Scheduled for November 25th, the Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity Rover will launch on an 8.5 month journey to Mars. Upon arrival, it will plummet through the atmosphere in a flying-saucer-like aeroshell and execute a most unusual landing via skycrane. Curiosity carries a dizzying array of cameras and sensors, but more importantly a high powered laser to teach Mars who is boss, and oh, maybe your name if you let it.
"...it can be predicted that male and female astronauts will engage in sexual relations during a mission to Mars." And then there are the babies....Martian babies. Sex On Mars: Pregnancy, Fetal Development, and Sex In Outer Space
The whole of Mars' surface was shaped by liquid water around four billion years ago, say scientists. Scientists with the best names possible for the job. [more inside]
Six would-be astronauts will this week begin a 520-day mock space voyage to simulate a mission to Mars. How will they cope with the huge psychological pressures? It's a project that may simulate a mission that's going nowhere.
Martian clocks and calendars have been discussed in the writings of various authors over the past one hundred years. This article recounts the history of Martian timekeeping from 1880 to 1998.
Compromise emerging for NASA's spaceflight future Since the announcement was made last month of the cancellation of Constellation (NASA's plan for returning to the Moon and Mars), the punditsphere has been ablaze with condemnation, support, and outright confusion over the future of American manned spaceflight. Keith Cowling, editor of the Nasawatch.com blog, has posted an interesting new development that if proven right, could prove to be a compromise between those wanting NASA to get out of manned spaceflight altogether and those seeking to keep the administration in the spaceflight business. [more inside]
8 Wonders of the Solar System, Made Interactive. "What might future explorers of the solar system see? Find out by taking an interactive tour through the eyes of Hugo Award-winning artist Ron Miller. Text and narration by Ed Bell." [Via]
The Forests of Mars featuring an avalanche on another planet. From the Bad Astronomy Blog. [more inside]
The Physics of Space Battles "I had a discussion recently with friends about the various depictions of space combat in science fiction movies, TV shows, and books. We have the fighter-plane engagements of Star Wars, the subdued, two-dimensional naval combat in Star Trek, the Newtonian planes of Battlestar Galactica, the staggeringly furious energy exchanges of the combat wasps in Peter Hamilton's books, and the use of antimatter rocket engines themselves as weapons in other sci-fi. But suppose we get out there, go terraform Mars, and the Martian colonists actually revolt. Or suppose we encounter hostile aliens. How would space combat actually go?"
NASA's MESSENGER team (previously: 1, 2, 3), with help from the U.S. Geological Survey, released yesterday the first global map of the planet Mercury. [more inside]
WNYC's Radiolab took a look into Orson Welles' 1938 radio production of H.G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds, which caused mass panic in the United States when listeners mistook a radio drama for actual reporting. They then explored the question of whether such hysteria could be recreated in a similar way, recounting stories from Quito, Ecuador in 1949 and Buffalo, New York in 1968. (There was one other attempt in Santiago, Chile in 1944 which is not mentioned in the Radiolab synopsis.)
The frequently excellent photo-blog The Big Picture at the Boston Globe has posted a collection of stunning and, well, alien-looking photos of the martian landscape.
Columbia Hills Flyover 2.0 - "a flyover of the Columbia Hills on Mars using data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Spirit, the Mars rover. "
1,512 high-resolution images of Mars from the viewpoint of an airplane passenger. Previous photos: 1 2 3
In the next few weeks, NASA will present President Obama with options for the near-term future of human spaceflight. A manned flight to Mars is one possibility. But if we do send astronauts to Mars, do we really need to bring them home again?
Reproduction Cycle Among Unicellular Life Forms Under the Rocks Of Mars A 9-minute claymation exploration of the various reproductive stages of the Martian peenworm, so crucial to our nuclear beer and the Martian war. [Some monster nudity, simulated stop-motion sex] [via] [more inside]
A British tabloid claims that NASA will today announce the probable presence of life on Mars. Planetary and atmospheric scientists from NASA's Mars program will address a press conference at 2PM EST, apparently about concentrated methane
plumesthat bloom and dissipate [pdf]. There was a false alarm about a similar briefing a few months ago; is this the real deal?
Martian maps and a few others in good quality PDF.
DOOM is a 3D adventure game with arcade-style elements. It was programmed for computers running
DOS Flash 10. Here's the plot: your character is a Space Marine on the planet Mars, who uses guns his fist, and even a chainsaw to kill monsters from another dimension.
Why aren't men and women becoming more alike? A husband and a stay-at-home wife in a patriarchal Botswanan clan seem to be more alike than a working couple in Denmark or France. The more Venus and Mars have equal rights and similar jobs, the more their personalities seem to diverge. International Sexuality Description Project findings.
According to Aviation Today and Universe Week, the US President has been briefed on the discovery of "something more compelling [than the confirmation of water], completing another piece of the puzzle in the search for the correct conditions for life as we know it to survive on Mars". It's not life, or evidence of past life, but it's something. Via Jasohill.
"We have water," said William Boynton of the University of Arizona, lead scientist for the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or TEGA. "We've seen evidence for this water ice before in observations by the Mars Odyssey orbiter and in disappearing chunks observed by Phoenix last month, but this is the first time Martian water has been touched and tasted."
The European Space Agency's Mars Express Probe has sent back some beautiful new high-resolution images of the Echus Chasma. More images and information can be found here.
Plate tectonics early in its history have been suggested as an explanation of Mars' unsymmetrical shape. Multiple impacts [pdf] have been proposed. Or possibly, it's the result of a single, highly energetic impact....
Fearless Fightin' Flash Fun for Friday: Robokill is a demo that recalls the overhead action of SMASH TV - though this time, you're placed in the metal shoes of a lowly salvage bot, sent to decimate your mechanical brethren who commandeered an orbital outpost. As you clear the halls for the benefit of some lazy humans, you can trade supplies and armaments with an alien merchant who mistakes you for one of Earth's fleshbags. It's a thankless job, sure, but you're supposed to be a remorseless machine...[via]
Seven minutes of terror. A short video on describing how the Phoenix probe will land at the North Pole of Mars on May 25th. Follow updates to the mission via Twitter and the blog. Previously
The "Great Filter" is a hypothetical barrier to explain why civilisations are so unlikely to progress to the point of inter-stellar colonisation that we have not encountered any in 40 years of looking. Maybe humanity has already negotiated the filter - as some massive evolutionary improbability - or perhaps it lies in our future as an almost-certain threat to our existence? We should hold our breath as we look for evidence of life on Mars.
Welcome to the decade of space robotics. Jules Verne, Europe's shiny new automated transport vehicle, docked with the International Space Station today, where Canada's Dextre is flexing her circuits after moving in last month. Meanwhile, the Cadillac of Mars rovers, JPL's humbly named Mars Science Laboratory, is prepping for a fall 2009 journey to the red planet. Are we witnessing the beginning of the symbiotic relationship between robots and humans in space?
"Google and Virgin Group today announced the launch of Virgle Inc., a jointly owned and operated venture dedicated to the establishment of a human settlement on Mars." Virgle - with their 100 year mission to boldly go where no tycoons have gone before - to Mars! Why not join their startup civilization (apply here folks), become a pioneer and live in Virgle City! But for all of you potential astronauts out there - don't look here!
A "no-return, solo mission" to Mars? The comments - 179 of them as of the time of this post - are even more interesting than the article.
The evolution of Mars imaging from orbit: Mariner 4 (1964), Mariner 6 and Mariner 7 (both 1969), Mariner 9 (1971) (all NASA), Mars 5 (1973) (USSR), Viking 1 (1975), Viking 2 (1976), Mars Global Surveyor (1996), Mars Odyssey (2001) (NASA), Mars Express (2003) (ESA), up to this spy-quality shot of an active avalanche taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (2005).
There's a slight chance that an asteroid could impact Mars at the end of this month. Usually, collisions between heavenly bodies have vanishingly small odds (a million to one, say), but the chances on this one have been steadily improving, from 350-to-1 to 75-to-1 to 25-to-1 (link to Washington Post). Scientists say that this could be comprable to the famous Tunguska blast in Siberia a hundred years ago (not to be confused with this other Tunguska blast). [more inside]
Real robot drama is happening on Mars today. Spirit, racing for her life to find shelter before winter, injured and underpowered after four years of hard labor, may have made her most significant find yet. The broken foot she's dragged behind her for the past two years unexpectedly uncovered evidence of a once-wet Mars with conditions theoretically hospitable for primitive life.
Shedding a little light on the subject The HiRise camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter provides a less mysterious look at pretty spooky place on the surface of Mars. Previously discussed in a May 25 post.
"Somewhere on the planet are ten-year-olds who, someday, will be the first people to set foot on Mars" 300 scientists and space-experts contributed to what's billed as "a realistic vision of the first Human Mission to Mars" -- Race to Mars. Discovery Channel Canada used Hollywood special effects, but for added realism rather than ray-guns and aliens. On the website, you can argue about whether they got it right. www.racetomars.ca
Russians are planning a trip to Mars, but first they want to better understand the psychological and practical issues involved with long, isolated human travel. So the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems will be locking volunteers into a small, closed system for ~500 days. The ESA is collaborating on the so-called Mars500 project. There is a current call out for volunteers which is open until the end of this month. [more inside]
NASA's Phoenix probe launched Saturday from Cape Canaveral, destination Mars. Its mission is to investigate polar ice. This probe is unique for a couple of reasons: first, it will face a traditional parachute-and-retro-rockets landing, unlike previous endeavors. Second, it will be landing far north of any previous mission. Previous Mars missions have had mixed success, with only about half successfully making it to their destination. It is scheduled to land in May, 2008.
Mars and Beyond - 50 years ago, this animated episode of Tomorrowland aired on Disneyland a few months after the launch of Sputnik - an entertaining melange of astronomy, sci-fi, pop culture, science, speculation, and surreality. Walt himself and Wernher von Braun make guest appearances and clip 5 is particularly trippy. (Parts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
Black hole mystery on Mars If a future earth ever needs a place to send convicts, the high-resolution camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter may have found it a few nights back. (via crikey.com.au)
ESA's Rosetta probe just flew by Mars en route to a deep space rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. During the 200 km close flyby, the Rosetta's Philae Lander camera got this lovely view of the craft's solar panel backdropped by the Martian arc, plus an animation of the moon Phobos' shadow on the Martian surface, and more lovely Mars imagery.
The Quest for Life. And while you're at it, play out the life of an astronaut on this simulated mission. Do you have the right stuff to succeed and survive?
The government of Canada has just turned down a request that would have seen Canada build the European Space Agency's Mars Rover, even though no additional funding was required. Saying it hasn't made up it's mind about the future of Canada's space role, the government has also let the position of president of the Canadian Space Agency remain vacant for more than a year (after Marc Garneau resigned to run for the Liberal party. The decision has left the ESA scrambling to find a new partner and already has some wondering whether the uncertainty will lead to another Avro Arrow-esque brain drain.