NASA Extends Exploration for 8 Planetary Science Missions

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Following a thorough evaluation, NASA has extended the planetary science missions of eight of its spacecraft due to their scientific productivity and potential to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the solar system and beyond.

The missions – Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, MAVEN, Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity rover), InSight lander, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, OSIRIS-REx, and New Horizons – have been selected for continuation, assuming their spacecraft remain healthy. Most of the missions will be extended for three years; however, OSIRIS-REx will be continued for nine years in order to reach a new destination, and InSight will be continued until the end of 2022, unless the spacecraft’s electrical power allows for longer operations.

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7 Things to Know About the NASA Rover About to Land on Mars

In a clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, engineers observed the first driving test for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover on Dec. 17, 2019. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — With only about 50 million miles (80 million kilometers) left to go in its 293-million-mile (471-million-kilometer) journey, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is nearing its new planetary home. The spacecraft has begun its approach to the Red Planet and in 43 days, on Feb. 18, 2021, Perseverance will blaze through Mars’ atmosphere at about 12,100 mph (19,500 kph), touching down gently on the surface about seven minutes later.

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A Look Back and Ahead at NASA’s Space Technology Program

Technicians at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, prepare the heat shield for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), critical hardware to place the Curiosity rover on the red planet last August. This view shows the inner surface of the (MSL) heat shield, where technicians are installing electronics of an instrument for collecting data about temperature and pressure during descent through the (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin)
Technicians at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, prepare the heat shield for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), critical hardware to place the Curiosity rover on the red planet last August. This view shows the inner surface of the (MSL) heat shield, where technicians are installing electronics of an instrument for collecting data about temperature and pressure during descent through the (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — As the New Year unfolds, NASA is looking forward as well as reflecting upon recent payoffs in its portfolio of space technology investments.

“Last year was an amazing year for space technology,” said Michael Gazarik, Director of NASA’s Space Technology Program (STP). “We are developing, testing, and flying technologies in over 800 projects. The technologies we need for tomorrow, we’re building them today.”

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Lockheed Martin Delivers Heat Shield for Mars Science Laboratory

Mars Science Lab Heatshield

PRESS RELEASE

Lockheed Martin [NYSE: LMT] has completed production and testing of the heatshield for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL). The heatshield is half of the large and sophisticated two-part aeroshell that will encapsulate and protect the Curiosity rover during its deep space cruise to Mars, and from the intense heat and friction that will be generated as the system descends through the Martian atmosphere.

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‘Curiosity,’ Meet Clara

Clara Ma signs Curiosity in the JPL clean room. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Clara Ma signs Curiosity in the JPL clean room. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA MISSION UPDATE

Twelve-year-old Clara Ma flew from Kansas to JPL to meet and sign the next rover that will zoom millions of miles to Mars. The trip is Clara’s prize for winning an essay contest in which she named the rover “Curiosity.”

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Mars Science Lab Pissing People Off Even Before It Does Anything

Mars Mission Has Some Seeing Red
The Washington Post

This is the Mars Science Laboratory, the space agency’s next big mission to the most Earth-like planet in the solar system. But it’s been a magnet for controversy, and a reminder that the robotic exploration of other worlds is never a snap, especially when engineers decide to get ambitious.

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Planetary Society Statements on Mars Science Lab Delays

Statement from Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society:

“Mars exploration has always had its ups and downs, but if history has taught us one thing it is that every setback has been ultimately followed by astounding new accomplishments. MSL will be worth waiting for.”

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NASA Postpones Rover Two Years; Ed Weiler Invents New Way to Say “You’re Screwed”

As if America didn’t have enough problems with building motor vehicles, NASA announced today that it was postponing the nuclear-powered, car-sized Mars rover by two years because of technical problems. Fortunately for the space agency, this is only like the 27th worst thing to the hit the country over the last couple of months. It’s very likely that no one will really notice.

Aviation Week reports the decision came after much effort, will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and have a serious effect on the rest of the space agency’s science portfolio:

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Alan Stern to NASA: Bah Humbug!

Former NASA science chief Alan Stern has kicked off the holidays in style with a couple of op-ed pieces that added one more item to the growing list that recession-wracked Americans can’t feel thankful for: namely, a coherent, well-managed space program.

Stern kicked things off Thanksgiving week with a Sunday op-ed piece in The New York Times titled NASA’s Black Hole Budgets:

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NASA Scraps Sample Return Basket for MSL; Stern Says Program “Committing Suicide”

NASA scales back flagship Mars mission
Associated Press

NASA is scrapping a controversial piece of hardware from its next-generation Mars rover that would have allowed the spacecraft to store rock fragments in a mini-basket for a future mission.

The storage box was controversial ever since it was added to the project last year long after the mission goals had been defined. Supporters said squirreling away interesting pebbles would help push along a much-desired future mission to bring rocks back to Earth.

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JPL Narrows Sites for Next Mars Landing to Four

NASA MISSION UPDATE

Four intriguing places on Mars have risen to the final round as NASA selects a landing site for its next Mars mission, the Mars Science Laboratory.

The agency had a wider range of possible landing sites to choose from than for any previous mission, thanks to the Mars Science Laboratory’s advanced technologies, and the highly capable orbiters helping this mission identify scientifically compelling places to explore.

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Mars Science Laboratory Overbudget, Engineers Struggle to Make ’09 Launch Date

USA Today reports that NASA’s massive Mars Science Laboratory is giving the U.S. space agency a huge migraine: it’s 24-percent over budget and in danger of missing its 2009 launch window.

Costs on the 2-ton Martian rover have ballooned to about $1.2 billion, an increase of $235 million over the original estimate. Engineer have grappled with problems with the spacecraft’s heat shield, motors, scientific instruments and landing system.

“We underestimated what it was going to take,” laboratory project manager Richard Cook told USA Today. “To do it right, we’re going to need more funding.”

NASA has been forced to take money from other programs to keep the rover on schedule for a 2009 launch. Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers are racing to prepare the spacecraft in time; if they miss the launch window, they will have to wait until 2011 when Earth and Mars are again properly aligned.

The Mars Science Laboratory will drive across the planet’s surface, searching for “the molecules that are precursors to life and for evidence of microbes at work,” the paper reports.