In the last two decades, we have all grown accustomed to rovers exploring Mars. At least one rover has been active on the planet every day since January 4, 2004, when NASA’s Spirit rover landed in Gusev crater. Opportunity (2004) and Curiosity (2012) followed, each making unique journeys of discovery of their own. Perseverance (2021) is the latest and greatest of these robotic explorers, boasting a state-of-the-art in-situ resource utilization experiment to extract oxygen from the atmosphere, an accompanying helicopter to scout the path ahead, and a suite of unparalleled geology instruments. But what really sets Perseverance’s mission apart is that, for the first time, it is collecting samples of Martian rock to bring back to Earth.Continue reading “After Its Last Rock Sample Crumbled Into Powder, Perseverance is Going to try Again”
Over the past few weeks, there was quite a bit of excitement in the air at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where mission controllers were prepping the Perseverance rover to acquire its first sample from the Martian surface. This mission milestone would be the culmination of years of hard work by a team of over 90 dedicated scientists and engineers.
The commands to commence operations to take its first sample (from drill site Roubion) were sent to the rover on Sol 164 (Thurs, Aug. 5th). On the morning of Friday, Aug. 6th, the team gathered to witness the sampling data come in. Everything appeared to be fine until they were notified a few hours later that the sample tube was empty! Since then, the rover’s science and engineering teams have been investigating what could have become of the sample.Continue reading “Perseverance Fails to Collect its First Sample”
Panspermia is an idea that has been around for a long time. It was first mentioned in the 5th century BC by Anaxagoras, one of the most prominent pre-Socratic philosophers. The problem with the theory is that there’s never really been any evidence to back it up. That lack of evidence has changed dramatically in the last 20 or so years, and recently more data has been added to that dataset. A team from Royal Holloway, part of the University of London, found organic material and water in a sample of Itokawa, the asteroid the first Hayabusa mission visited over 10 years ago.Continue reading “Organic Material Found on an Asteroid Sample Returned by Hayabusa 1”
This past summer, NASA’s Perseverance rover launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. On February 18th, 2021, it will arrive on Mars and join in the search for evidence for past (and maybe even present) life. A particularly exciting aspect of this mission is the Mars Sample Return (MSR), a multi-mission effort that will send samples of Mars back to Earth for analysis.
This aspect of the Perseverance mission will be assisted by a lander and orbiter developed by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). According to NASA, the MSR recently advanced to the next stage of development (Phase A). If all goes well, Perseverance will have a companion in the coming years that will take its samples and launch them to orbit, where they will be picked up and sent back to Earth.Continue reading “Plans for a Mars Sample Return Mission Have Moved to the Next Stage”
On December 5th, 2020, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Hayabusa 2 mission sent a sample capsule home containing debris from the near-Earth asteroid (NEA) 162173 Ryugu. This was the culmination of the probe’s first six years in space, which launched in Dec. 2014 and rendezvoused with Ryugu in June 2018. While the probe sets its sights on its new targets, scientists will be busy analyzing the Ryugu sample.
One thing they noticed immediately after opening the shell on Monday (Dec. 21st) was the black sandy dust that lined the capsule’s outer shell. According to a statement issued by JAXA, the black sand is material taken from the surface of Ryugu. Considering what’s inside sample chamber A, it appears that the amount of material obtained by Hayabusa 2 is more substantial than previously thought.Continue reading “Even the Outside of Hayabusa 2’s Sample Capsule has Asteroid Debris on it”
In October of 2024, NASA will send astronauts to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era. After establishing orbit with their Orion spacecraft, a team of two astronauts (“the first woman and the next man”) will land in the Moon’s southern polar region. Over the course of a week, these astronauts will explore and investigate one of the region’s many permanently-shadowed craters.
As the first crewed lunar mission in over fifty years, this mission and those that follow will have a robust series of science objectives. These objectives were laid out in the Artemis III Science Definition Team Report, which was released to the public earlier this month. This report is a summary of the science plan prepared at the behest of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) for the Artemis III mission.Continue reading “Here are NASA’s Science Priorities for the Artemis Missions”
For the first time in more than 40 years, a robotic spacecraft has blasted off from the Moon – and for the first time ever, it’s a Chinese spacecraft, carrying precious lunar samples back to Earth.
The ascent vehicle for the Chang’e-5 mission fired its engine and rose a region called Oceanus Procellarum at 1510 UTC (11:10 p.m. Beijing time) on December 3rd, the China National Space Administration’s China Lunar Exploration Project reported.
Imagery sent back from the Moon provided a view of the blastoff from ground zero. It was the first successful lunar launch since the Soviet Luna 24 probe took off during a sample return mission in 1976.Continue reading “China’s Chang’e-5 Probe Blasts Off From the Moon, Bringing Back a Full Load of Samples”
Today’s the day! The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is going to reach out and boop asteroid Bennu! You can watch the broadcast here as the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission attempts to collect a sample of an asteroid on Tuesday, Oct. 20, at 6:12 pm EDT (5:12 pm CDT, 3:12 PDT).Continue reading “Watch “Live” as NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Nabs an Asteroid Sample”
The asteroid belt is a chaotic place. Things smash into each other, get thrown into completely different orbital planes, and are occasionally visited by small electronic spacecraft launched by humans. All three things seem to have happened to the asteroid Bennu, which is currently being orbited by OSIRIS-REx, a mission launched by NASA in 2016.
The most recently released results from the mission show that Bennu might have small pieces of Vesta on it. Given that Vesta is one of the biggest asteroid belt objects and Bennu is a near Earth asteroid millions of kilometers away from the asteroid belt, this hints at a pretty exciting past history for the asteroid currently being visited by NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission.Continue reading “Asteroid Bennu has little pieces of Vesta on it”
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.Continue reading “Instead of Going Straight to Mars, Astronauts Should Make a Slingshot Past Venus First”