Monday, 3 December 2012

NASA Mars Rover Fully Analyses First Martian Soil Samples



Scoop Marks in the Sand at 'Rocknest'
(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS) 

This is a view of the third (left) and fourth (right) trenches made by the 1.6-inch-wide (4-centimeter-wide) scoop on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity in October 2012. The image was acquired by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Sol 84 (Oct. 31, 2012) and shows some of the details regarding the properties of the "Rocknest" wind drift sand. The upper surface of the drift is covered by coarse sand grains approximately 0.02 to 0.06 inches (0.5 to 1.5 millimeters) in size. These coarse grains are mantled with fine dust, giving the drift surface a light brownish red color. The coarse sand is somewhat cemented to form a thin crust about 0.2 inches (0.5 centimeters) thick. Evidence for the crusting is seen by the presence of angular clods in and around the troughs and in the sharp, jagged indentations and overhangs on one wall of each trench (the walls closest to the top of this figure).

Beneath the crust surface, as revealed in the scoop troughs and the piles of sediment on the right side of each, is finer sand, which is darker brown as compared with the dust on the surface. The left end of each trough wall shows alternating light and dark bands, indicating that the sand inside the drift is not completely uniform. This banding might result from different amounts of infiltrated dust, chemical alteration or deposition of sands of slightly different color.

NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has used its full array of instruments to analyse Martian soil for the first time, and found a complex chemistry within the Martian soil. Water and sulfur and chlorine-containing substances, among other ingredients, showed up in samples Curiosity's arm delivered to an analytical laboratory inside the rover.


Detection of the substances during this early phase of the mission demonstrates the laboratory's capability to analyze diverse soil and rock samples over the next two years. Scientists also have been verifying the capabilities of the rover's instruments.

The soil sample came from a drift of windblown dust and sand called "Rocknest." The site lies in a relatively flat part of Gale Crater still miles away from the rover's main destination on the slope of a mountain called Mount Sharp. The rover's laboratory includes the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite and the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument. SAM used three methods to analyze gases given off from the dusty sand when it was heated in a tiny oven. One class of substances SAM checks for is organic compounds - carbon-containing chemicals that can be ingredients for life.

CheMin's examination of Rocknest samples found the composition is about half common volcanic minerals and half non-crystalline materials such as glass. SAM added information about ingredients present in much lower concentrations and about ratios of isotopes. Isotopes are different forms of the same element and can provide clues about environmental changes. The water seen by SAM does not mean the drift was wet. Water molecules bound to grains of sand or dust are not unusual, but the quantity seen was higher than anticipated.

SAM tentatively identified the oxygen and chlorine compound perchlorate. This is a reactive chemical previously found in arctic Martian soil by NASA's Phoenix Lander. Reactions with other chemicals heated in SAM formed chlorinated methane compounds -- one-carbon organics that were detected by the instrument. The chlorine is of Martian origin, but it is possible the carbon may be of Earth origin, carried by Curiosity and detected by SAM's high sensitivity design.

"We used almost every part of our science payload examining this drift," said Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "The synergies of the instruments and richness of the data sets give us great promise for using them at the mission's main science destination on Mount Sharp."

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity to assess whether areas inside Gale Crater ever offered a habitable environment for microbes. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Friday, 16 November 2012

NASA Mars Rover News: November 15, 2012


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Curiosity Rover: What's The Weather Like On Mars?

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Observations of wind patterns and natural radiation patterns on Mars by NASA's Curiosity rover are helping scientists better understand the environment on the Red Planet's surface. Researchers have identified transient whirlwinds, mapped winds in relation to slopes, tracked daily and seasonal changes in air pressure, and linked rhythmic changes in radiation to daily atmospheric changes. 

The knowledge being gained about these processes helps scientists interpret evidence about environmental changes on Mars might have led to conditions favorable for life. During the first 12 weeks after Curiosity landed in an area named Gale Crater, an international team of researchers analyzed data from more than 20 atmospheric events with at least one characteristic of a whirlwind recorded by the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) instrument. 

Those characteristics can include a brief dip in air pressure, a change in wind direction, a change in wind speed, a rise in air temperature or a dip in ultraviolet light reaching the rover. Two of the events included all five characteristics. In many regions of Mars, dust-devil tracks and shadows have been seen from orbit, but those visual clues have not been seen in Gale Crater. 

One possibility is that vortex whirlwinds arise at Gale without lifting as much dust as they do elsewhere. "Dust in the atmosphere has a major role in shaping the climate on Mars," said Manuel de la Torre Juarez of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. He is the investigation scientist for REMS, which Spain provided for the mission. "The dust lifted by dust devils and dust storms warms the atmosphere." 

Dominant wind direction identified by REMS has surprised some researchers who expected slope effects to produce north-south winds. The rover is just north of a mountain called Mount Sharp. If air movement up and down the mountain's slope governed wind direction, dominant winds generally would be north-south. However, east-west winds appear to predominate. 

The rim of Gale Crater may be a factor. "With the crater rim slope to the north and Mount Sharp to the south, we may be seeing more of the wind blowing along the depression in between the two slopes, rather than up and down the slope of Mount Sharp," said Claire Newman, a REMS investigator at Ashima Research in Pasadena. "If we don't see a change in wind patterns as Curiosity heads up the slope of Mount Sharp -- that would be a surprise." 

REMS monitoring of air pressure has tracked both a seasonal increase and a daily rhythm. Neither was unexpected, but the details improve understanding of atmospheric cycles on present-day Mars, which helps with estimating how the cycles may have operated in the past. The seasonal increase results from tons of carbon dioxide, which had been frozen into a southern winter ice cap, returning into the atmosphere as southern spring turns to summer. 

The daily cycle of higher pressure in the morning and lower pressure in the evening results from daytime heating of the atmosphere by the sun. As morning works its way westward around the planet, so does a wave of heat-expanded atmosphere, known as a thermal tide. Effects of that atmospheric tide show up in data from Curiosity's Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD). This instrument monitors high-energy radiation considered to be a health risk to astronauts and a factor in whether microbes could survive on Mars' surface. "We see a definite pattern related to the daily thermal tides of the atmosphere," said RAD principal investigator Don Hassler of the Southwest Research Institute's Boulder, Colo., branch. "The atmosphere provides a level of shielding, and so charged-particle radiation is less when the atmosphere is thicker. Overall, Mars' atmosphere reduces the radiation dose compared to what we saw during the flight to Mars." 

The overall goal of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission is to use 10 instruments on Curiosity to assess whether areas inside Gale Crater ever offered a habitable environment for microbes.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Final Journey of Space Shuttle Atlantis


Image Credit NASA TV

On Friday, November the 2nd 2012 Space Shuttle Atlantis departed the Kennedy Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on her last ever trip - the ten mile journey to the visitor complex. Riding on a 76-wheel flatbed vehicle called the Orbiter Transportation System, Atlantis stopped along the route for a retirement ceremony at 10 a.m. EDT.

NASA engineers have been preparing Atlantis for public display as part of NASA's transition and retirement processing of the shuttle fleet. A grand opening of Atlantis' new home at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is planned for July 2013.

Image Credit NASA TV

Curiosity - Robot Geologist

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This is an artist's impression of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or present ability to sustain microbial life. Curiosity landed near the Martian equator about 10:31 p.m., Aug. 5 PDT (1:31 a.m. Aug. 6 EDT). 

In this picture, the rover examines a rock on Mars with a set of tools at the end of the rover's arm, which extends about 7 feet (2 meters). Two instruments on the arm can study rocks up close. A drill can collect sample material from inside of rocks and a scoop can pick up samples of soil. The arm can sieve the samples and deliver fine powder to instruments inside the rover for thorough analysis. 

The mast, or rover's "head," rises to about 6.9 feet (2.1 meters) above ground level, about as tall as a basketball player. This mast supports two remote-sensing science instruments: the Mast Camera, or "eyes," for stereo color viewing of surrounding terrain and material collected by the arm; and, the Chemistry and Camera instrument, which uses a laser to vaporize a speck of material on rocks up to about 23 feet (7 meters) away and determines what elements the rocks are made of. 

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. 

For more information about Curiosity is at http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/ 

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

NASA's Rover's Helps Fingerprint Martian Minerals


'Bite mark' in Martian soil made by Curiosity rover
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Mars rover Curiosity has completed initial experiments showing the mineralogy of Martian soil is similar to weathered basaltic soils of volcanic origin in Hawaii.  The minerals were identified in the first sample of Martian soil ingested recently by the rover. Curiosity used its Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin) to obtain the results, which are filling gaps and adding confidence to earlier estimates of the mineralogical makeup of the dust and fine soil widespread on the Red Planet. 

The identification of minerals in rocks and soil is crucial for the mission's goal to assess past environmental conditions. Each mineral records the conditions under which it formed. The chemical composition of a rock provides only ambiguous mineralogical information, as in the textbook example of the minerals diamond and graphite, which have the same chemical composition, but strikingly different structures and properties. 

David Bish, co-investigator with Indiana University in Bloomington, said, "Much of Mars is covered with dust, and we had an incomplete understanding of its mineralogy. So far, the materials Curiosity has analyzed are consistent with our initial ideas of the deposits in Gale Crater recording a transition through time from a wet to dry environment. The ancient rocks, such as the conglomerates, suggest flowing water, while the minerals in the younger soil are consistent with limited interaction with water." 

During the two-year prime mission of the Mars Science Laboratory Project, researchers are using Curiosity's 10 instruments to investigate whether areas in Gale Crater ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Martian Surprise From #NASA Curiosity Rover

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

'Jake Matijevic', the first Martian rock the Curiosity rover has reached out to touch presents a more varied composition than expected from previous missions. The rock also resembles some unusual rocks from the Earth's interior.

This image shows red dots are where the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument zapped it with its laser on Sept. 21, 2012, and Sept. 24, 2012, which were the 45th and 48th sol, or Martian day of operations. The circular black and white images were taken by ChemCam to look for the pits produced by the laser. The purple circles indicate where the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer trained its view.

The results support some surprising recent measurements and provide an example of why identifying rocks' composition is such a major emphasis of the mission. Rock compositions tell stories about unseen environments and planetary processes.  Edward Stolper of the California Institute of Technology said,  "This rock is a close match in chemical composition to an unusual but well-known type of igneous rock found in many volcanic provinces on Earth. With only one Martian rock of this type, it is difficult to know whether the same processes were involved, but it is a reasonable place to start thinking about its origin."

On Earth, rocks with composition like the Jake rock typically come from processes in the planet's mantle beneath the crust, from crystallization of relatively water-rich magma at elevated pressure.

The wealth of information from the two instruments checking chemical elements in the same rock is just a preview. Curiosity also carries analytical laboratories inside the rover to provide other composition information about powder samples from rocks and soil. The mission is progressing toward getting the first soil sample into those analytical instruments during a "sol" or Martian day.

The pyramid shaped rock was named in memory of Jacob Matijevic (1947-2012), the surface operations systems chief engineer for the Mars Science Laboratory Project who played a critical role in the design of the six-wheeled rover. (See The Story of Jake and a Rock on Mars )

Friday, 5 October 2012

Mars Curiosity Rover Prepares to Study Martian Soil for Signs of Life



Curiosity cuts a wheel scuff mark into a wind-formed ripple to give researchers a better opportunity to examine the particle-size distribution of the material forming the ripple. The rover's right Navigation camera took this image of the scuff mark on the mission's 57th Martian day, or sol (Oct. 3, 2012)

(Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
NASA's Curiosity rover is in position on Mars to begin to take its first scoop of soil for analysis. The rover's ability to put soil samples into analytical instruments is central to assessing whether its present location on Mars, called Gale Crater, ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

Mineral analysis can reveal past environmental conditions. Chemical analysis can check for ingredients necessary for life. The rover's preparatory operations will involve testing its robotic scooping capabilities to collect and process soil samples. Later, it also will use a hammering drill to collect powdered samples from rocks. To begin preparations for a first scoop, the rover used one of its wheels Wednesday to scuff the soil to expose fresh material.

Curiosity will then scoop up some soil, shake it thoroughly inside the sample-processing chambers to scrub the internal surfaces, then discard the sample. Curiosity will scoop and shake a third measure of soil and place it in an observation tray for inspection by cameras mounted on the rover's mast. A portion of the third sample will be delivered to the mineral-identifying chemistry and mineralogy (CheMin) instrument inside the rover. From a fourth scoopful, samples will be delivered to both CheMin and to the sample analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, which identifies chemical ingredients.

Curiosity's motorized, clamshell-shaped scoop is 1.8 inches (4.5 centimeters) wide, 2.8 inches (7 centimeters) long, and can sample to a depth of about 1.4 inches (3.5 centimeters). It is part of the collection and handling Martian rock analysis (CHIMRA) device on a turret of tools at the end of the rover's arm. CHIMRA also includes a series of chambers and labyrinths for sorting, sieving and portioning samples collected by the scoop or by the arm's percussive drill.

Friday, 28 September 2012

NASA Rover Finds Old Stream Bed On Mars



Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS 
NASA's Curiosity rover mission has found evidence a stream once ran across the area on Mars where the rover is driving. There is earlier evidence for the presence of water on Mars but this evidence - images of rocks containing ancient stream bed gravels - is the first of its kind.

Scientists are studying the images of stones cemented into a layer of conglomerate rock. The sizes and shapes of stones offer clues to the speed and distance of a long-ago stream's flow.

Curiosity science co-investigator William Dietrich of the University of California, said ""From the size of gravels it carried, we can interpret the water was moving about 3 feet per second, with a depth somewhere between ankle and hip deep. Plenty of papers have been written about channels on Mars with many different hypotheses about the flows in them. This is the first time we're actually seeing water-transported gravel on Mars. This is a transition from speculation about the size of streambed material to direct observation of it."

The finding site lies between the north rim of Gale Crater and the base of Mount Sharp, a mountain inside the crater. Earlier imaging of the region from Mars orbit allows for additional interpretation of the gravel-bearing conglomerate. The imagery shows an alluvial fan of material washed down from the rim, streaked by many apparent channels, sitting uphill of the new finds.

The science team may use Curiosity to learn the elemental composition of the material, which holds the conglomerate together, revealing more characteristics of the wet environment that formed these deposits. The stones in the conglomerate provide a sampling from above the crater rim, so the team may also examine several of them to learn about broader regional geology. The slope of Mount Sharp in Gale Crater remains the rover's main destination. Clay and sulfate minerals detected there from orbit can be good preservers of carbon-based organic chemicals that are potential ingredients for life.

During the two-year prime mission of the Mars Science Laboratory, researchers will use Curiosity's 10 instruments to investigate whether areas in Gale Crater have ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

For more about Curiosity, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl .

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Mars Rover Curiosity Targets Unusual Rock


Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Curiosity has been driven to a football-size rock that will be the first for the rover's arm to examine.  The team plans to touch the rock with a spectrometer to determine its elemental composition and use an arm-mounted camera to take close-up photographs.

Both the arm-mounted Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer and the mast-mounted, laser-zapping Chemistry and Camera Instrument will be used for identifying elements in the rock. This will allow cross-checking of the two instruments.

The rock has been named "Jake Matijevic." Jacob Matijevic (mah-TEE-uh-vik) was the surface operations systems chief engineer for Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) and the project's Curiosity rover. He passed away Aug. 20, at age 64. Matijevic also was a leading engineer for all of the previous NASA Mars rovers: Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity.

Curiosity now has driven six days in a row. Daily distances range from 72 feet to 121 feet (22 meters to 37 meters).  On two recent days, Curiosity pointed the Mastcam at the sun and recorded images of Mars' two moons, Phobos and Deimos, passing in front of the sun from the rover's point of view. Results of these transit observations are part of a long-term study of changes in the moons' orbits. NASA's twin Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, which arrived at Mars in 2004, also have observed solar transits by Mars' moons.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Mars Rover Opportunity Reveals Geological Mystery

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./ USGS/Modesto Junior College 

NASA's long-lived rover Opportunity has returned an image of the Martian surface that is puzzling researchers.  Spherical objects concentrated at an outcrop Opportunity reached last week differ in several ways from iron-rich spherules nicknamed "blueberries" the rover found at its landing site in early 2004 and at many other locations to date.


Opportunity is investigating an outcrop called Kirkwood in the Cape York segment of the western rim of Endeavour Crater. The spheres measure as much as one-eighth of an inch (3 millimeters) in diameter. The analysis is still preliminary, but it indicates that these spheres do not have the high iron content of Martian blueberries.

Opportunity's principal investigator, Steve Squyres of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. said "This is one of the most extraordinary pictures from the whole mission, Kirkwood is chock full of a dense accumulation of these small spherical objects. Of course, we immediately thought of the blueberries, but this is something different. We never have seen such a dense accumulation of spherules in a rock outcrop on Mars."

Opportunity used the microscopic imager on its arm to look closely at Kirkwood. Researchers checked the spheres' composition by using an instrument called the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer on Opportunity's arm. Just past Kirkwood lies another science target area for Opportunity.

NASA launched the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity in the summer of 2003, and both completed their three-month prime missions in April 2004. They continued bonus, extended missions for years. Spirit finished communicating with Earth in March 2010. The rovers have made important discoveries about wet environments on ancient Mars that may have been favorable for supporting microbial life.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Mars Rover Curiosity Close Up


This view of the three left wheels of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity combines two images taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) during the 34th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (Sept. 9, 2012). In the distance is the lower slope of Mount Sharp. The camera is in the turret of tools at the end of Curiosity's robotic arm.

The Sol 34 imaging by MAHLI was part of a week-long set of activities for characterizing the movement of the arm in Mars conditions. The main purpose of Curiosity's MAHLI camera is to acquire close-up, high-resolution views of rocks and soil at the rover's Gale Crater field site. The camera is capable of focusing on any target at distances of about 0.8 inch (2.1 centimeters) to infinity, providing versatility for other uses, such as views of the rover itself from different angles. 

(Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems)

Friday, 7 September 2012

Mars Rover Curiosity Begins Arm-Work Phase



Curiosity Rover
(Image credit NASA JPL)
After driving more than a football field's length since landing, NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is spending several days preparing for full use of the tools on its arm.

Curiosity extended its robotic arm Wednesday in the first of 6-10 consecutive days of planned activities to test the seven foot long arm and tools it manipulates.

Daniel Limonadi of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena said "We will be putting the arm through a range of motions and placing it at important 'teach points' that were established during Earth testing, such as the positions for putting sample material into the inlet ports for analytical instruments. These activities are important to get a better understanding for how the arm functions after the long cruise to Mars and in the different temperature and gravity of Mars, compared to earlier testing on Earth."

Since the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft placed Curiosity inside Mars' Gale Crater on Aug. 5 (Aug. 6 EDT), the rover has driven a total of 358 feet. The drives have brought it about one-fourth of the way from the landing site, named Bradbury Landing, to a location selected as the mission's first major science destination, Glenelg.

After the arm characterization activities at the current site, Curiosity will proceed for a few weeks eastward toward Glenelg. The science team selected that area as likely to offer a good target for Curiosity's first analysis of powder collected by drilling into a rock.  Curiosity is one month into a two-year prime mission on Mars. It will use 10 science instruments to assess whether the selected study area ever has offered environmental conditions for microbial life.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Tracks from Eastbound Drive on Curiosity's Sol 22



On Aug. 28, 2012, during the 22nd Martian day, or sol, after landing on Mars, NASA's Curiosity rover drove about 52 feet (16 meters) eastward, the longest drive of the mission so far. The drive imprinted the wheel tracks visible in this image. The rover's rear Hazard Avoidance Camera (Hazcam) took the image after the drive. Curiosity's front and rear Hazcams have fisheye lenses for enabling the rover to see a wide swath of terrain. This image has been processed to straighten the horizon.

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Curiosity Returns Voice and Telephoto Views from Martian Surface

Mars Rover Curiosity in Artist's Concept
(Image courtesy of NASA)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden congratulated NASA employees and the agency's commercial and government partners on the successful landing of Curiosity earlier this month, and said curiosity is what drives humans to explore.  "The knowledge we hope to gain from our observation and analysis of Gale Crater will tell us much about the possibility of life on Mars as well as the past and future possibilities for our own planet. Curiosity will bring benefits to Earth and inspire a new generation of scientists and explorers, as it prepares the way for a human mission in the not too distant future,"

Bolden's recorded message was released along with new telephoto camera views of the varied Martian landscape during a news conference today at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, California.  "With this voice, another small step is taken in extending human presence beyond Earth, and the experience of exploring remote worlds is brought a little closer to us all," said Dave Lavery, NASA Curiosity program executive. "As Curiosity continues its mission, we hope these words will be an inspiration to someone alive today who will become the first to stand upon the surface of Mars. And like the great Neil Armstrong, they will speak aloud of that next giant leap in human exploration."

The telephoto images beamed back to Earth show a scene of eroded knobs and gulches on a mountainside, with geological layering clearly exposed. The new views were taken by the 100-millimeter telephoto lens and the 34-milllimeter wide angle lens of the Mast Camera (Mastcam) instrument. Mastcam has photographed the lower slope of the nearby mountain called Mount Sharp.

"This is an area on Mount Sharp where Curiosity will go," said Mastcam principal investigator Michael Malin, of Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego. "Those layers are our ultimate objective. The dark dune field is between us and those layers. In front of the dark sand you see redder sand, with a different composition suggested by its different color. The rocks in the foreground show diversity -- some rounded, some angular, with different histories. This is a very rich geological site to look at and eventually to drive through."

A drive early Monday placed Curiosity directly over a patch where one of the spacecraft's landing engines scoured away a few inches of gravelly soil and exposed underlying rock. Researchers plan to use a neutron-shooting instrument on the rover to check for water molecules bound into minerals at this partially excavated target.

During the news conference, the rover team reported the results of a test on Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, which can measure the composition of samples of atmosphere, powdered rock or soil. The amount of air from Earth's atmosphere remaining in the instrument after Curiosity's launch was more than expected, so a difference in pressure on either side of tiny pumps led SAM operators to stop pumping out the remaining Earth air as a precaution. The pumps subsequently worked, and a chemical analysis was completed on a sample of Earth air.

"As a test of the instrument, the results are beautiful confirmation of the sensitivities for identifying the gases present," said SAM principal investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "We're happy with this test and we're looking forward to the next run in a few days when we can get Mars data."

Curiosity already is returning more data from the Martian surface than have all of NASA's earlier rovers combined. "We have an international network of telecommunications relay orbiters bringing data back from Curiosity," said JPL's Chad Edwards, chief telecommunications engineer for NASA's Mars Exploration Program. "Curiosity is boosting its data return by using a new capability for adjusting its transmission rate."

Curiosity is 3 weeks into a two-year prime mission on Mars. It will use 10 science instruments to assess whether the selected study area ever has offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.


Sunday, 26 August 2012

Neil Armstrong Tribute




NASA Administrator Statement on Neil Armstrong's Death: 

WASHINGTON -- The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden regarding the death of former test pilot and NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong. He was 82.

"On behalf of the entire NASA family, I would like to express my deepest condolences to Carol and the rest of the Armstrong family on the passing of Neil Armstrong. As long as there are history books, Neil Armstrong will be included in them, remembered for taking humankind's first small step on a world beyond our own.


"Besides being one of America's greatest explorers, Neil carried himself with a grace and humility that was an example to us all. When President Kennedy challenged the nation to send a human to the moon, Neil Armstrong accepted without reservation.


"As we enter this next era of space exploration, we do so standing on the shoulders of Neil Armstrong. We mourn the passing of a friend, fellow astronaut and true American hero."


Sunday, 17 June 2012

Friday, 1 June 2012

Dream Chaser Flight Test Success

Dream Chaser flight vehicle is lifted by an Erickson Air-Crane
helicopter on May 29 2012 during a captive-carry test.
(Image credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)

The Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems' Dream Chaser design successfully completed one of its most significant tests to date near the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Jefferson County, Colorado on May 29th 2012. The Dream Chaser is designed to carry up to seven astronauts into space and is designed to land on a conventional runway.

A full size flight vehicle of the Dream Chaser spacecraft was lifted by an Erickson Air-Crane helicopter to assess aerodynamic flight performance. This 'captive-carry' marks the completion of a key milestone for the Dream Chaser. Ed Mango, the CCP Program Manager said "This is a very positive success for the Dream Chaser team and their innovative approach. I applaud and encourage the designers and engineers to continue their efforts in meeting the objectives of the rest of their CCDev2 milestones."

Another recent milestone included an evaluation of the separation system of Dream Chaser from its launch vehicle, the Atlas V rocket, which would release the spacecraft from the rocket’s second stage after it has placed the spacecraft into low Earth orbit. 



Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Astronaut Shannon Lucid Retires

Shannon Lucid
(Image Credit NASA)

Shannon Lucid, a member of NASA's first astronaut class to include women, has retired after more than three decades of service to the agency.

Shannon  logged more than 223 days in space and from August 1991 to June 2007 held the record for the most days in orbit by any woman in the world.

Shannon Lucid is also the only American woman to serve aboard the Russian Mir space station, where she lived and worked for more than 188 days, the longest stay of any American on that vehicle. Her time on Mir also set the single flight endurance record by a woman until Suni Williams broke it in 2006.

Peggy Whitson, chief of NASA's Astronaut Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston said She was a model astronaut for long-duration missions and whether she was flying hundreds of miles up in space or serving as Capcom [capsule communicator] during the overnight hours for our space shuttle and space station crews, she always brought a smile to our faces. Like so many others, I always will look up to her."

Shannon Lucid, who holds a doctorate in biochemistry, was selected by NASA in 1978. She joined five other women as the agency's first female astronauts. Her first three shuttle missions deployed satellites. STS-51G in 1985 deployed and retrieved the SPARTAN satellite; STS-34 in 1989 deployed the Galileo spacecraft to explore Jupiter; and STS-43 in 1991 deployed the fifth Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS-E). Her fourth shuttle mission, STS-58 in 1993, focused on medical experiments and engineering tests.

Shannon travelled aboard Atlantis on STS-76 in March 1996 to the Russian Mir space station. She performed numerous life science and physical science experiments during the course of her stay. She returned from the station aboard Atlantis on STS-79 in September 1996.

In 2002, Shannon served as NASA's chief scientist at the agency's headquarters in Washington. She returned to Johnson in the fall of 2003 and resumed technical assignments in the Astronaut Office. She served as a Capcom in the Mission Control Center for numerous space shuttle and space station crews, representing the flight crew office and providing a friendly voice for dozens of friends and colleagues in space.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

NASA's J-2X Engine Reaches Testing Stage

J-2X E10001 Assembly Complete.
 (Image Credit: NASA/MSFC)

The next generation of space exploration has begun with the testing of the new engine planned to carry humans to deep space.  Tests start at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi, bringing NASA one step closer to the first human-rated liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen rocket engine to be developed in 40 years.

William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate said "The testing will help ensure that a key propulsion element is ready to support exploration across the solar system."

J-2X is an efficient and versatile advanced rocket engine designed with the thrust and performance to power the upper stage of NASA's Space Launch System, a new heavy-lift launch vehicle capable of missions beyond low-Earth orbit.

Fuelled by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, the J-2X builds on experience with previous designs, relying  on nearly a half-century of NASA spaceflight experience and technological and manufacturing advances to deliver up to 294,000 pounds of thrust, powering exploration to new destinations in our solar system.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

NASA Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier Receives AIAA Von Karman Award

Bill Gerstenmaier

The American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) has honored Bill Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate with the Von Karman Lectureship in Astronautics.

The award is given annually to someone who has performed notably and distinguished themselves technically in the field of astronautics. Gerstenmaier was recognized for his 30 years of accomplishment in human spaceflight, culminating in the leadership of the Space Shuttle and International Space Station Programs.

As part of the award, Gerstenmaier delivered the speech "Global Outpost in Space: A Platform for Discovery -- The International Space Station" Wednesday during the AIAA's 50th Aerospace Sciences Meeting in Nashville, Tenn. The award honors Theodore von Karman, an early astronautics pioneer responsible for breakthroughs in understanding supersonic and hypersonic airflow characterization and the value of the swept wing design.

Gerstenmaier said "It is truly an honor to receive this special recognition from the AIAA and to have the opportunity to speak at this year's conference about the International Space Station and its importance to the future of human exploration."