Space & Planetary Science: March 2009 Archives

Lunar Serendipity

Mini-SAR nears completion of its first mapping cycle, Paul Spudis, Air&Space

"A particularly interesting and unusual feature was imaged by Mini-SAR almost by accident. Because of a timing error, we started a few mapping passes of the south pole early, before the scheduled start at 80 degrees south latitude. Good thing we did! We covered the fresh, spectacular Schroedinger impact basin, on the lunar far side. Schroedinger shows an unusual, keyhole-shaped crater along a long fissure on the basin floor. This crater is surrounded by optically dark material, which has been interpreted as volcanic ash deposits. The new Mini-SAR image shows that this material is also dark in radar reflectivity, exactly what would be expected from a fine-grained, block-free deposit. Thus, our radar images confirm the geological interpretation first derived in 1994 from Clementine images."

Restoring History

NASA's early lunar images, in a new light, Los Angles Times

"Rising over the battered surface of the moon, Earth loomed in a shimmering arc covered in a swirling skin of clouds. The image, taken in 1966 by NASA's robotic probe Lunar Orbiter 1, presented a stunning juxtaposition of planet and moon that no earthling had ever seen before. It was dubbed the Picture of the Century. "The most beautiful thing I'd ever seen," remembered Keith Cowing, who saw it as an 11-year-old and credited it with eventually luring him to work for NASA. But in the mad rush of discovery, even the breathtaking can get mislaid. But in the mad rush of discovery, even the breathtaking can get mislaid. NASA was so preoccupied with getting an astronaut to the moon ahead of the Soviets that little attention was paid to the mountains of scientific data that flowed back to Earth from its early space missions. The data, stored on miles of fragile tapes, grew into mountains that were packed up and sent to a government warehouse with crates of other stuff. And so they eventually came to the attention of Nancy Evans, a no-nonsense woman with flaming red hair that fit her sometimes-impatient nature."

Editor's note: According to NASA sources, JPL Center Director Charles Elachi sent an internal email out earlier today that said: "I am announcing today that Pete Theisinger has agreed to return to the Mars Science Laboratory as its Project Manager as we prepare for launch in 2011. Richard Cook will assume the role of Deputy Project Manager."

Deimos in Color

NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Images of Deimos

"HiRISE captured these enhanced-color images of Deimos, the smaller of the two moons of Mars, on 21 February 2009. Deimos has a smooth surface due to a blanket of fragmental rock or regolith, except for the most recent impact craters. It is a dark, reddish object, very similar to Phobos, shown here in enhanced HiRISE colors (near-infrared, red, and blue-green). HiRISE took images of Phobos on 23 March 2008. There are subtle color variations--redder in the smoothest areas and less red near fresh impact craters and over ridges or topographic highs (relative to its center of gravity). These color variations are probably caused by the exposure of surface materials to the space environment, which leads to darkening and reddening. Brighter and less-red surface materials have seen less exposure to space due to recent impacts or downslope movement of regolith."

NASA's cost overruns soar, too, AP

"The Mars Science Laboratory, which has ballooned to a $2.3 billion price tag, is a good example of NASA's approach. In 2003, its cost was put at $650 million on the National Academy of Sciences wish list, which NASA used to set priorities. But on Tuesday Doug McCuistion, who heads NASA's Mars exploration program, said the proper estimate to start with was $1.4 billion, not $650 million, because it was not an official NASA projection. By December, the number was up to $1.9 billion. Then technical problems delayed launch plans from this year to 2011, adding another $400 million. The extra money came from cuts to other science projects. "The costs of badly run NASA projects are paid for with cutbacks or delays in NASA projects that didn't go over budget," Stern wrote. "Hence the guilty are rewarded and the innocent are punished."

Editor's note: In his opening presentation Mike Meyer was dumping on bloggers again because they do not seem to understand the way that NASA is running its Mars program.

Editor's note: From MEPAG organizers: Mike Meyer: "The lack of money is pushing sample return further out. We just cannot do it yet. This is due to the MSL slip. We are taking a lot of money out of Mars technology. A benefit of collaboration (with ESA for example) is that it affords us an opportunity sooner rather than later, using combined resources, to do sample return in the 2020 time frame. But the reason I say that we have to have a program that does not have sample return in the program is because you have to have a program that stands on its own legs even if sample return is at a distant time."

ESA presentation: EXOMARS: solutions to cost problems: we could ask for more money, we could seek to cover financial shortfall via collaboration with international partners, or we can reduce the ambitions of the mission. We are talking about a 2016 restructured mission with NASA. We have discussed with Russia possible position of a Russian launcher for EXOMARS and possibly some Russian science hardware. A major payload review is currently under way.

Editor's note: From MEPAG organizers: "All, Questions at the MEPAG meeting can be emailed to: We will do our best to get all you questions into the meeting."

Editor's note: You can dial in too: 1-888-456-0353 passcode 6939533 - just note that a radio feed is apparently playing through the telephone feed making it almost impossible to understand at times. "We've talked to the manager but it does not seem to have resulted in any action" said the speaker. Update: now it seems to work.

Editor's note: From MEPAG organizers: Dear colleague, For those unable to attend the March 3-4 MEPAG meeting in person, you may remotely participate via WebEx and teleconference. The meeting will run from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm (Eastern Standard Time) on March 3 and from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm on March 4.

To register to remotely access the meeting online (this will allow you to see the presentations):



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This page is an archive of entries in the Space & Planetary Science category from March 2009.

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