One of the oldest regions of the Red Planet discovered, an ancient Martian lake, or the site of an ancient hot spring first explored by NASA’s Spirit rover
Space news (The Journey to Mars: Mars 2020; possible landing sites) – Northeast Syrtis: Jerero crater; or Columbia Hills, on the Red Planet –
Planetary scientists and other scientists attending the third landing site workshop hosted by NASA in order to determine the best place for its Mars 2020 rover to land recommend three places. NASA’s been using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to search for suitable sites since about 2006 and to help in the identification, study, and verification of possible future landing sites for coming manned missions during most recent history. Data and observations provided by the MRO also helped participants narrow down the choices to three during the workshop.
“From the point of view of evaluating potential landing sites, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is the perfect spacecraft for getting all the information needed,” said the workshop’s co-chair, Matt Golombek of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “You just can’t overstate the importance of MRO for landing-site selection.”
“Missions on the surface of Mars give you the close-up view, but what you see depends on where you land. MRO searches the globe for the best sites,” said MRO Deputy Project Scientist Leslie Tamppari of JPL.
“Whether it is looking at the surface, the subsurface or the atmosphere of the planet, MRO has viewed Mars from orbit with unprecedented spatial resolution, and that produces huge volumes of data,” said MRO Project Scientist Rich Zurek of JPL.“These data are a treasure trove for the whole Mars scientific community to study as we seek to answer a broad range of questions about the evolving habitability, geology, and climate of Mars.”
The Journey to the Red Planet
The human journey to the beginning of space and time will be making a stop on Mars sometime in the 2030s if everything goes as planned with NASA’s Journey to Mars. Mars 2020 is expected to launch aboard the Atlas V 541 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida around July 2020. After a journey of millions of miles across the solar system to the Red Planet, the Mars 2020 rover will land at one of three possible sites.
Images of the first possible landing site in the Northeast part of Syrtis Major showEarly Noachian bedrock planetary scientists would like to have a closer look at for signs of possible life. An excellent place for study and exploration of the past of the Red Planet, scientists are currently studying whether it’s safe for Mars 2020 to land. There could be too many boulders or even steep slopes unidentified in the initial analysis of images of this region making landing problematic at best. There’s also always the possibility of something we haven’t thought of. If the site is safe, it will be considered for the final choice, and possibly even for the rovers planned by Europe and NASA sometime around 2018.
This part of the Red Planet was once warmed by volcanoes, so planetary scientists want to look for ancient hot springs and even surface ice melt where liquid water could have flowed. Liquid water’s one of the catalysts-of-life planetary scientists look for in the search for extraterrestrial life. The layered terrain of Northeast Syrtis could hold a record of ancient simple life forms that existed on Mars during its early history. At the very least it should tell us more about interactions between water and minerals over successive parts of the Red Planet when it was young. This site we should definitely take a look at.
Rewind time 3.5 billion years in Jezero crater, to when river channels spilled over the crater wall and formed a lake. Planetary scientists see evidence water from this lake carried clay minerals from the lake bed after this body of water dried up. Scientists want to explore the crater for signs microbial life once lived here during events such as this when Jezero crater was a little wetter. For the remains of ancient life in the lakebed sediments.
Columbia Hills, Mars
After additional study planetary scientists and geochemists agree mineral springs once bubbled up from the rocks of Columbia Hills in Gusev crater on the Red Planet. Originally, the Spirit rover found no clear signs water flowed over or existed in the rocks of this region of Mars, but the discovery hot springs once existed here has scientists thinking a shallow lake may have once formed for a time. Warm, inviting waters microbial life could have evolved in, exobiologists are keen to examinesoils and lakebed sediments of Gusev crater for their remains.
The Final Landing Site of the Mars 2020 rover
Possible landing sites of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover may change as the mission goes forward, the science mission and even engineering considerations of achieving their goals could change as they learn more. Ultimately, NASA will decide on a landing site with geology indicating a wetter past that also meets all criteria. Stay tuned to the human journey to the beginning of space and time during the months and years ahead to learn more.
Planners under pressure to provide details of long-term plans before Presidential election
Space news (Deep space missions: go for Mars; Orion spacecraft) – Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama –
NASA plans to travel to the Red Planet for a three-year mission to set up operations for future missions and possible colonization recently took one step forward. NASA mission managers and other experts gavethe Safety Oversight Board an update on thecurrent status of plans to travel to Mars duringthe latest Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) meeting. The committee members took a very close look at their plans and pointed out America and NASA can’t afford to fumble the ball at this point in history. That with the Presidential election taking place, they‘ll need to see more on NASA’s future plans to travel to Mars, before more funding for futuremissions will be forthcoming.
NASA at this point’s trying to get work completed on the planned debut for the Space Launch System (SLS) with the launch of Exploration Mission Orion (EM-1) in 2017-2018. The second test of the Space Launch System (SLS) is scheduled for around 2021, with a crew this time, but NASA’s presently trying to reduce the five-year gap between the first two SLS missions. This launch system or something similar is needed for plans to travel to Mars and colonize the Red Planet sometime in the 2030s.
At this point in time, these are the only scheduled SLS missions, but NASA’s documents do show preliminary plans for 41 SLS missions between 2018 to 2046 towards future surface missions on Phobos and then the Red Planet. NASA also provided a generalized plan calling for astronauts to journey to the fourth planet from the Sun for a permanent stay sometime in the 2030s. At this point, however, concrete long-term plans surrounding future manned trips to Mars are hazy due to NASA’s funding outlook, which isonly estimated for long-term space mission requirements. Experts agree, though, a hefty increase in funding’s going to be needed for a realistic, viable plan and tripto the Red Planet. Getting it ready for more colonizers is a different question, though, requiring additionalthought, planning, and funding.
NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaierstated the SLS will launch at least once a year when questioned about the tight schedule of EM-1. NASA’s monster rocket system isn’t scheduled to take astronauts into space until sometime in the next decade, so expectations are for NASA to plan and execute a range of different unmanned space missionsto test the system. This could include a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, to take a dip in the ocean of water planetary scientists think exists below its icy crust.
Bill Hill, Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development (ESD) for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD), updated board members on the status of current plans for astronauts to travel to Mars by the 2030s. At this point in the planning, program managers are still reviewing options, rather than adding a foundation to present plans.
NASA planners have significant hurdles to overcome if they’re to successfully send astronauts to the Red Planet and allow them to get back into orbit. The first obstacle’s going to be designing, engineering and testing a Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) system capable of generating enough energy to get a spacecraft up to a significant percentage of the speed of light. The Helios space probes hold the record for the fastest recorded human spacecraft at around 150,000 miles per hour as they whip around the Sun measuring the solar wind and environment. The second significant hurdle’s collecting enough oxygen from the frozen regions of Mars to provide the fuel required to travel from the surface back into orbit. Plans for a three-year mission are also of concern to scientists, engineers and planners worried about the dangers and problems astronauts will face living, working and staying healthy during a long-duration space mission.
Of concern previously and still a problem the committee mentioned was the need for engineers and scientists to producea heat shield for the Orion spacecraft capable of surviving reentry. The spacecraft will have to survive a 13.5 kilometers per second entry velocity and planners indicated this capability’s on the agency’s must-do list. At present, Orion isn’t going to survive the fall to Earth after it returns from Mars, according to engineers and scientists. Committee members also noted they have been asking NASA managers for a formal outline of their plans to send astronauts to Mars for awhile. They specifically wanted to know what new technologies will be needed to successfully allow astronauts to travel to the Red Planet to begin colonization.
NASA officials responded to committee member requests by stating the agency was in the process of “adding meat to the bones” of the transitional phase of their plans to send astronauts to Mars. During this phase 0, NASA’s turns its attention toward successful test flights for the SLS and Orion, while using the International Space Station (ISS) to test the effects of living and working in space for long periods of time.
The Asteroid Redirect Mission’s (ARM) phase 1 of NASA’s three-part plan to send astronauts to the Red Planet. Initially, this mission had a nominal date of around 2021, but planners have recently updated the mission launch date to around 2026. They’ll need to complete this mission successfully in order to learn some of the things they’ll need to know to send astronauts to Mars to begin colonization. During this phase, engineers and scientists will test the flight capability of the system using the Exploration Missions.
Phase 2 of NASA’s plans to send astronauts to Mars will test all flight elements needed to travel to the Red Planet, during planned Beyond Earth Orbit test missions. The committee thanked Mars Mission managers but asked to see more detail and definite plans on NASA’s current outline.
Mankind goes for Mars
Mr. Hill commented that NASA’s already learned many needed lessons towards phase 0 of their Mars Mission plans. He added that the nation had already invested significantly in the technology neededto send astronauts to Mar during the decades ahead. That more work needed to be done in order to not loose this work and get the job done within a specific time period. Specific milestones have been met and Exploration Mission 1’s (EM-1) on target for a launch window between September to November 2018.
Schiaparelli module separates from Trace Gas Orbiter in preparation for orbit-raising maneuver
Space news (space exploration: ExoMars 2016; orbit insertion and Schiaparelli module descent to surface) – Over 34 million miles (56 million kilometers) from Earth, preparing to descend to the surface of the Red Planet –
NASA’s Curiosity rover and other Mars explorers are about to get a little help from their European and Russian brothers and sisters in the form of the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). One of two joint space missions between Europe and Russia designed to explore Mars for signs that life once existed, the ExoMars TGO will investigate the environment, and blaze a path for a future 2020s mission to return a sample of Martian terrain for planetary scientists to examine in detail for signs of life.
The ExoMars TGO completed its final trajectory maneuver at 08.:45 GMT on October 14 and at 14:42 GMT/16:42 CEST today the Schiaparelli module separated from the orbiter. Tomorrow around 02:42 GMT/04:42 CEST the robotic spacecraft will conduct an orbit-raising maneuver in preparation for orbit insertion and the descent of Schiaparelli to the surface of Mars at around 14:48 GMT/16:48 CEST. The module is scheduled to land in a region of Mars near the equator called MeridianiPlanum, where it will search for signs of life once having existed on the Red Planet.
Unfortunately, after the separation from the ExoMars TGO, the Schiaparelli module didn’t return telemetry (onboard status information) and only sent its carrier signal, which indicates it’s operational and waiting for commands. Mission control’s currently looking into this anomaly and a resolution to the problem’s expected within a few hours. You can check for updates to this on the ESA website here.
What’s next for ExoMars?
If everything goes as planned, mission control should get an update from the ExoMars TGO on October 20, along with images of the surface of the planet as Schiaparelli descended to Mars. Continuous updates from the orbiter and module are expected through the duration of the ExoMars TGO mission. The events of the mission will also be live streamed on the ESA website here, along with reports on Twitter using the hashtag #ExoMars.
5 US companies to conduct concept studies for support missions to colonize Mars
Space news (Journey to Mars: Mars Orbiter Mission; support mission concept studies) – NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California –
NASA’s plans to send astronauts to explore and one day live on Mars turned a page today with the announcement of the selection of five US aerospace firms to study possible mission concepts. The Boeing Company, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, Orbital ATK, and Space Systems will each conduct four months of research on ways a new Mars orbiter mission would benefit communications, imaging ability, and operational capabilities of future manned missions to the Red Planet.
“We’re excited to continue planning for the next decade of Mars exploration,” said Geoffrey Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
Partners in making history
NASA is actively seeking partnerships in their desire to send manned missions to Mars as early as the 2030s. The Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group published a report a few months ago on the science objectives proposed for the manned Journey to Mars missions by the scientific community and their feasibility. People and firms interested in contributing to the Journey to Mars should contact NASA to see how they can take part.
NASA’s Journey to Mars is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California under the direction of the agency’s Mars Exploration Program. This is a very ambitious space program expected to lead the way for mankind to one day travel to Mars and take steps to stay forever. Presently, it has two robotic rovers and three orbiting spacecraft exploring the Red Planet and future plans include the launch of the InSight lander in 2018 and the Mars 2020 rover, which is currently in development.
Comet Siding Spring sprinkles ancient metallic dust onto Mars atmosphere
Space news (November 23, 2014) Comet Siding Spring seeds Mars with ancient metallic dust –
NASA and European space scientists recently observed a large comet flying past a planet for the first time. On October 19, 2014, three spacecraft, two American and one European, observed and gathered data as Comet Siding Spring flew past Mars. You can watch a YouTube video here of the artists rendering of the flyby.
Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring arrived from a very distant region of the solar system called the Oort Cloud. At around 2:27 p.m. EDT, this traveler from the outer regions of the solar system was only about 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) from the Red Planet. It was at this time the comet was observed by three spacecraft as it deposited ancient debris on its atmosphere. This is the first direct measurement of dust from an Oort Cloud comet and an opportunity scientists and astronomers have been waiting for.
Oort Cloud comets are thought to be leftover material from the birth of the solar system. Space scientists have an opportunity to test the present theory on the evolution of the solar system and possibly life on Earth. Theories persist that the ingredients of life could have been deposited on Mars in the distant past and then this life traveled to Earth and took root. The data collected during this encounter between Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring and Mars could help determine if this is possible.
Space scientists gathered information on the comet’s nucleus and the effects of the comet’s passage on the Martian atmosphere. The data was collected using NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft, in conjunction with radar instruments on the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Mars Express.
Data collected indicates comet debris containing sodium, iron and magnesium metal ions, along with at least five others, fell on the atmosphere of Mars as the comet flew past the planet. Readings indicate this added a temporary layer of strong metal ions to the ionosphere of Mars. Planetary and atmospheric space scientists are now studying whether this could have resulted in the development of a similar layer in the atmosphere of a primordial Earth. They also want to take a look at the possibility the sprinkling of comet dust in the atmosphere of Mars could have long-term consequences for the planet.
“This historic event allowed us to observe the details of this fast-moving Oort Cloud comet in a way never before possible using our existing Mars missions,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “Observing the effects on Mars of the comet’s dust slamming into the upper atmosphere makes me very happy that we decided to put our spacecraft on the other side of Mars at the peak of the dust tail passage and out of harm’s way.”
NASA and European space scientists will now continue to monitor Mar’s atmosphere after the passage of Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring for continued and additional effects and developments. They also hope to get further opportunities in the future to observe Oort Cloud comets flying past planets within the solar system.
For more information on MAVEN, MRO or any of NASA’s missions to Mars go here.
You can learn more about the Mars Express spacecraft here.
More evidence for the case for the presence of water on the Red Planet
Astronomy News – Planetary scientists taking a second look at a Mars outcropping first examined by NASA’s Spirit Mars Rover back in 2005 think there could be additional evidence for water on large areas of Mars. In specific, planetary scientists have found high concentrations of carbonate, a mineral that scientists have previously shown to originate in wet conditions that dissolves in acid. This leads planet scientists to the conclusion that ancient oceans on Mars couldn’t be acidic and could have been favorable environments for the evolution of life forms.
Water has been hard to find on Mars
This is hardly news as planet scientists have noted the presence of carbonates on the surface of Mars previously, and there could be all sorts of natural ways to produce the carbonates that we humans haven’t experienced, yet. Reports indicate that scientists are finding rock outcroppings with as much as 25 percent carbonate by weight. This is a far higher percentage of carbonate than previously recorded, though, and this data could indicate the presence of vast oceans on the surface of the Red Planet in the past, according to some scientists.
One group of planet scientists in Boulder, Colorado has been studying the possibility that oceans of water once existed on the Red Planet. Gaetano Di Achille and Brian Hynek have been taking a close look at 52 martian deltas and about 40,000 river valleys on Mars, using the combined data from a series of orbiting Mars missions, conducted over years. Their studies lead them to speculate that broad and deep expanses of water once covered up to one-third of the surface of Mars, 3.5 billion years ago.
This team of astronomers concluded that at least half the deltas and river valleys they studied likely marked the boundaries of an ancient sea. The geological features in question are all at the same relative elevation, which implies they were possibly connected to martian seas or large bodies of water, according to this team of scientists.
The volume of water scientist are talking about once existing on the Red Planet is around 30 million cubic kilometers of water, about 10 times less than the volume of water contained in Earth’s oceans. This study appeared online on June 13 in Nature Geoscience.
Astronomers are still looking for the water
John Carter and a team of scientists at the University of Paris, on the other hand, claim that the Red Planet certainly once had vast quantities of water, only not in the form of vast seas and oceans. This team found hydrated silicate minerals within craters in the northern lowlands of the Red Planet, a place where these minerals hadn’t previously been found. This fact, combined with previous indications of hydrated silicate minerals in Mars Southern Hemisphere, leads this team of scientists to conclude that Mars was changed on a global scale by liquid water around 4 billion years in the past. This group of astronomers used NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to look inside 91 impact craters where asteroids have exposed ancient marine material several kilometers beneath the surface of Mars. They found nine contained phyllosilicates or other hydrated silicates, minerals that scientists know form in wet environments.
The real question now is, where did all this water go? Future missions to the Red Planet will be looking for facts to help determine where all the water went or if it might still exist on Mars, in another form. They’ll also be taking a close look at river deltas, which could be excellent regions to search for evidence of past Martian life.
Scientists using the Shallow Radar (SHARAD) instrument on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to look beneath Mar’s north polar ice cap and get an idea of the lay of the ground think they know how Chasma Boreale and the much-discussed series of spiral troughs were formed. The formation of Chasma Boreale and enigmatic spiral troughs have been talked about for four decades by space scientists and amateur astronomers. Mar’s north polar region is really just a stack of ice and dust layers up to 2 miles thick and encompassing an area equivalent to Texas. Chasma Boreale is a distinctive land feature as long as the Grand Canyon, only wider and deeper, while the troughs spiral outward from their centers like huge pinwheels.
What did astronomers and planet scientists using SHARAD to look beneath Mar’s north polar cap reveal concerning the formation of Chasma Boreale and associated spiral troughs? The view beneath Mar’s north polar cap suggests strong winds were the main force of geological change involved in the formation of the Chasma Boreale and spiral troughs over millions of years. The geological processes involved would have formed Chasma Boreale and spiral troughs as Mar’s north polar ice cap was formed.
Professional astronomers are studying these troughs