Mars Express beams back images of ice-filled Korolev crater


Trapped layer of cold air keeps water frozen in 50-mile-wide impact crater

A composite picture of the Korolev crater in the northern lowlands of Mars, made from images taken by the Mars Express High Resolution Stereo Camera overlaid on a digital terrain model.
A composite picture of the Korolev crater in the northern lowlands of Mars, made from images taken by the Mars Express High Resolution Stereo Camera overlaid on a digital terrain model.

The stunning Korolev crater in the northern lowlands of Mars is filled with ice all year round owing to a trapped layer of cold Martian air that keeps the water frozen.

The 50-mile-wide crater contains 530 cubic miles of water ice, as much as Great Bear Lake in northern Canada, and in the centre of the crater the ice is more than a mile thick.

Images beamed back from the red planet show that the lip around the impact crater rises high above the surrounding plain. When thin Martian air then passes over the crater, it becomes trapped and cools to form an insulating layer that prevents the ice from melting.

The latest picture is a composite of five strip-like images taken from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express probe, which swung into orbit around the planet on Christmas Day 2003. On the same day, the orbiter released the Beagle 2 lander, a British probe built on a shoestring budget, which touched down but failed to fully open on the surface.

Mars Express photographed the Korolev crater with its high-resolution stereo camera, an instrument that can pick out features 10 metres wide, or as small as 2 metres when used in super-resolution mode.

Colour-coded topographic view
A colour-coded topographic view showing the relative heights of the terrain in and around the crater.

Evidence from orbiting spacecraft, rovers and landers reveals ancient water courses and lake beds on Mars. Vast quantities of frozen water have been found at the planet’s poles. In July, astronomers used Mars Express radar measurements to find what appeared to be a 12-mile stretch of briny water beneath the planet’s surface.

The Korolev crater is named after Sergei Korolev, the Russian rocket engineer and spacecraft designer known as the father of Soviet space technology. Korolev worked on the Sputnik programme that sent the first artificial satellites into space in the 1950s, and later on the Vostok programme that carried Yuri Gagarin into the history books as the first man to orbit Earth.

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Astronauts could stay at this space ‘motel’ on the way to Mars


A new prototype habitat could host four space fliers for up to 60 days.

Image: Space Lunar Habitat

Lockheed Martin’s habitat is designed to form one module of NASA’s proposed Deep Space Gateway, a mini space station that would orbit the moon.Courtesy Lockheed Martin

NASA’s first crewed mission to Mars may still be years away, but already we’re getting a glimpse of the sort of habitat that astronauts could use as a staging point for a multimonth voyage to the red planet, an asteroid or another deep-space destination.

Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin unveiled an early prototype of its deep-space habitat last week at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The cylindrical module — a reworked cargo container from the space shuttle era — is about 22 feet long and 16.5 feet wide. That’s much bigger than the Russian Soyuz capsules that take astronauts to and from the International Space Station but tiny compared to the space station itself, which is made up of 16 pressurized modules that collectively cover an area bigger than a football field.

Given the habitat’s size, life in space will most likely be a bit cramped for the four astronauts who could live there for up to 60 days before shipping out to deep space.

“It’s a lot like being in an RV, where you’re constantly reconfiguring the space,” said Bill Pratt, who manages the deep-space habitat program at Lockheed Martin. “The couch and the table become your bed, and you’re constantly moving and shuffling things around.”

In addition to sleeping quarters, the habitat will have a toilet, exercise equipment, storage space, an area for science experiments and a galley.

The habitat is designed to form one module of NASA’s proposed Deep Space Gateway, a miniature space station that would orbit the moon and serve as a way station for lunar missions or journeys deeper into the cosmos.

Image: Space Lunar Habitat
NASA’s proposed Deep Space Gateway is imagined as a moon-orbiting space station that would act as a stepping stone for missions to Mars.
Courtesy Lockheed Martin

Lockheed’s prototype is the refurbished Donatello cargo container that was originally designed to fit inside the space shuttle’s cargo bay and ferry supplies to and from the ISS. Donatello never flew in space, but its two sister modules made several trips aboard the shuttle. One, dubbed Leonardo, is now a permanent “space closet” attached to the space station.

Lockheed is one of six companies awarded a combined $65-million contract from NASA to design a deep-space habitat as part of the agency’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program, which aims to foster commercial developments for space exploration.

Why we won’t get to Mars without teamwork


Source:
American Psychological Association
Summary:
If humanity hopes to make it to Mars anytime soon, we need to understand not just technology, but the psychological dynamic of a small group of astronauts trapped in a confined space for months with no escape.

If humanity hopes to make it to Mars anytime soon, we need to understand not just technology, but the psychological dynamic of a small group of astronauts trapped in a confined space for months with no escape, according to a paper published in American Psychologist, the flagship journal of the American Psychological Association.

“Teamwork and collaboration are critical components of all space flights and will be even more important for astronauts during long-duration missions, such as to Mars. The astronauts will be months away from home, confined to a vehicle no larger than a mid-sized RV for two to three years and there will be an up to 45-minute lag on communications to and from Earth,” said Lauren Blackwell Landon, PhD, lead author of “Teamwork and Collaboration in Long-Duration Space Missions: Going to Extremes.”

Currently, psychological research on spaceflight is limited, especially regarding teams. Applying best practices in psychology, the authors offered insights into how NASA can assemble the best teams possible to ensure successful long-duration missions.

Astronauts who are highly emotionally stable, agreeable, open to new experiences, conscientious, resilient, adaptable and not too introverted or extroverted are more likely to work well with others. A sense of humor will also help to defuse tense situations, according to the authors.

The long delay in communication to and from Earth will mean that crews will have to be highly autonomous as they will not be able to rely on immediate help from Mission Control. The authors said this will be an ongoing challenge and having defined goals, building trust, developing communication norms and debriefing will help alleviate potential conflict.

The researchers also advised the use of technology to monitor the physiological health of astronauts to predict points of friction among team members, due to lack of sleep, for example.

“Successfully negotiating conflict, planning together as a team, making decisions as a team and practicing shared leadership should receive extensive attention long before a team launches on a space mission,” said Landon.

The paper is part of a special issue of American Psychologist, focusing on the psychology of teams and teamwork. The issue was guest edited by Susan McDaniel, PhD, University of Rochester Medical Center, and Eduardo Salas, PhD, Rice University.

Story Source:

Materials provided by American Psychological Association.


Journal Reference:

  1. Lauren Blackwell Landon, Kelley J. Slack, Jamie D. Barrett. Teamwork and collaboration in long-duration space missions: Going to extremes.. American Psychologist, 2018; 73 (4): 563 DOI: 10.1037/amp0000260

Sniffing and Peeking at Mars


The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter gets into position and takes some new pictures

Sniffing and Peeking at Mars

Although it arrived at Mars back in October 2016, the ESA/Roscosmos mission called ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (and no, I couldn’t see a nice acronym in there either) has spent the last 11 months getting into a working orbit.

Using aerobraking the spacecraft has shrunk its highly elliptical capture orbit to a relatively tight, near circular path around Mars, about 400 km above the surface. This is the prime science mission configuration. Although the highest profile science goal for the orbiter is arguably its study of gases like methane in the martian atmosphere, it’s got some other nifty science instruments on board.

One of those is the CaSSIS camera – capable of taking stereoscopic images of the planetary surface to a resolution of some 4.5 meters. Developed at the University of Bern in Switzerland, CaSSIS has been returning data since reaching Mars, but in the new orbit these pictures are taking on a new level of detail. Using a set of 3 color filters – skewed towards the red and infrared bands the following image shows a 40 km long stretch of Korolev Crater at high northern latitudes. Bright looking material is ice.

Credit: ESA, Roscosmos and CaSSIS

With a close up of one area shown here:

Credit: ESA, Roscosmos and CaSSIS

Images like these will help add to our increasingly detailed maps of Mars. In many respects this alien surface is already better mapped out than the Earth’s ocean floors. The CaSSIS data will also help improve our understanding of the comings and goings of volatiles like water and carbon dioxide on Mars, linking these data with the spectroscopic study of trace gases.

Is, for example, methane on Mars coming from specific locations? And is there evidence that it could have a biological origin?

These are big questions, and as ExoMars goes about its business we’re going to get closer to some answers.

 

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NASA Unveils How We’ll Get to Mars and Explore Deep Space.


Article Image
An illustration of the missions leading up to a manned mission to Mars. NASA.

NASA’s been in a slump lately. The International Space Station (ISS) is going to be retired somewhere in 2024-2028. It doesn’t even have a rocket right now to send anything up there, anyway. Not after retiring the space shuttle. The agency has been concentrating for six years on developing its new Space Launch System (SLS), to run missions to other parts of our solar system. You can argue that the SLS will be worth the wait. These will be the most powerful, heavy rockets NASA’s ever built.

Of course, there is a planned mission to land humans on Mars by 2033. But that’s far off, and the details have been fuzzy. That’s why space heads stood up and took notice recently, when NASA’s chief of human spaceflight, Bill Gerstenmaier, gave a presentation. Gerstenmaier revealed to the agency’s advisory council tentative plans for a lunar space station.

As part of its NextSTEP program, NASA has employed six companies to help it design the next generation of stations and vehicles. Boeing just announced its contribution—the Deep Space Gateway lunar station. Now NASA’s vision is starting to become clearer.

At the agency’s presentation, Gerstenmaier outlined plans to build and launch the station, which will allow Deep Space Transport (DST) craft to dock, aiding them in longer range missions, including to Mars. NASA’s press release called the station a place that “offers a true deep space environment,” for humans to get acclimated.

Deep Space Gateway will allow for more lunar missions as well, including robotic ones. The advantage is, if something goes wrong, crew members can try and make it back home again, a luxury not afforded to those headed for Mars.

Boeing Deep Space Gateway. Boeing.

Though there aren’t any hard dates yet, NASA plans to stagger missions, sending off one each year. It wants to work out how to coordinate the SLS, Orion, and the International Space Station (ISS), to support missions farther afield. Later on, they plan to set up a permanent installation in cislunar orbit (or near the moon).

The lunar station will be much smaller than the ISS, consisting of a power bus, a small habitat for the crew, a docking station, airlock, one research module, and one logistics one. For propulsion, they plan to use high power electric engines, a technology NASA itself has developed. This way, the station can position itself in one of a number of different orbits around the moon.

NASA is currently creating SLS and Orion spacecraft for the first two missions. Exploration Mission 1 (EM–1) should take place sometime next year. This will be a crewless journey. On other fronts, propulsion and habitation for the lunar station are in development. On board the ISS, life support systems and “related technologies,” are being tested.

From 2023 to 2026, NASA plans to send up pieces of and assemble the gateway. These missions will include four astronauts and should last between eight and 21 days. By the end of the 2020s, a one year mission will commence, to test systems required to travel to Mars, and elsewhere.

They’ll run experiments in the vicinity of the moon, in order to “build confidence that long-duration, distant human missions can be safely conducted with independence from Earth.” That’s according to a statement on NASA’s website. Not only is the agency starting to build up infrastructure, they foresee challenges both technical and human. This space station will help develop strategies to overcome them.

How well can humans live in deep space? That isn’t really something that’s ever been tested. Astronauts and later colonists will need to endure long journeys aboard a Deep Space Transport (DST) craft, also being developed by Boeing. Somewhere around 2029, NASA plans to send astronauts aboard one of these, for a total of 300-400 days, somewhere near our moon.

Boeing Deep Space Transit (DST) Vehicle. Boeing.  

The long-term goal is reusable craft that can ferry people to places such as Mars, return to the gateway, refuel, get serviced, and go back out again. SpaceX recently proved it possible to reuse rockets, in yet another successful landing, this time including a redeployment. Reusability will soon become the mainstay of space exploration, which brings the cost down exponentially.

This isn’t only a US mission. Besides private companies, other countries can lend a hand. Partners may offer hardware or “supplemental resources.” We’ve just dipped our toes in outer space’s vast waters, as a species, and had a few jaunts into the shallow end. Spreading out and really exploring the solar system is a feat beyond anything humanity has ever done.

These efforts could ultimately open up space to commercial ventures. And the time is nigh. The world will soon be running out of the precious minerals needed for consumer electronics. Space if full of them. In fact, it’s been predicted that asteroid mining will bear the world’s first trillionaire.

Source:http://bigthink.com

Ancient particle accelerator discovered on Mars.


New images of the surface of Mars taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter probe have revealed the presence of the largest particle accelerator.

The search for water, or even signs of life, on the planet Mars has been ongoing for some time. But with today’s announcement by CERN and NASA scientists, the exploration of the red planet has revealed a major new discovery. New images of the surface of Mars taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter probe, analysed by an interdisciplinary team of experts from the fields of geology, archaeology and particle physics, have revealed the presence of the largest particle accelerator ever built. The team has shown that Olympus Mons, previously thought to be the largest volcanic formation in the solar system, is in fact the remains of an ancient particle accelerator thought to have operated several million years ago.

A landslide stretching over several kilometres spotted by the probe’s high-resolution camera, sparked the scientists’ attention. This apparently recent event revealed a number of structures, which intrigued the scientists, as their shapes clearly resembled those of superconducting accelerating cavities such as those used in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). With a circumference of almost 2000 kilometres, this particle accelerator would have been around 75 times bigger than the LHC, and millions of times more powerful. However, it is not yet known which type of particles might have been accelerated in such a machine.

Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the meaning of which was previously a mystery, seem to corroborate these observations, leading scientists to believe that the pyramids might have served as giant antennae 

This major discovery could also help to explain the Egyptian pyramids, one of archaeology’s oldest mysteries. Heavily eroded structures resembling pyramids also appear on the images in the immediate vicinity of Olympus Mons. In addition, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the meaning of which was previously a mystery, seem to corroborate these observations, leading scientists to believe that the pyramids might have served as giant antennae. The pyramids on Earth might therefore have allowed the accelerator to be controlled remotely. “The accelerator control room was probably under the pyramids,” said Friedrich Spader, CERN’s Head of Technical Design.

This particle accelerator – a veritable “stargate” – is thought to have served as a portal into the solar system for a highly technologically advanced civilisation with the aim of colonisation. “The papyrus that was recently deciphered indicates that the powerful magnetic field and the movement of the particles in the accelerator were such that they would create a portal through spacetime,” said Fadela Emmerich, the leader of the team of scientists. “It’s a phenomenon that is completely new to CERN and we can’t wait to study it!” Such a technology could revolutionise space travel and open the way for intergalactic exploration.

Olympus Mons was until now considered to be the biggest volcano in the solar system, with its most recent lava flows estimated to be about 2 million years old. Scientists believe that this dating is quite accurate, on the basis of the latest measurements carried out by NASA’s Mars Odyssey probe. “This would mean that the particle accelerator was last used around 2 million years ago,” suggested Eilert O’Neil, the geologist who led this aspect of the research.

The powerful synchrotron radiation emitted by the particle accelerator generated an intense heat, which explains the volcanic structure and the presence of lava flows. “We have also suspected for a long time that a large quantity of water must have existed on the surface of Mars. We can only assume that this water was used at the time to cool the machines,” revealed Friedrich Spader.

“We’re probably talking about forgotten technologies and a highly advanced ancient civilisation,” said Eilert O’Neil. “Maybe even our own distant ancestors.”

Source:http://home.cern/

Thousands of Worlds Could Lurk Beyond Pluto – This New Animation Shows Them AlI


Welcome to our cosmic neighbourhood.

 You may be familiar with our Solar System’s eight planets – Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. There’s also their famous dwarf-planet companion, Pluto.

But this icy world may just be an appetiser to what lurks beyond in a region called the Kuiper Belt.

 

As this stunning animation suggests, dwarf planets may outnumber regular planets 100- or even 1,000-fold.

However, if a small group of astronomers gets its way, most of these worlds may become fully fledged planets and drop the “dwarf” label.

Where the animation comes from

We first saw the animation in a Reddit post by user Nobilitie. It’s actually a recording of a physics-based simulator game called Universe Sandbox2, according to Dan Dixon, the creator and director of the software.

Each ring represents an object’s orbit, and the mess of rings beyond the inner eight rings all belong to dwarf planets.

In response to the Reddit post, Dixon said the orbits are based on a constantly updated list of candidate worlds maintained by Mike Brown, an astronomer at Caltech.

 “[I]t’s a nice illustration of what is out there!” Brown wrote in an email to Business Insider. “The striking difference between the orderly giant planets and the randomness of the dwarf planets is quite apparent.”

Brown is the person who discovered Eris, a 10th solar system object that’s about 27 percent more massive than Pluto.

artist impression of the dwarf planet Eris

Artist impression of Eris, ESO/L. Calçada and Nick Risinger

His find eventually ‘killed‘ Pluto as a bonafide planet in 2006. That’s when thousands of astronomers voted on new celestial terminology, categorising the world as a “dwarf planet” alongside Eris.

Some astronomers disagreed with the decision, with one going so far as to call it “bullsh-t”. The public also didn’t take it well: Brown has since received a torrent of hate mail from schoolchildren.

Definitions aside, the list kept by Brown sorts objects detected in deep space based on the likelihood of their existence. Larger, inner objects tend to be more certain while farther-out objects are less certain.

Pluto, Eris, Ceres, Makemake, Haumea, and five others meet Brown’s “near certainty” criteria – in other words, they’re definitely dwarf planets and not comets or some other astronomical object. Thirty are “highly likely” to be dwarf planets, 75 are “likely,” and nearly 850 other objects are “probably” or “possibly” dwarf planets.

Brown guessed that about half of the dwarf planet candidates have yet to be detected, bringing their numbers close to 2,000 or more.

Redefining “planet” again?

Pluto's orbit and Kuiper's belt objects

Even Brown’s best estimate may be low, though. In the illustration above, Pluto’s orbit is shown in yellow, and the dots beyond it are Kuiper Belt objects.

“[A]s you can see from the illustration, some of them are on exceedingly elliptical orbits. Those guys are going to spend most of their time at the outer edge of their orbit, so they’re hard to see,” Brown said. “There might be a factor of ~5 more of those objects that we don’t know about!”

Brown doesn’t think nuclear-powered spacecraft like New Horizons, which can last for decades and is now exploring the Kuiper Belt, will discover most of those missing worlds.

“The fact that there are so many of these things out there really shows that the future of their exploration is going to mostly rely on telescopes,” he said.

A twist in all of this is that astronomers are once again wondering what to call floating orbs of rock, metal, and ice in space, according to a poster that seven researchers are presenting this week at the 48th Lunar & Planetary Science Conference.

Instead of categorising worlds as planets, dwarf planets, and moons – terms based on their orbits around the sun and one other – the team wants to simplify the system: As long as an object is big enough to be mostly round and isn’t fusing hot gases (like the Sun), it should be deemed a planet.

If enough astronomers agree with them, the solar system might suddenly contain 110 official planets – and perhaps hundreds or even thousands more if Brown’s list pans out.

A New Theory on the Mysterious Condition Causing Astronauts to Lose Their Vision


But new research presented this week provides a partial answer to what’s causing this condition: pressurized spinal fluid. Noam Alperin, a researcher at the University of Miami’s Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute, presented findings from research he and his peers conducted on 16 astronauts, measuring the volume of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in their heads before and after spaceflight. CSF floats around the brain and spine, cushioning it and protecting your brain as you move, such as when you stand up after lying down.

Alperin and his team found that astronauts who had been in space for extended trips (about six months) had much higher build up of CSF in the socket around the eye than astronauts who had only gone on short stints (about two weeks). They also designed a new imaging technique to measure exactly how “flat” the astronauts eyeballs had become after extended periods in space.

The idea is that, without the assistance of gravity, the fluid isn’t pulled down and evenly distributed, allowing it to pool in the eye cavity and build up pressure, which slowly starts to warp the eye and cause the vision damage, called visual impairment intracranial pressure syndrome (VIIP). It’s likely some people are more predisposed to this than others, perhaps due to the shape of their skulls, which would explain why some astronauts have not experienced VIIP. But Alperin said his findings suggest anybody could get VIIP if they’re in space for a long enough period of time.

“We saw structural changes in the eye globe only in the long-duration group,” Alperin told me over the phone. “And these changes were associated with increased volumes of the CSF. Our conclusion was that the CSF was playing a major role in the formation of the problem.”

The results have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, but Alperin told me the manuscript was recently accepted and will be published shortly. And these reported findings align with what scientists already suspected about the condition, according to Scott M. Smith, the manager of NASA’s Nutritional Biochemistry Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center, who’s been studying the vision loss issue for the last six years.

“I think this fits very well within what others seem to be thinking at the moment,” Smith told me.

Many astronauts—though, importantly, not all—have experienced this unexplained reduction in eyesight after spending months on the International Space Station, some dropping from perfect 20/20 vision to 20/100 in just six months. Researchers have been gravely concerned about this effect. With plans to send humans to Mars by the 2030s, a mission that would require nine months of space flight one way, we don’t really want to risk all of our astronauts going blind in the process.

“NASA ranks human health risks and the two top risks are radiation and vision issues,” Smith said. “Is it number one or two? Some people would say it’s number one, because we don’t really know what the long-term implications are.”

But the better we understand how VIIP occurs, the more likely we are to be able to create a solution. Smith’s team is currently conducting a clinical trial to investigate whether polycystic ovarian syndrome—which, despite its name, may indeed occur in men—could have similar effects on vision. This research could help explain who is more likely to experience VIIP, as research like Alperin’s explores the physical functions of the condition.

What a solution to the condition will look like depends what else we learn: it could be a medication, or a mechanical device to help redistribute fluid, or something else entirely. But each piece to the puzzle helps us get one step closer to sending humans to Mars, and not blinding them in the process.

Boron has been detected on Mars for the first time.


The first signs of habitable groundwater.

The Curiosity rover has found boron on the surface of Mars, indicating that, at some point, the Red Planet had long-term habitable groundwater.

Boron is a chemical signature of evaporated water, and while we still don’t know if Mars once hosted life, the discovery is further evidence that the planet was once plentiful with water, and therefore habitable.

“No prior mission to Mars has found boron,” said one of the researchers, Patrick Gasda, from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

The location of the discovery indicates that the subsurface groundwater the boron was dissolved in would have been warm and suitable for microbial life to thrive in.

“If the boron that we found in calcium sulphate mineral veins on Mars is similar to what we see on Earth, it would indicate that the groundwater of ancient Mars that formed these veins would have been 0-60 degrees Celsius [32-140 degrees Fahrenheit] and neutral-to-alkaline pH,” said Gasda.

Curiosity found the boron on its trek up the slopes of Mount Sharp, within the Gale Crater. It identified the mineral using its on board laser-shooting instrument called Chemistry and Camera.

Boron here on Earth is associated with sites where there was once lots of water, but it’s since evaporated away – like California’s Death Valley.

That might not necessarily be the case on Mars, but the team thinks the boron could have once been dissolved in the great lake that filled the Gale crater. As the lake dried up, the boron seeped down into groundwater.

Further testing is needed to identify exactly how the boron ended up in this site specifically and nowhere else we’ve yet studied, but the team has two hypotheses.

Either the drying out of the Gale lake resulted in a vast boron-containing deposit in an overlying layer that Curiosity hasn’t yet reached, or maybe shifts in the chemistry of clay-bearing deposits and groundwater changed how boron was transported around local sediments, so it’s not found everywhere that water once was.

The results were presented at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco last week. They’ve yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, and the team has a lot more work to do in analysing the samples before that happens.

But the find is still incredibly exciting. As Curiosity made its way up Mount Sharp, drilling every 25 metres (80 feet), it’s seen evidence of changing rock composition that indicates shifting ancient lakes and wet underground environments back on ancient Mars.

“There is so much variability in the composition at different elevations, we’ve hit a jackpot,” said one of the team, John Grotzinger from Caltech.

“A sedimentary basin such as this is a chemical reactor. Elements get rearranged. New minerals form and old ones dissolve. Electrons get redistributed. On Earth, these reactions support life.”

“We are seeing chemical complexity indicating a long, interactive history with the water. The more complicated the chemistry is, the better it is for habitability. The boron and clay underline the mobility of elements and electrons, and that is good for life.”

Without actually finding evidence of ancient microbes, we’re not going to be able to say for sure whether Mars once hosted life. But with each discovery, it seems more and more likely that it could have at least been possible.

And if we can find out why life did or didn’t form on the red planet, we might gain some insight into one of the most fundamental human mysteries: why we seem to be so alone in the Universe.

Watch the video. URL:https://youtu.be/D29hjfiSHzc

 

It’s Official: We’re Going to Mars


IN BRIEF

A bipartisan bill was passed by the U.S. Senate committee that oversees NASA space projects. The bill would allocate $19.5 billion in funds to NASA in 2017, but it has a critical mission for the space agency: send men to Mars.

FUNDS ARE ON THE WAY

It looks like Republican and Democratic senators alike are keen on safeguarding America’s space programs. With the potential chaos of a new president on the horizon, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation passed a bipartisan bill giving NASA $19.5 billion to continue working on a mission to Mars. It also includes support for the continuation of the program to send astronauts on private rockets to the International Space Station (ISS) from American soil no later than 2018.

“We have seen in the past the importance of stability and predictability in NASA and space exploration – that whenever one has a change in administration, we have seen the chaos that can be caused by the cancellation of major programs,” Republican Senator Ted Cruz, lead sponsor of the bill, commented. “The impact in terms of jobs lost, the impact in terms of money wasted has been significant.”

The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2016 includes an overall authorization level of $19.508 billion for fiscal year 2017, but it still needs to be passed by the Senate as a whole, of course. The budget allotted is the same as what was approved by House appropriators and a bit more than the version released by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Obama administration, likewise, proposed $19 billion in funding for NASA.

Credits: NASA

MAKING IT RAIN, NASA-STYLE

The Senate is not giving NASA money just for the sake of exploration. It is also a challenge, a mandate, actually. The bill requires that NASA make it an official goal to send crewed missions to Mars in the next 25 years.

The bill allocates funds for different components: $4.5 billion on exploration, nearly $5 billion for space operations, and $5.4 billion for science. It also does not scrap NASA’s controversial plans to send men on asteroids and collect samples by 2021. It does, however, require the space agency to regularly send progress reports to Congress, justifying its $1.4 billion cost.

“Fifty-five years after President Kennedy challenged the nation to put a man on the moon, the Senate is challenging NASA to put humans on Mars. The priorities that we’ve laid out for NASA in this bill mark the beginning of a new era of American spaceflight,” said an optimistic Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, senior Democrat on the Commerce panel.

The bipartisan support behind the new bill shows that space exploration is an issue that all parties can agree is vital to our growth as a nation and a species. Now we just have to wait to see if it passes the Senate.

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