneath a sheet of dry ice as the underside of the sheet thaws in spring. She suspected a role for dry ice in forming linear gullies, so she bought some slabs of dry ice at a supermarket and slid them down sand dunes.
That day and in several later experiments, gaseous carbon dioxide from the thawing ice maintained a lubricating layer under the slab and also pushed sand aside into small levees as the slabs glided down even low-angle slopes.
The outdoor tests did not simulate Martian temperature and pressure, but calculations indicate the dry ice would act similarly in early Martian spring where the linear gullies form. Although water ice, too, can sublimate directly to gas under some Martian conditions, it would stay frozen at the temperatures at which these gullies form, the researchers calculate.
"MRO is showing that Mars is a very active planet," Hansen said. "Some of the processes we see on Mars are like processes on Earth, but this one is in the category of uniquely Martian."
Hansen also noted the process could be unique to the linear gullies described on Martian sand dunes.
"There are a variety of different types of features on Mars that sometimes get lumped together as 'gullies,' but they are formed by different processes," she said. "Just because this dry-ice hypothesis looks like a good explanation for one type doesn't mean it applies to others."
The University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory operates the HiRISE camera, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages MRO for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the orbiter.
The other night I was having drinks with some friends and as usual we were talking about space. The waitress, a woman pushing 20 something, overheard our conversation and after listening politely for a while offered up the comment "ya that's the last thing we need to do right now - spend billions of dollars on a ----ing spaceship!" Wow! that hurt.
My first thought was to rebut her with crys of blasphemy! But I bit my tongue and smiled politely as she walked away. Later that night I was at home relaxing before bed and as my mind began to wander, awash with memories of good friends and fine food, I began to think about that waitress again. " Ya that's the last thing we need to do right now..." It was irritating me! But as the night progressed my irritation passed and I began to think and suddenly it dawned on me – she actually had a point.
If you watch the coverage of any major space event, almost universally the event is hailed as a technological wonder, a scientific triumph, and a source of national pride. The roots of this behavior go back to the Apollo days when the United States and the Soviet Union were fighting a cold war for the hearts and minds of the world. Space exploration was a tool used by both sides to promote their national interests and the news media simply picked up the ball and ran with it.
But to a young woman living in 2013 who is underemployed, single, and has two children to feed, the fact that its "cool" and makes her country "look good" just isn’t enough to justify the expense. Is it going to feed my children? To her there is simply nothing practical here and the entire endeavor seems purely academic. Is it?
Think about it like this. Lets say you have lived in a house all of your life. The house is old and the glass on the windows has become somewhat yellowed and dingy making it hard to see outside. Then one day you discover a door and when you open it you are bathed in a blinding light that likes of which you have never seen before! As your eyes adjust you find that you can see things in the distance - things that look a lot like other houses.
Eventually you venture outside and begin walking down the street and you discover that there is an entire neighborhood out there! As you continue to explore you learn more and more about the houses around you. Some have problems with their roof, others have termites, and still others have been destroyed all together! As you return home something strange happens. Your house no longer looks the same - your roof is sagging and there are questionable mounds in your front yard! If you had never left your house you would have never even known to look for these things.
Space exploration is that door and that light is the light of truth – as revealed by basic science!
Back in 1962 the United States sent the first space probe to the planet Venus. At the time, scientists expected the spacecraft to report almost Earth like conditions all be it a little warmer because the planet was a little closer to the Sun. When the probe got there it reported surface temperatures in excess of 800 degrees F - hot enough to melt lead! At first many scientists insisted that the probe had to be wrong but as time wore on the spacecraft's data was confirmed - Venus wasn't like Earth at all. It was more like hell.
So what happened? Why was Venus so different? As it turns out the planet's atmosphere was to blame. It was thick and composed mostly of a gas called carbon dioxide. As sunlight entered the planet's atmosphere it hit the surface and was being reflected back out into space. But, instead of leaving the planet as it does here on Earth, the light was captured by the carbon dioxide and its energy reflected back down to the surface in the form of heat. The carbon dioxide was acting like the glass in a greenhouse. The problem on Venus seems to be that this “greenhouse effect” has gotten out of control and superheated the surface. Thus was born the term "runaway greenhouse effect".
Today there is strong debate about the effects greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are having on the Earth but we know one thing for certain – we are poring tons of these gases into our atmosphere everyday and the Earth is beginning to heat up. Could a runaway greenhouse effect happen on Earth? What causes it in the first place? There is lively debate on the subject but we would never have known to even ask the question if we had not gone to the planet Venus.
The more we learn about the worlds around us the more we learn about ourselves. The Earth enjoys an intimate relationship with the worlds around it especially the Sun, our parent star who could annihilate us all yet, upon whom we all depend for life itself.
The fact is basic science doesn't shout, it whispers. Like sediments falling silently through the great ocean of history, basic science slowly drifts into our lives bit by bit, un-noticed at first, but eventually forming the bedrock upon which everything else is built and space exploration is basic science at its best.
I don’t see how anything could be more practical.
1000 years from now nobody is going to remember most of the things we consider to be important today however, you can rest assured, they will all remember one thing above all others - we were the first generation to venture into space. RG
Editors Note: Send your comments to Robert@interspacenews.com
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