NASA unveils plans for a new rover: Mars 2020

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.

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NASA's Mars Opportunity rover sets a new driving record, beats an old Soviet one

The NASA Opportunity Mars rover landed on Mars ten years ago, and was not expected to be trucking along in the dust an entire decade later. But truck along it has, and NASA this week announced that Opportunity now "holds the off-Earth roving distance record after accruing 25 miles (40 kilometers) of driving." The previous record was held by the Soviet Union's Lunokhod 2 rover.

"Opportunity has driven farther than any other wheeled vehicle on another world," said Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "This is so remarkable considering Opportunity was intended to drive about one kilometer and was never designed for distance. But what is really important is not how many miles the rover has racked up, but how much exploration and discovery we have accomplished over that distance."

A drive of 157 feet (48 meters) on July 27 put Opportunity's total odometry at 25.01 miles (40.25 kilometers). This month's driving brought the rover southward along the western rim of Endeavour Crater. The rover had driven more than 20 miles (32 kilometers) before arriving at Endeavour Crater in 2011, where it has examined outcrops on the crater's rim containing clay and sulfate-bearing minerals. The sites are yielding evidence of ancient environments with less acidic water than those examined at Opportunity's landing site.

More at NASA JPL website.

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Practicing life on Mars, on a Hawaiian volcano

A team of researchers have been living in a simulated Mars habitat on a Hawaiian volcano for the past 4 months, to better understand what it would be like to live on Mars.

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover completes its first Martian year today

NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover captures a selfie to mark a full Martian year -- 687 Earth days -- spent exploring the Red Planet. [NASA/JPL]

NASA shares a Mars Curiosity mission update with us. The little rover that could completes one Martian year today.

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Weird light photographed on Mars

A strange light was visible in photos of Mars like the one above taken by the Curiosity rover last week. Is it a beacon from an underground extraterrestrial base as some UFO researchers suggest, or simply sunlight glinting from a shiny rock? NASA claims it's likely the latter, but what do they know. Read the rest

India sending spacecraft to Mars for about 75% of 'Gravity' film budget

The Mangalyaan Mars Orbiter Spacecraft mounted in a rocket at the Satish Dhawan Space Center in India. Photo: Indian Space Research Organization, via NYT.

Saritha Rai, reporting for the New York Times on India’s recent launch of a spacecraft to Mars: "It is the $75 million mission’s thrifty approach to time, money and materials that is getting attention. Just days after the launch of India’s Mangalyaan satellite, NASA sent off its own Mars mission, five years in the making, named Maven. Its cost: $671 million. The budget of India’s Mars mission, by contrast, was just three-quarters of the $100 million that Hollywood spent on last year’s space-based hit, Gravity.” [NYTimes.com] Read the rest

Panoramic image of Curiosity Rover under Mars's night sky

Jeffrey sez, "360Cities' intrepid member Andrew Bodrov, stitching master of interplanetary awesomeness, has constructed this composite image (i.e. 'fake view') of the Curiosity Rover at night under the Milky Way. You can even see Phobos, Mars' own moon in the night sky."

Mars Panorama - Curiosity rover: Martian night Read the rest

Planetary overprotection: Have we made ourselves Mars' helicopter parents?

We've talked here before about the Office of Planetary Protection and efforts to make sure that we Earthlings don't contaminate the rest of the galaxy with our bacteria, viruses, and other assorted detritus. Now, some scientists are arguing that we've done this job too well, effectively barring ourselves from exploring the parts of Mars that are most likely to be hospitable to life precisely because they could also be hospitable to tagalong life from Earth. Read the rest

NASA had Apollo-era plans to send humans to Mars and Venus

In an alternate universe — one where Americans had a LOT more enthusiasm for spending money on massive space projects than we've ever actually demonstrated — the 1970s and 1980s might have been the era of manned missions to Mars and Venus. Amy Shira Teitel writes about how this could have been possible, using only the now-antiquated technology that got us to the Moon and back. Read the rest

Mars Rover mission team at JPL celebrates a birthday

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)

One year ago today, a one-ton, SUV-sized spacecraft "blasted into the Mars atmosphere at more than 13,000 miles an hour, deployed a supersonic parachute, fired eight rocket engines, unfurled a giant sky crane and lowered itself to the Martian soil." PBS NewsHour's Jenny Marder has a post up today looking back at that incredible milestone. Yours truly was there, and it was an amazing thing to witness. (HT: Aileen Graef) Read the rest

A day in the life of a fake astronaut

Kate Greene is on a mission to Hawaii. For the last 65 days, she has lived in a mostly windowless dome on the slopes of Mauna Loa volcano, only venturing outside occasionally — and then through an airlock while dressed in a head-to-toe safety suit. She's part of HI-SEAS, a project aimed at studying the way humans might eat, cook, and stay healthy on a long-term Mars mission.

Greene's adventure will last another 53 days. In this video, she walks you through a typical day in a simulated Martian environment — which involves (surprisingly) P-90x workouts and (unsurprisingly) powdered eggs.

Video Link

Keep up with Kate Green's updates at Discover's "Field Notes" blog Read the rest

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. Read the rest

Vintage futures: Next Stop Mars, 1952

In the Boing Boing Flickr Pool, reader JMV shares this wonderful scan of a 1952 feature from the Vancouver Sun's "Weekend Picture Magazine" on the coming age of travel to Mars.

Illustration by Edgar Ainsworth.

"It will probably be some 50 years before any safe space flight from Earth to another planet and back is made, but there seems now to be very little doubt that the dreams of Roger Bacon in AD 1249 and Albertus Magnus in 1280 have left the realm of Wellsian imaginings and become a practical proposition."

Here's a larger size. Guess they didn't think of Rovers! Read the rest

"Definitive proof" of Mars water

Mars' landscape was formed by flowing water, and the proof is in the pebbles. [BBC] Read the rest

Some things to think about before you apply to go to space with Mars One

Mars One wants to send human beings on a one-way trip to Mars by 2023, funding the mission via the proceeds of a reality television show about human settlers on Mars. If you're like me, part of your brain is going "Awesome!" and part of it is going "Aw, hell no!" And there's good reason to listen to your pessimistic side, says space junkie Amy Shira Teitel. If Mars One actually happens, there are many ways this could go horribly wrong — from the funding model to the technology. Read the rest

Amateur astronomers find lost Russian Mars probe

Combining NASA data with the eyes of citizen scientists might have turned up evidence of Mars 3 — a Soviet probe that was the first to make a soft landing (as opposed to a hard crash) on the planet's surface. Mars 3 has been lost since it stopped working, approximately 15 seconds after its successful landing. Read the rest

Celebrate the first interplanetary holiday!

Tonight is Yuri's Night — a holiday celebrating the first human spaceflight. You can throw a Yuri's Night party yourself, or simply join one of the 340 parties that are already scheduled. Scheduled events range from the ubiquitous "let's drink vodka shots in a Russian restaurant" to more kid-friendly, telescope-centric themes. And this year, you can even virtually join the Mars Curiosity Rover as it throws itself the first Yuri's Night party to be held on another planet. (Which, frankly, sounds a little lonely and sad, so hopefully people turn up for the virtual side of that shindig.) Read the rest

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