Mars

21 Martian Years of Discovery

Source:  NASA

Source: NASA

40 Earth years ago (or 21 Martian years, since a Martian year lasts 687 Earth days), we landed our first probe on Mars.  Basically, this was NASA's way of telling the world "the Moon landing wasn't enough".  These weren't just wimpy probes that crashed into the planet without doing any science ... they did work!

A large chunk of today's common knowledge about Mars came from these probes with their 70s fashion and style. According to NASA:

"NASA's Viking 1 and 2 missions to Mars, each consisting of an orbiter and a lander, became the first space probes to obtain high resolution images of the Martian surface; characterize the structure and composition of the atmosphere and surface; and conduct on-the-spot biological tests for life on another planet. Viking provided the first measurements of the atmosphere and surface of Mars. "

For more info, check out the 40th (and 21st) anniversary video below!

MAVEN, Mars and Bumper Cars

This week, NASA launched a  new mission to investigate the red planet. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission will orbit Mars and study the upper atmosphere.  The theory is that Mars used to have a thick atmosphere and liquid water, and this was removed by the Sun's solar activity.  

Getting to Mars is not easy. Think about the most awesome night of bumper cars you've ever had. You're slamming into folks left and right because you're predicting where they are going to be seconds from now.  Now, let's see you needed to know where a bumper car would be a minute from now.  Or a month. Or 10 months.

Bumper Cars

 Both Earth and Mars are traveling in elliptical orbits, at diferent speeds, around the sun.  So MAVEN has to be launched from a moving earth and predict where Mars is going to be 10 months later when the craft arrives. Even the closest distance between Mars and Earth (the opposition) changes - it can be anywhere from 33.9 from 62.7 million miles until 2020. 

Image credit: Universe Today

Image credit: Universe Today

Once you predict where Mars is gonna be, you can't just travel in a straight line. The most optimal path often involves changing your direction ever so slightly to take advantage of both the Earth's gravitational pull and that of Mars. To that end, MAVEN has five trajectory correction maneuvers (TCMs) that use tiny bits of a fuel to change the direction of the spacecraft ever so slightly.  

Check out more about MAVEN by reading the following documents:

 - MAVEN Fact Sheet

 - MAVEN Frequently Asked Questions

 - University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP)

 

NASA Shut Down, But We Still Celebrate 55 Years

(Editors Note: Most of the NASA links are inactive because of the government shutdown. Yay Congress.) 

In the midst of the Cold War, the US government created NASA in 1958 to gain an edge in space exploration. It was partially a defensive move agains the Soviet launch of the first Earth satellite, Sputnik, in 1957.  NASA superseded the existing National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which was formed in 1915 to pursue aeronautical research.

In the past 55 years, NASA has grown beyond its iniitial goals to be part of a global initative in support of space travel and harnessing its benefits for Earth. Check out the following infographic to get a sense of accomplishments as well as future endeavours. My hope is that this blog will be around long enough to cover each of the "things to come"! For more info, click on the infographic or visit this site.

 

Some more detail is available on NASA's site:

We’ve sent 12 humans to walk and work on the moon, sent four rovers and four landers to explore Mars and sentVoyager into interstellar space.
We’ve studied our home planet, every other planet in the solar system, and the sun at the center of it all.
We’ve peered deep into the distant past of the universe with Great Observatories like HubbleSpitzer and Chandra.
We’ve built an International Space Station larger than a five-bedroom house and sent humans to live and work off the planet continuously since November 2000. 
We've flown 30 years of space shuttle missions to launch and repair Hubble, build the space station and perform science in Earth orbit.
We've developed experimental aircraft and tested technologies that make today's airplanes safer and greener
We’ve produced hundreds of innovations that enable current and future NASA missions and improve the daily lives of everyone on Earth, from life-saving medical technologies to advances in telecommunications, weather forecasting, robotics and emergency response.
There’s way too much to list it all … and we’re not done yet.
We plan to land humans on Mars in the 2030s. We're getting set to send MAVEN to Mars and OSIRIS-REx to an asteroid, and we'll be watching as Juno arrives at Jupiter and New Horizons arrives at Pluto. We’ll launch the James Webb Space Telescopeto follow Hubble in the quest to understand our universe, looking all the way back to the first luminous glows after the Big Bang.   We’ll continue looking at the home planet from our unique perspective in space, improving air travel and developing cutting-edge technologies for the benefit of all mankind.

A Curious Year for NASA

Curiosity Rover's First Anniversary  (201308060002HQ)

When you think about government accomplishments in the past year, many of NASA's achievements get overlooked. As entertaining as constant partisan deadlock between the legislative and executive branches can be, let's not forget about our tech success! Despite the end of the space shuttle program, NASA has been steadily moving toward exploring space.

This week marks a year since NASA landed the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars. You can check out the multiple posts that I did last year on the "7 minutes of terror" landing process here. For some new media, relive the landing with the crew in the following 4 minute video from NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) site. And yes, that is Mohawk guy (MSL systems engineer Bobak Ferdowsi) front and center.

A longer, in depth video celebration by NASA is below. It clocks in at about an hour.

Science During Inauguration Weekend

rover obama.jpg

Presidents and science have been a fantastic combination over the years. As I mentioned in a previous post, presidents have served as scientific proponents by helping to pass laws as well as speak publicly on the importance of science education for our country and the world.

The Obama inauguration festivities continue this trend by including a life size model of the Curiosity rover in the post-inauguration parade. In addition, there will be a model of NASA's Orion capsule which is being built for longer space travel.  Astronauts, engineers and scientists involved with both projects will also be in the parade.

For a cool set of images of NASA's parade stuff, check out the NASA Flickr photo album!

I'm very excited that science is being prominently featured in one of the largest American celebrations . Now if only I can decide if I'm actually heading down to the madness that will be DC this weekend ...

Source: NASA