The InSight mission is heading to Mars, but many spacecraft have died trying to get there. The current record for Mars missions is 18 successes, and 25 failures. InSight hopes to improve the odds.
Tagged with “mars” (25)
If we find, anywhere in the universe, one more instance of life besides what evolved on Earth, then we are bound to conclude that life is common throughout the vastness of this galaxy and the 200 billion other galaxies.
The discovery would change how we think about everything.
Most of the search for life beyond Earth, Porco explained, is the search for habitats.
They don’t have to look comfy, since we know that our own extremophile organisms can survive temperatures up to 250°F, total desiccation, and fiercely high radiation, high pressure, high acidity, high alkalinity, and high salinity.
In our own Solar System there are four promising candidate habitats—Mars, Europa (a moon of Jupiter), Titan (a moon of Saturn), and Enceladus (“en-SELL-ah-duss,” another moon of Saturn).
They are the best nearby candidates because they have or have had liquids, they have bio-usable energy (solar or chemical), they have existed long enough to sustain evolution, and they are accessible for gathering samples.
On Mars water once flowed copiously.
It still makes frost and ice, but present conditions on Mars are so hostile to life that most of the search there now is focussed on finding signs of life far in the past.
Europa, about the size of Earth’s Moon, has a salty ocean below an icy surface, but it is subject to intense radiation.
Photos from the Hubble Space Telescope revealed that occasional plumes of material are ejected through Europa’s ice, so future missions to Jupiter will attempt to fly by and analyze them for possible chemical signatures of life.
The two interesting moons of Saturn are Titan, somewhat larger and much denser than our Moon, and tiny Enceladus, one-seventh the diameter of our Moon.
Both have been closely studied by the Cassini Mission since
Titan’s hazy atmosphere is full of organic methane, and its surface has features like dunes and liquid-methane lakes “that look like the coast of Maine.”
But it is so cold, at 300°F below zero, that the chemical reactions needed for life may be too difficult.
Enceladus looks the most promising.
Cassini has sampled the plumes of material that keep geysering out of the south pole.
The material apparently comes from an interior water ocean about as salty as our ocean, and silica particles may indicate hydrothermal vents like ours.
“I hope you’re gettin excited now,” Porco told the audience, “because we were.”
The hydrothermal vents in Earth’s oceans are rich with life.
Enceladus has all the ingredients of a habitat for life—liquid water, organics, chemical energy, salts, and nitrogen-bearing compounds.
We need to look closer.
A future mission (arriving perhaps by the 2030’s) could orbit Enceladus and continually sample the plumes with instruments designed to detect signs of life such as complexity in the molecules and abundance patterns of carbon in amino acids that could indicate no biology, or Earth-like biology, or quite different biology.
You could even look for intact organisms.
Nearly all of the material in the plumes falls back to the surface.
Suppose you had a lander there.
“It’s always snowing at the south pole of Enceladus,” Porco said.
“Could it be snowing microbes?”
(A by-the-way from the Q&A:
Voyager, which was launched 40 years ago in 1977, led the way to the outer planets and moons of our Solar System, and five years ago, Porco pointed out, “It went beyond the magnetic bubble of the Sun and redefined us as an interstellar species.”)
The day might well be approaching when humans set foot on Mars. We’ll be driven by a desire to find life — or what remains of it — and to colonize the planet. Stephen Humphrey and a stellar crew of authors, astronauts and Mars scholars confront the hazards, risks and challenges of getting humans to Mars, and then of surviving — and living — on the Red Planet.
Kevin Fong explores the success and failure of NASA’s missions to Mars
NASA’s Journey to Mars is underway. Already, the first steps are being taken – rovers and orbiters are studying the habitability of the Red Planet, astronauts aboard the International Space Station are studying the effects of long-duration stays in space, and the new Orion crew vehicle successfully has completed a test flight 15 times higher than the space station’s orbit. Now, Kennedy Space Center in Florida is transforming into a next-generation spaceport, the world’s most powerful rocket – Space Launch System – is undergoing manufacture and testing, and other advanced new systems are in development. Beginning very soon, increasingly ambitious missions will lead to the first steps on Mars.
Andy Weir’s self-published novel The Martian has become a New York Times bestseller and the #1 movie in America. But it began with a series of blog posts that reflected Andy’s lifelong love of space science and detailed research about traveling to and surviving on the fourth planet in our Solar System.
You can see the film in theaters everywhere, but only at The Interval will you hear Andy skip the fiction and talk about the details of how a real world mission to reach and colonize Mars would work. He’ll discuss his book, too, and answer your questions at this very special event in our Interval salon series.
The Martian author Andy Weir on Mars Colonization, Commercial Space Travel, and Going From Programmer to Best-Selling Author - Reason.com
Q&A with the man who wrote the book behind the upcoming Hollywood film starring Matt Damon.
"I want us to have a self-sufficient population somewhere other than Earth because 25 years of being a computer programmer has taught me the value of backing things up," says Andy Weir, author of the best-selling novel The Martian, which tells the story of astronaut Mark Watney as he struggles to survive alone on Mars after he’s mistakenly left for dead in the wake of a botched mission. It’s the basis for the upcoming Hollywood film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon, which hits theaters this weekend.
Weir was working as a computer programmer in Silicon Valley when he began writing The Martian in serial form and posting it for free on his personal website for an audience consisting of what he describes as a few thousand "hardcore science dorks." Five years later, he had a book deal with Crown Publishing and a film option from 20th Century Fox.
Reason TV’s Zach Weissmueller sat down with Weir to talk about his amazing journey from programmer to best-selling author, the challenges of writing a scientifically accurate space novel, and his thoughts on the future of real-life space travel.
We look at the latest news from the stars, planets and other heavenly bodies. Plus interviews with professional astronomers and the answers to your space science questions.
Space Boffins Richard Hollingham and Sue Nelson are inside London’s Science Museum with the museum’s curator of space, Doug Millard, and the original Apollo 10 capsule. Apart from a tribute to Apollo 11’s crucial predecessor, they discuss Britain’s history in space and hear from Skylon pioneer Alan Bond on the progress of his revolutionary spaceplane. There’s also an update on Europe’s ExoMars mission rover from the new Mars Yard at Airbus Defence and Space to celebrate its one year anniversary.
Neil deGrasse Tyson explores the future of humanity with one of the men forging that future: billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors. Co-hosted by Chuck Nice and guest starring Bill Nye.
Part 5 of Mars Struck, featuring Kim Stanley Robinson, Hugo Award-winning science Fiction author of the Mars trilogy: Red Mars, Blue Mars, and Green Mars.
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