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Mars

New Images Reveal Pure Water Ice On Mars 179

Matt_dk writes "Images of recent impact craters taken by the HiRISE Camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have revealed sub-surface water ice halfway between the north pole and the equator on Mars. While the Phoenix lander imaged subsurface ice where the top layer of soil had been disturbed at the landing site near the north pole, these new images — taken in quick succession, detecting how the ice sublimated away — are the first to show evidence of water ice at much lower latitudes. Surprisingly, the white ice may be made from 99 percent pure water."
Space

White House Panel Seeks Input On Spaceflight Plans 224

Neil H. writes "The Augustine Commission, commissioned by the White House and NASA to provide an independent review of the current US human spaceflight program and potential new directions, is seeking public input on a document describing the preliminary beyond-LEO exploration scenarios they're analyzing. The destination-based scenarios, designed with NASA's current budget in mind, range from a Lunar Base (essentially NASA's current plan), to 'Mars First' (human exploration of Mars ASAP), to 'Flexible Path' (initially focused on several destinations in shallow gravity wells, such as Lagrange points, near-Earth asteroids, and the Martian moon Phobos). The Commission is also seeking input on the issues of engaging commercial spaceflight, in-space refueling, and coordinating human and robotic exploration."
Space

Successful Test of Superconducting Plasma Rocket Engine 168

xp65 writes to mention that Ad Astra has successfully tested their VX-200 plasma engine at full power in superconducting conditions, the first time such an engine has been tested at those power levels. "The VX-200 engine is the first flight-like prototype of the VASIMR® propulsion system, a new high-power plasma-based rocket, initially studied by NASA and now being developed privately by Ad Astra. VASIMR® engines could enable space operations far more efficiently than today's chemical rockets and ultimately they could also greatly speed up robotic and human transit times for missions to Mars and beyond."
Mars

Phoenix Lander Discovers Nighttime Snowfall On Mars 48

Many outlets are reporting on the recently released results of the various experiments and observations of NASA's Mars Phoenix Lander. Most notable is the discovery of nighttime snowfall on the planet, lending credibility to the idea of a hypothesized active water cycle based on earlier data collection. "The papers rely on evidence from a variety of the instruments on the lander, and the description of the data provides an impressive catalog of the various ways that Phoenix could prod and query the Martian pole. In the months before Martian winter shut the lander down, it managed to dig a dozen trenches, taking soil samples from each. These samples went into wet and dry chemistry labs, had their conductivity tested, and were even examined using an atomic force microscope. Meanwhile, cameras and a LIDAR system (a laser-based range detector) scanned the surroundings. The overall conclusion is that the northern pole has an active water cycle. This had been suggested by a variety of evidence from orbital sensors, as well early images returned from Phoenix. It's also not a huge shock, given the seasonal growth and retreat of the polar ice cap. Still, Phoenix provided some significant details on the cycling of water in the area where it landed."

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