It’s looking more and more like the future of space exploration could involve drones in a big way.
We’ve already seen it here on Earth, where all kinds of flying drones are used by all kinds of people for all kinds of things. Drones are particularly useful in resource development, exploration, imaging, and remote sensing.
Could the future see drones flying around in the thin Martian atmosphere?
Many consider the various rovers we’ve sent to Mars as the next best thing to sending a geologist to the Red Planet. Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity have carried all the necessary equipment similar to what human geologists use on Earth, and are able to navigate the terrain, “see” the landscape with the various cameras, pick up rock and dust samples with scoops, and then analyze them with various onboard tools and equipment.
In addition to all those things, the new Mars 2020 Perseverance rover will add a “sense of hearing” to its robotic toolkit. The rover includes a pair of microphones to let us hear – for the first time – what Mars really sounds like.
The Juno mission to Jupiter has been extended to September 2025 – or however long the spacecraft can keep operating around Jupiter.
While Juno has so far focused its attention on the giant planet alone, the mission extension will include observations of Jupiter’s rings and large moons, with targeted observations and close flybys planned of the moons Ganymede, Europa, and Io.
This will be the first close flybys of these moons since the Galileo mission in 1995-2003.
This week we welcome back to the show Dr. David Warmflash. Since he was last with us, David has been named as Co-Principal Investigator and Medical Director for a new NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBRI) Phase I study titled “Mixed-Reality Holographic Training System to Enable High-Value Surgical and Complex Medical Procedures by Astronauts.” This study, managed by the New Jersey-based Mgenuity Corporation with collaboration from Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU), aims to develop a system to guide astronauts through surgical and medical procedures on Exploration Class missions.
The InSight lander is making progress on Mars. After many months of struggle and careful adaptation, the InSight lander’s ‘Mole’ is finally into the ground. There’s still more delicate work to be done, and they’re not at operating depth yet. But after such a long, arduous affair, this feels like a victory.
Every 26 months, the orbits of both Earth and Mars conspire to make travel between the two planets shorter. Launching in one of these windows means the travel time can be reduced to only six months. Our robotic missions to the Martian surface, and missions that place satellites in Martian orbit, launch during these windows.
But are there other alternatives to this mission architecture?
One group of researchers says that crewed missions to Mars shouldn’t go directly to their destination; they should slingshot past Venus first.
Any mission to Mars requires deeper planning than missions to the ISS or the Moon. Based purely on the length of the mission, contingencies branch outwards in complex logistical pathways. What if there’s an accident? What if someone’s appendix bursts?
When magma comes out of the Earth onto the surface, it flows as lava. Those lava flows are fascinating to watch, and they leave behind some unique landforms and rocks. But a lot of what’s fascinating about these flows can be hidden underground, as lava tubes.
These lava tubes are turning out to be a very desirable target for exploration on other worlds, just as they are here on Earth.