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Twilight Embers: Phoenix Mars Mission Ends November 12, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : Mars, NASA, Phoenix lander, rover, Spirit and Opportunity , add a comment

Months after it was originally anticipated to fall silent, and after discovering both ice and falling snow on Mars, the Phoenix lander has lost contact, and the mission has been declared completed.

Lasting five months, the lander was originally expected to last just 90 sols (martian days), until September 30th; the last communciation was on November 2nd.
A Martian sunrise in late August, marking the oncoming of the winter that eventually doomed the lander. [Photo from UniverseToday.com by way of NASA/JLP/UA)

The unexpected durability of the lander could be promising for the efforts of future landers and rovers, including lunar ones.

Check out the official NASA media page on Phoenix for videos recapping the mission.

A related note: The Mars explroation rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, are still kickin’, after nearly five years (more than seventeen times longer than expected).

Considering how much longer ‘than expected’ both the Phoenix and the twin rovers have lasted, could it also happen that completion of lunar bases (being built by, of course, robots) will come much faster ‘than expected’ (with their construction workers potentially proving much hardier and productive workers than predicted)?

Picture of the Week: Who Needs Video May 31, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : Google Lunar X Prize, Mars, Mooncast, Phoenix lander, Picture of the Week , add a comment

The above is an animated GIF from NASA’a Phoenix Lander, brought to you from the lovely locale of Mars. A robotic arm deploying may not always the most exciting thing in the world–or, err, solar system?–, but coming straight from another planet, it’s pretty neat. (For a bunch more images from the lander, see here).

Part of the Google Lunar X Prize requirements for a qualifying victory are to send back images and data (including HD video) from the Moon; what they call a “Mooncast“.

MOONCAST: The Mooncast consists of digital data that must be collected and transmitted to the Earth composed of the following:
• High resolution 360º panoramic photographs taken on the surface of the Moon;
• Self portraits of the rover taken on the surface of the Moon;
• Near-real time videos showing the craft’s journey along the lunar surface;
• High Definition (HD) video;
• Transmission of a cached set of data, loaded on the craft before launch (e.g. first email from the Moon).
Teams will be required to send a Mooncast detailing their arrival on the lunar surface, and a second Mooncast that provides imagery and video of their journey roaming the lunar surface. All told, the Mooncasts will represent approximately a Gigabyte of stunning content returned to the Earth.”

I note that they actually require a self-portrait of the rover in all of that. So, little things like that GIF above are going to be big things for many folks in the coming years :)

A Phoenix + Ice = ? May 28, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : areology, Lunar Prospector, Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter, Lunar Research Institute, Mars, Phoenix lander, Polar ice , add a comment

Three days ago (May 25th), NASA’s Phoenix lander made it safely to the surface of Mars; specifically, the north polar region (where water ice was discovered to be chillin’ back in 2005).

Like the features of the Moon, the north polar region of Mars has a Latin name: Planeum Borem (insert “Bore ’em” joke/pun here), which means simply ‘The Northern Plain”. Below is a mosaic of this northern region from, appropiately enough, the Viking spacecraft:

You’re probably thinking “Yeah, NASA and all, but what’s this got to do with colonization of the Moon?”

Well, as far as having water at the poles, Mars may have company. The key word, though, seems to be “may“: efforts such as NASA’s Lunar Prospector and Europe’s SMART-1 have not turned up any clear evidence. Third time may be the charm, though (or at least that’s NASA’s idea): the Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter (LRO; launching November 24th, 2008) has a primary goal of finding water, along with even more critical research regarding lunar landing sites and radiation study.

As that Space.com AP article above notes, though:

“…the only way to know for sure is to send a human or robot. ‘You’ve got to go down and stick your finger in it, so to speak,’ he [Alan Binder, the director of the Lunar Research Institute] said.”

With Mars, that obviously seems to be their plan. While Mars has the possibility of past life tied to its water, the main motivation to discover water on the Moon is to plan for the possibility of future life (though water could simply be imported, especially if a space elevator is around to reduce the cost of getting it off Earth).

As the 6-month Phoenix surface mission unfolds, it should be interesting to see what lessons can be gleaned from it for similar poking around on the Moon.

Picture of the Week: Earthnauts May 1, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : Mars, Picture of the Week , add a comment

This week’s Picture of the Week comes from Mars. Well, sort of.

That is several ‘astronauts’ exploring around at the Mars Desert Research Station, the second of four such stations to be built in order to test habitats and lifestyles, somewhat ahead of what NASA is up to. These sort of stations will provide invaluable for figuring out the details of Lunar and Martian colony life, and the lessons from one could be applied to another.

It’ll be interesting to see, in particular, the psychological kinds of studies one can get from these…