(By Charles Q. Choi, This story originally appeared on LiveScience)
The seas and lakes thought to have filled the basins of ancient Mars could have emerged from cracks in the ground, scientists now suggest.
Although Mars is cold and dry today, water is thought to have covered much of the Red Planet in the distant past. This could explain, for instance, why the northern lowlands hold extensive sedimentary deposits that resemble those seen in the abyssal plains of Earth's ocean floors.
The origin of these deposits is controversial. One theory suggests ancient Mars' oceans formed after huge volumes of water and sediment were suddenly released from zones of collapsed crust known as chaotic terrains. However, these zones of collapse are rare on Mars on the whole, while the plains deposits are widespread. A new study suggests this water emerged from aquifers, through extensive and widespread fractures in the floors of continent-scale Martian basins. Frequent, long-lived discharges of groundwater would lead to the development of river systems and cause large-scale regional erosion, sedimentary deposits and water ponding, the research scientists say.Continue »
According to NASA, this potpourri of stuff iincludes:
- Derelict spacecraft and upper stages of launch vehicles
- Carriers for multiple payloads
- Debris intentionally released during spacecraft separation from its launch vehicle or during mission operations
- Debris created as a result of spacecraft or upper stage explosions or collisions, solid rocket motor effluents, and tiny flecks of paint released by thermal stress or small particle impacts.
To make things that much more interesting for any manned missions, the orbital debris circling the Earth feature speeds between 7 to 8 kilometers per second. NASA notes that average impact speeds of orbital debris with another space object can reach around 10 kilometers per second.
Thus the urgency of getting out of the way of a small piece of debris, when possible. Often, that's not the case and a craft winds up taking a beating - as you can see in the accompanying image gallery.Continue »
After 15 years of preparation, the first human-like robot designed for use in space is ready for launch.
The robot helper, called Robonaut 2, is packed in a box-within-a-box and cushioned with foam for its trip on the space shuttle Discovery scheduled to launch Nov. 1.
The humanoid robot, which resembles the torso, head and shoulders of a person, was designed by NASA and General Motors to work alongside astronauts to complete chores and repairs aboard the International Space Station. Eventually, NASA officials envision these helper robots could be sent into situations deemed too risky for humans.
The humanoid robot has even taken the Twitter world by storm. NASA's robot handlers have been posting messages for the space automaton under the name @AstroRobonaut since late July.
Robots in Space
Once aboard the space station, the $2.5 million Robonaut 2 will be tested to be sure it works as expected in the zero gravity environment. Over the next year, the Robonaut 2's developers hope to test the robot on a variety of tasks, including handling flexible fabrics and possibly helping out with some light housework.
"The challenge we accepted when we started the Robonaut project was to build something capable of doing dexterous, human-like work," Rob Ambrose, the acting chief of the Automation, Robotics and Simulation Division at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, told reporters Thursday (Oct. 21). "From the very beginning, the idea was the robot had to be capable enough to do the work but at the same time be safe and trusted to do that work right next to humans."
Robonaut 2's dexterity sets it apart from other robots. In addition to its human-like fingers, the machine has soft palms that can grasp and envelop objects. It is also a "soft" robot, Ambrose said.
Metal or steel appendages could nick or scratch tools, potentially creating a hazard if an astronaut later picked up the same tool and tore his or her glove. As a result, Robonaut 2 is padded all over to prevent that from happening.
The robot's sensors are also designed with safety in mind. If the robot feels an unexpected object (like an astronaut's head) in its way, it is programmed to stop its movement. Or, if something hits Robonaut 2 with enough force, the robot will immediately shut down.
Cold Storage on Space Station
Robonaut 2 will likely stay in its foam-filled box until late December or early January, Ambrose said. It will take a few hours to unpack the robot and just a few minutes to boot it up using a laptop-like console. After incrementally testing various parts, the developers plan to begin giving the robot easy tasks, eventually programming it to carry out more complex goals.
Two potential uses they would like to start testing include having the robot wipe down handrails and vacuum air filters - two tedious tasks that station astronauts are currently required to complete. For now, Robonaut 2 is just an upper body, so it will remain stationary inside the U.S. laboratory module. In the future, the robotics team plans to test different lower bodies that will allow Robonaut 2 to maneuver around, inside and even outside the space station.
The launch "might be just a single step for this robot," Ambrose said. "But it's really a giant leap forward for a tin man."
Suddenly, the idea of sending humans on one-way flights to colonize other planets is getting a public airing.
Just last weekend, NASA Ames Director Simon "Pete" Worden was quoted as saying that NASA has "just started a project with DARPA" called the Hundred Year Starship with the long-range goal of settling other planets. (DARPA is an acronym for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.)
The general idea would be to send humans to destinations where they would live out the remainder of their lives.
And now, a couple of researchers make the argument why the use of one-way tickets to the cosmos would be the preferred - not to mention the most affordable - way to establish human colonies on other worlds..
(By JR Minkel This piece originally appeared on Space.com)
New views of the second-biggest asteroid in the solar system are giving astronomers a better sense of how the object spins -- information that will come in handy when a NASA spacecraft arrives at the space rock July 2011.
The images, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, show the asteroid Vesta, a large space rock in the asteroid belt located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
NASA researchers combined 216 new photos into a video of Vesta as it rotates once every 5.34 hours.
By now, we've become so used to space exploration that even the startling news on Tuesday that astronomers had discovered a 13.1 billion-year-old galaxy may have come and gone without registering on most people's personal Richter scale. But the concept is still so mind-blowing that it's worth a moment or two of contemplation.
A lot of people, most of whose identities will remain unknown to the wider public, can take a bow for yet another group effort. In this case, the discovery was found in a photo taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, which was carried into orbit by a space shuttle in 1990. But if you want to turn back the clock to the dawn of the space age to learn how we got to this point, a few names - and one in particular - stand out. It's just coincidence but today marks the anniversary of a decision by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1959 to transfer the rocket designer Wernher von Braun and his team from the U.S. Army to the just-created National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
It was a turning point in the history of space exploration. Von Braun's headquarters in Huntsville, Ala. subsequently became the Marshall Space Flight Center, the nerve center for the subsequent development of the massive Saturn launch vehicles that propelled the United States ahead of the U.S.S.R. in the space race. All told, the Saturn rockets would take 27 Americans to the moon and von Braun attained legendary status as the country's foremost rocket designer.
But any assessment of von Braun also must take into account his controversial work during World War II as part of the team which developed the V-2 ballistic missile for the Nazis. What's more, the V-2s were made at a slave labor factory. (For more about von Braun's Nazi past, click here.
After the war, von Braun, who orchestrated the surrender of 500 of his rocket scientists to Allied forces, went to work for the U.S. Army. For the first fifteen years, he concentrated on developing ballistic missiles before putting that know-how to work in the creation of the powerful Saturn rockets that were so crucial to the success of the space program.
Somewhere between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, a peculiar object with the even more peculiar-sounding name of P/2010 A2 was recently observed cruising through an asteroid belt in a way that astronomers found, well, peculiar.
Judging from the debris in its tail, P/2010 A2 was thought at first to be a comet. But astronomers studying the object through the Hubble Space Telescope subsequently changed their minds, suggesting that what they'd been looking at was an asteroid. The asteroid with a comet-like tail explanation has now been reinforced by the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft. UCLA astronomer David Jewitt, who authored one of the two papers on the topic noted in an interview with Nature News the rarity of the event, adding that this marked the first time that astronomers have actually observed an asteroid being disrupted.
The finding was particularly excited to scientists searching for evidence that would shed more light on the origins of dust found in the solar system. The thinking is that the asteroid got diverted from its usual orbit sometime early in 2009.
"I knew that this was an object the likes of which we hadn't seen before," he said.
The researchers led by Jewitt posit that the tail might have resulted from a collision with a smaller asteroid. (A competing explanation suggests it might be due to solar radiation.) A second paper on the debris trail lines up behind the asteroid collision scenario.
On this date in 1957, history changed when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world's first artificial satellite.
At nearly 23 inches and weighing about 184 pounds, the basketball-sized Sputnik circumnavigated the Earth every 98 minutes, emitting a beeping signal for the following 23 days. (Not long later, on Nov. 3, the Russians sent up a second Sputnik, which carried both a heavier payload than its predecessor, as well as a dog named Laika.)
The Sputnik launches triggered something akin to a panic in the West, which drew a direct line between the U.S.S.R's surprise technological prowess in space and the nuclear balance of power.
"They Continue »
The House of Representatives voted late Wednesday to accept the Senate's version of NASA's $19 billion fiscal 2011 budget proposal, which would provide money for an additional shuttle flight, kick-start development of a new heavy-lift booster for deep space exploration, and fund the development of commercial manned spacecraft for trips to and from low-Earth orbit.
With no amendments allowed, the vote was 304 in favor and 118 against.
"This is a great night for our nation's space program," Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said in a statement. "This bill is a blueprint for how we will proceed for the next three years and will allow NASA to begin planning for an extra shuttle flight. Now we have to make sure the agency gets the funding necessary to get the job done."
The proposed budget, which covers projected expenditures through 2013, addresses several issues raised by critics of the Obama administration's initial request, which called for a dramatic change of course for NASA, one the president said would be more sustainable over the long haul.Continue »
Space Adventures, the company that brokered eight private flights to the International Space Station aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft, will work with Boeing Corp. to launch wealthy space tourists and other non-NASA fliers aboard a capsule under development by the U.S. aerospace giant, officials announced Wednesday.
The Boeing CST-100 capsule, being designed to launch atop Lockheed Martin Atlas 5 rockets, Boeing's Delta 4 or the SpaceX Falcon 9, is intended to carry NASA and European Space Agency astronauts to and from the International Space Station under a NASA initiative to encourage development of private-sector spacecraft.
Under a separate memorandum of understanding between Boeing and Space Adventures, excess capacity -- seats not needed by NASA or its space station partners -- will be marketed to wealthy individuals, private companies, non-NASA federal agencies and other governments that might need access to space.Continue »
As the commander of Expedition 25 on the International Space Station, it's safe to assume that Colonel Doug Wheelock has enough to keep him occupied 24 x 7. But it turns out that Wheelock also is a bit of a camera bug and he's been regularly snapping and posting some magnificent images the last couple of weeks. He came up with more than a few keepers. Take a look.
A Danish non-profit is set to launch a crash-test mannequin into space next week.
The HEAT1X-Tycho Brahe, named after a 16th century aristocrat who identified a supernova, is part of a project underway at the Danish non-profit Copenhagen Suborbitals to ultimately create "manned space flight on a micro size spacecraft," according to the organization. The craft's co-designers, Kristian von Bengtson and Peter Madsen, said their entire $63,000 budget to develop the craft came from donations and sponsorships.
As NASA's space shuttle era draws to a close, the space program is inviting online fans to partake in one of its traditions: voting for the "Wakeup Song" traditionally played for astronauts to roust them in the mornings, which have in the past been chosen by family and friends of the shuttle crews.
"Space shuttle crews really enjoy the morning wake-up music," shuttle commander Mark Kelly said in a NASA announcement from last Friday. "While we don't have the best quality speaker in the space shuttle, it will be interesting to hear what the public comes up with. We are looking forward to it."
NASA's two final space shuttle missions, STS-133 (Discovery) and STS-134 (Endeavour), have scheduled launch dates of Nov. 1 and Feb. 26 respectively. (They had been scheduled to go in July and September of this year, respectively.)
Unfortunately, there are not many opportunities for write-in candidates: you can vote on NASA's site for your favorite of the top 40 previously used "Wakeup Songs," or upload an original song of your own, as long as it's "space-themed." (This could be a great opportunity for publicity on behalf of some indie bands.) STS-133 will feature the two highest-ranking songs in the top 40; STS-134 will feature the two highest-ranking original songs after finalists are put to a vote online. Among the choices for the top 40 are Tom Petty's "Learning To Fly," Train's "Drops of Jupiter," Elton John's "Rocket Man," and the theme from "Star Trek."
This restrictiveness may be because a good chunk of "space-themed" songs are sad astro-ballads about getting lost and never coming home, from David Bowie's classic "Space Oddity" to this year's Wolf Parade single "Yulia," and could be a bit insensitive for use in the space program. Or it might be because invariably some prank-minded Web forum would try to game the contest in favor of a meme-fueled suggestion like Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" (which won a New York Mets eighth-inning sing-along contest after Digg and Fark encouraged users to vote it up) or anything by teen pop star Justin Bieber.
Although, come to think about it, that trippy, stretched-out recording of a Justin Bieber song would be a perfect soundtrack for space.
Grab a blanket and settle down in a good spot outdoors Thursday evening. A three-day meteor shower is going to start around 10 pm, east coast time - and it's going to be a good one. Here's how NASA's Tony Phillips describes the annual "Perseid" meteor shower:
The Perseid meteor shower is caused by debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle. Every 133 years the huge comet swings through the inner solar system and leaves behind a trail of dust and gravel. When Earth passes through the debris, specks of comet-stuff hit the atmosphere at 140,000 mph and disintegrate in flashes of light. These meteors are called Perseids because they fly out of the constellation Perseus.The viewing will be clearer this year because lunar glare isn't expected to be visible during the midnight-to-dawn period. Last week, astronomers got a peek of coming attractions when an asteroid turned into a fireball in the skies visible in the southeastern United States. Friday night stargazing may be the best time to take it all in as the crescent moon is expected to set before the finish of twilight, offering up a very dark sky to behold. And if you do get out and about to watch the big show, the sky map (below) might be helpful to print out and bring along.