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For Mars rover Spirit, it's do or die

NASA scientists said Thursday that they had come up with a plan to free the stalled rover Spirit from its Martian sand trap but also warned that the plan might not work. If it doesn't, the popular robot could finally reach its end. In a teleconference briefing for reporters, the Mars rover team said this is by far the most serious threat Spirit and its twin, Opportunity, have faced in the nearly six years they've been exploring Mars. The two rovers have helped unravel the planet's geological past. They also found evidence that water once flowed on the surface.  Full Story   Los Angeles Times_ 11/13/09

NASA releases detailed pictures of Mars
NASA has released thousands of high-resolution images of Mars, taken from the Mars Reconaissance Orbiter (MRO). They show a vast range of geographical features in detail, including craters, gullies and dunes.  The newly-released pictures form part of over 1,500 telescopic images recorded by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera between April and early August.  Click here to access Mars images.   FULL STORY_ TG Daily_9/4/09

Evidence mounts that Mars was once habitable
Scientists with the University of Arizona-led Phoenix Mars Mission are publishing research today that advances the theory that water once flowed and the Red Planet was once habitable. Researchers found a lot of the basic ingredients that life needs to survive, including water in the form of ice, various minerals and a salt called perchlorate that microbes on Earth use as an energy source. FULL STORY_ The Arizona Republic_7/3/09

Aging Mars rover’s glitches puzzle NASA
Spirit's 'lost weekend'

NASA engineers are scratching their heads over some unexpected behavior from the long-lived Spirit rover, which began its sixth year exploring Mars this month.

Last weekend, Spirit failed to report in to engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., prompting a series of diagnostic tests this week to hunt the glitch's source. The aging Mars rover did not beam home a record of its weekend activities and, more puzzlingly, apparently failed to record any of its actions on Sunday, mission managers said.  "We don't have a good explanation yet for the way Spirit has been acting for the past few days," said NASA's Sharon Laubach, who leads the JPL team that that writes and checks commands for the rover and its robotic twin Opportunity. "Our next steps will be diagnostic activities."  Spirit and its twin Opportunity were initially expected to spend just 90 days exploring the Martian surface when they landed in succession more than five years ago this month. Opportunity is currently headed for the monster crater Endeavour on the other side of Mars.  The rovers Spirit and Opportunity have lasted more than 20 times their initial three-month mission plan.  FULL STORY_ MSNBC_1/28/09

Nasa finds 'missing' Mars mineral

Elusive carbonate signature

Nasa's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has finally spotted rocks on the Red Planet that bear carbonate minerals.  The ingredients needed to make the rocks are very evident, so their absence had been a major puzzle.  One theory to explain the omission is the idea that water on Mars has been too acidic to allow carbonates.  The rocks' identification now shows these harsh waters have not dominated all parts of Mars - and that is good news for the search for life.  FULL STORY_BBC News 12/19/08

NASA delays Mars rover launch to 2011
The launch of NASA's SUV-sized, next-generation Mars rover has been delayed for two years due to continuing technical problems and cost overruns, the space agency announced Thursday.  Originally scheduled to launch late next year, the mission will now take place in 2011, officials said at a media briefing at NASA headquarters in Washington.  The delay will increase the cost of the mission from about $1.9 billion to almost $2.3 billion. The extra money will come from other Mars program activities, officials said. Full Story_LA Times 12/5/08

Mars lander succumbs to winter

The Phoenix Mars lander is dead. Mission managers said Monday that they had not heard from the NASA spacecraft for a week and that they thought it had likely fallen quiet for good. With the onset of winter and declining power generated by the Phoenix’s solar panels, managers knew the lander would succumb soon, but had hoped to squeeze out a few more weeks of weather data. The Phoenix landed in May to examine the northern arctic plains, and the mission, originally scheduled to last three months, was extended twice.    Full Story   New York Times_ 11/10/08

New minerals point to wetter Mars

A NASA space probe has discovered a new category of minerals spread across large regions of Mars, suggesting liquid water remained on the planet's surface a billion years later than scientists had previously thought. The US Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft found evidence of hydrated silica, better known as opal, according to an article in the November issue of the academic journal Geology. The discovery adds to the growing body of evidence that water played a crucial role in shaping the Martian landscape and - possibly - in sustaining life. Researchers made the discovery using the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer (CRISM) instrument on MRO. The $720 million (£449 million; 565 million euro) MRO robotic probe reached the Red Planet in 2006; its objectives are to study Mars' geology, climate and atmosphere from orbit, as well as to search for signs of water.   Full Story    BBC News_ 10/29/08

Phoenix lander scoops up Martian soil

The American space module, Phoenix lander has scooped up its first, cup-sized sample of Martian dirt for analysis. NASA scientists say the mission is searching for water or signs of life.   Full Story   Australian Broadcasting Corp._ 6/7/08

Touchdown! First signals arrive from Martian water probe

After traveling more than 400 million miles during its 10-month journey from Earth, the Phoenix Lander touched down safely and sent its first signals from the Martian arctic surface Sunday afternoon. The lander is sitting a half degree off-axis, a near perfect landing. When asked if the landing could have gone better, Phoenix project manager, Barry Goldstein replied, "Not in my dreams." The Phoenix Lander is built on a platform similar to the failed Mars Polar Lander, which lost communication contact shortly after entering the Martian atmosphere in 1998. The Phoenix, sent to find water and other signs that Mars can support life, has design improvements intended to fix problems that may have caused the Polar Lander's failure.   Full Story  Wired_ 5/25/08

Mars probe set for risky descent

Scientists are preparing for "seven minutes of terror" as a Nasa spacecraft makes a nail-biting descent to the surface of Mars. The Phoenix lander will begin its plunge through the Martian atmosphere on 25 May (GMT) as it attempts to land in the planet's polar north. The craft needs to perform a series of challenging manoeuvres along the way. It then begins a three-month mission to investigate Mars' geological history and potential habitability. Water is crucial to the mission's objectives. Not only is it a pre-requisite for biology, but it has shaped the planet's geology and climate over billions of years. Phoenix will touch down on the northern plains, which hold vast stores of water-ice just below ground. The lander will use a 2.4m robotic arm to dig through the protective topsoil layer to this water-ice below; a scoop on the arm will lift samples of both soil and ice to the lander's deck for detailed scientific analysis. However, much of the water-ice is thought to be frozen as hard as paving stones.  Full Story   BBC News_ 5/14/08

The Cadillac of Mars rovers

Wider than a Hummer, tall enough to roll over boulders and toting a laser "ray gun" that can zap rocks at 30 feet, NASA's next-generation Mars rover looks like something you would paint a skull and crossbones on and enter in a demolition derby. But then, this new rover has a big job: settling once and for all whether the conditions on ancient Mars were suitable for life. With a full complement of the most sophisticated instruments in NASA's tool chest, and the ability to drive over obstacles that deterred earlier rovers, the Mars Science Laboratory, or MSL, will strip away billions of years of Martian history to reveal its watery childhood and, possibly, evidence of any microbes that swam in those ancient seas.  Full Story  Los Angeles Times_ 3/4/08 (logon required)

Mars project faces technical problems
NASA's flagship mission to land a nuclear-powered, next-generation rover on Mars is facing development problems and ballooning costs that could threaten its scheduled launch next year.  NASA is still aiming for a 2009 launch, but the space agency is also mulling alternative voyages in 2010 and 2011, Griffin told the House Science and Technology Committee on Feb. 13.  The Mars Science Lab will be the most advanced and expensive unmanned probe ever sent to the Martian surface. The 9-foot-long mobile robot is larger and can travel farther than the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity, that are still alive four years after parachuting to opposite ends of Mars.  The goal of the Mars Science Lab is to determine whether the environment could once have been favorable for microbial life using sophisticated instruments to measure for the presence of life's chemical building blocks and beam the discoveries back to Earth. FULL STORY   AP_2/28/08

Weird "spider" volcanism among 1st Mercury highlights

The solar system's smallest planet created a huge buzz today as NASA unveiled preliminary science results from the first Mercury flyby in 30 years.  The MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging—or MESSENGER—spacecraft cruised past the innermost planet on January 14.  The approach was the first of three planned flybys that will eventually position the probe to settle into orbit around Mercury in March 2011.  Until now Mariner 10 was the only mission to scope out the planet. The craft swung by in 1974 and 1975, but it left more than half the planet unseen by human eyes.  During this flyby, MESSENGER's cameras captured 1,213 images covering another 30 percent of the tiny planet.  The photos reveal widespread volcanism, asteroid assaults, and a spider-shaped formation the likes of which has never been seen before in the solar system. 

FULL STORY_ National Geographic News 1/30/08

NASA will use Russian technology to seek water on moon, Mars

Russian and U.S. space chiefs signed agreements Wednesday to cooperate on unmanned missions that would search for potential water deposits beneath the surface of the moon and Mars. The agreements signed by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin and Russian Space Agency chief Anatoly Perminov deal with putting Russian instruments on board NASA probes that would be sent to the moon and Mars. The first Russian instrument, called LEND, will be mounted on an unmanned NASA probe called Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, which is to be launched in October 2008 to search for possible sources of water under the moon's poles. Dr. Gordon Chin, project scientist for LRO, said that the Russian instrument has won an international contest for the best such device for the mission.  Full Story  AP/USA Today_ 10/4/07

Muddying the water: Orbiter drains confidence from fluid history of Mars

Evidence for liquid water on some parts of Mars—now or in the past—looks leakier than researchers had supposed, according to an analysis of the sharpest images ever taken of the Red Planet from orbit. But in other places, the new images bolster the case that water once flowed. High-resolution pictures and infrared spectra recorded by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) indicate that fresh, bright streaks on two steep gullies don't signify a recent flow of water, as scientists suggested just a year ago. MRO's instruments neither detected minerals that might have been left behind as salty groundwater evaporated from those regions nor found changes in the shapes of the deposits since the gullies were last imaged 15 months ago. Such changes could have occurred if the bright deposits were frost created by an underground supply of water rushing to the frigid surface in recent years or months. Instead, the deposits on the steep gullies could just as easily have been formed by landslides of dry, sandy material, assert Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona in Tucson and his colleagues in one of five reports of MRO findings in the Sept. 21 Science. Other gullies, however, whose slopes are too shallow to permit landslides, do offer clear evidence of watery flows. These flows might have occurred several million years ago, when the Martian climate was warmer.  Full Story   ScienceNews_ 9/22/07

NASA's hardy rover begins its drive into a Mars crater

Two months after surviving a giant dust storm, one of NASA's robotic rovers on Mars began a risky drive yesterday into a crater blasted open by a meteor eons ago. Scientists want the rover Opportunity to travel 40 feet down toward a bright band of rocks in the Victoria Crater. They believe that the rocks represent an ancient surface of Mars and that studying them could shed light on the planet's early climate. The aging but hardy rovers have been exploring Mars for 31/2 years - far outlasting their primary three-month mission. Both have uncovered geologic evidence of ancient water on the planet.   Full Story   AP/Philadelphia Inquirer_ 9/12/07

NASA's Phoenix spacecraft embarks on 10-month journey to Mars' north pole: It's expected to be the first to taste the water of another world

The Delta II rocket carrying the 7-foot-tall lander lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Fla. at 5:26 a.m. on a scheduled 423-million-mile journey that should deliver Phoenix to the Martian surface on May 25. If the mission unfolds as planned, the lander will parachute to the Red Planet's surface, using its descent engines to slow itself to about 5 mph. Once on the ground, it will unfurl its power-generating solar panels and extend its 7.7-foot robotic digging arm, the key component of the $420-million mission. NASA has tried to keep expectations low, asserting that Phoenix is not searching for life, merely trying to understand the water story. Even optimists acknowledge that Mars is, and possibly always has been, too hostile an environment for complex life forms. But scientists no longer rule out the possibility that some rudimentary forms of life could once have existed, and may still, possibly in some watery underground environment heated by the planet's interior. The spacecraft was designed and built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. and is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.   Full Story Los Angeles Times_ 8/5/07 (logon required)

U.S. to launch Mars probe in search for clues of life
A NASA probe that will analyze Mars for water and other chemicals needed for life is on track for launch aboard an unmanned Delta rocket on Saturday, NASA officials said on Thursday.  The Phoenix spacecraft, which will take nine months to reach Mars, is designed to land in the planet's northern polar region and dig into the frozen soil for samples to analyze. Launch is targeted for 5:26 a.m. on Saturday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.  The mission's primary goal is to ascertain if Mars is, or ever was, suited for life to develop. Previous Mars probes, including the two rovers Spirit and Opportunity, have found geologic and chemical evidence of past water, but did not have the tools for in-depth analysis.  Instead of roaming the planet's surface, Phoenix will zero in on a target zone and scrutinize the terrain on a molecular level.  FULL STORY_ Reuters 8/2/07

Mars Rover struggles to weather severe dust storm

The hardy Mars rover Opportunity is struggling to stay alive amid a severe and long-lasting Martian dust storm -- posing the greatest threat so far to the unexpectedly long-lived vehicle. The dust storms kicked up late last month just as Opportunity was poised to make a dramatic entry into the Victoria Crater -- the deepest and most intriguing descent either of the Mars rovers would be attempting. NASA scientists believe that the layered rocks exposed in the crater could tell them much about the history of Mars, and especially whether life forms ever existed there.  Full Story Washington Post_ 7/21/07

Volunteers wanted for trip to 'Mars'
The European Space Agency is looking for people who would like to go on a pretend trip to Mars — for about a year and a half.  The 520-day experiment involves a crew of six living in sealed modules at the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow.  Promising a program "as close to a real Mars mission as possible," the space agency plans to simulate a 250-day trip to Mars, 30 days to experience the planet and 240 days to make it back home.  Weightlessness and radiation are not included, but the simulated out-of-planet experience offers isolation, confinement, crowding, lack of privacy, high workload, boredom with available food, and limited communication with family, friends and mission control. FULL STORY CBC 6/19/07

Mar's ice patchy, water cycle quite active, study reveals

New data on Mars's underground ice shows that the red planet likely has a very active water cycle.  Using heat emission observations from the Mars Odyssey spacecraft, researchers were able to map seasonal changes in the temperature of the red planet's surface to locate and measure the buried ice.   "This gives us a more detailed picture of the underground ice on Mars," said Joshua Bandfield, a research specialist at Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration in Tempe, who led the study.  The findings, which are reported in the May 3 issue of the journal Nature, show that the depth of the water-ice table varies greatly on Mars.  The results also suggest that water ice and water vapor in the planet's atmosphere can swap places as the planet undergoes regular cycles of warming and cooling.  FULL STORY_ National Geographic_5/2/07

NASA: Human error caused loss of Mars Global Surveyor

An internal NASA board determined that power loss likely doomed the spacecraft after a decade of meticulously mapping the Red Planet. But the problems actually began in 2005, when a routine technical update to onboard computers caused inconsistencies in the spacecraft's memory. The board concluded that engineers didn't catch the mistakes because the existing procedures to do so were inadequate. Scientists lost contact last November with the $154 million Global Surveyor. Launched in 1996, it was the oldest of six different active probes on the Martian surface or circling the planet. Shortly before it failed, it also found stunning evidence that liquid water recently coursed through Mars. The discovery, which still needs to be confirmed, raises the possibility that the planet may have an environment conducive to primitive life.  Full Story    AP/CBS_ 4/13/07

Mars pole holds enough ice to flood planet, radar study shows

Mars's southern polar ice cap contains enough water to cover the entire planet approximately 36 feet (11 meters) deep if melted, according to a new radar study.  It's the most precise calculation yet for the thickness of the red planet's ice, according to the international team of researchers responsible for the discovery.  Using an ice-penetrating radar to map the south pole's underlying terrain, the scientists calculated that the ice is up to 2.2 miles (3,500 meters) thick in places, said the study's leader, Jeffrey Plaut of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.  The radar, from the Mars Express orbiter, also revealed the surprising purity of the ice, Plaut added. FULL STORY National Geographic_3/15/07

Mars water traces left by springs, not seas, experts say
Curious deposits on Mars that originally appeared to be signs of an ancient ocean were instead produced by water emerging from underground, experts say.  A new study has found that networks of springs and a shallow water table can account for mineral deposits first discovered by the Mars rover Opportunity in 2004.  The deposits had been considered possible evidence that extensive lakes or oceans once existed for long periods on the Martian surface before finally evaporating.  The new study concludes that while the region where the deposits were found, known as Meridiani Planum, may at times have contained rivers and ponds in low-lying areas, it was no sea bed.  FULL STORY_National Geographic 3/7/07

US spacecraft gathers hints of underground water on Mars
A U.S. spacecraft has provided fresh evidence that water once flowed on Mars. In this case, it is water that ran deep underground through rock fissures, places where scientists say life could have thrived hidden from the harsh Martian surface environment.

The U.S. space agency NASA's newest satellite around the red planet, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, has taken color pictures showing a landscape called Chasma Canyon composed of dozens of alternating layers of dark and light toned rocks and crossed by dark sand dunes.  Within those layers, the detailed images show fractures, called joints, surrounded by light colored bedrock that was once deep underground before erosion exposed it. University of Arizona researcher Chris Okubo argues that this brighter bedrock is clear evidence that a liquid flowed through it and washed the dark minerals away, as water has done in similar situations on Earth.  FULL STORY_ Voice of America_2/15/07

Sun did not blow water off Mars, study finds
Scientists trying to find out where all the water on Mars went ruled out one culprit on Thursday -- new measurements show the Sun did not blow it away.  They measured ions -- charged particles -- being blown off the planet by the solar wind, itself a stream of charged particles.  Very little oxygen or carbon dioxide was blown off the planet during the year they measured it, the team at the Swedish Institute of Space Physics and Center d'Etude Spatiale des Rayonnements in Toulouse, France, reported. "Mars was once wet but is now dry, and the fate of its ancient carbon dioxide atmosphere is one of the biggest puzzles in Martian planetology," they wrote in their report, published in the journal Science. Several missions to Mars have found indirect evidence that water flowed relatively recently on its surface, and it seems fairly clear to experts that the dusty red planet was once covered with lakes, oceans and perhaps rivers.  FULL STORY_Reuters 1/24/07

Mars rovers are taught new tricks
The rovers are testing a "smart" software upgrade

Space agency scientists have begun testing four new skills included in flight software that has been uploaded to the rovers' onboard computers.  The two American rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, are approaching their third year on the Martian surface.  One of the new capabilities is designed to allow the rovers to make "intelligent" decisions in the study of Martian clouds and dust devils.  Spirit has photographed dozens of dusty whirlwinds in action, and both rovers have photographed clouds.  Until now, however, scientists on Earth have had to sift through many transmitted images from Mars to find those few.  With the new software boost, the rovers can recognize dust devils or clouds and select only the relevant parts of those images to send back to Earth.  FULL STORY_BBC 1/2/07

Software upgrade to smarten up Mars rovers

The doughty Mars rovers will celebrate their third anniversary on the Red Planet with new software that will make them smarter and more independent. Spirit and Opportunity will have improved image processing capabilities that will help them search out dust devils and other weather patterns. A new navigation system will allow the rovers to spot hazards and figure out how to avoid them without help from controllers on Earth. The twin rovers continue to defy all expectations for their longevity. When Spirit landed on Jan. 3, 2004, and Opportunity followed three weeks later, experts hoped they would last through their planned mission of 90 Martian days, which are about 40 minutes longer than Earth days. Their key discoveries include evidence that water was once abundant on the surface of Mars in at least one region. Opportunity also found rock layers showing that wind-blown dunes came and went while the water table fluctuated.  Full Story  Los Angeles Times_ 12/30/06 (logon required)

Mars scientists intensify search for water
Spurred on by the apparent discovery of evidence of very recent liquid water on Mars, researchers are boosting their efforts to determine whether water is flowing on the red planet's surface right now. At the same time, new findings from the satellites and rovers studying Mars are unraveling the central role water has played in shaping the planet. This week scientists announced a plan to use powerful imaging instruments on NASA's newest red planet spacecraft, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, to focus on gullies. Sediment deposits found in such areas would unmistakably confirm the presence of water.  Full Story  National Geographic_ 12/15/05

Aviation Week Exclusive: Water spotted on surface of Mars

Editor's note: According to an item first posted by Aviation Weekend Space Technology magazine: "NASA is ready to announce major new findings about the presence of water currently emerging onto the surface of Mars. If confirmed, this would increase the possibility that microbial life could have existed recently or possibly exists now on the Martian surface. The potential seepage of ground water onto or near the surface has been a key area of investigation by the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft (AW&ST Nov. 27, pp. 53-55). Full Story Aviation Week/SpaceRef_ 12/4/06

Veteran Mars orbiter may have died

In words and somber tones usually associated with a death in the family, engineers and scientists have announced that the Mars Global Surveyor, the most durable spacecraft ever to orbit that planet, has fallen silent and is given little chance of revival. The 10-year-old spacecraft - which mapped the Martian surface, recorded seasonal and annual climate changes, and gathered evidence of water in the planet's past - has not communicated with flight controllers since Nov. 2. A disabled solar power array is the prime suspect. "We may have lost a dear old friend and teacher," said Michael Meyer, chief scientist for Mars exploration at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Meyer spoke at a news teleconference Tuesday from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where the mission is being directed.  Full Story  New York Times/International Herald Tribune_ 11/22/06

Mars rover reaches rim of deep crater
The Mars rover Opportunity reached the rim of a deep crater Wednesday after an arduous 21-month trek, marking a milestone in its exploration for clues about the Martian past.  The rover beamed black-and-white images back to Earth showing the crater interior complete with hanging rocky cliffs and rippling sand dunes on its floor.  The road to Victoria Crater, a half-mile wide and 230-foot deep impact crater, was tough. The six-wheeled Opportunity drove through what scientists called a "wasteland." At one point, it spent five weeks stuck hub-deep in a slippery sand dune before freeing itself.  Victoria, with its exposed walls of thickly layered rocks, is a treasure trove for scientists trying to determine whether the rocks were formed in shallow lakes, which might suggest the planet once could have been hospitable to life.  FULL STORY_Star-Telegram 9/27/06

Rover nears crater science trove
Nasa's robotic Mars rover Opportunity is closing in on what could be the richest scientific "treasure trove" of its mission so far.  Within the next two weeks, Opportunity should reach the rim of a crater wider and deeper than any it has visited in more than two-and-a-half years on Mars.  Rocks exposed in the walls of Victoria Crater could open a new window into the geological history of the Red Planet.  Opportunity has been exploring Mars' Meridiani Plains since January 2004.  Its "twin", the Spirit rover, continues to explore Gusev Crater on the other side of the Red Planet. FULL STORY_ BBC 9/7/06

Exploring Mars: a crater where water ran

In early 2004, NASA's Mars strategy of "following the water" paid off handsomely for the rover named Opportunity. Landing in Meridiani Planum, Opportunity immediately found beds of soft sandstones, much altered by acidic water long ago.  NASA's next Mars rover will be the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), due for launch in 2009. In hopes of hitting paydirt once again, NASA has scientists scouting for landing sites that might extend the Martian water story beyond Opportunity's glimpse at Meridiani.  Roughly 2,100 kilometers (1,300 miles) southwest of Meridiani lies Holden Crater, 154 km (96 mi) wide. Holden and surroundings contain two potential sites where MSL could study ancient water-flow deposits.   Holden's wide floor, shown in a newly released image, has abundant layered sediments, channels, and large piles of debris at canyon mouths. These suggest a long history of deposits by water. And in Eberswalde Crater, just north of Holden, scientists have spotted what is surely the remnant of a river delta.  FULL STORY_Space.com 6/22/06


Mars robots to get smart upgrade
The US space agency's rovers will get a software upgrade to allow them to make "intelligent" decisions in the study of Martian clouds and dust devils.  The new algorithms will give the robots' computers the onboard ability to search through their images to find pictures that feature these phenomena.  Only the most significant data will then be sent to Earth, maximising the scientific return from the missions.  Nasa says its robotic craft will become increasingly autonomous in the future. FULL STORY_BBC 5/31/06

Secret UK study of UFOs finds no one out there
A confidential Ministry of Defence report on Unidentified Flying Objects has concluded that there is no proof of alien life forms. The 400-page report was completed in 2000 and stamped "Secret: UK Eyes Only". Only a small number of copies were produced and the identity of the man who wrote it has been protected. The study - entitled Unidentified Aerial Phenomena in the UK - tackles the long-running question by UFO-spotters: "Is anyone out there?" The answer, it seems, is "no". Yet, it will be difficult to convince everyone that there is a rational explanation for all mysterious movements in the sky. Some UFO-spotters believe governments will always cover up the truth about UFOs, because they are afraid of admitting that there is something beyond their control. Full Story BBC News_ 5/7/06

One of Mars Rover's Wheels Stops Working
One of the six wheels on the Mars rover Spirit has stopped working and the solar-powered robot must propel itself up a slope to catch enough sunshine to keep operating, NASA said Friday.  The right front wheel previously had an episode of balkiness but this week the motor that turns the wheel stopped working, the space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement.  "It is not drawing any current at all," said Jacob Matijevic, rover engineering team chief.  Engineers were considering whether the electrical motor's brushes - contacts that deliver power to the rotating part of the motor - have lost contact.  Spirit is trying to reach a position where it can get as much sunlight as possible during winter. But while the point of minimum sunshine is more than 100 days away, there already is only enough to power about one hour of driving on flat ground per day, JPL said.  FULL STORY_AP 3/18/06

Clues to Mars life may lie underground: scientist
To learn if Mars ever supported life, researchers should look underground, a scientist presenting results of the Mars Express mission said at a conference this week.  The European Space Agency's orbiter has mapped almost the entire planet for minerals that bear chemical fingerprints of past encounters with water.  Less than 1 percent of the planet's surface bears signs of hydrated minerals, said Jean-Pierre Bibring, the lead investigator for the Mars Express Omega instrument, which splits and analyzes visible and near-infrared light radiating from the planet's surface.  "We initially thought hydrated minerals would be everywhere," Bibring said in an interview. "That turned out to be not the case."  For the past two years, Bibring and his team have been mining Omega data for minerals that contain water in their crystalline structure. Two types of hydrated minerals have been found: phyllosilicates, which, like clay, develop from rocks that have prolonged contact with water; and sulfates, which form as deposits from saltwater.  FULL STORY_Reuters 3/15/06

NASA probe reaches orbit and will pry secrets from Mars

The two-ton Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is the most sophisticated ever to arrive at Mars and is expected to gather more data on the Red Planet than all previous Martian missions combined. It will explore Mars in low orbit for four years and is expected to churn out the most detailed information ever about the planet and its climate and landscape. In the fall, the orbiter will begin exploring the Martian atmosphere, scan the surface for evidence of ancient water and scout for future landing sites to send robotic and possibly human explorers. The $720 million mission is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.  Full Story  AP/Wired_ 3/10/06

US spacecraft makes nail-biting approach to Mars
Jittery NASA scientists waited on Wednesday for the most advanced spacecraft ever sent to another planet to make its risky final approach to Mars, where it is due to return 10 times the data of all previous probes put together.  NASA's unmanned Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has traveled some 300 million miles since leaving Earth in August, was due to enter its most delicate phase on Friday. It will try to ease into orbit around Mars, which has defeated two-thirds of all man-made craft sent there. "We're very excited about the arrival of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in a couple of days, but my heart rate is going up for a different reason," said Fuk Li, Mars program manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, referring to the dangerous maneuver.  If the spacecraft succeeds in reaching its planned orbit, which will take another seven months, it could collect a remarkable amount of data in its two-year mission that could help NASA determine where to land rovers and even make early plans for a human landing site on Mars.  FULL STORY_Reuters 3/8/06

Failed Beagle 2 probe "found" on Mars - scientist

The scientist behind the lost 2003 Beagle 2 mission to Mars said on Tuesday the craft may have been spotted in NASA pictures which indicate the project very nearly worked. Beagle 2, named after the ship Charles Darwin sailed in when he formulated his theory of evolution, was built by British scientists for about 50 million pounds ($90 million) and taken to Mars aboard the European Space Agency's orbiter Mars Express. It was due to land in a crater on the red planet in a bouncing ball of airbags and begin looking for signs of life on Christmas Day, 2003. But it lost contact with Earth once it separated from the mother ship in mid-December.  Full Story  Reuters_ 12/20/05

UK signs up to Euro Mars mission

The government is to invest 108m euros (£73.2m) to give Britain a major share in building the robotic probe. European Space Agency (Esa) member states approved funding for the ExoMars mission at the agency's minsterial meeting in Berlin. The rover will explore the surface of the Red Planet, in search of traces of life, past and present. The mission is a key milestone in the Aurora programme, Esa's vision to send spacecraft and eventually astronauts to the Moon and Mars.  Full Story  BBC News_ 12/06/05

September, 2005

Ice belt 'encircled Mars equator'
Europe's Mars Express probe may have found evidence for a band of ice that once spanned the Martian equator.  A frozen sea and patterns of glacial activity on the planet may be a relic of this ancient belt of ice, says a top scientist.  The ice may have formed just before five million years ago due to a change in the tilt of Mars.  This change caused moisture from the poles to be deposited as snow at the equator. Full Story_BBC News 9/8/05

Martian dunes hide water secret

Scientists have found evidence that large amounts of water-ice hide within massive sand dunes on Mars. One of the dunes, which spans 6.5km and rises 475m above the Martian surface, may be the single largest sand dune in the entire Solar System. The icy dunes could be a valuable resource for any future manned missions to the planet, Dr. Mary Bourke told a science conference in Dublin.  Full Story  BBC News_ 9/5/05

June, 2005

Martian rover rolls free of trap
The US space agency's (Nasa) Mars rover Opportunity has finally broken free of the sand trap that has prevented it from rolling over the Red Planet.  Engineers used a model rover back on Earth to work out a driving strategy to release Opportunity from the deep dirt.  Full Story_ BBC 6/6/05

February, 2005

European scientists believe in life on Mars
European Space Agency scientists at this week's ESA conference think that there was and could even still be life on Mars and want a new European mission to the red planet to take samples.  Full Story_ Reuters 2/25/05

Space.com Exclusive: NASA researchers claim evidence of present life on Mars

A pair of NASA scientists told a group of space officials at a private meeting that they have found strong evidence that life may exist today on Mars, hidden away in caves and sustained by pockets of water. The scientists, Carol Stoker and Larry Lemke of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, told the group that they have submitted their findings to the journal Nature for publication in May, and their paper currently is being peer reviewed. What Stoker and Lemke have found, according to several attendees of the private meeting, is not direct proof of life on Mars, but methane signatures and other signs of possible biological activity remarkably similar to those recently discovered in caves here on Earth.  Full Story Space.com_ 2/16/05

January, 2005

NASA's Martian explorer marks first year

The US space agency's (Nasa) Spirit vehicle led the way when it landed on Mars on 3 January 2004, followed three weeks later by the Opportunity robot. Both rovers, which are equipped with a suite of geology tools, have uncovered direct evidence that the Red Planet was once drenched in liquid water. Their initial 90-day mission has been extended twice and they are expected to continue working for some time yet.  Full Story  BBC News_ 1/4/05

November, 2004
Mars Rover gets mystery power boost

Overnight, Opportunity's solar panels produced between 2% and 5% additional power, perhaps due to Martian dust that had settled on them being removed. This may be increasing the efficiency by which the panels convert sunlight to electricity in order to power the rover. One theory is that a storm, or dust-devil, blew dust off the panels  Full Story  BBC News 11/5/04

October, 2004

Mag-beam could power 90-day trip to Mars

Using current technology, it would take astronauts about 2.5 years to travel to Mars, conduct their mission and return to Earth, US scientists estimate. The plasma beam technology would use a space station to fire a beam of magnetised particles at a solar sail mounted on a spacecraft.  Full Story  BBC News_ 10/20/04

September, 2004

People on Mars possible in 20 to 30 years, if there is water

Two Mars Exploration Robots robots, dubbed Spirit and Opportunity, have found ancient evidence that water was once plentiful -- important for scientists hoping to know if there was once -- or could still be -- life on Mars. Without water, the dream of sending astronauts to the often dusty planet could unravel. Such a mission would take 11 to 12 months to get to Mars and it would be impossible to carry enough water for the astronauts, plus the water needed to make rocket fuel for the return journey, to cool the spacecraft and to generate energy.  Full Story  Reuters_ 9/15/04

August, 2004

Next-gen rover to practice searching for life.
Researchers prepare Zoë for test in Chilean desert

Robotics experts are getting a next-generation rover ready to hunt for life in the driest place on Earth. The two-month-long dry run in Chile's Atacama Desert could help set the stage for a similar search someday on Mars.  Full Story  MSNBC_8/18/04


Mars Hills, Crater Yield Evidence of Flowing Water
NASA scientists reported Wednesday that the hills of Mars yielded more tantalizing clues about how water shaped the Red Planet. Both NASA robots Spirit and Opportunity found ancient evidence of water on Mars earlier in their missions but new data recorded by Spirit's scientific instruments this week suggests that the life-giving liquid was once more plentiful than they thought. Full Story  Reuters_8/18/04

Ammonia in Mars' atmosphere could mean life
Researchers say amonia's spectral signature has been tentatively detected by sensors on board the European Space Agency's orbiting Mars Express craft. There are two possible sources: either active volcanoes, none of which have been found yet on Mars, or microbes.  Full Story  BBC News_ 7/15/04

Solar storms may have torn away Mars water - NASA
Solar storms, like a big one that affected Earth last year, might have torn away the water that used to cover parts of Mars, NASA scientists say. Astronomers believe Mars once had oceans of surface water, enough to support long-ago life, but they have not determined where that water went some 3.5 billion years ago. Full Story _Reuters 7/8/04

Lockheed Martin's Mars Global Surveyor completes over 25,000 orbits and keeps on going

Built in partnership with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA's Mars exploration program, MGS has been circling Mars and mapping the planet's surface since 1997. The spacecraft and almost all of its instruments continue to operate, providing full data return.  Full Story  Press Release_ 6/7/04

Headed for Mars? The well-dressed wear Demron™
An article entitled “Material Choices for Mars” in The Journal of Materials Engineering and Performance, lists Demron™ as a choice material for the future thermo-mechanical spacesuit because it needs to be lightweight, flexible, and provide superior radiation protection. Demron™ was originally developed to protect first responders and medical personnel from x-ray and gamma radiation  Full Report  Press Release_ 6/4/04

Mars rovers, primary mission done, eye new tasks
The two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have completed their primary mission of searching for signs of life-giving water on Mars and now are tackling "bonus" assignments that have taken them miles from where they landed on opposite sides of the planet in January. Full Story Reuters_6/2/04

May, 2004
Mars rover Opportunity scans rocks in stadium-sized crater for more clues to Mars' wet past
JPL scientists hope Opportunity's latest observations at Endurance Crater will unlock an earlier chapter in the planet's environmental history than the water-bearing rock it discovered in March.  Full Story  Reuters_ 5/17/04

Mars rover Opportunity is perched to open the mysterious -- and possibly wet -- history of the Red Planet
It has also offered scientists a stunning vista of red, sheer cliffs rising up from a sandy Martian crater. Further study could shed light on how the apparently sedimentary rock --laid down by wind, water or ice -- formed on ancient Mars. Researchers plan to spend weeks mapping the site by driving the rover around the rim of the crater. If operators decide it is safe, Opportunity may drive into the crater and perform chemical and microscopic tests on the rocks.  Full Story  CNN_ 5/9/04

Mars Rovers complete missions, head for the hills
The two robot-geologists successfully completed the assignment they were sent to do on Mars and have been sent exploring for extra credit, said scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, are in good condition after enduring more than three months of extreme temperature swings and dust storms on the Red Planet, mission manager Matt Wallace said.  Full Story  Reuters_ 4/28/04

Europe's Mars Express probe radar search for water postponed while antenna checked out
Concern that the light-weight antenna might hit Mar Express when it opened up causes postponement, but scientists say there is no real deployment problem. The new data came from mathematical models carried out by Astro Aerospace, the California-based company that built the antenna. Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (Marsis) will seek evidence of underground water, either frozen or liquid.  Full Story  BBC News_ 4/28/04

NASA's next Mars Science Laboratory: New Rover, new science equipment
The space agency released an "Announcement of Opportunity" that calls for science gear and related ideas that could wind up onboard the Mars Science Laboratory -- or MSL, for short. The overall MSL science objective is to explore and quantitatively assess a local region on the Mars surface as a potential habitat for life, past or present. Full Story  SPACE.com_ 4/27/04

The second of NASA's twin Mars rovers wrapped up its primary mission Monday, the 90th full day on the Red Planet

Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, have completed all the tasks NASA required before the space agency would consider the double mission a success.  Full Story  AP/CNN_ 4/26/04

Russian space experts plan private, manned Mars trip
Aerospace Systems, a commercial company seeking to fund the $3 billion to $5 billion project using private capital, suggested the three-year round trip could involve a reality TV show. Russia's official space agency has dismissed the project as nonsense.  Full Story  BBC News 4/9/04

NASA extends Mars robot mission, adding five months to the original three-month mission
The rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have exceeded the space agency's hopes and discovered the firmest evidence yet that Mars once had warm, wet areas that could have been host to life.  Full Story  Reuters_ 4/8/04

March, 2004

Is the aerospace industry ready for Mars?
Consolidation has sharply reduced competition, and with it, critics say, the creative clash of ideas that helps produce great technological leaps. But, others reply, more than contracts or politics, space flight is about wonder.  Full story  New York Times 3/21/04

Mars rovers wrap up crater tests, ready to cruise
With their primary goal of finding signs of water on Mars achieved, NASA's twin robot-geologists soon will make tracks across the Red Planet's barren surface until their batteries run out.  Full story  Reuters 3/18/04

The Discovery in Pictures: How Opportunity divined water on Mars
Never in history has a robot behaved so much like a human geologist. While some of the evidence involved complex observations and analysis of chemicals and minerals, the discovery was made possible by the robot's ability to survey its surroundings and then drill into rocks -- just like a field geologist.  Full photo story  space.com 3/9/04


In a stunning sequel to the 1997 Mars Pathfinder mission, Actel Corporation announced today that its radiation-tolerant and radiation-hardened field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) have returned to Mars, playing critical roles throughout the missions, both American and European. From Delta launch vehicles to orbiting, landing and actively roving the surface of the planet, Actel has provided hundreds of FPGAs to enable implementation of various mission-critical digital logic functions, including power management, attitude and orbit control, command and data handling, and instrumentation and telemetry.  Full story    Press Release 2/10/04

Wind River Powers NASA's Space Exploration - Mars Rovers Lands Safely, Stardust Spacecraft Completes its Journey to the Comet
Wind River Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ: WIND), the worldwide market leader in embedded software and services, today announced that the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory's (JPL) Mars Exploration Rover, Spirit, powered by Wind River technology, successfully landed on Mars at approximately 8:35 p.m. PT, January 3, 2004.  Full story  Press Release 1/5/04

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