Friday, September 29, 2006

Robo/Bio Sphere

http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2006/09/29/5128.aspx

I like this idea:
http://www.spaceward.org/marsChallenge.html

Space Elevator Update

http://www.space.com/news/060929_xprize_cup_elevator.html

Space Elevator Games coming October 20-21

SpaceShipTwo Interior

http://www.space.com/news/060828_spaceshiptwo_next.html

Sign me up!

Opportunity at Victoria Crater

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/060927_victoria_crater.html

Mars Rover Update

New software for Spirit. Opportunity report is old. It has already reached the rim of Victoria Crater:

http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/status.html

New Opportunity Pictures (Duck Bay):
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/press/opportunity/20060928a.html

Small Shuttle Revived

I'm really surprised that anyone wants to copy anything to do with the space shuttle design. If this thing rides on the side of a rocket like the shuttle, it is doomed to the same problems of debris impacting the craft on liftoff:
http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2006/09/28/4985.aspx

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Overtime for Mars Probes

Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Erica Hupp/Dwayne Brown 202-358-1237/1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington

NEWS RELEASE: 2006-115 September 25, 2006

NASA Mars Spacecraft Gear Up for Extra Work

NASA's Mars robotic missions are performing so well, they are being prepared for additional overtime work.

The team operating the twin Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, since January 2004, won approval for an additional year of exploration. NASA funded the extensions on recommendations from an outside panel of scientists. NASA also is adding two more years of operations for Mars Global Surveyor, which has been orbiting Mars since 1997, and the Mars Odyssey orbiter, at the red planet since 2001.

These mission extensions will begin Oct. 1, 2006. The spacecraft beginning extended missions have already completed a successful prime mission plus years of additional service. The extensions occur when NASA's newest Mars spacecraft, named the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, is about to begin its main science phase.

"Each of these missions increases the value of the others and of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter," said Doug McCuistion, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, NASA Headquarters, Washington. "By extending these missions, we gain very cost-effective additional benefits from the investments in developing them and getting them to Mars."

Each orbiter has a different set of instruments, and the spacecraft complement each other in helping scientists understand Mars. Also, observations by the rovers on the ground validate interpretation of information from the orbiters. Observations by the orbiters allow extrapolation from what the rovers find in small areas. The orbiters support current and future surface missions with landing-site assessments and communication relays.

Both rovers are still healthy, more than 31 months into what was originally planned as a three-month exploration of their landing areas. Provided they remain operable, their fourth mission extension will take them into Martian spring and summer, increasing their solar-energy supply and daily capabilities. Spirit has been studying its surroundings from a stationary, sun-facing tilt for several months. "As we get into the Martian spring, Spirit will resume exploring the inner basin of the 'Columbia Hills,'" said Dr. Bruce Banerdt, rover project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Opportunity will spend the extension at "Victoria Crater."

Each Martian year lasts nearly two Earth years. The longevity of Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey has allowed researchers to watch how Mars changes not just from season to season, but from year to year. Mars Global Surveyor has observed shrinking of the south polar carbon-dioxide ice cap from one summer to the next. "This extension will take us through our fifth annual cycle of Martian summers and winters," said Thomas Thorpe of JPL, project manager for Mars Global Surveyor.

"With the additional years of observations, we are able to monitor the Martian climate, not just the weather. There is a hypothesis that Mars' climate is changing, perhaps rapidly. The combination of instruments from different orbiters strengthens our ability to study that possibility. With Odyssey, for example, we can monitor the mass of carbon-dioxide frost in winter to help understand the changes that Global Surveyor is seeing in the summers," said JPL's Dr. Jeffrey Plaut, project scientist for Mars Odyssey.

The Odyssey flight team at JPL and at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, plans to teach the spacecraft some new tricks during the mission extension. New software will enable the spacecraft to make choices about which images are high priority. Also, the team will begin pointing Odyssey slightly off the straight-down view it has flown so far. This will enable imaging of polar areas it never flies directly over. Odyssey also will continue serving as the primary communications relay for the rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

NASA also has extended the U.S. participation in the European Space Agency's Mars Express mission. That orbiter reached Mars in 2003 and is in an extended mission.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey and Mars Exploration Rover projects for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is the prime contractor for the Global Surveyor and Odyssey projects and built those spacecraft.

For additional information about NASA Mars missions, visit:
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mars/main .

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Voyager 1 Update

http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2006/21sep_voyager.htm?list199286

Hopefully they have planned similar monitoring of the New Horizons Pluto probe once it passes into the outer solar system.

Mars Rover Update

Spirit electricity levels going up. Opportunity now 50 meters from Victoria (report says 100 but it is a week old):
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/status.html

Spirit Pictures (nothing new lately):
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/press/spirit/20060911b.html

Opportunity (first glimpse into Victoria):
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/press/opportunity/20060919a.html

Mars Exploration by Rovers and MRO

http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/060921_mars_probes.html

Great photo of the "Face on Mars"

So called Face that is.
http://www.space.com/php/multimedia/imagedisplay/img_display.php?pic=060921_mars_faceA_02.jpg&cap=A+perspective+view+showing+the+so-called+%27Face+on+Mars%27+located+in+the+Cydonia+region.+The+image+shows+a+remnant+massif+thought+to+have+formed+via+landslides+and+an+early+form+of+debris+apron+formation.+The+massif+is+characterized+by+a+western+wall+that+has+moved+downslope+as+a+coherent+mass.+The+image%2C+created+with+data+from+the+Mars+Express+orbiter%2C+was+released+Sept.+21%2C+2006.+Credits%3A+ESA%2FDLR%2FFU+Berlin+%28G.+Neukum%29%2C+Malin+Space+Science+Systems

Another nail in the coffin of "standard" supernovas

I never liked the idea that a certain type (1a) of supernova always has the same brightness. Haven't these guys ever heard of chaos theory?

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/060920_supernova_atypical.html

It is good to see science in action.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

New Ring Discovered Around Saturn

Carolina Martinez 818-354-9382
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Preston Dyches 720-974-5859
Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for OperationsSpace Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

News Release: 2006-110 September 19, 2006

Scientists Discover New Ring and Other Features at Saturn

Saturn sports a new ring in an image taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Sunday, Sept. 17, during a one-of-a-kind observation.

Other spectacular sights captured by Cassini's cameras include wispy fingers of icy material stretching out tens of thousands of kilometers from the active moon, Enceladus, and a cameo color appearance by planet Earth.

The images were obtained during the longest solar occultation of Cassini's four-year mission. During a solar occultation, the sun passes directly behind Saturn, and Cassini lies in the shadow of Saturn while the rings are brilliantly backlit. Usually, an occultation lasts only about an hour, but this time it was a 12-hour marathon.
Sunday's occultation allowed Cassini to map the presence of microscopic particles that are not normally visible across the ring system. As a result, Cassini saw the entire inner Saturnian system in a new light.
The new ring is a tenuous feature, visible outside the brighter main rings of Saturn and inside the G and E rings, and coincides with the orbits of Saturn's moons Janus and Epimetheus. Scientists expected that meteoroid impacts on Janus and Epimetheus might kick particles off the moons' surfaces and inject them into Saturn orbit, but they were surprised that a well-defined ring structure exists at this location.
Saturn's extensive, diffuse E ring, the outermost ring, had previously been imaged one small section at a time. The 12-hour marathon enabled scientists to see the entire structure in one view. The moon Enceladus is seen sweeping through the E ring, extending wispy, fingerlike projections into the ring. These very likely consist of tiny ice particles being ejected from Enceladus' south polar geysers, and entering the E-ring.
"Both the new ring and the unexpected structures in the E ring should provide us with important insights into how moons can both release small particles and sculpt their local environments," said Matt Hedman, a research associate working with team member Joseph Burns, an expert in diffuse rings, at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
In the latest observations, scientists once again see the bright ghost-like spokes -- transient, dusty, radial structures -- streaking across the middle of Saturn's main rings.
Capping off the new batch of observations, Cassini cast its powerful eyes in our direction and captured Earth, a pale blue orb, and a faint suggestion of our moon. Not since NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft saw Earth as a pale blue dot from beyond the orbit of Neptune has Earth been imaged in color from the outer solar system.
"Nothing has greater power to alter our perspective of ourselves and our place in the cosmos than these images of Earth we collect from faraway places like Saturn," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo. Porco was one of the Voyager imaging scientists involved in taking the Voyager `Pale Blue Dot' image. "In the end, the ever-widening view of our own little planet against the immensity of space is perhaps the greatest legacy of all our interplanetary travels."
In the coming weeks, several science teams will analyze data collected by Cassini's other instruments during this rare occultation event. The data will help scientists better understand the relationship between the rings and moons, and will give mission planners a clearer picture of ring hazards to avoid during future ring crossings.
Images of the new ring, the E-ring, Enceladus and Earth are available at: http://www.nasa.gov/cassini , http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://ciclops.org .

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

Opportunity peaks into Victoria Crater

Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Image Advisory: 2006-111 September 19, 2006

NASA Rover Opportunity Takes First Peek Into Victoria Crater

On Monday, NASA's Mars rover Opportunity got to within about 160 feet of the rim of the half-mile-wide Victoria Crater, the rover's destination since late 2004.

The new position gave Opportunity a glimpse of the crater's opposite wall. That view from the navigation camera on the rover is available online at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mer/images/20060919.html.

"Opportunity has been heading toward Victoria for more than 20 months, with no guarantee it would ever get there, so we are elated to see this view," said Justin Maki of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., an imaging scientist on the rover team. "However, we still have another two or three short drives before Opportunity is really right at the rim, looking down into the crater."

Once Opportunity reaches the rim, the rover’s panoramic camera will begin the task of creating a high-definition color mosaic. That mosaic of images will provide scientists not only with a beautiful view of the crater, but will also provide geologic details of the crater walls.

The width of Victoria crater is the equivalent of eight football fields placed end to end. That makes it about five times wider than "Endurance Crater," which Opportunity spent six months examining in 2004, and about 40 times wider than "Eagle Crater," where Opportunity first landed.

The great lure of Victoria is the expectation that a thick stack of geological layers will be exposed in the crater walls, potentially several times the thickness that was previously studied at Endurance and, therefore, potentially preserving several times the historical record. Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, are robotic geologists with instruments for examining rocks to learn about the ancient environmental conditions that existed at the times the rocks were formed. Opportunity has already found exposed rock layers that were formed in flowing surface water and other layers formed as windblown sand. Analyzing the layers at Victoria could extend the story further back in time.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, manages the Mars Exploration Rover mission for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. For additional images and information about the mission, visit www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mer .

Earth as seen through Saturn's Rings

Pale Blue Dot shows up again...
http://ciclops.org/view.php?id=2235

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

MRO ground penetrating radar ready

Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Dwayne Brown/Erica Hupp 202-358-1726/1237
NASA Headquarters, Washington

News Release: 2006-109 September 19, 2006

Ground-Piercing Radar on NASA Mars Orbiter Ready for Work

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has extended the long-armed antenna of its radar, preparing the instrument to begin probing for underground layers of Mars.

The orbiter's Shallow Subsurface Radar, provided by the Italian Space Agency, will search to depths of about one kilometer (six-tenths of a mile) to find and map layers of ice, rock and, if present, liquid water.

The radar's antenna had remained safely folded and tucked away throughout the flight to Mars from Aug. 12, 2005, to March 10, 2006, and while the orbiter used the friction of dipping into the top of Mars' atmosphere 426 times in the past six months to shrink the size of its orbit. Latches on the restraints were popped open on Sept. 16, and the spring-loaded twin arms of the antenna unfolded themselves. Subsequent information from the spacecraft indicates that each arm properly extended to its 5 meter (16.4 feet) length.

"The deployment of the antenna has succeeded. It went exactly as planned," said Dr. Enrico Flamini, the Italian Space Agency's program manager for the Shallow Subsurface Radar. "Now the excitement builds about what the radar will find hiding beneath the surface of Mars."

A radar-team engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., Ali Safaeinili, said, "Motion sensors on Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter gave us good evidence that the antenna had deployed successfully. The amount of antenna vibrations as the arms unfolded was within the range anticipated."

The radar received its first radio echo from the Martian surface during a test on Sept.18, providing a preliminary indication that the entire instrument is working properly. Researchers will use the instrument for more test observations at the end of this month. Communication with all spacecraft at Mars will be intermittent during most of October while that planet is behind the sun from Earth's perspective. The two-year-long main science phase of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission will begin in November.

"We will use the Shallow Radar to map buried channels, to study the internal structure of ice caps and to see boundaries between layers of different materials," said Dr. Roberto Seu of the University of Rome La Sapienza, leader of the instrument's science team. "The data will provide our first detailed look just under the Martian surface, where ices might reside that would be accessible for future explorers."

The radar instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will complement a similar instrument that went into use last year on the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter, the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding. The two instruments use different radar frequencies. The one on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter can discriminate between thinner layers, but cannot penetrate as deep underground, compared with the one on Mars Express. Both result from Italian and American partnership in using radar for planetary probes.

Alcatel Alenia Spazio-Italia, in Rome, is the Italian Space Agency's prime contractor for the instrument. Astro Aerospace, of Carpineria, Calif., a business unit of Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Corp., developed the antenna as a subcontractor to Alcatel Alenia.

Further information about the Shallow Subsurface Radar is online at www.sharad.org . For more detailed information about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, see www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/MRO/main . The mission is managed by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is the prime contractor and built the orbiter.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Griffin going to China at the end of September

It will be interesting to see if any major announcements come out of this. I consider China a rival to the U.S. in space flight.

http://www.space.com/news/060813_griffin_china.html

Another MRO article

http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/ap_060913_mro_orbit.html

Xena is now Eris

Too bad, I kind of liked Xena...
=======================

> Circular No. 8747> Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams> INTERNATIONAL ASTRONOMICAL UNION> Mailstop 18, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, MA 02138, > U.S.A.> IAUSUBS@CFA.HARVARD.EDU or FAX 617-495-7231 (subscriptions)> CBAT@CFA.HARVARD.EDU (science)> URL http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/iau/cbat.html ISSN 0081-0304> Phone 617-495-7440/7244/7444 (for emergency use only)>>> (134340) PLUTO, (136199) ERIS, AND (136199) ERIS I (DYSNOMIA)> Following the Aug. 24 resolution by the IAU to the effect that> the solar system contains eight "planets" (Mercury-Neptune), with> (1) Ceres, Pluto (cf. IAUC 255), and 2003 UB_313 (cf. IAUC 8577) to> be considered representative "dwarf planets", the Minor Planet> Center included Pluto and 2003 UB_313 (along with two other new> potential dwarf-planet candidates) in the standard catalogue of> numbered objects with well-determined orbits as (134340) and> (136199), respectively (see MPC 57525). Following near-unanimous> acceptance by both the Committee on Small-Body Nomenclature and the> Working Group on Planetary-System Nomenclature (in consultation> with the discovery team), the IAU Executive Committee has now> approved the names Eris for (136199) and Dysnomia for its satellite> (136199) Eris I [formerly S/2005 (2003 UB_313) 1; cf. IAUC 8610].>> [snip]>> (C) Copyright 2006 CBAT> 2006 September 13 (8747) Daniel W. E. Green

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

MRO in proper orbit. Let the science begin!

Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Erica Hupp/Dwayne Brown 202-358-1237/1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

News Release: 2006-106 September 12, 2006

NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Reaches Planned Flight Path

NASA's newest spacecraft at Mars has completed the challenging half-year task of shaping its orbit to the nearly circular, low-altitude pattern from which it will scrutinize the planet.The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter fired its six intermediate-size thrusters for 12.5 minutes Monday afternoon, Sept. 11, shifting the low point of its orbit to stay near the Martian south pole and the high point to stay near the north pole. The altitude of the orbit ranges from 250 kilometers (155 miles) to 316 kilometers (196 miles) above the surface.

"This maneuver puts us into our science orbit," said Dan Johnston, deputy mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "Getting to this point is a great achievement." Challenging activities remain ahead this month, such as deploying an antenna 10 meters (33 feet) long and removing a lens cap from a crucial instrument. The main science investigations will begin in November. During its two-year science phase, the mission will return more data about Mars than all previous Mars missions combined.The flight team for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter sent the bus-sized spacecraft through the upper fringe of Mars' atmosphere 426 times between early April and Aug. 30. This "aerobraking" technique used friction with the Martian atmosphere to gradually decrease the highest-altitude point of the elliptical orbit from 45,000 kilometers (28,000 miles) to 486 kilometers (302 miles). The lowest-altitude point during aerobraking ranged from 98 to 105 kilometers (61 to 65 miles). It was carefully managed with input from researchers at JPL; Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver; NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., and elsewhere, based on spacecraft data and atmospheric fluctuations.During the first three weeks after it arrived at Mars on March 10, the spacecraft took more than 35 hours to fly each very elongated orbit. During the final weeks of aerobraking, it was flying more than 10 orbits each day. "The pace of work got extremely demanding as we got down to two-hour orbits," Johnston said. "We had shifts working around the clock."

Monday's maneuver was the mission's biggest burn since the 27-minute firing to slow the spacecraft enough for Mars' gravity to snare it into orbit on March 10. The benefit of aerobraking is to avoid hauling unnecessary fuel to Mars for thrusters. Compared with relying solely on thruster firings to shrink and shape the orbit, aerobraking cut the mission's fuel needs by about 600 kilograms (about 1,300 pounds.) At least one small adjustment maneuver is still ahead.

One key remaining preparation for the mission's science payload is deployment of the antenna for the Shallow Subsurface Radar, an instrument provided by the Italian Space Agency. The antenna, developed by Northrop Grumman Space Technology Astro Aerospace, Carpinteria, Calif., remained safely stowed during aerobraking. Later this month, it will be released to unfold itself and extend 5 meters (16.4 feet) on either side of the spacecraft. After this ground-penetrating radar has been checked and calibrated, it "has the potential to detect buried channels, buried craters and ice layers," said Dr. Roberto Seu of the University of Rome La Sapienza, leader of the instrument's science team.

During aerobraking, a lens cap protected the mission's mineral-mapping Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars. Removal of the cap this month will allow researchers to start checking and calibrating the spectrometer's performance. "Our most important goal is to find where past environments on Mars were wet long enough to leave a mineral signature on the surface," said Dr. Scott Murchie of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md., principal investigator for the spectrometer.

A series of trial observations by all the instruments will complete the spacecraft checkouts at the end of the month, including tests of all observing modes. In addition to data acquisition by the radar and spectrometer, images will be taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment and the Context Imager. The Mars Color Imager and Mars Climate Sounder will also begin monitoring Mars' atmosphere. During the next four years, these instruments on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will examine Mars to learn about processes that have affected it and to inspect potential landing sites for future missions. The spacecraft will also serve as a communications relay for Mars surface missions.

Information about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is online at http://www.nasa.gov/mro . The mission is managed by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is the prime contractor and built the spacecraft.

SpaceShipTwo Update

http://www.livescience.com/blogs/2006/09/08/mojave-spaceport-gearing-up-for-spaceshiptwo/

Pluto Roundup

Insider's exahustive description:
http://www.thespacereview.com/article/703/1

Interview with IAU President:
http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/060911_cesarsky_qanda.html

Poor little Pluto is just a number now...
http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/060911_pluto_asteroidnumber.html

Hopefully it will eventually be deemed
"Dwarf Planet #1"

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Opportunity on the home stretch to Victoria Crater

Guy Webster 818-354-6278

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Erica Hupp/Dwayne Brown 202-358-1237/1726

NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

News Release: 2006-104 September 6, 2006

NASA Rover Nears Martian Bowl Goal

NASA's Mars rover Opportunity is closing in on what may be the grandest overlook and richest science trove of its long mission.

During the next two weeks, the robotic geologist is likely to reach the rim of a hole in the Martian surface wider and deeper than any it has visited. The crater, known as "Victoria," is approximately 750 meters (half a mile) wide and 70 meters (230 feet) deep.

Images from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiter show the crater walls expose a stack of rock layers approximately 30 to 40 meters (100 to 130 feet) thick. Opportunity will send back its initial view into the crater as soon as it gets to the rim. Scientists and engineers will use Opportunity's observations from points around the rim to plot the best route for entering the crater.

"Victoria has been our destination for more than half the mission," said Ray Arvidson of Washington University, St. Louis. Arvidson is deputy principal investigator for Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit. "Examination of the rocks exposed in the walls of the crater will greatly increase our understanding of past conditions on Mars and the role of water. In particular, we are very interested in whether the rocks continue to show evidence for having been formed in shallow lakes."

The NASA rovers have been exploring landscapes on opposite sides of Mars since January 2003. Their prime missions lasted three months. Both rovers are still investigating Mars' rocks, soils and atmosphere after more than 30 months. Opportunity works in a region where rock layers hundreds of meters or yards in thickness cover older, heavily cratered terrain.

"We have a fully functional vehicle with all the instruments working. We're ready to hit Victoria with everything we've got," said Byron Jones, a rover mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Though it's still winter in Mars' southern hemisphere, days have begun getting longer again, and Opportunity's power supply from its solar panels is increasing daily.

During its first two months on Mars, Opportunity examined a 30-centimeter (one-foot) stack of rock layers at its landing site inside "Eagle Crater" and found geological evidence that water had flowed across the surface long ago. The rover spent the next nine months driving to and exploring a larger crater, "Endurance." There it examined a stack of exposed layers 7 meters (23 feet) thick. Over the drive from Endurance to Victoria, the rocks tell a history of shallow lakes, drier periods of shifting dunes and groundwater levels that rose and fell. Minerals indicate the ancient water was very acidic.

The much thicker stack of revealed rock layers at Victoria beckons. Arvidson said, "We want to examine the thick section of rocks exposed on the walls in Victoria crater to understand whether the environment that produced these materials was similar to the environment recorded in the rocks that we have seen so far. Is there a record of a different type of deposition? Was there a wet environment that was less acidic, perhaps even more habitable? Where do the layers from Endurance fit in this thicker sequence?"

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reached Mars in March 2006. It will begin its primary science phase in November, offering higher resolution images and mineral mapping than have been possible with previous orbiters. Victoria will be one target for the orbiter. "By combining the data from Opportunity and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, we'll be able to do some fantastic coordinated analysis," Arvidson said. Such analysis will enhance the science return of both missions and aid in interpreting orbiter data taken of potential landing sites for future missions elsewhere on Mars.

"It's an amazing accomplishment that Spirit and Opportunity have completed the equivalent of 10 prime missions," said John Callas, rover project manager at JPL. "Each of them shows some signs of aging, though. We can't say how long the rovers will last, but we will push to get the best possible science out of these national treasures as long as they keep operating. Victoria could very well be the most productive and exciting science of the entire mission."

JPL manages the rovers and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. For rover images and information, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/roversor http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov

Moon Crash results and ideas for the future

http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/060904_smart-1_results.html

Orion approaching the ISS

Artist's conception of course:
http://www.space.com/imageoftheday/image_of_day_060901.html

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

NASA Names

Pretty good, somewhat cynical, overview of all the names involved in the Vision for Space Exploration:
http://www.thespacereview.com/article/695/1

Living off the Land (on the Moon)

Is it worth it?

Not according to this guy:
http://www.thespacereview.com/article/697/1

Even if it isn't strictly "worth it", I think we should do it anyway since we'll need it on Mars for sure and we might as well get used to it.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Sun Probes are on the march

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14629733/

I'm waiting for the stereo pictures of the Sun for 3-D IMAX.
http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/060817_stereo_launch.html
(this article is a little out of date because it hasn't taken off yet).

Pluto Probe's Eyes check out

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14629151/

Good thing this got off the ground before Pluto got demoted!!

SMART-1 crashes on the Moon as planned

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14646238/

I couldn't see it from my backyard with 10x50 binoculars.

Mars Society in Canada

If I didn't have to work, I might volunteer for this...

http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2006/09/01/2853.aspx

Friday, September 01, 2006

Watching the Sun

http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2006/01sep_sentinels.htm?list199286

Key point: we only have one more solar max to learn what we need to protect astronauts going to the Moon in 2020.

Mars Rover Update

The only thing new is a new Spirit picture:
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/press/spirit/20060830a.html

Uranus Transit

http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2006/08/31/2765.aspx

http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/newsdesk/archive/releases/2006/42/

Very unusual.

Fight's on!

http://skytonight.com/news/home/3805531.html

http://www.space.com/searchforlife/seti_pluto_060831.html

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/060831_planet_definition.html

Pluto-lovers unite!