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Wednesday, May 1, 2002


Martian Life a Threat

A threat?
A threat?
Credit: NASA
(CNN) - NASA faces a dilemma in planning to send people to Mars: The scientific desire to search for life there versus the need to prevent any such life from endangering the astronauts or the Earth.

The National Research Council is recommending that safety take precedence and that missions to the red planet try to avoid encountering any possible life forms there.

"While the threat to Earth's ecosystem from the release of Martian biological agents is very low, the risk of harmful effects is not zero and cannot be ignored," the council said in a report released Wednesday.

The NRC urged NASA to establish "zones of minimal biological risk" by sending automated probes to test for organic chemicals or other life forms.

Astronauts could then be sent to areas with the lowest possible risk of encountering life that might either pose a threat to them or to Earth if it returned with them.

And in an additional step to avoid bringing back contamination, the study said, the returning spacecraft might have to be abandoned in space with the astronauts transferred to another vehicle to get back to Earth.

Similar precautions were taken during the Apollo missions to the moon. These procedures failed to provide adequate security. Luckily no organisms were found on the moon. However, the risk to the Earth is in my opinion outweighed by the scientific gain that could be had by looking for microorganisms on Mars, instead of avoiding them. It is obvious that some precautions must be taken, as bacteria from Mars may be close enough to Terran bacteria to cause us harm or compete with Earthly organisms, but avoiding them is clearly not the answer.

(More info: CNN.com)


- posted by Brian @ 19:37 EST

(permanent link)

Thursday, May 2, 2002


Mars Survey

Mars.
Mars.
Credit: NASA
(CNN) - Most think humans will reach Mars within their lifetimes. Many expect to make the trip themselves. And rock climbing will be tops among recreational activities. Such are the aspirations of thousands of U.S. schoolchildren.

More than 2,600 youngsters took part in the online poll, released Thursday by the organizers of Space Day, an annual event designed to bolster interest in science, math and space among youths.

"It's exciting and encouraging that the spirit of exploration is alive and that students see it occurring in their lifetime," said Orlando Figueroa, director of NASA's Mars Exploration program. "These may well be the children that make it a reality."

Here's to hoping that we'll be on Mars before this generation grows up!

(More info: CNN.com)


- posted by Brian @ 23:38 EST

(permanent link)

Sunday, May 5, 2002


Why the Poles are Different

Different poles.
Different poles.
Credit: NASA
(CNN) - The north and south poles on Mars look extremely different from each other, and scientists now think they know why: Circulation patterns in the red planet's thin atmosphere tends to keep all the water in the north, leaving the south pole high and dry.

Mars exploration by unmanned spacecraft has shown the northern hemisphere has a large polar cap made up mostly of frozen water while the southern hemisphere has a much smaller cap made up almost entirely of frozen carbon dioxide, or dry ice.

A new computer model suggests the apparently permanent difference results partly from the much higher elevation in the south -- which is an average of three miles higher than the north.

"It seems quite plausible to me," Hinson said. "I think it's an important step in understanding how climate change on Mars might be occurring."

(More info: CNN.com)


- posted by Brian @ 14:49 EST

(permanent link)

Friday, May 24, 2002


Japanese Probe

Nozomi.
Nozomi.
Credit: CNN.com
(CNN) - Most communication with a Japanese space probe flying toward Mars has been cut by large solar flares, the government said Friday.

One of the Nozomi spacecraft's communication systems was apparently knocked out by an April 21 burst of solar energy, said Yoshihisa Nemoto of the Education Ministry, which oversees Japan's space program.

The 11 billion yen ($88 million) Nozomi was launched on July 4, 1998, to probe the atmospheric movements and topography of Mars, as well as measure solar winds.

The probe should reach Mars in 2004, and the probe's other systems appear to still be working.

(More info: CNN.com


- posted by Brian @ 18:53 EST

(permanent link)

Tuesday, May 28, 2002


Hydrogen Clues

Hydrogen clues.
Hydrogen clues.
Credit: NASA
(CNN) - Scientists say they may have solved the mystery of where Mars' water went. Large amounts of hydrogen have been detected under the surface -- perhaps in the form of water ice.

Researchers announced preliminary findings from Mars Odyssey in March, when early data from an instrument called the gamma ray spectrometer showed evidence of vast deposits of hydrogen in Mars' southern hemisphere.

Experts say the confirmation of ice on Mars could answer a question that's nagged them for years: Despite the fact that the surface of Mars now appears dry as bone, much physical evidence -- including channels on the landscape -- suggests that water once flowed there.

Researchers have long been puzzled about where the water went. Now, the new findings suggest that it could have gone underground.

Does the possible presence of water on Mars mean life exists there? Scientists say it raises the chances, but it's by no means conclusive.


- posted by Brian @ 23:55 EST

(permanent link)

Thursday, May 30, 2002


Sensors Can Detect Water Underground

(Yahoo) - British scientists started building tiny 'Marsquake' sensors on Thursday that will be able to detect underground water supplies and could help in the search for life on the red planet.

The 2007 NetLander mission will land four sets of instruments near the Martian equator to examine the planet's weather and geological structure. The quake sensors will be the first to look deep inside the planet, the team responsible for their construction said.

"We will look at how the vibrations from Marsquakes travel through the planet and work out what is going on deep inside," said Imperial College London researcher Dr. Tom Pike.

"If these vibrations hit liquid water under the landing sites, we should see a distinctive signature," he added. "That is when the search for life on Mars will move underground."

Unveiling the internal structure of Mars is seen as a key to understanding questions about the planet, particularly those raised this week when U.S. researchers revealed that ice caps containing as much water as one of America's great lakes lay beneath the planet's surface.

(More info: Yahoo)


- posted by Brian @ 20:57 EST

(permanent link)


No Humans... Yet

(Yahoo) - This week's report of buried oceans of ice on Mars may spur dreams of human missions to the Red Planet, but nobody is likely to go for 20 years or more, and one expert thinks it would be a bad idea even then.

However, such opposition -- and the lack of any U.S. commitment to conduct a human mission to Mars -- has not stopped NASA from developing a detailed scenario.

The scenario, available online, is based on the most optimistic guesses about how such a mission could take place and foresees the launch of the first crew in November 2009.

The astronomer who oversees the site, David Williams, said the scenario is based on a 1997 report that presumed work toward a Mars mission would start that year. It did not, so any estimates would have to be pushed back by five years at least.

"Even at the time, that was really crazy optimistic," Williams said by telephone from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center outside Washington. "Even 12 years from now would be incredibly optimistic. ... I would personally be surprised if we have an astronaut standing on Mars any time before 20 years from now."

Still, Williams and others at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration acknowledge that articles in Friday's edition of the journal Science have fanned interest in human exploration of Mars.

(More info: Yahoo)


- posted by Brian @ 22:58 EST

(permanent link)

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