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Category Archives: Mars
Posted: February 27, 2021 at 3:17 am
The claim: Viral video shows Perseverance on Mars
NASA's newest robotic explorer, the Perseverance rover, touched down on the planet of Mars on Feb. 18, ending its300 million-mile journey from a Florida launch pad.
Following its landing, social media was flooded with news reports, videos and photographs of the rover and those involved in the NASA control room.
Among the onslaught ofposts expressingexcitement overthe rover's safe landing on the red planet were videos and photographsthat misrepresented or misidentified Perseverance and what it could see on Mars.
One exampleis this viral video,which includes a panoramic view and audio of Mars, with claims that the footage is from the Perseverance rover.
The caption reads, "Early video from NASA Perseverance, Mars. Stunning."
USA TODAY has reached out to the poster for comment.
The 26-second video includes audio and pans around the brown landscape.
This video is from Mars but is not footage from Perseverance. It is actually from the Curiosity rover, the title of whichis visible in the last few seconds of the video in the bottom left corner.
The footage from Curiosity, which looks like a video in this format,is actually a panoramic photograph from 2019,which can be seen here.
The sound in the video is alsonot genuine because the Perseverance rover will be the first rover to have microphones operating on Mars. NASA didn't release the first audio files until Feb. 22, and instances of this video claiming to be Perseverance started appearing on social media prior to that.
Previously, NASA hascaptured seismic vibrations from Mars, but it has not recorded sounds from the surface of the planet like the post claims.
The claim in the post has been rated FALSE. Neither the video nor the audiofootage in the Facebook post is from the Perseverance rover. The footage is actually a panoramic photograph from the Curiosity rover. Also, the sound in the video is not authentic.
Thank you for supporting our journalism. You cansubscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.
Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.
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Posted: at 3:17 am
NASA's Perseverance rover has landed in a rich scientific hunting ground, if its first good look around is any guide.
The car-sized Perseverance landed on the floor of Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, kicking off an ambitious surface mission that will hunt for signs of ancient Mars life and collect samples for future return to Earth, among other tasks.
Perseverance is not yet ready to dive into that science work; the mission team is still conducting health and status checks on its various instruments and subsystems. But the six-wheeled robot recently used its Mastcam-Z camera suite to capture a high-definition, 360-degree panorama of its surroundings, and that first taste has the mission team intrigued.
Live updates: NASA's Perseverance Mars rover mission
For example, the zoomable panorama revealed a dark stone that the team has dubbed "Harbor Seal Rock," Mastcam-Z principal investigator Jim Bell, of Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration, said during a webcast discussion of the photo on Thursday (Feb. 25).
The Martian wind probably carved Harbor Seal Rock into its curious shape over the eons, Bell said. He also pointed out patches that showed evidence of much faster-acting erosion spots where the thrusters on Perseverance's "sky crane" descent stage blew away Mars' blanket of red dust on Feb. 18, exposing the surfaces of small rocks.
One such patch harbors a group of light-colored, heavily pitted stones that have caught mission scientists' eyes.
"Are these volcanic rocks? Are these carbonate rocks? Are these something else? Do they have coatings on them?" Bell said. "We don't know we don't have any chemical data or mineral data on them yet but, boy, they're certainly interesting, and part of the story about what's going on here is going to be told when we get more detailed information on these rocks and some of the other materials in this area."
This is one of the key jobs of Mastcam-Z and Perseverance's other cameras, Bell said to spot interesting features that Perseverance can study in more detail with its spectrometers and other science instruments.
The 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater harbored a deep lake and a river delta billions of years ago. Deltas are good at preserving signs of life here on Earth, so the Perseverance team is eager for the rover to study and sample the remnants of that feature within Jezero. And the delta is visible in the Mastcam-Z panorama; the cliffs that mark its edge are about 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) from Perseverance's landing site, Bell said.
The ridgeline that's visible beyond the delta cliffs in the Mastcam-Z panorama is Jezero Crater's rim, he added.
The recently unveiled photo is just the beginning, of course. For starters, it's the lowest-resolution panorama the Mastcam-Z team will construct. Bell said that similar shots that are three times sharper will be assembled after Perseverance switches over to its surface-optimized software, a four-day process that's already underway.
And we haven't gotten the slightest taste of Perseverance's science discoveries yet. That work will take a while to get going, because the mission team's first big task after getting the rover up and running is to conduct test flights of the 4-lb. (1.8 kilograms) Mars Helicopter Ingenuity, which rode to the Red Planet on Perseverance's belly.
Ingenuity's pioneering sorties the first rotorcraft flights on a world beyond Earth will likely take place this spring, and science and sampling are expected to begin in earnest in the summer, mission team members have said.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
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NASA’s Perseverance Rover Gives High-Definition Panoramic View of Landing Site NASA’s Mars Exploration Program – NASA Mars Exploration
Posted: at 3:17 am
A 360-degree panorama taken by the rovers Mastcam-Z instrument will be discussed during a public video chat this Thursday.
NASAs Mars 2020 Perseverance rover got its first high-definition look around its new home in Jezero Crater on Feb. 21, after rotating its mast, or head, 360 degrees, allowing the rovers Mastcam-Z instrument to capture its first panorama after touching down on the Red Planet on Feb 18. It was the rovers second panorama ever, as the rovers Navigation Cameras, or Navcams, also located on the mast, captured a 360-degree view on Feb. 20.
Mastcam-Z is a dual-camera system equipped with a zoom function, allowing the cameras to zoom in, focus, and take high-definition video, as well as panoramic color and 3D images of the Martian surface. With this capability, the robotic astrobiologist can provide a detailed examination of both close and distant objects.
The cameras will help scientists assess the geologic history and atmospheric conditions of Jezero Crater and will assist in identifying rocks and sediment worthy of a closer look by the rovers other instruments. The cameras also will help the mission team determine which rocks the rover should sample and collect for eventual return to Earth in the future.
Stitched together from 142 images, the newly released panorama reveals the crater rim and cliff face of an ancient river delta in the distance. The camera system can reveal details as small as 0.1 to 0.2 inches (3 to 5 millimeters) across near the rover and 6.5 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters) across in the distant slopes along the horizon.
The detailed composite image shows a Martian surface that appears similar to images captured by previous NASA rover missions.
Were nestled right in a sweet spot, where you can see different features similar in many ways to features found by Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity at their landing sites, said Jim Bell of Arizona State Universitys School of Earth and Space Exploration, the instruments principal investigator. ASU leads operations of the Mastcam-Z instrument, working in collaboration with Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego.
The camera team will discuss the new panorama during a question and answer session at 4 p.m. EST Thursday, Feb. 25, which will air live on NASA Television and the agencys website, and will livestream on the agencys Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, Daily Motion, and YouTube channels, as well as the NASA app. Speakers include:
Mastcam-Zs design is an evolution of NASAs Curiosity Mars rovers Mastcam instrument, which has two cameras of fixed focal length rather than zoomable cameras. The two cameras on Perseverances Mastcam-Z dual cameras are mounted on the rovers mast at eye level for a person 6 feet, 6 inches (2 meters) tall. They sit 9.5 inches (24.1 centimeters) apart to provide stereo vision and can produce color images with a quality similar to that of a consumer digital HD camera.
The Mastcam-Z team includes dozens of scientists, engineers, operations specialists, managers, and students from a variety of institutions. In addition, the team includes deputy principal investigator Justin Maki of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
More About the Mission
A key objective of Perseverance's mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planets geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).
Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASAs Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.
JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.
For more about Perseverance, go to:
For more information about NASAs Mars missions, go to:
To see images as they come down from the rover and to vote on the favorite image of the week, go to:
News Media Contacts
Andrew GoodJet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.email@example.com
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Posted: at 3:17 am
The Perseverance Mars rover's "sky crane" descent stage made the ultimate sacrifice last week, and we now have a photo to memorialize the flying robot's heroic death.
The rocket-powered sky crane lowered the car-sized Perseverance rover to the floor of Mars' Jezero Crater on cables last Thursday (Feb. 18), bringing the rover's harrowing "seven minutes of terror" entry, descent and landing (EDL) sequence to a successful end.
Just after the rover's wheels touched down, the sky crane flew off to crash-land intentionally a safe distance away and Perseverance snapped a photo of the impact's immediate aftermath, NASA announced Wednesday (Feb. 24).
Video: Perseverance spots sky crane's Mars impact plume after touchdownRelated: NASA's Mars 2020 rover mission in pictures
"A moment of respect for the descent stage. Within two minutes of safely delivering me to the surface of Mars, I caught the smoke plume on one of my Hazcams [hazard-avoidance cameras] from its intentional surface impact an act that protected me and the scientific integrity of my landing site," agency officials wrote via the mission's official Twitter account, @NASAPersevere.
Perseverance documented its EDL in unprecedented detail, capturing high-definition video with multiple cameras as it blazed through the Martian sky toward Jezero's floor. That epic video shows key events in the touchdown sequence, including the deployment of the mission's supersonic parachute and the moment the rover's six wheels hit the red dirt.
Other robotic eyes were watching on Thursday as well. For example, the HiRISE camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling the Red Planet since 2006, snapped a photo of Perseverance gliding through the alien skies beneath its parachute. And a day later, HiRISE imaged mission hardware on the ground not just Perseverance, but also its sky crane, heat shield and parachute-backshell combo in their various resting spots within Jezero.
Perseverance is the centerpiece of the $2.7 billion Mars 2020 mission, which will hunt for signs of ancient life and collect and cache dozens of samples for eventual return to Earth. The rover is still going through its post-landing checkouts, but it has already begun imaging its surroundings in detail.
For instance, the mission team just released a high-definition, 360-degree panorama of the landing site stitched together from 142 images captured by Perseverance's Mastcam-Z camera system. The gorgeous photo provides our best look yet at Jezero Crater, which long ago harbored a river delta that spilled into a lake hundreds of feet deep.
We'll learn much more about this mysterious place after Perseverance gets fully up and running. So stay tuned!
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
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Posted: at 3:17 am
The first high resolution panorama showing the Perseverance Mars rover's landing site provides a remarkably detailed view of Jezero Crater, including the jagged rim of the crater in the distance and low cliffs marking the edge of an ancient river delta.
The panorama is made up of 142 images captured by the Mastcam-Z camera instrument over the weekend, three days after the rover's dramatic landing.
Click on the image below to zoom in and explore the landscape.
The zoomable, dual camera system is mounted on a remote sensing mast and is capable of rotating a full 360 degrees to provide panoramic color and 3D images. It is capable of detecting something as small as a house fly across the length of a football field.
"I'm taking it all in," the rover's Twitter account reported Wednesday. "This is the first 360-degree view of my home using Mastcam-Z."
Perseverance landed last Thursday in a crater that once held a body of water the size of Lake Tahoe. Billions of years ago, water entered the crater through a channel cutting through the crater's rim, depositing sediments in a broad delta formation as it filled the crater to a depth of hundreds of feet.
The water vanished some three billion years ago, but the sediments might hold preserved remnants of ancient microbial life. Perseverance was designed to collect promising rock and soil samples that will be deposited on the surface for retrieval by another rover later this decade. The samples then will be launched into orbit for capture by a European spacecraft that will bring them back to Earth for detailed analysis.
The Mastcam-Z panorama looks out across the floor of the crater, showing Jezero's craggy rim in the distance and eroded cliffs marking the edge of the delta formation. Nearby scouring marks where rocket exhaust plumes hit the surface as Perseverance was being lowered to touchdown by its "sky crane" jet pack.
"We're nestled right in a sweet spot, where you can see different features similar in many ways to features found by (the earlier rovers) Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity at their landing sites," said principal investigator Jim Bell of Arizona State University. ASU operates Mastcam-Z in collaboration with Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego.
One goal of the initial imaging campaign is to identify relatively flat, boulder-free areas where a small helicopter, still attached to the belly of the rover, can be dropped off for tests to determine if flight in the thin martian atmosphere is feasible.
Initial test flights are expected in about two months.
Posted: at 3:17 am
This spring, China will attempt its first Mars landing. But in anticipation of that milestone, scientists are wondering whether the Tianwen-1 rover may carry Earthly contamination with it to the surface.
Because scientists have high hopes of someday discovering traces of life on Mars, spacecraft that will land on the planet are kept as immaculately free of Earthly life as possible. These days, that means a complicated cleaning procedure throughout the spacecraft's assembly and frequent testing for spores, an inactive form of bacteria that are particularly hardy.
NASA's Perseverance rover went through precisely that treatment before it left Earth in July for its journey to Mars. However, Congress bans NASA from communicating with its Chinese counterpart.
"I don't know anything beyond what all the rest of us know from the public releases of information, but they do participate," Lisa Pratt, NASA's planetary protection officer, told a virtual meeting of the committee leading the creation of a new decadal survey identifying the priorities of planetary scientists into the 2030s on Feb. 11.
Related: China's Tianwen-1 Mars mission in photos
If the Tianwen-1 mission successfully touches down on Mars, China will become only the second country to operate a spacecraft on the Red Planet's surface, joining NASA. (The Soviet Union and the European Space Agency have had spacecraft on the surface, but these missions either crashed or failed in less than a minute.)
Like the U.S., China is party to the Outer Space Treaty, established in 1967, which outlines what nations can and cannot do in outer space yes to working for all humanity, no to nuclear weapons, for example. One tenet of the Outer Space Treaty refers to planetary protection, stating that countries must explore other worlds "so as to avoid their harmful contamination."
There are a few reasons to be wary of bringing terrestrial bugs to other worlds. For one, scientists don't want any Earth creatures to be able to make a home for themselves on Mars; for another, scientists want to be confident that if they detect traces of life on Mars, that sign is indeed from Mars, not some wayward fingerprint that came from Earth.
According to previous reporting by Space.com, Tianwen-1 is targeting a landing in Utopia Planitia, at a site where there's no evidence of water ice near the surface. (When it comes to planetary protection, sites with water are always scientists' top concern.) Long ago, however, there may have been ancient groundwater deep below the surface and mudflows in Tianwen-1's landing zone.
NASA's Viking 2 and InSight landers both touched down elsewhere in this same region. The twin Viking landers were the first spacecraft that NASA engineers sampled before departure, archiving organic and biological material from them so that if instruments detected a potential signal of life, scientists could compare such data to the samples remaining on Earth.
Launched in the 1970s, the Viking mission still predated NASA's earnest planetary protection standards for Mars. But InSight landed in 2018 and was required to meet specific standards before launch of just how dirty the spacecraft could be, with engineers searching for and tallying exposed surfaces in the spacecraft for spores.
Spore-counting is a standard NASA would like to move away from, as it turns out, but potential future techniques, including those relying on genetic analysis, aren't ready yet, Pratt said. So spores it is. And China is likely in the same place, Pratt said, noting that Chinese scientists do have contacts with a key Italian planetary protection team, so should be aware of current standards.
However, while NASA and its Chinese counterpart can't interact directly, sometimes their representatives end up at the same meetings, and Pratt told the story of just such an occasion, which she attributed to November, when she ended up seated next to a Chinese scientists.
"I asked a question in front of everybody, I said, 'Can you talk to us about what you did for planetary protection compliance?'" Pratt told the committee. "And the individual sort of said, 'We did what all the rest of you do, we did the spore metric measurements, and we were highly compliant.'"
NASA, however, hasn't seen those measurements and may never.
"They at least said the right thing. Needless to say, there is no inspection, no external verification," Pratt said. "At the moment, my thought is, 'OK, I'm taking their word for it,' because I don't have any way to know otherwise."
Email Meghan Bartels at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.
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Posted: at 3:17 am
NASA's most powerful rover yet is regularly sending back images from the Red Planet, and you can stay updated on the latest snapshots from the Perseverance rover.
Just like with NASA's other missions, the photo hub for all Perseverance postcards is the rover's "raw images" gallery. These images are the unprocessed, raw pictures that are sent from the Martian surface, before they are color-corrected or otherwise altered for public release.
NASA also periodically collects raw images into panoramas or colorizes them, which provides more context. The full gallery of these altered pictures is here. These are also the pictures you tend to see at news conferences and in Space.com stories, since they have been made a little prettier for public consumption.
Related: Watch the Perseverance rover land on Mars in this epic video
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took several pictures of Perseverance landing; its High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HIRISE) camera regularly uploads images to this website. The orbiter may be able to capture more pictures of Perseverance moving around on the surface in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.
Of course, you can also keep track of what's going on with the mission on social media. Mentioning every Twitter, Instagram or Flickr feed that plays with rover images would be an epic task, so we'll just concentrate on a couple of examples that focus (again) on NASA or NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which houses rover operations.
The Perseverance Image Bot on Twitter regularly posts new raw images, offering great reminders to revisit the NASA gallery. Another great resource comes from Kevin Gill, who officially works as a software engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory; in his free time, Gill processes images from Perseverance and other missions, posting the incredible results to a Flickr page and to Twitter.
Also make sure to follow the NASA Perseverance mission's social media feeds, which provide constant updates on all of the rover's activities including the prettied-up images for public consumption. You can follow the mission on Twitter or on Facebook; NASA also has numerous social media feeds where you may see a few Percy images mixed in with other things.
Knowing when to look for images could be a full-time job in itself, but luckily, planetary scientist Emily Lakdawalla (formerly of the Planetary Society) posted an informative Twitter thread about how to stay on top of the rover's work.
Simply put, most rover activity tends to happen between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. local time on Mars, which is the warmest time of the day. To relay imagery, the rover also has to be within sight of MRO, the usual orbiter to send images to Earth, although that varies too. Since "Mars time" runs on a 24-hour, 37-minute "Earth day" must be taken into account, the upload timing varies but Lakdawalla's thread points you to the best time to take a look.
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.
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Posted: at 3:17 am
China's Tianwen-1 spacecraft has trimmed its orbit around Mars to allow the spacecraft to analyze the chosen landing region on the Red Planet.
After the burn, which occurred on Tuesday (Feb. 23), Tianwen-1 is now in position to begin imaging and collecting data on primary and backup landing sites for the mission's rover, which will attempt to touch down in May or June.
Tianwen-1, China's first independent interplanetary mission, consists of an orbiter and rover, which have been in Mars orbit as a single spacecraft since Feb. 10. The latest engine burn, at 5:29 p.m. EST Tuesday (2229 GMT, 06:29 Beijing time Wednesday), executed during the spacecraft's closest approach to Mars, greatly reduced its apoapsis, or farthest point from the planet.
Related: The latest news about China's space program
Tianwen-1's new "parking orbit" takes the spacecraft as close as 170 miles (280 kilometers) to Mars and as far away as 37,000 miles (59,000 km).
The mission orbiter is now firing up its camera and science payloads, preparing to assess the landscape and dust conditions at the primary landing site, situated within an area of Utopia Planitia, a vast plain on the Red Planet.
The "parking orbit" will allow the orbiter to capture sharp images of the targeted landing site, potentially returning images with a resolution of 20 inches (50 centimeters) per pixel.
Tianwen-1 will photograph the region on multiple occasions to evaluate the topography and dust conditions in the landing zone, Tan Zhiyun, deputy chief designer of the Mars probe with the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), told CCTV+. "We will figure all these information out in preparation for a safe landing," Tan said.
Each orbit takes about two Earth days to complete, so China may be able to capture and release the probe's first high-resolution images of the Martian surface in the following days.
Understanding local conditions is also very important for the operation of the mission's roughly 530-lb. (240 kilograms) solar-powered rover. Martian dust can pose major threats to solar-powered spacecraft on the surface; NASA's Opportunity rover lost contact with Earth in 2018 during just such a global dust storm.
The Tianwen-1 rover is contained within an aeroshell attached to the orbiter. This conical structure will both protect and slow the rover during its fiery, hypersonic entry into the Martian atmosphere at the start of the landing attempt. A supersonic parachute will further slow the rover before retropropulsion engines provide the final deceleration for the soft landing.
The rover carries science payloads to investigate surface soil characteristics and mineral composition and to search for potential water ice with a ground penetrating radar. The rover is designed to operate for 90 Mars sols (92 Earth days) with the Tianwen-1 orbiter serving to relay communications and data between the rover and the Earth. The orbiter is designed to operate for a total of one Mars year, or about 687 Earth days.
Tianwen-1 is one of three missions that have just reached Mars. Tianwen-1 entered orbit a day after the United Arab Emirates' Hope probe managed the same feat and a week before the spectacular landing of NASA's Perseverance rover.
Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.
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Posted: at 3:17 am
An artist's depiction of a nuclear powered spacecraft of the sort that might one day carry people to Mars. Nuclear could allow for faster journeys, according to the experts. USNC-Tech hide caption
An artist's depiction of a nuclear powered spacecraft of the sort that might one day carry people to Mars. Nuclear could allow for faster journeys, according to the experts.
When NASA's Perseverance rover touched down on the Martian surface last week, humans cheered from the confines of planet Earth.
But if the space agency or others hope to leave and send astronauts to Mars, experts say they need to consider a technology that was studied decades ago but never fully developed: nuclear-powered rockets.
"If we decide to send humans to Mars, nuclear propulsion is likely to be central to that journey," says Roger Myers, an independent aerospace consultant and co-chair of a panel convened by the National Academies to study nuclear propulsion.
A new report out from Myers and his colleagues suggests that NASA should begin studying nuclear propulsion now, if it hopes to use it in a Mars mission in 2039. Although NASA does spend some money studying the technology, Myers says, funding is "going to have to be ramped up significantly if we're going to hit 2039."
The idea of using nuclear reactors for propulsion dates back to the earliest days of the U.S. space program. In the 1950s and 1960s, scientists with what was then called the Atomic Energy Commission developed a series of nuclear rockets. The program was conducted in collaboration for NASA and developed working prototypes. But it was cancelled in the early 1970s, after it became clear the missions for which it was needed, to travel to Mars and the moon, were unlikely to go forward.
The technology has had sporadic funding in the years since, even as other technologies for space travel have continued to develop. Most notably in the case of Mars, Myers says scientists and engineers have made incredible strides in robotic technology to explore the Red Planet.
"We can do a tremendous amount of fantastic science with robots, as we're discovering today," Myers says.
Getting humans to Mars is another matter. "There are many factors that need to be considered, including such things like how fast can you get there? How long do you have to stay on Mars? How quickly and how reliably can you get back?" he says.
Those questions, he says, are all about one thing: minimizing the time from when astronauts leave earth, to when they return. The trip must be as fast as possible, but going quickly takes fuel. For even the most basic human trip to Mars, Myers and the panel believe around a thousand tons of propellant would be necessary.
A documentary showing early work on nuclear rocketry.
That would come from Earth, on many dozens of little rockets that could be used to gas up a larger, Mars-bound spacecraft. It would be expensive and dangerous, and even with all the propellant, astronauts would be required to stay on Mars for 500 days while waiting for a planetary alignment that would let them get back to earth using as little propellant as possible.
Nuclear power, by contrast, could allow the mission to be completed with less fuel and in a shorter amount of time. Because of the extra thrust provided by nuclear rocket motors, astronauts would be able to take a shortcut back to Earth by spiraling around the Sun and Venus. The mission would also mean a shorter first stay on Mars of only about a month, as opposed to 500 days.
"If you want to go to Mars, nuclear is a smart choice," says Vishal Patel, a nuclear rocket scientist with the company called Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation.
Patel and his colleagues are working on the version of a nuclear rocket previously tested by the U.S. It involves shooting hydrogen gas through the core of a specially designed nuclear reactor. The hydrogen would cause the reactor to heat up, which in turn would make the hydrogen expand out of a nozzle, causing thrust.
Patel says so far, the design looks promising. "The chemistry looks good, the nuclear physics looks good, the manufacturing seems to be going in the right direction," he says.
A second kind of nuclear rocket would use the nuclear reactor in a more conventional way. In this version, the reactor would generate electricity that could then be used to power a different rocket motor, such as an "ion thruster" of the sort used on some satellites.
The National Academies found each design had significant challenges that would need to be overcome before they were ready for humans. For the nuclear rocket using hydrogen, materials would have to be developed that could tolerate the enormous temperatures inside the reactor core. The rocket would also need advanced hydrogen storage so that its fuel didn't leak.
The nuclear electric system, by contrast, would need giant radiator panels protruding from the spaceship to help deal with heat generated by the reactor. It would also require more research to figure out how to integrate the reactor with different kinds of thrusters and power systems.
Patel recognizes that launching a nuclear reactor from earth might make some people nervous, but he says Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation is working hard to make it...ultra safe.
"We'll be using conventional rockets to get it up into space, and we'll have safety measures in places just in case the chemical rocket does malfunction," he says.
A nuclear rocket can look a lot like a conventional one, but operates using nuclear power. USNC-Tech hide caption
A nuclear rocket can look a lot like a conventional one, but operates using nuclear power.
The nuclear reactor would remain shut off throughout its trip off of Earth's surface, and even if the rocket exploded, it would not melt down. Astronauts would not activate the nuclear rocket system until their Mars-bound spacecraft was a safe distance from earth.
The reactor would also be shielded to protect the astronauts from its radiation, Patel says. But Myers adds the larger radiation risk comes from space itself. Both the Sun and the Milky Way galaxy put out powerful radiation that can be harmful to anyone outside of Earth's atmosphere. Nuclear rockets would protect astronauts by keeping the travel time through space as short as possible, he says.
Ultimately it remains unclear whether nuclear rockets will be able to get off the ground. Developing the technology is enormously expensive, and there are still many obstacles to making it work. In a statement, NASA said it would "will further review the committee's recommendations and share them with stakeholders."
Myers says he believes NASA should at least begin investing to see whether such rockets could play a role in humanity's first trip to Mars. "Right now we don't have the data to make good decisions on these systems," he says.
Posted: at 3:17 am
Welcome to Climate Point, your weekly guide to climate, energy and environment news from around the Golden State and the country (and the galaxy). In Palm Springs, Calif., Im Mark Olalde.
America is back on Mars! If you're anything like me, that means you spent the past week obsessively consuming news about NASA's Perseverance rover that landed on the red planet. If not, then I've got you covered. First, check out this AP video of the moment that touchdown was confirmed because cheering scientists either mean you're watching the end of a '90s movie or we just did something wild. Then, check out this USA Today piece on how the mission team has taken steps toward diversity. Next, Florida Today has more information on some quirks of the Mars mission.And, finally, head over to Perseverance's Twitter feed for a plethora of cool stuff, ranging from sounds recorded on Mars to insights from NASA.
Back on Earth, here's some other important reporting....
NASA's Perseverance rover is lowered onto the surface of Mars in a harrowing landing.(Photo: NASA)
Politics as usual.Currently, all eyes in Washington, D.C., are on U.S. Department of the Interior confirmation hearings, where Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., could become the first Native American to hold a cabinet position. But, conservatives aren't making life easy for her, as they argue she would be bad for fossil fuels Haaland previously came out in favor of the progressive Green New Deal. HuffPost has an interesting look at the irony of politicians who voted against action on climate change lecturing her to "respect the science."Still, as CNN reports, fossil fuel-friendly Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced he will support her, likely meaning she'll be confirmed. Meanwhile, the Detroit Free Press reports thatformer Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who has pushed for both electric vehicles as well as renewables, has been confirmed by the Senate to helm the Department of Energy.
High water mark.Next up, here's one that you might not have heard about but could make your wallet a lot slimmer or a lot fatter, depending on where you live. USA Today reports on new data that speaks to an overhaul of the federal flood insurance program. The datafrom research group First Street Foundationestimates that average insurance rates need to quadruple in placesto keep the program solvent. "For some 265,000 properties, annual premiums would need to climb $10,000 or more to match the actual risk," the team writes. This story is complete with helpful maps and tools, so if you live anywhere near water, take a look at how you might be impacted.
Lights out.After a cold snap brought much of Texas' grid to its knees, it's supposed to be 72 degrees in Dallas tomorrow. Welcome to the modern, wildly variable climate. The thaw is also bringing time to reflect on what exactly went wrong afterrolling blackouts caused by a variety of factors not least of which was natural gas infrastructure that wasn't weatherized left people without power for days. ProPublica and The Texas Tribune are out with a deep dive on the event, chronicling how "lawmakers and regulators, including the (Texas Public Utility Commission) and the industry-friendly Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry, have repeatedly ignored, dismissed or watered down efforts to address weaknesses in the states sprawling electric grid." Meanwhile, the Austin American-Statesman, which previously reported that members of the board overseeing the majority of Texas' grid did not live in the state, writes that five members are resigning.
Rep. Deb. Haaland on Dec. 19, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware.(Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)
California courtroom.I grew up watching legal dramas with my mom, so, now that I cover the Golden State, I've realized a courtroom TV show about California environmental litigation is long overdue. For The Desert Sun, I've got the details about two important cases currently underway in the state. First, a judge refused to strip temporary protections from Joshua trees in a case that has implications on whether climate change is a justifiable reasonto protect species. Then, an environmental group is targeting state oil regulators, filing a suit to compel them to more closely follow environmental laws when handing out drilling permits.
Don't cross the Delaware.Speaking of hydrocarbons, there's some big news out East, where thePocono Record reports that fracking has been banned on 13,539 square miles of land surrounding the Delaware River.This comes from a vote by representatives of the governors of Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and New York.
Legislating lumens.Back in the West, Sam Metz of AP reports thatNevada's Senate unanimously upvoted a bill to recognize "dark sky places." The legislation will "create a state program aligned with the International Dark Sky Association" to protect areas around the state that have some of the best stargazing in the world.
Battery battles.And finally on the U.S. politics front this week, High Country News published a feature that looks at the debate over America's nascent lithium mining industry. On one hand, lithium plays a key role in the batteries that will store the energy fueling the clean energy transition. On the other hand, tribes, environmentalists and ranchers argue that rushed mining proposals are threatening land in states like Nevada. Take a look at how this conflict is playing out near theFort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone Reservation.
Site of Thacker Pass mining project in Nevada.(Photo: Lithium Americas)
Disaster on the horizon.This week, I want to briefly take you around the world, where some important environmental stories are quickly unfolding. Let's start in Yemen, where the ongoing war could have a surprising victim the country's coastal and marine ecosystems.For Newlines Magazine, Lylla Younes reportsthat an oil tanker has been sitting moored 4 miles offshore for five yearsafter it was abandoned. The ship holds more than 1 million barrels of crude, and neglect and saltwater are eating away at it. If the tanker isn't pulled to shore and emptied soon, then it could cause a spill four times as massive as the infamous Exxon Valdez.
Extreme extraction.Humans aren't so great at the three R's reduce, reuse, recycle leading us to ever more extreme ways of digging up new resources. The latest international battle is centered on seabed mining, which is the fledgling practice of stripping the bottom of the ocean for minerals and dumping the refuse back into the water. If practiced on a large scale, it's expected to be hugely destructive. Under increasing pressure, though, a territory in Australia has outright banned the mining technique, The Guardian reports.
Breaking the ice.In a dizzying sign of the times, Bloomberg writes that a tanker made the first-ever February trip through Arctic sea ice after another hot year. Russia's deputy prime minister's response was that he's "confident that the Northern Sea Route is competitive." Without a shred of irony, the expedition was a return trip after dropping off a load of liquified natural gas in China.
Broken sea ice emerges from under the hull of the Finnish icebreaker MSV Nordica as it sails through the Victoria Strait while traversing the Arctic's Northwest Passage on July 21, 2017.(Photo: David Goldman, AP)
Much ado about nothing.And to kick this week's edition, let's keep things international, where Politico digs into the latest intergovernmental attempt to address a changing climate. "When it comes to climate change, bombs dont work, so the United Nations Security Council prefers words to action," reporter Karl Mathiesen writes. But Russia, which asa permanent member of the council has veto power, warned against any move to recognize warming as a threat to global security.
Scientists agree that to maintain a livable planet, we need to reduce the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration back to 350 ppm. Were above that and rising dangerously. Here are the latest numbers:
Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases continue rising.(Photo: George Petras)
Thats all for now. Dont forget to follow along on Twitter at @MarkOlalde. You can also reach me at email@example.com. You can sign up to get Climate Point in your inbox for free here. And, if youd like to receive a daily round-up of California news (also for free!), you can sign up for USA Todays In California newsletter here. Mask up; were doing it! Cheers.
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