Vox reports on the next target destination for NASA's New Horizons probe, an ice chunk in the Kuiper Belt designated 2014 MU69. The plan is not yet final; like any space mission, complications are bound to come up. But if this selection sticks, New Horizons should reach 2014 MU69 in 2019. (Re/Code has the story, too.)
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garyebickford writes: Wired Magazine has posted an article about the new 2015 version of the Integrated Space Plan, updated 14 years after the last version and descended directly from the original 1989 version. The original one was printed in the thousands, distributed by Rockwell, and appeared on walls throughout the space industry. One even hung behind the NASA administrator's desk. The new one is prettier, great for dorm room walls and classrooms, and Integrated Space Analytics, the company behind it, promises to expand their website into an up-to-date, live interactive tool. This is a great new beginning after over 30 years.
The BBC reports that six volunteers have begun a planned year-long stint "without fresh air, fresh food or privacy" in a NASA simulation of what life might be like for a group of Mars colonists. The volunteers are to spend the next 12 months in the dome (11 meters in diameter, 6 meters high), except for space-suited out-of-dome excursions, where they will eat space-style meals, sleep on tiny cots, and keep up a science schedule. The current mission is the fourth (and longest yet) from the Hawai'i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation; you can read more about this mission's crew here.
An anonymous reader writes: On October 2, movie audiences will get to see Ridley Scott's adaptation of Andy Weir's brilliant sci-fi novel The Martian, about a near-future astronaut who gets left for dead on the planet Mars. (Official trailer.) Both book and film are rooted in actual science, and NASA has now posted a list of technologies featured in the movie that either already exist, or are in development. For example, the Mars rover: "On Earth today, NASA is working to prepare for every encounter with the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV). The MMSEV has been used in NASA's analog mission projects to help solve problems that the agency is aware of and to reveal some that may be hidden. The technologies are developed to be versatile enough to support missions to an asteroid, Mars, its moons and other missions in the future." They also show off their efforts to develop water reclamation, gardens in space, and oxygen recovery.
derekmead writes: NASA launched the Viking 1 spacecraft to Mars forty years ago. The probe was the first to achieve a soft landing on the planet, providing the first images and data from Mars. Politically the Viking 1 success was a huge win for the U.S. against the competing Soviet space program. Motherboard reports: "Viking 1 went on to become one of the most productive landers ever deployed on Mars, operating for 2,307 days before it finally shut down on November 13, 1982. It held the record for the longest Martian surface mission for decades, until the Opportunity rover finally beat it out in 2010 (and that little trooper is still going, by the way)."
szotz writes: Mars One CEO Bas Lansdorp has a bizarre definition of the word "plan". Last week he debated two MIT aerospace engineers who were co-authors on a report that said that astronauts would suffocate on Mars if they tried to grow their own food with existing tech. The question on the table: Is the Mars One plan feasible? And the answer seemed to be "it depends on what your definition of a plan is". The stated plan is to send the first humans to Mars for $6 billion by 2027 (twice delayed already). Lansdorp admits they probably won't stick to that schedule or that budget, but that has nothing to do with whether they're going or not. IEEE Spectrum has a write-up of the debate and a link to the MIT team's presentation. It seems the company's looking for $15 million now to fund--you guessed it--more studies.
An anonymous reader writes: The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is celebrating 10 years of service in its mission to study Mars from orbit. Recently it has discovered an ancient lake that might hold the best possible chance of finding life on the Red Planet. "MRO has discovered that Mars' south polar cap holds enough buried carbon-dioxide ice to double the planet's current atmosphere if it warmed. It's caught avalanches and dust storms in action. The spacecraft's longevity has made it possible to study seasonal and longer-term changes over four Martian years," Rich Zurek from Jet Propulsion Laboratory said.
MarkWhittington writes: Donald Trump, the mercurial real estate tycoon and media personality who, much to the surprise of one and all, has become the front-runner for the Republican nomination for president opened his mind just a little about his attitude toward space exploration, according to a story in Forbes. In an answer to a question put to him about sending humans to Mars, the current focus at NASA, Trump said, "Honestly, I think it's wonderful; I want to rebuild our infrastructure first, ok? I think it's wonderful." In other words, dreams of going to Mars must take a back seat to more Earthly concerns. It is not an answer many space exploration supporters want to hear.
An anonymous reader writes: Astronauts on the International Space Station got their first taste of space-grown lettuce today. It took the astronauts about an hour to harvest and prepare the lettuce both plain and with oil and vinegar. The Times reports: "The vegetable experiment had been a long-awaited harvest for the astronauts, who say that the ability to grow and sustain crops in space may someday aid travelers on long space trips. Cultivating crops is seen as a critical step in the path to traveling to Mars, for instance. Before the harvest, the astronauts did what any sensible Earthling with a Wi-Fi connection would do: They celebrated lunch in an exclusive locale by tweeting a picture of the goods."
An anonymous reader writes: A group of engineers is building a new drone. What sets this apart from the hundreds of other drone development projects going on around the world? Well, these engineers are at the Kennedy Space Center, and the drone will be used to gather samples on other worlds. The drone is specifically designed to be able to fly in low- or no-atmosphere situations. Senior technologist Rob Mueller describes it as a "prospecting robot." He says, "The first step in being able to use resources on Mars or an asteroid is to find out where the resources are. They are most likely in hard-to-access areas where there is permanent shadow. Some of the crater walls are angled 30 degrees or more, and that's far too steep for a traditional rover to navigate and climb." They face major challenges with rotor and gas-jet design, they have to figure out navigation without GPS, and the whole system needs to be largely autonomous — you can't really steer a drone yourself with a latency of several minutes (or more).
schwit1 writes: If quantum computing is at the Goddard level that would be a good thing for quantum computing. This means that the major fundamental breakthrough that would put them over the top was in hand and merely a lot of investment, engineering and scaling was needed. The goal of being able to solve NP-hard or NP-Complete problems with quantum computers is similar to being able to travel to the moon, mars or deeper into space with rockets. Conventional flight could not achieve those goals because of the lack of atmosphere in space. Current computing seems like they are very limited in being able to tackle NP-hard and NP Complete problems. Although clever work in advanced mathematics and approximations can give answers that are close on a case by case basis.
MarkWhittington writes: The Houston Chronicle reported that NextGen Space LLC has released the results of a study that suggests that if the United States were to choose to do space in some new and creative ways, American moon boots could be on the lunar surface by 2021. The cost from the authorization to the first crewed lunar landing would be just $10 billion. The study was partly funded by NASA and was reviewed by the space agency and commercial space experts.
An anonymous reader writes: Elon Musk's Hyperloop project has its challenges in places that have air. But in places with little air and no fossil fuels, where you can't fly and there's little drag, it makes a lot more sense. Post-doc researcher Leon Vanstone thinks the Hyperloop may have more of a future on Mars than here on Earth. He says, "Conservative cost estimates for building a single Hyperloop track from Los Angeles to San Francisco come in at US$6 billion. Taking the technology nationwide would cost hundreds of billions of dollars more. When you consider that normal, boring airplanes already travel at about 500-600 mph – about two-thirds as fast as the Hyperloop’s predicted speed – you might begin to wonder if an extra 200 mph is enough of a payoff for those hundreds of billions of dollars. ... Well, Elon Musk is no idiot, and he certainly has the money to hire some of the best and the brightest. ... A high-speed, safe, self-powered transportation system will be vital to connect Martian settlements – likely to be few in number and separated by large distances."
samzenpus writes: Shaun Moss is a computer scientist with a 15-year passion for Mars. While reading Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson in 1999 Shaun realized that people would go to Mars in his lifetime, and he decided he wanted to be part of that. Since then he has been an active member of a variety of space enthusiast groups, including the Mars Society and Mars Society Australia. Shaun is also the founder of the Mars Settlement Research Organization. His research has included how to make air and steel on Mars, Martian timekeeping systems, terraforming and more, and he has given numerous presentations at conferences in Australia and the United States. For the past 1.5 years he has been developing a robust and affordable humans-to-Mars mission architecture and a plan to establish an International Mars Research Station, which is now available as a book. Shaun has agreed to answer any questions you may have. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one per post.
NotQuiteReal writes: What is the most expensive piece of hardware you broke (I fried a $2500 disk drive once, back when 400MB was $2500) or what software bug did you let slip that caused damage? (No comment on the details — but about $20K cost to a client.) Did you lose your job over it? If you worked on the Mars probe that crashed, please try not to be the First Post, that would scare off too many people!
StartsWithABang writes: When we talk about humans existing on worlds other than Earth, the first choice of a planet to do so on is usually Mars, a world that may have been extremely Earth-like for the first billion years of our Solar System or so. Perhaps, with enough ingenuity and resources, we could terraform it to be more like Earth is today. But the most Earth-like conditions in the Solar System don't occur on the surface of Mars, but rather in the high altitudes of Venus' atmosphere, some 50-65 km up. Despite its harsh conditions, this may be the best location for the first human colonies, for a myriad of good, scientific reasons. NASA proposed something similar last year and released a report on the subject.
MarkWhittington writes: Space visionaries dream of a time when human beings will not only settle Mars, but will terraform the Red Planet into something more Earth-like, with a breathable atmosphere, running water, and a functioning biosphere. Evidence exists that Mars was more or less Earth-like billions of years ago before the atmosphere leached away into space and the water became frozen under the ground and at the poles. Terraforming Mars is decades away from the beginning and probably centuries away from the end. But DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is already genetically engineering organisms that will help turn the Red Planet blue, according to a story in Motherboard.
pacopico writes: In a new biography on him, Elon Musk goes into gory details on his plans for colonizing Mars. The author of the book subsequently decided to run those plans by Andy Weir, the author of The Martian. Weir's book is famous for its technical acumen around getting to and from The Red Planet. His conclusion is that Musk's technology, which includes the biggest rocket ever built, is feasible — but that Musk will not be the first man on Mars. The interview also hits on the future of NASA and what we need to get to Mars. Good stuff. Weir says, "My estimate is that this will happen in 2050. NASA is saying more like 2035, but I don't have faith in Congress to fund them."