Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.A human journey to Mars, at first glance, offers an inexhaustible amount of complexities. To bring a mission to the Red Planet from fiction to fact, our Human Research Program has organized hazards astronauts will encounter on a continual basis into five classifications. (View the first hazard). Let’s dive into the second hazard:
Overcoming the second hazard, isolation and confinement, is essential for a successful mission to Mars. Behavioral issues among groups of people crammed in a small space over a long period of time, no matter how well trained they are, are inevitable. It is a topic of study and discussion currently taking place around the selection and composition of crews.
On Earth, we have the luxury of picking up our cell phones and instantly being connected with nearly everything and everyone around us.
On a trip to Mars, astronauts will be more isolated and confined than we can imagine.
Sleep loss, circadian desynchronization (getting out of sync), and work overload compound this issue and may lead to performance decrements or decline, adverse health outcomes, and compromised mission objectives.
To address this hazard, methods for monitoring behavioral health and adapting/refining various tools and technologies for use in the spaceflight environment are being developed to detect and treat early risk factors. Research is also being conducted in workload and performance, light therapy for circadian alignment or internal clock alignment, and team cohesion.
Exploration to the Moon and Mars will expose astronauts to five known hazards of spaceflight, including isolation and confinement. To learn more, and find out what the Human Research Program is doing to protect humans in space, check out the “Hazards of Human Spaceflight” website. Or, check out this week’s episode of “Houston We Have a Podcast,” in which host Gary Jordan further dives into the threat of isolation and confinement with Tom Williams, a NASA Human Factors and Behavior Performance Element Scientist at the Johnson Space Center.
A human journey to Mars, at first glance, offers an inexhaustible amount of complexities. To bring a mission to the Red Planet from fiction to fact, our Human Research Program has organized hazards astronauts will encounter on a continual basis into five classifications.
The first hazard of a human mission to Mars is also the most difficult to visualize because, well, space radiation is invisible to the human eye. Radiation is not only stealthy, but considered one of the most menacing of the five hazards.
Above Earth’s natural protection, radiation exposure increases cancer risk, damages the central nervous system, can alter cognitive function, reduce motor function and prompt behavioral changes. To learn what can happen above low-Earth orbit, we study how radiation affects biological samples using a ground-based research laboratory.
Exploration to the Moon and Mars will expose astronauts to five known hazards of spaceflight, including radiation. To learn more, and find out what our Human Research Program is doing to protect humans in space, check out the “Hazards of Human Spaceflight” website or check out this week’s episode of “Houston We Have a Podcast,” in which our host Gary Jordan further dives into the threat of radiation with Zarana Patel, a radiation lead scientist at the Johnson Space Center.
Our Commercial Crew Program is
working with the American aerospace industry to develop and operate a
new generation of spacecraft to carry astronauts
to and from low-Earth orbit!
As we prepare to launch humans from American soil for the first time since the final space shuttle mission in 2011, get to know the astronauts who will fly with Boeing and SpaceX
as members of our commercial crew!
served as Chief of the NASA Astronaut Office from July 2012 to July
2015, where he was responsible for flight assignments, mission preparation, on-orbit
support of International Space Station crews and organization of astronaut
office support for future launch vehicles. Learn more about Bob.
Boe first dreamed of being an astronaut at age 5 after his parents woke him up to
watch Neil Armstrong take his first steps onto the lunar surface. Learn more
Josh Cassada holds a Master of Arts Degree and a Doctorate in Physics with a
specialty in high energy particle physics from the University of Rochester, in
Rochester, New York. He was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2013, and his first
spaceflight will be as part of the Commercial Crew Program. Learn more about
Ferguson served as a Navy pilot before becoming a NASA astronaut, and was
commander aboard Atlantis for the final space shuttle flight, as part of the
same crew as Doug Hurley. He retired from NASA in 2011 and has been an integral
part of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner program. Learn more about Chris.
Victor Glover was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2013 while working as a Legislative Fellow in the United States Senate. His first spaceflight will be as part of the Commercial Crew Program. Learn more about Victor.
was a top flight test engineer at the United States Air Force Test
Pilot School. He also studied political science at the Università degli Studi
di Parma in Parma, Italy, in 2005, and became a NASA astronaut in 2009. Learn
more about Mike.
2009, Doug Hurley was one of the record-breaking 13 people living on the space
station at the same time. In 2011, he served as the pilot on Atlantis during the
final space shuttle mission, delivering supplies and spare parts to the
International Space Station. Now, he will be one of the first people to launch
from the U.S. since that last shuttle mission. Learn more about Doug.
Mann is a Naval Aviator and a test pilot in the F/A-18 Hornet. She was selected
as a NASA astronaut in 2013, and her first spaceflight will be as part of the Commercial
Crew Program. Learn more about Nicole.
has completed 7 spacewalks, totaling 50 hours and 40 minutes. She’s
also known for running. In April 2007, Suni ran the first marathon in space,
the Boston Marathon, in 4 hours and 24 minutes. Learn more about Suni.
Boeing and SpaceX are scheduled to complete their crew flight tests in mid-2019 and April 2019, respectively. Once enabled, commercial transportation to and from the International Space Station will empower more station use, more research time and more
opportunities to understand and overcome the challenges of living in space, which is critical for us to create a sustainable
presence on the Moon and carry out missions deeper into the solar system, including Mars!
The Perseid meteor shower is the best of the year! It peaks on a Moonless summer night from 4 p.m. EST on August 12 until 4 a.m. EST on August 13.
Because the new Moon falls near the peak night, the days before and after the peak will also provide nice, dark skies. Your best window of observation is from a few hours after twilight until dawn, on the days surrounding the peak.
Unlike most meteor showers, which have a short peak of high meteor rates, the Perseids have a very broad peak, as Earth takes more than three weeks to plow through the wide trail of cometary dust from comet Swift-Tuttle.
The Perseids appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus, visible in the northern sky soon after sunset this time of year. Observers in mid-northern latitudes will have the best views.
You should be able to see some meteors from July 17 to August 24, with the rates increasing during the weeks before August 12 and decreasing after August 13.
Observers should be able to see between 60 and 70 per hour at the peak. Remember, you don’t have to look directly at the constellation to see them. You can look anywhere you want to-even directly overhead.
Meteor showers like the Perseids are caused by streams of meteoroids hitting Earth’s atmosphere. The particles were once part of their parent comet-or, in some cases, from an asteroid.
The parade of planets Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars–and the Milky Way continue to grace the evening sky, keeping you and the mosquitoes company while you hunt for meteors.
Tonight, Australians, Africans, Europeans, Asians and South Americans will have the opportunity to see the longest lunar eclipse of the century. Sorry North America.
Lunar eclipses occur about 2-4 times per year, when the Moon passes into the Earth’s shadow. In order to see a lunar eclipse, you must be on the night side of the Earth, facing the Moon, when the Earth passes in between the Moon and the Sun. Need help visualizing this? Here you go:
What’s the difference between a solar eclipse and a lunar eclipse?
An easy way to remember the difference between a solar eclipse and a lunar eclipse is that the word ‘eclipse’ refers to the object that is being obscured. During a solar eclipse, the Moon blocks the Sun from view. During a lunar eclipse, the Earth’s shadow obscures the Moon.
Why does the Moon turn red?
You may have heard the term ‘Blood Moon’ for a lunar eclipse. When the Moon passes into the Earth’s shadow, it turns red. This happens for the exact same reason that our sunrises and sunsets here on Earth are brilliant shades of pinks and oranges. During a lunar eclipse, the only light reaching the Moon passes through the Earth’s atmosphere. The bluer, shorter wavelength light scatters and the longer wavelength red light passes through and makes it to the Moon.
What science can we learn from a lunar eclipse?
“During a lunar eclipse, the temperature swing is so dramatic that it’s as if the surface of the Moon goes from being in an oven to being in a freezer in just a few hours,” said Noah Petro, project scientist for our Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, at our Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
The Diviner team from LRO measures temperature changes on the Moon through their instrument on the spacecraft as well as through a thermal camera on Earth. How quickly or slowly the lunar surface loses heat helps scientists determine characteristics of lunar material, including its composition and physical properties.
When is the next lunar eclipse?
North Americans, don’t worry. If skies are clear, you can see the next lunar eclipse on January 21, 2019. The eclipse will be visible to North Americans, South Americans, and most of Africa and Europe.
For scientists watching the Red Planet from our orbiters, the past month has been a windfall. “Global” dust storms, where a runaway series of storms create a dust cloud so large they envelop the planet, only appear every six to eight years (that’s 3-4 Mars years). Scientists still don’t understand why or how exactly these storms form and evolve.
July’s night skies feature Mars opposition on the 27th, when Mars, Earth, and the Sun all line up, and Mars’ closest approach to Earth since 2003 on the 31st.
If you’ve been sky watching for 15 years or more, then you’ll remember August 2003, when Mars approached closer to Earth than it had for thousands of years.
It was a very small percentage closer, but not so much that it was as big as the moon as some claimed.
Astronomy clubs everywhere had long lines of people looking through their telescopes at the red planet, and they will again this month!
If you are new to stargazing, this month and next will be a great time to check out Mars.
Through a telescope, you should be able to make out some of the light and dark features, and sometimes polar ice. Right now, though, a huge Martian dust storm is obscuring many features, and less planetary detail is visible.
July 27th is Mars opposition, when Mars, Earth, and the Sun all line up, with Earth directly in the middle.
A few days later on July 31st is Mars’ closest approach. That’s when Mars and Earth are nearest to each other in their orbits around the Sun. Although there will be a lot of news focusing on one or the other of these two dates, Mars will be visible for many months.
By the end of July, Mars will be visible at sunset.
But the best time to view it is several hours after sunset, when Mars will appear higher in the sky.
Mars will still be visible after July and August, but each month it will shrink in apparent size as it travels farther from Earth in its orbit around the Sun.
On July 27th a total lunar eclipse will be visible in Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe and South America.
For those viewers, Mars will be right next to the eclipsing moon!
Next month will feature August’s summer Perseids. It’s not too soon to plan a dark sky getaway for the most popular meteor shower of the year!
When our next Mars rover lands on the Red Planet in
2021, it will deliver a groundbreaking technology demonstration: the
first helicopter to ever fly on a planetary body other than Earth. This
Mars Helicopter will demonstrate the first controlled, powered,
sustained flight on another world. It could also pave the way for future
missions that guide rovers and gather science data and images at
locations previously inaccessible on Mars. This exciting new technology
could change the way we explore Mars.
1. Its body is small, but its blades are mighty.
One of the biggest engineering challenges is getting the
Mars Helicopter’s blades just right. They need to push enough air
downward to receive an upward force that allows for thrust and
controlled flight — a big concern on a planet where the atmosphere is
only one percent as dense as Earth’s. “No helicopter has flown in those
flight conditions – equivalent to 100,000 feet (30,000 meters) on
Earth,” said Bob Balaram, chief engineer for the project at our Jet
2. It has to fly in really thin Martian air.
To compensate for Mars’ thin atmosphere, the blades must
spin much faster than on an Earth helicopter, and the blade size
relative to the weight of the helicopter has to be larger too. The Mars
Helicopter’s rotors measure 4 feet wide (about 1.2 meters) long, tip to
tip. At 2,800 rotations per minute, it will spin about 10 times faster
than an Earth helicopter.
At the same time, the blades shouldn’t flap around too much, as
the helicopter’s design team discovered during testing. Their solution:
make the blades more rigid. “Our blades are much stiffer than any
terrestrial helicopter’s would need to be,” Balaram said.
The body, meanwhile, is tiny — about the size of a softball. In
total, the helicopter will weigh just under 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms).
3. It will make up to five flights on Mars.
Over a 30-day period on Mars, the helicopter will attempt
up to five flights, each time going farther than the last. The
helicopter will fly up to 90 seconds at a time, at heights of up to 10
to 15 feet (3 to 5 meters). Engineers will learn a lot about flying a
helicopter on Mars with each flight, since it’s never been done before!
4. The Mars Helicopter team has already completed groundbreaking tests.
Because a helicopter has never visited Mars before, the
Mars Helicopter team has worked hard to figure out how to predict the
helicopter’s performance on the Red Planet. “We had to invent how to do
planetary helicopter testing on Earth,” said Joe Melko, deputy chief
engineer of Mars Helicopter, based at JPL.
The team, led by JPL and including members from JPL,
AeroVironment Inc., Ames Research Center, and Langley Research
Center, has designed, built and tested a series of test vehicles.
In 2016, the team flew a full-scale prototype test model
of the helicopter in the 25-foot (7.6-meter) space simulator at JPL. The
chamber simulated the low pressure of the Martian atmosphere. More
recently, in 2018, the team built a fully autonomous helicopter designed
to operate on Mars, and successfully flew it in the 25-foot chamber in
Mars-like atmospheric density.
Engineers have also exercised the rotors of a test
helicopter in a cold chamber to simulate the low temperatures of Mars at
night. In addition, they have taken design steps to deal with Mars-like
radiation conditions. They have also tested the helicopter’s landing
gear on Mars-like terrain. More tests are coming to see how it performs
with Mars-like winds and other conditions.
5. The camera is as good as your cell phone camera.
The helicopter’s first priority is successfully flying on
Mars, so engineering information takes priority. An added bonus is its
camera. The Mars Helicopter has the ability to take color photos with a
13-megapixel camera — the same type commonly found in smart phones
today. Engineers will attempt to take plenty of good pictures.
6. It’s battery-powered, but the battery is rechargeable.
The helicopter requires 360 watts of power for each
second it hovers in the Martian atmosphere – equivalent to the power
required by six regular lightbulbs. But it isn’t out of luck when its
lithium-ion batteries run dry. A solar array on the helicopter will
recharge the batteries, making it a self-sufficient system as long as
there is adequate sunlight. Most of the energy will be used to keep the
helicopter warm, since nighttime temperatures on Mars plummet to around
minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 Celsius). During daytime flights,
temperatures may rise to a much warmer minus 13 to minus 58 degrees
Fahrenheit to (minus 25 to minus 50 degrees Celsius) — still chilly by
Earth standards. The solar panel makes an average of 3 watts of power
continuously during a 12-hour Martian day.
7. The helicopter will be carried to Mars under the belly of the rover.
Somewhere between 60 to 90 Martian days (or sols) after
the Mars 2020 rover lands, the helicopter will be deployed from the
underside of the rover. Mars Helicopter Delivery System on the rover
will rotate the helicopter down from the rover and release it onto the
ground. The rover will then drive away to a safe distance.
8. The helicopter will talk to the rover.
The Mars 2020 rover will act as a telecommunication
relay, receiving commands from engineers back on Earth and relaying them
to the helicopter. The helicopter will then send images and information
about its own performance to the rover, which will send them back to
Earth. The rover will also take measurements of wind and atmospheric
data to help flight controllers on Earth.
9. It has to fly by itself, with some help.
Radio signals take time to travel to Mars — between four
and 21 minutes, depending on where Earth and Mars are in their orbits —
so instantaneous communication with the helicopter will be impossible.
That means flight controllers can’t use a joystick to fly it in real
time, like a video game. Instead, they need to send commands to the
helicopter in advance, and the little flying robot will follow through.
Autonomous systems will allow the helicopter to look at the ground,
analyze the terrain to look how fast it’s moving, and land on its own.
10. It could pave the way for future missions.
A future Mars helicopter could scout points of interest,
help scientists and engineers select new locations and plan driving
routes for a rover. Larger standalone helicopters could carry science
payloads to investigate multiple sites at Mars. Future helicopters could
also be used to fly to places on Mars that rovers cannot reach, such as
cliffs or walls of craters. They could even assist with human
exploration one day. Says Balaram: “Someday, if we send astronauts,
these could be the eyes of the astronauts across Mars.”
Read the full version of this week’s ‘10 Things to Know’ article on the web HERE.
Massive Martian dust storms have been challenging—and enticing—scientists for decades. Here’s the scoop on Martian dust:
1: Challenging Opportunity
Our Opportunity rover is facing one of the greatest challenges of its 14 ½ year mission on the surface of Mars–a massive dust storm that has turned day to night. Opportunity is currently hunkered down on Mars near the center of a storm bigger than North America and Russia combined. The dust-induced darkness means the solar-powered rover can’t recharge its batteries.
Martian breezes proved a saving grace for the solar-powered Mars rovers in the past, sweeping away accumulated dust and enabling rovers to recharge and get back to science. This is Opportunity in 2014. The image on the left is from January 2014. The image on the right in March 2014.
4: Dusty Disappointment
Back in 1971, scientists were eager for their first orbital views of Mars. But when Mariner 9 arrived in orbit, the Red Planet was engulfed by a global dust storm that hid most of the surface for a month. When the dust settled, geologists got detailed views of the Martian surface, including the first glimpses of ancient riverbeds carved into the dry and dusty landscape.
Scientists know to expect big dust storms on Mars, but the rapid development of the current one is surprising. Decades of Mars observations show a pattern of regional dust storms arising in northern spring and summer. In most Martian years, nearly twice as long as Earth years, the storms dissipate. But we’ve seen global dust storms in 1971, 1977, 1982, 1994, 2001 and 2007. The current storm season could last into 2019.
Once on the Red Planet, InSight will use sophisticated geophysical instruments to delve deep beneath the surface of Mars, detecting the fingerprints of the processes of terrestrial planet formation, as well as measuring the planet’s “vital signs”: Its “pulse” (seismology), “temperature” (heat flow probe), and “reflexes” (precision tracking).
9: Martian Weather Report
One saving grace of dust storms is that they can actually limit the extreme temperature swings experienced on the Martian surface. The same swirling dust that blocks out sunlight also absorbs heat, raising the ambient temperature surrounding Opportunity.
A dust storm in the Sahara can change the skies in Miami and temperatures in the North Atlantic. Earth scientists keep close watch on our home planet’s dust storms, which can darken skies and alter Earth’s climate patterns.
We detected organic molecules at the harsh surface of Mars! And what’s important about this is we now have a lot more certainty that there’s organic molecules preserved at the surface of Mars. We didn’t know that before.
One of the discoveries is we found organic molecules just beneath the surface of Mars in 3 billion-year-old sedimentary rocks.
Second, we’ve found seasonal variations in methane levels in the atmosphere over 3 Mars years (nearly 6 Earth years). These two discoveries increase the chances that the record of habitability and potential life has been preserved on the Red Planet despite extremely harsh conditions on the surface.
Both discoveries were made by our chem lab that rides aboard the Curiosity rover on Mars.
Here’s an image from when we installed the SAM lab on the rover. SAM stands for “Sample Analysis at Mars” and SAM did two things on Mars for this discovery.
One – it tested Martian rocks. After the arm selects a sample of pulverized rock, it heats up that sample and sends that gas into the chamber, where the electron stream breaks up the chemicals so they can be analyzed.
What SAM found are fragments of large organic molecules preserved in ancient rocks which we think come from the bottom of an ancient Martian lake. These organic molecules are made up of carbon and hydrogen, and can include other elements like nitrogen and oxygen. That’s a possible indicator of ancient life…although non-biological processes can make organic molecules, too.
The other action SAM did was ‘sniff’ the air.
When it did that, it detected methane in the air. And for the first time, we saw a repeatable pattern of methane in the Martian atmosphere. The methane peaked in the warm, summer months, and then dropped in the cooler, winter months.
On Earth, 90 percent of methane is produced by biology, so we have to consider the possibility that Martian methane could be produced by life under the surface. But it also could be produced by non-biological sources. Right now, we don’t know, so we need to keep studying the Mars!
One of our upcoming Martian missions is the InSight lander. InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is a Mars lander designed to give the Red Planet its first thorough checkup since it formed 4.5 billion years ago. It is the first outer space robotic explorer to study in-depth the “inner space” of Mars: its crust, mantle, and core.
Finding methane in the atmosphere and ancient carbon preserved on the surface gives scientists confidence that our Mars 2020 rover and ESA’s (European Space Agency’s) ExoMars rover will find even more organics, both on the surface and in the shallow subsurface.
Read the full release on today’s announcement HERE.