September Meeting: The Road to Mars

The long-term goal for the majority of space enthusiasts is to get people to Mars. Advocates acknowledge this is an ambitious goal that will be expensive and not without risk. Over the past few years several very different proposals on how to get there have been offered. At this month’s meeting Mike Mackowski will review these various options and discuss their pros and cons. Mike is president of the Phoenix Chapter of NSS, an aerospace engineer, and a long time space advocate. The audience will be invited to offer their views on the pathways to Mars and we hope this can be a fun and interactive discussion.

The presentation will not just consider how to get to Mars but why. Space advocates often run into the same questions about why we should send people into space at all. Many reasons have been offered (international prestige, inspiration, exploration, commercial development, settlement, etc.) but which one will be the driver that final puts footprints in the Martian dirt? How can we make it permanent and not just “flags and footprints”? What will be the relative roles of government and private entities?

There has also been a lot of debate recently on what should be the next “destination”. Do we need to stop at the Moon first? Can asteroids be a practice run before attempting the deep space mission to the Red Planet? Can we use resources from the Moon or an asteroid to reduce the cost of the mission? to go next (Moon, Mars, asteroids) has heated up and is even dividing the pro-space community. So I collected my notes and reviewed some news articles and commentaries and came up with the chart you see here.

Mars2

Please plan to join us at this meeting. Mike will offer his views on the subject and is looking forward to getting inputs from other people excited about the prospects of manned space exploration.

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The Path to Mars

Commentary by Michael Mackowski

7/19/13

In my many years of being an advocate for space exploration, I run into the same questions about why we should send people into space. Recently, the debate on where to go next (Moon, Mars, asteroids) has heated up and is even dividing the pro-space community. So I collected my notes and reviewed some news articles and commentaries and came up with the chart you see at the link here:

The Path to Mars

Let’s assume that the ultimate goal is to get people to Mars. The purpose of the chart is to consider how we accomplish that. And why. What are the options along the way? Do we need to go somewhere else first? How can we make it permanent and not just “flags and footprints”? What sort of space technology do we need?

The chart does not pretend to give any answers and it certainly is not all-inclusive. It simply tries to lay out the main issues that have been debated recently and offer some quick evaluation of the various factors involved. That evaluation, unfortunately, is not very optimistic. Considering the three main issues (where, how, and why), I don’t see an easy path to Mars at all. Space travel is difficult and expensive to begin with, and when you look at the obstacles to making any option workable, it’s not a pretty picture.

On the bright side, private entities are serious about exploring and utilizing space. In the past, governments were the only institutions with the resources to do that. With better technology, commercial firms are now approaching the capabilities that were once only available to government institutions. Still, someone like Elon Musk alone could not have funded the entire Apollo program, so space enthusiasts should not have unrealistic expectations. It’s going to take a lot of patience, but there is hope out there.

Comments and feedback on the graphic are welcome.

Sol 150 – Curiosity uses Brush Tool

Curiosity Brush
Curiosity Brush Use Cleans Rock Surface on Mars
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

On Sol 150, the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity) used its Dust Removal Tool (DRT) to clean the surface of the rock target called “Ekwir_1.”

The image was captured by Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI).

The DRT is a motorized wire-bristle brush on the turret at the end of the rover’s arm.

Curiosity – Sol 130

By the middle of December, Curiosity had reached the Glenelg region of Gale Crater and descended into the Yellowknife Bay depression. Curiosity is now exploring for the first target rock for it’s hammering drill.

After leaving Bradbury Landing, Curiosity spent extensive time at Rocknest (Sols 55-100), and followed this with investigations around Point Lake (Sols 102-124).

Curiosity Map
Map of Curiosity’s Travels During the first 130 Sols
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

Curiosity – Panorama at Point Lake

Point Lake
Portion of a Panorama View toward Point Lake from Rocknest
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Malin Space Science Systems

Taken from Rocknest, the image above includes the site named Point Lake and is the center of the scene in the panorama below. After taking the many images stitched together for the panorama, Curiosity drove 83 feet (25.3 meters) to Point Lake on 18 November 2012.

From Point Lake, Curiosity’s MastCam is taking another series for a panorama in order to identify candidates for the first effort to drill into a Martian rock.

Panorama
Panorama View toward Point Lake from Rocknest (Click to Enlarge)
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Malin Space Science Systems

One Year Mission on the Space Station Set for 2015

Scott Kelly
American Astronaut Scott Kelly
Image Credit: NASA

Mikhail Kornienko
Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko
Image Credit: NASA

NASA announced on Monday 26 November 2012, that American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko have been selected by NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and their international partners to conduct a 12 month mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in 2015.

The mission aboard the orbiting laboratory is designed to further our understanding of how the human body reacts and adapts to microgravity and other aspects of living in space. Work over the past several years have shown marked improvement in the ability for astronauts on a normal 5-6 month mission aboard the ISS to adapt to microgravity. The year long mission seeks to validate these findings.

Long duration missions to the Moon, Lagrange points, asteroids and Mars will require countermeasures to reduce risks associated with future exploration.

Kelly and Kornienko are veterans of space travel. Kelly served as a pilot on space shuttle mission STS-103 in 1999, commander on STS-118 in 2007, flight engineer on the International Space Station Expedition 25 in 2010 and commander of Expedition 26 in 2011. Kelly has logged more than 180 days in space.

Kornienko was selected as an Energia test cosmonaut candidate in 1998 and trained as an International Space Station Expedition 8 backup crew member. He served as a flight engineer on the station’s Expedition 23/24 crews in 2010 and has logged more than 176 days in space.

The two astronauts will launch aboard a Soyuz spacecraft in the Spring of 2015 and return to land in Kazakhstan in the Spring of 2016.

Curiosity – Mars Rover and the First Hundred Days

Curiosity
Artist Conception – Curiosity’s Laser and ChemCam
Image Credit: NASA

Curiosity set down at Bradbury Landing (see below) on Mars at 10:32 PM PDT on 5 August 2012 and has finished her first hundred Sols.

Curiosity Landing Site
Curiosity Landing Site in Gale Crater
Image Credit: NASA

The image below maps out the route from Bradbury Landing to the mixed terrain at Glenelg, which marks the first major destination for the rover.

Curiosity spent the first three weeks checking out her equipment. The discolored and disturbed area around the landing site resulted from the blast of the rocket engines that settled Curiosity on the surface. While there, she used her Laser and ChemCam on a rock called “Coronation” to obtain some early measurements.

Then she started moving. By Sol 30, Curiosity was more than 100 yards from where she landed, and began testing her robotic arm.

Bradbury Landing to Glenelg
Curiosity – From Bradbury Landing to Glenelg
Image Credit: NASA

At the end of testing the arm, Curiosity was five weeks into her two years of planned exploration. She then set out on a drive of 20 sols to a site called “Rocknest”.

The center of the 360 degree panorama (below) is due South. Mount Sharp (in the center of Gale Crater) is off to the left. “Rocknest” is off to the right. The edges of the image are due North. Click on the image to enlarge.

Rocknest
Panorama of “Rocknest”
Image Credit: NASA

While at “Rocknest”, Curiosity spent almost five weeks exploring. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Sol 59 – Arrival at “Rocknest”
  • Sol 61 – First scoop of soil
  • Sol 64 – Decontamination of Sieve
  • Sol 66 – Second scoop
  • Sol 69 – Third Scoop
  • Sol 71 – Sample place in ChemMin
  • Sol 79 – Sample Results – “Hawaii”
  • Sol 86 – SAM Atmosphere tests

Below are two images. On the left is a picture of one of the trenches left by the scoop on the robotic arm. To the right is a close up of the scoop (1.5 x 2.5 inches) filled with the fine dust and sand from “Rocknest”.

Scooping
Trenching and Scooping at “Rocknest”
Image Credit: NASA

Mars rover Curiosity has completed initial experiments showing the mineralogy of Martian soil is similar to weathered basaltic soils of volcanic origin in Hawaii, with significant amounts of feldspar, pyroxene and olivine.

A few days ago, she resumed her journey toward Glenelg.