Thursday, March 28, 2019

Microbes Survive Outside The ISS; Raising Hope FOr Life On Mars

Study Suggests That Huge Gushing Rivers Once Flowed Across The Mars Surface

Our understanding of the role water played in the history of Mars has improved greatly in the last few years, with scientists uncovering evidence of vast oceans, buried ice fields and complex networks of rivers that once sprawled across its surface. A new study has examined the lattermost of these geographical features in close detail and found these Martian waterways were far thicker and dried out far later than previously thought, suggesting that for billions of years, Mars was home to gushing rivers even wider than those on Earth today.
Today, traces of water on Mars can be found in the form of vapor in the atmosphere and stowed away underground in ice sheets and lakes. But the plentiful dried-out riverbeds filled with smooth pebbles that snake their way around the Red Planet provide useful clues about its watery past. By studying these through imagery captured by orbiting spacecraft, scientists are slowly piecing together a very complex puzzle.
While the evidence is clear that the deep, ancient channels seen on Mars were carved out by water, the type of climate that facilitated these conditions remains very much a mystery. This is because of the planet's very thin atmosphere (and therefore weak greenhouse effect), and that in the planet's early history the Sun was far fainter and weaker, providing around 25 to 30 percent of the luminosity that it does today. And less heat, presumably, means less liquid water.
"Indeed, even on ancient Mars, when it was wet enough for rivers some of the time, the rest of the data looks like Mars was extremely cold and dry most of the time," says study author Edwin Kite, assistant professor of geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago.
Looking to fill in the blanks, Kite and his team studied photographs and elevation models of more than 200 ancient Mars riverbeds. By looking at characteristics such as their width, steepness and the size of gravel chunks within them, the scientists were able to draw some conclusions about the force of water that once flowed through them.
According to the team, this provided evidence that strong and persistent water flow existed possibly as recently as two billion years ago, far beyond when the planet's last wet climate is thought to have wrapped up around 3.5 billion years ago. What's more, analysis of the catchment areas indicates that these ancient rivers were wider than the rivers found on Earth today. This adds to our understanding of the ancient climate on Mars, but it throws up a few curveballs, too.
"Our work answers some existing questions but raises a new one," says Kite. "Which is wrong: the climate models, the atmosphere evolution models, or our basic understanding of inner solar system chronology?"
The research was published in the journal Science Advances.

Astronaut's DNA No Longer Matches His Twin's DNA

Ron Clatworthy

8:12 AM (1 hour ago)

Astronaut’s DNA no longer matches his identical twin

Enlarge Image
Astronaut’s DNA no longer matches his identical twin
Scott Kelly, left, and his identical twin brother Mark Kelly

Astronaut Scott Kelly had an identical twin brother when he ventured into space and set the record for most consecutive days spent in orbit, but not anymore.
In a groundbreaking new study, NASA scientists found that Kelly’s DNA had been altered upon his return to earth — with 7 percent of his genes experiencing an “unexpected change,” according to the agency.
Research teams from around the country had been analyzing the New Jersey native’s condition and genetic makeup following his year-long stay aboard the International Space Station as part of NASA’s “Twins Study.”
Kelly said on Twitter that he didn’t find out about the results until he saw media reports this week about the DNA change.
“What? My DNA changed by 7%! Who knew?” he tweeted. “I just learned about it in this article. This could be good news! I no longer have to call @ShuttleCDRKelly my identical twin brother anymore.”
According to NASA, Kelly’s 340 days in orbit may have ultimately activated what scientists describe as “space genes.”
“This is thought to be from the stresses of space travel, which can cause changes in a cell’s biological pathways and ejection of DNA and RNA,” the agency said. “Such actions can trigger the assembly of new molecules, like a fat or protein, cellular degradation; and can turn genes on and off, which change cellular function.”
Researchers said the long-term changes were related to Kelly’s immune system, DNA repair, bone formation networks, hypoxia and hypercapnia.

“By studying how space travel can influence chemical changes in RNA and DNA, new ‘space genes’ were reported, indicating significant cell stress and correlations with changes noted by other Twins Study investigators,” explained NASA. “Whole-genome sequencing showed each twin has hundreds of unique mutations in their genome, more than expected, and some were found only after spaceflight.”

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India Shoots Down A Satellite


Space Race

India shot down one of its own low-orbit satellites in a successful test of an anti-satellite missile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Wednesday.
The “historic feat” shows India has become a “global space power,” the prime minister said in a national address that was tailor-made for election season, CNN reported. Parliamentary elections will be held in seven phases from April 11 to May 19.
The US, Russia and China are the only other countries to have demonstrated similar capabilities, so the test is likely to be viewed as provocative by Beijing and Islamabad despite India’s foreign ministry’s statement that New Delhi has “no intention of entering into an arms race in outer space.”
Capable of blinding or disrupting the communications of enemies by destroying their satellites, such weapons will likely be of increasing importance in the future, and also provide a technology base for intercepting ballistic missiles, Reuters noted.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Robert Zubrin: "Give 'em Hell Harry!!!"

Zubrin Responds to New Pence-NASA Lunar Initiative 
In response to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence's NASA announcement yesterday in Huntsville, Alabama, Mars Society President Dr. Robert Zubrin commented:
Vice President Pence's declaration of intent to land Americans on the Moon by 2024 was a welcome statement of resolve, vitally necessary to give the nation a human space flight program that is actually going somewhere. His call to put the base at the lunar South Pole is also welcome since that is where ice reserves can be found which could be used to refuel spacecraft used to explore the Moon or return to Earth.
However the goal will not be achieved if NASA is allowed to continue to misdirect its efforts to build an orbiting Lunar Orbit Gateway or Tollbooth as it is should more accurately be termed. This legacy project will cost a fortune to build, a fortune to maintain and add to the propulsion and timing requirements of any lunar mission forced use it.
The uselessness of the Tollbooth can readily be seen by noting that any lunar excursion vehicle (LEV) capable of doing the 6 km/s delta-V round trip flight from the lunar base to the Tollbooth could just as easily fly one-way from the lunar base to low Earth orbit (LEO). So while the Tollbooth plan would require using an SLS or alternative heavy lift capability to deliver astronauts to meet the LEV at the Tollbooth, without such an expensive installation we could just deliver astronauts in a Dragon launched by an inexpensive Falcon 9 to meet the LEV in LEO, along with enough propellant to send the LEV back to the Moon.
By not having to use the Tollbooth, we could conduct lunar missions using a launch vehicle with less than 1/10th the cost and more than ten times the flight frequency as would be required with the Tollbooth. Such a more advantageous flight plan, known as Moon Direct, is described in detail in my recent article in New Atlantis (
The broader point here is this: NASA needs a purpose-driven human spaceflight program, not a vendor-driven program. A purpose-driven program spends money to do things. A vendor-driven program does things in order to spend money. If we are to reach the Moon, our human spaceflight program needs to act with purpose. The Vice President has made the necessary statement of purpose. Now it is time to act on it.
Dr. Robert Zubrin, President & Founder, The Mars Society
Art work by Bryan Versteeg
The Mars Society
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Friday, March 22, 2019

Stuck Mars InSight Lander To Conduct Short Burst Of Hammering In Search Of Answers

Stuck Mars InSight lander to conduct short burst of hammering in search of answers

The first selfie on Mars of the InSight lander, which has run into a problem
The first selfie on Mars of the InSight lander, which has run into a problem (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Digging into the surface of another planet for the first time is going to bring some surprises, you'd just hope that those surprises don't include your digging being brought to a halt before things have even begun. This is the problem scientists working on the Mars InSight mission have been forced to contend with, though they are now moving ahead with new plans to shed light on the blockage.

The digging operations of the Mars InSight lander are hoped to greatly improve our understanding of the Red Planet. By burrowing into the planet's surface further than any scientific instrument before it, its drilling device will measure thermal conductivity and subsurface materials in the soil, adding to our understanding of how rocky planets like Mars were formed.
But soon after commencing its digging operations in late February, the lander's drilling device, known as "the mole" ground to a halt during the hammering phase, only making it around three quarters of the way out of its housing structure before stopping altogether. The team resumed hammering two days later, but without success.
NASA's Mars InSight lander has hit a snag on the Red Planet

The data indicated that the mole was healthy and functioning properly, though it was resting at a 15-degree tilt. The operation was then paused while the team investigated the issue, suspecting that some hard rock or gravel beneath the surface is what stopped the device in its tracks.
The mole forms part of a larger instrument called the Heat and Physical Properties Package (HP3), which was built by the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Engineers there and at NASA will work with replicas of the HP3 in the lab to better understand the problem, and are planning a short hammering test on Mars to try and uncover new clues.
This test will take place over 10 to 15 minutes later in the month, and InSight's seismometer will be used to "listen" in on the hammering to try and help determine the source of the blockage. A camera mounted on the lander's robotic arm, meanwhile, will snap images of the support structure to capture any motion that might be triggered throughout.
"With a special filter applied to the short period data directly onboard the SEIS instrument, we will get a much better time resolution of the signals and should be able to diagnose whether or not the mole is stuck or even slowly moving forward or is rebounding," writes DLR's Tilman Spohn, instrument lead. "Knowing this will help us greatly in designing our
Source: NASA