Gallery: Curiosity Photo Mashup

Highlights from NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity):

 

Is Phobos-Grunt just the latest victim of the ‘Mars Curse’?

Contact was briefly established last week with the wayward Phobos-Grunt probe, still hobbling through low Earth-orbit since failing to fire its thrusters to escape orbit and send it on its way to Mars on November 9th.

Unfortunately, this setback is just the latest in a string of disasters in Earth’s decades old struggle for the Red Planet.  With partial failures and losses of entire missions through the years, we have learned that the conquest of the Martian system is one fraught with danger and peril.

Despite the well-known challenges of interplanetary travel, rumors of a supposed Mars Curse remain persistent.  Wading through the conspiracy theories and outlandish claims of faked missions and mind-control experiments, I wanted to know if there really was a correlation between disaster and attempts for Mars.

In order to see if people’s perceptions and mission outcomes really were in conjunction, I tapped the resources of RussianSpaceWeb.com to see just how many missions met with disaster on the way to or just after arriving at the Martian system.

Out of a total of 35 missions to Mars, 14 missions or 40% of all attempts to reach Mars have succeeded.  We also see that 21 missions or 60% of all attempts to reach Mars met with some type of mission failure along the way.

While journeying to Mars is an obviously perilous journey, the success rates of missions and the beyond life-expectancy performance of the different rovers (Opportunity, Spirit) throughout the last decade fail to show any proof of a mysterious force preventing Humans from reaching our once Earth-like neighbor.

And so, the quest for Mars will continue to drive us past our fears and skepticism and few conceivable setbacks will change people’s hearts and minds.  For it is in favor of the chance that we might yet be able to make a crucial home away from home that truly beckons to Humanity.

If we as a species are to survive even the most catastrophic of events (think Earth-seeking asteroids), then colonizing Mars and other places in the solar system becomes more than just the next logical step for space exploration but indeed one that ensures our very existence as a species.

Nanosatellites may mean Bigger Opportunities in Space

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Three nanosatellites, known as Cubesats, are deployed from a Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (SSOD) attached to the Kibo laboratory’s robotic arm at 7:10 a.m. (EST) on Nov. 19, 2013. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata, Expedition 38 flight engineer, monitored the satellite deployment while operating the Japanese robotic arm from inside Kibo. The Cubesats were delivered to the International Space Station Aug. 9, aboard Japan’s fourth H-II Transfer Vehicle, Kounotori-4.

When we think of satellites in orbit, one conjures up images of lumbering behemoths careening through space with out stretched arms of solar panels.  Since the last shuttle flew back to Earth and straight into a museum I’ve been interested in what kinds of projects are in utero for our friends over at NASA.

My interest in NASA was revived once more this past weekend when I was attending a party for a friend.  As I nudged my way towards a plate gleaming with smoked salmon, I found myself in conversation with a gentleman that revealed he works for NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA.  The most interesting part of our conversation centered around the gentleman’s own work with satellite hardware, specifically ejection systems for nanosatellites.

Imagine a satellite in orbit about the size of a loaf of bread made from commercially available components.  Now imagine a fleet of of nanosats (referred to as a swarm) homed on a ‘mother’ vessel and working in concert with ground control teams to perform any number of coordinated activities.

While these small satellites have been in development since the 1990’s, now may be the right time to see increased competition and innovation in space.  Hopefully, making space more accessible for commerce and smaller countries will be one of the sparks that is needed to ignite the next space race.