Tag: mars

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Mars is at its closest approach to the Earth – since 2003 – and will not again be this close to the earth until 2287. This evening I went to a Mars Viewing party hosted by the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory (part of the University of Calgary) located well away from the city lights in Priddis […]

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There is a great article over at ArsTechnica on the internal debate at NASA, Where next? http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/12/time-to-choose-between-the-moon-and-mars-or-nasa-isnt-going-anywhere/ More

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Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Saturday Night Science: Humans to Mars

 

“Humans to Mars” by David S. F. PortreeEver since people began to think seriously about the prospects for space travel, visionaries have looked beyond the near-term prospects — flights into Earth orbit, space stations, and even journeys to the Moon — and toward the red planet: Mars. Unlike Venus, eternally shrouded by clouds, or the other planets which were too hot or cold to sustain life as we know it, Mars, about half the size of the Earth, had an atmosphere, a day just a little longer than the Earth’s, seasons, and polar caps which grew and shrank with the seasons. There were no oceans, but water from the polar caps might sustain life on the surface, and there are dark markings that appeared to change during the martian year. Some people interpreted this as plant life that flourished as polar caps melted in the spring and receded as they grew in the fall.

In an age where we have high-resolution imagery of the entire martian globe — obtained from orbiting spacecraft, telescopes orbiting Earth, and ground-based telescopes with advanced electronic instrumentation — it is often difficult to remember just how little was known about Mars in the 1950s, when people first started to think about how we might go there. Mars is the next planet outward from the Sun, so its distance and apparent size vary substantially depending upon its relative position to Earth in their respective orbits. About every two years, Earth “laps” Mars and it is closest (“at opposition”) and most easily observed. But because the orbit of Mars is elliptic, its distance varies from one opposition to the next, and it is only every 15 to 17 years that a near-simultaneous opposition and perihelion render Mars most accessible to Earth-based observation.

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Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Government Funding of Basic Science? Knock It Off.

 

The-MartianFor decades now, even free-market economists have argued that the government should fund basic scientific research. I myself have always felt suspicious of the argument — this is one reason I remain skeptical of NASA, despite the ridicule of my comrades Rob Long and James Lileks, who can barely contain their pleasure at the thought of spending untold sums to send someone to Mars — but I confess that I’ve never possessed the analytical skills to investigate the argument, let alone refute it.

Along comes Matt Ridley in this weekend’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, where he has published a brilliant essay called “The Myth of Basic Science.” Excerpts:

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Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Mars Is Safe from NASA

 

The-MartianOver at USA Today, I have a column on the recent hit movie The Martian and contrast the attitudes in it to today’s real-life space agency:

Going back decades, one of the favorite, albeit mindless, phrases in policy on human spaceflight is “safety is the highest priority.” Then-NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin invoked it in 1996, on the 10th anniversary of the loss of the space shuttle Challenger. It has continued into the present, with recent repetition from current Administrator Charles Bolden and space committee leadership on Capitol Hill, including Reps. Chaka Fattah, D-Penn., and Donna Edwards, D-Md. It can be found in NASA training documents and was recently cited in the NASA authorization act.

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Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Why Mars Instead of the Moon?

 

moon-meetMaybe I am influenced by having read Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress when it was first published, but I am wondering about all the recent PR for a manned mission to Mars — even by some people who are not named Robert Zubrin — and whether it is just the romance of going to another planet. The Moon seems to make much more sense for a first permanent base (i.e. not an orbital space station) for a number of reasons:

  1. It’s closer.
  2. There is micro-gravity.
  3. If you go underground, you might be in decent shape for protection against high energy particles.
  4. There appears to be water ice in some of the craters.
  5. Mining on the Moon might, or might not, be worth the effort of going there. (Isn’t a useful isotope of Hydrogen available on the Moon and not on Earth?)
  6. The Moon, being out of the deepest part of Earth’s gravity well is, from a propulsion energy perspective, about halfway to anywhere in the inner solar system.

So what are the arguments in favor of Mars and against the Moon, besides “been there, done that?”

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Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. “The Martian” Is Thrilling, Surprisingly Funny, and Scientifically Accurate

 

The_Martian_film_posterThe Martian features Matt Damon as NASA astronaut Mark Watney, who with a six-member crew including commanding officer Jessica Chastain, is on a month-long science mission on the beautifully desolate surface of Mars. Of course, one month is only the planned duration of their stay on the surface; the deep space transit to and from Mars takes several hundred days each way, which becomes important later in the film.

We enter the story partway into the surface mission. The crew is collecting Martian soil samples when NASA sends them an urgent message about an impending storm. The storm is apparently so severe that the rocket which is supposed to lift the crew back into space at the end of their mission won’t survive the harsh winds on the ground. So the crew is forced to abort their surface mission and perform a hasty emergency launch. In the rush and confusion, Watney is left behind, presumed dead. All of this introductory material is completed in a very breezy few minutes, plunging us right into the survival story.

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This could be even bigger for NASA than the whole “Muslim outreach” thing! More

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