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NASA

Now NASA Wants To Grow Potatoes On Mars For Real (examiner.com) 95

MarkWhittington writes: In the hit movie, "The Martian", NASA astronaut Mark Watney survives by planting potatoes in one of the modules of the Mars base who is stranded at. The plot device received a great deal of praise from space agriculture experts, according to a recent story in Popular Mechanics. Of course, future space farmers would be advised to grow a variety of crops in order to diversify their diet, not an option for Watney. In any case, according to a story in ZME Science, NASA is partnering with Peru's International Potato Center (CIP) to do what Watney did and grow potatoes on Mars.
Mars

NASA Is Creating a Virtual Reality Mission To Mars (roadtovr.com) 24

An anonymous reader writes: The Mars 2030 Experience' is part of NASA's ongoing efforts to build public support in a real manned mission to the Red Planet. Partnering with FUSION to produce the experience, NASA wants the mission to simulate life as one of the first astronauts on Mars. Incorporating research directly from NASA and MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics PhD candidate Sydney Do, the VR experience will take users on an 'extravehicular activity' and put them in the Z-2 spacesuit, a real prototype currently in development at NASA. There are also plans to add multiplayer functionality to the game and launch with support for the Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard in 2016.
Mars

How Close Are We To a Mars Mission? (thenewstack.io) 173

destinyland writes: NASA is developing the capabilities needed to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s," reads the official NASA web site. But National Geographic points out that "the details haven't been announced, in large part because such a massive, long-term spending project would require the unlikely support of several successive U.S. presidents." And yet on November 4th, NASA put out a call for astronaut applications "in anticipation of returning human spaceflight launches to American soil, and in preparation for the agency's journey to Mars," and they're currently experimenting with growing food in space. And this week they not only ordered the first commercial mission to the International Space Station, but also quietly announced that they've now partnered with 22 private space companies.
NASA

Journalist: NASA Administrator Has Short Memory on Changing Space Policy (spacenews.com) 87

MarkWhittington writes: Recently, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden stated that NASA would be "doomed" if the next president were to deviate in any way from the current Journey to Mars program. Space journalist and founder of the America Space website Jim Hillhouse took exception to Bolden's assertion in a letter to the aerospace newspaper Space News. In the process, Hillhouse provides a good summary of how space policy has evolved during the past five years under the Obama administration.
Mars

NASA's Maven Mission Solves the Mystery of Mars' Lost Atmosphere 120

StartsWithABang writes: If you came to the Solar System some 500 million years after its formation, you would've found two world with oceans of liquid water, continents and all the conditions we know of for life to begin thriving: Earth and Mars. But unlike our own world, Mars' organic history was cut short when it lost its atmosphere and became a barren, desert wasteland. While we had some pretty compelling theories as to how this happened, it was only with the advent of the Maven mission and its first science results that we discovered exactly how, how fast and when Mars lost its atmosphere. One cool discovery: aurorae appear diffuse and all over the entire night sky on Mars!
NASA

NASA's Bolden Claims NASA Is 'Doomed' Unless It Stays the Course To Mars (spacenews.com) 162

MarkWhittington writes: According to a story in Space News, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden made a speech at the Center for American Progress in which he declared that if the next president deviated from the Journey to Mars program, the space agency would be "doomed." The point he was making, that programs of that nature, have to have consistent support over several presidencies and congresses, was a valid one. The point was equally valid in 2010 when President Obama abruptly and without warning canceled the Constellation space exploration program. Bolden, however, had a ready answer for that, which may not be convincing on close examination.
Mars

What Happened To the Martian Ocean and Magnetic Field? (theatlantic.com) 142

schwit1 writes with this story at The Atlantic that explores what may have destroyed the Martian atmosphere and ocean. The question of whether there is life on Mars is woven into a much larger thatch of mysteries. Among them: What happened to the ancient ocean that once covered a quarter of the planet's surface? And, relatedly, what made Mars's magnetosphere fade away? Why did a planet that may have looked something like Earth turn into a dry red husk? “We see magnetized rocks on the Mars surface,” said Bruce Banerdt, the principal investigator of the InSight mission to Mars, which is set to launch in March. “And so we know Mars had a magnetic field at one time, but it doesn't today. We would like to know the history—when that magnetic field started, when it may have shut down.”
Mars

The Case For Going To Phobos Before Going To Mars 150

MarkWhittington writes: The current NASA thinking concerning the Journey to Mars program envisions a visit to the Martian moon Phobos in the early 2030s before attempting a landing on the Martian surface in the late 2030s, as Popular Mechanics noted. The idea of a practice run that takes astronauts almost but not quite to Mars is similar to what the space agency did during the 1960s Apollo program. Apollo 8 and Apollo 10 each orbited the moon but did not land on it before the Apollo 11 mission went all the way to the lunar surface, fulfilling President John. F. Kennedy's challenge.
Mars

Mars Mission: How Hard? NASA Astronauts Weigh In 41

astroengine writes: In an interesting interview with Discovery News, retired NASA astronauts Clay Anderson (Expedition 15/16) and Steve Swanson (Expedition 39/40) discussed their views on how the US space agency should select the first Mars-bound astronauts — a mission that is slated to commence in the late 2020's. While Swanson thinks that the current NASA astronaut selection process should suffice for a long-duration foray to the Red Planet, Anderson isn't so sure, saying, "(Mars) doesn't require a jet fighter pilot. It doesn't require a Ph.D. astronaut — although those people would be just fine, but I think that it's going to take people that are very good generalists, that can do many things." As depicted in the upcoming Matt Damon movie, "The Martian," Mark Watney (Damon) is thrown into an unexpected, life-threatening situation, requiring him to use his general skill set to survive on the barren landscape until he's rescued. As the first manned missions to Mars will likely throw unforeseen challenges at the explorers, it will probably be a good idea to have a crew that are adept at thinking on the fly and skilled in many different areas rather than being a specialist in one.
Mars

How Can NASA's Road To Mars Be Made More Affordable? 211

MarkWhittington writes: The Houston Chronicle's Eric Berger published a piece that touched on one of the most vexing issues surrounding NASA's "road to Mars," that being that of cost. How does one design a deep space exploration program that "the nation can afford," to coin a phrase uttered by the old NASA hand interviewed for the article? The phrase is somewhat misleading since one of the truisms of federal budgeting is that the nation can afford quite a bit. A more accurate phrase might be, "that the nation is willing to spend."
NASA

What Ridley Scott Has To Say About the Science In "The Martian" 163

An anonymous reader writes: Sciencemag has an interview with the people behind the movie The Martian. Director Ridley Scott, author Andy Weir, and Jim Green, NASA's director of planetary science and an adviser on the film talk about the technology and the science in the movie. Scott says: "Almost immediately [after] I decided to do it, we started to have conversations with NASA about process, the habitats, the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), the suits and everything. And they sent us pictures, almost like photographs, of what they hoped it would all be. If there had been anything in [the screenplay] that actually was suspect—they are not shy—they would have said so."
Mars

Launch Manifest For NASA's "Road To Mars" Takes Shape But Questions Remain 130

MarkWhittington writes: NASASpaceFlight.com reported that NASA's so-called "Road to Mars" is starting to take shape. The deep space program that would conclude with human astronauts departing for the Red Planet in 2039 would require just over 40 launches of the heavy-lift Space Launch System, including an uncrewed flight in 2018 and one flight a year to cis-lunar space starting in 2021 lasting until 2027. A flight in 2028 would launch something called the Pathfinder Entry Descent Landing Craft to Mars as a precursor for a human landing. Then the Mars program begins in earnest with a mission to Phobos in 2033 and missions to the Martian surface in 2039 and 2043.
Mars

Let's Not Go To Mars 684

HughPickens.com writes: Ed Regis write in the NYT that today we an witnessing an outburst of enthusiasm over the literally outlandish notion that in the relatively near future, some of us are going to be living, working, thriving and dying on Mars. But unfortunately Mars mania reflects an excessively optimistic view of what it actually takes to travel to and live on Mars, papering over many of the harsh realities and bitter truths that underlie the dream. "First, there is the tedious business of getting there. Using current technology and conventional chemical rockets, a trip to Mars would be a grueling, eight- to nine-month-long nightmare for the crew," writes Regis. "Tears, sweat, urine and perhaps even solid waste will be recycled, your personal space is reduced to the size of an SUV., and you and your crewmates are floating around sideways, upside down and at other nauseating angles." According to Regis every source of interpersonal conflict, and emotional and psychological stress that we experience in ordinary, day-to-day life on Earth will be magnified exponentially by restriction to a tiny, hermetically sealed, pressure-cooker capsule hurtling through deep space and to top it off, despite these constraints, the crew must operate within an exceptionally slim margin of error with continuous threats of equipment failures, computer malfunctions, power interruptions and software glitches.

But getting there is the easy part says Regis. "Mars is a dead, cold, barren planet on which no living thing is known to have evolved, and which harbors no breathable air or oxygen, no liquid water and no sources of food, nor conditions favorable for producing any. For these and other reasons it would be accurate to call Mars a veritable hell for living things, were it not for the fact that the planet's average surface temperature is minus 81 degrees Fahrenheit." These are only a few of the many serious challenges that must be overcome before anyone can put human beings on Mars and expect them to live for more than five minutes says Regis. "The notion that we can start colonizing Mars within the next 10 years or so is an overoptimistic, delusory idea that falls just short of being a joke."
NASA

How Viking 1 Won the Martian Space Race 53

derekmead writes: NASA launched the Viking 1 spacecraft to Mars forty years ago. The probe was the first to achieve a soft landing on the planet, providing the first images and data from Mars. Politically the Viking 1 success was a huge win for the U.S. against the competing Soviet space program. Motherboard reports: "Viking 1 went on to become one of the most productive landers ever deployed on Mars, operating for 2,307 days before it finally shut down on November 13, 1982. It held the record for the longest Martian surface mission for decades, until the Opportunity rover finally beat it out in 2010 (and that little trooper is still going, by the way)."
Mars

Mars One CEO Insists, Our Mars Colonization Plan Is Feasible 147

szotz writes: Mars One CEO Bas Lansdorp has a bizarre definition of the word "plan". Last week he debated two MIT aerospace engineers who were co-authors on a report that said that astronauts would suffocate on Mars if they tried to grow their own food with existing tech. The question on the table: Is the Mars One plan feasible? And the answer seemed to be "it depends on what your definition of a plan is". The stated plan is to send the first humans to Mars for $6 billion by 2027 (twice delayed already). Lansdorp admits they probably won't stick to that schedule or that budget, but that has nothing to do with whether they're going or not. IEEE Spectrum has a write-up of the debate and a link to the MIT team's presentation. It seems the company's looking for $15 million now to fund--you guessed it--more studies.

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