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NASA Ames Features Live Broadcast of Mars Launch

November 23, 2011 Leave a comment

News media are invited to observe a live televised broadcast of the launch of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft with the Curiosity rover on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011, in the Exploration Center at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

The spacecraft is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch window opens at 7:02 a.m. PST, and the Exploration Center at Ames will open at 6:30 a.m. PST. The launch will be preceded with brief comments from NASA scientist Tori Hoehler, who will share information about the upcoming mission. The spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at Mars in August 2012.

Curiosity has 10 science instruments to search for evidence about whether Mars has had environments favorable for microbial life, including the chemical ingredients for life. Ames scientist David Blake is the principal investigator for CheMin, an X-ray diffraction and fluorescence instrument designed to identify and quantify the minerals in rocks and soils, and to measure bulk composition. CheMin data will be useful in the search for potential mineral biosignatures, energy sources for life or indicators of past habitable environments.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/news/releases/2011/11-96AR.html

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Measuring the Radiation Environment on Mars

November 22, 2011 Leave a comment

NASA will launch the Mars Science Laboratory on Nov. 26, 2011, to assess the past and present habitability of the Red Planet’s surface. The mission will land Curiosity, a rover equipped with 10 instruments designed to search for evidence of elements needed to support life – namely, water and carbon-based materials – and to characterize life-limiting factors, such as the planet’s radiation environment.

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) led the development of the Radiation Assessment Detector, which will measure, for the first time, the radiation environment on the surface of Mars, measuring all the relevant energetic particle species originating from galactic cosmic rays, the Sun and other sources. Positioned in the left front corner of the rover, RAD is about the size of a coffee can and weighs about three pounds, but has capabilities of an Earth-bound instrument nearly 10 times its size. Its wide-angle telescope detects charged particles arriving from space, and the instrument also measures neutrons and gamma rays coming from Mars’ atmosphere above, or the surface material below, the rover.

Full Story: http://swri.org/9what/releases/2011/rad.htm

New NASA Missions to Investigate How Mars Turned Hostile

November 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Maybe because it appears as a speck of blood in the sky, the planet Mars was named after the Roman god of war. From the point of view of life as we know it, that’s appropriate. The Martian surface is incredibly hostile for life. The Red Planet’s thin atmosphere does little to shield the ground against radiation from the Sun and space. Harsh chemicals, like hydrogen peroxide, permeate the soil. Liquid water, a necessity for life, can’t exist for very long here—any that does not quickly evaporate in the diffuse air will soon freeze out in subzero temperatures common over much of the planet.

It wasn’t always this way. There are signs that in the distant past, billions of years ago, Mars was a much more inviting place. Martian terrain is carved with channels that resemble dry riverbeds. Spacecraft sent to orbit Mars have identified patches of minerals that form only in the presence of liquid water. It appears that in its youth, Mars was a place that could have harbored life, with a thicker atmosphere warm enough for rain that formed lakes or even seas.

Two new NASA missions, one that will roam the surface and another that will orbit the planet and dip briefly into its upper atmosphere, will try to discover what transformed Mars. “The ultimate driver for these missions is the question, did Mars ever have life?” says Paul Mahaffy of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Did microbial life ever originate on Mars, and what happened to it as the planet changed? Did it just go extinct, or did it go underground, where it would be protected from space radiation and temperatures might be warm enough for liquid water?”

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/solarsystem/features/hostile_mars.html

NASA Invites 150 Lucky Twitter Followers To Launch Of Mars Rover

November 16, 2011 Leave a comment

NASA has invited 150 followers of the agency’s Twitter account to a two-day launch Tweetup on Nov. 23 and 25 at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Tweetup is expected to culminate in the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover aboard an Atlas V rocket from nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The launch window is scheduled to open at 10:25 a.m. EST on Nov. 25. Curiosity’s arrival at Mars is anticipated in August 2012 near Gale Crater. During the nearly two-year prime mission, the rover will investigate whether a selected area of Mars offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life and preserved that evidence, if it existed.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2011/nov/HQ_11-387_Curiosity_Tweetup.html

NASA Ready For November Launch Of Car-Size Mars Rover

November 11, 2011 Leave a comment

NASA’s most advanced mobile robotic laboratory, which will examine one of the most intriguing areas on Mars, is in final preparations for a launch from Florida’s Space Coast at 10:25 a.m. EST (7:25 a.m. PST) on Nov. 25.

The Mars Science Laboratory mission will carry Curiosity, a rover with more scientific capability than any ever sent to another planet. The rover is now sitting atop an Atlas V rocket awaiting liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

“Preparations are on track for launching at our first opportunity,” said Pete Theisinger, Mars Science Laboratory project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “If weather or other factors prevent launching then, we have more opportunities through Dec. 18.”

Scheduled to land on the Red Planet in August 2012, the one-ton rover will examine Gale Crater during a nearly two-year prime mission. Curiosity will land near the base of a layered mountain 3 miles (5 kilometers) high inside the crater. The rover will investigate whether environmental conditions ever have been favorable for development of microbial life and preserved evidence of those conditions.

Full Story: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/news/whatsnew/index.cfm?FuseAction=ShowNews&NewsID=1179