The Martian Garden Recreates Red Planet’s Surface

The Martian Garden sells gardening kits including soil that NASA has determined is chemically and mineralogically similar to the surface of Mars. (Credits: The Martian Garden)
AUSTIN, Texas (NASA PR) — If you were stranded on Mars, could you pull a Mark Watney from the book and movie “The Martian” and grow your food? Thanks to a new garden kit that mimics the soil conditions on the Red Planet, you can find out.

But the kit isn’t just for fun — it’s based on research NASA has been doing for more than 30 years, both to determine just what makes up the dirt on Earth’s next-door neighbor and to find equivalents here on the ground.

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Accessing Water Off Earth with the Moon to Mars Ice and Prospecting Challenge

Pictured is one of the university teams competing in the 2018 Mars Ice Challenge held in June at NASA’s Langley Research Center over three days. (Credits: NASA/David C. Bowman)

HAMPTON, Va. (NASA PR) — Extended crewed missions to the Moon or Mars begin with finding a water supply. To access that water, NASA will require new technologies to mine through various layers of lunar or Martian soil and into ice deposits buried beneath.

NASA is working with the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) in Hampton, Virginia to sponsor the 2019 Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts – Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) special edition Moon to Mars Ice and Prospecting Challenge. This technology innovation challenge seeks to advance critical capabilities needed on the surface of the Moon and Mars. The competition asks eligible undergraduate and graduate student teams to design and build hardware that can identify, map and drill through a variety of subsurface layers, then extract water from an ice block in a simulated off-world test bed.

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Bridenstine: NASA Lunar Plan Focused on Sustainable, Commercial Architecture

Orion near the moon (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA plans to send astronauts back to the surface of the moon within a decade using a sustainable architecture that stresses reusable vehicles and open systems, Administrator Jim Bridenstine said last week.

“So how do we go sustainably?” Bridenstine said during a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC). “We start by taking advantage of capabilities in this country that didn’t exist even five or 10 years ago. We have commercial companies that can do things that weren’t possible even a few years ago….

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New NASA Competition Aims to Convert Carbon Dioxide into Exploration Sweet Success

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (NASA PR) — When astronauts begin exploring Mars, they’ll need to use local resources, freeing up launch cargo space for other mission-critical supplies. Carbon dioxide is one resource readily abundant within the Martian atmosphere.

NASA’s new CO2 Conversion Challenge, conducted under the Centennial Challenges program, is a public competition seeking novel ways to convert carbon dioxide into useful compounds. Such technologies will allow us to manufacture products using local, indigenous resources on Mars, and can also be implemented on Earth by using both waste and atmospheric carbon dioxide as a resource.

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NASA’s InSight Has a Thermometer for Mars

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — The Red Planet has some of the tallest mountains in the solar system. They include Olympus Mons, a volcano nearly three times the height of Everest. It borders a region called the Tharsis plateau, where three equally awe-inspiring volcanoes dominate the landscape.

But what geologic processes created these features on the Martian surface?  Scientists have long wondered — and may soon know more.

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Martian Skies Clearing over Opportunity Rover

About 11 months before the current dust storm enveloped the rover, Opportunity took five images that were turned into a mosaic showing a view from inside the upper end of “Perseverance Valley” on the inner slope of Endeavour Crater’s western rim. The images were taken on July 7, 2017. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — A planet-encircling dust storm on Mars, which was first detected May 30 and halted operations for the Opportunity rover, continues to abate.

With clearing skies over Opportunity’s resting spot in Mars’ Perseverance Valley, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, believe the nearly 15-year-old, solar-powered rover will soon receive enough sunlight to automatically initiate recovery procedures — if the rover is able to do so. To prepare, the Opportunity mission team has developed a two-step plan to provide the highest probability of successfully communicating with the rover and bringing it back online.

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Video Update on SpaceX’s Mars Plans

Paul Wooster, Principal Mars Development Engineer, SpaceX

SpaceX’s plans for Mars

Paul is also a founding member of the Mars Society and an attendee at our early conferences!

From the 21st Annual International Mars Society Convention, held at the Pasadena Convention Center in Southern California from Aug 23-26, 2018.

The four-day International Mars Society Convention brings together leading scientists, engineers, aerospace industry representatives, government policymakers and journalists to talk about the latest scientific discoveries, technological advances and political-economic developments that could help pave the way for a human mission to the planet Mars.

Vice President Pence Talks Future Human Space Exploration at NASA’s Johnson Space Center

Mike Pence

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Vice President Mike Pence, with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, will visit NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston Thursday, Aug. 23, to discuss the future of human space exploration and the agency’s plans to return to the Moon as a forerunner to future human missions to Mars.

The event will be held at 12:45 p.m. CDT in the Teague Auditorium at Johnson and will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

Media Schedule (all times CDT):

  • 6:30-7:30 a.m. – Media call time and pre-set for video cameras and tripods
  • 7:30-9:30 a.m. – Venue access closed to press for security sweep
  • 9:30 a.m. – Media re-entrance
  • 12:45 p.m. – Event begins

Check out the latest on NASA’s plans for human space exploration at:

https://www.nasa.gov/topics/humans-in-space

NASA’s InSight Passes Halfway to Mars, Instruments Check In

NASA’s InSight to Mars undergoes final preparations at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., ahead of its May 5 launch date. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s InSight spacecraft, en route to a Nov. 26 landing on Mars, passed the halfway mark on Aug. 6. All of its instruments have been tested and are working well.

As of Aug. 20, the spacecraft had covered 172 million miles (277 million kilometers) since its launch 107 days ago. In another 98 days, it will travel another 129 million miles (208 million kilometers) and touch down in Mars’ Elysium Planitia region, where it will be the first mission to study the Red Planet’s deep interior. InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.

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Conquering the Challenge of Isolation in Space: NASA’s Human Research Program Director Receives National Recognition

NASA Human Research Program Director, William Paloski, Ph.D. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — On a recent afternoon at the Johnson Space Center, Bill Paloski, Ph.D., Director of NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP), commented on HRP’s mission to protect the health and safety of astronauts. He reflected on some of the human hazards of space, including radiation, isolation and confinement, distance from Earth, altered gravity, and hostile/closed environments.

“We still have a lot to learn about these hazards,” says Paloski. “For instance, how long does it take for space radiation to damage the human body? When you’re isolated, and can’t get home or talk to your family, how long can you stay positive? NASA’s Human Research Program exists to ensure the safety of brave people who are navigating unfamiliar territory in very stressful conditions. We need this program and its research teams to develop strategies to protect our explorers and pioneers who represent the front line of our nation’s space program.”

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NASA Makes Progress Toward Science Priorities Outlined in 2013-2022 Planetary Decadal Survey

In June 2018 NASA’s Curiosity Rover used its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to snap photos of the intensifying haziness the surface of Mars, caused by a massive dust storm. The rover is standing inside Gale Crater looking out to the crater rim. The photos span about a couple of weeks, starting with a shot of the area before the storm appeared. (Credits: NASA)

WASHINGTON (National Academies PR) – Despite significant cuts to NASA’s Planetary Science Division budget early in this decade, the space agency has made impressive progress in meeting goals outlined in the 2013-2022 planetary decadal survey by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, says a new midterm assessment from the National Academies.

The report notes that the agency met or exceeded the decadal survey’s recommendations for funding research and analysis, and for technology programs. However, NASA has not achieved the recommended timeline for New Frontiers and Discovery missions for the decade. At least one more New Frontiers mission and three Discovery missions should be selected before the end of the decade in order to achieve the schedule recommended in Vision and Voyages.
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SpaceX Hosting Stealth Mars Settlement Workshop

SpaceX BFR (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has convened an invite-only workshop on its plans to establish a colony on Mars at the University of Colorado Boulder today and tomorrow.

However, SpaceX may be getting more serious about preparing for human landings on Mars, both in terms of how to keep people alive as well as to provide them with something meaningful to do. According to private invitations seen by Ars, the company will host a “Mars Workshop” on Tuesday and Wednesday this week at the University of Colorado Boulder. Although the company would not comment directly, a SpaceX official confirmed the event and said the company regularly meets with a variety of experts concerning its missions to Mars.
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Human Health Gaps Loom with End of Space Station in Sight

After 168 days of living and working in low-Earth orbit, three members of the International Space Station Expedition 55 crew – NASA astronaut Scott Tingle, cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and astronaut Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency – return to Earth Sunday, June 3, 2018. (Credit: NASA Television)

Long exposure to microgravity conditions does some bad things to the human body. The heart shrinks, bones become weaker and cells are exposed to damaging radiation.

The impacts will become more acute as NASA launches astronauts to the moon and Mars, which lie outside of the protection of the Earth’s Van Allen belt. The space agency has been conducting research aboard the International Space Station to find ways of addressing these risks before flights begin in the 2020’s.

The Trump Administration wants to end direct federal support for the station in 2024 to free up funding for human lunar missions. However, a recent NASA Inspector General audit indicates doing so could leave some vital human health research being left uncompleted, resulting in greater risks to astronauts on deep-space missions.

Below is an excerpt from the audit that discusses the human health research being conducted on the space station and the risks involved of ending station support in 2024.
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Mars Terraforming Not Possible Using Present-Day Technology

This infographic shows the various sources of carbon dioxide on Mars and their estimated contribution to Martian atmospheric pressure. (Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — Science fiction writers have long featured terraforming, the process of creating an Earth-like or habitable environment on another planet, in their stories. Scientists themselves have proposed terraforming to enable the long-term colonization of Mars. A solution common to both groups is to release carbon dioxide gas trapped in the Martian surface to thicken the atmosphere and act as a blanket to warm the planet.

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NASA Inspector General Skeptical of Agency Plan for Commercializing Space Station

NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins conducts a session with the Capillary Flow Experiment. (Credit: NASA)

The NASA Inspector General is skeptical about the space agency’s plan to transition to commercial operations in Earth orbit after the end of direct federal support for the International Space Station (ISS) in 2024, according to a new report.

“Transitioning the ISS to private operation under the timetable currently envisioned presents significant challenges in stimulating private sector interest to take on an extremely costly and complex enterprise,” the audit found. “Based on our audit work, we question the viability of NASA’s current plans, particularly with regard to the feasibility of fostering increased commercial activity in low Earth orbit on the timetable proposed…

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