This week in Science Saturday, hear all the latest NASA news, say thanks and give a teary goodbye to Mars Rover Spirit, collect asteroid samples, send humans into deep space, and get a great view of Earth from orbit. All this plus our resident Mars expert’s take on “Bio Station Alpha”, a rumored new tricorder, personal jetpacks, and more!
A Salute to Spirit: Time to say, “Thanks and farewell” to a Mars Rover
It’s been over a year since Mars Rover Spirit became stuck in a sand trap near Troy, Mars. Attempts were made to free the stuck rover, but NASA wasn’t able to get her out before the onset of Martian winter, during which Spirit would become too cold to operate. Since then, we have been sending signals to Spirit, but we’ve had no response. On May 25, 2011, NASA officially called off the search and stopped attempts to contact Spirit.
Spirit was one of twin Mars Exploration Rovers (sister rover of Opportunity, who’s still operating on Mars), and was only originally expected to last 90 days. Spirit’s mission went for almost seven years. During that time, Spirit photographed Martian dust devils, sun sets, the Martian moons, and discovered a lot about Mars’s past geologic history. Thanks, Spirit, for all of those amazing years of science!
One of the last photographs taken by Spirit showing the site “Troy” where she became stuck
NASA going to asteroid in 2016, bringing back samples
NASA has just green lit OSIRIS-REx, the first U.S. mission to carry samples back from an asteroid to Earth. The mission, called Origins-Spectral Interpretation-resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (I kid you not, that is what the acronym “OSIRIS-REx” stands for. Sigh.), will launch in 2016 and head for the primitive, near Earth asteroid 1999 RQ36. When it arrives in 2020, it will not actually land on the surface, but “dock” with the asteroid, extending a robotic arm to collect a sample. Only a little over 2 ounces of space rock will make it back to Earth in 2023. Not only is this a pioneering mission for spacecraft engineering and mission design, but it will be the first sample of its kind, and scientists hope that it can tell us about the conditions of the formation of our solar system.
OSIRIS-REx mission patch
NASA developing new capsule to take humans into deep space
As the Space Shuttle program comes to a close, the US has finally announced concrete plans for the next human-rated launch vehicle and capsule. The MPCV, or Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, is based on the Orion capsule and will take astronauts beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and into deep, interplanetary space. The MPCV would ride atop a human-rated heavy lift rocket, which the president has allocated $3 billion toward constructing. Could this be the vehicle to take humans to Mars and beyond?
For more information and news, see NASA’s official website.
Astronaut delivering astonishing images of Earth from space
As we send things into space, we humans like to take a look back at the good old blue marble once in a great while. Astronaut Douglas Wheelock (@Astro_Wheels on twitter) has been tweeting some INCREDIBLE images of our home from orbit. Below are some of the best. Follow him & check out his twitter page for more!
Exciting rumor of the week: Apple’s first CEO, Michael Scott, announces plans for a real Star Trek tricorder
In an interview with Business Insider Apple’s original CEO, Michael Scott, announced that he is working on a device that would basically be a real life Star Trek Tricorder!
“I’m working on a tricorder. It’s from the first Star Trek. It’s a handheld gadget where you hold it out and it tells you what something was. So I’m working on the libraries that would let you take something the size of a cell phone and if you’re walking out the trail, aim it at a rock, and it’ll tell you whether it’s a sapphire, and emerald, etc. So the technology is there now. What’s not there is the library routine that tells you what things are.”
Is this actually going to happen? Does this tech even exist yet? Your guess is as good as mine. But, it’s exciting to think that someone with brains, know-how, and (arguably most importantly) money is looking into it.
Read the entire interview here.
Crackpot of the Week: Space Station on Mars! (not)
Tabloids and UFO Top Secret cover-up style websites have been picking up a new story that a “space station” has been found on Mars. They’ve come up with a fancy name, Bio Station Alpha. David Martines, who discovered a grouping of light colored pixels at 71°49’19.73”N, 29°33’06.53”W with Google Earth for Mars, made a YouTube video (below) that’s been picked up by The Sun, among other tabloids. He claims that it looks like some “well maintained” building of some sort. “I hope it’s not a weapon,” says Martines.
TrekMovie’s resident Mars imaging expert, Andrew Britton, found some high resolution images of the area for comparison using GIS software known as JMARS (Java Mission-planning and Analysis for Remote Sensing), a program used by NASA scientists that’s free for anyone to download! Britton had this to say about the “space station”:
I looked at the feature located at the same coordinates. Loading in the Context Camera imagery from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter at ~6 meters per pixel you can see barchan sanddunes. The wind is coming from the NW and blowing to the SE based on the orientation of the dunes.
As you can see there is no station on the ground. The feature that is pointed out by David Martines is likely to be an image artifact by compression.
Check out the image found by Martines of the supposed “space station” and the comparison, high-res image below.
The high res image at the same location
Image taken by the CTX camera, more info
Gadget of the Week: Commercial jetpack tests explosive parachute at 5,000 feet
The now famous Martin Jetpack, the first will-be commercially available jetpack, has just successfully tested an explosive parachute to allow the craft to drift to the ground from a staggering height of 5,000 feet. The explosive charge releases the parachute fast enough for it to be effective. Check out the video below!
In case you missed it…
- Watch Space Shuttle Endeavor blast off, from the point of view of the booster cameras: SHUTTLE LAUNCH
- 50 years after JFK’s historic speech, committing humans to land on the moon, a look at the current state of NASA: OBAMA GROUNDING JFK’S SPACE LEGACY?
- Danish team successfully tests a homemade space capsule, designed to send cramped humans into space. I’m hereby dubbing this a “space coffin”: DIY SPACE TRAVEL