Exploration: June 2017 Archives

Why No One Under 20 Has Experienced a Day Without NASA at Mars, NASA

"Without Mars Pathfinder, there could not have been Spirit and Opportunity, and without Spirit and Opportunity, there could not have been Curiosity," Pathfinder Project Scientist Matt Golombek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, said of the subsequent generations of Mars rovers. JPL is now developing another Mars rover for launch in 2020."

Keith's note: Here we go again. NASA wants you to think that everything it does always works and that its path (thus far) on the whole #JourneyToMars thing was logical and paved only with success. As such, this happy piece neglects to mention a billion dollars worth of Mars missions; Mars Observer (blew up in 1993), Mars Climate Orbiter (crashed in 1999), and Mars Polar Lander (crashed in 1999).

Oddly, it is these three unmentioned intermediate missions that had a substantial impact upon the way NASA now explores Mars. This press release is supposed to be all about how one mission contributed to the next mission. Yet without these three mission failures NASA would arguably not have had the subsequent string of successes that it has had.

When Mars Observer was lost NASA went back to the drawing board to reboot its Mars exploration strategy. When MCO and MPL were lost within months of each other NASA did a larger policy reboot. To maximize success with the Mars Science Rover mission plan, two rovers were launched - most explicitly with the intent that if only one of them worked - and only for 90 days - both missions would have been seen as successful. Two landers based on MPL hardware benefited directly from understanding the problems on MPL. Looking back, as a result of these three failures, we now see a more careful and instrumented approach used in traveling to, entering orbit, and landing on - Mars. NASA learned its Mars exploration lessons well - the hard way.

But now NASA Public Affairs is trying to pull a fast one and rewrite the history books. In so doing they obscure the timeline wherein these lessons were learned. They also help to sow the seeds for future mistakes. The people listed as contacts and who wrote and reviewed this release at NASA HQ and JPL know better. Alas, they now have a new, younger generation who was not around when the hard lessons were learned (the other main point of this release) so why not just leave the bad bits out, eh?

Indeed, this selective memory PAO exhibits is akin to trying to describe the history of American human spaceflight while neglecting the tough lessons learned (and unlearned) from Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia. No one is well-served by an edited, sanitized version of NASA's long path outward into space.

Keith's update: NASA loves to use the phrase "Mars is hard" when it comes to missions to Mars - especially when the nail biting begins. How would NASA ever know that it is "hard" unless they experienced hardships along the way - you know, hardships such as mission failures? How are the younger people who are the intended audience for this release going to know about these hardships if NASA will not tell them that they happened along the way?

NASA closing out Asteroid Redirect Mission, Space News

"ARM called for sending a robotic spacecraft to a near Earth asteroid, where it would grab a boulder a few meters across from the asteroid's surface and return it to cislunar space. Astronauts flying on an Orion spacecraft would then visit the boulder, performing studies and collecting samples for return to Earth. The mission, though, struggled to win support since its introduction in 2013, particularly in Congress, where members were skeptical that the mission was on the critical path for NASA's long-term goal of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s. At recent hearings on NASA's 2018 budget request, members showed no interest in reversing plans in the proposal to cancel the mission."

Keith's note: On the heels of the ARM cancelation NASA has come up with a new large project - the mini-space station "Gateway" located near the Moon - under the same strange justification as ARM i.e. that it is necessary in order to send humans to Mars.

Collateral damage from cosmic rays increases cancer risks for Mars astronauts, University of Nevada Las Vegas

"Galactic cosmic ray exposure can devastate a cell's nucleus and cause mutations that can result in cancers," Cucinotta explained. "We learned the damaged cells send signals to the surrounding, unaffected cells and likely modify the tissues' microenvironments. Those signals seem to inspire the healthy cells to mutate, thereby causing additional tumors or cancers." Cucinotta said the findings show a tremendous need for additional studies focused on cosmic ray exposures to tissues that dominate human cancer risks, and that these should begin prior to long-term space missions outside the Earth's geomagnetic sphere."

Accepting More Personal Risk In Space Exploration, earlier post

"People who engage on expeditions to risky and dangerous places on Earth regulary waive certain safety and medical regulations in order to participate. I have done it more than once in the arctic and at Everest. You consider the risks, weigh the benefits, and then sign the forms. There are lifetime radiation exposure limits for astronauts that are supposed to be used to guide the selection of ISS crews. Now, these limits are apparently subject to selective waiver."


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