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  • Could We Abort a Manned Mission To Mars?

    StartsWithABang writes: The next great leap in human spaceflight is a manned mission to a world within our Solar System: most likely Mars. But if something went wrong along the journey — at launch, close to Earth, or en route — whether biological or mechanical, would there be any way to return to Earth? This article is a fun (and sobering) look at what the limits of physics and technology allow at present. If you're interested in a hard sci-fi, near-future look at how a catastrophic Mars mission might go, you should read an excellent novel called The Martian by Andy Weir.

    255 comments | 3 days ago

  • China Eager To Send Its Own Mission To Mars In the Wake of Mangalyaan

    MarkWhittington writes The recent arrival into Mars orbit of both NASA's MAVEN and India's Mangalyaan Mars Orbiter Mission has not escaped the notice of China. The achievement of its Asian rival has especially proven galling to the Chinese. China has yet to successfully send a space probe beyond the moon. The development has elicited calls in Beijing to accelerate China's Mars program. China currently plans to send a rover to Mars in 2020 and, perhaps, do a Mars sample return mission in 2030. However, it feels that India, which China regards as its rival in an Asian space race, has stolen the spotlight and has left the Chinese behind. China is now keen to try to play catchup with its own Mars mission. One of the hold ups for a Chinese interplanetary exploration program is the delays surrounding the development of the Long March 5 rocket, which will be roughly the equivalent of the America Delta IV in its capabilities. The Chinese launch vehicle unveiling has slipped to at least 2015 because of the technological challenges it faces. The Long March 5 is also needed to launch the 20 ton modules of the Chinese space station, currently planned for later this decade.

    84 comments | 4 days ago

  • Indian Mars Mission Beams Back First Photographs

    astroengine writes India's Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) got straight to work as it closed in on Martian orbit on Tuesday — it began taking photographs of the Red Planet and its atmosphere and surface as it slowed down to reach its ultimate destination. After a two day wait, those first images are slowly trickling onto the Internet.

    112 comments | 5 days ago

  • Why India's Mars Probe Was So Cheap

    schwit1 (797399) writes "Alan Boyle has some interesting thoughts on why it cost India so little, less than the budget of the movie Gravity, to build and send its probe Mangalyaan to Mars: 'The $74 million Mars Orbiter Mission, also known by the acronym MOM or the Hindi word Mangalyaan ("Mars-Craft"), didn't just cost less than the $100 million Hollywood blockbuster starring Sandra Bullock. The price tag is a mere one-ninth of the cost of NASA's $671 million Maven mission, which also put its spacecraft into Mars orbit this week. The differential definitely hints at a new paradigm for space exploration — one that's taking hold not only in Bangalore, but around the world. At the same time, it hints at the dramatically different objectives for MOM and Maven, and the dramatically different environments in which those missions took shape.' Read it all. It gives us a hint at the future of space exploration.

    200 comments | 5 days ago

  • Mangalyaan Successfully Put Into Mars Orbit

    knwny writes: India's Mars satellite Mangalyaan was successfully placed into orbit around Mars early on Wednesday following a 10-month journey from Earth. India thus joins the U.S., the European Space Agency and the former Soviet Union in having successfully completed a Mars mission. It is, however, the only one to have done so on the first attempt. Headed by the Indian space agency ISRO, Mangalyaan was made in 15 months at a cost of just around 74 million USD — the cheapest inter-planetary mission ever to be undertaken.

    173 comments | about a week ago

  • Elon Musk Hints 1st Person To Mars May Go Via New Brownsville Spaceport

    MarkWhittington writes If SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has his way, the first astronaut to set foot on Mars may begin his or her journey from the new commercial spaceport being built at Boca Chica Beach, just outside Brownsville, Texas. The Texas Tribune reported on Monday that Musk made the suggestion at the ground breaking ceremony of the commercial spaceport. The ceremony was also attended by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and various other Texas politicians and dignitaries, Musk's desire to establish a Mars colony and even retire to the Red Planet himself is not a secret.

    91 comments | about a week ago

  • Update: Mangalyaan's Main Engine Test Fired, Maven In Orbit

    William Robinson writes Before the spacecraft is scheduled to enter Mars orbit, Indian Space Research Organization (Isro) scientists reignited the Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft's main engine for four seconds as a trial. The liquid apogee motor (LAM) engine has been idle for about 300 days since the spacecraft left the Earth's orbit on a Martian trajectory on December 1, 2013. The short-duration test was to ensure that the engine is in good shape for the 24-minute crucial maneuver on Wednesday." In other Mars mission updates, NASA's Maven spacecraft arrived at Mars late Sunday after a 442 million-mile journey that began nearly a year ago.

    25 comments | about a week ago

  • 2 Mars Missions Set For Arrival, Both Prepare for Orbital Maneuvers

    As reported by the BBC, NASA's Maven Mars orbiter has nearly reached the red planet, and will undergo a 33-minute rocket burn to slow its course. Monday's big manoeuvre on Maven's engines will place the satellite in a high, elliptical, 35-hour orbit around the planet. Confirmation of capture should be received on Earth shortly after 0220 GMT (2220 EDT Sunday; 0320 BST). "We should have a preliminary answer within just a few minutes after the end of the burn," said [principal investigator professor Bruce] Jakosky. In the coming weeks, engineers will then work to bring Maven into a regular 4.5-hour, operational orbit that takes the probe as close as 150km to Mars but also sends it out to 6,200km. India's first mission to Mars faces a critical test as it does a similar maneuver -- firing of a rocket to slow its travel as it approaches Mars orbit.

    65 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Indian Mars Mission Has Completed 95% of Its Journey Without a Hitch

    First time accepted submitter rinka writes India's Mars Orbiter Mission, known as Mangalyaan, has made some progress since we last discussed it. The mission is on target and has completed 95% of its journey. It will reach its destination before the end of the month. Scientists will undertake a "challenging task" on September 24 when they will restart the onboard liquid engine, which has been in sleep mode for nearly ten months, for a critical maneuver of the spacecraft.

    117 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Curiosity Rover Arrives At Long-Term Destination

    When NASA's Curiosity rover landed on Mars, the mission team had a particular destination in mind: Mount Sharp. Just over two years and about nine kilometers of driving later, Curiosity has arrived at Mount Sharp. It will now begin its ascent of the mountain (PDF), first analyzing basal rocks with a "paintbrush" texture, then moving further to observe hematite-bearing rocks further up the slope. It will then proceed into an area laden with clay-bearing rocks, and finally to the upper reaches of the foothills, which contain rocks with magnesium sulfate in them. The team has selected routes and driving modes that they hope will slow the steadily accumulating damage to the rover's wheels.

    33 comments | about three weeks ago

  • SpaceX and Boeing Battle For US Manned Spaceflight Contracts

    An anonymous reader writes: $3 billion in funding is on the line as private space companies duke it out for contracts to end U.S. reliance on Russian rockets for manned spaceflight. The two biggest contenders are SpaceX and Boeing, described as "the exciting choice" and "the safe choice," respectively. "NASA is charting a new direction 45 years after sending humans to the Moon, looking to private industry for missions near Earth, such as commuting to and from the space station. Commercial operators would develop space tourism while the space agency focuses on distant trips to Mars or asteroids." It's possible the contracts would be split, giving some tasks to each company. It's also possible that the much smaller Sierra Nevada Corp. could grab a bit of government funding as well for launches using its unique winged-shuttle design.

    123 comments | about three weeks ago

  • NASA Panel Finds Fault WIth Curiosity Rover Project's Focus

    The Curiosity Rover that's been exploring the surface of Mars for more than two years now has a lot of fans (and quite a few headlines here on Slashdot), but not everyone feels positively toward the project. Tech Times reports that NASA revealed on Wednesday that it has renewed the funding of seven ongoing planetary exploration missions but of these, the space agency's Planetary Mission Senior Review panel, which reviewed and rated these planetary missions, was particularly critical of the Curiosity, which also happens to be the newest and the second costliest of the seven missions. The panel is disappointed that given the capabilities of the Curiosity rover, the team behind it only intends to take and analyze eight samples in two years, which translates to two samples from each of the four units it will visit during its extended mission. The Curiosity is the only NASA tool with the capabilities to detect carbon, do in situ age analysis, and measure ionizing particle flux.

    51 comments | about three weeks ago

  • Reformatting a Machine 125 Million Miles Away

    An anonymous reader writes: NASA's Opportunity rover has been rolling around the surface of Mars for over 10 years. It's still performing scientific observations, but the mission team has been dealing with a problem: the rover keeps rebooting. It's happened a dozen times this month, and the process is a bit more involved than rebooting a typical computer. It takes a day or two to get back into operation every time. To try and fix this, the Opportunity team is planning a tricky operation: reformatting the flash memory from 125 million miles away. "Preparations include downloading to Earth all useful data remaining in the flash memory and switching the rover to an operating mode that does not use flash memory. Also, the team is restructuring the rover's communication sessions to use a slower data rate, which may add resilience in case of a reset during these preparations." The team suspects some of the flash memory cells are simply wearing out. The reformat operation is scheduled for some time in September.

    155 comments | about 1 month ago

  • Mangalyaan Gets Ready To Enter Mars Orbit

    William Robinson (875390) writes India's Mars Orbiter Mission, known as Mangalyaan is now at a distance of just nine million kilometres from the red planet, and is scheduled to enter the orbit of Mars at 7.30 am on September 24. Mangalyaan was launched on 5th November 2013 by ISRO, presently busy planning to reduce the speed of the spacecraft through the process of firing the LAM engine and bring it to 1.6 km/sec, before it is captured by the planet's gravity. Eventually, the mission's official updates page should catch up.

    67 comments | about a month ago

  • NASA's Space Launch System Searches For a Mission

    schwit1 writes: Managers of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) are searching for a mission that they can propose and convince Congress to fund. "Once SLS is into the 2020s, the launch rate should see the rocket launching at least once per year, ramping up to a projected three times per year for the eventual Mars missions. However, the latter won’t be until the 2030s. With no missions manifested past the EM-2 flight, the undesirable question of just how 'slow' a launch rate would be viable for SLS and her workforce has now been asked." Meanwhile, two more Russian rocket engines were delivered yesterday, the first time that's happened since a Russian official threatened to cut off the supply. Another shipment of three engines is expected later this year. In Europe, Arianespace and the European Space Agency signed a contract today for the Ariane 5 rocket to launch 12 more of Europe’s Galileo GPS satellites on three launches. This situation really reminds me of the U.S. launch market in the 1990s, when Boeing and Lockheed Martin decided that, rather than compete with Russia and ESA for the launch market, they instead decided to rely entirely on U.S. government contracts, since those contracts didn’t really demand that they reduce their costs significantly to compete.

    53 comments | about a month ago

  • The 2014 Hugo Awards

    Dave Knott writes: WorldCon 2014 wrapped up in London this last weekend and this year's Hugo Award winners were announced. Notable award winners include:

    Best Novel: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
    Best Novelette: "The Lady Astronaut of Mars" by Mary Robinette Kowal
    Best Novella: "Equoid" by Charles Stross
    Best Short Story: "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere" by John Chu
    Best Graphic Story: "Time" by Randall Munroe
    Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): Gravity written by Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón, directed by Alfonso Cuarón
    Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): Game of Thrones: "The Rains of Castamere" written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter

    The results of this year's awards were awaited with some some trepidation in the SF community, due to well-documented attempts by some controversial authors to game the voting system. These tactics appear to have been largely unsuccessful, as this is the fourth major award for the Leckie novel, which had already won the 2013 BSFA, 2013 Nebula and 2014 Clarke awards.

    180 comments | about a month ago

  • Wheel Damage Adding Up Quickly For Mars Rover Curiosity

    An anonymous reader writes: The folks in charge of the Mars rover Curiosity have been trying to solve an increasingly urgent problem: what to do about unexpected wheel damage. The team knew from the start that wear and tear on the wheels would slowly accumulate, but they've been surprised at how quickly the wheels have degraded over the past year. Emily Lakdawalla at the Planetary Society blog has posted a detailed report on the team's conclusions as to what's causing the damage and how they can mitigate it going forward. Quoting: "The tears result from fatigue. You know how if you bend a metal paper clip back and forth repeatedly, it eventually snaps? Well, when the wheels are driving over a very hard rock surface — one with no sand — the thin skin of the wheels repeatedly bends. The wheels were designed to bend quite a lot, and return to their original shape. But the repeated bending and straightening is fatiguing the skin, causing it to fracture in a brittle way. The bending doesn't happen (or doesn't happen as much) if the ground gives way under the rover's weight, as it does if it's got the slightest coating of sand on top of rock. It only happens when the ground is utterly impervious to the rover's weight — hard bedrock. The stresses from metal fatigue are highest near the tips of the chevron features, and indeed a lot of tears seem to initiate close to the chevron features."

    162 comments | about a month ago

  • Modular Hive Homes Win Mars Base Design Competition

    In June, we discussed news that JPL and MakerBot were teaming up to host a competition for designing a futuristic Mars base. The competition is now over, and the top three designs have been chosen. First place went to Noah Hornberger, who designed a base with hexagonal rooms and shielding made of depleted uranium. Second place went to a martian pyramid with an aquaponics system on top, mirror-based solar collectors, central water storage, and compartmentalized living spaces. The third place award went to Chris Starr for his Mars Acropolis, which was styled upon the ancient Greek Acropolis. It has a water tower at the top of the structure, a series of greenhouses at the bottom, and living quarters in between. The full list of 227 entries is browse-able on Thingiverse.

    61 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • Interviews: James Cameron and John Bruno Answer Your Questions

    Last week you had the chance to pose questions to James Cameron and director John Bruno about their film, Deepsea Challenge 3D. We included some of those questions when we sat down with them to talk about the submersible and the movie. Below you'll find that conversation.

    24 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • NASA Releases Footage of "Flying Saucer" Braking Test, Declares Success

    According to the AP, in a story carried by the San Jose Mercury News, NASA engineers insisted Friday that a test of a vehicle they hope to one day use on Mars achieved most of its objectives, despite a parachute that virtually disintegrated the moment it deployed. The engineers laid out at a news conference what they've learned in the six weeks since the $150 million high-altitude test of a vehicle that's designed to bring spacecraft -- and eventually astronauts -- safely to Mars. Engineers said they achieved the main objective: getting a flying saucer-shaped craft to 190,000 feet above the Earth at more than four times the speed of sound under test conditions that matched the Martian atmosphere. Ars Technica has (beautiful, high-speed, high-definition) video of the test that shows the parachute tearing itself apart, as well as the many parts that went as planned.

    55 comments | about 2 months ago

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