News and Commentary on Space
Nice combination of time-lapse star photography and…an original soundtrack by Bear McCrary: If Battlestar Galactica Was A Nature Film It Would Look Like This
[hat tip: Gina]
Maybe the Russians should just cut their losses and focus on another planet or the Moon – ESA Abandons Effort To Contact Russia’s Stranded Mars Probe:
NASA had also lent its tracking assets to the Phobos-Grunt salvage effort but was unable to pick up any signals from the spacecraft, which was launched Nov. 8 on a mission intended to land on the martian moon Phobos and return samples to Earth. The spacecraft also carries a small Chinese satellite intended for Mars orbit.
“The mission is no longer feasible,” said Manfred Warhaut, head of operations at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany. In a conference call with journalists, Warhaut and ESOC operations engineer Wolfgang Hell, who had been in regular contact with Lavochkin, said Russia is unlikely to give up on Phobos-Grunt.
“We are not in a position to continue, but they definitely will not give up,” Warhaut said. “They will continue to try to send thruster commands” to get Phobos-Grunt’s engines to function.
It seems the more ambitious their Mars missions, the more quickly they fail. Which is too bad – the more Mars missions, the better, but also because the Phobos sample return on this mission would have been really interesting.
NASA’s Messenger spacecraft snapped the new Mercury photo today (March 29) at 5:20 a.m. EDT (0920 GMT). The photo shows the stark gray landscape of southern Mercury, a view that is dominated by a huge impact crater. [See the first photo of Mercury from orbit]
“This image is the first ever obtained from a spacecraft in orbit about the solar system’s innermost planet,” Messenger mission scientists explained in a statement.
The new Mercury photo shows a region around the south pole of Mercury. A 53-mile (85-kilometer) wide crater called Debussy clearly stands out in the upper right of the image, with bright rays emanating from its center. [More photos of Mercury from Messenger]
A smaller crater called Matabei, which is 15 miles (24 km) wide and is known for its “unusual dark rays,” is also visible in the image to the west of the Debussy crater, mission managers explained.
The University of Arizona has posted an interesting new batch of images from HiRISE, taken between July 8-31 this year. Wired, in its writeup on the Mars image collection, includes a sample image that looks sorta…familiar…
It’s a little hard to appreciate them from this angle – short of renting a plane or climbing the Gibraltar-like pinnacle in the middle of the lake, there wasn’t a good vantage point from which to capture on film the features you could see with your eyes (well, okay, there sorta was, but I didn’t have my long zoom lens on the trip).
As I recall, the Mars Society was at one time considering establishing one of their analogue stations in Iceland. One could certainly choose far less Mars-similar locations…
A slightly-marsified version of one of my Iceland pics, from the wastelands near Emstrur.
It was easy to see why NASA sent Apollo astronauts to train here.
I really, really should have visited Iceland before we started writing a novel set on Mars. If Texas is like a whole other country, Iceland is like a whole other not-quite-fully-terraformed planet.
Finally back in Reykjavik after a week’s trek through the hinterlands north of Eyjafjallajokull and two weeks of camping throughout the rest of the country. I’ll have more Mars-related material over the next couple of weeks, as I sort through about 24GB of photographs and 48GB or more of HD video.
If James Cameron is so passionate about restoring the 3D camera to MSL/Curiosity, then…instead of lobbying, and urging, and taking his concerns to the NASA administrator, why didn’t he just pay for it out of pocket?
I don’t know that he didn’t, or didn’t offer to do so (the article doesn’t say), but it seems like the obvious thing to do for a guy with a passion and a couple billion dollars in the bank. Indeed, a sponsorship arrangement with NASA would have been a coup for both. Trade Cameron the rights to market the resulting imagery in exchange for underwriting the camera, let him produce a theatrical 3D documentary using it, and both win: Cameron cleans up at the box office, and NASA gets a great PR and education/information outreach opportunity.
Okay, not really. But they are giving it the ability to autonomously select science targets based on general guidelines:
The new system, which NASA uploaded over the past few months, is called Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science, or AEGIS and it lets Opportunity’s computer examine images that the rover takes with its wide-angle navigation camera after a drive, and recognize rocks that meet specified criteria, such as rounded shape or light color. It can then center its narrower-angle panoramic camera on the chosen target and take multiple images through color filters, NASA stated.
AEGIS lets Opportunity look at rocks at stopping points along a single day’s drive or at the end of the day’s drive. This lets it identify and examine targets of interest that might otherwise be missed, NASA said.
NASA said the first images taken by the Mars rover choosing its own target show a rock about the size of a football, tan in color and layered in texture. It appears to be one of the rocks tossed outward onto the surface when an impact dug a nearby crater. Opportunity pointed its panoramic camera at this unnamed rock after analyzing a wider-angle photo taken by the rover’s navigation camera at the end of a drive on March 4. Opportunity decided that this particular rock, out of more than 50 in the navigation camera photo, best met the criteria that researchers had set for a target of interest: large and dark, NASA stated.
Cool. But while it increases the productivity of this and future rovers, it isn’t going to eliminate the utility of sending humans to explore – or their essential role in settlement which, by definition, is not something robots have the ability to do.
I’m curious as to where the developers at NASA plan to take this technology in the future. Will evolved versions allow for (for instance) faster-moving rovers capable of covering more ground instead of waiting for detailed instructions? How much serendipity or “curiosity” will be allowed in the programming – that is, how broad will the selection criteria be, how much autonomy will future rovers have to pursue their own selections, and will the process be recursive, allowing the rover to reevaluate and select new science targets based on unexpected discoveries at a previously-selected target? Imagine a fleet of small, fast, simple, mass-produced rovers with loose guidlines and broad autonomy, scattered over the surface of Mars and allowed to wander at will, subject to occasional nudges from controllers back on Earth towards features of interest.
Rand’s observation that the impending end of the decade, um, isn’t actually, any more than 1999 was the end of the last decade/century/millennium, dovetails in a way with an experience I had last week.
While visiting family in Michigan for Thanksgiving, I arranged to speak to my nephews’ middle school on space exploration, space settlement, and math and science. (Yes, a little shilling for Orion was involved, but mainly as an excuse to entertain the kids with cool space-y animations.) At least three times, in Q&A, the subject of the world ending in 2012 was raised.
Naturally, I explained it as a misunderstanding of the Mayan calendar and associated legends, and as a repeat of the Y2K end-of-the-world hysteria from ten years ago. Nonetheless, it was a little disappointing to have it come up at all…I blame Hollywood.
On the other hand, it would have been entertaining to see their reactions to an explanation of the Singularity, which I remember once upon a time being forecast for the same year…
A young girl sets out to prove herself by resolving a long-forgotten mystery. But when she gets close to the truth, what she thought was a harmless adventure becomes a threat to the future of the independent commercial settlements on Mars.