Mars Copter Ready to Rock

Mars Copter
(Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA has reported over the weekend that the Mars Copter, an incredible bonus feature included with the Perseverance rover mission, has checked in and all systems are nominal! It will be undergoing battery charging sessions over the next several weeks, assessing how it performs in that harsh climate with extreme cold temperatures over night of around -130F. Once it has demonstrated that it can be hearty and hold a charge, it will be released from home base and be on its own! A 30 day mission will then commence, and we might start getting some really incredible in-flight videos from the little Ingenuity copter, which will of course be the first aircraft on another world.

In the meantime, we can be sure that Perseverance will continue to send back more and more findings, supplementing the already rich set of imagery we have gotten in just the first few days!

Perseverance Wheel and Rocks

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Perseverance Arrives Feb 18th

Nasa Perseverance Rover
(Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

With the UAE and China reaching Mars this past week, the United States will now be joining the party this week with their latest Mars rover, Perseverance! It plans to arrive in a pretty grand way, so be sure to check out this rendering of the landing process.

Yes, that’s right, they plan to inflate a giant, supersonic parachute, then deploy a jet-powered “sky crane” that will descend to a safe landing spot and hover above the surface while lowering the rover to the ground on a tether (Reuters). That’s a lot of science!

The mission profile is to “seek signs of ancient life and collect samples of rock and regolith (broken rock and soil) for possible return to Earth”. Be sure to learn more at the official NASA Mars 2020 page!

One can almost tangibly feel the interest and activity surrounding missions to Mars building stronger every day. Public sentiment and commercial support will be at a fever pitch, just in time for SpaceX to bring their Starship system on line in about a year, and then we are going to see some seriously amazing things!

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UAE Gets to Mars

UAE Hope Mars Probe
(Image Credit: Chris Whiteoak / The National)

After announcing the ambitious project back in 2015, the United Arab Emirates successfully reached the red planet today with their Hope Mars Probe, massively decelerated and entered orbit all according to plan!

This was a wonderful success to see, as it further expands the scope of nations that are embarking upon this new phase of growth and exploration. Dubai and the UAE, more than many other nations in recent history, probably benefits from a frontier mentality that the rest of us can only imagine or read about. They grew in four decades from a small traditional society, based off of fishing and local trade, into a stunning modern metropolis and economic powerhouse, on the back of their good luck being located on top of so much oil. The ruler there, however, is no dummy and knows that the oil gravy train won’t run much longer, so has taken many wise steps to diversify their economy.

This push into science and technology is another of these steps, and will be a benefit to both that region, and to the overall betterment of mankind if they can manage it as they have managed their beautiful cities.

So – congratulations to the UAE team for their successful mission. I can’t wait to see the science that will start to come back from this probe, which will tell us more about the Martian atmosphere on a global scale.

Want to see a cool related video from the successful landing celebration? Check out the entire Burj Khalifa putting on a high-res light show:

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SpaceX Astronaut Launch Success!

Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley
(Photo Credit: SpaceX)
Well done SpaceX, that was incredible and the result of vision, a decade of hard work, and good old fashioned pioneer spirit. Talk about patriotism in these difficult times? Returning human launch capability to US soil is one of the most important and patriotic things I can imagine as we embark upon a renewed era of exploration and growth.

Every dime of finance and industry we have ever known has come from only the resources of this planet and now, if we keep playing our cards right, the possibilities exist on a scale hard to imagine, but inarguably vastly larger than what we have had up until now. Excited to see this happening in my lifetime and when I hopefully have a few years left to enjoy it and be involved. And also to set up the kids to really be a part of it!

Mars Rover Has a Name!

There has been a winner in the contest to name the next NASA rover en route to the Red Planet. The winner is Alexander Mather, with his steadfast and optimistic suggestion of “Perseverance”! Check out this video for more info, and congrats to Alexander. Seeing such interest in space exploration from today’s kids continues to renew my hope for the future!

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Mars 2020 Rover Naming Contest

Mars 2020 Rover Naming Contest
(Credit: NASA)
The next NASA Mars rover is slated to launch in July 2020, and arrive at Jezero Crater in February 2021. Before it takes off, NASA is again running their student naming contest, allowing K-12 students across the US to submit name suggestions. The top 9 finalists have been selected, and are as follows:

  • Endurance, K-4, Oliver Jacobs of Virgina
  • Tenacity, K-4, Eamon Reilly of Pennsylvania.
  • Promise, K-4, Amira Shanshiry of Massachusetts.
  • Perseverance, 5-8, Alexander Mather of Virginia.
  • Vision, 5-8, Hadley Green of Mississippi.
  • Clarity, 5-8, Nora Benitez of California.
  • Ingenuity, 9-12, Vaneeza Rupani of Alabama.
  • Fortitude, 9-12, Anthony Yoon of Oklahoma.
  • Courage, 9-12, Tori Gray of Louisiana.

Now you can vote on the winner at go.nasa.gov/name2020 until January 28th, so don’t waste any time getting over there!

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The Bees at Lunares Station

Bees at Lunares Station
(Image Credit: Lunares Research Station)

If that title doesn’t sound like an excellent 1960s sci-fi pulp, then I don’t know what does. Best part is? We’re living in a time when it’s just referencing a real thing!

Turns out there is a facility called Lunares Research Station, which was founded in 2017 as “a specialized facility for simulating manned space missions on the Moon and Mars”. Check out their site for the great work they are doing!

Of particular interest to us today is recent research they have been doing with bees, as reported by Wired this week. You see, even though NASA is working on Mars Bees (which is itself another excellent pulp title) we have to consider that in many ways, the original natural approach may simply be better. However, what is being observed is that hives in isolated conditions are suffering a downward spiral of collapse which will have to be better understood and resolved before they will be able to participate in upcoming missions. The idea, of course, is that humans will have to grow food for both the long journey, as well as for basic upkeep once we are settled in our new environment. We would like to bring some of the comforts of home, like good old honey bees to pollinate the produce we need to consume, so it’s good that the fine folks at Lunares are hard at work on this problem!

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SpaceX Starhopper Test Flight Paves Mars Superhighway

Starhopper
(Image Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX is at it again, this time with a successful second ‘hop test’ of their Starhopper prototype craft. This rather glib name doesn’t do justice to the astonishing spectacle which was the completely perfect 57 second flight of their ‘water tower’ shaped demo craft. Using a single super powerful new Raptor engine, the craft lifted off to a height of 500′, then maneuvered smoothly sideways another 150′ using almost entirely the thrust vector from that single engine as it was precisely adjusted and pivoted. During this entire portion of the flight, a beautiful mach diamond in the supersonic exhaust plume is visible coming from the engine – be sure to watch the embedded video below. As a finale, in a move we have come to expect from them, Starhopper touched down gently on a nearby landing pad, precisely in the middle of the tidy target area.

What’s the big deal, you may ask? This flight:

  • Demonstrated the thrust vector control capability of the Raptor engine
  • Was the first significant flight of a liquid methane powered rocket
  • Continued to diminish fears of launch failures through its perfection
  • Brought attention of politicians, who are taking notice of the money this work brings to districts
  • Further encouraged NASA to issue notices that upcoming flights should not be entirely reliant on the SLS.

Perhaps the most exciting part of all this, however, is the extremely strong step this test takes on the path to Mars. The Starship program of SpaceX is their bid to affordably transport tons and tons of material to the Red Planet, and eventually humans as well. The incredible success they have had developing this new technology from whole cloth, on a razor thin budget and on timetables that boggle the mind of ‘old space’ gives us all reason to hope that they (he) may actually be able to pull it off! And on a timescale that the author may actually get to see.

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Lightsail 2, Mission Success!

Lightsail 2 Deploys over Earth
(Image Credit: The Planetary Society)

The good folks over at The Planetary Society have been engaged in some monumental citizen science, having recently launched their solar sail experimental demo craft on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy on June 25th 2019. After reaching the target orbit, and running several days of status checks, the boxing ring sized solar sail was successfully deployed on July 23rd! What is more important still is that on July 31st the sail achieved the goal of raising the orbit of the craft using only the power of the photons impacting upon it, thereby proving the effectiveness of solar sailing for the first time in history.

It makes me tremendously happy to see Bill Nye continuing to do important work, and to try so hard to be the science advocate that society needs. I hope he keeps up the good fight, and now that the cost barriers to these sorts of scientific achievements are getting lower by the month, we should be seeing more excellent crowd funded work from both his organization, as well as others around the world. An excellent bit of forward motion and positive news for a change!

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Good News, Space Faring Booze Hounds!

Wine on Mars
(Image Credit: Hedges Family Estate Winery)

In the latest round of good news surrounding humanities restored interest in leaving Earth for greener shores, a new study helps justify taking a few cases of your favorite Bordeaux along for the trip. The Beth Israel Deaconess Center at Harvard University claims that resveratrol, a well known component of red wine which comes from the skins of the grapes, may help contribute to retaining muscle mass and tone as astronauts spend increasingly long times in reduced-G environments. Specifically, their study considered how to assist the first crews to reach Mars to better tolerate the 40% of Earth normal gravity that they will live and work with as new residents of our second home.

The study by the Beth Israel Deaconess Center, conducted so far on rats, found that taking resveratrol supplements (the most boring way to intake resveratrol) resulted in “a significant increase in muscle weight, myofiber (or muscle cell) size, and a protection of muscle composition”. These results are exciting for a number of reasons: Mars research specifically continues to increase at the highest academic levels, solutions are being found to human frailty in non-Earth environments, and the solutions are potentially natural ones allowing us to achieve needed results through diet, exercise and habit change rather than massive artificial modification.

Stay tuned for more important scientific papers, you can be sure, on how we can meet the challenge of the stars!

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