NASA’s Mars InSight Lander to Push on Top of the ‘Mole’

NASA InSight recently moved its robotic arm closer to its digging device, called the “mole,” in preparation to push on its top, or back cap. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — After nearly a year of trying to dig into the Martian surface, the heat probe belonging to NASA’s InSight lander is about to get a push. The mission team plans to command the scoop on InSight’s robotic arm to press down on the “mole,” the mini pile driver designed to hammer itself as much as 16 feet (5 meters) down. They hope that pushing down on the mole’s top, also called the back cap, will keep it from backing out of its hole on Mars, as it did twice in recent months after nearly burying itself.

(more…)

NASA Wants Your Help Designing a Venus Rover Concept

Venus hides a wealth of information that could help us better understand Earth and exoplanets. NASA’s JPL is designing mission concepts to survive the planet’s extreme temperatures and atmospheric pressure. This image is a composite of data from NASA’s Magellan spacecraft and Pioneer Venus Orbiter. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, under a grant from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, is running a public challenge to develop an obstacle avoidance sensor for a possible future Venus rover. The “Exploring Hell: Avoiding Obstacles on a Clockwork Rover” challenge is seeking the public’s designs for a sensor that could be incorporated into the design concept.

(more…)

NASA Adds Return Sample Scientists to Mars 2020 Leadership Team

This artist’s concept depicts NASA’s Mars 2020 rover exploring and taking a core sample on the Red Planet. The mission will investigate the geology of Jezero Crater. It will acquire and store samples of the most promising rocks and soils that it encounters, setting them on the surface of Mars for a future mission to bring back samples to Earth for deeper study. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The leadership council for Mars 2020 science added two new members who represent the interests of scientists destined to handle and study the first samples from Red Planet.


PASADENA, Calif. (NASA/JPL-Caltech PR) — In the fall of 2019, the Mars 2020 rover team welcomed ten members to serve as Returned Sample Science Participating Scientists. Scheduled to launch in July 2020 as NASA’s next step in exploration of the Red Planet, the Mars 2020 mission will search for signs of past microbial life, characterizing the planet’s climate and geology, and will be the first planetary mission to collect and cache Martian rock core and dust samples. Subsequent missions, currently under consideration by NASA (in conjunction with the European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these cached samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

(more…)

NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover Arrives in Florida

On Feb. 11, 2020, Mars 2020 Assembly, Test and Launch Operations Manager David Gruel watched as members of his team loaded NASA’s next Mars rover onto an Air Force C-17 at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California. The rover was flown to Cape Canaveral, Florida, in preparation for its July launch. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s next Mars rover has arrived in Florida to begin final preparations for its launch to the Red Planet this July. Two Air Force C-17 Globemaster cargo planes carrying the Mars 2020 rover as well as the cruise stage, descent stage and Mars Helicopter  touched down at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at about 3 p.m. EST (12 p.m. PST) today, completing a 2,300-mile (3,700-kilometer) trip that began yesterday at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

(more…)

NASA Selects Four Possible Solar System Missions

Artist concept of the solar system. (Credits: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected four Discovery Program investigations to develop concept studies for new missions. Although they’re not official missions yet and some ultimately may not be chosen to move forward, the selections focus on compelling targets and science that are not covered by NASA’s active missions or recent selections. Final selections will be made next year.

(more…)

A New Tool for ‘Weighing’ Unseen Exoplanets

The NEID instrument, mounted on the 3.5-meter WIYN telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory. The NASA-NSF Exoplanet Observational Research (NN-EXPLORE) partnership funds NEID (short for NN-EXPLORE Exoplanet Investigations with Doppler spectroscopy). (Credits: NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory /KPNO/NSF/AURA)

TUCSON (NASA PR) — A new instrument funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation called NEID (pronounced “NOO-id”; sounds like “fluid”) will help scientists measure the masses of planets outside our solar system — exoplanets — by observing the gravitational pull they exert on their parent stars. That information can help reveal a planet’s composition, one critical aspect in determining its potential habitability.

NEID recently made its first observations on the WIYN 3.5-meter (11.5-foot) telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory when it studied 51 Pegasi, which in 1995 was the first Sun-like star found to host an exoplanet.

(more…)

NESSI Emerges as New Tool for Exoplanet Atmospheres

The Hale Telescope is located on Palomar Mountain in San Diego County, California. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Palomar Mountain, Calif. (NASA PR) — The darkness surrounding the Hale Telescope breaks with a sliver of blue sky as the dome begins to open, screeching with metallic, sci-fi-like sounds atop San Diego County’s Palomar Mountain. The historic observatory smells of the oil pumped in to support the bearings that make this giant telescope float ever so slightly as it moves to track the stars.

(more…)

Mars 2020 Rover Closer to Getting Name

An engineer works on attaching NASA’s Mars Helicopter to the belly of the Mars 2020 rover – which has been flipped over for that purpose – on Aug. 27, 2019, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is one step closer to having its own name after 155 students across the U.S. were chosen as semifinalists in the “Name the Rover” essay contest. Just one will be selected to win the grand prize — the exciting honor of naming the rover and an invitation to see the spacecraft launch in July 2020 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

(more…)

NASA Selects First Mode and ASU to Develop Marathon Moon Rover, Intrepid

A preliminary CAD model of Intrepid, a novel Lunar Rover being developed in support of the NASA Planetary Mission Concept Study program. (Credit: First Mode)

SEATTLE (First Mode PR) — First Mode, a system design and engineering firm, has been selected by NASA to develop a pioneering lunar mission concept with Arizona State University (ASU). The effort will be funded through NASA’s Planetary Mission Concept Study program.

(more…)

The Return to Venus and What It Means for Earth

Venus hides a wealth of information that could help us better understand Earth and exoplanets. NASA’s JPL is designing mission concepts to survive the planet’s extreme temperatures and atmospheric pressure. This image is a composite of data from NASA’s Magellan spacecraft and Pioneer Venus Orbiter. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Sue Smrekar really wants to go back to Venus. In her office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the planetary scientist displays a 30-year-old image of Venus’ surface taken by the Magellan spacecraft, a reminder of how much time has passed since an American mission orbited the planet. The image reveals a hellish landscape: a young surface with more volcanoes than any other body in the solar system, gigantic rifts, towering mountain belts and temperatures hot enough to melt lead.

(more…)

Media Meet NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover and Builders

During their only opportunity to see NASA’s next Mars rover from inside JPL’s clean room prior to its shipment to Cape Canaveral, members of the media interview the builders of the Mars 2020 mission. The image was taken inside the clean room on Dec. 27, 2019. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Members of the media walked the clean-room floor at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, on Dec. 27 to glimpse the agency’s Mars 2020 rover and speak with experts working on the mission. It was the media’s only opportunity to see the rover from inside the clean room prior to its shipment to Cape Canaveral in February.

(more…)

ESA Reports Promising Progress for ExoMars Parachutes

A series of clips from different angles and at different speeds showing parachute extraction tests using a NASA/JPL test rig powered by compressed air.  The lid of the parachute assembly is pulled along a suspended cable at high speed while the end of the assembly is fixed to a wall. When the release mechanism is activated, the parachute bag is pulled away from the parachute at the target speed, mimicking the extraction as it will be on Mars. At the highest speeds, the tests enable the extraction to take place at more than 200 km/h.

PARIS (ESA PR) — A series of ground-based tests designed to check the extraction of the ExoMars 2020 mission’s parachutes from their bags have started successfully with promising results to keep the mission on track for next year’s launch.

Landing on Mars is a high-risk endeavour with no room for error. In just six minutes, a descent module with its precious cargo cocooned inside has to slow from around 21 000 km/h at the top of the planet’s atmosphere, to a soft landing at the surface controlled by the lander’s propulsion system.

(more…)

A Warm Space Station Welcome for Cool New Hardware

Astronaut Christina Koch unloads new hardware for the Cold Atom Lab aboard the International Space Station the week of Dec. 9, 2020. (Credit: NASA)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Astronaut Christina Koch recently gave a warm welcome to a very cool arrival to the International Space Station: a new piece of hardware for the Cold Atom Lab, an experimental physics facility that chills atoms to almost absolute zero, or minus 459 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 273 degrees Celsius). That’s colder than any known place in the universe.

(more…)

University of Arizona Looks Toward Work on NASA’s Potential Asteroid-Hunting Space Telescope

Bi-static radar images of the binary asteroid 2017 YE5 from the Arecibo Observatory and the Green Bank Observatory on June 25. The observations show that the asteroid consists of two separate objects in orbit around each other. (Credit: Arecibo/GBO/NSF/NASA/JPL-Caltech)

TUCSON, Ariz. (University of Arizona PR) — The University of Arizona is spearheading work that would begin efforts to construct a space-based infrared telescope that could provide the capabilities NASA needs to search for asteroids and comets that pose impact hazards to Earth, called near-Earth objects, or NEOs.

(more…)

NASA Struggles with Shortage of Skilled Workers

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA is already hampered by a shortfall of skilled workers, a problem that will be exacerbated as the space agency gears up to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 in the Artemis program.

That is the conclusion of a new report from NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). The review identified attracting and retaining a highly-skilled workforce as one of the space agency’s seven biggest management and performance challenges. [Full Report]

(more…)