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Opportunity Rover Solves Rock Mystery

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mystery rock site

Former site of the mystery rock

A few weeks ago, the Opportunity Rover’s cameras picked up a mystery rock on Mars. The rock, which was compared in size and shape (but not taste, as not even Opportunity was willing to take a bite) to a jelly doughnut and called “Pinnacle Island,” baffled scientists and got conspiracy theorists all aflutter. In fact, someone named Rhawn Joseph even sued NASA, alleging that “the refusal to take close up photos from various angles, the refusal to take microscopic images of the specimen, the refusal to release high resolution photos, is inexplicable, recklessly negligent, and bizarre.” Joseph contended that the rock had grown to a size discernible via photo, having grown from spores, and wanted to sue NASA for not appropriately engaging the possibility that the rock was biological in nature. Well, sure, and maybe Elvis is on Mars too.

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There Might Be Water Flowing On Mars Right Now

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water on Mars

Earlier in the Curiosity Rover‘s travels around the Red Planet it gleaned a bunch of information about the water-soaked soil, which set the stage for this latest revelation–that water may be flowing on Mars not at some point in the distant past, but right now.

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NASA Program Aims To Put Commercial Landers On The Moon, Stirs Property Rights Debate

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moon miningNASA recently announced a new initiative called Lunar CATALYST (Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown) and is seeking proposals to join forces with commercial companies who can develop and deliver robotic lunar landers. The way the partnership works is that participants have free access to NASA scientists, equipment, laboratories, software, and research in exchange for giving NASA the rights to any lander designed during the partnership. While the initiative reflects the growing collaboration between the private and public sectors, some believe that the program penalizes foreign teams and may give rise to property rights disputes when it comes to who owns or regulates what happens on the moon.

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Meet Dream Chaser, America’s Next Space Shuttle

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Dream ChaserAs you probably know, President Obama announced his decision to end NASA’s space shuttle program Constellation back in 2010. Since then, the US has been paying to transport astronauts to the ISS aboard Russian Soyuz capsules. NASA designed the four-person Space Launch System, a heavy launch vehicle, to replace the retired shuttles. So I’ve just been waiting patiently for that to come to fruition, somehow unaware of the Dream Chaser spacecraft, a commercial spaceflight transport system that will be able to take a crew of seven astronauts to the ISS, despite being about 1/3rd the size of a conventional shuttle.

The Dream Chaser will ride aboard an Atlas 5 rocket, which will propel the craft into low Earth orbit, potentially ferrying astronauts to the ISS. Service—or some kind of crewed mission—is expected to begin in 2017, with the first orbital crewless flight in late 2016. Dream Chaser’s first unmanned flight occurred in 2013, when it flew successfully but crashed due to a malfunction in its landing gear. Actually, the vehicle flipped over at the very end, coming to rest in an upright position, after which the malfunctioning left landing gear deployed. I like a spacecraft with a sense of humor. Despite the rocky ending, the flight was regarded as an overall success.

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Why You Have NASA To Thank For The Super Bowl

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Astronaut Rick Mastracchio talks Superbowl

Astronaut Rick Mastracchio talks Superbowl

In a few hours, an absurd number of people will watch the spectacle that is the Super Bowl. And they’ll probably watch a little football, too. I’ll be watching, but only out of an effort to be socially acceptable. I saw Richard Sherman go nutso on that reporter, so who knows what he’ll say and do tonight, and I’m all for celebrating the fact that the two teams playing are from two states that have legalized recreational marijuana. Beyond that…well, let’s just say I have a slight inclination for the Broncos, but only because my hometown college hockey team was the Western Michigan University Broncos. However, I just found another reason to get behind the Super Bowl—it indirectly owes its existence, or at least its widespread broadcast, to NASA.

Proponents of investing in NASA and space exploration often argue that technologies originally developed for some use in space have resulted in technological breakthroughs here on the ground. These are referred to as spinoff technologies. Neil deGrasse Tyson specifically cites to the Hubble telescope. The device had a bum lens for a few years, but when scientists tried out different technology to work around the lens problems, they realized that it could revolutionize mammogram imaging. Similarly, a number of aspects of tonight’s game arguably wouldn’t exist if not for space science.

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Happy Tenth Anniversary, Opportunity

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Opportunity RoverTen years might not seem old, but for a rover that was only meant to conduct a three-month-long mission, a decade is milestone most scientists thought the Mars exploration rover Opportunity would never see.

Opportunity launched in July of 2003 and landed on Mars on January 25, 2004, three weeks behind its twin rover, Spirit. NASA sent the two rovers to kick off a long-term robotic exploration on Mars, largely focused on gathering information that would shed light on the presence of water on the Red Planet. NASA chose two sites on either side of the planet, both of which were thought to have contained large quantities of water at some point in the past. Spirit landed on January 3, 2004 in Gusev Crater, which may have housed a lake long ago, and Opportunity landed in the mineral deposits of Meridiani Planum.