After the negativity of yesterday, this seems like a great time to revisit some positive and exciting scheduled launches for later this week! NASA’s Mars InSight mission is still on schedule to launch at 4:05am Pacific Time from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. This will make it the first launch to another planet from the West Coast. The fact that we are keeping baseball-like stats on that sort of thing now should make us all very happy.
Here is a NASA page with lots of good info, including links to watch the launch live for anyone who wants to set an alarm. The good news for us night-owls is that the time difference puts this launch at 7:05am Eastern which is downright reasonable!
This launch will come only hours after the first flight of SpaceX’s new Falcon 9 Block 5 model, in theory still scheduled for this Friday at 4pm Eastern from pad 39A at Cape Canaveral. What another great week for space!
(Update) The SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 5 launch has been pushed to Monday, 5/7/2018 for an afternoon launch window between 4pm and 6:25pm.
A current and ongoing experiment at the Eden-ISS lab of Germany’s Neumayer Station III in Antarctica has successfully grown vegetables without dirt, daylight or pesticides. Certainly hydroponics have been a thing for many years, and this work borrows heavily from that discipline as a starting point, but they purposefully pushed the restrictions even further in order to simulate the harsh conditions which will need to be overcome when we first start trying to produce our food off-world.
These sorts of groundbreaking experiments and investigations, which are critical to our success as a space-faring people but not as ‘high profile’ as a rocket launch, are sure to be accelerating in the coming weeks and months. It is a testament to the focus and excitement again associated with the exploration of space, and making humanity multi-planetary, that institutions around the world are spinning up programs to facilitate our next steps into our larger destiny.
The InSight Mars Lander has been connected to the Atlas 5 rocket at Space Launch Complex 3-East Vandenberg Air Force Base, with a projected launch window of May 5th – June 8th. Regardless of when during that window the rocket flies, the lander is scheduled to arrive at Mars on November 26th. This close alignment of Earth and Mars which allows for a direct trip, only happens for this window of time once every 26 months.
The mission of the InSight lander (aka Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is to study the crust, mantle and core of the red planet to learn more about the early formation of planets in our solar system. This launch will also send two ‘CubeSat’s to space, where they will follow InSight to Mars and provide essential communication services.
Now that human spaceflight to Mars is seeming more and more realistic, it’s fun to closely observe a new launch like this, and to realize that while it’s still a long trip, it is not a year of travel. Before you even have a chance to get through your collected works of Shakespeare on your tablet or re-calibrate the hydroponics systems to optimize lettuce production, it will be time to buckle up for landing!
The Trace Gas Orbiter, which is part of a joint venture between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, has been orbiting Mars for over a year and is now in position to begin its research. These readings and results started to be gathered on April 21st and are now flowing back home for analysis and review.
Specifically, this probe is investigating the methane which is present in the Martian atmosphere, because it is very often associated with the former (or current!) presence of life. On Earth, an overwhelming percentage of the available methane is the result of biological processes. To add stakes to the game, current scientific understanding of the Martian atmosphere says that what is there should be destroyed by ongoing chemical reactions in several hundred years, though there it remains.
The orbiter has 2 main scientific instruments through which it will make this survey:
* the main spectrometer, NOMAD, operates in the infrared, ultraviolet and visible parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.
* the color camera, CaSSIS, will build detailed 3D maps of the planet’s terrain.
The craft will eventually serve in a new capacity as a communications depot once the ExoMars Rover arrives in 2021, relaying signals from the ground based explorer back to mission control.
NASA has finally taken a page from the SpaceX playbook, and realizes how important marketing and branding is to this stage of the growth of spaceflight. Well, that’s not strictly fair since they were the original hypemen with the Apollo Program in the 1960s, they have just rediscovered their way.
I’m referring specifically to the fantastic new plan released by the agency to deploy a swarm of flying robots about the size of a bee, which can more effectively explore the variable surface of Mars without having to roll over top of it. This system would be paired with a new rover, which would act as a charging station for the marsbees as well as a communication hub to download their data and transmit it back to mission control.
What a fantastic plan! Now we are starting to think, and the leap in understanding of the martian surface and atmosphere will be tremendous when this system comes on line. Stay tuned to the Mars Gazette for all the updates!
It is tempting to focus on the flash and success of SpaceX, owing to their masterful execution of new engineering triumphs and spot-on marketing efforts. However, it is also worth remembering that little to none of this would be possible without the granddaddy of them all – NASA – who is still working hard and producing valuable results in the Mars arena.
The new NASA Insight Lander is set to launch to the Red Planet on May 5th, which would give it an arrival date of November 26th 2018. Weighing in at 1,530 pounds, the primary mission of the lander is to study the planetary interior, attempting to detect tremors and studying heat which is coming from the mantle and core. “In essence, it will take the vital signs of Mars — its pulse, temperature and much more,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science division. “We like to say it’s the first thorough checkup since the planet formed four-and-a-half billion years ago.”
For more details of this new Mars lander mission, please see the excellent article at spaceflightnow.com.
There is an interesting article over at SpaceNews today regarding the peculiar and sudden imaging restriction imposed by NOAA on SpaceX in the middle of their Falcon 9 launch last Friday. While conflicting reports had been surfacing, including from NOAA themselves, it seems that the truth of the matter has finally begun to surface, and in so doing may be handily managed by the fleet of lawyers.
It boils down to restrictions on images of Earth taken from orbit, and a number of bureaucratic hoops one must jump through in order to proceed with that sort of event. What really gets my goat however, is the notion that one government (apparently our own) can claim to exercise rights over imaging of the entire Earth from points in orbit which would only briefly even be over top of the US.
It raises in my mind the much larger and more important question of: who “owns” the moon and other planets? Or at least, who claims to? I like to think that Elon and co. can simply get to Mars, set up whatever they like, and then suggest that if someone doesn’t like it they can come there and ask him to stop. The idea that the US (or any nation) would claim to have jurisdiction over the moon or Mars – when so abjectly failing to get us there themselves – is frustrating to say the least. I’m looking forward to seeing that all play out, sooner than we ever expected!
Elon Musk wants us all to be able to wake up in the morning and have something grand to look forward to. Well, he is single-handedly making that happen for many of us with his constant output of exciting work. This bright Monday morning we can have a look at a sizzle reel featuring crewed transport on their Dragon launch system, and more about their snazzy spacesuits. I especially like the very last scene!
Another new article for your consideration, with expanded interview coverage of Elon Musk’s discussion at SXSW last weekend. In it he expands further on his goal for sending the Tesla roadster into space, and it’s every ounce as wonderful and selfless as I expected. I am still astonished at the ability for naysayers, especially those in the scientific community, to continue to devise areas of complaint about any aspect of his work. I can attribute it only to the most tragic of sour grapes, exposing a great degree of hypocrisy and infighting in the scientific community. It is fortunate that once in a generation a visionary may emerge, and be able to secure the resources needed to drive towards a great goal with singleness of purpose.
“Life cannot just be about solving one sad problem after another…There need to be things that inspire you, that make you glad to wake up in the morning and be part of humanity. That is why we did it. We did for you.”
“People will likely travel to Mars sometime in your lifetime. NASA has said it plans to send people to Mars in the 2030s. And the private space company SpaceX may send its first crewed mission to Mars as early as 2024.”
I always love reading things like that, and it fills me with optimism for the future, here on a quiet Thursday night. We are entering an exciting new time for mankind, one which feels like the space race of the 1960s, yet even more far reaching and, for the thoughtful sort, even more urgent. This article is the first in a two part series by Ilima Loomis, and you can almost feel the academics across the world, not to mention the corporate leaders, coming to realize the speed with which we may be called upon to manage a second planet, and the rewards that stand to be had for rising to that challenge.