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MSNBC VIDEO – Bill Nelson: Obama Wants to go to Mars

MSNBC VIDEO: Former astronaut, and current U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, tells msnbc that while President Obama seeks an end the space shuttle program, he may direct NASA to aim for missions to Mars.

JPL to Present Preview of Next Mars Landing This Week


(Above) Artist concept of Mars Science Laboratory.

Two free public programs in Pasadena this week will explain why previous methods of landing on Mars would not work for the next Mars rover and will describe how engineers developed a new sky-crane system for this mission, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory.

Tom Rivellini of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, will present illustrated talks about Mars landing methods on Thursday, Aug. 20, at JPL, with a live webcast, and on Friday, Aug. 21, at Pasadena City College. Both lectures will begin at 7 p.m. PDT.

Rivellini is one of JPL’s principal mechanical engineers for spacecraft descent and landing systems.

In 2012, the Mars Science Laboratory mission’s rover, Curiosity, will use a heat shield and parachute for initial phases of its descent through the Martian atmosphere. Then a rocket-powered descent stage will slow almost to a hover and unspool a tether, lowering the rover directly onto the surface.

For information on how to view the live webcast on Thursday and to see an archived video later, visit

NASA’s Mars Spirit Rover Hits 2,000th Day on Mars


Yesterday marked the 2,000th Martian day, or sol, of what was initially planned as a 90-sol mission on Mars for NASA’s Spirit rover.

Spirit’s twin, Opportunity, will reach the 2,000-sol milestone on Sept. 8. Both rovers have found rocks altered by past action of water on Mars. Both show some signs of aging but remain capable of further scientific investigations.


Since their landing halfway around the planet from each other in January 2004, Spirit has driven 4.8 miles and Opportunity has driven 10.7 miles. Together, they have returned more than 246,000 images. Each Martian sol lasts about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day.

NASA Launches An Inflatable Heat Shield


NASA Langley engineers check out the Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE) in the lab.

A successful NASA flight test Monday demonstrated how a spacecraft returning to Earth can use an inflatable heat shield to slow and protect itself as it enters the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds.

The Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment, or IRVE, was vacuum-packed into a 15-inch diameter payload “shroud” and launched on a small sounding rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., at 8:52 a.m. EDT. The 10-foot diameter heat shield, made of several layers of silicone-coated industrial fabric, inflated with nitrogen to a mushroom shape in space several minutes after liftoff.

The Black Brant 9 rocket took approximately four minutes to lift the experiment to an altitude of 131 miles. Less than a minute later it was released from its cover and started inflating on schedule at 124 miles up. The inflation of the shield took less than 90 seconds.

“Our inflation system, which is essentially a glorified scuba tank, worked flawlessly and so did the flexible aeroshell,” said Neil Cheatwood, IRVE principal investigator and chief scientist for the Hypersonics Project at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. “We’re really excited today because this is the first time anyone has successfully flown an inflatable reentry vehicle.”

According to the cameras and sensors on board, the heat shield expanded to its full size and went into a high-speed free fall. The key focus of the research came about six and a half minutes into the flight, at an altitude of about 50 miles, when the aeroshell re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and experienced its peak heating and pressure measurements for a period of about 30 seconds.

An on board telemetry system captured data from instruments during the test and broadcast the information to engineers on the ground in real time. The technology demonstrator splashed down and sank in the Atlantic Ocean about 90 miles east of Virginia’s Wallops Island.

“This was a small-scale demonstrator,” said Mary Beth Wusk, IRVE project manager, based at Langley. “Now that we’ve proven the concept, we’d like to build more advanced aeroshells capable of handling higher heat rates.”

Inflatable heat shields hold promise for future planetary missions, according to researchers. To land more mass on Mars at higher surface elevations, for instance, mission planners need to maximize the drag area of the entry system. The larger the diameter of the aeroshell, the bigger the payload can be.

The Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment is an example of how NASA is using its aeronautics expertise to support the development of future spacecraft. The Fundamental Aeronautics Program within NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate in Washington funded the flight experiment as part of its hypersonic research effort.

The Earth and Moon as Seen from Mars


(Above) The Earth and Moon as Seen from Mars

This is an image of Earth and the Moon, acquired at a range of 142 million kilometers by the HiRISE camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

On the day this image was taken, the Japanese Kayuga (Selene) spacecraft was en route from the Earth to the Moon, and has since returned spectacular images and movies.

On the Earth image we can make out the west coast outline of South America at lower right, although the clouds are the dominant features. These clouds are so bright, compared with the Moon, that they are saturated in the HiRISE images. In fact, the RED-filter image was almost completely saturated, the blue-green image had significant saturation, and the brightest clouds were saturated in the IR image. This color image required a fair amount of processing to make a nice-looking release.

The Moon image is unsaturated but brightened relative to Earth for this composite. The lunar images are useful for calibration of the camera.

FAST FACTS: Mars Moon – Phobos


Phobos  is the larger and closer of the two small moons that orbit Mars; the other moon being Deimos.

Discovered By
A. Hall
Date of Discovery
Average Distance from Mars
Metric: 9,378 km
Equatorial Radius
Metric: 13.4 x 11.2 x 9.2 km
Metric: 10,630,000,000,000,000 kg
Scientific Notation: 1.063 x 1016 kg
Rotation Period (Length of Day)
1.026 Earth days
24.62 hours
By Comparison: Synchronous with Mars
Orbit Period (Length of Year)
0.31891023 Earth days
Orbital Eccentricity
Orbital Inclination to Ecliptic
1 degree

Martian Dust Devil with Track and Shadow


This telescopic view from orbit around Mars catches a Martian dust devil in action in the planet’s southern hemisphere. The swirling vortex of dust can be seen near the center of the image. The shadow cast by this column of dust can be seen in the upper left while the dark track left by the passage of the dust devil is evident in the lower right.

This is a cutout from an image taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on June 15, 2009. The scene is at 68.6 degrees south latitude, 11.4 degrees east longitude.

Dust devils on Mars form the same way that they do on Earth. The ground heats up during the daytime, warming the air immediately above the surface. This hot layer of air rises and the cooler air above falls, creating vertical convection cells. A horizontal gust of wind causes the convection cells to rotate, resulting in a dust devil. As the dust devil moves across the surface of Mars it can pick up and disturb loose dust, leaving behind a track.

NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Shows Angled View of Victoria Crater


(Above) This image of Victoria Crater in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars was taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

The high-resolution camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has returned a dramatic oblique view of the Martian crater that a rover explored for two years.

The new view of Victoria Crater shows layers on steep crater walls, difficult to see from straight overhead, plus wheel tracks left by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity between September 2006 and August 2008. The orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera shot it at an angle comparable to looking at landscape from an airplane window. Some of the camera’s earlier, less angled images of Victoria Crater aided the rover team in choosing safe routes for Opportunity and contributed to joint scientific studies.

The new Victoria Crater image is available online at: and as a sub-image of the full-frame image at: .

Another new image from the same camera catches an active dust devil leaving a trail and casting a shadow. These whirlwinds have been a subject of investigation by Opportunity’s twin rover, Spirit.

The new dust devil image is available online at: and as a sub-image of the full-frame image at: .

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been studying Mars with an advanced set of instruments since 2006. It has returned more data about the planet than all other past and current missions to Mars combined. For more information about the mission, visit: .

Earth VS Mars – A Size Comparison


This composite image of Earth and Mars was created to visually show the relative sizes of the two planets when next to each other.

The Earth image was acquired from the Galileo orbiter at about 6:10 a.m. Pacific Standard Time on Dec. 11, 1990, when the spacecraft was about 1.3 million miles from the planet during the first of two Earth flybys on its way to Jupiter. The Mars image was acquired by the Mars Global Surveyor in April of 1999.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Safe After Computer Swap


NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is in safe mode, a precautionary standby status, and in communications with Earth after unexpectedly switching to its backup computer on Thurs. Aug. 6.

Engineers are working to determine the cause of the spontaneous swap from the orbiter’s “A” side computer and subsystems to the redundant “B” side. They have successfully increased the communication rate from the orbiter, but some engineering data about what was occurring just before the side swap may never be available. The team expects it will be at least several days until normal science operations resume.

The event has some similarities with, but also differences from, two earlier instances of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spontaneously swapping sides.

Jim Erickson, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., said, “The spacecraft is safe, with good temperatures and battery charge and with solar panels properly facing the sun. The flight team is cautiously taking steps to bring it back to normal operations.”

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been studying Mars with an advanced set of instruments since 2006. It has returned more data about the planet than all other past and current missions to Mars combined.


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