Friday, September 30, 2016

Curiosity Finds Evidence Of Mars Crust Contributing To Atmosphere

Isotopic Clues to Mars' Crust-Atmosphere Interactions
Processes in Mars' surface material can explain why particular xenon (Xe) and krypton (Kr) isotopes are more abundant in the Martian atmosphere than expected, as measured by NASA's Curiosity rover. Cosmic rays striking barium (Ba) or bromine (Br) atoms can alter isotopic ratios of xenon and krypton. Credit: NASA/GSFC/JPL-Caltech
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NASA's Curiosity rover has found evidence that chemistry in the surface material on Mars contributed dynamically to the makeup of its atmosphere over time. It's another clue that the history of the Red Planet's atmosphere is more complex and interesting than a simple legacy of loss.
The findings come from the rover's Sample Analysis at Mars, or SAM, instrument suite, which studied the gases xenon and krypton in Mars' atmosphere. The two gases can be used as tracers to help scientists investigate the evolution and erosion of the Martian atmosphere. A lot of information about xenon and krypton in Mars' atmosphere came from analyses of Martian meteorites and measurements made by the Viking mission.
"What we found is that earlier studies of xenon and krypton only told part of the story," said Pamela Conrad, lead author of the report and SAM's deputy principal investigator at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "SAM is now giving us the first complete in situ benchmark against which to compare meteorite measurements."
Of particular interest to scientists are the ratios of certain isotopes - or chemical variants - of xenon and krypton. The SAM team ran a series of first-of-a-kind experiments to measure all the isotopes of xenon and krypton in the Martian atmosphere. The experiments are described in a paper published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.
The team's method is called static mass spectrometry, and it's good for detecting gases or isotopes that are present only in trace amounts. Although static mass spectrometry isn't a new technique, its use on the surface of another planet is something only SAM has done.
Overall, the analysis agreed with earlier studies, but some isotope ratios were a bit different than expected. When working on an explanation for those subtle but important differences, the researchers realized that neutrons might have gotten transferred from one chemical element to another within the surface material on Mars. The process is called neutron capture, and it would explain why a few selected isotopes were more abundant than previously thought possible.
In particular, it looks as if some of the barium surrendered neutrons that got picked up by xenon to produce higher-than-expected levels of the isotopes xenon-124 and 126. Likewise, bromine might have surrendered some of its neutrons to produce unusual levels of krypton-80 and krypton-82.
These isotopes could have been released into the atmosphere by impacts on the surface and by gas escaping from the regolith, which is the soil and broken rocks of the surface.
"SAM's measurements provide evidence of a really interesting process in which the rock and unconsolidated material at the planet's surface have contributed to the xenon and krypton isotopic composition of the atmosphere in a dynamic way," said Conrad.
The atmospheres of Earth and Mars exhibit very different patterns of xenon and krypton isotopes, particularly for xenon-129. Mars has much more of it in the atmosphere than does Earth.
"The unique capability to measure in situ the six and nine different isotopes of krypton and xenon allows scientists to delve into the complex interactions between the Martian atmosphere and crust," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Discovering these interactions through time allows us to gain a greater understanding of planetary evolution."
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity to determine if life was possible on Mars and study major changes in Martian environmental conditions. NASA studies Mars to learn more about our own planet, and in preparation for future human missions to Mars. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
For more information about SAM, visit:
SAM experiment data are archived in the Planetary Data System, online at:
For more information about Curiosity, visit:
The research paper is available at:

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Space-X And The Blank Slate

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SpaceX and the Blank Slate

Starting anew vs. tried and true

Posted by Casey Dreier
2016/09/28 15:20 UTC
Elon Musk’s announcement of his plans to colonize Mars inevitably invites comparisons to NASA’s efforts to land humans there in the mid-2030s. Both plans are being picked apart and analyzed for feasibility, cost, and their abilities to form political and industry coalition support. But this ignores a fundamental difference between the two organizations: SpaceX is designing a perfect system from a blank slate, while NASA is piecing together an imperfect solution from things already in existence.
Imagine you have a problem you want to solve.
Now imagine sitting down at your desk, laying out a blank piece of paper, grabbing your favorite pencil, and getting to work. Your strategy is simple: start with your goal and work the problem backwards. When you find the solution, you stop.
Alternatively, imagine sitting down at your desk, but instead of your blank sheet of paper, you open a notebook full of other people’s work. Instead of your favorite pencil, you use that big pen they give away for free at the bank. Instead of starting with the goal and working backwards, you start with a large set of smaller problems that have already been solved, assume some initial conditions, and then attempt to solve your problem by piecing them all together.
SpaceX’s Interplanetary Transport System, which has the goal of sending one million (!) humans to settle Mars over the next 60 years, is the ultimate blank slate approach to the problem of sending humans to Mars.
SpaceX interplanetary transport system on launch pad
SpaceX interplanetary transport system on launch pad
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion crew capsule, which will begin launching humans in the early 2020s to the vicinity of the Moon, is an example of the piecewise solution for a journey to Mars.
Space Launch System expanded view
Space Launch System expanded view
The initial configuration of the Space Launch System, capable of lofting 70 metric tons into space.
SpaceX’s plan calls for everything to be new: a new engine (the Raptor), a new rocket (the ITC), a new spacecraft, new material composites and processes, in-orbit refueling, precision landing and same-day turnaround of a massive first-stage of its rocket, etc.
NASA’s Space Launch System rocket uses a different approach. It uses upgraded Space Shuttle Main Engines, the RS-25s; upgraded Shuttle-era solid rocket boosters, the upper stage will use existing engines (the RL-10s), the infrastructure is upgraded Shuttle infrastructure, and so on. These decisions weren’t made out of the blue, they were, in fact, mandated by Congress in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. NASA was given the pieces and told to solve the problem of human spaceflight.
This is the conservative approach taken by aerospace companies when funding is limited: avoid making new stuff. Just look at nearly every recent Mars exploration architecture concept (such as the orbit-first concept we highlighted from a study team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory or Lockheed-Martin’s Mars Base Camp). These Mars exploration architectures use existing NASA field centers and contractor workforces, piece together the parts of existing NASA programs, use as much flight-proven hardware as possible. Again, when funding is tight, particularly year-to-year funding, the best practice is avoid the risk of creating new hardware.
That’s because creating new, reliable space hardware is historically the source of cost and schedule overruns. NASA has been dogged by this problem over the decades, overselling and under delivering on its initial goals. But it’s not unique to NASA. Every institution (and every human) struggles with this all of the time—it’s called optimism bias. We assume the best possible outcome and downplay the negative ones. But it is impossible to anticipate all of the unknown unknowns that arise from the multitudinous interactions of complex systems. NASA has been burned by this many times, driving the conservative approach to hardware program and risk to prevent undue attention from a prickly Congress.
SpaceX doesn’t work for Congress. It’s a privately-held company, so they don’t have to answer to shareholders. SpaceX has the luxury to choose its own workforce, choose its own production sites, and use its own funding to develop any hardware it wants. The company has a clear vision that informs every aspect of their work.
It’s fun to design on the blank slate. Everything works perfectly, everything happens on time and on budget. But designing on a blank slate is risky since the real world has a nasty way of throwing problems your way. There will be engineering, political, and economic complexities that will disrupt this plan.
So perhaps the most important—and most revealing—moment came in the middle of Elon Musk’s presentation to the International Aeronautical Congress, when he said that the reason he is personally accumulating assets is to fund his Mars colonization plan. This is his life’s work. So when we talk about schedules, feasibility, and cost, balance that out with the fact that this is Musk’s life work. Elon Musk wanted to colonize Mars to save humanity, so he grabbed a blank piece of paper, worked backward, and founded SpaceX.
See other posts from September 2016


maxfagin : 09/28/2016 10:58 CDT
"But designing on a blank slate is risky since the real world has a nasty way of throwing problems your way. There will be engineering, political, and economic complexities that will disrupt this plan."

You frame these as risks that are unique (or at least more probable) with newly designed hardware, and which can be mitigated by emphasizing the use of existing hardware. But that is not necessarily the case.
Chris Sham: 09/28/2016 12:17 CDT
Dreier may also be over-emphasizing the newness and blankness of the SpaceX design. Musk was quite clear last night that a lot of the ITS uses components and methods adapted from previous SpaceX work, which in turn borrows from the designs they initially imitated. Musk may have done most of the scribbling on his slate, but that all that scribbling means it's not really totally blank anymore.
Atom: 09/28/2016 01:39 CDT
What about planetary protection? I am so opposed to any mention of colonization. The international community should declare Mars to be a scientific reservery. Musk's colonization scheme would so contaminate Mars that no mater what future biological evidence is found, doubt would remain about its validity due to introduced contamination.
Only legitimate scientific organizations such as NASA, and only after rigorous planetary protection plans, should be allowed to send human investigators, not colonists.
Clark: 09/28/2016 03:12 CDT
Positing SpX & NASA Mars plans as simply 2 contrasting approaches makes sense if the differences in costs and capabilities were 10-20%. But we are talking FACTORS of 10-20. The SLS in dev. & operations will eat up $60B by the 2030s. Orion will eat up $17B by the 1st crew flights. NASA has not given a price tag for Mars because the $150B-$200B total will kill the program.

SpaceX has a clear record of huge cost reductions. E.g. NASA’s Dan Rasky, discusses a study of F1/F9 dev cost vs the NASA/USAF cost model - The model said $4B but SpX spent only $400M. F9 launch costs are 2-3 lower than competitors, who must now develop new LVs. (Yes, there have been F9 failures but same for other LVs in early operations.)

The Society, Explore Mars, etc. will strain their credibility to the breaking point if they continue to put out “affordable” Mars plans that ignore SpX (and Blue Origin, etc) and the huge gains in costs and capabilities they can provide.
YEG_steve: 09/28/2016 11:45 CDT
Another example of the cost factors is that the Indian Mangalyaan Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) cost $74m to build, launch and monitor into orbit. NASA's Maven Mars mission cost $671m, which is pretty low for a NASA mission. True, MOM was very light (15kg) and only has one substantial scientific instrument (to monitor Methane in the atmosphere, but it did get to Mars and is happily orbiting there two years later. Think of what could have been done with nine MOM like orbiters that the Maven budget cost. Sure, some would not make it to orbit, or fail soon after, but at that price who cares? These are the days of CubeSats, Smart Phones, Raspberry's etc. There is still a place for "big iron" clusters of servers, but a lot can be done by using the "clean sheet" to make designs that are within reach of small groups.
Stephen : 09/29/2016 05:35 CDT
@YEG_steve: "Think of what could have been done with nine MOM like orbiters that the Maven budget cost."

That would essentially equate to one MAVEN anyway, both in terms of cost and instrumentation, so what would be the point?

And even that would be assuming you would be sending those nine MOMs all at once. If instead NASA sent them one at a time then it would be taking about 20 years (assuming 26 months between missions) to obtain the same data that a single MAVEN acquired in a single mission.

Imagine if NASA took that same, low-budget, serial approach with ALL its Mars missions, landers as well as orbiters. At that rate to get to where we are today in terms of knowledge about Mars, it would take NASA until sometime NEXT century to obtain the same information about Mars that it has acquired to date.

In short, you get what you pay for.
spekny: 09/29/2016 10:45 CDT
It's fun to watch SpaceX approach crewed spaceflight and Mars exploration primarily as problems of engineering and technology.

It's much less fun to watch NASA hack away at problems of politics, policy, and funding.

But the truth is, supporters of space exploration must solve both types of problems in order to build a robust, fruitful, sustained program.

Presidents and Congresses come and go. Companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin can't pay for crewed missions on their own, at least not indefinitely, because there is no viable business model for exploration. Tourism, maybe. But one tragedy can bring that approach to a halt pretty quickly.

I am a member of the Planetary Society because its members are tackling both problems: technology and policy. The organization may be out-sized by these challenges, but tackling only one at a time seems like a mission to nowhere.
ReaperX: 09/29/2016 11:34 CDT
Spekny - SpaceX may not have a viable business model for exploration, but they have a plausible one for colonization. Musk made that abundantly clear in his talk. He wants the colonists to cover the cost of their own transport. He envisions himself as the transport provider only to get the Mars colony started.

Once transport to Mars is cheap (he thinks $200k per person trip is realistic), there will be enough adventurous individuals who can raise the funds to pay for their trip. People would sell their homes. Wealthy parents could - highly reluctantly - pay for their children. Foundations and crowdfunding drives would pay for highly talented younger people to make the trip.

As soon as this dynamic starts gathering momentum, and it seems like the Mars colony is really happening, everyone else will jump on the bandwagon. Corporations will want to be there. Nation states will want to establish their own presence. The floodgates of private and government money open.

You just have to jump start this process, and it becomes self-sustaining. Musk is willing to do what it takes, including investing his private fortune which he only made for this one purpose.
ReaperX: 09/29/2016 11:41 CDT
Atom - you're forgetting that Mars and Earth are already in communication through meteorites. If we find microbes on Mars, the question of whether they came from Earth (or life on Earth originally came from Mars) will come up in any event.

I'm no expert in genetics, but it seems reasonable to me that DNA analysis is or will be sophisticated enough to distinguish between microbes that have been on 

Elena Looking At Her New "Donald J. Trump Ice Box"

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Dr. Robert Zubrin Comments On The Mars Transporter System Proposed By Space-X

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Robert Zubrin Comments on Elon Musk's Plans for Mars

The enclosed comments were made by Mars Society President and founder Dr. Robert Zubrin following SpaceX CEO Elon Musk's address yesterday to the 2016 International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico.

In his talk today, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk presented a number of very interesting and useful ideas. I don't think they are practical in the form he presented them, but with a little modification, they could be made practical and very powerful. He's right on the mark about using methane/oxygen propellant, which can be made on Mars and about making the spacecraft reusable and refillable on orbit.

The key thing I would change is his plan to send the whole trans-Mars propulsion system all the way to Mars and back. Doing that means it can only be used once every four years. Instead he should stage off of it just short of Earth escape. Then it would loop around back to aero-brake into Earth orbit in a week, while the payload habitat craft with just a very small propulsion system for landing would fly on to the Red Planet.

Used this way, the big Earth escape propulsion system could be used five times every launch window, instead of once every other launch window, effectively increasing its delivery capacity by a factor of ten. Alternatively, it could deliver the same payload with a system one-tenth the size, which is what I would do.

So instead of needing a 500 ton launch capability, he could send the same number of people to Mars every opportunity with a 50 ton launcher, which is what Falcon Heavy will be able to do. Done in this manner, such a transportation system could be implemented much sooner, possibly before the next decade is out, making settlement of Mars a real possibility for our time.
Interplanetary Transport System
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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Elon Musk-Humans To Mars By 2025!!!!

Musk eyes plan for human travel to Mars by 2025

Founder of SpaceX programme for first time outlines technical details and highlights need for funding

SpaceX plans mission to Mars

Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of SpaceX, has outlined a bold plan for interplanetary travel that could take humans to Mars as soon as 2025, as part of a broader effort to form a human colony on the red planet.
While life on Mars has long been seen as a sci-fi fantasy, Mr Musk’s success with SpaceX and his personal financial resources make the SpaceX programme one of the most serious Mars efforts yet.
In a presentation on Tuesday, Mr Musk outlined for the first time the technical details of how SpaceX planned to operate missions to Mars, and said the company would need more funding to get there.
The billionaire head of Tesla and SpaceX also emphasised his personal commitment to helping humans pursue life on other planets.
“The main reason I personally am accumulating assets is in order to fund this,” Mr Musk said. He wants to use his money “to make the biggest contribution I can to making life multi-planetary”, he added.
SpaceX’s plan for Mars travel includes building a reusable spaceship that could travel between Earth and Mars and would take roughly three months to get there. The craft would be launched into orbit with empty fuel tanks, then be fuelled up with methane by a refuelling ship before it took off for Mars.
These ships would both be launched with a reusable booster rocket that is similar to SpaceX’s current Falcon 9 rocket, but bigger.
However, the timing of the Mars announcement is unusual, coming less than a month after a SpaceX rocket exploded during a routine refuelling and just three months after a separate SpaceX rocket blew up in flight.
Mr Musk tried to play down expectations of a specific timeline for the programme. “If things go super well it might be kind of in the 10-year timeframe,” he said, referring to taking passengers to Mars. “But there is a huge amount of risk. It is going to cost a lot. There is a good chance we don’t succeed.”
SpaceX plans to send its small Dragon 2 spacecraft on test missions to Mars during the 2018 and 2020 pairing windows, when Earth and Mars are close.
A new spaceship that can carry between 100 and 200 passengers would be developed within four years, Mr Musk said. The spaceship, tentatively named “Heart of Gold”, could make its first test run to Mars in 2022 and then take passengers there during the 2024-25 pairing window.
Developing this interplanetary travel system could cost about $10bn, Mr Musk said, and SpaceX planned to invest more in this area.
Elon Musk and the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket © FT Graphic / Getty
Mr Musk is also hoping outside investors, such as the US government and wealthy space enthusiasts, will help support the cost of developing the Mars spaceship.
SpaceX currently spends “tens of millions of dollars” on the interplanetary programme, which will increase to about $300m annually in a few years as the company plans its new Mars spaceship.
Nasa has also outlined its own plan for missions to Mars, but those efforts are separate from those of SpaceX.
Despite the high cost, Mr Musk said he hoped to make travel to Mars as affordable as possible, estimating that tickets could one day cost as little as $200,000.
He declined to answer questions about whether he himself would be on the first trip to Mars, however, pointing out that the chances of death were very high and that he wanted to see his children grow up.
During his 90-minute presentation at the International Astronautical Conference in Guadalajara, Mr Musk described a futuristic vision in which a self-sustaining human colony on Mars might be supported by nuclear power. SpaceX’s spaceship fleet could eventually grow to a thousand ships, he mused, adding that travel throughout the solar system might be possible if humans put fuel stations on various moons.
The immediate goal, however, is to get humans to Mars as safely and economically as possible. “History is going to bifurcate in two directions, one path is we stay on Earth forever and then there will be some eventual extinction event … The alternative is to become a multi-planet species, which I hope you agree is the right way to go,” he said.
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The Space-X Planetary Transport System

Elon's Vision To Colonize Mars


Possible Water Plumes On Jupiter's Moon Europa

This composite image shows suspected plumes of water vapor erupting at the 7 o'clock position off the limb of Jupiter's moon Europa.
This composite image shows suspected plumes of water vapor erupting at the 7 o'clock position off the limb of Jupiter's moon Europa. The plumes, photographed by NASA's Hubble's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, were seen in silhouette as the moon passed in front of Jupiter. Credits: NASA/ESA/W. Sparks (STScI)/USGS Astrogeology Science Center
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Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have imaged what may be water vapor plumes erupting off the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. This finding bolsters other Hubble observations suggesting the icy moon erupts with high altitude water vapor plumes.
The observation increases the possibility that missions to Europa may be able to sample Europa's ocean without having to drill through miles of ice.
"Europa's ocean is considered to be one of the most promising places that could potentially harbor life in the solar system," said Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "These plumes, if they do indeed exist, may provide another way to sample Europa's subsurface."
The plumes are estimated to rise about 125 miles (200 kilometers) before, presumably, raining material back down onto Europa's surface. Europa has a huge global ocean containing twice as much water as Earth's oceans, but it is protected by a layer of extremely cold and hard ice of unknown thickness. The plumes provide a tantalizing opportunity to gather samples originating from under the surface without having to land or drill through the ice.
The team, led by William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore observed these finger-like projections while viewing Europa's limb as the moon passed in front of Jupiter.

The original goal of the team's observing proposal was to determine whether Europa has a thin, extended atmosphere, or exosphere. Using the same observing method that detects atmospheres around planets orbiting other stars, the team realized if there was water vapor venting from Europa's surface, this observation would be an excellent way to see it.
"The atmosphere of an extrasolar planet blocks some of the starlight that is behind it," Sparks explained. "If there is a thin atmosphere around Europa, it has the potential to block some of the light of Jupiter, and we could see it as a silhouette. And so we were looking for absorption features around the limb of Europa as it transited the smooth face of Jupiter."
In 10 separate occurrences spanning 15 months, the team observed Europa passing in front of Jupiter. They saw what could be plumes erupting on three of these occasions.
This work provides supporting evidence for water plumes on Europa. In 2012, a team led by Lorenz Roth of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio detected evidence of water vapor erupting from the frigid south polar region of Europa and reaching more than100 miles (160 kilometers) into space. Although both teams used Hubble's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph instrument, each used a totally independent method to arrive at the same conclusion.
"When we calculate in a completely different way the amount of material that would be needed to create these absorption features, it's pretty similar to what Roth and his team found," Sparks said. "The estimates for the mass are similar, the estimates for the height of the plumes are similar. The latitude of two of the plume candidates we see corresponds to their earlier work."
But as of yet, the two teams have not simultaneously detected the plumes using their independent techniques. Observations thus far have suggested the plumes could be highly variable, meaning that they may sporadically erupt for some time and then die down. For example, observations by Roth's team within a week of one of the detections by Sparks' team failed to detect any plumes.
If confirmed, Europa would be the second moon in the solar system known to have water vapor plumes. In 2005, NASA's Cassini orbiter detected jets of water vapor and dust spewing off the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus.
Scientists may use the infrared vision of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in 2018, to confirm venting or plume activity on Europa. NASA also is formulating a mission to Europa with a payload that could confirm the presence of plumes and study them from close range during multiple flybys.
"Hubble's unique capabilities enabled it to capture these plumes, once again demonstrating Hubble's ability to make observations it was never designed to make," said Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This observation opens up a world of possibilities, and we look forward to future missions -- such as the James Webb Space Telescope -- to follow-up on this exciting discovery."
The work by Sparks and his colleagues is published in the Sept. 29 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.
Planetary scientist Kevin Hand of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, co-authored the new paper.
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (the European Space Agency.) NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, conducts Hubble science operations.
For images and more information about Europa and Hubble, visit: