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NASA’s Newest Mars Rover Is Biggest and Best Yet

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When NASA’s newest rover, Curiosity, reaches Mars in about three weeks, it will not be the first to set its wheels on the Red Planet, but it will be the largest and most advanced robotic explorer that has ever been sent to our planetary neighbor.

The Curiosity rover, also called the Mars Science Laboratory, was launched in late November 2011, and is expected to land on Mars on the night of Aug. 5 PDT (early Aug. 6 EDT). The $2.5 billion rover will touch down at Gale Crater, and is designed to search for clues that Mars could be now, or in the ancient past, a habitable planet for microbial life.

NASA first set its sights on landing on the Red Planet in the 1970s. The agency achieved its first Mars landing in 1976 with the Viking 1 lander. Since then, the agency has had six spacecraft successfully touch down on the Martian surface. But with the impending arrival of Curiosity, NASA will showcase the most sophisticated Martian rover yet.

“The Curiosity landing is the hardest NASA robotic mission ever attempted in the history of exploration of Mars, or any of our robot exploration,” John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a news briefing Monday (July 16) at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Bigger and better

For starters, the way Curiosity will lower itself to the surface of Mars in less than 20 days is unprecedented. The rover will use a new and complex sky crane system to slow its descent.

According to Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters, Curiosity’s landing “could arguably be the most important event — most significant event — in the history of planetary exploration.” [How Curiosity’s Nail-Biting Landing Works (Pictures)]

Previous Mars rovers, such as the twin Spirit and Opportunity rovers (collectively known as the Mars Exploration Rovers), used airbags to cushion their landing. Spirit and Opportunity arrived at the Red Planet about three weeks apart in January 2004. Each rover weighs about 384 pounds, but since Curiosity tips the scales at 1 ton, it was deemed too heavy and too large for an airbag-assisted landing.

“The mass of Spirit and Opportunity was just about at the limit for what that airbag design could handle,” McCuistion said.

Spirit and Opportunity were designed for three-month missions on Mars, but both far outlived their warranties. After getting stuck in Martian sand and losing contact with Earth, Spirit was officially declared dead in May 2011. But, Opportunity is still alive and well, and is currently exploring a massive crater, called Endeavour. Since it landed on the Red Planet, Opportunity has logged an impressive 21.4 miles.

Like its two predecessors, Curiosity will be equipped with six wheels with individual driver motors and a suspension system to help it drive up inclines and combat the difficult Martian terrain. But Curiosity will also be able to move faster, with 3.35 miles per hour being its top speed on flat, hard ground. For comparison, Opportunity’s maximum speed is approximately 0.1 miles per hour.

“Mars Science Lab [is the] most challenging mission we’ve ever sent to another planet, and certainly the most challenging we’ve sent to Mars,” McCuistion said. “It truly is a major step forward both in technology and in potential science return and science capability, to unlock the mysteries of Mars in places that have never been accessible to humankind in the past.” [7 Biggest Mysteries of Mars]

A New Suite of Instruments

Curiosity is designed to perform detailed analyses of Martian rocks and soil, including what lies beneath the surface. The rover is equipped with 10 different instruments that have a collective mass of 165 pounds. Spirit and Opportunity each carried five instruments, totaling 11 pounds.

Curiosity will be able to dig, snap high-definition pictures of Mars, analyze chemical properties of soil and rock samples, study minerals and even blast rocks with a laser to measure their chemical compositions.

As one of the key indicators of potential habitability, Curiosity will investigate the presence of water around Gale Crater.

“Over the last decade-and-a-half of exploration, we have found more water than expected,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Program at NASA headquarters. “With the landing of Curiosity, the adventure begins as we explore the past and present of Gale Crater.”

As NASA prepares for Curiosity’s nail-biting trip through the atmosphere of Mars, mission managers anticipate the huge rover will herald a new age of exploration on the Red Planet and beyond.

“The Mars Exploration Program was designed to create steady progress in both technology and scientific capabilities at other planets,” McCuistion said. “NASA was created to take on big challenges, and that’s what this one is. MSL is forging ahead in greater and greater ways for science and for technology. Robert Kennedy said, ‘Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.’ MSL is poised to do great things.”

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/07/20/nasa-new-mars-rover/

Watch The Antares Rocket Launch Tonight Live

Update: Due to the presence of a sail boat in the vicinity of the rocket, last night’s launch was rescheduled for today, Tuesday, October 28 at 6:22 pm EDT.

Weather permitting, tens of millions of people in the northeast United States will be able to view the launch of the Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket tonight for the ISS Commercial Resupply Services Mission (Orb-3). The rocket is currently set to launch at 6:45 pm EDT from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. This will be the third Cygnus resupply mission to the ISS and the first night launch.

In the minutes that follow liftoff, the rocket will be visible to those living up in Massachusetts all the way down to those in North Carolina. Orbital Sciences has developed this map that will indicate when the rocket will be five degrees above the horizon for various locations. Of course, this map might not be perfectly accurate due to weather conditions, and the view could be blocked entirely by mountains, trees, skyscrapers, or other obstructions.

Image credit: Orbital Sciences Corp.

The Cygnus spacecraft atop the rocket has been named the SS Deke Slayton, in honor of the man who was one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts and longtime champion of NASA’s efforts.

Anticipated view from the MLK Memorial in Washington DC. Image credit: Orbital Sciences Corp.

The vessel is loaded with 2,290 kilograms (5,050 pounds) of cargo destined for the International Space Station, which is the heaviest payload delivered by a Cygnus vessel yet. Contents of the cargo include food and care packages for the crew, parts, experiments, and the Arkyd-3 satellite from Planetary Resources. This will test the gear to be used on the upcoming Arkyd Space Telescope, which had a monstrously successful Kickstarter campaign in the summer of 2013.

Anticipated view from Fells Point in Baltimore, Maryland. Image credit: Orbital Sciences Corp.

If you live outside of the launch viewing area or if your view is not expected to be clear, NASA will be doing a live webcast of the event beginning at 5:45 pm EDT. NASA will also cover when the SS Deke Slayton docks with the ISS on November 2 at 7:00 am EDT. Both events can be viewed right here: 

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/millions-will-be-able-view-tonight-s-antares-rocket-launch

NASA Set To Make Huge Announcement On Thursday Regarding Mars’ Atmosphere

In September, NASA teased us with a major announcement regarding Mars, ultimately revealing evidence for the presence of liquid water on the surface of the Red Planet. Now, they’reat it again.

On Thursday this week, NASA is going to reveal key science findings about the fate of the Martian atmosphere that remains, the majority of which has been lost over time. The data comesfrom the MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) spacecraft, which is currently in orbit around Mars. The agency isn’t releasing any more information at the moment.

The event will take place at 2 p.m. EST (7 p.m. GMT) on Thursday at the James Webb Auditorium at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. It will be broadcast live on NASA TV, which weve handily embedded below, so dont forget to bookmark this page.

Taking part in the news conference are Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA; Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator, from the University of Colorado; Jasper Halekas, MAVEN Solar Wind Ion Analyzer instrument lead, from the University of Iowa; MAVEN science team member Yaxue Dong; and MAVEN co-investigator Dave Brain.

If you want to get involved during the event, you can tweet questions to be answered via #AskNASA.

The MAVEN spacecraft was launched on November 18, 2013 and entered orbit around Mars on September 22, 2014. Its goal has been to study how the planet has lost the majority of its atmosphere over the last few billion years.This announcement heralds the first major findings from the spacecraft.

So, what has it discovered? Youll have to wait and see.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/nasa-announce-key-findings-fate-martian-atmosphere

These Strange Structures Could Hint At Life On Mars

There havebeen a lot oflooney shapes spotted on Mars’ geologicallandscape in recent decades, many of which have stirred wild suggestions that there once was, or still is, Martian life.However, a new proposal by apair of scientists might actuallybeonto something.

In 2008,NASAs Spirit rover captured an image showing lumpy cauliflower mineral deposits inside of Mars Gusev crater. Smithsonian has reported that scientists are now thinking these innocuous-looking lumps and bumps could be theremnants of life on Mars.

Planetary geologistSteven Ruff and geobiologistJack Farmer, both of Arizona State University in Tempe, found a distinct similarity between these Martian micro-digitate silica protrusionsand structures found in the harsh badlands of El Tatioin the Atacama Desert of Chile.They presented their speculation a couple of months ago in a paper released at the American Geophysical Union.

Over 3 billion years ago, parts of Marsweregeyser-filled hydrothermallands.The region where the silica protrusions were found, near theGusev crater, is believed to have once housed these hot springs and geysers.

The red planet ofCatarpe in theAtacama Desert, Chile.Image credit:sunsinger/Shutterstock.

The area of the Atacama Desert the researchersstudied is often compared to Mars, not least because of its red soil. The environment is so alikethatNASA uses the regionto fine-tune theirrobotics andpractice theirlander-driving skills.Its high elevation means it receives a large amount of ultraviolet radiation, much like the high levels of radiation experienced on Mars surface. Along with this punishing trait, it receives less than 100 millimeters (3.9 inches) of rain per year, and its temperatures teeterbetween -25C (-13F) and 45C(113F).El Tatio is alsothe largest geyser field in the Southern Hemisphere,with around 80 active geysers.

Nearby these geysers in El Tatio, the researchers found similar cauliflower-like structures, which were created by microbial processes. It’s this finding that made Ruff and Farmer believethat the “cauliflowers” near the ancient Martian geyser could also have once been formed by microbes.

Lumpy structures formed bymicrobial lifehave also been found at the geothermal springs of Yellowstone National Parkand New Zealand’s Taupo Volcanic Zone.

Unfortunately, the idea that these structures could suggest a pastmicrobial life is still very much a could at the moment. As Ruff and Farmerconceded themselves, its hard to prove biology from 54.6 million kilometers (33.9 million miles) away. The scientists alsoencouraged moreresearchers to look into what these mysterious little lumps could be.In the meantime, making Earthly comparisons is still the best bet we have when trying to find the footprints of ancient microorganisms on distant planets.

[H/T:Smithsonian]

Photo Gallery

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/cauliflower-mineral-deposits-could-hint-life-mars

NASA Is Building a Robotic Service Station for Earth-Orbiting Satellites

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An artist’s rendition of the Landsat satellite launched in Feb. 2013.

NASA wants to create a robotic gas station in space.

While that might call to mind visions of interstellar starships, the unmanned depot won’t actually be used to refuel rockets leading to the outer solar system or other worlds. Instead, it will service satellites orbiting Earth.

Thousands of satellites currently circle the Earth, transmitting everything from GPS navigation signals to weather forecasts to television shows, and all of them need fuel to maneuver in orbit. Without a way to refuel these aging machines, many satellites that could otherwise provide many more years of service break down and are retired.

NASA’s Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland teamed with the Kennedy Space Center (in Florida) in 2011 to concoct a way to refuel satellites as they zip around the planet. Under their solution, this refueling will be carried out robotically.

By creating this new technology, “NASA hopes to add precious years of functional life to satellites and expand options for operators who face unexpected emergencies, tougher economic demands and aging fleets,” NASA’s Bob Granath wrote in a statement.

This robotic technology is not limited to fueling, though. NASA can also use it to fix malfunctioning satellites and build entirely new structures in outer space.

The partnership between Goddard and Kennedy has been fruitful thanks to each organization’s special capabilities. Kennedy’s long history of preparing spacecraft for launch, for instance, meant that it had a lot of experience with loading propellant. In addition, because of Kennedy’s involvement, “project participants were able to use existing equipment, facilities and excess Space Shuttle Program hardware, saving millions of dollars in development costs,” NASA said.

Goddard, meanwhile, focused on the robotics. In fact, they recently shipped a robotic arm to Kennedy, 800 miles (1,287 kilometers) away, to test the system’s remote-control capability. During the test, the remote robot operator, located at Goddard, connected the end of the robot arm to a valve on the side of a simulated satellite, which was located at Kennedy. The Kennedy team then made sure that the nitrogen tetroxide, a substance commonly used in spacecraft, flowed smoothly through the valve.

NASA robotic refueling arm

The Remote Robotic Oxidizer Transfer Test (RROxiTT) robot demonstrated a way for future servicing satellites to transfer oxidizer to a satellite in need of refueling, at the Kennedy Space Center’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility.

Image: NASA

One beneficial side effect of refueling satellites in orbit is that it lessens the amount of dangerous space junk in the area just above Earth’s atmosphere. Instead of having dead satellites floating around uncontrolled, engineers on the ground can extend their lives with refueling, putting off costly launches and slowing the rate of material sent into space. At the geosynchronous orbit level, a region 22,236 miles (35,786 km) above Earth, there are more than 100 government-owned spacecraft and 360 “commercial communication satellites.”

Therefore, “the capability to refuel and repair satellites at this orbit could make GEO [geosynchronous Earth orbit] more sustainable and help mitigate orbital debris problems,” officials with NASA’s Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office wrote on their website.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/08/05/robotic-gas-stations-in-space/

Incredible Video Captures Magical-Looking Sun Storm

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The sun fired off a spectacular eruption last weekend, and a NASA spacecraft captured amazing video of the violent solar outburst.

A super-hot solar filament erupted in grand style Saturday (Aug. 4), arcing into space and connecting two huge sunspots. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spacecraft had a front-row seat for the action, and its video footage of the sun eruption is both bizarre and beautiful.

The filament appears pinkish-purple through SDO’s ultraviolet filters, and it stands out against a solar surface of mottled green, yellow and dark purple hues.

The tendril’s hot plasma snakes between the sunspots AR 1538 and AR 1540. Sunspots are temporary blotches on the sun that appear dark because they’re cooler than the rest of the solar surface. Solar flares and massive blasts of plasma called coronal mass ejections (CMEs) often erupt from sunspots, which can be many times larger than the Earth’s diameter.

The Aug. 4 outburst also propelled an enormous CME into space. CMEs that hit Earth directly can wreak havoc, temporarily disrupting GPS communications, satellite navigation and power grids. But Saturday’s solar storm shouldn’t pose any serious problems, scientists said.

“The cloud is not heading directly toward Earth, but it could deliver a glancing blow to our planet’s magnetic field on August 7/8,” the website Spaceweather.com wrote. “High-latitude skywatchers should be alert for auroras on those dates.”

The sun is currently in an active phase of its 11-year solar cycle, and it should continue to fire off big storms for a while yet. Experts expect the current cycle, known as Solar Cycle 24, to peak in 2013.

The $850 million SDO spacecraft, which launched in February 2010, is the first in a fleet of NASA efforts to study our sun. The probe’s five-year mission is the cornerstone of a NASA science program called Living with a Star, which aims to help scientists better understand aspects of the sun-Earth system that affect our lives and society.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/10/video-sun-storm/

What If Huge NASA Mars Rover Crashes Sunday Night?

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If NASA’s newest Mars rover doesn’t touch down safely Sunday night (Aug. 5), the future of Red Planet exploration could be thrown into serious doubt.

The 1-ton Curiosity rover‘s main goal is to determine if Mars can, or ever could, support microbial life. But the huge robot is also carrying the hopes and dreams of NASA’s venerable Mars program on its back to some extent, so a crash Sunday night could be devastating.

“It could take the entire Mars program down with it,” Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society, which pushes for human settlement of the Red Planet, told SPACE.com’s Leonard David. “It is victory or death.”

Big funding cuts

President Barack Obama’s 2013 federal budget request, which was released in February, slashes NASA’s planetary science program funding from $1.5 billion to $1.2 billion, with further cuts expected in the coming years.

Much of the money will come out of NASA’s robotic Mars exploration program, which has enjoyed a string of successes in the past decade. After landing in January 2004, for example, the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity discovered plenty of evidence that Mars was once warmer and wetter than it is today. And the Phoenix lander found subsurface water ice near the planet’s north pole in 2008.

Nevertheless, the White House budget proposal cuts NASA’s Mars funding from $587 million this year to $360 million in 2013, and then to just $189 million in 2015. [NASA’s 2013 Budget: What Will It Buy?]

As a result, NASA was forced to drop of out the European-led ExoMars mission, which aims to deliver an orbiter and a rover to the Red Planet in 2016 and 2018, respectively. And the agency is fundamentally restructuring and downscaling its Mars program, in an attempt to figure out how to make the most out of every precious dollar.

But NASA planetary science officials still hold out hope for a funding comeback, with the help of Curiosity. They think the rover’s discoveries could loosen politicians’ pursestrings and reinvigorate the agency’s robotic exploration efforts.

“What a tremendous opportunity it is for us,” Jim Green, head of NASA’s planetary science division, said at a conference in March. “I believe [Curiosity] will open up that new era of discovery that will compel this nation to invest more in planetary science.”

Sticking the landing

So a successful landing on Sunday night is of paramount importance to the space agency, officials have said.

Curiosity‘s touchdown “could arguably be the most important event — most significant event — in the history of planetary exploration,” Doug McCuistion, director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, said last month.

But success is not a given. Landing a robot on another planet is never an easy task, and Curiosity‘s touchdown will perhaps involve more hand-wringing than usual.

Because it’s so heavy, engineers had to devise an entirely new landing method for the rover. A rocket-powered sky crane will lower Curiosity to the Martian surface on cables, then fly off to intentionally crash-land a short distance away. Such a maneuver has never before been tried on another world.

If success over the course of the mission could bring great dividends to NASA’s Mars program, then failure Sunday night could have a chilling effect.

“I think if we are fatal on landing, that will have a very negative influence,” said Caltech’s John Grotzinger, lead scientist for Curiosity‘s $2.5 billion mission, which is officially called the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL).

“It’s going to force people to look back and ask if it’s possible to achieve these very complex, more demanding missions from a technological perspective,” Grotzinger told SPACE.com. “How can you talk about sample-return if you can’t do MSL first?”

Keeping the program vital

NASA has one more Mars mission firmly on the books beyond MSL, an atmosphere-studying orbiter called Maven that’s due to launch next year. The agency plans to launch another mission in 2018 or 2020, partly to keep the program vital.

But a Curiosity crash could persuade some talented scientists and engineers that there’s not much of a future at Mars, at least not for a while, researchers say.

“If this thing were to fail, I think a lot of people would trickle away and do other things,” said Ken Edgett, of Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego. Edgett is principal investigator for Curiosity‘s Mars Hand Lens Imager instrument, or MAHLI.

He added that a crash might spark discussions within NASA about shifting resources from Mars to other promising destinations, such as Jupiter’s moon Europa, which harbors a liquid-water ocean beneath its icy shell.

“I don’t like that either-or scenario, but I think that’s where we’re headed,” Edgett told SPACE.com in April.

Mars keeps calling us

Edgett stressed, however, that he didn’t think a landing mishap would be the end of the Mars program. Other experts echo that viewpoint, saying that Mars will continue to hold our interest and draw our scientific explorers back.

“It’s one of the most scientifically compelling objects in the solar system — perhaps in terms of ease to get to, the most compelling,” said Scott Hubbard of Stanford University. “And it’s the place, ultimately, for human exploration. So I think Mars exploration will continue.”

Hubbard speaks from experience. He’s the former “Mars Czar” who restructured NASA’s Red Planet program after the agency’s Mars Polar Lander and Mars Climate Orbiter both failed in 1999.

Still, success would definitely be preferable for those who care about Red Planet exploration. A strong showing by Curiosity could lead to bigger things down the road at Mars, Hubbard said.

“There’s a window, I feel, with a successful mission — particularly if it finds evidence of organics — to give the scientific community even more stimulus and ammunition to ask for a re-look at the budget,” Hubbard said.

Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/04/mars-rover-crash/

This Stunning Image Of Saturn’s Rings Contains A Surprise

If youre confused by this image, we dont blame you. What youre seeing here are the rings of Saturn and the gas giant itself. But the planets rings are, well, rings. Why do they appear to be criss-crossing each other here?

The answer is a pretty awesome illusion, snapped by the Cassini spacecraft thats currently in orbit around Saturn. The bulk of the image is the rings itself, while in the background is the planet Saturn. The lines going the other direction to the rings are actually the shadow of the rings on the planet, visible because the rings are semi-transparent.

Thats not the only surprising thing about this image, though. Take a look just below the middle, and youll spot a gap in one of the rings with a white dot in it. This gap is known as the Encke gap, and the white dot is the moon Pan (28 kilometers/17 miles across). Moons like this form gaps by cleaning out debris from the rings.

Now you see it… NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Cassini took this image from a distance of 1.9 million kilometers (1.2 million miles) from Pan on February 11, 2016, with a scale of 10 kilometers (6 miles) per pixel. The spacecraft arrived in orbit around Saturn in 2004, and since then it has provided uswith incredible views and data from Saturn and its various moons, including Enceladus and Titan.

But, sadly, all good things must come to an end. On September 15 next year, the spacecraft will be sent to its death in the atmosphere of Saturn. This is because, as it runs out of fuel, NASA wants to ensure it wont accidentally hit one of the potentially life-harboring moons and contaminate it with material from Earth.

Dont despair too much, though, because this final death plunge will see Cassini return some groundbreaking science to Earth. Itll be sending back data constantly until its final moments, so well get incredible data from within Saturns rings and from its upper atmosphere as well something weve never gotten before.

Until then, bask in the glory of images like these. With no other spacecraft to Saturn currently in the works, we really shouldn’t take Cassini for granted.

Here’s the full image in all its glory.NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Photo Gallery

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/stunning-image-saturn-contains-more-one-surprise

Bacteria in Space Grows in Strange Ways

Pseudomonas-aeruginosa

When bacteria grows in a dish of fake urine in space, it behaves in ways never-before-seen in Earth microorganisms, scientists say.

A team of scientists sent samples of the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa into orbit aboard NASA’s space shuttle Atlantis to see how they grew in comparison to their Earth-dwelling counterparts.

The 3D communities of microorganisms (called biofilms) grown aboard the space shuttle had more live cells, were thicker and had more biomass than the bacterial colonies grown in normal gravity on Earth as controls. The space bacteria also grew in a “column-and-canopy” structure that has never been observed in bacterial colonies on Earth, according to NASA scientists.

“Biofilms were rampant on the Mir space station and continue to be a challenge on the [International Space Station], but we still don’t really know what role gravity plays in their growth and development,” NASA’s study leader Cynthia Collins, an assistant professor in the department of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., said in a statement. “Our study offers the first evidence that spaceflight affects community-level behaviors of bacteria, and highlights the importance of understanding how both harmful and beneficial human-microbe interactions may be altered during spaceflight.”

Most biofilms found in the human body and in nature are harmless, but some are associated with disease, NASA officials said.

The space bacteria were cultured in artificial urine on NASA’s Atlantis shuttle in 2010 and again in 2011 before the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle program. Collins and her team of researchers used fabricated urine because it can be used to study the formation of biofilm outside and inside the body. Understanding how to safely remove and recycle waste is particularly relevant because of its importance in long-term spaceflight, NASA officials said.

“The unique appearance and structure of the P. aeruginosa biofilms formed in microgravity suggests that nature is capable of adapting to nonterrestrial environments in ways that deserve further studies, including studies exploring long-term growth and adaptation to a low-gravity environment,” Collins said in a statement. “Before we start sending astronauts to Mars or embarking on other long-term spaceflight missions, we need to be as certain as possible that we have eliminated or significantly reduced the risk that biofilms pose to the human crew and their equipment.”

Scientists sent 12 devices with eight vials of P. aeruginosa — a bacterium that can be associated with disease on Earth — into orbit on Atlantis. Once in space, astronauts on the shuttle introduced the bacterium to the fake urine while scientists on the ground began the control experiment.

After the samples arrived safely on Earth, Collins and her team took a detailed 3D image of the biofilms to investigate their internal structure, and used other research methods to investigate the colony’s thickness and cell growth.

The study, published in the April 20 issue of the journal PLOS ONE, also could have implications for bacterial research on Earth. It’s possible that this kind of research could help scientists and doctors more effectively limit the spread of infection in hospitals, Collins said.

Image courtesy of NASA

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/07/10/bacteria-growth-space/

Does the Moon Have Levitating Lunar Dust?

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Did you hear about the new restaurant on the moon? Great food, but no atmosphere.

While that wisecrack has been floating about in space circles for decades, a NASA lunar orbiter will gather detailed information about the moon’s atmosphere next year, including conditions near its surface and environmental influences on lunar dust.

NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is to depart the Earth for the moon in August 2013. LADEE is loaded with science gear, including instruments that can address a lingering question that’s rooted in space history: Are electrostatically lofted lunar dust particles present within the moon’s tenuous atmosphere?

Twilight Rays on the Moon

In the 1960s, several NASA Surveyor moon landers relayed images showing a twilight glow low over the lunar horizon persisting after the sun had set. Also, a number of Apollo astronauts orbiting the moon saw twilight rays before lunar sunrise or lunar sunset.

In addition, some have floated the theory that the glowing transient lunar phenomenon seen from Earth might stem from sunlight reflecting off of suspended lunar dust.

LADEE will investigate this moon magic trick of levitating lunar dust. The spacecraft has the tools it needs to address mysteries and questions that have been around since Apollo, said Rick Elphic, LADEE project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.

Ames is responsible for managing the mission, building the spacecraft and performing mission operations.

Elphic told SPACE.com that among its duties, the LADEE mission can further investigate tantalizing hints about the dust and the moon’s exotic atmosphere.

“If we fly LADEE through the regions where the Apollo command module observations were made, we will know right away if there are small grains there or not,” Elphic said. LADEE’s Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX) is a very sensitive dust-detecting instrument, he said, and scientists may be able to place new upper limits on the dust in the first week of the spacecraft’s orbiting operations.

Nagging Moon Question

“If LADEE never sees levitated dust, that settles the question for the high-altitude observations, at least for its mission time frame,” Elphic said.

Still, there’s the nagging question about what Surveyor saw, the near-surface horizon glow. “That might be something else entirely, and can only be addressed with a surface mission,” Elphic said.

“If LADEE does see dust, we will then have a basis for expecting the same phenomena at all other ‘nearly-airless’ bodies around the solar system,” Elphic added.

This dust may not pose much of a hazard, Elphic added, but the physics will need to be explained. Right now, no one has a good end-to-end model for getting dust to loft and secondly, stay suspended for long periods, he said.

“If LADEE observes levitated dust, then scientists will have to explain it. Right now, no one can,” Elphic said.

One-Way Trip Off the Moon

One scientist ready for the new data to be gleaned by LADEE is Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, Apollo 17 moonwalker and geologist. He and astronaut Eugene Cernan walked the lunar surface in December 1972 — the last mission of the Apollo moon landings.

“I do not know if LADEE will see lunar dust in the lunar atmosphere, but I will not be surprised if there is none,” Schmitt told SPACE.com. “We know about several transient gases in that atmosphere, and these may be what causes the horizon glow at sunrise and sunset.”

Moon dust, Schmitt added, was always been on his mind.

“My concern about levitated dust has always been that levitation, if it occurs at all, probably has to be a one-way trip off the moon … because many flat rock surfaces are essentially free of very fine dust, as I personally witnessed on Apollo 17.”

Schmitt said that if dust has been levitated and then dropped again, he would expect the rock surfaces to be covered with such dust.

“Nonetheless, LADEE data on this question, as well as various gases, should give us a lot to think about,” Schmitt said.

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/20/nasa-ladee-levitating-lunar-dust/