In Today’s Deep Space Extra… NASA on Thursday presented its latest findings from efforts to determine whether Mars hosts, or once hosted, some form of life. There will be more to come.
Human Space Exploration
Atlantic (6/7): NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine laid out a timetable for a return to the lunar surface in a round table discussion with news reporters this week. First things first: he wants landers and robots provided by the commercial sector touching down as soon as next year but definitely by 2020. That milestone will be accompanied by the assembly of a NASA led human tended Lunar Orbiter Platform-Gateway (LOPG). Automated hardware will dig into the lunar terrain before humans make their return for the first time since the final Apollo Moon landing, Apollo 17, in 1972. The Administrator was less specific about reaching the Red Planet with humans but expressed support for the effort.
American Council on Science and Health (6/7): Proper rest and sleep are important parts of productive life aboard the International Space Station. That it turns out depends on an effective light source inside the Station. As the outpost orbits the Earth, the run rises and sets every 90 minutes, which is confusing to the body’s nervous system.
New York Times (6/7): The search for evidence of life, past or present, on Mars has advanced. Scientists on Thursday reported the discovery of organic compounds in 3 billion year old rock samples examined by NASA’s Curiosity rover, which landed in Mar’s Gale Crater, believed to be an ancient lake bed, in August 2012. The organic molecules, however, cannot be traced specifically to a biological activity rather than a geophysical process. Nonetheless, Curiosity has advanced efforts to determine whether Mars hosts or once hosted some form of life that was first undertaken by NASA’s Viking landers in the mid-1970s. NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is to continue the search for Martian life when it lifts off for the red planet in two years. The latest finding was the basis of one of two NASA Mars research efforts published in the journal Science.
Space.com (6/7): A second Mars research effort discussed by NASA on Thursday involves the presence of methane in the Red Planet’s thin atmosphere. Biological as well as geological process, such as vulcanism, can be sources for methane. The methane level rises and falls seasonally on Mars, peaking in the northern hemisphere during late summer, which is an indication the methane gas is seeping from the ground. Because methane is destroyed by ultraviolet radiation from the sun it must have emerged recently. The European Space Agency’s Trace Gas Orbiter at Mars is also pursuing the mysterious source of the methane.
GeekWire.com (6/7): NASA announced Thursday its Curiosity rover on Mars had made two discoveries associated with the search for life on Mars. One was evidence of 3 billion year organic matter drilled from rocks soon after Curiosity landed in August of 2012 and the other was the presence of methane in the thin atmosphere. Though chemical building blocks for life, the organics may have come from a geological rather than a biological source. Methane, a gas that could come from biological or geological processes, rises at the end of the summer season in the Martian northern hemisphere then trails off, suggesting its source is subsurface. Curiosity is exploring Gale Crater, a vast impact crater and lake bed.
Spaceflight Insider (6/4): ExoMars is a joint European/Russian rover mission that is to be launched to the Red Planet in July 2020. Once on the surface, the rover will drill in search of evidence of past or current life. Experts from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center are providing contributions to the key instrument involved in the search, the Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer.
Collectspace.com (6/6): Apollo ReduX, a STEM educational initiative underwritten by NASA, will premiere at the Kansas Cosmodrome with activation of long ago NASA Mission Control computer consoles. A dozen of the consoles from the era will be restored for touring to schools, museums and learning centers.
TASS of Russia (6/7): Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country must capitalize on its historic achievements in space to pursue a future leadership position. Putin participated in a question and answer session on the topic Thursday. The planning includes a new heavy lift rocket.
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