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NASA unveils plans for a new rover: Mars 2020

mars_2020_rover

The US space agency today revealed plans for a new rover: Mars 2020.

The rover "will carry seven carefully-selected instruments to conduct unprecedented science and exploration technology investigations on the Red Planet," NASA announced.

Designing, launching, and landing a rover that can withstand the rigors of space travel and the brutal challenges of the Red Planet's surface is no big deal for JPL engineers. But how they'll pull it off by 2020 with the currently projected federal space budget is anyone's guess.

May we suggest Kickstarter?

From the official press release:

NASA announced the selected Mars 2020 rover instruments Thursday at the agency's headquarters in Washington. Managers made the selections out of 58 proposals received in January from researchers and engineers worldwide. Proposals received were twice the usual number submitted for instrument competitions in the recent past. This is an indicator of the extraordinary interest by the science community in the exploration of the Mars. The selected proposals have a total value of approximately $130 million for development of the instruments.

The Mars 2020 mission will be based on the design of the highly successful Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, which landed almost two years ago, and currently is operating on Mars. The new rover will carry more sophisticated, upgraded hardware and new instruments to conduct geological assessments of the rover's landing site, determine the potential habitability of the environment, and directly search for signs of ancient Martian life.

"Today we take another important step on our journey to Mars," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.” While getting to and landing on Mars is hard, Curiosity was an iconic example of how our robotic scientific explorers are paving the way for humans to pioneer Mars and beyond. Mars exploration will be this generation’s legacy, and the Mars 2020 rover will be another critical step on humans' journey to the Red Planet.

More at the NASA website.

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A billion-pixel view of Mars, from Curiosity rover


Reduced version of panorama from NASA's Mars rover Curiosity with 1.3 billion pixels in the full-resolution version. Image shows Curiosity at the "Rocknest" site where the rover scooped up samples of windblown dust and sand. Explore here. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA JPL sends word today that image processing lab specialists have assembled a billion-pixel view from the surface of Mars, from NASA's Mars rover Curiosity. The 1.3-billion-pixel image is offered with pan and zoom tools here.

It's the first NASA-produced view from the surface of Mars at this resolution, and is stitched together from close to 900 exposures taken by cameras onboard Curiosity, revealing details of the landscape along the rover's route.

Here's a "manageable" download of the full image. More from the JPL news release, below.

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Meet Curiosity rover's earthbound sibling


Photo: Glenn Fleishman

Go and check out Glenn Fleishman's fantastic set of photos from the Jet Propulsion Lab's sandbox, where the scientists get to hang out and play with one of Curiosity rover's siblings.

A four-year-old's interpretation of the Mars Curiosity Rover mission

Josh Stearns writes,

My four year old son painted this at school and told his teacher, “This is Mars. Mars is red. And there is a robot there taking pictures and sending them back to earth.”

Mars Curiosity, eat your heart out.

Mars Curiosity update, now with animated GIFs from the red planet

I'm sitting in on a NASA Jet propulsion laboratory teleconference for science journalists, with an update for the world on the Mars Curiosity rover's mission. Curiosity completes her "checkout" phase today. Including an "intermission" of 13 sols, and one remaining sol to inspect the rover's robotic arm, 26 sols have been devoted to so-called checkout duties. Today is sol 37. Rover is currently facing a Southeast direction. Temperatures on the rover are between 7 and 33 C. She has covered a little over a football field's distance on the surface of Mars. Ability to move the arm has been confirmed, and the ability of the rover to perform sampling is confirmed.

Curiosity has so far driven 109 meters from its original landing site, and engineers are driving her about 40 meters per sol. The first drilling into the surface of Mars is expected to occur about a month from now, following various surface activities (scraping rock surfaces, and so on).

Three speakers in the teleconference: Jennifer Trosper, JPL; Curiosity mission manager. Ralf Gellert, University of Guelph, in Guelph, Ontario, Canada; principal investigator for the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer instrument (or APXS) on Curiosity. Ken Edgett, Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego; principal investigator for the Mars Hand Lens Imager (or MAHLI) on Curiosity.

At the top of this blog post, the first Mars image of the day (larger size here):

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1967 JPL employment ad, remixed: now with more Mars Curiosity "Mohawk Guy"

Hahah! Boing Boing reader William Jaspers saw the 1967 ad for jobs at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory I posted yesterday, which ran in Scientific American—and with a little help from Photoshop, he updated it to feature the MSL space celeb Bobak "Mohawk Guy" Ferdowsi, who works on the Mars Curiosity team at JPL.

Now all they need is a reversal of those devastating budget cuts so JPL can hire more space-dreamers, instead of laying them off, and the vintage ad will really be true again 45 years later. Larger size here.

* Thanks again to reader fdecomite for scanning and sharing the original.

Late '60s ad for space jobs at NASA JPL

A late-1960s ad that ran in Scientific American, scanned and shared in the Boing Boing Flickr pool by fdecomite.

The look is true to Mad Men, and the copy is true to life: I bet the Mars Curiosity team say stuff like that to each other all the time.

Give that dude a mohawk—oh, and increase NASA's budget so JPL can hire, instead of lay off?—and the ad could run today.

About the cameras on Curiosity: "Taking pictures on Mars"

At the Economist, Glenn Fleishmann writes about the 17 cameras on board the Curiosity rover on Mars. That's "seven more than any previous exploratory vehicle," he writes. They "store images in a raw, unprocessed format and initially beam back tiny thumbnails (which NASA uploads as they come in). The scientists working on different aspects of the mission meet daily to determine which of the thumbnails to download in higher resolution. The 'health and safety' of the rover takes priority. After the deliberations, which can last over an hour, instructions are dispatched to Mars."

The first recorded human voice transmission from Mars

Snip from statement of Charlie Bolden, NASA Administrator, speaking via broadcast from the Curiosity Rover on the surface of Mars: "The knowledge we hope to gain from our observation and analysis of Gale Crater, will tell us much about the possibility of life on Mars as well as the past and future possibilities for our own planet. Curiosity will bring benefits to Earth and inspire a new generation of scientists and explorers, as it prepares the way for a human mission in the not too distant future."

Mars Curiosity rover: HD video of landing, and an image of her first drive

[Video Link] Above, HD video of the Mars Curiosity Rover's landing on Mars. And below, an image of her first drive. (via @tweetsoutloud)

Sending messages from Mars: Interplanetary broadband

Glenn Fleishman writes in the Economist about how Curiosity sends messages home from Mars: "NASA'S Curiosity has the fastest modem on Mars. Since its only competition is an oldish bit of kit aboard Opportunity, one of two rovers dispatched in 2003, that is not saying much, at least in terms of what internet users on Earth have learned to expect. Curiosity's ability to capture images and other data easily outstrips its capacity to beam it all back home. Nonetheless, it delivers vastly more information from the red planet than any previous mission did."

Why do NASA engineers like peanuts?

As Curiosity was landing safely on Mars, many of you noted that the Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers orchestrating the whole thing were eating an awful lot of peanuts. In fact, each workstation boasted a little commemorative jar of peanuts. Seriously, what is up with all those peanuts?

Discovery News has an answer. And it's surprisingly interesting.

Turns out, this is a JPL-specific tradition, dating back to 1964, when the lab's funding was on the line after the Ranger program—unmanned missions to photograph the Moon—weren't living up to expectations. In fact, six Ranger missions in a row had failed.

This was the heritage leading up to Ranger 7. There was talk that JPL should be shut down, that a university-affiliated center couldn’t handle a rigorous spaceflight program. There were suggestions that the program had been sabotaged -- a worker found a small polyethylene bag with 14 screws and a lock washer in one of the sealed electronic modules in Ranger 7’s television subsystem.

Just before Ranger 7 launched to the moon on July 28, mission manager Harris Schurmeier handed out peanuts to ease tensions. He figured chewing or playing with them on the table would give his team something else to focus on.

The full story is pretty neat. You can read the rest at Discovery News

Via Ed Yong

Mars Curiosity/LFMAO parody video: "We're NASA and We Know It"

[Video Link]. This parody music video debuted this week on a new YouTube channel called Satire, and mashes up LMFAO's hit “Sexy and I Know It” with the NASA Curiosity mission and abundant JPL-love.

"It comes complete with shout-outs to Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson," reports the Washington Post, which dug into the story behind its creation. Half a million views so far, huh? Best NASA PSA ever.

Mars Curiosity rover's landing: A video by one of her 3,000+ creators at NASA JPL

What a beautiful video by Mark Rober, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory: "I was able to work on NASA JPL's Curiosity Mars Rover for 7 years. This video is an attempt to capture what it felt like to have 7 years of your life vindicated in the 7 minute landing. Honestly one of the coolest moments of my life so far.

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NASA executes 350-Million-Mile interplanetary software patch on Mars space robot. What'd you do today?

This week the team at NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory finished "what amounted to a complete overhaul of the Curiosity Rover’s software," from 350 million miles away on another planet. Ben Cichy, Curiosity’s chief software engineer, explained to Wired News that the software required to help Curiosity land on the surface of Mars and the software it needs to drive around and avoid obstacles are different. The system "didn’t have enough memory to hold the software for both the landing mission and the surface mission, so the software had to be swapped out remotely after landing." The upgrade took four days, not unlike, say, Windows Server 8.

Interview with developer of 2MP cameras taking those amazing Mars photos on the Curiosity rover

As regular readers of this blog will recall, I asked a question of the Mars Curiosity team about imaging technologies during the post-landing press conference at NASA JPL a few days ago.

Related: Digital Photography Review now has an interview with the Mars rover camera project manager. Above, the 34mm (115mm equiv.) Mastcam from the Curiosity rover. This was developed by Mike Ravine and his team at Malin Space Science Systems, a contractor for NASA. Ravine explains how they developed the 2MP main imaging cameras used to transmit those breathtaking images back from Mars.

The slow data rates available for broadcasting images back to Earth and the team's familiarity with that family of sensors played a part, says [Ravine], but the biggest factor was the specifications being fixed as far back as 2004. Multi-shot panoramas will see the cameras deliver high-res images, he explains, but not the 3D movies Hollywood director James Cameron had wanted.

'There's a popular belief that projects like this are going to be very advanced but there are things that mitigate against that. These designs were proposed in 2004, and you don't get to propose one specification and then go off and develop something else. 2MP with 8GB of flash [memory] didn't sound too bad in 2004. But it doesn't compare well to what you get in an iPhone today.'

(thanks, Michael Kammes)

What time is it right now on Mars? There's a NASA app for that.

And you can download it right here, for Mac, Windows, Linux, OS/2, and other open operating systems. About:

Mars24 is a Java application which displays a Mars sunclock, a graphical representation of the planet Mars showing its current sun- and nightsides, along with a numerical readout of the time in 24-hour format. Other displays include a plot showing the relative orbital positions of Mars and Earth and a diagram showing the solar angle and path for a given location on Mars.

Created at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

And for iOS, this looks promising. Haven't tried it, and it's not a NASA product, so YMMV.

Interview with a Mars rover driver: Scott Maxwell of JPL

Photo (NASA JPL): The first two full-resolution images of the Martian surface from the Navigation cameras on NASA's Curiosity rover, which are located on the rover's "head" or mast. The rim of Gale Crater can be seen in the distance beyond the pebbly ground.


Thomas Hayden at science blog The Last Word On Nothing has a wonderful little interview with Scott Maxwell (@marsroverdriver), who works at JPL as a Mars rover driver. Coolest job ever, right?

I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Maxwell at JPL a few weeks before Curiosity touched down, when I accompanied Miles O'Brien on a shoot about MSL for PBS NewsHour. Loved him, and I love how he describes what makes his job so exhilarating:

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I drove her.  It was just a few meters along a simple path — we wouldn’t even bother to yawn at it today — but it was magic to me then, as it’s magic to me now.  I went home and should have slept, but all I could do was stare at the ceiling, in awe that right then, on Mars, there was a robot doing what I told it to do.  It was dead amazing, and that feeling has never left me and I hope it never will.

Read the rest here: SCUBA Diving through the Endless Martian Desert : The Last Word On Nothing.

Mars Curiosity image of the day: first pic by Navigation cameras includes an augmented reality tag

Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory today received and published the first photograph shot by the Navigation cameras on NASA's Curiosity rover.

It shows the shadow of the rover's now-upright mast in the center, and the arm's shadow at left. The arm itself can be seen in the foreground. The navigation camera is used to help find the sun -- information that is needed for locating, and communicating, with Earth. After the camera pointed at the sun, it turned in the opposite direction and took this picture. The position of the shadow helps confirm the sun's location. The "augmented reality" or AR tag seen in the foreground can be used in the future with smart phones to obtain more information about the mission.

(via spaceref.com. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A watch that displays time on both Earth and Mars

Looking for a gift for the NASA Mars rover flight controller in your life who has everything? Executive Jewelers makes watches that display Martian time, and watches with dual displays so you know what time it is on Mars *and* Earth, at a glance. (via @milesobrien)

Photo gallery of Mars landing scenes, on both planets

The Atlantic has a doublewide photo gallery of Associated Press photos from the night of the Mars Landing. I'm in this shot (#13). The whole gallery is a great reminder of the range of emotions and excitement you feel when you're witnessing one of these historic space events. I will never forget this night, as long as I live! And I know I'm not alone in that. If you want to know what joy looks like, click onward.

Mars Curiosity rover: NASA's John Grunsfeld and Miles O'Brien on PBS NewsHour

[Video Link] It took just minutes for Curiosity to complete her landing sequence on Mars. But the journey to that point took years of work back here on earth. The celebration of the rover's successful landing continues, and the mission itself will continue for 2 years. On this PBS NewsHour segment, Judy Woodruff talks to science correspondent Miles O'Brien and John Grunsfeld of NASA about Curiosity and the years NASA scientists spent planning the journey to Mars.

Related: From Miles' blog, "Why the Curiosity over Mars…"

What NASA fears most on Mars (image)

"Curiosity makes me very angry, very angry indeed!"

By David Silverman, of Simpsons and Tubatron fame.

Animated GIF of Mars Curiosity descent images

This animated GIF composed of descent images captured by NASA's Mars Curiosity rover as it headed towards landing is better than all the kittens on the internet combined. The video version is here. (via @nasasocial).

Mars Curiosity Rover: Boing Boing's $2.5 billion dollar question about image file types, answered by JPL

Photo: Two of the first images transmitted back by Curiosity, as seen on monitors at JPL 20 minutes after the rover landed on Mars. (Xeni Jardin)


NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was a magical place to be last night, as engineers, flight specialists, NASA administrators, space celebrities, and scientists from many fields gathered to witness the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover. Those seven minutes of terror ended in a picture-perfect landing: an amazing machine went through a crazy Rube Goldbergian descent sequence, and plopped down about two meters away from its planned destination on the Red Planet's surface.

We witnessed history. It seemed impossible. It was awesome.

I sat in on the post-landing press conference, and live-tweeted the evening at @boingboing. During the press conference, after the high-fives and screams of joy subsided, I asked MSL engineer Adam Steltzner a question about those first two all-important thumbnail images Curiosity sent back—critical because the data they contained would tell NASA if the rover had touched down in a safe spot.

[Video of that Q&A moment here.]

Given the great distance and technical challenges involved in transmitting timely data back from Mars, what file type and image compression algorithm(s) did they use for those first "rush" thumbnails? There's a 14 minute delay involved for any signals from Mars to Earth.

A dorky question, perhaps, but I was curious, and figured nobody else would ask. Things like, "Hey how do you guys feel right now," and "What will Curiosity do next," I knew others would tackle.

Mr. Steltzner didn't have details handy about the image file types used, and he referred me to Mars mission image specialist Justin Maki. Today I checked in with Mr. Maki and his JPL colleagues whose work focuses on data compression and interplanetary data transmission. Here's what I learned.

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Totally Not Photoshopped photos from Mars (a tumblog of greatness)

More like this: "TOTALLY NOT 'SHOPPED PICS FROM MARS"

(Thanks, Sean Bonner!)

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Mars Curiosity moment of joy: NASA JPL team high-fiving after landing (video)

[Video Link] As the post-landing press conference begins, NASA and JPL MSL leaders high-five and cheer with the Mars rover engineering and flight control team. I shot this last night (on my iPhone, pardon the shakiness) inside the Jet Propulsion Lab, at 11:15pm PDT, about 45 minutes after the rover landed, against all odds, on the surface of Mars.

* Despite the image on the screen behind them, this was not a Microsoft press conference.

Curiosity rover "caught in the act of landing"—NASA photo

This just in from Mars:

NASA's Curiosity rover and its parachute were spotted by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as Curiosity descended to the surface on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera captured this image of Curiosity while the orbiter was listening to transmissions from the rover. Curiosity and its parachute are in the center of the white box; the inset image is a cutout of the rover stretched to avoid saturation. The rover is descending toward the etched plains just north of the sand dunes that fringe "Mt. Sharp." From the perspective of the orbiter, the parachute and Curiosity are flying at an angle relative to the surface, so the landing site does not appear directly below the rover.

The parachute appears fully inflated and performing perfectly. Details in the parachute, such as the band gap at the edges and the central hole, are clearly seen. The cords connecting the parachute to the back shell cannot be seen, although they were seen in the image of NASA's Phoenix lander descending, perhaps due to the difference in lighting angles. The bright spot on the back shell containing Curiosity might be a specular reflection off of a shiny area. Curiosity was released from the back shell sometime after this image was acquired.

More about the photo here. (courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

Life on Mars: A round-up of Curiosity-related awesomeness

They were chanting "Science! Science! Science!" and "NASA! NASA! NASA!" in Times Square last night, as the Curiosity rover touched down on Mars at about 1:30 am Eastern time.

The best parts are yet to come. As chemistry professor and blogger Matthew Hartings pointed out this morning, Curiosity is, fundamentally, a chemistry project. Curiosity will search for the chemical building blocks of life, it will study the make-up of the soil and atmosphere, it will look at planetary water cycles and the effects of cosmic radiation. The long-range goal, as you've probably picked up by now, is to put human beings on Mars—maybe by as soon as the 2030s. Curiosity is the chemistry that will help make that very ambitious sort of awesome possible.

We'll be staying tuned for cool stuff coming in from Curiosity. In the meantime, I wanted to point you toward some swell videos, photos, jokes, and essays that have turned up in the last nine hours.

First off, if you slept through the event or just want to relive the excitement, the video above captures the five minutes before and five minutes after Curiosity made landing. The actual touchdown happens about at about mark 5:30, and the first images come through at 7:30.

And, speaking of images ...

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Today, science willing, Curiosity rover lands on Mars. Here's how to watch.

Watch live streaming video from spaceflightnow at livestream.com

This is it, guys. Tonight's the night. NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity will attempt to land on the surface of Mars today. Here is Boing Boing's guide for how to follow her descent. Spaceflight Now's coverage should be excellent.

Here's an excellent history of human exploration of the red planet, by Miles O'Brien, and here's his report for PBS NewsHour chronicling Curiosity's long, strange trip.

Here's a photo gallery of Curiosity, during construction a year ago inside JPL. Here's my interview with JPL's Ashwin Vasavada, describing the science behind this amazing venture.

Science willing, I'll be at JPL tonight, and I'll send transmissions to the home blog. This is a wonderful and historic day for our exploration of the universe. I'm so happy to be alive to witness it.

Image above: An artist's still showing how NASA's Curiosity rover will communicate with Earth during landing. As the rover descends to the surface of Mars, it will send out two different types of data: basic radio-frequency tones that go directly to Earth (pink dashes) and more complex UHF radio data (blue circles) that require relaying by orbiters. NASA's Odyssey orbiter will pick up the UHF signal and relay it immediately back to Earth, while NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will record the UHF data and play it back to Earth at a later time. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)