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Mars NASA Space Science

NASA Looking For Ideas To Explore Mars 176

Posted by samzenpus
from the a-little-help-here dept.
ZeroExistenZ writes "NASA plans to make another trip to Mars in 2018 for which they want to devise a plan by this summer. To come up with ideas for this mission, they turn to the public to tackle a few challenge areas. Participants must submit a brief abstract (no more than two pages) outlining the idea, and indicating in which of the topical areas the idea belongs. Abstracts are due no later than 5:00 p.m. U.S. Central Daylight Time May 10, 2012."
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NASA Looking For Ideas To Explore Mars

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2012 @06:49PM (#39696065)

    Given that they only recently pulled funding for ExoMars, nearly screwing over a lot of people in Europe (thanks, Russia, by the way) it's a bit hard to believe they're just saying "eh, we want to do our own thing again".

    Sort it out, NASA.

  • by hde226868 (906048) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @07:11PM (#39696189) Homepage
    I would assume that it is something similar to what NASA did with the ESA L-class missions last year, where they also pulled out and then held scientific workshops. NASA's problem is that it has no money to participate in ExoMars or the L-class missions, and that's why they pulled out of ExoMars. However, legally speaking NASA is required to follow the decadal reports, and the planetary one recommend Mars research. This then led to the schizophrenic situation that they have held workshops for ideas on how to do gravitational wave research (LISA), X-ray astronomy (IXO), and now apparently Mars, where they previously pulled out of all joint ventures with ESA and JAXA. However, the good thing is that with the recommendation from the decadal reports and the results from such workshops the scientists at NASA headquarters have an argument that spending some money for R&D in these areas is necessary, because they can prove need. As a result this important research does not die. There is money for general R&D in the budget, so while some larger programs have been explicitly canceled by either OMB or congress, the Mars/X-ray/gravitational wave research can at least be partially funded this way.

    I'd not blame NASA for this but rather congress, which tends to try to exert strong control over NASA, which in many areas really amounts to micro-managing projects, without Congress really understanding what it is doing...

  • Re:Step by step. (Score:5, Informative)

    by DanielRavenNest (107550) on Sunday April 15, 2012 @08:09PM (#39696519)

    A more complete step by step plan. Robotic/Automated/Remote controlled equipment is used throughout to prepare the way ahead of large numbers of humans:

    (1) Advanced Manufacturing - Using modular automated systems that can bootstrap much of their own construction. This has a goal of lowering manufacturing cost by a large factor. It is first used on Earth to build the factories to build the first space systems, and then later used in space to leverage local energy and materials resources.

    (2) Hypervelocity Launcher - This is a low development cost device for launching bulk cargo. Delicate cargo and humans still travel by conventional rockets. At the moment there is enough cost savings to justify such a launcher, but if other vehicles get cheap enough, it may not be needed.

    (3) Orbital Assembly - Assemble larger space systems from smaller components launched from Earth, or later manufactured in space. Smaller components means you can use smaller launch systems from Earth, which have lower startup cost.

    (4) Electric Thrusters - These have about 10 times the fuel efficiency of existing rockets, and enable highly leveraged mining and processing.

    (5) Orbital Mining - Mining small asteroids in orbits close to the Earth for raw materials. The mass return ratio is so high, especially with getting fuel from the next step, it dramatically affects all subsequent cost.

    (6) Processing Factory - Converts raw materials mined in space into useful inventory such as fuel, oxygen, structural parts, etc.

    (7) Space Elevator - This allows using the highly efficient electric thrusters in place of rockets for much of the transport job in gravity wells, starting with the Earth's.

    (8) Human Transport - This improves the methods for transporting humans and cargo which cannot withstand the high acceleration of the hypervelocity launcher.

    (9) Lunar Development - With our in-space infrastructure well developed, we can now access the Moon in a robust fashion and start to use it's relatively large mass and surface area.

    (10) Interplanetary Development - Transfer habitats in orbits between Earth and Mars. Since they don't move, they can have heavy shielding and greenhouses. Crews use small vehicles to get from habitat to planet orbit at each end of the trip

    (11) Mars Development - Use materials from Phobos to build elevator to Mars surface, and start to build up Mars.

    More details here: http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Space_Transport_and_Engineering_Methods/Combined_Systems [wikibooks.org]

  • by jd (1658) <imipak&yahoo,com> on Sunday April 15, 2012 @08:27PM (#39696613) Homepage Journal

    Surface and sub-surface mapping is easy. LADAR gives you the surface map, thermal imaging (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-13518143 and http://thermal-imaging-blog.com/index.php/2011/06/06/finding-pyramids/#.T4tWe9Xe4tY [thermal-imaging-blog.com]) gives you subsurface structures and a good idea of what the composition is.

    Triage is more complex but doable. Different materials allow radio through at different velocities and refract at different angles, so a simple system is to use a GPR setup with multiple receivers. If you know the difference in time it takes to transmit a signal from A to B through one medium versus another, plus what appears to be behind what when you look at one point versus another, then you know enough. (This is because we can reproduce the minerals we do know are on Mars and can therefore know what those look like using such technology in advance. The stuff you'd want to triage is stuff that doesn't fit with behaviours we'd expect to see.)

    But GPR is energy-intensive. No big deal - if it's a triage, you know the general area, you're wanting specifics. Since moving to a location is going to take days by rover, you can afford to triage by any process that consumes as much power as your solar cells can gather in that time. You can afford for it to be wasteful, because you don't have to carry more than one target area's worth of power at any one time and can recharge the batteries between runs.

    The original scans have to be a lot more conservative, since you need to perform an unknown amount of surveying and therefore cannot use more power than you can gather in the same amount of time, but isolating a point out of a fixed, small area is going to be a brief, infrequent task. The quality therefore matters far more than the power requirements, when you're working that way round.

    Identifying organics will be hard without some sort of spectral analysis. The detection of methane in the past is only significant if that methane was produced by biochemical process rather than an inorganic process, and that is currently unknown. Further, it's only important if the organic found is ALSO an organic relating to such methane production. Terrestrial biochemistry is highly diverse, so there's no such guarantee. Assuming you were looking for those specific organisms, however, life operates with a negative feedback system. Thus, if a process produces X then as the concentration of X increases the production must decrease. X will eventually become toxic to the process. Since we've seen methane and the Viking landers saw CO2 production, you might want to take methane and CO2 along. By repeating the Viking experiment with differing, controlled levels of initial CO2 and methane, you should determine if a negative feedback loop exists. If you saturate, run the experiment then return to a known previous unsaturated state an inorganic system -might- produce the same response as it did in that same state previously. An organic system is guaranteed not to, since you created an environment that was toxic.

    There's one catch. This requires spectral analysis and the requirement said you can't do that. True, all chemical responses (organic or inorganic) will also produce a heat signature (2nd Law of Thermodynamics) but ALL the chemistry will be producing heat and you will have NO idea what fraction might be biochemical and therefore NO means of predicting what level of reduction in activity is significant. (If 1% of the activity might be biochemical, you're looking at a very different level of difference being significant than if 90% might be biochemical.) If you can't construct a hypothesis H1 in the first place, you cannot establish how likely it is if what you are seeing is H1 or H0.

    There are techniques for extracting proteins in biochemistry. IIRC, you need them to be in a solution, you add various solvents and reagents and then you filter. Then you're just measuring the mass of that part of the filter vs. the expected

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