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Mars Space NASA

NASA Launches a New Mission To Mars (cnn.com) 73

"This is a big day. We're going back to Mars," said one NASA official, presiding over this morning's launch of the first Mars surface craft to lift off since 2011. CNN reports: The Atlas V 401 rocket also carried two suitcase-size spacecraft, designed to orbit Mars, as it blasted into the dark and cloudy sky, which turned bright gold for seconds as the rocket ascended in a plume of smoke... After a six-month journey, if it all goes as planned, InSight -- whose name is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport -- will touch down just north of the Martian equator on November 26, joining five other NASA spacecraft operating on and above Mars.

The 790-pound (358-kilogram) probe will then begin its two-year science mission to seek the "fingerprints" of the processes that formed the rocky planets of the solar system. It will measure the planet's "vital signs: 'its "pulse' (seismology), 'temperature' (heat flow) and 'reflexes' (precision tracking)," according to NASA. The explorer doesn't have wheels, so it can't roll around gathering up dirt to study. But it does have a 7.8-foot-long (2.4-meter) robotic arm. The arm will place a seismometer on the ground to detect "marsquakes" (think earthquakes, but on Mars, of course). InSight also will burrow 10 to 16 feet into the crust of Mars, going 15 times deeper than any previous Martian mission, according to NASA.

The rocket is carrying two briefcase-sized satellites (named Wall-E and Eva) which will demonstrate that cubesats can survey journeys to other planets.

Two microchips have also been affixed to the lander carrying the names of 2.4 million space enthusiasts -- including William Shatner.
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NASA Launches a New Mission To Mars

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  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Saturday May 05, 2018 @11:40AM (#56559394) Homepage

    "Back to Mars"? NASA is obsessed with Mars, in a way no other space agency is. A grossly disproportionate amount of their planetary science budget goes to this one destination. Why act like they've been neglecting Mars?

    • by religionofpeas ( 4511805 ) on Saturday May 05, 2018 @11:54AM (#56559438)

      A grossly disproportionate amount of their planetary science budget goes to this one destination

      It's the only planet where you can actually do some exploration on the ground, plus it's reasonably close to us, and fairly interesting. Makes total sense to spend a major part of the resources on it.

      • Maybe BizX should be putting resources into hiring competent editors.

        The arm will place a seismometer on the ground to detect "marsquakes" (think earthquakes, but on Mars, of course).

        This appears to be written for the elementary school level. I think that using terminology like seismicity of geological origins (as opposed to flying something with kinetic energy into the surface for measurements) is more suited for an adult audience.

      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Saturday May 05, 2018 @01:42PM (#56559764) Homepage

        The Soviets had more success doing on-ground exploration on Venus than on Mars. You can also explore on-ground on Mercury... all terrestrial planets, really. And planetary moons. Not that the ground is the only interesting part of a planet. Mars is also slightly further (transit times, dV) than Venus.

        The US has neglected Venus to an obscene extent. While Mars gets about one mission every two years (sometimes multi-part missions), the last dedicated NASA mission to Venus was launched in 1989 - nearly three decades ago. NASA's scientists keep proposing interesting missions to Venus, but they keep getting rejected by management in favour of the more-popular-thanks-to-sci-fi destination of Mars.

        And the return on science investment is so much less on Mars. We've studied Mars so much, while some really bloody basic things remain entirely unanswered on Venus. The longest river in the solar system is on Venus. What carved it? We have no bloody clue. Why does Venus absorb so much UV? Who knows? What happened to all of the mercury in Venus's crust - after all, it should have baked out into the atmosphere, yet isn't there? One guess is as good as another. Does it rain, snow, or frost in Venus's clouds, and if so, of what materials and where? Not a bloody clue. What are the (apparently multiple types of) metallic / semiconductive frosts in Venus's highlands? Beats us. We can't even image them well - in our best-resolution parts of Venus's surface, a football pitch would take up two pixels. Are Venus's terrae remnant granitic crust or not (and thus, if so, since Venus had oceans before Earth did and they likely lasted for at least a billion years, are their fossils? Maybe, maybe not. Why doesn't VVvenus have an intrinsic magnetic field (the slow rotation rate, according to dynamo theory, doesn't explain it)? We can only guess at its internal structure to hypothesize as to why. Why the bloody heck is Venus so different from Earth, and is it Earth's fate? Lots of competing theories based on various parameters, not nearly enough evidence to back them up. And it's pretty bloody important to know whether terrestrial planets teeter on a knife's edge between habitable and hell or not.

        • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Saturday May 05, 2018 @01:51PM (#56559788) Homepage

          Oh, and to elaborate on why the Soviets had better luck with Venus than Mars... people focus (of course) on the heat and pressure due to the dense atmosphere. And it's of course a real issue, although one that even Soviet tech developed in the 1960s could deal with. But this neglects to mention the aspects of Venus that make it easier than Earth. Its similarity to Earth first off makes testing many aspects of a mission simpler. But beyond that, the thick atmosphere is a big fluffy cushion. One of the Soviet craft actually had its parachute unexpectedly break off, putting it into a freefall, and it still survived and transmitted information from the surface, because its terminal velocity was so low. Many Mars missions have been "eaten by the ghoul" due to landing / deployment issues that just don't apply to Venus. It's been calculated that with the right trajectory, you could fire a simple hollow titanium sphere from Earth, with no other hardware onboard - no entry aeroshell, no drogue chute, no main chute, no landing retrothrusters, nothing - and have it land perfectly intact on the surface.

          So yes, there are some disadvantages, but there also are advantages.

          Of course, on Venus, landing is overrated. It's easy to loft very heavy probes in Venus's atmosphere (unlike Mars), and since it superrotates, Venus takes your probe across the whole world, gathering data all the way.

          • It's been calculated that with the right trajectory, you could fire a simple hollow titanium sphere from Earth, with no other hardware onboard - no entry aeroshell, no drogue chute, no main chute, no landing retrothrusters, nothing - and have it land perfectly intact on the surface.

            Cool. But can we at least put Trump in there?

          • Oh, the atmosphere superrotates (60x); at first, I thought you meant the planet - that'd be cool! (243 earth days per Venusian day/night). And yes, I also think Venus should be explored more. Good read - across two posts! : )
          • by c6gunner ( 950153 ) on Saturday May 05, 2018 @06:19PM (#56560706)

            Oh, and to elaborate on why the Soviets had better luck with Venus than Mars... people focus (of course) on the heat and pressure due to the dense atmosphere. And it's of course a real issue, although one that even Soviet tech developed in the 1960s could deal with.

            Their longest-surviving probe lasted about 2 hours, which is a pretty funny definition of "deal with". Sure, maybe we could stretch that to 4 hours or, if we are really really clever, even a whole day, but you're never going to get a Venus Rover booting around the planet for years at a time like we can on Mars.

            Personally I think Mercury would be a much more worthwhile target. While it's closer to the sun it's actually not as hot as Venus, meaning probes could last longer. More importantly, the poles seem to have ice, meaning water should be easily available for possible manned missions, and it's proximity to the sun means that solar panels would be far more effective than on earth, and orders of magnitude more effective than on Mars.

            Also we've NEVER landed a probe on Mercury, so if you take want to break new grounds it's definitely a better destination than Venus.

          • by thygate ( 1590197 ) on Saturday May 05, 2018 @09:39PM (#56561352)
            that the longest surviving soviet probe transmitted for only 65 minutes. I feel that you're over-romanticizing landing on Venus a bit here, also lets not forget about the atmospheric pressure (93 bar) and temperature (462 C; 863 F), at the surface, not the easiest conditions to operate machinery in for longer periods of time. (src: http://astro.if.ufrgs.br/solar... [ufrgs.br]) ESA's Venus Express did some good science as recently as 2015. And you didn't mention the weird retrograde rotation of Venus (together with Uranus, the only ones in our solar system), which is one of its most interesting features in my personal opinion..
            • by Rei ( 128717 )

              I think I did cover the heat and pressure well in the disadvantages category. And the ESA is, of course, not NASA. I was complaining about NASA's unique attitude among space agencies of neglecting Venus. Now, having one agency neglecting Venus wouldn't be a big deal... if not for the fact that said agency has a vastly higher budget.

        • by Zumbs ( 1241138 ) on Saturday May 05, 2018 @01:56PM (#56559798) Homepage
          I am also a lot more curious about Venus than I am about Mars. And it is not just the US that focuses on Mars. All the extra terrestrial activities of our space agencies either focus on the Moon (makes sense given its proximity), Mars or both.
        • by religionofpeas ( 4511805 ) on Saturday May 05, 2018 @02:14PM (#56559848)

          The Soviets had more success doing on-ground exploration on Venus than on Mars.

          Their Venera 13 survived for 127 minutes on the surface. Not really a very high return on the investment.

          You can also explore on-ground on Mercury

          That would also be extremely challenging for the lander, given the huge temperature differences between sunny and shady parts. Also, the Sun's gravity interference makes it hard to put a relay satellite in orbit.

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            "Their Venera 13 survived for 127 minutes on the surface. Not really a very high return on the investment."

            Yeah, but there were others that were a lot more succesful :

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] /Venera

          • by Rei ( 128717 )

            If Venera had been designed to be a long-term monitoring station, you would have a point. It did the mission it was designed to do. There are also design proposals for longer-lived explorers, both surface, flying, and probes designed to switch between surface and flying modes.

            There are no "huge temperature differences between sunny and shady parts". Surface night temperatures are pretty much the same as day temperatures, due to the dense superrotating atmosphere. Said superrotation being yet another poo

            • by Anonymous Coward

              There are no "huge temperature differences between sunny and shady parts". Surface night temperatures are pretty much the same as day temperatures, due to the dense superrotating atmosphere.

              Slow down and read what you're replying to... they're talking about Mercury, which has no atmosphere.

        • NASA is going for the low hanging fruits.
          And as Mars is the only reasonable planet to colonize and terraform, it is far more interesting than Mercury or Titan or especially Venus. Venus is probably as closest to "hell" as we can imagine. Pressure about 90 ATM, ground temperature close to 500C. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
          Of course, having some more radar data would be relatively easy and probably interesting. But I for my part don't care much what formed the longest river in the solar system :D I'm mor

          • by Rei ( 128717 )

            And as Mars is the only reasonable planet to colonize and terraform

            No. [venuslabs.org]

            • Having airships in the Venus atmosphere is not terraforming :D
              Of course you could colonize Venus that way, however I wonder how you would mine the surface and set up infrastructure.

              • by Rei ( 128717 )

                Having airships in the Venus atmosphere is not terraforming :D

                Skip to the last chapter.

                I wonder how you would mine the surface and set up infrastructure.

                Also covered in the book.

                • The last chapter only compares the problems of Mars and Venus regarding terraforming, but offers no solutions/approaches, or do I miss something?

        • by az-saguaro ( 1231754 ) on Saturday May 05, 2018 @08:18PM (#56561108)

          As I recall, as a kid in the 1950's, Venus seemed to get as much or more interest than Mars as a place to visit, explore, possibly even colonize. Then, the Space Age started, and we could learn some real facts about those worlds. Venus it turns out is a much harsher environment. Your comment points out the great science value of going to Venus. As a hot and wet environment with a dense and rich atmosphere, it is a natural and active geochemistry lab that would probably amaze us. We might discover any number of useful new compounds and materials that could be beneficial here on the home world. Who knows, there is a chance it could be commercialized just by selling the amazing landscape photographs or extraordinary mineral and crystal specimens that might be mined. But that is all just a fantasy without the extraordinary technological development needed to survive there. Mars has its great challenges getting onto the surface safely, but once on the ground, Mars isn't such a tough place.

          I have read concepts about using the dense Venutian atmosphere as a way to float dirigible like science platforms. That could prove relatively cheap and easy for long term science, but getting long term vehicles or habitats on the surface is not so certain, nor would the vehicles likely last anywhere near as long as the Martian assets have (Opportunity is now there 14 years). Earth based testing of the technologies or equipment in the Venutian environment would also require a huge commitment of very expensive technologies, using geysers, volcanoes, or deep water sea vents. In contrast, simulating Mars can be done in the Atacama desert or in Antarctica, not so challenging or hard to get to.

          So, Mars is cheaper. Mars is safer. Mars is fit for long term human habitation - and therein is the key thing. And, don't discount the science that will come from Mars once real people and geologists and chemists can get there with a rock hammer, a microscope, and a sense of adventure.

          Too bad we do not have the budget for both. In the 1960's, cost was no object - we were going to space, and that was that, and we started exploring the entire solar system. Then came war, politics, a bad economy, and social malaise. NASA has been under- or poorly funded for much of the past 40-50 years. If a limited amount has to be carefully spent, it is going to go where there will be the most return on investment, and in the current sociopolitical environment, that return has broader implications that just good science for its own sake or for same vague promise of possibly finding a better superconductor or semiconductor or fossilized antediluvian train conductor or whatever. Of course, if enough people thought there is a valuable scientific harvest to be made at the Morning Star, a write-in campaign to legislators, media, and the various space agencies could pump up enthusiasm for a return to Venus. For now though, with only limited bucks, Buck Rogers is going to Mars.

          • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Saturday May 05, 2018 @09:40PM (#56561356) Homepage

            Most of the mission proposals for Venus have been much cheaper than those for Mars. It's Mars that they're spending many hundreds of millions to the lower billion dollars on these flagships, not Venus. As mentioned, Venus was first explored using 1960s Soviet technology. It does not require some sort of a breakthrough. There are of course new technologies that can yield new options for exploring Venus - high temperature processors for non-cooled probes, high temperature radiators for RTG probes, surface wind and solar (yes, solar actually works on the surface, for low power probes), inflatable bellows for the ability to fly up and down at will (including e.g. only short stays on the surface, then climbing to go to a new location and cool), and a whole range of others. But we can get massive science returns from little budget on Venus even as things stand.

            Concerning floating long-term habitats on Venus: Link [venuslabs.org]

            Concerning testing technologies: your mention of "volcanoes" refers only to the surface, not most of the challenges in entry, descent, etc, and only applies to surface probes, and even in that case, only to the portions exposed to the heat and pressure. And that's not how they test probes for the surface, they use what's basically a big autoclave. But you cannot just test a Mars probe in the Atacama. That's a vastly different environment from Mars (orders of magnitude different pressure, major differences in gravity, radiation, etc), and does not remotely test the vehicle. You don't have to take my word on the testing differences, read some of the old interviews from the Soviet scientists who worked on their various programmes. Testing for Venus probes was found to be a lot simpler in most regards.

            And, don't discount the science that will come from Mars once real people and geologists and chemists can get there with a rock hammer, a microscope, and a sense of adventure.

            You may be surprised to learn that it's actually not that unrealistic - with modern technology, nothing far future - to have humans walking around on the surface of Venus. As usual, see the above link. More to the point, they could even fly in the process.

            We do have the budget for both Venus and Mars. Mars is used like a dumping ground for money; there is no reason whatsoever why Mars probes have to (in some of the cases) be multi-billion-dollar craft. The budget requests for Venus probes are tiny by comparison.

            • ignorant prattle.

              the soviets couldn't analyze the composition of venus, only take pictures on the surface, because the gear would overheat.

              you then talk about untested pie-in-the-sky tech, we *don't* have a way for humans to be on the surface of venus. nor do we have the tech even be in the storm and acid-filled part of the atmosphere that is at 14.7 psi like earth's surface. we won't be doing that in the next century.

              venus is much further away than mars, takes more energy to get there.

              Mars is the rocky

              • by Rei ( 128717 )

                the soviets couldn't analyze the composition of venus,

                They could and did.

                you then talk about untested pie-in-the-sky tech,

                I doubt you even skimmed over what is being discussed.

                nor do we have the tech even be in the storm and acid-filled part of the atmosphere

                Venus's middle cloud layer (the "earthlike" layer) is roughly about as "stormy" as Earth's troposphere.

                The sulfuric acid mist is so sparse that you can see several kilometers through it. It's more like a smog (or more accurately, vog) than an acid bat

                • the soviets took pictures from the surface and they radar mapped it from orbit. they could not "analyze" it in the sense martian probes do with scooping up surface samples, drilling, digging.

                    the probes lasted 23 minutes to almost 2 hours, not much time to do anything

                  yes we have materials that will withstand the surface of mercury too. we're not sending probes there either, Mars is the smart and only choice with REAL tech.

                  your imaginary pie-in-the-sky tech doesn't exist

        • you blather in ignorance. the landers didn't analyze the composition of the surface, only took pictures....and of course they failed in minutes to hours because of surface conditions. sure a great technical achievement given the conditions

          Mars approaches much closer to earth than venus, by factor of 5.

          Analyzing the composition of a rocky planet over long periods of time on place other than earth can only be done on Mars or in certain craters on Mercury near the poles.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        To calm him down, just say that Elon Musk approves this.

      • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

        Come on, a Titan boat probe would likely bring fresher science than Mars.

    • "Back to Mars"? NASA is obsessed with Mars, in a way no other space agency is. A grossly disproportionate amount of their planetary science budget goes to this one destination. Why act like they've been neglecting Mars?

      Simple: it's a potential destination for humanity. We haven't worked out how we're going to do it but Mars is like a really broken down version of Earth that we may be able to fix up some day. Sure, it may take a few hundred years but we'll develop the technology to do it.

      What could be more valuable than a second habitable planet?

      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        it's a potential destination for humanity

        Not as good of one as Venus. [venuslabs.org]

        Mars is not a broken-down version of Earth; Venus is. As tough of a "fix-it-upper" Venus, Mars is even worse. You're never going to fix Mars' gravity. Good luck even fixing its nitrogen deficiency; the three main approaches to dealing with Venus's atmosphere (freezing, chemical sequestration, and ejectionrealistic all much more practical than replacing Mars' missing nitrogen, which in turn is far from its hardest problem.

        Of course, any

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Did anyone tell these 2.5 million space enthusiasts that the rockets destination was Mars not space?

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