Google+ Mars Travel: August 2011

Mars Photo of the Day - Aug 31 2011

Today's Mars Photo is a panoramic showing the remarkable geological smorgasbord around Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity at Odyssey Crater This photo was taken directly from The Road to Endeavour Blog and is the combination of the photos taken by Opportunity's panoramic camera on Sol 2699. To see the original, larger, and zoomable image, simply click on the image itself.

Press Release: Media Teleconference About Mars Rover Opportunity Set for Sept 1

Dwayne Brown     
Headquarters, Washington
Guy Webster
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Aug. 30, 2011


NASA Announces Media Teleconference About Opportunity Rover
PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA will host a media teleconference on Thursday, Sept. 1, at 12:30 p.m. PDT to discuss progress of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. Opportunity reached the Martian Endeavour crater earlier this month after years of driving.

The teleconference participants are:

-- Dave Lavery, program executive, Mars Exploration Rovers, NASA Headquarters, Washington
-- Steve Squyres, principal investigator, Mars Exploration Rovers, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
-- Ray Arvidson, deputy principal investigator, Mars Exploration Rovers, Washington University in St. Louis.
-- John Callas, project manager, Mars Exploration Rovers, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif.

To participate in the teleconference, reporters must contact the JPL Media Relations Office at 818-354-5011 not later than 11 a.m. on Thursday for the call-in number and passcode.

Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, completed their three-month prime missions on Mars in April 2004. They continued to work for years in bonus mission extensions. Spirit finished communicating in 2010, after six years of operation.

Opportunity, still very active, reached the rim of Endeavour crater on Aug. 9. The arrival gives the rover access to geology different from any it explored during its first 90 months on Mars.

For live audio streaming of the teleconference, visit:

More information about the twin rovers, visit:
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Mars Photo of the Day - Aug 30 2011

Today's Mars Photo is of Tisdale-1 as taken by the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity on Sol 2694. The right side of Tisdale-1 seems to be very smooth, though broken up by the veins that scar the entire rock. This implies a high level of heat (likely from impact by the meteorite that created Endeavour Crater) may have fused different rocks together, thus making this a composite rock like the other Tisdales, which is likely why it is in that category in the first place. The veins on the surface throughout imply some form of erosion that took place after the formation of the rock, but by what we can only speculate.

Click the image to see the enlarged version from NASA.

Mars Photo of the Day - Aug 29 2011

Today's Mars Photo is of Tisdale-5, a rock in close proximity to the original Tisdale. This rock is one of the more oddly shaped rocks in the area and seems to have been eroded significantly over the past millions (or billions) of years. We are left to wonder why the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity's team decided to group many rocks under the name Tisdale, but it is likely because the team believes the rocks have similar composition. This photo came directly from The Road to Endeavour blog and the full size image can be seen just by clicking on the image below.

I failed to post a photo yesterday (Aug 28 2011) because I got caught up in Hurricane Irene and my power and Internet are out. I found a hot spot to post today's Mars Photo of the Day. Hopefully I'll be able to post more regarding developments toward Mars travel and exploration when my Internet is restored tomorrow. Thanks for your patience!

Mars Photo of the Day - Aug 27 2011

Today's Mars Photo was taken by Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity back on Sol 712. I feel it is important to remember that Opportunity has taken a long winding road to get to Endeavour Crater. This photo shows one of the many paths made by Opportunity. To see the original image simply click on it.

Mars Photo of the Day - Aug 26 2011

Today's Mars Photo was taken by Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity's navigation camera on Sol 2695 (two days ago). It shows an area along the rim of Endeavour Crater that likely contains material ejected on the impact that created the crater. Whether Opportunity will examine the rocks in this image is uncertain, but the Mars rover will likely spend a while on Tisdale (The rock from which this photo was likely taken). To see the original image simply click below.

Mars Photo of the Day - Aug 25 2011

Today's Mars Photo was taken by Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity's Microscopic Imager on Sol 2694 (~ two days ago). This shows a portion of Tisdale that seems to lend credence to the speculation that the rock is a conglomerate that was fused together by the impact that created Endeavour Crater. While this is not verified it seems the most likely scenario. To see the original image simply click below.

China's First Mars Probe Set for October Launch

China's first Mars probe is on course to launch in October of this year. Yinghuo-1 (萤火一号) is a joint operation with Russia and will search for the causes behind the disappearance of water on Mars.

There is substantial evidence that water was once abundant on Mars (see below), but the precise reason for its disappearance has until now only been speculation.
Evidence of Water in Ravi Vallis
Areas where evidence for water is found
 in the form of outflow channels

Outflow channels, like this one seen in Ares Vallis are seen
as evidence that water once flowed on the Martian surface.

Mars Photo of the Day - Aug 24 2011

Today's Mars Photo is of  Ophir Chasma, the northern most connected valleys of Valles Marineris, a huge canyon system that is 5,000 km (~3106 mi) long. Ophir Chasma is about 100 km (62 mi) wide and 317 km (197 mi) long and bordered by high-walled cliffs, which are thought to be faults. For more details on the image and to view the original, just click the image. 
Taken by Viking 1 Orbiter

Earliest Life on Earth is Evidence Life Could Exist on Mars

Often it is discoveries made about life on Earth that allow us to draw new conclusions about potential life on other planets. This was the case with the discovery late last year that arsenic can support life, and it continues to be the case with the most recent discovery of 3.4 billion year old micro-fossils in the remote Strelley Pool region of Australia.

The discovery is significant not just because the fossils are the oldest ever found, but because 3.4 billion years ago there was little, if any oxygen in the atmosphere. Given the conditions of Earth at the time, it is thought that the life would  have thrived on sulphur, metabolizing it for energy. This is being taken as evidence that life can exist without oxygen, and so could conceivably exist on other planets that do not have oxygen rich atmospheres, like Mars. Learning that oxygen is not a prerequisite to life will force scientists to reassess the necessary parameters for what constitutes a hospitable environment.

What This Discovery Means About Life on Mars

The discovery that life existed without oxygen on Earth opens the door to the possibility that life existed, or still exists, on Mars. Martin Brasier of Oxford University, who was one of the scientists who made the discovery, speculates, "Could these sorts of things exist on Mars? It's just about conceivable. This evidence is certainly encouraging, and lack of oxygen on Mars is not a problem." With NASA having just discovered evidence of flowing water on Mars, there is hope that Mars has life as well.
If life existed on Earth without oxygen it is entirely conceivable that the same is true of Mars. Perhaps Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity will find life on Mars, though it is more likely we will have to wait until the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity lands at Gale Crater and begins testing for signs of life.
This most recent discovery is just one of many that can now be added to the arguments for life on Mars. We can argue all we want about whether life exists on Mars and other planets, but until we find some there will be no winner of that debate.

Mars Photo of the Day - Aug 23 2011

Today's Mars Photo is of the floor of Hellas Basin, as taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE camera on December 26, 2009. These are just some of the many fascinating landforms found on Mars. Click the image to see the original HiRISE Image.

Mars Photo of the Day - Aug 22 2011

Today's Mars Photo is of Tisdale rock again, but this time the image shows just how close NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is to the rock. The photo was taken yesterday (Sol 2692). The Mars rover has likely begun performing tests as it attempts to learn more about the mysterious rock.
Photo of Tisdale Taken by MER Opportunity's Front HazCam on Sol 2692

Instigating a New Space Race

Is a new space race beginning?

With the head of the European Space Agency (ESA), Jean-Jacques Dordain, pledging to work together with the Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA) to send the first manned mission to Mars, one must wonder if the next space race has been initiated. [Europe and Russia Pledge to Send Man to Mars]

NASA recently cancelled their planned Constellation program, which would have attempted to put a permanent base on the moon in the 2020s in order to eventually use it as a launching platform for deep space missions. Instead they have made it their goal to put man on an asteroid by 2025 and a man on Mars by 2035.

Will actually beginning preparation for a joint European-Russian mission to Mars push up the priority of a similar mission in the United States? Will there be a competition between nations to get to Mars first?

ESA chief Dordain seems to have chosen the opportune time to announce this joint mission, as NASA's shuttle program just reached completion. The speculation is abound that this announcement will spark a new space race, with NASA on one end and the ESA and RKA on the other.

The benefits of sending the first men to Mars are immeasurable, as the organization to do so would be given great prestige throughout the scientific community. They would also be able to perform tests that rovers are unable to. The first organizations to accomplish sending men to Mars would also have a head start on all future Martian development.

The next few months may see the start of a new space race, as the ESA and RKA's joint plans mature more and a timeline is created. If they develop a reasonable plan of action it may drive NASA to push their program up in order to get to Mars first. For now this is all just hope and speculation, but we have nothing without hope.

I think the biggest question is the how big a role corporations like SpaceX will play in the upcoming space race and future Mars travel and development.

Mars Photo of the Day - Aug 21 2011

Today's Mars Photo was taken by Mars by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE camera on Oct 3 2007. The image is of Earth and the Moon, as seen from Mars. This would be very similar to the view a person on Mars would be able to have.
Click the Image to See More Details and Other Images from HiRISE

Mars Photo of the Day - Aug 20 2011

Today's Mars photo is of Santa Maria Crater. If you look closely enough you can see Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity on the crater's Southwest (lower right) rim. You can also clearly see rover tracks to the East left). Opportunity explored the crater from December 2010-March 2011, as it made its way toward Endeavour Crater. If you can't find Mars Rover Opportunity in this photo or want to learn more about this image, click the photo.
Taken by HiRISE on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

Europe and Russia Pledge to Send Man to Mars

On Aug 17 2011 the head of the European Space Agency (ESA), Jean-Jacques Dordain, announced that they would partner with the Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA) to "carry out the first flight to Mars together." The head of the RKA, Vladimir Popovkin welcomed the pledge. 
This commitment comes as the Euro-Russian Mars500 experiment comes to completion in November. Dordain does not set a time frame, but says that the Mars500 experiment has been a factor in the decision for the ESA and RKA's pledge to send a manned mission to Mars. 
The Mars500 program was initiated on June 03 2010 by the Moscow Institute of Medical and Biological Problems in order to simulate a mission to Mars. The experiment simulates a 250 day journey to Mars, a 30 day stay on The Red Planet, and a 240 day return flight.  Mars500 simulates emergency situations that a manned mission to Mars might encounter and attempts to accurately determine how well humans can cope with a trip to and from Mars.
The spacecraft's crew is led by 38 year old engineer Alexei Sitev, and also includes Russian surgeon Sukhrob Kamolov, 32, and Russian general practitioner Alexander Smolevsky, 33. Non-Russian crew members include Italian Diego Urbina, 27, China's Wang Yue, 27, and the Roman Charles from France, 31.
The Crew of Mars500 in their mock spacecraft Source: ESA
Dordain's commitment to Mars travel is something to be expected, as the United States' NASA has set a goal of setting a man on Mars by the mid 2030s. The competition that this new announcement might bring could help increase the priority of a manned mission to Mars and push up the date. It would bring great prestige to the nation that could land the first man on Mars, much like the moon landing helped to solidify NASA's leadership in space.
A time frame for a joint Euro-Russian mission to Mars has yet to be set by the ESA or RKA, but as Mars500 culminates there will likely be an announcement on the matter. Igor Lisov, an analyst for the Moscow-based journal Novosti Kosmonavtike (Cosmonautic News) gave his own estimation of the time frame to the Voice of Russia saying "If they decide to implement an emergency program, the mission may be carried out in 10 years. If it is an ordinary one, then it will take 20 years. This is a long period of time." While this is not an official statement from either agency, it provides hope for those hoping to see a man on Mars in their lifetime. 
Cooperation between the two space agencies when it comes to Mars is not unprecedented. Both agencies, as well as NASA, have worked together since 2006 to develop EkzoMars (ExoMars), a Mars rover that will be launched from a Russian Proton Rocket in 2013 and supplied with both Russian and European equipment. 
ExoMars Rover
 It is firmly believed in Russian and Europe that future success with Mars travel and exploration will be made by working together. There are sure to be some exciting developments and/or announcements in the coming months as the Mars500 simulation comes to an end! 

Mars Photo of the Day - Aug 19 2011

Today's Mars photo is of the slab of rock that Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is set to begin examining. This rock has been given the name Tisdale and many expect that Opportunity will spend at least the next few days there, examining the rock itself and the surrounding area. Tisdale has been a target for the MER team since Opportunity first rolled up to Odyssey Crater.
Tisdale as taken from NASA's Panoramic camera on Sol 2688
Click the photo to go to see all of NASA's photos of Tisdale from Sol 2688.

Mars Photo of the Day - Aug 18 2011

Today's Mars photo is of a 'skylight,' or an opening to an underground cavern, located in a crater on the Pavonis Mons volcano. The opening is 35 meters (115 feet) in diameter. These types of underground caverns often form in volcanic regions where lava flows solidify near the surface, but continue flowing underneath (the resulting structure is commonly referred to as a lava tube). When the lava ceases flowing the caverns are left empty. In this particular instance the cavern has been determined to be approximately 20 meters (65 feet) deep.

Image taken by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (Click Image for More Details)

Why NASA's Manned Mission to Mars Will Happen

Most people know that NASA recently ended the shuttle program and abandoned all plans to return to the moon. but what you may not know is that NASA has launched a much more ambitious mission. a Manned Mission to Mars. Many people do not believe any such plans will ever come to fruition; they look at the recent cuts to NASA and feel that only more will come. Many people look at the scrapped lunar mission and fear that the same will become of any future attempts at manned Mars travel. So what is the difference? Why will the a manned mission to Mars become reality when so many other projects have gone out the window? And better yet, why travel to Mars?

Getting to Mars is More Important than Going Back to the Moon


What's the point of taking a test that you already aced? What is there to prove by doing something you have already done? NASA going back to the Moon is the equivalent of you making your bed. You learned how to do that in your childhood, and it is expected that you should be able to do it now.

The Importance of Mars Rover Opportunity's New Mission

A few days ago Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity finally reached Odyssey Crater, which lies within the much larger Endeavour Crater. This is a huge milestone for the Mars rover, which has performed longer and traveled further on the Martian surface than anyone would have though possible when it landed in January 2004.

The question now is, what is so significant about Endeavour Crater? Why has Mars Rover Opportunity spent the last three years trying to get there? NASA and other people following the mission are excited, but the average person probably has no idea why. How is Mars Rover Opportunity's new location any different than its previous ones? What is its mission?

Endeavour Crater
Endeavour Crater is the largest crater ever explored by Mars Rover Opportunity and contains older geological deposits than it has ever encountered. This will allow Opportunity to get a better sense of how long there was water on the Martian surface and will even provide insight as to the quantity. That is simple enough; as the Mars rover did that in other craters as well; what is exceptional about Endeavour Crater is found around its rim.

What Makes This Mission Different

Mars Rover Opportunity has examined a large number of rocks and samples of Martian soil since it landed in January of 2004, but it has never encountered rocks like those found around Endeavour Crater. In the past Opportunity has examined clays that show signs of being formed under wet conditions, but when the Mars rover determined their chemical composition it was determined that they were very acidic. What makes Endeavour crater different is the composition of the clays surrounding it.

Mars Photo of the Day - Aug 17 2011

Today's Mars photo is of slope features on Newton Crater. You may remember that Newton Crater was one of the sites where NASA found evidence of flowing water on Mars. This photo was just one of many that was analyzed and used as evidence of flowing brine water on Mars. For more information on Newton Crater and the evidence of flowing water on Mars, just click the image.
Taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera
See other photos of Newton Crater from the HiRISE camera

Mars Photo of the Day - Aug 16 2011

Today's Mars Photo was taken by Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity on Sol 2686. Today is Sol 2687 since Opportunity began its mission. This photo was taken around the perimeter of Endeavour Crater near the much smaller Odyssey Crater. These are just some of the rocks that Opportunity will be examining in the coming weeks. For the latest information about Mars Rover Opportunity's findings and mission, just click the image.

Mars Photo of the Day - Aug 15 2011

Today's Mars Photo is of Chasma Boreale, a long deep valley with walls that rise over 1400 meters (4600 feet) above the floor of the plain. The valley cuts deep into the Mars' north polar ice cap. The large valley was once covered in ice, but the ice caps have since retreated. To see the original source for this image just click the image itself. 
This image combines photos taken from December 2002 to February 2005 by the Thermal Emission Imaging System instrument on NASA's Mars Odyssey Orbiter.  

Mars Photo of the Day - Aug 14 2011

Today's Mars Photo was taken by Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity on Sol 821 (which was in early 2006) of its mission to Meridiani Planum. The photo shows ice on the Martian surface. For more information about the latest developments made by Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity click the photo.
Taken by Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity's Left Navigation Camera

Mars Photo of the Day - Aug 13 2011

Today's Mars photo is of Olympus Mons, the tallest known mountain and volcano in the solar system. At an estimated height of anywhere between 21-29 km, Olympus Mons is about three times as tall as Mount Everest. The whole mountain covers an area that is approximately the size of Arizona. 
Olympus Mons photo originally taken by Viking 1 on June 22 1978

NASA Creates New Department for Human Deep Space Exploration

Today NASA created a new department, the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate, which combines all the resources and missions from the Space Operations and Exploration Systems departments. The head of the new organization is Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenmaie, the former associate administrator for the Space Operations department.

The HEO Mission Directorate has already taken over all operations necessary for supporting the International Space Station. Following a transition time of several weeks, HEO Mission Directorate will take over many operations, including the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and a spacecraft with capabilities of travelling beyond low-Earth Orbit.
Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle Being Assembled and Tested

The new HEO Mission Directorate will also focus on developing the commercial space industry in hopes that private companies can take over many of the low-orbit operations performed by NASA and other countries' government-run space agencies. Contracts have already been signed with some private space companies to do just that, one example being the contract signed with SpaceX to resupply to the ISS.  NASA will help fund private research and development so private space companies can begin sending people and cargo into low-Earth orbit. This will let NASA focus on more deep space projects.

"America is opening a bold new chapter in human space exploration," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden asserted in statement. "By combining the resources of Space Operations and Exploration Systems, and creating the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, we are recommitting ourselves to American leadership in space for years to come."

The opening of this new directorate gives great hope for the future of Mars travel because if NASA wants to work on human exploration of space they will likely go to Mars first, since it is the closest planet to our own. 

The creation of the HEO Mission Directorate coincides with President Obama's goal for NASA of putting humans on an asteroid by 2025 and on Mars by the mid 2030s. It remains to be seen whether the formation of NASA's latest office will provide direction and leadership for America's human spaceflight program. 

Press Release: NASA Creates New Department for Deep Space Missions

Below is a press release in which NASA announces the creation of a New Department for Deep Space Missions.

Joshua Buck
Headquarters, Washington  
August 12, 2011

RELEASE : 11-264
NASA Creates Human Exploration And Operations Directorate
WASHINGTON -- NASA has announced the creation of the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate. The new organization, which combines the Space Operations and Exploration Systems mission directorates, will focus on International Space Station operations and human exploration beyond low Earth orbit.

"America is opening a bold new chapter in human space exploration," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "By combining the resources of Space Operations and Exploration Systems, and creating the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, we are recommitting ourselves to American leadership in space for years to come."

The new organization combines the talents, skills and experiences of the two previous directorates. It more fully integrates the operation of NASA's in-space assets and current capabilities with planning for the agency's future, including the size and type of the work force, facilities and contracts.

While the transition and personnel assignments will take several weeks to finalize, the HEO Mission Directorate already is supporting space station operations. The directorate also will manage commercial crew and cargo developmental programs; construction of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, a spacecraft designed to travel beyond low Earth orbit; development of a new heavy lift rocket, known as the Space Launch System; and other programs within the directorates.

Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier will head the new organization. He previously served as the associate administrator for Space Operations.

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit: