Posts Tagged ‘NASA’
NASA scientists say tests on a Mars rock show the planet could have supported primitive life.
At a briefing at NASA’s Washington headquarters on Tuesday, NASA scientist said that an analysis of a Mars rock sample by the Curiosity rover had unveiled minerals, including hydrogen, carbon and oxygen, that are the building blocks of life…
“A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Programme. “From what we know now, the answer is yes…”
The rock sample was drilled from a sedimentary bedrock sample and found to contain clay minerals, sulfate minerals and other chemicals.
Based on the analysis of those chemicals, researchers were able to determine that the water that helped form the rocks were of a relatively neutral pH.
“We have found a habitable environment that is so benign and supportive of life, that probably if this water was around and you had been there, you would have been able to drink it,” said John Grotzinger, Curiosity project scientist from the California Institute of Technology.
Yes, that does give you a lot to think about. Could there have been a civilization on Mars that succeeded in destroying the ecology – and themselves? Worth reflecting on given the quality of politicians our own species is saddled with.
Watch this at 1080p full screen. Fascinating. The time elapsed is 21 hours.
2012 saw a number of significant milestones in star gazing and space exploration. NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity touched down on the Red Planet in spectacular fashion, super-Earth’s were discovered, the Moon pounded and Voyager 1 edged ever closer towards interstellar space and we saw more of the universe around us than ever before.
As the calendar rolls over, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has put together an album of its top images for 2012. We’ve also picked our NASA favorites, highlighting some of the fascinating discoveries and incredible imagery captured in the skies above during the last twelve months.
Head to our gallery to see the full selection.
Lovely views, wonderful collection of humans exploring and learning.
NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) ion engine has set a new world record by clocking up 43,000 hours of continuous operation at NASA’s Glenn Research Center’s Electric Propulsion Laboratory. The seven-kilowatt thruster is intended to propel future NASA deep space probes on missions where chemical rockets aren’t a practical option.
Ion propulsion has come a long way from the 1960s when it was an engineering curiosity with a cool Star Trek name. Instead of burning fuel, an ion thruster gets its electrical power from solar panels or a nuclear power source. It uses this electricity to ionize molecules (in NEXT’s case, xenon) and then a cathode to accelerate them electrostatically. As the molecules shoot out the back of the engine, they create thrust.
That sounds simple, but the amount of thrust is tiny – about the equivalent of the weight of a coin resting on a table. Where the ion thruster has it over chemical rockets is, firstly, in terms of efficiency – ion thrusters are 10 to 12 times as fuel efficient as chemical rockets. Secondly, an ion thruster can run for a much longer period of time. Where chemical rockets burn for minutes, ion thrusters can burn for thousands of hours, which allows that tiny amount of thrust to build up into speeds needed for deep space missions…
Its current record of 43,000 hours is the equivalent of nearly five years of continuous operation while consuming only 770 kg of xenon propellant. The NEXT engine would provide 30 million-newton-seconds of total impulse to a spacecraft. What this means in simple terms is that the NEXT engine can make a spacecraft go (eventually) very far and very fast.
The nicest thing about a constant rate of acceleration is that even a little bit over a very long period of time gets you traveling unbelievably fast.
John Lane looks over data recorded from his laser system
A physicist and researcher who set out to develop a formula to protect Apollo sites on the moon from rocket exhaust may have happened upon a way to improve weather forecasting on Earth.
Working in his backyard during rain showers and storms, John Lane, a physicist at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, found that the laser and reflector he was developing to track lunar dust also could determine accurately the size of raindrops, something weather radar and other meteorological systems estimate, but don’t measure.
The special quantity measured by the laser system is called the “second moment of the size distribution,” which results in the average cross-section area of raindrops passing through the laser beam.
“It’s not often that you’re studying lunar dust and it ends up producing benefits in weather forecasting,” said Phil Metzger, a physicist who leads the Granular Mechanics and Regolith Operations Lab, part of the Surface Systems Office at Kennedy.
Lane said the additional piece of information would be useful in filling out the complex computer calculations used to determine the current conditions and forecast the weather…
The breakthrough came because Metzger and Lane were looking for a way to calibrate a laser sensor to pick up the fine particles of blowing lunar dust and soil. It turns out that rain is a good stand-in for flying lunar soil…
“The Apollo sites have value scientifically and from an engineering perspective because they are a record of how these materials on the moon have interacted with the solar system over 40 years,” Metzger said. “They are witness plates to the environment…”
As research continues into the laser sensor, Lane expects the work to continue on the weather forecasting side of the equation, too. Lane already presented some of his findings at a meteorological conference and is working on a research paper to detail the work. “This is one of those topics that span a lot of areas of science,” Lane said.
I probably should add the old economics phrase to my list of categories – “unintended consequences”. It functions as often and as well in general science.
NASA is looking for new ideas on what to do with two space telescopes left over from a once-secret U.S. spy satellite program.
The U.S. space agency asked the scientific community on Tuesday for its input into possible missions for a pair of space telescopes donated last year to NASA by the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates the nation’s spy satellites…
Topping the list of existing proposals is to use one telescope for a mission to learn more about an anti-gravity force known as “dark energy,” which is believed to be responsible for speeding up the universe’s rate of expansion…
The National Academy of Sciences has made that mission, known as the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, its top choice for an astrophysics space mission for the next decade.
NASA estimates the WFIRST mission would cost $1.5 billion to $2 billion, but it cannot begin a major new astrophysics project until spending winds down on the over-budget and delayed James Webb Space Telescope, which is a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope and is scheduled for launch in 2018.
Another option is to pair the WFIRST mission with a new initiative to view Earth-sized planets beyond the solar system, said Princeton University researcher David Spergel, who organized a workshop for scientists in September to discuss telescope proposals.
The extra-solar planet hunter also could be a stand-alone mission.
Another idea is to use one of the telescopes to study how the sun affects Earth’s magnetic field…
Too bad the red tape-rules of the transfer of ownership prohibit these being used to observe Earth. Bet we could sell them to Google or Apple.
NASA’s Hurricane Severe Storm Sentinel Mission, or HS3, will be studying hurricanes at the end of the summer, and there will be two high-altitude, long-duration unmanned aircraft with different instruments flying over the storms.
The unmanned aircraft, dubbed “severe storm sentinels,” are operated by pilots located in ground control stations at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops, Va., and NASA’s Dryden Flight Center on Edwards Air Base, Calif. The NASA Global Hawk is well-suited for hurricane investigations because it can over-fly hurricanes at altitudes greater than 60,000 feet with flight durations of up to 28 hours.
Using unmanned aircraft has many advantages. Hurricanes present an extreme environment that is difficult to sample. They cover thousands of square miles in area, and can also extend up to 50,000 feet in altitude. Second, they involve very high winds, turbulence and heavy precipitation. Third, ground conditions (high winds that create heavy seas or blowing material) make surface observations difficult.
“Several NASA centers are joining federal and university partners in the Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) airborne mission targeted to investigate the processes that underlie hurricane formation and intensity change in the Atlantic Ocean basin,” said Scott Braun, principal investigator for the HS3 Mission and research meteorologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
Two NASA Global Hawks that will be flying during the HS3 mission. Each will have different payloads, or collections of instruments onboard. Necessary observations are winds, temperature, humidity (water), precipitation, and aerosol (particle) profiles from the surface to the lower stratosphere…
Both Global Hawks will be flying out of NASA Wallops Flight Facility in September, the peak month for the Atlantic Hurricane Season.
RTFA for details on payloads and flight plans. Not only interesting stuff; but, a delight to see a peacetime use for craft generally dedicated to death and destruction.
NASA has committed $1.1 billion over the next 21 months to support spaceship development efforts by the Boeing Co., SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corp., with the aim of having American astronauts flying once more on American spacecraft within five years.
…Today NASA laid out the details, including the outlays for each of the teams involved. The space agency is setting aside $460 million for Boeing, $440 million for SpaceX and $212.5 million for Sierra Nevada.
The next phase of NASA’s commercial spaceflight effort — known as Commercial Crew Integrated Capability, or CCiCap — calls for these three companies to take their design and testing program through a series of milestones by May 2014. Optional milestones could lead to crewed demonstration flights in later years.
NASA wants to have at least one commercial space taxi carrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station by 2017. The three companies say they can meet or beat that schedule, provided that they continue to receive NASA support…
The three companies say their spacecraft will be capable of flying seven astronauts to the space station, at a per-seat cost that’s less than what NASA is paying the Russians…
NASA says the reliance on commercial transport to low Earth orbit would free up the space agency to concentrate on exploration beyond Earth orbit.
RTFA for details on each program – as well as proposals that didn’t make it at this stage; but, just may be worth considering.
Our species is bound and determined to get off this planet. Somehow.