George Overmeire's blog

Mars Rover Down: Spirit is Dead

Via Discovery News":

Although the likelihood of recovering stricken Mars Exploration Rover Spirit was slim, a tiny sliver of hope endured that the tenacious rover would eventually send a signal back to Earth.
Sadly, today, NASA confirmed news that was as inevitable as it was unwelcome: the final command will be sent to the Red Planet on Wednesday, and orbiting Mars satellites will cease search operations at the end of the month.
That means it's official (or it will be in a few days): Spirit is dead.

Zie ook:

    NASA hangs up on silent Mars rover Spirit (Update)

Yuri Gagarin: Counting Down To 50 Years of Human Spaceflight!

Het is vandaag 50 jaar geleden dat Yuri Gagarin als eerste mens de ruimte invloog. Volgens de Volkskrant had hij zijn uitverkiezing vooral te danken aan het feit dat hij klein genoeg was om in de capsule te passen. Een groepje ruimte-enthousiasten heeft al jaren reden op 12 april een "Yuri's Night" te organiseren. Dit jaar wordt dat ietsje uitgebreider!
De Russische televisiezender TV-3 heeft voor de gelegenheid Robert Zubrin uitgenodigd voor een gesprek over een bemande vlucht naar Mars.

Dr. Robert Zubrin, President of the Mars Society, the world’s largest space advocacy organization dedicated to the exploration and human settlement of the planet Mars, was interviewed recently by Russian TV-3 on the future of Mars exploration and possible human colonization.
The discussion with Dr. Zubrin will be shown as part of a larger documentary entitled “Mars: Conquest” to be broadcast on Russian TV-3 on Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 22:00 (10:00 p.m.) Moscow time. To view the documentary on-line, please visit the TV-3 website.

When Discovery News Met Mars Rover 'Curiosity' - Slideshow

Door Ian O'Neill.

April 4, 2011 -- I've fallen in love with a robot. But this wouldn't be the first time.
When NASA's lunchbox-sized Sojourner rover made its first, timid steps on Martian soil in 1997, I was in love. When NASA's twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity bounced across the Red Planet's terrain and sent that heart-stopping signal that they were "OK" in 2004, I was in love.
Most recently, with the help of social media and my addiction to Twitter, I was besotted with the Mars Phoenix lander when it touched red dirt in 2008.
But today, I met NASA's biggest wheeled robot yet: the Mars Science Laboratory, or simply, "Curiosity."
And yes, even before she's left the clean room where she was assembled, I'm in love with that six-wheeled, laser-toting, nuclear-powered machine.
In a special media event held at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Pasadena, Calif., on April 4, I had the exciting opportunity to see Curiosity with my own eyes before she's shipped to Cape Canaveral, Fla., for launch later this year.
Here are a few photos from this memorable event.

SpaceX kondigt de Falcon Heavy aan voor 2013

Helaas nog steeds niet om mee naar de Maan of Mars te gaan, maar in de zandbak van LEO (Low Earth Orbit) blijven we wel oefenen.

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) head Elon Musk revealed their latest launch vehicle on Tuesday, the Falcon Heavy. Effectively three Falcon 9 core stages strapped together, the new vehicle – set to debut as soon as 2013 – will be the most powerful US rocket to have launched since the Saturn V was built for the Apollo Program, eventually sharing a 20 missions per year manifest with the Falcon 9. Via NASA Spaceflight

De Falcon Heavy is bijna twee keer zo sterk als de Space Shuttle, en weegt 53.000 kg, dat is meer dan het maximum gewicht van een volle Boeing 737-200 met 136 passagiers aan boord. Op de website van SpaceX is een staatje te zien waarin de Falcon vergeleken wordt met andere raketten; alleen de Saturnus V, de Apollo maanraket, die voor het laatst in 1973 gelanceerd werd, kon een nog zwaardere vracht vervoeren.

Some of Mars' Missing Carbon Dioxide May Be Buried

Via ScienceDaily 9 maart 2011.

Rocks on Mars dug from far underground by crater-blasting impacts are providing glimpses of one possible way Mars' atmosphere has become much less dense than it used to be.
At several places where cratering has exposed material from depths of about 5 kilometers (3 miles) or more beneath the surface, observations by a mineral-mapping instrument on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter indicate carbonate minerals.
These are not the first detections of carbonates on Mars. However, compared to earlier findings, they bear closer resemblance to what some scientists have theorized for decades about the whereabouts of Mars' "missing" carbon. If deeply buried carbonate layers are found to be widespread, they would help answer questions about the disappearance of most of ancient Mars' atmosphere, which is deduced to have been thick and mostly carbon dioxide. The carbon that goes into formation of carbonate minerals can come from atmospheric carbon dioxide.

(...)

"A dramatic change in atmospheric density remains one of the most intriguing possibilities about early Mars," said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project Scientist Richard Zurek, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "Increasing evidence for liquid water on the surface of ancient Mars for extended periods continues to suggest that the atmosphere used to be much thicker.
Carbon dioxide makes up nearly all of today's Martian air and likely was most of a thicker early atmosphere, too. In today's thin, cold atmosphere, liquid water quickly freezes or boils away.
What became of that carbon dioxide? NASA will launch the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) in 2013 to investigate processes that could have stripped the gas from the top of the atmosphere into interplanetary space. Meanwhile, CRISM and other instruments now in orbit continue to look for evidence that some of the carbon dioxide in that ancient atmosphere was removed, in the presence of liquid water, by formation of carbonate minerals now buried far beneath the present surface.

Lees meer...

Hayabusa Captured Asteroid Dust

Via Discovery News:

In July, Japanese scientists announced that they had found something inside Hayabusa's 40cm-wide sample return capsule, but it was far from certain as to what that "something" was. Was it dusty contamination from reentry? Or was it precious asteroid dust, the very thing the sample return mission set out to capture?
Now we have an answer.
The trouble-plagued Hayabusa did return asteroid dust. In fact, 1,500 particles of the stuff have been recovered so far.
"This is a world first and it is a remarkable accomplishment that brought home material from a celestial body other than the moon," Yoshiaki Takagu, Japanese science and technology minister, told a press conference announcing mission success.

Ik schreef eerder over de Hayabusa op dit blog.

Scientists Propose One-Way Trips to Mars

Via Product, Design & Development:

PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) — Invoking the spirit of "Star Trek" in a scholarly article entitled "To Boldly Go," two scientists contend human travel to Mars could happen much more quickly and cheaply if the missions are made one-way. They argue that it would be little different from early settlers to North America, who left Europe with little expectation of return.

Iets vergelijkbaars staat ook in de sciencefiction roman "Titan" van Stephen Baxter. Het gaat dan om een "One-Way" naar de maan Titan.

"The main point is to get Mars exploration moving," said Dirk Schulze-Makuch of Washington State University, who wrote the article in the latest "Journal of Cosmology" with Paul Davies of Arizona State University. The colleagues state — in one of 55 articles in the issue devoted to exploring Mars — that humans must begin colonizing another planet as a hedge against a catastrophe on Earth.
Mars is a six-month flight away, possesses surface gravity, an atmosphere, abundant water, carbon dioxide and essential minerals. They propose the missions start by sending two two-person teams, in separate ships, to Mars. More colonists and regular supply ships would follow.
The technology already exists, or is within easy reach, they wrote.

Lees verder.
To Boldly Go: A One-Way Human Mission to Mars; artikel in Journal of Cosmology.

Newly discovered planet may be first truly habitable exoplanet

Via University of California Santa Cruz News:

A team of planet hunters led by astronomers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the Carnegie Institution of Washington has announced the discovery of an Earth-sized planet (three times the mass of Earth) orbiting a nearby star at a distance that places it squarely in the middle of the star's "habitable zone," where liquid water could exist on the planet's surface. If confirmed, this would be the most Earth-like exoplanet yet discovered and the first strong case for a potentially habitable one.
To astronomers, a "potentially habitable" planet is one that could sustain life, not necessarily one that humans would consider a nice place to live. Habitability depends on many factors, but liquid water and an atmosphere are among the most important.
"Our findings offer a very compelling case for a potentially habitable planet," said Steven Vogt, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. "The fact that we were able to detect this planet so quickly and so nearby tells us that planets like this must be really common."
The findings are based on 11 years of observations at the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. "Advanced techniques combined with old-fashioned ground-based telescopes continue to lead the exoplanet revolution," said Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution. "Our ability to find potentially habitable worlds is now limited only by our telescope time."


Zie hier de aankondiging:

En hier het artikel (pdf) dat in de Astrophysical Journal en op ArXiv.org zal worden gepubliceerd.
Overige links:

  1. Earth-Like Planet Can Sustain Life
  2. Gliese 581 g artikel in Wikipedia
  3. Earth is no Longer ‘One of a Kind’, artikel van Ian O'Neill op Astroengine.
  4. Astronomers Find Most Earth-like Planet to Date
  5. Gliese 581g: the most Earth like planet yet discovered
  6. Discussie op Slashdot
  7. Artikel op Wikipedia over "Tidal Locking".

Methane Survey Reveals Mars Is Far From 'Dead'

Via Discovery News:

A six-year study of methane in Mars' atmosphere shows the planet is far from dead, though whether it is merely geologically active or host to microbial life is unknown.

An Italy-based team of researchers combed through billions of measurements taken by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor to compile seasonal maps of the gas, a simple chemical compound that appears in minute quantities in Mars' carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere.

Methane breaks down in ultraviolet light from the sun, so scientists know it is being replenished in some way from the planet itself. The speed at which the methane is being depleted -- less than a year -- is as great a mystery as what's causing it.

Link: Discussie op Slashdot.

NASA'S Lunar Spacecraft Completes Exploration Mission Phase

WASHINGTON -- NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, will
complete the exploration phase of its mission on Sept. 16, after a
number of successes that transformed our understanding of Earth's
nearest neighbor.

LRO completed a one-year exploration mission in a polar orbit
approximately 31 miles above the moon's surface. It produced a
comprehensive map of the lunar surface in unprecedented detail;
searched for resources and safe landing sites for potential future
missions to the moon; and measured lunar temperatures and radiation
levels.

The mission is turning its attention from exploration objectives to
scientific research, as program management moves from NASA's
Exploration Systems Mission Directorate to the Science Mission
Directorate at the agency's Headquarters in Washington.

"LRO has been an outstanding success. The spacecraft has performed
brilliantly," said Doug Cooke, associate administrator of the
Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. "LRO's science and
engineering teams achieved all of the mission's objectives, and the
incredible data LRO gathered will provide discoveries about the moon
for years to come."

Read more...

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