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NASA announces details for its Asteroid Redirect Mission; Next Steps towards Mars

 

Written by David E. Steitz
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA Wednesday announced more details in its plan for its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which in the mid-2020s will test a number of new capabilities needed for future human expeditions to deep space, including to Mars. NASA also announced it has increased the detection of near-Earth Asteroids by 65 percent since launching its asteroid initiative three years ago.

For ARM, a robotic spacecraft will capture a boulder from the surface of a near-Earth asteroid and move it into a stable orbit around the moon for exploration by astronauts, all in support of advancing the nation’s journey to Mars.

The Asteroid Redirect Vehicle, part of NASA's Asteroid Initiative concept, is shown traveling to lunar orbit using its solar electric propulsion system in this artist's concept. (NASA)

The Asteroid Redirect Vehicle, part of NASA’s Asteroid Initiative concept, is shown traveling to lunar orbit using its solar electric propulsion system in this artist’s concept. (NASA)

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NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory completes spin-up procedure

 

Written by Alan Buis
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have commanded the 20-foot (6-meter) reflector antenna on NASA’s new Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory to begin spinning for the first time. The partial spin-up is a key step in commissioning the satellite in preparation for science operations.

Last week, mission controllers sent commands to release the locking mechanism that prevented the observatory’s spun instrument assembly — the part that spins — from rotating during launch and deployment of the reflector. The spun instrument assembly includes the spin control electronics, radiometer instrument and reflector antenna.

NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission will produce high-resolution global maps of soil moisture to track water availability around our planet and guide policy decisions. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission will produce high-resolution global maps of soil moisture to track water availability around our planet and guide policy decisions. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Mars Rover Opportunity celebrates surpassing Marathon Distance on March 24th, 2015

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – There was no tape draped across a finish line, but NASA is celebrating a win. The agency’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity completed its first Red Planet marathon Tuesday — 26.219 miles (42.195 kilometers) – with a finish time of roughly 11 years and two months.

“This is the first time any human enterprise has exceeded the distance of a marathon on the surface of another world,” said John Callas, Opportunity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “A first time happens only once.”

Cumulative driving by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity surpassed marathon distance on March 24, 2015, as the rover neared a destination called "Marathon Valley," which is middle ground of this dramatic view from early March. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Cumulative driving by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity surpassed marathon distance on March 24, 2015, as the rover neared a destination called “Marathon Valley,” which is middle ground of this dramatic view from early March. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover discovers Nitrogen on Mars

 

Written by Nancy Neal-Jones / William Steigerwald
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationGreenbelt, MD – A team using the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite aboard NASA’s Curiosity rover has made the first detection of nitrogen on the surface of Mars from release during heating of Martian sediments.

The nitrogen was detected in the form of nitric oxide, and could be released from the breakdown of nitrates during heating. Nitrates are a class of molecules that contain nitrogen in a form that can be used by living organisms. The discovery adds to the evidence that ancient Mars was habitable for life.

This self-portrait of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) during the 177th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (Feb. 3, 2013), plus three exposures taken during Sol 270 (May 10, 2013) to update the appearance of part of the ground beside the rover.

This self-portrait of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) during the 177th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars (Feb. 3, 2013), plus three exposures taken during Sol 270 (May 10, 2013) to update the appearance of part of the ground beside the rover.

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NASA reformats Mars Rover Opportunity’s onboard Flash Memory

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – After avoiding use of the rover’s flash memory for three months, the team operating NASA’s 11-year-old Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has reformatted the vehicle’s flash memory banks and resumed storing some data overnight for transmitting later.

The team received confirmation from Mars on March 20th that the reformatting completed successfully. The rover switched to updated software earlier this month that will avoid using one of the seven banks of onboard flash memory.

This view from NASA's Opportunity Mars rover shows part of "Marathon Valley" as seen from an overlook north of the valley. It was taken by the rover's Pancam on March 13, 2015. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.)

This view from NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover shows part of “Marathon Valley” as seen from an overlook north of the valley. It was taken by the rover’s Pancam on March 13, 2015. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.)

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NASA to launch Magnetospheric Multiscale mission to study explosions in Earth’s Magnetic Field

 

Written by Dr. Tony Phillips
Science at NASA

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – Magnetic reconnection could be the Universe’s favorite way to make things explode.

It operates anywhere magnetic fields pervade space–which is to say almost everywhere. In the cores of galaxies, magnetic reconnection sparks explosions visible billions of light-years away. On the sun, it causes solar flares as powerful as a million atomic bombs. At Earth, it powers magnetic storms and auroras. It’s ubiquitous.

The problem is, researchers can’t explain it.

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NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft discovers Dust Cloud and Aurora in Mars’ Atmosphere

 

Written by Dwayne Brown
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft has observed two unexpected phenomena in the Martian atmosphere: an unexplained high-altitude dust cloud and aurora that reaches deep into the Martian atmosphere.

The presence of the dust at orbital altitudes from about 93 miles (150 kilometers) to 190 miles (300 kilometers) above the surface was not predicted. Although the source and composition of the dust are unknown, there is no hazard to MAVEN and other spacecraft orbiting Mars.

Artist’s conception of MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS) observing the “Christmas Lights Aurora" on Mars. MAVEN observations show that aurora on Mars is similar to Earth’s "Northern Lights" but has a different origin. (University of Colorado)

Artist’s conception of MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS) observing the “Christmas Lights Aurora” on Mars. MAVEN observations show that aurora on Mars is similar to Earth’s “Northern Lights” but has a different origin. (University of Colorado)

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NASA reports Alzheimer’s disease research to be conducted on International Space Station

 

Written by Rachel Molina
Science at NASA

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – Alzheimer’s disease is a global problem. In the United States alone, more than 5 million people have the disease and a new diagnosis is made every 67 seconds—numbers that are just a fraction of worldwide totals. Among medical researchers, Alzheimer’s is a top priority.

Researchers working with astronauts on the International Space Station are embarking on a mission to discover the origin of Alzheimer’s. Although the details are still a little fuzzy, researchers believe that Alzheimer’s and similar diseases advance when certain proteins in the brain assemble themselves into long fibers that accumulate and ultimately strangle nerve cells in the brain.

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NASA to launch Expandable Habitat to International Space station

 

NASA

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA and Bigelow Aerospace are preparing to launch an expandable habitat module to the International Space Station this year. The agency joined Bigelow Thursday at its Las Vegas facility to mark completion of the company’s major milestones.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, leverages key innovations in lightweight and compact materials, departing from a traditional rigid metallic structure. In its packed configuration aboard SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft launched on a Falcon 9 rocket, the module will measure approximately 8 feet in diameter.

William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations, and Jason Crusan, director of the agency's advanced exploration systems division, view the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module at Bigelow’s facility in Las Vegas on March 12th. (Stephanie Schierholz)

William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations, and Jason Crusan, director of the agency’s advanced exploration systems division, view the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module at Bigelow’s facility in Las Vegas on March 12th. (Stephanie Schierholz)

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NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) gets ready to monitor soil’s freeze, thaw cycles

 

Written by Alan Buis
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Those who feel as though they’ve been living in the never-ending winter of the movie “Frozen” this year may be glad to hear that the spring thaw is now typically arriving up to two weeks earlier in the Northern Hemisphere than it did 20 to 30 years ago.

But the changing date of the spring thaw has consequences far beyond reducing the number of mornings when you have to scrape off your windshield.

One ecosystem where scientists would most like to understand the effects of changing freeze/thaw cycles is boreal forests, the great ring of green covering the land nearest the North Pole.

SMAP will monitor the frozen or thawed state of the global landscape north of 45 degrees north latitude. (UCAR/Carlye Calvin)

SMAP will monitor the frozen or thawed state of the global landscape north of 45 degrees north latitude. (UCAR/Carlye Calvin)

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