July 2, 2014
Martian salts must touch ice to make liquid water, study shows
University of Michigan
In chambers that mimic Mars' conditions, University of Michigan researchers have shown how small amounts of liquid water could form on the planet despite its below-freezing temperatures.
Liquid water is an essential ingredient for life as we know it. Mars is one of the very few places in the solar system where scientists have seen promising signs of it – in gullies down crater rims, in instrument readings, and in Phoenix spacecraft self portraits that appeared to show wet beads on the lander's leg several years ago.
No one has directly detected liquid water beyond Earth, though. The U-M experiments are among the first to test theories about how it could exist in a climate as cold as Mars' climate.
The researchers found that a type of salt present in Martian soil can readily melt ice it touches – just like salts do on Earth's slippery winter walkways and roads. But this Martian salt cannot, as some scientists suggested, form liquid water by sucking vapor out of the air through a process called deliquescence.
December 18, 2013
An Updated Mars Exploration Family Portrait
The Planetary Society
The Mars Exploration Family Portrait shows every dedicated spacecraft mission to Mars, and now includes India’s Mars Orbiter Mission and NASA's MAVEN. The dates listed are for launch.
June 13, 2013
Toxic Mars: Astronauts Must Deal with Perchlorate on the Red Planet
The pervading carpet of perchlorate chemicals found on Mars may boost the chances that microbial life exists on the Red Planet — but perchlorates are also perilous to the health of future crews destined to explore that way-off world.
Perchlorates are reactive chemicals first detected in arctic Martian soil by NASA's Phoenix lander that plopped down on Mars over five years ago in May 2008.
February 13, 2013
Step into the Twilight Zone: Can Earthlings Adjust to a Longer Day on Mars?
"Mutinous" is not a word frequently used to describe teams of NASA scientists and engineers.
But that's precisely the term employed by Harvard University sleep scientist Charles Czeisler to explain what happened when the group operating the Pathfinder mission's rover in 1997 was required to live indefinitely on Mars time.
"They didn't really have a plan for dealing with the Martian day before they went up, and the rover lasted a lot longer than it was supposed to, so they actually had a mutiny and wanted to shut the thing off because they were so exhausted," he says, drily adding the obvious: "NASA wasn't too happy with that notion."
October 25, 2012
ATK Selected to Develop MegaFlex™ Solar Array Structure
MegaFlex™ solar array was recently selected by NASA's Space Technology Program under a Game Changing Technology competition for development of the promising lightweight and compact solar array structure. ATK received a $6.4 million contract for the MegaFlex™ development.
MegaFlex™, under development by ATK's Space Components Division in Goleta, California, is designed specifically to meet the anticipated power demands of 350kW and higher, with very low mass and small stowed volume for future space exploration missions using solar electric propulsion.
"We are honored to win this program to develop the future space exploration power platform for NASA," said David Shanahan, vice president and general manager of ATK Aerospace Group's Space Components Division. "This win is a result of the outstanding innovation and capabilities of our Goleta team."
October 10, 2012
Adjusting to Sol Takes Toll on Mars Rovers’ Teams
Space Safety Magazine
It accounts for no more than 39 minutes and 35 seconds but the difference between the terrestrial “day” and the Martian “sol” can really mess up human circadian rhythms. It is like skipping one time zone every day, leading to a permanent need to adjust to a feeling of mild jet lag. As everyone who ever experienced jet lag knows, deviating from the internal clock usually leads to sleepiness and impairs the ability to concentrate and think clearly.
As NASA’s Curiosity rover continues its journey over the Red Planet’s surface, this adjustment to space jet lag is exactly what the operations team in NASA’s JPL are going through. The mission requires them to steer the rover in the real Martian time making it impossible to follow a 24 hour schedule. The results of a study conducted on the engineers operating the previous Martian lander Phoenix could help with this challenge.
April 28, 2011
A Book Store. That’s Right. Book, Singular.
The New York Times
At first glance, it looks like a charming independent bookstore, a West Village gem with a window display featuring artful stacks of gleaming hardcovers.
But, wait a minute. Is that one book? Like, many, many copies of the same book?
Selection isn’t the strong suit of Ed’s Martian Book, on Hudson Street, where you can’t buy “Water for Elephants” or anything by Mary Higgins Clark, but 3,000 or so copies of “Martian Summer: Robot Arms, Cowboy Spacemen, and My 90 Days With the Phoenix Mars Mission” (Pegasus, 2011), by a 32-year-old Brooklyn author named Andrew Kessler, are available for $27.95 each.
The book is Mr. Kessler’s account of NASA’s 2008 Phoenix Mars Lander mission, reported during 90 days inside mission control, in Tucson, alongside 130 leading scientists and engineers. Publishers Weekly calls the book a “slightly offbeat firsthand account of scientific determination and stubborn intellect” that “delivers a fascinating journey of discovery peppered with humor.”
June 17, 2010
NASA Bestows Honors on UA Phoenix Mars Mission Members
Four members of the University of Arizona's Phoenix Mars Mission team on Tuesday were presented with NASA's most distinguished awards for their contributions to the mission.
The awards, announced during a ceremony at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, went to:
May 28, 2010
The spacecraft that discovered snow on Mars finally bites the dust
The Phoenix is dead and this time it won’t rise again.
On May 24, NASA released photos of the Mars Phoenix lander that finally ended even the faintest hope that the York-designed weather instruments on board the spacecraft would come to life again. The photos show that the lander’s solar panels appear to have collapsed due to the weight of a thick layer of frost, robbing it of power it needs to communicate – if its physical components were not already cracked and broken by the extreme cold.
May 25, 2010
Phoenix Mars Lander is Silent, New Image Shows Damage
NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has ended operations after repeated attempts to contact the spacecraft were unsuccessful. A new image transmitted by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows signs of severe ice damage to the lander's solar panels. "The Phoenix spacecraft succeeded in its investigations and exceeded its planned lifetime," said Fuk Li, manager of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Although its work is finished, analysis of information from Phoenix's science activities will continue for some time to come." Earth-based research continues on discoveries Phoenix made during summer conditions at the far-northern site where it landed May 25, 2008. The solar-powered lander completed its three-month mission and kept working until sunlight waned two months later.
May 20, 2010
Did Winter Kill the Mars Lander? NASA listens One Last Time for a Sign of Life
The Daily Galaxy
Experts hold out slim hopes that hard-working NASA robot didn't freeze to death during Martian winter, but NASA is making one final effort to detect signs of life in the dormant Phoenix Mars Lander. This week marks NASA's fourth attempt to listen for signals showing that the Mars Lander did not perish during the frigid -- and long -- Martian winter. The Mars Odyssey made similar attempts in January, February and April of this year. NASA scientists received the last transmission from the Lander on Nov. 2, 2008.
NASA's Mars Odyssey yesterday began sending out radio signals for a last time in the hopes that the robotic Lander will pick them up and respond. Through Friday, the orbiter will make 61 flights this week high over the Mars Lander's site on the Martian surface.
"To be thorough, we decided to conduct this final session around the time of the summer solstice, during the best thermal and power conditions for Phoenix," said Chad Edwards, chief telecommunications engineer for NASA's Mars Exploration Program, in a statement.
April 17, 2010
Long-Silent Mars Lander Appears to Be Officially Lost
It looks like it really is the end for NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, which spent five months digging in the Martian arctic before succumbing to the icy winter conditions that set in at the end of its mission.
The third and final attempt to listen for any signs of survival from the lander, conducted last week, didn't turn up a peep.
Phoenix landed on Mars on May 25, 2008, and operated successfully in the Martian arctic for about two months longer than its planned three-month mission, which confirmed the presence of water ice under the Martian surface. But once the sun and temperatures dropped and winter set in, the spacecraft didn't have enough power to keep going. The lander went silent in November 2008.
January 21, 2010
No sign of Phoenix lander during three days of listening
NASA says they heard no signals from the Phoenix lander this week during 30 communications passes over the probe's icy landing site, an expected outcome because the craft was never designed to survive the dark and cold Martian winter. The Odyssey orbiter circling Mars listened for potential radio signals from Phoenix 30 times over three days this week. NASA announced late Thursday that Odyssey did not detect any communications from Phoenix.
"After all their tries so far, they haven't recovered it yet," said Peter Smith, the Phoenix mission's principal investigator at the University of Arizona.
Officials cautioned the odds of hearing anything from Phoenix were very slim because the lander was not designed to weather the bone-chilling temperatures and months of darkness during winter on Mars' northern polar plains.
December 16, 2009
Mars Phoenix Lander Might Rise from the Dead
NASA's Phoenix Mars lander lived up to its name – rising from the ashes of an earlier failed Mars landing attempt to go on to a successful mission. But now the Mars-bound probe has a chance to rise from the dead itself.
Touching down in the martian northern plains on May 25, 2008, Phoenix exceeded its original three-month mission, lasting five months and, quite literally, dug up a number of scientific findings including – perhaps – liquid water.
Eventually Phoenix succumbed to the bitterly cold winter on Mars.
But now scientists are warming up to the prospect of re-establishing contact with Phoenix.
December 10, 2009
There’s hope that Lockheed Martin’s Mars lander Phoenix might spring back to life
Denver Business Journal
The slight warming of temperatures Wednesday may have gotten some Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. workers thinking about the Phoenix lander on Mars that they built.
The NASA probe created at the company’s Littleton headquarters has been frozen in wintry Martian conditions that make this week’s sub-zero lows around Denver seem balmy.
NASA stopped listening for signals from the solar-powered Phoenix a year ago amid round-the-clock darkness in the Martian arctic and cold that’s typically minus 195 degrees. Phoenix (website
) was covered with frozen carbon dioxide — “dry ice” — that falls as snow and occurs as frost in the Martian winter.
Spring started on the red planet Oct. 26, and there’s hope Phoenix will reawaken when longer, sunnier days return by mid-January. (Seasons on Mars last twice as long as they do on Earth.)
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