NASA’s Perseverance Rover: The Most Ambitious Space Mission Ever?

When it comes to Mars exploration, NASA has more success than any other agency. This week, they’ll attempt to land another sophisticated rover on the Martian surface to continue the search for evidence of ancient life. The Mars Perseverance rover will land on Mars on Thursday, February 18th, and it’s bringing some very ambitious technologies with it.

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NASA’s InSight Will Have Reduced Capability Until a Dust Devil Cleans off its Solar Panels

All eyes are on Mars this week, and, if we’re being honest, NASA’s InSight lander isn’t the star of the show right now. At the time of writing, we’re anxiously waiting to find out whether or not the Perseverance rover survives its fiery arrival at Mars. But Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) is just the first hazard that awaits robotic missions to the red planet. Mars exploration is a marathon, not a sprint, and while Perseverance is just getting started, InSight, which has been on the red planet for two years now, is approaching a tough leg of the race.

InSight’s nemesis: Martian dust. The same cruel villain that killed the Opportunity rover back in 2018.

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NASA has Decided to Start Building the Lunar Gateway Using the Falcon Heavy

In October of 2024, NASA will send “the first woman and the next man” to the Moon as part of the Artemis Program. This will be the first crewed mission to the lunar surface, and the first mission beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO), since the closing of the Apollo Era in 1972. Beyond that, NASA plans to establish infrastructure on and around the Moon that will allow for “sustained lunar exploration and development.”

A key aspect of this is the Lunar Gateway, an orbiting habitat that will allow astronauts to make regular trips to and from the lunar surface. After much consideration, NASA recently announced that they have selected SpaceX to launch the foundational elements of the Gateway – the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) – by May of 2024 (at the earliest).

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Lunar Spacecraft Gets an Upgrade to Capture New Perspectives of the Moon

Eleven years into its mission, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is starting to show its age, but a recent software update promises to give the spacecraft a new lease on life. As NASA’s eye in the sky over the Moon, the LRO has been responsible for some of the best Lunar observations since the days of Apollo. This new upgrade will allow that legacy to continue.

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Perseverance Will Make Sure it has a Safe Landing

To casual observers, landing a rover on Mars can seem kind of like old news, believe it or not. Especially after all of NASA’s successes. But many are likely not aware of the so-called ‘Mars Curse.‘ The fact is, many of the spacecraft that attempt to land there fail and crash.

Next to run the gauntlet of the Mars Curse is NASA’s Perseverance rover. It’ll attempt its long-awaited landing at Jezero Crater on February 18th. The people at NASA have given the Perseverance rover some finely-tuned tools to get it to the Martian surface safely and to beat the Mars curse.

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Jupiter’s Trojan Asteroids Offer Surprises Even Before NASA’s Lucy Mission has a Chance to Visit Them.

A new study out this month suggests that Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids may be more peculiar than previously thought. The Trojan asteroids are rocky objects which orbit the Sun just ahead of and just behind the gas giant, in gravitational sweet spots known as Lagrange points. The swarm ahead of Jupiter, known as the L4 (Greek) group, is slightly larger than the L5 (Trojan) swarm behind, but until now, astronomers believed that there was otherwise little differentiation between the two swarms. The paper released this month appears to change that.

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Every Challenge Astronauts Will Face on a Flight to Mars

Nuclear-powered transit habitat

In 1972, the Space Race officially ended as NASA sent one last crew of astronauts to the surface of the Moon (Apollo 17). This was the brass ring that both the US and the Soviets were reaching for, the “Moonshot” that would determine who had supremacy in space. In the current age of renewed space exploration, the next great leap will clearly involve sending astronauts to Mars.

This will present many challenges that will need to be addressed in advance, many of which have to do with simply getting the astronauts there in one piece! These challenges were the subject of a presentation made by two Indian researchers at the SciTech Forum 2020, an annual event hosted by the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), RUDN University, and the American Astronomical Society (AAS).

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What Could We Learn From a Mission to Phobos?

According to new research that appeared in the scientific journal Nature Geoscience, the larger of Mars’ two moons (Phobos) has an orbit that takes it through a stream of charged particles (ions) that flow from the Red Planet’s atmosphere. This process has been taking place for billions of years as the planet slowly lost its atmosphere, effectively establishing a record of Martian climate change on Phobos’ surface.

This research has provided yet another incentive for landing a mission on Phobos, something that has never been done successfully. In essence, this mission could gather sample data that would allow scientists to study this record more closely. In the process, they would be able to learn a great deal more about how Mars went from being a warmer world with liquid water to the extremely arid and cold environment it is today.

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Space and Sustainability: How the Lessons of Biosphere 2 Inspired SAM²

A lot has been said, penned, and documented about the famous experiment known as “Biosphere 2” (B2). For anyone whose formative years coincided with the early 90s, this name probably sounds familiar. Since the project launched in 1991, it has been heavily publicized, criticized, and was even the subject of a documentary – titled “Spaceship Earth” – that premiered in May of 2020.  

To listen to some of what’s been said about B2 (even after 30 years), one might get the impression that it was a failure that proved human beings cannot live together in a sealed environment for extended periods of time. But in truth, it was a tremendous learning experience, the results of which continue to inform human spaceflight and ecosystem research today. In an era of renewed interplanetary exploration, those lessons are more vital than ever.

This is the purpose behind the Space Analog for the Moon and Mars (SAM²), a new analog experiment led by Kai Staats and John Adams. Along with an international team of specialists, experts from the University of Arizona, and support provided by NASA, the National Geographic Society, and commercial partners, SAM² will validate the systems and technology that will one-day allow for colonies on the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

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