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NASA’s Perseverance Team Assessing First Mars Sampling Attempt

August 31st, 2021

Data sent to Earth by NASA’s Perseverance rover after its first attempt to collect a rock sample on Mars and seal it in a sample tube indicate that no rock was collected during the initial sampling activity.

The rover carries 43 titanium sample tubes, and is exploring Jezero Crater, where it will be gathering samples of rock and regolith (broken rock and dust) for future analysis on Earth.

“While this is not the ‘hole-in-one’ we hoped for, there is always risk with breaking new ground,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “I’m confident we have the right team working this, and we will persevere toward a solution to ensure future success.”

Perseverance’s Sampling and Caching System uses a hollow coring bit and a percussive drill at the end of its 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm to extract samples. Telemetry from the rover indicates that during its first coring attempt, the drill and bit were engaged as planned, and post-coring the sample tube was processed as intended.

“The sampling process is autonomous from beginning to end,” said Jessica Samuels, the surface mission manager for Perseverance at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “One of the steps that occurs after placing a probe into the collection tube is to measure the volume of the sample. The probe did not encounter the expected resistance that would be there if a sample were inside the tube.”

The Perseverance mission is assembling a response team to analyze the data. One early step will be to use the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) imager – located at the end of the robotic arm – to take close-up pictures of the borehole. Once the team has a better understanding of what happened, it will be able to ascertain when to schedule the next sample collection attempt.

“The initial thinking is that the empty tube is more likely a result of the rock target not reacting the way we expected during coring, and less likely a hardware issue with the Sampling and Caching System,” said Jennifer Trosper, project manager for Perseverance at JPL. “Over the next few days, the team will be spending more time analyzing the data we have, and also acquiring some additional diagnostic data to support understanding the root cause for the empty tube.”

Previous NASA missions on Mars have also encountered surprising rock and regolith properties during sample collection and other activities. In 2008, the Phoenix mission sampled soil that was "sticky" and difficult to move into onboard science instruments, resulting in multiple tries before achieving success. Curiosity has drilled into rocks that turned out to be harder and more brittle than expected. Most recently, the heat probe on the InSight lander, known as the “mole,” was unable to penetrate the Martian surface as planned.

“I have been on every Mars rover mission since the beginning, and this planet is always teaching us what we don’t know about it,” said Trosper. “One thing I’ve found is, it’s not unusual to have complications during complex, first-time activities.”

First Science Campaign

Perseverance is currently exploring two geologic units containing Jezero Crater’s deepest and most ancient layers of exposed bedrock and other intriguing geologic features. The first unit, called the “Crater Floor Fractured Rough,” is the floor of Jezero. The adjacent unit, named “Séítah” (meaning “amidst the sand” in the Navajo language), has Mars bedrock as well, and is also home to ridges, layered rocks, and sand dunes.

Recently, the Perseverance science team began using color images from the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter to help scout for areas of potential scientific interest and to look for potential hazards. Ingenuity completed its 11th flight Wednesday, Aug. 4, traveling about 1,250 feet (380 meters) downrange of its current location so that it could provide the project aerial reconnaissance of the southern Séítah area.

The rover’s initial science foray, which spans hundreds of sols (or Martian days), will be complete when Perseverance returns to its landing site. At that point, Perseverance will have traveled between 1.6 and 3.1 miles (2.5 and 5 kilometers) and may have filled up to eight of its sample tubes.

Next, Perseverance will travel north, then west, toward the location of its second science campaign: Jezero Crater’s delta region. The delta is the fan-shaped remains of the confluence of an ancient river and a lake within Jezero Crater. The region may be especially rich in carbonate minerals. On Earth, such minerals can preserve fossilized signs of ancient microscopic life and are associated with biological processes.

More About the Mission

A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s 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.

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 NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.

Sampling

NASA’s Perseverance Team Assessing First Mars Sampling Attempt

August 6th, 2021

Data sent to Earth by NASA’s Perseverance rover after its first attempt to collect a rock sample on Mars and seal it in a sample tube indicate that no rock was collected during the initial sampling activity.

The rover carries 43 titanium sample tubes, and is exploring Jezero Crater, where it will be gathering samples of rock and regolith (broken rock and dust) for future analysis on Earth.

“While this is not the ‘hole-in-one’ we hoped for, there is always risk with breaking new ground,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “I’m confident we have the right team working this, and we will persevere toward a solution to ensure future success.”

Perseverance’s Sampling and Caching System uses a hollow coring bit and a percussive drill at the end of its 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm to extract samples. Telemetry from the rover indicates that during its first coring attempt, the drill and bit were engaged as planned, and post-coring the sample tube was processed as intended.

“The sampling process is autonomous from beginning to end,” said Jessica Samuels, the surface mission manager for Perseverance at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “One of the steps that occurs after placing a probe into the collection tube is to measure the volume of the sample. The probe did not encounter the expected resistance that would be there if a sample were inside the tube.”

The Perseverance mission is assembling a response team to analyze the data. One early step will be to use the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) imager – located at the end of the robotic arm – to take close-up pictures of the borehole. Once the team has a better understanding of what happened, it will be able to ascertain when to schedule the next sample collection attempt.

“The initial thinking is that the empty tube is more likely a result of the rock target not reacting the way we expected during coring, and less likely a hardware issue with the Sampling and Caching System,” said Jennifer Trosper, project manager for Perseverance at JPL. “Over the next few days, the team will be spending more time analyzing the data we have, and also acquiring some additional diagnostic data to support understanding the root cause for the empty tube.”

Previous NASA missions on Mars have also encountered surprising rock and regolith properties during sample collection and other activities. In 2008, the Phoenix mission sampled soil that was "sticky" and difficult to move into onboard science instruments, resulting in multiple tries before achieving success. Curiosity has drilled into rocks that turned out to be harder and more brittle than expected. Most recently, the heat probe on the InSight lander, known as the “mole,” was unable to penetrate the Martian surface as planned.

“I have been on every Mars rover mission since the beginning, and this planet is always teaching us what we don’t know about it,” said Trosper. “One thing I’ve found is, it’s not unusual to have complications during complex, first-time activities.”

First Science Campaign

Perseverance is currently exploring two geologic units containing Jezero Crater’s deepest and most ancient layers of exposed bedrock and other intriguing geologic features. The first unit, called the “Crater Floor Fractured Rough,” is the floor of Jezero. The adjacent unit, named “Séítah” (meaning “amidst the sand” in the Navajo language), has Mars bedrock as well, and is also home to ridges, layered rocks, and sand dunes.

Recently, the Perseverance science team began using color images from the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter to help scout for areas of potential scientific interest and to look for potential hazards. Ingenuity completed its 11th flight Wednesday, Aug. 4, traveling about 1,250 feet (380 meters) downrange of its current location so that it could provide the project aerial reconnaissance of the southern Séítah area.

The rover’s initial science foray, which spans hundreds of sols (or Martian days), will be complete when Perseverance returns to its landing site. At that point, Perseverance will have traveled between 1.6 and 3.1 miles (2.5 and 5 kilometers) and may have filled up to eight of its sample tubes.

Next, Perseverance will travel north, then west, toward the location of its second science campaign: Jezero Crater’s delta region. The delta is the fan-shaped remains of the confluence of an ancient river and a lake within Jezero Crater. The region may be especially rich in carbonate minerals. On Earth, such minerals can preserve fossilized signs of ancient microscopic life and are associated with biological processes.

More About the Mission

A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s 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.

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 NASA’s 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.

August Mars

NASA Software Benefits Earth, Available for Business, Public Use

June 29th, 2021

Many of NASA's computational innovations were developed to help explore space, but the public can download them for applications that benefit us right here on Earth. The agency’s latest software catalog has hundreds of popular programs, as well as more than 180 new ones, all available for free download.

“From operations here on Earth to missions to the Moon and Mars, software is integral to all that NASA does,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “The good news is this technology is available to the public for free. The software suited for satellites, astronauts, engineers, and scientists as it is applied and adapted across industries and businesses is a testament to the extensive value NASA brings to the United States – and the world."

NASA programs adapted and used by entrepreneurs, other government agencies, researchers, and others include:

  • TetrUSS: Aircraft emissions contribute significantly to humanity’s carbon footprint. Computational fluid dynamics programs developed at NASA allow engineers to design an aircraft’s shape to minimize drag, allowing for maximal fuel efficiency. Available in the United States, TetrUSS is one of NASA’s most downloaded applications of all time. The program has enabled users to improve designs for aircraft, automobiles, and boats, as well as gauge architectural aerodynamics and even assist in plane crash investigations.
  • WorldWind: The sheer volume of data captured by NASA’s many satellites can make it unwieldy for everyday use. WorldWind visualizes NASA data using a video game-like virtual globe of Earth, allowing users to zoom from satellite altitude down to any point on the planet’s surface. This software helps decision-makers worldwide manage scarce resources. It supports the Coast Guard by generating a map from live feeds of satellite and maritime data. And it helps researchers understand climate impacts on freshwater resources.

“In the race to mitigate the effects of human-made climate change, human-made technology can be a key advantage,” said Technology Transfer Program Executive Dan Lockney. “By making our repository of software widely accessible, NASA helps entrepreneurs, business owners, academia, and other government agencies solve real problems."

Dozens of other environmental science software programs are also ready for download. Highlights include:

  • A tool to calculate a solar power system's size and power requirements using fuel cells, solar cells, and batteries.
  • Code to analyze solar aircraft concepts by evaluating flight worthiness and providing design feedback.
  • Computational fluid dynamics software that can improve the efficiency of wind turbines for power generation.

Containing more than 800 programs, the NASA software catalog features categories such as system testing, aeronautics, data and image processing, autonomous systems, and more. The software is also continuously updated in a searchable repository online.

The agency will host a webinar July 13, 2021, to give the public an opportunity to learn more about the download process and ask questions about available NASA software.

New NASA Student Challenge Offers Hands-On Tech Development

May 25th, 2021

NASA will initiate a new competition for the 2021-22 school year, providing student teams a chance to design, build, and launch experiments on suborbital rockets and high-altitude balloon flights. NASA and Future Engineers, the challenge administrator, will offer a series of virtual events for educators to hear from agency experts and learn more about this exciting opportunity for students.

The NASA TechRise Student Challenge will begin accepting entries in August. Teams of sixth- to 12th-grade students can submit ideas for climate or remote sensing experiments to fly on a high-altitude balloon, and space exploration experiments to fly aboard a suborbital rocket.

The winning teams each will receive $1,500 to build their payloads, as well as an assigned spot on a NASA-sponsored commercial suborbital flight. Balloon flights will offer more than four hours of flight time, while suborbital rockets will provide around three minutes of test time in microgravity conditions.

“This competition is an exciting opportunity for students across the country, whether they're already passionate about space exploration or looking for a new challenge," said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). “Student teams will get hands-on experience creating and building their own experiments and then get to see them fly to suborbital space, just like NASA engineers and university researchers.”

The contest aims to inspire a deeper understanding of Earth’s atmosphere, space exploration, coding, and electronics, as well as a broader understanding of the value of test data. The challenge also will allow students to engage with NASA and technology communities, and expose them to potential careers in science, technology, and space exploration fields.

NASA Statement on China’s Zhurong Mars Rover Photos

May 21st, 2021

NASA Administrator Sen. Bill Nelson issued the following statement Wednesday after the China National Space Administration’s release of the first photos from the Zhurong Mars rover:

“Congratulations to the China National Space Administration on receiving the first images from the Zhurong Mars rover!” Nelson said. “As the international scientific community of robotic explorers on Mars grows, the United States and the world look forward to the discoveries Zhurong will make to advance humanity’s knowledge of the Red Planet. I look forward to future international discoveries, which will help inform and develop the capabilities needed to land human boots on Mars.”

CNSA’s successful landing of the Zhurong rover last week makes it only the second nation to ever land successfully on Mars. Zhurong joins active NASA missions – the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers and Insight Lander – in exploring the surface of the Red Planet.

NASA Awards Contract for Information Technology Support

May 14th, 2021

NASA has selected Banner Quality Management Inc. (BQMI) and Peerless Technologies Corporation, a joint venture located in Fairview Park, Ohio, to provide information technology solutions in support of agency missions and programs.

The Professional, Administrative, Computational, and Engineering Services (PACE V) contract is a cost-plus fixed fee contract with an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity provision and a maximum value of $233.2 million. The two-year base performance period of this small business set-aside contract begins July 1, 2021, and is followed by a two-year option and a one-year option, which would end June 30, 2026.

BQMI-Peerless Joint Venture will provide information technology solutions to a variety of NASA locations with primary services delivered to the agency’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility in Sandusky, Ohio. These solutions will meet the center’s information technology requirements across institutional, programmatic, research, engineering, and facilities while ensuring continued alignment with the agency’s missions.

 

NASA, Axiom Agree to First Private Astronaut Mission on Space Station

May 10th, 2021

Private

NASA and Axiom Space have signed an order for the first private astronaut mission to the International Space Station to take place no earlier than January 2022.

“We are excited to see more people have access to spaceflight through this first private astronaut mission to the space station,” said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for human exploration and operations at NASA Headquarters. “One of our original goals with the Commercial Crew Program, and again with our Commercial Low-Earth Orbit Development Program, is that our providers have customers other than NASA to grow a commercial economy in low-Earth orbit.”

The spaceflight, designated as Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1), will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and travel to the International Space Station. Once docked, the Axiom astronauts are scheduled to spend eight days aboard the orbiting laboratory. NASA and Axiom mission planners will coordinate in-orbit activities for the private astronauts to conduct in coordination with space station crew members and flight controllers on the ground.

Axiom will purchase services for the mission from NASA, such as crew supplies, cargo delivery to space, storage, and other in-orbit resources for daily use. NASA will purchase from Axiom the capability to return scientific samples that must be kept cold in transit back to Earth.

“The first private crew to visit the International Space Station is a watershed moment in humanity’s expansion off the planet and we are glad to partner with NASA in making it happen,” said Axiom President and CEO Michael Suffredini. “A thriving commercial marketplace in low-Earth orbit begins with expanding access to serious, nontraditional users and that is exactly the aim of our private astronaut missions.”

NASA has opened up the space station for commercial activities, including private astronaut missions, as part of its plan to develop a robust and competitive economy in low-Earth orbit. The agency’s needs to achieve that goal – such as research on the effects of the space environment on humans, technology development, and in-flight crew testing – will remain in place after the retirement of the International Space Station. Commercial entities can meet those needs, providing destinations and transportation capabilities. Enabling Ax-1 is an important step to stimulate demand for commercial human spaceflight services so NASA can be one of many customers in low-Earth orbit.

For the Ax-1 mission, Axiom has proposed Michael López-Alegría, Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, and Eytan Stibbe as prime crew members. These private astronauts will be reviewed by NASA and its international partners, as is standard for any space station crew, and undergo NASA medical qualification testing to be approved for flight. López-Alegría will serve as the mission commander, with Peggy Whitson and John Shoffner as backups.

Once the proposed crew passes review and qualification, the four members will train for their flight with NASA, international partners, and SpaceX, which Axiom has contracted as launch provider for transportation to the space station. Trainers will familiarize the private astronauts with systems, procedures, and emergency preparedness for the space station and the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Based on current mission planning, training is scheduled to begin this summer.

The development and growth of the low-Earth orbit economy continues. In January 2020, NASA selected Axiom to provide at least one habitable commercial module to be attached to the forward port of the International Space Station’s Harmony node in late 2024. Most recently, NASA announced the agency is seeking input from industry on future commercial low-Earth orbit destinations that will provide services, such as crew training, scientific research, and advanced systems development for both government and private-sector astronauts and customers.

For more than 20 years, NASA has supported a continuous U.S. human presence in low-Earth orbit. The agency's goal is a low-Earth orbit marketplace where NASA is one of many customers, and the private sector leads the way. This strategy will provide services the government needs at a lower cost, enabling the agency to focus on its Artemis missions to the Moon and on to Mars while continuing to use low-Earth orbit as a training and proving ground for those deep space missions.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Heads for Earth with Asteroid Sample

May 10th, 2021

After nearly five years in space, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft is on its way back to Earth with an abundance of rocks and dust from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu.

On Monday, May 10, at 4:23 p.m. EDT the spacecraft fired its main engines full throttle for seven minutes – its most significant maneuver since it arrived at Bennu in 2018. This burn thrust the spacecraft away from the asteroid at 600 miles per hour (nearly 1,000 kilometers per hour), setting it on a 2.5-year cruise towards Earth.

After releasing the sample capsule, OSIRIS-REx will have completed its primary mission. It will fire its engines to fly by Earth safely, putting it on a trajectory to circle the sun inside of Venus’ orbit.

After orbiting the Sun twice, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is due to reach Earth Sept. 24, 2023. Upon return, the capsule containing pieces of Bennu will separate from the rest of the spacecraft and enter Earth’s atmosphere. The capsule will parachute to the Utah Test and Training Range in Utah's West Desert, where scientists will be waiting to retrieve it.

“OSIRIS-REx’s many accomplishments demonstrated the daring and innovate way in which exploration unfolds in real time,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters. “The team rose to the challenge, and now we have a primordial piece of our solar system headed back to Earth where many generations of researchers can unlock its secrets.”

To realize the mission’s multi-year plan, a dozen navigation engineers made calculations and wrote computer code to instruct the spacecraft when and how to push itself away from Bennu. After departing from Bennu, getting the sample to Earth safely is the team’s next critical goal. This includes planning future maneuvers to keep the spacecraft on course throughout its journey.

“Our whole mindset has been, ‘Where are we in space relative to Bennu?’” said Mike Moreau, OSIRIS-REx deputy project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Now our mindset has shifted to ‘Where is the spacecraft in relation to Earth?’”

The navigation cameras that helped orient the spacecraft in relation to Bennu were turned off April 9, after snapping their last images of the asteroid. With Bennu in the rearview mirror, engineers are using NASA’s Deep Space Network of global spacecraft communications facilities to steer the OSIRIS-REx by sending it radio signals. By measuring the frequency of the waves returned from the spacecraft transponder, engineers can tell how fast OSIRIS-REx is moving. Engineers measure how long it takes for radio signals to get from the spacecraft back to Earth in order to determine its location.

Exceeding Mission Expectations

The May 10 departure date was precisely timed based on the alignment of Bennu with Earth. The goal of the return maneuver is to get the spacecraft within about 6,000 miles  (approximately 10,000 kilometers) of Earth in September 2023. Although OSIRIS-REx still has plenty of fuel remaining, the team is trying to preserve as much as possible for a potential extended mission to another asteroid after returning the sample capsule to Earth. The team will investigate the feasibility of such a mission this summer.

The spacecraft’s course will be determined mainly by the Sun’s gravity, but engineers will need to occasionally make small course adjustments via engine burns.

“We need to do regular corrections to bring the trajectory increasingly closer to Earth’s atmosphere for the sample release, and to account for small errors that might have accumulated since the last burn,” said Peter Antreasian, OSIRIS-REx navigation lead at KinetX Aerospace, which is based in Simi Valley, California.

New York Students to Hear from NASA Astronauts on Space Station

May 4th, 2021

Students from New York will have an opportunity this week to hear from NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The Earth-to-space call will air live at 10:30 a.m. EDT Thursday, May 6, on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website.

NASA astronaut Megan McArthur and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet will answer prerecorded video questions from students involved in the State University of New York-Plattsburgh’s Shine On! program. The Shine On! curriculum aims to encourage resilient, confident girls by teaching media literacy, communication skills, and character strengths. The in-flight education downlink will be the highlight of a daylong STEM conference for more than 5,000 students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade from across New York state.

The event will be virtual. Media interested in covering it should contact Emily Slattery at: 914-563-4296 or emslat004@plattsburgh.edu. Teachers interested in registering for the virtual conference should visit:

Linking students directly to astronauts aboard the space station provides unique, authentic experiences designed to enhance student learning, performance, and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Astronauts living in space on the orbiting laboratory communicate with NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston 24 hours a day through the Space Network’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellites.

For more than 20 years, astronauts have continuously lived and worked on the space station, testing technologies, performing research, and developing the skills needed to explore farther from Earth. Through NASA’s Artemis program, the agency will return astronauts to the Moon, with eventual human exploration of Mars. Inspiring the next generation of explorers – the Artemis Generation – ensures America will continue to lead in space exploration and discovery.

NY students

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 Astronauts Headed to International Space Station

April 23rd, 2021

takeoff

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 astronauts are in orbit following their early morning launch bound for the International Space Station for the second commercial crew rotation mission aboard the microgravity laboratory. The international crew of astronauts lifted off at 5:49 a.m. EDT Friday from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket propelled the Crew Dragon spacecraft with NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, along with JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency)  astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut  Thomas Pesquet, into orbit to begin a six-month science mission on the space station.

During Crew Dragon’s flight, SpaceX will command the spacecraft from its mission control center in Hawthorne, California, and NASA teams will monitor space station operations throughout the flight from Mission Control Center at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“It has been an incredible year for NASA and our Commercial Crew Program, with three crewed launches to the space station since last May,” said NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk. “This is another important milestone for NASA, SpaceX, and our international partners at ESA and JAXA, and for the future of scientific research on board the space station. It will be an exciting moment to see our crews greet one another on station for our first crew handover under the Commercial Crew Program.”

The Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Endeavour, will dock autonomously to the forward port of the station’s Harmony module about 5:10 a.m. Saturday, April 24. NASA Television, the NASA App, and the agency’s website are providing ongoing live coverage through docking, hatch opening, and the ceremony to welcome the crew aboard the orbital outpost.

“I’m really proud of the SpaceX team and honored to be partnered with NASA and helping JAXA and ESA as well,” said Elon Musk, Chief Engineer at SpaceX. “We’re thrilled to be a part of advancing human spaceflight and looking forward to going beyond Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars and helping make humanity a space-faring civilization and a multi-planet species one day.”

The Crew-2 mission is the second of six crewed missions NASA and SpaceX will fly as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. This mission has several firsts, including:

  • First commercial crew mission to fly two international partners;
  • First commercial crew handover between astronauts on the space station as Crew-1 and Crew-2 astronauts will spend about five days together on station before Crew-1 returns to Earth;
  • First reuse of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket on a crew mission –Crew Dragon Endeavour flew the historic Demo-2 mission and the Falcon 9 flew astronauts on the Crew-1 mission; and,
  • First time two commercial crew spacecraft will be docked to station at the same time.

“When I see a launch I immediately think of what it took to reach this milestone and the dedication of all the people who made it happen,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “There’s obviously a long way to go, but now we can celebrate the Crew-2 launch and look forward to seeing them join their other Expedition 65 colleagues as we prepare to bring Crew-1 home next week.”

Kimbrough, McArthur, Hoshide, and Pesquet will join the Expedition 65 crew of Shannon Walker, Michael Hopkins,  Victor Glover, and Mark Vande Hei of NASA, as well as Soichi Noguchi of JAXA and Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov. For a short time, the number of crew on the space station will increase to 11 people until Crew-1 astronauts Walker, Hopkins, Glover, and Noguchi return a few days later.

The is the second commercial crew mission to fly a JAXA astronaut. When Hoshide joins astronaut Noguchi during the commercial crew handover period, it will mark the first time two JAXA astronauts are on station at the same time.

NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover Extracts First Oxygen from Red Planet

April 21st, 2021

The growing list of “firsts” for Perseverance, NASA’s newest six-wheeled robot on the Martian surface, includes converting some of the Red Planet’s thin, carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere into oxygen. A toaster-size, experimental instrument aboard Perseverance called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) accomplished the task. The test took place April 20, the 60th Martian day, or sol, since the mission landed Feb. 18.

While the technology demonstration is just getting started, it could pave the way for science fiction to become science fact – isolating and storing oxygen on Mars to help power rockets that could lift astronauts off the planet’s surface. Such devices also might one day provide breathable air for astronauts themselves. MOXIE is an exploration technology investigation – as is the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) weather station – and is sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

“This is a critical first step at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for STMD. “MOXIE has more work to do, but the results from this technology demonstration are full of promise as we move toward our goal of one day seeing humans on Mars. Oxygen isn’t just the stuff we breathe. Rocket propellant depends on oxygen, and future explorers will depend on producing propellant on Mars to make the trip home.”

For rockets or astronauts, oxygen is key, said MOXIE’s principal investigator, Michael Hecht of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Haystack Observatory.

To burn its fuel, a rocket must have more oxygen by weight. Getting four astronauts off the Martian surface on a future mission would require approximately 15,000 pounds (7 metric tons) of rocket fuel and 55,000 pounds (25 metric tons) of oxygen. In contrast, astronauts living and working on Mars would require far less oxygen to breathe. “The astronauts who spend a year on the surface will maybe use one metric ton between them,” Hecht said.

Hauling 25 metric tons of oxygen from Earth to Mars would be an arduous task. Transporting a one-ton oxygen converter – a larger, more powerful descendant of MOXIE that could produce those 25 tons – would be far more economical and practical.

Mars’ atmosphere is 96% carbon dioxide. MOXIE works by separating oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules, which are made up of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. A waste product, carbon monoxide, is emitted into the Martian atmosphere.

The conversion process requires high levels of heat to reach a temperature of approximately 1,470 degrees Fahrenheit (800 Celsius). To accommodate this, the MOXIE unit is made with heat-tolerant materials. These include 3D-printed nickel alloy parts, which heat and cool the gases flowing through it, and a lightweight aerogel that helps hold in the heat. A thin gold coating on the outside of MOXIE reflects infrared heat, keeping it from radiating outward and potentially damaging other parts of Perseverance.

NASA Breaking News

Are We Alone?

In 2020 NASA's next Mars rover mission will be underway and the rover will be flying to the Red Planet searching for possible post existent life.

At a glance, it looks a lot like its predecessor, the Curiosity Mars rover. But there's no doubt it's a souped-up science machine: It has seven new instruments, redesigned wheels and more autonomy. A drill will capture rock cores, while a caching system with a miniature robotic arm will seal up these samples. Then, they'll be deposited on the Martian surface for possible pickup by a future mission.

This new hardware is being developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, which manages the mission for the agency. It includes the Mars 2020 mission's cruise stage, which will fly the rover through space, and the descent stage, a rocket-powered "sky crane" that will lower it to the planet's surface. Both of these stages have recently moved into JPL's Spacecraft Assembly Facility.

 

Aliens
Mars Rover

Are We Alone?

Mars 2020 relies heavily on the system designs and spare hardware previously created for Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity rover, which landed in 2012. Roughly 85 percent of the new rover's mass is based on this "heritage hardware."

"The fact that so much of the hardware has already been designed -- or even already exists -- is a major advantage for this mission," said Jim Watzin, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program. "It saves us money, time and most of all, reduces risk."

Despite its similarities to Mars Science Laboratory, the new mission has very different goals. Mars 2020's instruments will seek signs of ancient life by studying terrain that is now inhospitable, but once held flowing rivers and lakes, more than 3.5 billion years ago.

To achieve these new goals, the rover has a suite of cutting-edge science instruments. It will seek out biosignatures on a microbial scale: An X-ray spectrometer will target spots as small as a grain of table salt, while an ultraviolet laser will detect the "glow" from excited rings of carbon atoms. A ground-penetrating radar will be the first instrument to look under the surface of Mars, mapping layers of rock, water and ice up to 30 feet (10 meters) deep, depending on the material

The rover is getting some upgraded Curiosity hardware, including color cameras, a zoom lens and a laser that can vaporize rocks and soil to analyze their chemistry.

"Our next instruments will build on the success of MSL, which was a proving ground for new technology," said George Tahu, NASA's Mars 2020 program executive. "These will gather science data in ways that weren't possible before."

The mission will also undertake a marathon sample hunt: The rover team will try to drill at least 20 rock cores, and possibly as many as 30 or 40, for possible future return to Earth.

"Whether life ever existed beyond Earth is one of the grand questions humans seek to answer," said Ken Farley of JPL, Mars 2020's project scientist. "What we learn from the samples collected during this mission has the potential to address whether we're alone in the universe."

JPL is also developing a crucial new landing technology called terrain-relative navigation. As the descent stage approaches the Martian surface, it will use computer vision to compare the landscape with pre-loaded terrain maps. This technology will guide the descent stage to safe landing sites, correcting its course along the way.

A related technology called the range trigger will use location and velocity to determine when to fire the spacecraft's parachute. That change will narrow the landing ellipse by more than 50 percent.

"Terrain-relative navigation enables us to go to sites that were ruled too risky for Curiosity to explore," said Al Chen of JPL, the Mars 2020 entry, descent and landing lead. "The range trigger lets us land closer to areas of scientific interest, shaving miles -- potentially as much as a year -- off a rover's journey."

This approach to minimizing landing errors will be critical in guiding any future mission dedicated to retrieving the Mars 2020 samples, Chen said.

Site selection has been another milestone for the mission. In February, the science community narrowed the list of potential landing sites from eight to three. Those three remaining sites represent fundamentally different environments that could have harbored primitive life: an ancient lakebed called Jezero Crater; Northeast Syrtis, where warm waters may have chemically interacted with subsurface rocks; and a possible hot springs at Columbia Hills.

All three sites have rich geology and may potentially harbor signs of past microbial life. A final landing site decision is still more than a year away.

"In the coming years, the 2020 science team will be weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each of these sites," Farley said. "It is by far the most important decision we have ahead of us."

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