Tag Archive | NASA

Is This the Spaceship That Will Take Us to Mars?

Somewhere deep in the Marshall Space Center, in an unmarked beige hangar, NASA is building a spaceship. A spaceship built with spare parts, scrap hardware from the International Space Stations, a left-over aluminum-lithium cylinder and even museum mockups. One day, it may become the vessel that takes humans to Mars.

NASA engineers lead by Paul Bookout aretalking about it at the the Fifth Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium, happening now in Huntsville, Alabama. Bookout’s team is working with a team from the Johnson Space Center in Houston led by astronaut Benjamin Alvin Drew, a USAF Colonel who’s been to space twice, including on the last mission of the Space Shuttle Discovery.

According to Bookout, the team is using its spaceship habitat to look at volume studies: “Are the crew quarters going to be the right size, the waste and hygiene compartment, the wardroom, the exercise area—we’re looking at all those for this extended stay.”

The spaceship model that Bookout and his colleagues are building is a medium-fidelity version of the habitat that may shelter the astronauts that go to Mars for the first time. It includes crew quarters that are two times as big as the crew space in the ISS, with everything they need to survive, including food storage.

There’s also a science bay that also serves as a greenhouse in which they will be able to grow plants during their trip. You know, just like in the movies.

Water shields and the Star Trek-ish 3D replicator

The Mars spaceship habitat is surrounded by a wall of water, which will protect the astronauts against radiation. Water is a great insulator against the dangerous galactic cosmic rays and solar flares that may otherwise kill the astronauts after such an extended period of time in space.

But the awesomerest detail may actually be the onboard replicator. It will not be a Star Trekdevice, but rather a 3D printer that will make tools and parts as the crew demands, recycling old tools, food containers and any other discarded material.

Is This the Spaceship That Will Take Us to Mars?

It’s good to know that Mars plans are still advancing, even while NASA’s future budget depends on yet another election and faces perhaps yet another round of financial cuts. It’s still a move forward, even if it’s made of scraps and museum mockups.


Ten NASA Self-Portraits

On September 7, 2012, the Curiosity rover used a camera located on its arm to obtain this self portrait, which shows the top of Curiosity’s Remote Sensing Mast.

Curiosity, the recently dispatched Mars rover, took a beautiful photograph of itself earlier this month. Given the great range of terrestrial artists who have documented themselves—Cindy Sherman, Lee Friedlander, Tseng Kwong Chi, Nikki S. Lee—it’s not easy for a humble space rover to distinguish itself in the field of self-portraiture. Curiosity’s success inspired us to see how other space travellers saw themselves. Here’s a selection of ten NASA self-portraits. Click on the red arrows arrows3.jpg in the upper right corner for a fullscreen view.

This snapshot of the shadow of NASA’s Mars Opportunity rover comes courtesy of the rover’s front hazard-avoidance camera, taken as it moved into Endurance Crater on July 26, 2004, the date when the rover fully doubled its primary mission.

In November of 1969, the Apollo 12 astronaut-photographer Charles (Pete) Conrad took this photograph of colleague Alan Bean’s collecting lunar soil on the Oceanus Procellarum. The lunar horizon, the harsh environment of the moon’s Ocean of Storms, and Conrad himself can be seen reflected on Bean’s helmet.

From August 24 to 27, 2005, NASA’s Mars rover Spirit acquired hundreds of individual frames to create this 360-degree panorama on the summit of Husband Hill inside Mars’s Gusev Crater, its largest ever panorama image. This bird’s-eye view combines a self-portrait of the spacecraft deck and a panoramic mosaic of the Martian surface.

This view is a vertical projection that combines hundreds of exposures taken between June 5 and 12, 2008, by the Surface Stereo Imager camera on NASA’s Mars Phoenix Lander and projects them as if looking down from above. The black circle is where the camera itself is mounted on the lander.

A boulder-strewn field of red rocks stretches across Mars’s Utopian Plain in this self-portrait of Viking 2, which landed on September 3, 1976. Fine particles of red dust have settled on spacecraft’s surfaces.

The astronaut Garrett Reisman took this self-portrait in May, 2010, while participating in the first of three spacewalks scheduled for the Atlantis crew and their cosmonaut hosts. The earth and part of the International Space Station are among the objects seen in his visor.

This self-portrait, a mosaic of twenty images, shows the deck of NASA’s Curiosity rover from the rover’s navigation camera. The back of the rover can be seen at the top left of the image, and two of the rover’s right side wheels can be seen on the left. The undulating rim of Gale Crater forms the light ridge in the background.

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta comet-chaser took this picture of itself in space in May, 2004. The back of a solar panel is seen here, and the contours on the panel are illuminated by sunlight and surfaces of the spacecraft main body are recognizable at lower right.

The left eye of Curiosity’s mast camera took this image of the camera on the rover’s arm on September 5, 2012. The image shows that the arm camera is coated with a thin film of Martian dust, which accumulated during Curiosity’s final descent to the surface, as the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft’s descent-stage engines were disrupting the surface nearby.

NASA Captures Epic Eruption From Surface of Sun

NASA Captures Epic CME Eruption
The sun experienced a huge coronal mass ejection (CME) on Aug. 31, 2012, and NASA captured several images.

From here on Earth, the Sun looks remarkably consistent, continuously bathing our planet in light and heat without much change from year to year, let alone day to day. In reality, it’s anything but calm, as this incredibleNASA photo of a coronal mass ejection (CME) shows.

A CME is a huge burst of stellar material and magnetic fields from the surface of the sun — essentially what happens when the sun “burps.” They’re often associated with solar flares, but they can happen separately, too.

This particular CME occurred on Aug. 31, 2012 at 4:36 p.m Eastern Time. At its fastest, the burst shot out into space at more than 900 miles per second. Although this particular CME didn’t travel directly toward Earth (God help us if it did — a CME can be very destructive to things in orbit, like satellites), it did affect Earth’s magnetosphere, creating an aurora that was visible last night, Sept. 3.

NASA captured these spectacular images of the CME as well as the aurora, posting high-res versions on the Goddard Space Flight Center’s Flickr feed. Let us know what you think of the pics in the comments.

Epic CME, Full Sun View

Although the CME didn’t impact Earth, it affected the magnetosphere, creating an aurora on Sept. 3.

Epic CME, Overaly

Here’s an overlay of the CME imagery, using two different wavelengths of light.

Full Sun Overlay

The full sun pic as before, with the overaly.

CME in Ultraviolet

No, NASA wasn’t playing with Photo Booth — this is a quad shot at four different ultraviolet wavelengths.


Another shot of the CME.

Aurora Over Yukon

Here’s what the Aurora looked like over Whitehorse in Canada’s Yukon territory the night of Sept. 3.

NASA May Go Mars Geyser Hopping

In showbiz, the adage has always been “leave ‘em wanting more.” So, following the brilliant opening salvos of its $2.5 billion Mars rover mission, what does NASA do for an encore?

Current budget paradigms dictate that the space agency think economically in its approach to future Mars exploration. For surface-based exploration, that means a realistic return to NASA’s Discovery-class solar system exploration missions on budgets of $450 million or less.

Thus, NASA has just announced that it has selected InSight, a new $425 million Mars surface mission for launch in 2016. Building on the space agency’s Mars Phoenix Lander spacecraft technology, InSight will study the Red Planet’s deep interior for clues to how its planetary structure actually evolved. It should also determine whether Mars has a liquid or solid core and why unlike earth, its crust lacks drifting tectonic plates.

But then how about some good old-fashioned geyser hopping?

Mars Geyser Hopper, a Discovery-class mission concept study that has largely gone unnoticed, is potentially a follow-on to the Phoenix Lander mission and would launch at earliest in 2018.

The spacecraft would represent the first attempt to land at Mars’ geographic South Pole and would offer the promise of some spectacular high-quality live-action video of carbon dioxide geysers spewing forth at the beginning of early spring. That’s when the sun is still only a few degrees above the horizon and temperatures are typically 150 degrees below zero Celsius.

Using automated detection equipment, the hopper would pick up the first signs of an erupting geyser which, in turn, would trigger high-speed particle motion detectors and high-resolution imagery. There would also be detailed chemical analysis of geyser fallout once it hit the Martian surface.

It wouldn’t be the first time NASA has played the hopping game; in 1967, the space agency’s Surveyor VI spacecraft made an eight-ft. repositioning hop after landing on the lunar surface.

But the Geyser Hopper mission would make at least two subsequent hops after landing. The first would enable the spacecraft to better study the geyser fields during southern polar summer. And the second would be to position itself to best wait out the harsh dark polar winter.

There have been hundreds of geysers seen from Mars polar orbit already. But thousands of springtime geysers are thought to potentially stretch over an area of several hundred kilometers; crowding the polar landscape at a density of roughly one geyser for every 2 kilometers.

Coolest Mars Curiosity rover images so far

The new Mars rover Curiosity has been on Mars now for 10 days, following its daring and unprecedented landing on August 5-6, 2012. The landing captured the world’s imagination, and, since then, the rover has been giving us wonderful photos of Mars. The rover spent last weekend – its first weekend on Mars – transitioning to software better suited for the tasks that lie ahead of it, such as driving and using its robotic arm. Here are some of my favorites among Curiosity’s images so far.

Curiosity descent on August 5-6, 2012. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The image above is not part of the Curiosity rover itself. Instead, it’s the rover’s heat shield falling away from the bottom of Curiosity as the rover plunged toward the Martian surface.

More from Curiosity’s descent. NASA released a stop motion video, above, showing the final minutes of Curiosity’s descent from the release of the heat shield to the surface. You can see the heat shield falling away as the rover plummeted through the Mars’ atmosphere. Toward the end, you can see dust was being kicked up as the rover was being lowered by cables to its resting place in the Gale Crater on Mars.

Another spacecraft caught this view of Curiosity descending by parachute, in the final stages before touch down. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

All the descent images, I like the one above the best. You can’t not like the image above. It’s the Curiosity rover descending by parachute to the Martian surface. Another spacecraft in orbit around Mars, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter – which carries the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera – captured this image of Curiosity while the orbiter was listening to transmissions from the rover. Curiosity and its parachute are in the center of the white box. The rover is descending to Mars’ surface. From the perspective of the orbiter, the parachute and Curiosity are flying at an angle relative to the surface, so the landing site does not appear directly below the rover.

Curiosity shadow in foreground, Mount Sharp in background. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars landed in Mars’ Gale Crater on Mars. Its primary science goal is to explore Mount Sharp – aka Aeolis Mons – which forms the central peak within the crater. Here is one of Curiosity’s first views of Mt. Sharp, a 5.5-kilometer (18,000-foot) high mountain. Curiosity will drive to the base of the mountain and see what’s there. See the image at the bottom of this post to get some wider context of where Curiosity landed within the Gale Crater. By the way, in the image above, what’s that shadow in the foreground? It’s the shadow of the rover itself.

Curiosity on Mars, as seen by another spacecraft orbiting Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

I love the image above. It’s the first color image of Curiosity from orbit. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this image of Curiosity on the surface of Mars one day after the landing.

Image from Curiosity on August 7, 2012. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity captured the image (above) of itself and the Mars landscape surrounding it on August 7. This image shows part of the deck of the rover taken from one of its navigation cameras, looking toward the back left of the rover. On the left of this image, part of the rover’s power supply is visible. To the right of the power supply can be seen the pointy low-gain antenna and side of the paddle-shaped high-gain antenna for communications directly to Earth. The rim of Gale Crater is the lighter colored band across the horizon. The effects of the descent stage’s rocket engines blasting the ground can be seen on the right side of the image, next to the rover.

Looking south on August 8, 2012. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Then on August 8 came the image above. Now the rover is looking southward from its landing site, towards Mount Sharp again. NASA says that, in this version of the image, colors have been modified as if the scene were transported to Earth and illuminated by terrestrial sunlight. This processing, called “white balancing,” is useful for scientists to be able to recognize and distinguish rocks by color in more familiar lighting. NASA said:

The image provides an overview of the eventual geological targets Curiosity will explore over the next two years, starting with the rock-strewn, gravelly surface close by, and extending towards the dark dunefield. Beyond that lie the layered buttes and mesas of the sedimentary rock of Mount Sharp.

View from Curiosity on August 9, 2012. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The image above – released by NASA August 9, 2012 – shows a view taken by shows the mountains looming in the distance in front of Curiosity. These mountains form the crater wall north of the landing site, or behind the rover. At this part of the crater, a network of valleys – believed to have formed by water erosion – enters Gale Crater from the outside.

Curiosity’s location within the Gale Crater on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Here’s a good image (above) of Curiosity’s location within the Gale Crater itself. Where is Curiosity within the largest context of Mars’ surface? Check out landing sites of previous Mars rovers and Curiosity

Mars in the night sky in early August 2012. If you looked outside in mid-August, Mars would be on the left, not the right, side of this triangle of objects. Look west after sunset. Click here to enlarge this image.. EarthSky Facebook friend Denise Talley shared this image.

And last but not least, don’t forget that Mars is visible to your eye alone in our night sky. The image above is from early August, around the time Curiosity landed on Mars. If you looked outside for Mars tonight – gazing in the west after sunset – you’d find that it’s still in a triangle with two other objects, the planet Saturn and star Spica in the cosntellation Virgo. Mars has been moving with respect to those other two objects, though, over this past week. It’s now on the left side of the triangle instead of on the right. Here’s more about how to spot Mars in the west after sunset.

By the way, Space.com has an awesome video animation showing how the Curiosity looked and sounded during its descent to Mars’ surface. Enjoy it.

Bottom line: Here are my favorite images of Curiosity – or from Curiosity – taken in the 10 days since the Mars rover landed on the Red Planet’s surface on August 5-6, 2012.


How NASA battle-tested its Mars rover live stream

With millions of viewers expected to watch history Sunday night, NASA couldn’t afford to let the live stream of its Mars rover Curiosity landing go untested. Here’s how NASA put its Amazon Web Services-based infrastructure through its paces to ensure it keeps up with demand.

Anyone excited to watch NASA’s Mars rover, called Curiosity, land on the surface of the red planet on Sunday night can all but rest assured that too much demand won’t kill the stream. NASA teamed with an application-testing specialist called SOASTA to ensure the world can keep watching even if demand spikes or servers fail, proving a single implementation of its application stack can handle 25 Gigabits per second of web traffic.

SOASTA tests the traffic load applications can handle by generating cloud-computing-based resources that mimic the traffic generated by potentially millions of simultaneous real-world users. The company also recently tested London2012.com, the official Olympics web site that organizers predict will have to handle more than a billion visits over the course of this year’s event.

According to an e-mail explanation sent to me by NASA and SOASTA, here’s how the two groups put Curiosity’s streaming infrastructure, which is hosted on the Amazon Web Services cloud, through its paces:

  • They built a test infrastructure comprised of a single origin server (a Mac Pro housed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory) serving four bitrates (250, 500, 750 and 1,000) to a single Flash Media Server. Output was cached by a single “tier 1″ Nginx server, fronted by 40 “tier 2″ load-balanced Nginx servers running on Amazon EC2.
  • SOASTA generated load from six Amazon EC2 regions across the world, generating more than 25 Gbps of traffic and pounding the application for nearly 40 minutes.
  • After 20 minutes, they terminated 10 instances (see Arrow 1 on the chart) to see if their stack and Amazon’s cloud could handle the failure. This temporarily reduced the amount of traffic the system could handle, but Amazon’s Elastic Load Balancer service had the failed instances back up and handling 25 Gbps in about 5 minutes.
  • When the team terminated 20 instances (see Arrow 3), the remaining servers’ traffic-handling rate dropped to 12 Gbps and servers started showing signs of being overloaded. Once again, Elastic Load Balancer brought the instances back up (see Arrow 4) and the traffic rate returned to its initial 25 Gbps.
  • All told, SOASTA’s load-testing servers downloaded 68TB of video (see Arrow 2) from NASA’s cache during the nearly 40-minute test.

In the end, the team concluded:

Load on the primary FMS server and the tier 1 cache remained very low for the entirety of the test; we should have no problem running dozens of stacks during the live event. Anecdotal evaluation of the NASA live stream during testing showed no buffering or bitrate drops.

We are confident that the results of this test suggest that an aggregate of these stacks will be able to deliver the required streaming delivery for the Curiosity landing event.

Overall cost and flexibility benefits aside, the ability to test the effectiveness of an application’s infrastructure relatively easily and inexpensively is turning out to be one of the big benefits of cloud computing. NASA’s Curiosity test is just the latest example of this. Video-rental giant Netflix hasbuilt an army of simian-named services (such as Chaos Monkey) that simulate everything from the failure of a single server to the failure of an Availability Zone in Amazon’s cloud, where Netflix runs almost all of its IT operations.

Tune in tonight at 10:31 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time to see if NASA’s Curiosity streaming infrastructure really can hold up.

Who Blocked NASA’s Mars Landing on YouTube

Night owls in the U.S. searching for NASA’s Mars landing video on YouTube immediately after the event, including your humble correspondent, were met with mysterious opposition.

Nope, not Martians, but Scripps Local News Service — which blocked the historic NASA video on spurious grounds for more than an hour.

Scripps, a privately-held company, did not contribute any content to the NASA video. Nor, so far as we can tell, does it have a local news bureau on Mars.

But the company does have a history of blocking NASA content via YouTube’s Content ID system, which allows copyright holders to automatically block content under the infamous 1999 law, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA).

A NASA video of the Space Shuttle back in April was also blocked from viewers by a Scripps request.

It’s entirely possible that Scripps used video from the NASA live UStream feed (which, ironically, is copyright-free), uploaded it to YouTube before NASA did — and that YouTube’s algorithm blocked the NASA video on suspicion of copying something that was already there.

Still, the incident is a perfect case study in why YouTube needs to tweak its Content ID system — at the very least, by putting respected entities such as NASA on a white list, making it much harder to block their content with a simple request.

UPDATE: Here’s the official apology statement from Scripps: “We apologize for the temporary inconvenience experienced when trying to upload and view a NASA clip early Monday morning. We made a mistake. We reacted as quickly as possible to make the video viewable again, and we’ve adjusted our workflow processes to remedy the situation in the future.”

We’ve asked for more details on how it happened in the first place, and we’ve also got a request for comment out to YouTube. We’ll update you when we get their side of the story.

But what do you make of the kerfuffle? Is it a sign that the DMCA needs to be repealed or amended? Let us know in the comments.

In this amazing time-lapse, relive the earliest NASA missions in six minutes

We’ve seen some downright tear-jerking views of our planet in fast-forward, but have you ever hankered to see the Earth from the flying throne of Ham the Astrochimp?

In this astounding short film, half a decade’s worth of launches from Projects Mercury and Gemini are turbo-charged into an informative six minutes. Be sure to stick around for the breathtaking orbital ballet of the later Gemini missions. These images come to us via Arizona State’s “March to the Moon” image archive and were assembled by Vimeo user Joan.

[Via It’s Okay To Be Smart]

NASA Image Shows the Mayhem That Created Life on Earth

About 4.1 billion years ago, our solar system was a huge cluster of comets bombarding every planet orbiting the Sun and crashing into each other. That period of chaos is known as the Late Heavy Bombardment, and astronomers believe it was key to the formation of life in our planet.

For the first time ever, scientists using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have found a star system in which this is happening right now—just around the corner.

It is called Eta Corvi. Located just 59 light years away from us, it’s 40 percent more massive than the Sun but much younger. The star is surrounded by two debris disks. In the outer disk—which is orbiting around 150 astronomical units from the solar system’s center—comets keep crashing onto each other and into rocky bodies in a seemingly never ending dance of planetary mayhem. The collisions break these objects into smaller pieces, which will keep striking each other until they turn to dust.

Spitzer’s infrared detectors got evidence of this insane havoc for the first time in history, showing comets smashing onto a rocky planet and being “shred to pieces.” The telescope detected the signatures of water ice, organic material and rock, which are believed to be the seeds of life on Earth. This process happened in our solar system when it was 600 to 800 million years of age. Eta Corvi is around that age too.

The comets that bombarded Earth are believed to be the harbingers of life, adding the water and organic molecules that combined to form organisms in our rocky planet.

According to NASA, this illustrations shows how this storm of comets is happening at Eta Corvi.:

A glowing red flash captures the moment of impact on the planet. Yellow-white Eta Corvi is shown to the left, with still more comets streaming toward it.

During the Late Heavy Bombardment, our solar system suffered the same fate, with bigger outer planets migrating to their current orbits and, in the process, slinging ice comets onto the rocky planets in the inner part of the solar system. Our moon got most of its scars during this project.

Now we have to wait a few billion years and see if lizards come out of whatever Earth may happen there. [NASA and NASA]

NASA’s Space Shuttle Enterprise makes its big debut

Space enthusiasts in the Northeast have a new reason to visit New York City’s Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum: today marks the grand opening of the museum’s Space Shuttle Enterprise exhibit.

From the museum’s website:

The exhibition brings to life the remarkable story of the Enterprise as the original prototype space shuttle orbiter in relation to NASA’s historic role in experimental aircraft throughout the twentieth-century…The experience will inspire visitors of all ages, offering an unforgettable look at the past, present and future of space missions.

Enterprise (which, yes, is named after the Star Trek starship) was never equipped with engines or a heat shield, and was therefore never used for an orbital flight; but it did play a crucial role in NASA’s atmospheric approach and landing tests during the 1970s; information gained from these trial runs proved indespensible in the development of later incarnations of the spacecraft.

Festivities at today’s big exhibition opening will include appearances by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and three out of four of Enterprise’s astronauts. You can check out more info about the exhibition opening over on SPACE.com.