Martian Dust Storm Grows Global: Curiosity Captures Photos of Thickening Haze

In June 2018 NASA’s Curiosity Rover used its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to snap photos of the intensifying haziness the surface of Mars, caused by a massive dust storm. The rover is standing inside Gale Crater looking out to the crater rim. The photos span about a couple of weeks, starting with a shot of the area before the storm appeared. (Credits: NASA)

GALE CRATER, Mars (NASA PR) — A storm of tiny dust particles has engulfed much of Mars over the last two weeks and prompted NASA’s Opportunity rover to suspend science operations. But across the planet, NASA’s Curiosity rover, which has been studying Martian soil at Gale Crater, is expected to remain largely unaffected by the dust. While Opportunity is powered by sunlight, which is blotted out by dust at its current location, Curiosity has a nuclear-powered battery that runs day and night.

The Martian dust storm has grown in size and is now officially a “planet-encircling” (or “global”) dust event.

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ESA Council Backs Lunar Gateway & Exploration, Mars Sample Return

The space station formerly known as the Deep Space Gateway (Credit: NASA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — Over the past 18 months, ESA and its Member States have gathered in a series of space exploration workshops culminating in a discussion in the ESA Council held in Paris on 13 June 2018.

The Council discussed Europe’s ambition to play a leading role in the global exploration of space based on its European Exploration Envelope Programme, (known as E3P) that was created by ESA’s ministers when they met in December 2016 in Lucerne, Switzerland.

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NASA Encounters the Perfect Storm for Science

These two views from NASA’s Curiosity rover, acquired specifically to measure the amount of dust inside Gale Crater, show that dust has increased over three days from a major Martian dust storm. The left-hand image shows a view of the east-northeast rim of Gale Crater on June 7, 2018 (Sol 2074); the right-hand image shows a view of the same feature on June 10, 2018 (Sol 2077). The images were taken by the rover’s Mastcam. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — One of the thickest dust storms ever observed on Mars has been spreading for the past week and a half. The storm has caused NASA’s Opportunity rover to suspend science operations, but also offers a window for four other spacecraft to learn from the swirling dust.

NASA has three orbiters circling the Red Planet, each equipped with special cameras and other atmospheric instruments. Additionally, NASA’s Curiosity rover has begun to see an increase in dust at its location in Gale Crater.

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New NASA Position to Focus on Exploration of Moon, Mars and Worlds Beyond

Steve Clarke (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) is taking a giant leap focusing the agency’s exploration of the Moon, Mars and our Solar System.

Effective immediately, Steve Clarke is SMD’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration. He will serve as the agency’s interface between the NASA mission directorates, the scientific community, and other external stakeholders in developing a strategy to enable an integrated approach for robotic and human exploration within NASA’s Exploration Campaign.

Clarke returns to NASA after serving as a senior policy analyst with the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President, where he was responsible for a number of important initiatives.

“Steve returns to a position ideally suited for him and the agency as we return to the Moon,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “He’ll help integrate near-term and long-term lunar exploration with science missions and other destinations, including Mars.”
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Busek Company Selected for NASA Funding to Develop Spacecraft Advanced Propulsion

Busek Company will develop advanced CubeSat propulsion and Hall Effect thrusters (HETs) with the help of NASA funding.

The space agency has selected the Massachusetts-based company for five Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 1 awards. The contracts are worth up to $125,000 apiece over 13 months.

The three proposals focused on CubeSats and small satellites include:

  • a low impulse bit electrospray thruster control system;
  • a compact high performance plasma propulsion system (CHPPPS); and,
  • an iodine-compatible photocathode for RF ion thrusters.

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NASA Finds Ancient Organic Material, Mysterious Methane on Mars

This self-portrait of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Feb. 3, 2013, plus three exposures taken on May 10, 2013. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA’s Curiosity rover has found new evidence preserved in rocks on Mars that suggests the planet could have supported ancient life, as well as new evidence in the Martian atmosphere that relates to the search for current life on the Red Planet. While not necessarily evidence of life itself, these findings are a good sign for future missions exploring the planet’s surface and subsurface.

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Paragon Developing Advanced Radiator for Inflatable Habitats

Paragon Space Development Corporation will develop a flexible radiator for inflatable habitats and an improved condenser for use on human space missions with the help of NASA funding.

The space agency has selected the Tuscon, Ariz.-based company for two contracts under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 1 program. The agreements are worth up to $125,000 apiece over 13 months.

The target market for Paragon’s Flexible Radiator (FlexRAD) is “long duration human spaceflight exploration missions and other spacecraft” that use a single loop  active thermal control system (ATCS).

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NASA to Host Live Discussion on New Mars Science Results on Thursday

This self-portrait of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Feb. 3, 2013, plus three exposures taken on May 10, 2013. (Credit: NASA)

The media and public are invited to ask questions during a live discussion at 2 p.m. EDT Thursday, June 7, on new science results from NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover. The results are embargoed by the journal Science until then.

The event will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

Michelle Thaller, assistant director of science for communications, in NASA’s Planetary Science Division will host the chat. Participants include:

  • Paul Mahaffy, director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland
  • Jen Eigenbrode, research scientist at Goddard
  • Chris Webster, senior research fellow, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
  • Ashwin Vasavada, Mars Science Laboratory project scientist, JPL

The public can send questions on social media by using #askNASA. The event can also be watched on Facebook LiveTwitch TVUstreamYouTube and Twitter/Periscope.

For information about NASA’s Curiorsity rover, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/msl

NASA CubeSats Steer Toward Mars

An artist’s rendering of the twin Mars Cube One (MarCO) spacecraft on their cruise to Mars. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA has achieved a first for the class of tiny spacecraft known as CubeSats, which are opening new access to space.

Over the past week, two CubeSats called MarCO-A and MarCO-B have been firing their propulsion systems to guide themselves toward Mars. This process, called a trajectory correction maneuver, allows a spacecraft to refine its path to Mars following launch. Both CubeSats successfully completed this maneuver; NASA’s InSight spacecraft just completed the same process on May 22.

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Planetary LEGO Blocks Take Shape in Hawaii

Planetary LEGOs (Credit: PISCES)

HILO, Hawaii (PISCES PR) — These LEGO blocks are not the familiar plastics bricks you may have pieced together as a kid or given to your children to play with. In fact, these blocks could one day form the foundations of habitats and infrastructure supporting astronauts on places like Mars, the Moon and other worlds.

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NASA Selects US Companies to Advance Space Resource Collection

WASHINGTON, May 31, 2018 (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 10 companies to conduct studies and advance technologies to collect, process and use space-based resources for missions to the Moon and Mars. NASA placed a special emphasis on encouraging the responders to find new applications for existing, terrestrial capabilities that could result in future space exploration capabilities at lower costs.

The practice of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) could increase safety and affordability of future human spaceflight missions by limiting the need to launch supplies, such as oxygen and water from Earth. NASA issued Appendix D of the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships-2 (NextSTEP) Broad Agency Announcement on Dec. 4, 2017. With it, the agency sought three areas of work focused on producing propellant and other exploration mission consumables using water from extraterrestrial soils and carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere.

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Scientists Shrink Chemistry Lab to Seek Evidence of Life on Mars

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — An international team of scientists has created a tiny chemistry lab for a rover that will drill beneath the Martian surface looking for signs of past or present life. The toaster oven-sized lab, called the Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer or MOMA, is a key instrument on the ExoMars Rover, a joint mission between the European Space Agency and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, with a significant contribution to MOMA from NASA. It will be launched toward the Red Planet in July 2020.

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NASA’s ISS Transition Report — Executive Summary

The International Space Station is featured in this image photographed by an STS-133 crew member on space shuttle Discovery. (Credit: NASA)

International Space Station Transition Report
NASA
March 30, 2018

Full Report (PDF)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 (P.L. 115-10) provided for an ISS Transition Report under section 303:

The Administrator, in coordination with the ISS management entity (as defined in section 2 of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017), ISS partners, the scientific user community, and the commercial space sector, shall develop a plan to transition in a step-wise approach from the current regime that relies heavily on NASA sponsorship to a regime where NASA could be one of many customers of a low-Earth orbit non-governmental human space flight enterprise.

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Cruz, Nelson Criticize Plan to End Direct ISS Funding in 2025

International Space Station (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Sharply conflicting opinions about the future of the International Space Station (ISS) and America’s path forward in space were on view last week in a Senate hearing room turned boxing ring.

In one corner was NASA Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenamier, representing a Trump Administration that wants to end direct federal funding for ISS in 2025 in order to pursue an aggressive campaign of sending astronauts back to the moon. NASA would maintain a presence in Earth orbit, becoming one of multiple users aboard a privatized ISS or privately-owned stations.

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Mars Needs Women — NASA Needs Everybody

Credit: American International Television

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In the 1967 film, Mars Needs Women, a team of martians invades Earth to kidnap women to help repopulate their dying species. Shot over two weeks on a minuscule budget and padded out with stock footage, the movie obtained cult status as one of those cinematic disasters that was so bad it was unintentionally hilarious.

A half century later, NASA finds itself in a not entirely dissimilar situation. Only this problem is not nearly as funny.

The space agency lacks sufficient personnel with the proper skill sets to undertake its complex missions to the moon, Mars and beyond. A number of key programs have been affected by the shortfall already.

NASA’s workforce is also aging. More than half the agency’s employees are 50 years and older, with one-fifth  currently eligible for retirement. Finding replacement workers with the right mix of skills is not always easy as NASA faces increased competition from a growing commercial space sector.

The space agency is addressing these challenges, but it’s too early to tell how successful these efforts will be, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

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