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NASA Mars Space Science

NASA is Sending Bacteria Into the Sky on Balloons During the Eclipse (cnbc.com) 54

An anonymous reader shares a report: As the Moon blocks the Sun's light completely next week in a total solar eclipse, more than 50 high-altitude balloons in over 20 locations across the US will soar up to 100,000 feet in the sky. On board will be Raspberry Pi cameras, weather sensors, and modems to stream live eclipse footage. They'll also have metal tags coated with very hardy bacteria, because NASA wants to know whether they will survive on Mars. Every time we send a rover to the Red Planet, our own microorganisms latch on to them and hitch a ride across space. What happens to these bacteria once they're on Mars? Do they mutate? Do they die? Or can they continue living undisturbed, colonizing worlds other than our own? To answer these questions we need to run experiments here on Earth, and the eclipse on August 21st provides the perfect opportunity. The balloons are being sent up by teams of high school and college students from across the US as part of the Eclipse Ballooning Project, led by Angela Des Jardins of Montana State University. When Jim Greene, the director of planetary science at NASA, first heard that over 50 balloons were being flown to the stratosphere to live stream the eclipse, he couldn't believe his ears. "I said, oh my god, that's like being on Mars!" Greene tells The Verge. NASA couldn't pass on the opportunity.
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NASA is Sending Bacteria Into the Sky on Balloons During the Eclipse

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  • "50 balloons were being flown to the stratosphere to live stream the eclipse, he couldn't believe his ears. "I said, oh my god, that's like being on Mars!""

    Wow. He actually said that out loud?
    • And offended all the women on Venus at the same time.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Those women on Venus are hot though.

    • my first thought exactly. where did he get the idea that mars A- has weather balloons and B - equals our moon blocking out the sun? I really hope its more of a typical bad summary from the /. editors
      • by bondsbw ( 888959 )

        Right, I would think arctic balloons at winter dusk would be a better test.

        • But NASA no longer has enough money to send up balloons. They were grateful to be able to seize this opportunity to hitch a ride on these students' balloons, it's the only way they can get an experiment up to the upper atmosphere these days after all the funding cuts. At least that's what I understood from the summary...

  • Since our moon cannot get between Mars and the Sun, why is this done now?

    • Re:I don't get it (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 15, 2017 @12:36PM (#55018787)

      Since our moon cannot get between Mars and the Sun, why is this done now?

      The eclipse does not matter. What is key is that "balloons were being flown to the stratosphere." In order to test whether bacteria would survive on Mars, the best experiment would be to send up bacteria to a high altitude. Since it just so happens balloons are being sent up to film the eclipse, Jim Greene realized he could just piggyback on that launch without having to arrange his own.

    • Since our moon cannot get between Mars and the Sun, why is this done now?

      Nasa wants everyone to have a good view of the eclipse, even their pet bacteria. They really need to get out of the lab more.

  • They have no ability to grow potatoes on shit.
  • lots of aircraft flying through the eclipse along with some nuts who will try to keep up. yeah, they can't, but they're nuts.
  • Can't wait to hear what the chemtrails loonies have to say about this one.

  • Of course NASA is releasing bacteria into the sky on balloons during the eclipse. It's the fucking end times.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The Kármán line, or Karman line, lies at an altitude [slashdot.org] of 100km (62mi; 330,000ft) above the Earth [slashdot.org]'s sea level [slashdot.org], and commonly represents the boundary between the Earth's atmosphere [slashdot.org] and outer space [slashdot.org].[2] [slashdot.org] This definition is accepted by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale [slashdot.org] (FAI), which is an international standard-setting and record-keeping body for aeronautics [slashdot.org] and astronautics [slashdot.org].

    • by gnick ( 1211984 )

      Balloons encounter difficulty when they run out of atmosphere. Flying contraptions that don't have this difficulty have other complications that make them considerably harder to come by than balloons.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They want to test whether bacteria will survive on Mars, so their goal is to match the temperature/pressure/radiation on Mars, not to match the temperature/pressure/radiation in space.

    • Mars has an atmosphere, it's not outer space.
      It has about half the pressure on the surface as Earth does at 100,000ft

      If you can get up to 120,000ft, the pressure is higher on Mars

  • by Anonymous Coward

    You want to sell your wacko theories? Stick the word Mars in there somewhere. Did you know that Mars is 100% gluten free?

    Seriously, we need to quit with the whole Mars thing. It's just a waste of time, money, and attention span. Nobody alive today will ever relocate to Mars. NASA has said they haven't even started working on landers, habitation, or return vehicles.

  • They die, because there's nothing for them to eat.

    • by mark-t ( 151149 )
      Explain, then, how they survive the trip.
      • In-flight snacks.
      • by Nutria ( 679911 )

        How long can bacteria survive in a hostile environment (for the definition of "hostile" specific to that bacteria) without food (for the definition of "food" specific to that bacteria)?

        Even if they go into hibernation/stasis because of the harsh environment on the trip, what would prompt them to revivify when they reach the equally harsh environment of Mars?

        Thus: are there bacteria that can eat perchlorates and breathe CO2? If not, then there's little worry that we'll accidentally contaminate Mars.

        • by mark-t ( 151149 )
          Compared to space, even the harsh environment of Mars is positively balmy
          • by Nutria ( 679911 )

            That doesn't answer the question, "are there bacteria that can eat perchlorates and breathe CO2?"

            • by mark-t ( 151149 )
              "eating" and "breathing" are functions of more complex life forms than what we are talking about here. There are organisms that can survive, and even thrive, practically anywhere in space, even on the moon. The CO2 martian atmosphere and the toxicity of its soil would not be any danger to them at all.
              • by Nutria ( 679911 )

                "eating" and "breathing" are functions of more complex life forms than what we are talking about here.

                Bacteria most certainly do eat, even though there's no mastication or alimentary canal, and the definitely do breathe, even though it's called respiration.

                There are organisms that can survive, and even thrive, practically anywhere in space, even on the moon.

                The gig's up. Now I know you're trying to troll me.

                • by mark-t ( 151149 )
                  Clearly you didn't even *TRY* to google [lmgtfy.com] it.
                  • by Nutria ( 679911 )

                    LOL.

                    Clearly, you didn't even try to read https://www.space.com/11536-moon-microbe-mystery-solved-apollo-12.html [space.com]?

                    "The claim that a microbe survived 2.5 years on the moon was flimsy, at best, even by the standards of the time," said John Rummel, chairman of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) Panel on Planetary Protection. "The claim never passed peer review, yet has persisted in the press -- and on the Internet -- ever since." [Coolest New Moon Discoveries]

                    The Surveyor 3 camera-team thought they had detected a microbe that had lived on the moon for all those years, "but they only detected their own contamination," Rummel told SPACE.com.

                    • by mark-t ( 151149 )

                      Touche, but since we are talking about Mars and providing references: how [astrobio.net] about [universetoday.com] these [the-scientist.com]? The last one even explicitly mentions microbes that can survive on perchlorates.

                      It's a fairly safe bet that the environment of Mars will not pose any threat to the types of life that could survive the journey unprotected, in the vacuum of space, far colder than even the coldest night on Mars.

                    • by Nutria ( 679911 )

                      See, that wasn't so hard!

  • I haven't RTFA so will just jump in with a comment (like everybody else). There might be some science, perhaps inspiring youth can get hands-on experience that includes defining the experiment, gathering resources, arguing with others on payload (balloon can't carry everybody's favorite package), design tradeoffs, performing useful tests, meeting deadlines, pulling a lot of allnighters and not freak-out when things don't go according to plan. But predicting the flight and have the balloon stay in the area o
  • I suspect Earth and Mars cross-contamination by microbes exists even without NASA's help.
  • ...the eclipse presents an environment that is exactly like Mars, so the data is very important. And, no, we're not sending anything else up for any other reasons and not giving details on it, either.

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