Space & Planetary Science: August 2012 Archives

NASA's WISE Survey Uncovers Millions Of Black Holes

"Images from the telescope have revealed millions of dusty black hole candidates across the universe and about 1,000 even dustier objects thought to be among the brightest galaxies ever found. These powerful galaxies that burn brightly with infrared light are nicknamed hot DOGs. "WISE has exposed a menagerie of hidden objects," said Hashima Hasan, WISE program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington."

NASA's Kepler Discovers Multiple Planets Orbiting a Pair of Stars

"NASA's Kepler mission has discovered multiple transiting planets orbiting two suns for the first time. The system, known as a circumbinary planetary system, is 4,900 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. Coming less than a year after the announcement of the first circumbinary planet, Kepler-16b, this discovery proves that more than one planet can form and persist in the stressful realm of a binary star."

Building Blocks of Life Found Around Young Sun-like Star

"The astronomers found molecules of glycolaldehyde -- a simple form of sugar -- in the gas surrounding a young binary star, with similar mass to the Sun, called IRAS 16293-2422. Glycolaldehyde has been seen in interstellar space before, but this is the first time it has been found so near to a Sun-like star, at distances comparable to the distance of Uranus from the Sun in the Solar System. This discovery shows that some of the chemical compounds needed for life existed in this system at the time of planet formation."

Column: Manned missions to Mars aren't just sci-fi, opinion, Lou Friedman, USA Today

"Human travel to Mars is inevitable. Human journeys beyond Mars will be virtual. This makes Mars the ultimate destination for humans, in body at least. Once we realize that, the context of robotic missions like Spirit, Opportunity and, now, Curiosity changes. President Obama may actually understand this; he is the first president to announce that human expeditions to Mars (he said by the mid-2030s) is the goal of America's space program. The president may understand it, but his administration doesn't. It has cut out most future Mars plans in NASA. That disconnect needs fixing."

Keith's note: I simply do not agree with Lou Friedman when he suggests that personal, physical human exploration is going to be limited to Mars - with no human venturing beyond in person. This is narrow, defeatist thinking in the extreme. Friedman talks about the potential amazing technological advances in on sentence (electronics) for future robotic spacecraft - right after he says that human life support technology is stuck in the 1960s and apparently is immune to similar technological advances. He's already given up and decided what is hard and what is not.

Alas, Carl Sagan spoke for decades about humans inside starships. Not everyone sees Mars as the "utlimate destination" as Friedman does. Rather, many see Mars as just a first step - one of many steps to be taken by human boots - accompanied by robots.

But I do agree with Friedman on one point: if you are going to set a goal i.e. sending humans to Mars, then the monetary resources to build up to that capability need to be in place to enable the development of that capability - now.

As for being Friedman's statement that Presient Obama "is the first president to announce that human expeditions to Mars (he said by the mid-2030s) is the goal of America's space program." I guess Lou missed this 2004 statement from President Bush: "With the experience and knowledge gained on the moon, we will then be ready to take the next steps of space exploration: human missions to Mars and to worlds beyond.". This was immediately followed by the President's Commission on Moon, Mars and Beyond. In 1989 his father said that America would be "sending humans back to the Moon, and ultimately sending astronauts to Mars". I was at both events and clearly heard the word "Mars" both times.

Earthrise + 46 Years

First Earthrise Photo Taken 46 Years Ago Today

"46 Years ago today, on 23 August 1966, Lunar Orbiter 1 snapped the first photo of Earth as seen from lunar orbit. While a remarkable image at the time, the full resolution of the image was never retrieved from the data stored from the mission. In 2008, this earthrise image was restored by the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project. We obtained the original data tapes from the mission (the last surviving set) and restored original FR-900 tape drives to operational condition using both 60s era parts and modern electronics."

NASA Mars Rover Begins Driving at Bradbury Landing

"NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has begun driving from its landing site, which scientists announced today they have named for the late author Ray Bradbury. Making its first movement on the Martian surface, Curiosity's drive combined forward, turn and reverse segments. This placed the rover roughly 20 feet (6 meters) from the spot where it landed 16 days ago."

Keith's note: The other name under consideration by NASA for this location would have honored astronaut Sally Ride.

>Notice of Intent to Solicit Science Definition Team for National Reconnaissance Orbiter Optical Hardware via Dear Colleague Letter

- NRO Gives NASA Two Hubble-Class Telescopes (Shh!), earlier post
- NASA's Stubby Hubbles and Fumbled PR
- Are NASA's New Telescopes NRO Future Imagery Architecture Leftovers?, earlier post

Keith's 20 Aug note: According to this NASA notice, "NRO" stands for either "National Reconnaissance Observatory" or "National Reconnaissance Orbiter". Nice way to say thank you to NRO.

Keith's 21 Aug update: They fixed it.

Notice of Intent to Solicit Science Definition Team for National Reconnaissance Office Optical Hardware via Dear Colleague Letter

"NOTE added August 21, 2012: This community announced is being reissued to (a) clarify the nature of the parallel coronagraph study, (b) correct the export-control driven eligibility requirement from U.S. citizens to U.S. persons, (c) announce a wider survey for potential uses of the telescope assets that will be undertaken later in 2012, and (d) correct some typographical errors (including what NRO stands for)."

Keith's note: Sources report that NASA has selected JPL's InSight mission to drill on Mars. Given that this is based on Mars Phoenix which, in turn, heavily utilized Mars Polar Lander designs, you can rest assured that NASA will never be able to tell you how much this mission really cost or how much was "saved" by using existing designs.

- JPL's InSight: Ignoring The Real Costs - and its MPL Heritage, earlier post
- Confusion About Future NASA Landers on Mars, earlier post

Keith's note: Telecon note: If you look at the NASA JPL website and other related materials there are frequent references to InSight's design heritage i.e. "The InSight mission is similar in design to the Mars lander that the Phoenix mission used successfully in 2007 to study ground ice near the north pole of Mars. The reuse of this technology, developed and built by Lockheed-Martin Space Systems in Denver, CO, will provide a low-risk path to Mars without the added cost of designing and testing a new system from scratch."

When I asked how much money was saved by re-using this design NASA (Jim Greene) could not answer. He said that NASA only looked at the current design and not at any previous mission. When I asked how it is that NASA can cite the cost saving/risk reduction from using a previous mission design in one location but then say that it is not relevant in another situation i.e. that this sounded contradictory, Green's reply was confusing and did not answer my question. I guess I will have to listen to the replay to see if it makes any sense the second time around.

SMD AA John Grunsfeld did make a good point that InSight is designed to last for several years in a more equatorial location whereas Phoenix had a limited life due to its polar location.

Likely footprint of spiky dinosaur has NASA's Md. campus on cloud nine, Washington Post

"A scalloped mini-crater with four pointy toe prints pressed into ruddy rock, the putative dinosaur track juts out from a scruffy slope at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center..."

NASA's Nodosaur Track, Smithsonian

"Officials at the NASA campus are already moving to protect the fossil, and they plan to bring in paleontologists to look for other dinosaur tracks. The NASA scientists want to keep the site a secret, Vastag reports, but ultimately want the public to be able to see the track."

Keith's note: Too bad NASA couldn't take this opportunity - one so close to its facilities - to treat this excavation as if it were a scientific endeavour using robotics i.e. practice for work on Mars or elsewhere. Besides, what things do kids like the most? Dinosaurs and outer space. This is a twofer.

Keeping the location "secret" is a wise precaution to take when there is no security to protect sites like this from looters. But this site is located inside a NASA field center with what one would hope is a secure perimeter. Does NASA think people might break in to GSFC and chip the footprints out of the ground? Or do they not trust Goddard employees? Given the immense value of other things lying around at GSFC, one would think that the agency would trust its employees enough to honor a "do not disturb" sign just like they do every other notice they encounter. Photos anyone? We'll post them anonymously.

Keith's update: NASA GSFC Has posted an Update on this story. They still will not reveal the exact location inside this secure Federal facility. i.e. "Goddard Facilities Manager Alan Binstock said the agency considers the footprint and its location "sensitive but unclassified."

Read the increasingly desperate tweets of Martian rock N165 as it is zapped by Curiosity

"Poor little N165. It never really had a chance. As soon as the Curiosity rover warmed up its rock-vaporizing laser, it was certain to be used as target practice. But thanks to the miracle of social media, that Martian rock has a voice, and it's not happy."

@N165Mars (the first of many Mars rocks to twitter)

Keith's note: N165 isn't alone. NASA has attacked helpless Mars rocks before. Curiosity and Spirit ground holes in lots of them. Ray (a NASA Watch reader) and I were both reminded of a historical precedent, of sorts: the 1967 attack on a Horta by Kirk and Spock. If you will rceall the Horta was associated with small round mineralized spheres (like super-sized Mars "blueberries") that were its eggs. They may look like plain old rocks to us. I'm just sayin' ...

NASA Curiosity Rover's Laser Instrument Zaps First Martian Rock

"Today, NASA's Mars rover Curiosity fired its laser for the first time on Mars, using the beam from a science instrument to interrogate a fist-size rock called "Coronation."

Keith's update: Looks like they changed N165's name.

Photo: First Laser-Zapped Rock on Mars

NASA Request for Information for a Mission of Opportunity to Aid in the Detection of Very-Near Earth Asteroids

"NASA HEOMD and SMD, through the Joint Robotic Precursor Activity (JRPA) office, are interested in instrument concepts for a mission of opportunity to be hosted on a US Government or commercial spacecraft in geosynchronous orbit that will be capable of detecting and tracking asteroids in orbits very similar to Earth's, including Earth-trojan asteroids. "Very-Near Earth asteroids" are envisioned as a set of asteroids to be discovered, in an orbit very similar to Earth's, that offer low delta-V solutions for human exploration missions. This RFI solicits information from potential sources for an instrument that can be delivered for flight as soon as 2016."

New National Research Council Report Presents Research Program for Solar and Space Physics Over the Next Decade

"A new report from the National Research Council presents a prioritized program of basic and applied research for 2013-2022 that will advance scientific understanding of the sun, sun-Earth connections and the origins of "space weather," and the sun's interactions with other bodies in the solar system. This second decadal survey in solar and space physics -- the product of a 18-month effort by more than 85 solar and space physicists and space system engineers -- lays out four scientific goals for the next 10 years along with guiding principles and recommended actions."

NASA Dawn Mission Status Report 14 August 2012

"During a planned communications pass on Aug. 9, the team learned that the reaction wheel had been powered off. Telemetry data from the spacecraft suggest the wheel developed excessive friction, similar to the experience with another Dawn reaction wheel in June 2010. The Dawn team demonstrated during the cruise to Vesta in 2011 that, if necessary, they could complete the cruise to Ceres without the use of reaction wheels."

Click on image to enlarge. Source: The Internet.

Transcript of Remarks by President Obama to the Mars Science Lab Team at NASA JPL

"I understand there's a special Mohawk Guy that's working on the mission. (Laughter.) He's been one of the many stars of the show last Sunday night. And I, in the past, thought about getting a Mohawk myself -- (laughter) -- but my team keeps on discouraging me. And now that he's received marriage proposals and thousands of new Twitter followers, I think that I'm going to go back to my team and see if it makes sense. (Laughter.)

DR. ELACHI: That's going to be the new fashion at JPL. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: It does sound like NASA has come a long way from the white shirt, black dark-rimmed glasses and the pocket protectors. (Laughter.) You guys are a little cooler than you used to be. (Laughter.)"

Ocean Optics Spectrometers Land Safely on Mars

"Three Ocean Optics instruments have completed their eight month journey to Mars to study soil composition as part of the ChemCam mission. The company's modular Jaz spectrometer scaled Mt. Everest with a team that included NASA astronaut Scott Parazynski to measure solar irradiance at extreme altitude."

Using a Tricorder on Mount Everest

"If you've ever seen a Starfleet away team beaming down to a new planet, you know that the first thing they do is whip out their tricorder and scan everything. Many of NASA's astrobiologists want one. Well, Scott and I had one at Everest."

Keith's note: I carried this cool device up to Everest Base Camp and then Scott carried it up the mountain. Its not unusual for people to trek into Everest with the latest high tech gear on display but every time I pulled this thing out people stopped to watch me go through my procedure. I took this promo photo of Scott using the Jaz unit while we were standing next to our tents at Everest Base Camp. An instant later we heard a loud noise coming from the icefall. I quickly switched my camera from still to video and shot this video since I was literally pointed at the exact right spot already. This was one of the largest avalanches in recent seasons.

Had I not been taking the PR shot of Scott and the Jaz unit I'd have missed most of this avalanche. (More details in comments below). Now I see that our good friends at Ocean Optics have hardware on Mars. How cool - especially since I had 4 little Moon rocks in my chest pocket when I shot these pics and video - and our Moon rocks are now on the ISS.

Good Morning Mars

Curiosity Image: Good Morning Mars

"This image was taken by Navcam: Left A (NAV_LEFT_A) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol2 (2012-08-08 07:11:08 UTC) . Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech"

Keith's 7 Aug note: In its 30 July press release listing all MSL media activities and opportunities, no mention is made by NASA that offsite media would be allowed ask questions during press briefings - other than the vague "Two-way question-and-answer capability will be available for some of the news briefings from participating NASA locations". Yesterday (Tuesday) a number of media asked questions by telephone. Yet no formal media advisory was sent out by NASA noting that this was an option and how/where to participate. So early yesterday afternoon I sent a request for dial-in/off-site procedures to multiple people at JPL PAO, SMD PAO, and HQ PAO. No one from PAO ever replied.

Keith's 8 Aug update: JPL PAO sent me dial-in information 14 minutes before the press briefing began. A minute after I got this email I also got a general email from JPL PAO to news media alerting us of a dial-in capability. This was the first such note they sent out. Several other space media colleagues had told me that they were unaware of the dial-in option - until they saw my note or got this email. Annoying - its not as if JPL PAO has never done this before.

Speaking of Mohawks

NASA's 7 Minutes of 'Mohawk Guy' Goes Viral, PC Magazine

"Meanwhile, the Mohawk Guy puzzle may have been solved, but there were other curiosities in the JPL's Curiosity broadcast that have yet to surrender their mysteries. We'll leave you with this: Embedded below is the video showing the reaction at mission control when Curiosity's landing was confirmed. Ferdowsi is there, of course, but see if you can also spot Old Hippy Guy and Jump-the-Gun-Celebration Guy."

Keith's note: Word has it that the head of Mars TSA (picture to the right) has been fired after allowing Mars Curiosity and its laser to land on Mars undetected. Speaking of mohawks ... if you watched *any* MSL landing coverage you saw Internet nerd icon "the Mohawk guy" (Bobak Ferdowsi) sitting at his console. You can follow him at @tweetsoutloud .

JPL folks are notoriously open about expressing their emotions and individuality during landings at mission control (think back to the Pathfinder landing) yet they do things as equally amazing as are done from JSC and KSC. Yet you'd never see a mohawk in MCC or LCC. Why is that?

Space Policy Snapshots

Can NASA keep public's curiosity piqued?, Houston Chronicle

"Paul Spudis, a senior scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, said Curiosity's success doesn't change the fact that the agency is still looking for a vision. "It's tangential to the agency's fundamental problem - where is it going and why?" Spudis asked. "Since (2010) NASA has been floundering in strategic aimlessness and national irrelevance. Only the momentum of existing programs started long ago, like the International Space Station and Mars Science Laboratory, are keeping it alive at all."

Editorial: Curiosity rover critics shortsighted, USA Today

"Those who would slash space program budgets apparently haven't learned history's lessons and don't see the great possibilities that the future presents -- possibilities reflected in every image transmitted back from the rover."

Editorial: NASA scientists nail gold medal Mars dismount, Ventura Star

"President Barack Obama, who has been accused by Republicans of being insufficiently ardent about "American exceptionalism," called the landing an "unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future."

Video: Curiosity's Descent To Mars

"The Curiosity Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) captured the rover's descent to the surface of the Red Planet. The instrument shot 4 fps video from heatshield separation to the ground."

Image: Mars Curiosity Front Hazcam on Sol 0

"This image was taken by Front Hazcam: Left A (FHAZ_LEFT_A) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 0 (2012-08-06 06:23:34 UTC) . Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech."

Statement by the President on Curiosity Landing on Mars

"Tonight, on the planet Mars, the United States of America made history. The successful landing of Curiosity - the most sophisticated roving laboratory ever to land on another planet - marks an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future. It proves that even the longest of odds are no match for our unique blend of ingenuity and determination."

Bobby Braun: President Obama's Policies Bringing Continued Progress To Space Exploration, BarackObama.com

"The President's plan for NASA also enables continuous manned operations of the International Space Station, development of the critical space transportation building blocks required for our deep space exploration future, and investment in a suite of innovative space technology research efforts to enable bold science and exploration missions in the future. Such a concerted effort of robotic and human exploration is essential to capture the spirit, imagination and creativity of the world, and will yield lasting economic, national security and societal benefits."

Viewpoint: U.S. Must Remain Leader In Planetary Exploration, Bobby Braun, Aviation Week

"Mars surface missions do not all need to be multi-billion dollar efforts; in fact, Curiosity is the only surface mission in the past two decades to cost more than $1 billion. I am confident that a cost-effective surface mission can be developed that is capable of following up on the discoveries to be made by Curiosity, and advances our readiness for an eventual sample return effort."

Rep. Schiff Cheers Curiosity Landing at JPL Tonight, Renews Call to Fully Fund Mars Program

"This success must reinvigorate our efforts to restore funding for planetary science and future Mars missions. While we have restored some of the funding -- almost $100 million so far -- much work remains to return the Mars Program to health. Without the certainty of future missions and support, we will find it impossible to maintain the most specialized workforce on earth -- the brilliant engineers and scientists who made this mission possible."

Keith's note: According to Presidential science advisor John Holdren speaking at the post-landing press briefing: "There is a one ton automobile-sized piece of American ingenuity sitting on the surface of Mars"

Curiosity Lands On Mars

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Sends Back Image of Curiosity Rover Descent, SpaceRef

"NASA released an image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter which was taken during the descent of the Mars Science Laboratory with the Curiosity rover and shows the deployed parachute and the spacecraft as it prepares to land."

NASA Lands Car-Size Rover Beside Martian Mountain

"NASA's most advanced Mars rover Curiosity has landed on the Red Planet. The one-ton rover, hanging by ropes from a rocket backpack, touched down onto Mars Sunday to end a 36-week flight and begin a two-year investigation. The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft that carried Curiosity succeeded in every step of the most complex landing ever attempted on Mars, including the final severing of the bridle cords and flyaway maneuver of the rocket backpack."

Video: Relive the Mars Curiosity Rover Landing on Mars , SpaceRef

"In a technological feat never before tried the Mars Science Laboratory with the Curiosity Rover landed on Mars on time with apparently no apparent glitches and because the Odyssey orbiter was in a good alignment, a few pictures came in right away."

NASA's New Mars Rover Sends Higher-Resolution Image

"About two hours after landing on Mars and beaming back its first image, NASA's Curiosity rover transmitted a higher-resolution image of its new Martian home, Gale Crater. Mission Control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., received the image, taken by one of the vehicle's lower-fidelity, black-and-white Hazard Avoidance Cameras - or Hazcams."

Planetary Exploration Newsletter Editorial from Mark Sykes: Mars Science Laboratory

"MSL lands this evening, but our community will not be "forever changed." I disagree with Jim Green, NASA Planetary Science Division Director ... We are weakened by bad policy recommendations and decisions of the past ten years, crippling the former workhorse Discovery program and canceling the Mars Scout program, while backroom deals are pursued to allocate yet more resources to large, uncompeted projects. The greatest challenge facing U.S. solar system exploration is making the transition from an adolescent focus on firsts to rebuilding our foundational programs and embracing science as "the endless frontier."

Note from James Green, Director Planetary Science, NASA on Mars Curiosity Rover Landing, earlier post

Keith's note: NASA just flashed this Mars scoreboard graphic again in an effort to lower expectations about MSL's landing chances and to give everyone an appreciation as to how hard it is to land something on Mars. One problem: NASA did not really explain the numbers "Earth: 15 Mars: 24". The U.S. has not tried to send 15+24 or 39 missions to Mars. Not even close. NASA is referring to all missions sent - by everyone - to Mars over the past half century. But they say "we" when they show the chart and refer to previous NASA missions. If you look at this Wikipedia page you can see that 17 or so of the failures were USSR/Russian missions in the 60s and 80s i.e. 30 to 50 years ago. What do half-century-old primitive Soviet Mars probes - many of which never even left Earth - have to do with 21st Century missions? Somewhat misleading to say the least.

'Seven minutes of terror': Mars rover landing will be a nail-biter, Christian Science Monitor

"Humanity's track record for Mars missions isn't stellar, James Green, NASA director of planetary science, suggested ... Since 1960, when the first attempt at a Mars flyby was made by the Soviet Union, "the historical success rate at Mars is only 40 percent," he wrote. That figure, however, includes all space-faring nations, such as Russia, pre- and post-Soviet collapse, which is 0 for 19, most recently with the loss of last year's Phobos-Grunt mission to study the moons of Mars. Out of the 18 mission NASA lists with Mars as the destination or as the main target for a flyby, the agency has a batting average of .730. Of the attempts at landing spacecraft on the surface, beginning with the Viking missions in 1975, the agency is six for seven."

Note from James Green, Director Planetary Science, NASA on Mars Curiosity Rover Landing

"As you may already know, the historical success rate at the planet Mars is only 40%. Although our landing percentage odds are higher (100%), successful landing with an unproven, next generation, landing system...well, that will be a white-knuckle- experience to say the least."

Keith's note: Jim, how can you say that NASA has 100% landing rates when Mars Polar Lander and DeepSpace 2 crashed into Mars? I guess a "crash" = a "landing" at NASA (who knew). If that's the case we're doing even better than 100% since Mars Climate Orbiter crashed (I mean "landed") on Mars - and it wasn't even supposed to be a lander!


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This page is an archive of entries in the Space & Planetary Science category from August 2012.

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