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Thursday, January 1, 2004


Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!
Happy New Year!
Credit: Unknown
Happy New Year, everyone! I have a feeling this will be a very exciting year for Mars!

- posted by Alex @ 12:22 EST

(permanent link)

Friday, January 2, 2004


Spirit Set to Land Tomorrow

Mars Exploration Rover.
Mars Exploration Rover.
Credit: NASA
Only a week off the heels of the European Space Agency's questionable success, NASA will land Spirit, the first of the twin Mars Exploraiton Rovers, on the surface of Mars late Saturday. Hoping to share the same success that the Sojourner rover enjoyed back in 1997, principle scientist Steve Squyres feels that the mission has a lot going for it. The rovers boast power, mobility, and a landing system that has actually been tested. Even though they won't be ready to begin moving for nine days after their arrival, the rovers will be capable of traveling nearly hundreds of times farther than Sojourner. Red Colony.com has been talking about this moment since the mission was announced in 2000, and we've interviewed Mr. Squyres twice. You can find the interview and more about Spirit and Opportunity, including all of the gadgets they're carrying, at the Missions to Mars page.

Opportunity is scheduled to land on January 24th.


- posted by Alex @ 10:33 EST

(permanent link)

Saturday, January 3, 2004


Spirit Lands "By the Book"

An artist's conception of a Mars Exploration Rover.
An artist's conception of a Mars Exploration Rover.
Credit: NASA/JPL
According to live NASA television, Spirit has defeated the odds and landed successfully on Mars. A brief burst of signal was followed by tense silence as it bounced across the surface. We now have a clear signal from the lander coming in from both the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft and the Deep Space Network.

The next steps are extremely critical in the mission. Spirit has landed right-side-up, but now it must both open its protective petals and deploy its solar arrays so that it will have power when the sun rises. If these two steps do not happen correctly, the mission will be over...but so far, it has been a "picture perfect" landing. The first images from the lander may come as soon as this morning.


- posted by Brian @ 23:56 EST

(permanent link)

Sunday, January 4, 2004


Rover Critical Deployment Completed

An artist's conception of a Mars Exploration Rover.
An artist's conception of a Mars Exploration Rover.
Credit: NASA/JPL
The latest word from NASA is that Spirit's systems seem to be functioning correctly so far. From current telemetry, the airbags and and petals are both working, and all indicators are green, although the lander is currently only getting 83% of its expected power from its solar panels. The data is being relayed from both the 2001 Mars Odyssey and Mars Global Surveyor spacecrafts.

The excited words from NASA TV: "We're getting our first images from the surface of Mars!...Oh wow, look at that! There it is, the surface of Mars!" The speaker is referring to what are now the highest resolution images of any part of Mars.

The images are not currently available on the Internet, but presumably will be displayed on the Image Section of the NASA Mars Exploration Rover website.


- posted by Brian @ 2:19 EST

(permanent link)


Spirit Snaps First Pictures!

A picture from Spirit.
A picture from Spirit.
Credit: NASA/JPL
Spirit has sent back its first pictures from the surface of Mars. The images are the highest resolution pictures ever taken of the planet, and there are many more to come. And the landing site? "The rocks, to a great extent, look swept clean. It's a much cleaner surface than what we had a right to hope for," said Steven Squyres. Some large rocks nearby will provide a wealth of data from the rover's many instruments. But one of the best things about this rover is that it can gather data from the rocks that aren't nearby. Spirit will begin moving in about nine days.

- posted by Alex @ 8:47 EST

(permanent link)

Monday, January 5, 2004


China Aims for Moon This Year, Mars in Future

China rocket launches.
China rocket launches.
Credit: AFP
In the wake of NASA's recent success in landing a rover on the surface of Mars, China has announced its own plans for the red planet. According to China Daily today, China is aiming for a lunar mission this year, which, along with a continued program of lunar exploration, will help prepare it for eventual missions to Mars.

China applauded the United States' success and wished continuing fortune on the mission. The nation also announced that its own state funding for Martian studies would be continued in the future.

(More info: China Daily)


- posted by Brian @ 0:08 EST

(permanent link)


Last Hope for Beagle as Mars Express Achieves Orbit

Mars Express orbiter.
Mars Express orbiter.
Credit: ESA/Medialab
The European Space Agency announced Sunday that the Mars Express spacecraft has achieved orbit and will be ready to begin science operations in mid-January. This is the ESA's last chance to recover its silent lander that has failed to signal NASA's 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft or the Earth-bound Deep Space Network. Key to the ESA's hopes will be an extremely close pass of the Beagle 2 landing zone by the Mars Express on Wednesday. If the Beagle 2 is recovered, Europe will become the second nation to successfully land a craft on Mars.

The Mars Express is a powerful tool on its own. With its large scientific payload, including a high resolution stereo camera and spectrometers, it will contribute a great deal to our knowledge of the red planet. Most important for current studies is the MARSIS radar system, which can scan up to four kilometers below the surface of Mars to search for signs of subterranean water and ice. Armed with this knowledge along with the hydrogen maps produced by NASA orbiters, future colonists will have a much greater chance of obtaining water from the planet, an important requirement for most practical plans to live on Mars. There is also the hope that a water map of Mars would guide future explorers in their search for life.

(More info: European Space Agency)


- posted by Brian @ 22:16 EST

(permanent link)

Tuesday, January 6, 2004


First Color Picture Arrives From Spirit!

First color picture from Spirit.
First color picture from Spirit.
Credit: NASA/JPL
The first color picture from Spirit has arrived: a composite image of the rover's horizon as seen from Gusev Crater. It is the highest resolution image ever taken on the surface of another planet. In the background is "Sleepy Hollow," a crater which NASA announced yesterday it has an interest in exploring. More data is necessary before the team can decide where the rover will travel in its first days of operation. Spirit is expected to begin moving late next week.

- posted by Alex @ 18:58 EST

(permanent link)

Wednesday, January 7, 2004


Two New Articles

Explorin the unknown.
Explorin the unknown.
Credit: Unknown
We have posted two new articles to the site, Two Worlds Are Better Than One by William Bailey, and Using Northern Polar Ice to Jump-Start Martian Interplanetary Economy by Remy Villeneuve. William's article, which explains why we should explore Mars, puts up a strong argument for Mars colonization: to ensure the survival of our species. Remy's article explains how the initial stages of colonization need only be preceded by a lander on the northern polar cap. He also outlines his plans for a long-term habitat on Mars and argues why his method makes more economic sense than any other.

- posted by Alex @ 18:20 EST

(permanent link)


Mars Global Surveyor Spots Pathfinder, Vikings

Pathfinder as seen by MGS.
Pathfinder as seen by MGS.
Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS
You've heard it time and time again. The spacecraft orbiting Mars does not have the resolution in their cameras to pinpoint landers on the surface. After all, NASA's Mars Global Surveyor only has a resolution of 1.5 meters per pixel, right? Wrong. Driven by the desire to pinpoint Spirit's location exactly, scientists have developed a new imaging technique. Scientists have now been able to spot not only the large Viking landers of the 70's, but also the smaller Pathfinder lander of 1997, which is the exact same size as Spirit.

Before we get into the details, we have to answer a question. If we can increase the resolution to spot Pathfinder, why can't we look for the ESA's presumed-crashed Beagle 2 or NASA's ill-fated Polar Lander? The answer lies in the details. In obtaining the higher resolution images, the imaging field is reduced dramatically, meaning that we have to already know the position of the object on the ground to around a kilometer to find it. This is incredibly difficult, and the positions of most objects have not been determined to nearly that much detail.

How can we find the other spacecraft then? As the MGS spacecraft orbits the locations, it bounces radio signals off the surface of the planet. Then, using complicated calculations, a line is determined that could contain the lander. With three such measurements, scientists can then triangulate the exact position--to within a little more than a kilometer, anyway. Then they take panoramic views from the lander and superimpose them on images to determine lines of sight to obvious landmarks, like mountains.

Finally, the camera is used. Normally, to take a picture the spacecraft must be rotating to compensate for the high velocity of its orbit to eliminate blurring. If the spacecraft rotates a little more then normally necessary, even higher resolution pictures can be obtained, down to 50 square centimeters per pixel, or about 20 square inches. Even through the loss of size of the image to outside distortion from rotating, it's enough to find the lander.

The picture above is the Pathfinder landing site. On the left is the panoramic view superimposed on an orbital photograph to determine lines of sight to mountains nearby. On the right is the high resolution photograph. The larger image (obtained by clicking on the image) shows the white of the parachute and the rock named Yogi in the center. You will probably have to stop your browser from shrinking the image. In Internet Explorer 5+, hold your mouse over the image and click on the picture box that shows up on the bottom right corner. In Netscape 7.x, click on the image.

(More info: Malin Space Science Systems - Extremely high traffic at the moment)


- posted by Brian @ 19:44 EST

(permanent link)

Thursday, January 8, 2004


Bush Plans Space Initiative

President Bush.
President Bush.
Credit: Unknown
Congressional sources say that President Bush is planning a major new space initiative announcement sometime next week. The plan is said to include a lunar mission, Mars mission, or both.

Many observers expected such an announcement on the recent anniversary of powered flight, however, one was not forthcoming. Experts say that the new initiative possibly is linked to both the recent successful Mars landing and national security issues. Such a plan would pursue some civilian objectives while creating close links between NASA and the Defense Department. Some are concerned that while a lunar research base may be a peaceful station, many military minds see it as a way to take the high ground as the Europeans, Indians, and Chinese all plan missions to the moon. In pre-September 11th terms, China was considered by many to be a growing threat to national security.

Regardless of any overtones of militance, be it for good or bad, any major space initiative would be hard pressed to be bad for the future of space exploration. The sooner manned missions to other planetary bodies resume, the sooner we can move on with grander goals, such as the colonization and terraforming of Mars. Perhaps President Bush will break NASA out of its rut next week.

(More info: Yahoo! News)


- posted by Brian @ 20:12 EST

(permanent link)


Mars Express Fails to Find Beagle

Mars Express.
Mars Express.
Credit: ESA
The European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft has failed in its attempt to find the presumed-crashed Beagle 2 lander. As the Mars Express was the only system actually tested in conjunction with the Beagle 2, and because of its close orbit and powerful receivers, the spacecraft was said to have the greatest chance of contacting the lander.

It is now fairly safe to assume that the Beagle 2 is lost. The lander was to search for signs of life on the surface of Mars, and was designed primarily by British scientists. Hopefully, it will not be the last time the ESA tries to land on Mars.

(More info: CNN.com)


- posted by Brian @ 20:36 EST

(permanent link)


Scientists Discover Part of Pathway to Inorganic DNA Formation

Borax sample.
Borax sample.
Credit: Musée d'histoire naturelle, Fribourg, France
NASA scientists announced today that they have discovered a solution to a problem that has puzzled humans since primitive times: where did life come from? Long seen as a hole in the dominant scientific theory, spontaneous generation, has been the inability to recreate life from inorganic components or even to postulate a feasible route of doing so. In the 1950's, Stanley Miller created amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, by sending electrical sparks similar to lightning through an environment thought to be present on early Earth. His research was unable to create life, probably primarily due to the lack of DNA or RNA to pass on genetic material, the blueprint for life, to such structures.

The problem lies in the fact that the heat required to create proteins destroys sugars, which DNA needs, in a process similar to overcooking something sweet, such as burning brownies. However, NASA's Astrobiology Institute has announced that they have found a way to create sugars in the primeval environment through the presence of a class of compounds, one of which is borax, a substance used in some detergents.

It must be noted that creating life is still an incredibly complex process, and the full method has not been discovered. However, one of the major problems in biology has now apparently been solved, with potentially enormous implications for the discovery of life on other planets.


- posted by Brian @ 20:58 EST

(permanent link)


NASA Runs Into Trouble

Mars Exploration Rover.
Mars Exploration Rover.
Credit: NASA
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover program has hit a series of snags that could delay or derail the mission to find evidence of water on the surface.

First, Spirit has been having an intermittent current spike in its main antenna. Engineers are still monitoring this. If the antenna does not work, data transmission from the rover will be extremely limited, resulting in much less science capability.

Also bugging the rover is getting off the landing capsule. The capsule is designed to be surrounded by airbags to cushion the landing on Mars. After landing, the capsule retracts the airbags to clear the way for the rover to dismount and to eliminate risk of entanglement in the rover's solar panel arrays or wheels. Unfortunely, the airbag is refusing to retract correctly, leading to several days of delays, possibly as late as next Wednesday, as NASA tries to solve it. If all else fails, NASA can try to retract other sides of the airbag and rotate Spirit, or simply to try to run over the airbag.

The final problem and the potentially most devastating to the mission is the data that the lander has sent back so far. The crater floor, which was thought to have been composed of sedimentary deposits from water, has turned out to be a frozen bed of lava, strewn with rocks. Scientists are now theorizing that the crater was covered by lava from a volcano 100 miles away. If the sedimentary deposits are unreachable, we will still learn a great deal about Mars, but there is not much hope of finding evidence for liquid water, a key component in the search for ancient life.

All of these problems are currently described as minor by NASA, however. After all, they have succeeded again where no other nation has -- landed on Mars.

(More info: Voice of America)


- posted by Brian @ 21:50 EST

(permanent link)

Friday, January 9, 2004


Alex Moore to Appear on BBC Radio

The British Broadcasting Corporation.
The British Broadcasting Corporation.
Credit: BBC
Tonight, Red Colony founder Alex Moore will appear on the British Broadcasting Corporation Radio channel "Five Live" in London. In response to the news of President Bush's expected announcement next week, the BBC will air a segment regarding Mars colonization. Alex's interview will appear on the program "Up All Night," which runs from 1-5 AM GMT. The interview should occur early in the show. You can tune in online by clicking here.

- posted by Alex @ 18:04 EST

(permanent link)

Saturday, January 10, 2004


Data from Mars Express Camera to Total in Terabytes

Gerhard Neukum, Planetary Scientist.
Gerhard Neukum, Planetary Scientist.
Credit: Deutsche Welle
The Beagle 2 may have failed, but Mars Express is readying to start its mission. ESA officials are planning a two-year mission with a possible extension to four years, during which the most powerful camera ever to orbit the planet will map 50-99% of the surface in unprecedented detail, with each data transmission gigabytes and the total mission data from the camera running into terabytes. The pictures, which will be taken in stereo, will be used to create detailed three-dimensional maps and possibly globes of Mars. Other science instruments will also contribute, including a radar system for finding water and a very high resolution camera channel capable of 2.3 meter/pixel resolution.

(More info: Deutsche Welle)


- posted by Brian @ 18:29 EST

(permanent link)

Sunday, January 11, 2004


Spirit Unfolds

Spirit is unfolded and ready to go much earlier than expected by NASA. To unfold the rover had to fire 12 pyros, six structural latches had to be engaged, and nine motorized mechanisms had to work. Chris Voorhees, a mechanical systems engineer who devised the maneuver said, the unfolding sequence was "the most complex sequence of deployments that has ever been done on a robotic spacecraft." He added, "She is asleep right now and resting on all sixes. The rover "now stands at full height and all six wheels are in their final position and ready to drive,” said Jennifer Trosper, mission manager at NASA's Pasadena Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Yesterday NASA was to fire more pyros to sever the connections to the lander. Spirit has transmitted over 200 Mbits of data to Earth Friday, "10 times more than Pathfinder had the capability to do," noted Ms. Trosper. Tomorrow the rover will spend its time pivoting 120 degrees to avoid the possibility of damaging a solar panel on the airbag blocking the main path of the lander.

(More info: The Age.com)


- posted by Jim @ 10:15 EST

(permanent link)


New Novel: Landfall

Landfall.
Landfall.
Credit: Martin Turner
Kevin Reimund has submitted the first part of his novella, Landfall. Here's his description:

Landfall describes Mars before it was colonized, when Julian Light is named commander of the Gossamer Albatross, the ship that brings the second batch of humans to Mars. It will eventually encompass the massive civil war on Mars during the terraforming debates and the rebuilding of the Martian economy and industry while Mars is terraformed.

Then in 2087, what I am writing about now takes place: The Martian War of Independence, which will consist of 4 seperate novellas describing different aspects of the same war. "A Call to Arms" will deal with the beginning of the war, "A Time to Stand", "Rocks and Shoals" and "The Storming of the Battery" deal with the peak of the Martian War of Independence and "Sacrifice of Angels" deals with the ending of the war with the Martian occupation of Luna.

On the side, "The ZzapWorks War", the only one of these stories not yet started, deals with the aspects of the war on Earth between the multi-planetary corporation ZzapWorks and their support of the Martians during the Martian War of Independence. I should be submitting "A Call to Arms", "A Time to Stand", "Rocks and Shoals", "The Storming of the Battery" and "Sacrifice of Angels" around February or April vacation.


- posted by Alex @ 18:39 EST

(permanent link)

Monday, January 12, 2004


Canada to Build Mars Lidar System

Lidar System in use on Earth.
Lidar System in use on Earth.
Credit: Scientific Development and Integration
Canadian firms are to build a lidar system for NASA's 2007 mission. Optech Incorporated and MD Robotics, famous for its Canadarm, will construct the laser device to be used in the meteorological station. The system will measure weather conditions and give clues to the movement of water and atmospheric composition, and will help pave the way for a future colonization effort by helping to predict sandstorms.

(More info: Toronto Star)


- posted by Brian @ 20:18 EST

(permanent link)

Tuesday, January 13, 2004


Bush to Announce Moon/Mars Mission Tomorrow

Neil Armstrong in 1969.
Neil Armstrong in 1969.
Credit: NASA
US President George W. Bush will make an announcement tomorrow detailing his plans for manned missions to the moon and, later, to Mars. The news of the announcement has already met much criticism, primarily with such a mission's cost. Several days ago the Associated Press inaccurately reported that a mission could cost $1 trillion US Dollars. Even conservative estimates are some 50 times less expensive. But many politicians have criticized Bush for this new space initiative, saying the cost far outweighs any profitable return. "If you ask me whether the best use of $1 trillion of American taxpayer money in the coming years is to land a mission on Mars or the moon, I'd say no," presidential candidate Sen. Joe Lieberman said on CNN this week. However, proponents of the new initiative say that NASA's current budget, if refocused, could suffice. Part of the president's announcement will include news that the space shuttle will be phased out of commission by 2010, when the International Space Station is scheduled to be completed. It will be replaced by a new vehicle capable of travel to and from the moon. NASA currently receives $15 billion dollars in federal funds, but Bush is expected to increase that funding by 5%.

- posted by Alex @ 21:50 EST

(permanent link)

Wednesday, January 14, 2004


Bush Announces New Space Initiative

President Bush's speech.
President Bush's speech.
Credit: NASA
Today at 3:30 PM EST, President Bush announced over live television his proposal for NASA's future: "It is time for America to take the next steps. Today I announce a new plan to explore space and extend a human presence across our solar system. We will begin the effort quickly, using existing programs and personnel. We'll make steady progress, one mission, one voyage, one landing at a time.... The moon is a logical step toward further progress and achievement."

Bush's space initiative includes the following:

2008 - Construction of a new space plane (a "crew exploration vehicle") to take crews to and from the International Space Station and the moon.
2008 - Launch of robotic missions to the moon "to research and prepare for future human exploration."
2010 - Completion of the ISS.
2010 - Retirement of the space shuttle.
2014 - Launch of a manned mission in the crew exploration vehicle.
2015 - Undertaking of extended manned missions to the moon, "with the goal of living and working there for increasingly extended periods of time."

The President explained that missions to Mars could be reduced in cost by being launched from the moon. "With the experience and knowledge gained on the moon, we will then be ready to take the next steps of space exploration: human missions to Mars and to worlds beyond."

Bush increased NASA's funding by five percent to nearly $16 billion dollars a year. Although NASA's budget was doubled after John F. Kennedy announced the Apollo program forty years ago, Bush and NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe feel that the money merely needs refocused. "Our first goal is to complete the International Space Station by 2010. We will finish what we have started." In any case, more research must be made before any steps are taken. "I'll also form a commission of private- and public-sector experts to advise on implementing the vision that I've outlined today. This commission will report to me within four months of its first meeting." Bush named former Secretary of the Air Force Pete Aldrich as chair of the commission.

A transcript of the President's speech can be found here.


- posted by Alex @ 20:03 EST

(permanent link)

Thursday, January 15, 2004


Spirit Rolls Off Lander

Eastern Hills near Spirit.
Eastern Hills near Spirit.
Credit: NASA
NASA announced today that it had successfully rolled the robotic geologist Spirit from its landing capsule following a problem that prompted NASA to turn the rover around and use a rear ramp to exit. Spirit is now ready to proceed with its primary mission, to try to determine if there was once liquid water in Gusev Crater. Current mission plans now call for an exploration of the nearby crater "Sleepy Hollow" and eventually a hike aimed for the five-mile-distant eastern hills, thought to be beyond the rover's range.

(More info: CNN.com)


- posted by Brian @ 21:33 EST

(permanent link)

Friday, January 16, 2004


First Microscopic Images of Mars Transmitted

First microscopic image of Martian soil.
First microscopic image of Martian soil.
Credit: NASA/JPL
Spirit today broke the previous record for the highest resolution picture of Mars, beating the previous one, which was set by itself, by a huge amount. This was accomplished by using the rover's arm, which is equipped with a microscope. The image, shown at left, marks the true start of the rover's scientific mission.

Also released today are new images from the rover showing that the soil in the region of Gusev Crater that the rover landed in is composed of glued-together dust and sand particles. This material is excellent for the rover's movement, as well as the possibility for providing clues to the crater's history and possibly whether liquid water once flowed on Mars.

(More info: Yahoo! News, NASA Mars Exploration)


- posted by Brian @ 19:51 EST

(permanent link)

Saturday, January 17, 2004


Spirit missed most desirable spot

Missing the best spot for science research, Spirit may have to travel further than it was designed to take measurements for water-related minerals. It is now thought by scientists that Gusev crater is blanketed by volcanic debris and heavily eroded by wind. The new destination, a group of hills a few hundred feet high, is a better spot for untouched minerals, and possibly life. The rover can only travel a few yards a day, and its solar powered engine can run for up to 3 months. Engineers are calculating how far the rover would have to travel to reach the hill.

(More Info: The Gaurdian)


- posted by Jim @ 21:54 EST

(permanent link)

Monday, January 19, 2004


Spirit's MI finds hollow spheres and tubes

The Microscopic Imager (MI) has been working in the past few days and has returned images (resolution: 30micons/pixel) depicted sand-sized particle and hollow spheres and tubes. John Grotzinger, an MIT geologist, said the tubes and spheres closely resemble similar structures in the southwestern deserts of the US. "There are little tubes that build up by capillary action," he told New Scientist, when salty water evaporates from the nearly dry soil. It is too early to tell for sure if these structures are actually made by water or other forces, but Grotzinger says that the rovers other capabilities should be helpful in say what caused the hollow spheres and tubes.

(More info: New Scientist)


- posted by Jim @ 9:29 EST

(permanent link)

Tuesday, January 20, 2004


Mars Express Takes Stunning Images of Valles Marineris

Top: High-Resolution Valles Marineris Photo. Bottom: Computer Enhanced Photo of Aircraft Perspective.
Top: High-Resolution Valles Marineris Photo. Bottom: Computer Enhanced Photo of Aircraft Perspective.
Credit: ESA
The Mars Express orbiter has taken the first images of their kind of Mars. These high-resolution 3-D color pictures are stunning, and the detail makes it possible to construct views from different perspectives. The ESA plans to release a three-dimensional video sequence showing Mars through European eyes on Friday the 23rd.

Although calibration of instruments is still underway, the orbiter seems destined to escape the problems that have caused the Beagle 2 lander to fail to signal Earth. With luck, the data that the Mars Express will provide will help future explorers to survive on the surface.

(More info: ESA)


- posted by Brian @ 21:55 EST

(permanent link)

Wednesday, January 21, 2004


Red Colony's New Focus

A new focus.
A new focus.
Credit: FP Software Lab
Red Colony is changing. With President Bush's recent announcement, it appears that the United States Government has no plans to send humans to Mars until long after a base has been established on the moon. Although his initiative is noble in premise, it is ignorant to the scientific and economic benefits of colonizing Mars... today.

That's where we come in. For over three years, Red Colony has educated the public as to these benefits. For two years, we have involved the public by providing them the chance to submit their own ideas about colonizing and terraforming Mars. Their ideas have been discussed and debated by other enthusiasts, students and scientists alike, and their ideas have the potential to one day be enacted on Mars. Now, we set out to do even more.

Red Colony will establish a plan to organize, fund, and launch a manned mission to Mars by 2017. We will achieve investment from private corporations and collaborate with major industrial leaders to make going to Mars scientifically and economically profitable. Our "Plan" will be developed from the articles, methods, short stories, and novels that you submit. It will be continually updated, revised, remodeled, and reshaped... but it will not be written by just one person. The Plan will be a living, breathing document citing everything humanity knows about Mars and human space flight. As time progresses, the Plan will become more specific until finally it leads us to Mars.

I have established two Research Teams: Finance and Public Relations. Their members will, respectively, investigate methods for raising funds and raising publicity. If necessity demands, other Research Teams will be created. If you are interested in joining either of these Teams, or if you just want to participate in debate on the forums, feel free to register.


- posted by Alex @ 16:42 EST

(permanent link)

Thursday, January 22, 2004


Spirit Goes Silent

Spirit's lander.
Spirit's lander.
Credit: NASA/JPL
For the last 24 hours, Spirit has stopped transmitting data to Earth. NASA mission control said that the rover is still in basic operation, returning a communication tone to signal that something has gone seriously wrong onboard. "We know that we have had a very serious anomaly on the vehicle," said Pete Theisinger, manager of the MER mission. It is possible that Spirit's software has crashed, or that there is a problem with the solar panels which power the rover. In any case, NASA is investigating responses to the problem while readying itself for the arrival of Opportunity on Saturday.

- posted by Alex @ 16:32 EST

(permanent link)


New Article: Making Mars A Reality

Mars.
Mars.
Credit: NASA
Daniel Hay has written an impressive new article called Making Mars a Reality. In it he lays out his own plan for the first manned mission to Mars. Although admittedly controversial, Daniel bases his plan on one minor detail: if you go to Mars you will not be able to come home. As he says, "Once a Martian always a Martian." He suggests raising funds from private individuals and corporations. All it takes is one donation to get the ball rolling. "It takes money to make more money," he says. Fairly simple? Read it.

- posted by Alex @ 20:06 EST

(permanent link)

Friday, January 23, 2004


Mars Express returns Data

Mars Express, the doomed Beagle's orbiter, is due to reach its final orbit on the 28th. Already, the first instrument turned on, the OMEGA (a combined camera and infrared spectrometer, has already revealed the presence of water ice and carbon dioxide ice) has reviled solid water and Carbon dioxide on the southern polar cap. The PFS, a high-resolution spectrometer has also found different distributions of Carbon dioxide in the northern on southern hemispheres. The SPICAM (a UV and IR spectrometer) has measured the atmosphere in the first star occultation recorded. It found that the concentration of water vapor is inversely proportional the amount of ozone). The ASPERA (a plasma and energetic neutral atoms analyzer) is to measure the affects of the solar wind on Mars (possibly, to see if the solar winds led to the lack of water on the surface. The High reselution stereo camera has made the largest high-resolution picture ever. The printed picture (24 by 1.5 meters) was carried to the pressroom by a group of 10-year-old children. Mrs. Edelgard Bulmahn, the German Minister for Research and Education and the chair of the ESA Council at Ministerial level, said, "Europe can be proud of this mission: Mars Express is an enormous success for the European Space Program."

(More info: ESA)


- posted by Jim @ 18:49 EST

(permanent link)


Spirit Talks

During a 20 minutes session, starting at 13:26GMT, Spirit sent back usable data at 120bits/second. "The spacecraft sent limited data in a proper response to a ground command, and we're planning for commanding further communication sessions later today," said Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager Pete Theisinger. At 13:02, the flight team sent the command to transmit via the deep space network near Madrid, Spain.

(More info: JPL)


- posted by Jim @ 18:55 EST

(permanent link)

Saturday, January 24, 2004


Spirit Update

Since Wednesday, Spirit has only sent back error messages and limited useful data, sparingly. From the data received, scientists know that Spirit has rebooted itself 60 times to try to fix the problem. Scientist also remains optimistic that Spirit can regain, at least some, usefulness because it can communicate and some of the other data they have collected. They also believe that the problem is hardware related, not software, possibly with the high gain antennae. "I would say this is a bump in the road," said Nathalie Cabrol, a planetary geologist at NASA/Ames Research Center. "The spacecraft is talking. We are taking advantage of this stopping time to collect our thoughts and come back even stronger."

(More info: Murcury News, Yahoo)


- posted by Jim @ 14:07 EST

(permanent link)


Opportunity to Land

Opportunity is to land on the 25th at 05:05GMT in Meridiani Planum. Meridiani Planum is within an Oklahoma-sized hematite outcropping, a mineral usually formed in the presence of water. Based on data from Spirit, the landing team has decided to open the parachute sooner than expected. The problem that is currently plaguing Spirit is not expected to happen to Opportunity.

An addition about Spirit: Peter Theisinger, rover project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said, "we believe, based on everything we know now, we can sustain the current state of the spacecraft from a health standpoint for an indefinite amount of time,” This gives the team time to work on the problem.

(More info: NASA/JPL)


- posted by Jim @ 14:16 EST

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New Method: Matthew Johnson's Method

A terraformed Mars.
A terraformed Mars.
Credit: Matthew Johnson/Terragen
As all of us eagerly await the arrival of Opportunity, I thought it would be nice to provide some good reading material. That is quite an understatement. Matthew Johnson has submitted to us his method for terraforming Mars. Using PFCs and other greenhouse gasses to start, Matthew says that Mars's atmosphere can be thickened until liquid water can flow freely on the surface. Oceans are necessary and unavoidable, and as the water cycle begins to spin, salt will drain into the seas. From plants to insects to animals, Mars will quickly become another home for life. Quite a unique theory, Matthew explains that an artifical moon orbiting Mars is necessary for the biological clocks of many animals. He has mapped out a timeline for each step in the terraforming process, and each step is as interesting as it is thoughtful.

- posted by Alex @ 22:56 EST

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Sunday, January 25, 2004


Spirit's Flash

NASA scientists now think that the problem with Spirit is with its FLASH memory, or the software controlling it. "The rover has been upgraded from critical to serious," said Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager Peter Theisinger at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. FLASH memory is commonly used in many items, such as camera and MP3 players. The MER team figured the FLASH was the problem when they told the rover to reboot and use RAM. The rover then behaved normally. Fixing Spirit is not expected to slow Opportunity’s mission down.

(More info: NASA/JPL)


- posted by Jim @ 0:00 EST

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Opportunity Lands Successfully on Mars!

Meridiani Planum.
Meridiani Planum.
Credit: NASA
Opportunity has landed! With an entry, descent, and landing as perfect as NASA could ask for, the lander has rolled to a stop in the middle of Meridiani Planum. For more information, watch the live NASA TV webfeed.

- posted by Alex @ 0:10 EST

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Opportunity Update

The scene within JPL was described as the inside of a "locker room after a team won the Super Bowl." Opportunity, like it's twin Spirit, had a best-case scenario landing. Stopping an estimated 14km - 15km from the center of the landing ellipse, it is on the eastern side of the plain. The plain has a higher Hematite concentration on that half. As Opportunity bounced, the Deep Space Network and NASA never lost its signal. Thanks to rockets on the decent, the rover had little horizontal and vertical velocities when it hit the ground. The rover is currently supposed to be deflating its airbags and righting itself. As for how the problem with Spirit's FLASH memory will affect Opportunity, JPL said they will be cautious and take everything one step at a time.

(Source: Live NASA Briefing)


- posted by Jim @ 2:35 EST

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Opportunity's Images

Opportunity has returned images different from any rover before it. It shows a dark, surreal landscape. "Opportunity has touched down in a bizarre, alien landscape," said Dr. Steve Squyres, principal investigator for the science instruments on Opportunity and Spirit. "I'm flabbergasted. I'm astonished. I'm blown away." The area has exposed bedrock, the first candidate for the rover to explore. Unlike Spirit, the path in front of the rover looks clear for it to roll off.

(More info: NASA/JPL)


- posted by Jim @ 9:56 EST

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MER Update

Outcrop near Opportunity.
Outcrop near Opportunity.
Credit: NASA/JPL
"I think we've got a patient that's well on the way to recovery," is how Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager Pete Theisinger described Spirit. JPL now believes that the problem is in the "file management" software and that the FLASH memory is fine.

Opportunity is inside of a small (20m diameter) crater near a larger one. "We have scored a 300-million mile interplanetary hole in one," said Dr. Steve Squyres. The small crater the rover is in appears to expose both surface and subsurface rock, something NASA scientists had dreamed of. "If it got any better, I couldn't stand it," said Dr. Doug Ming, rover science team member. The combination of rocks, soil, and instruments should allow scientist to search for clues of ancient water. Opportunity will spend one to two weeks on the lander before leaving.

(More info: NASA/JPL)


- posted by Jim @ 21:31 EST

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Monday, January 26, 2004


Founding Meeting of Red Colony the Corporation

The founding meeting of Red Colony the Corporation will be held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from Friday, July 30th to Sunday, August 1st. On July 31st, we will charter Red Colony Corp. with a board of directors and membership. The members will have a more formal role in the creation of The Plan, being structured in accordance specific goals or abilities. The not-for-profit corporation is the first step in organizing and cooperating with various businesses and industry interested in colonizing and terraforming Mars.

All those interested are welcome to attend the meeting. Details on the agenda will be available soon. The price is yet undetermined, but transportation will not be included.


- posted by Alex @ 18:23 EST

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Tuesday, January 27, 2004


Opportunity's Health: OK

The first postcard sent by Opportunity.
The first postcard sent by Opportunity.
Credit: NASA/JPL
Yesterday, Opportunity tested many systems and instruments and passed with excellence. It sent back a "postcard" showing the little crater it is in and the soil that became bright when the rover impacted it. "We're looking out across a pretty spectacular landscape," said Dr. Jim Bell lead scientist for the panoramic cameras The MER's. "It's going to be a wonderful area for geologists to explore with the rover." Opportunity is completing taking a 360degree panoramic photo for scientists. It has also begun to use its high gain antenna for direct, fast baud, communication with Earth. By seeing where the sun was, the on board computer figured out where earth was. The Moessbauer spectrometer had scientists worried because en-route, its internal calibration system was misbehaving; it is now fine. "We have a perfectly functioning Moessbauer spectrometer, and given that we are now perched atop the hematite capital of the Solar System, that's a good thing," Steve Squyres said.

"We have a patient in rehab, and we're nursing her back to health," said JPL's Jennifer Trosper, mission manager, about Spirit. Spirit is now in a mode that does not use the FLASH memory. JPL is now trying to delete files stored from the trek to Mars, to lessen the strain on the file management software.

(More info: NASA/JPL)


- posted by Jim @ 8:53 EST

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Wednesday, January 28, 2004


Opportunity Keeping a Little Too Warm

The heater on Opportunity's robotic arm is on continuously. It is draining 15 watts of power from the rover. Whether or not this will cause major problems is unknown. Engineers are currently working to diagnose the problem, suspected to be a faulty switch overriding the thermostat, and find a fix. Opportunity's High gain antenna has begun to transmit and Spirit's antenna has been diagnosed as in working order. Opportunity is going to be unfolded tonight. Once it is ready to go, as Dr. Steve Sqyures said, "[w]e're about to embark on what could be the coolest geological field trip in history." The layered rocks found near the landing site are hypothesized to be sedimentary or volcanic. Sedimentary layers would be a strong indicator of water. "We should be able to distinguish between those two hypotheses," said Dr. Andrew Knoll a member of the science team for the MER's.

(More info: NASA/JPL)


- posted by Jim @ 8:04 EST

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NASA Honors Apollo 1 Crew

Apollo 1 crew, from left to right, Roger Chaffee, Ed White and Gus Grissom.
Apollo 1 crew, from left to right, Roger Chaffee, Ed White and Gus Grissom.
Credit: NASA/JPL
"Through recorded history explorers have had both the honor and responsibility of naming significant landmarks," said NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe. "Gus, Ed, and Roger's contributions, as much as their sacrifice, helped make our giant leap for mankind possible. Today, as America strides towards our next giant leap, NASA and the Mars Exploration Rover team created a fitting tribute to these brave explorers and their legacy.”

Yesterday, 37 years ago, Apollo 1 caught fire on the launch pad during a systems test. Inside were Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. All three perished in the fire and caused NASA to redo its safety programs and change to a Nitrogen/Oxygen atmosphere. Yesterday, NASA has honored these men by naming 3 hills, as seen from Spirit after them. From left to right, Chaffee Hill, Grissom Hill, and White Hill. "Grissom Hill" is located 7.5 kilometers southwest of Spirit, "White Hill," 11.2 kilometers northwest, and "Chaffee Hill" 14.3 kilometers south-southwest.

(More info: NASA/JPL)


- posted by Jim @ 19:59 EST

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Scientists Find Martian Bacteria in Australia

Possible nanobacteria.
Possible nanobacteria.
Credit: NASA
A few years ago, headlines screamed "LIFE ON MARS" and trumpeted the discovery of bacteria in a Martian meteorite. Today, scientists announced that they have discovered a terrestrial analog to the potential nanobacteria. The Australians announced that they had discovered the first bacteria with same type of magnetic structure ever seen. Before this discovery, along with the very controversial nanometer size, the find had been relegated to the "maybe-but-probably-not" category. While this new find is certainly not proof, many hope that it will legitimize the case for Martian bacteria and force sample-return missions to Mars, possibly even manned, to prove the case.

(More info: News.com.au)


- posted by Brian @ 21:50 EST

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Challenger Remembered

The crew of 51-L:(back row,left to right) Mission Specialist El Onizuka, Teacher in Space Participant S. Christa McAuliffe, Payload Specialist Greg Jarvis, and Mission Specialsit Judy Resnik; (front row, left to right) Pilot Mike Smith, Commander Dick Scobee and Mission Specialsit Ron McNair.
The crew of 51-L:(back row,left to right) Mission Specialist El Onizuka, Teacher in Space Participant S. Christa McAuliffe, Payload Specialist Greg Jarvis, and Mission Specialsit Judy Resnik; (front row, left to right) Pilot Mike Smith, Commander Dick Scobee and Mission Specialsit Ron McNair.
Credit: NASA
NASA is to memorialize Christa McAuliffe (NASA's first civilian teacher), commander Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, pilot Michael J. Smith, specialists Judith A. Resnik, Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, and payload specialist Gregory B. Jarvis, the crew of STS 51-L (aka "Challenger")(which exploded at T+73 seconds today, 18 years ago), on Mars by naming the landing site of Opportunity the "Challenger Memorial Station." Challenger's 10th flight was to have been a six-day mission dedicated to research and education, as well as the deployment of the TDRS-B communications satellite.

(More info: NASA/JPL)


- posted by Jim @ 22:43 EST

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Thursday, January 29, 2004


Opportunity Unfolds

Opportunity untucked its front wheels and set its suspention system. NASA plans to tilt the lander 5 degrees to help it come strait off. If all goes well, it should be off the lander by Sunday-Monday.The miniature thermal emission spectrometer, which helps detect rock compositions at a distance, has passed a health check and should be working later tonight. The power drain, caused by a switch leaving the heater on all the time, should cause no problems in the near future.

Spirit has sent back a photo for the first time in a week. "Right now we're working to get complete control of the vehicle, and we're still not quite there," said JPL's Jennifer Trosper, mission manager. "If we're on the right track, we hope to be back doing some science by early next week. If we're not on the right track, it could take longer than that."

(More info: NASA/JPL)


- posted by Jim @ 15:26 EST

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Friday, January 30, 2004


Spirit to be Cleaned

Upper Left: Martian sundial (also helps calibrate color); Upper Right Corner: Sol, magnified 5 times (identifies amount of dust in atmosphere); Lower Left: Cake; Lower Right: Blanco.
Upper Left: Martian sundial (also helps calibrate color); Upper Right Corner: Sol, magnified 5 times (identifies amount of dust in atmosphere); Lower Left: Cake; Lower Right: Blanco.
Credit: NASA/JPL
Spirit's FLASH memory is to be wiped out and reinitialized within the week. "I think it will be perfect again," Pete Theisinger, the project manager, said. Spirit has found two new rocks of interest: "Cake" and "Blanco." The first image sent back from Sprit since the computer problem happened, showed the rover's arm pressed against a rock just as it was before the error occurred.

Opportunity has its rear wheels correctly positioned and is ready to explore.

(More info: The Washington Post)


- posted by Jim @ 19:06 EST

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2001 Mars Odyssey Celebrates 1 Year Anniversary

2001 Mars Odyssey.
2001 Mars Odyssey.
Credit: NASA/JPL
With all the excitement surrounding the MER's, most people have overlooked a very important orbiter: 2001 Mars Odyssey. On January 11th, it celebrated its 1 Martian year anniversary (687 Earth days). Odyssey has shown us that the southern polar cap was made of ice, analyzed Mars' compositions, and did radiation studies. "Before you send any landers to Mars, you want to look at the planet as a whole. We call that 'global reconnaissance,'" said Bob Mase, Odyssey Mission Manager. "We are both limited in what we can do. Orbiters can’t scrape rocks and look at them microscopically, and rovers cannot traverse and image the entire planet. So, the two types of missions really complement one another." Odyssey has also been a communication relay for the landers/rovers. 75% of Spirits data has traveled via Odyssey. Kudos to the Odyssey orbiter and team. Best wishes for another year.

(More info: NASA/JPL)


- posted by Jim @ 21:50 EST

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More Evidence For Martian Life

T-Rex fossil.
T-Rex fossil.
Credit: twoguysfossils.com
As reported on Wednesday, scientists have found a terrestrial analog to the bacteria thought to exist as fossils inside a Martian meteorite. What we didn't mention was that there was more to the scientists' research.

The team's research shows that the structures inside the meteorite are life from Mars "beyond reasonable doubt." Using a complicated analysis of the structures in comparison to Earth bacteria and other tests, the Australians discovered not only that the fossils matched all eleven features of their biosignatures but also that it was impossible for them to have formed on Earth. "It's more conclusive than finding a T-rex skeleton," one of the researchers said.

This also raises questions as to the origin of life on Earth. "[I]t demonstrates quite clearly that there was life on Mars before there was life on Earth...[a]nd with this fossil record that we've got now, it indicates that life probably came from Mars." This idea is known as panspermia, and has been widely accepted as possible in the past, with tests confirming that bacteria could survive the interplanetary environment for millions of years. But until now, there was little evidence for it.

(More info: News.com.au)


- posted by Brian @ 22:00 EST

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New Ion Thruster Design

Scientists testing thruster.
Scientists testing thruster.
Credit: Australian National University.
Researchers in Australia have revealed a revolutionary design for a powerful ion drive that could be used for Mars exploration. The design, known as a helicon double layer thruster, uses heated plasma to propel ions at extremely high velocities to produce thrust. Unlike conventional ion thruster designs, however, this system has no moving parts and has safer waste products. It is also more powerful than any other design. This innovation is years ahead of NASA. With this could come longer-lived and cheaper satellites and shorter interplanetary cruises for a manned mission to Mars. Shorter time in between planets is considered crucial by many due to both the health risks to the astronauts and to working time limitations inherent in the process of going to Mars. With this drive, the trip becomes not the 6 months of Kim Stanley Robinson, but a much shorter and more manageable time.

(More info: abc.net.au)


- posted by Brian @ 22:59 EST

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