Mars dust is a big problem for technology; it’s very fine, abrasive and sticks to everything. Airborne dust has been blamed for accelerating Phoenix’s death, and the hardy Mars Exploration Rover Spirit looks like it has finally met its match. The critical issue here is a build-up of the red powder over the surface of the energy-collecting solar panels our robotic explorers depend on to power their experiments and movement over the Martian terrain. If solar cells cannot receive light, electricity cannot be generated, hastening the end of of Phoenix, and possibly one of the rover twins… Continue reading “Phoenix is Dead, Spirit is Failing”
Imagine: You have been selected as one of the first six people to go to Mars and your sole mission is to set up a manned outpost on the Red Planet. Forget the science, forget the long-term goal to spread humanity amongst the planets, your one and only task is to survive. If you live long enough to put your boot print in the Martian regolith, or long enough to eat your first meal, sleep to see your second sol or celebrate your proto-colony’s first home cooked meal, it’s a bonus. You have to survive long enough to give mankind a foothold to begin living on Mars.
Assuming you and your five crew have set up camp. You’ve landed next to all the basic supplies you’ll need for the next few years, plus the equipment to build a sustainable settlement. The pressure of making it through the first day is off. You have a routine, and everyone appears to be doing well. How will you fill your time? No doubt simply living will fill all your waking hours, but humans being humans, you’ll want to make your experience unique, you’ll want to have some fun. Whether it’s taking some time to think about Earth and your family, or it’s taking a hike up the nearest mesa to claim the early Mars World Record of “climbing the highest, ever.”
The next NASA rover mission to the Red Planet will be the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) set for a 2009 launch. This mission will incorporate the biggest rover ever to be sent to the Martian surface, the MSL is the size of a small car and it will carry out a vast number of experiments in the hope of finding evidence for life (again).* This ambitious mission has a big price tag of $1.9 billion, so NASA will want to avoid any chance of “doing a Beagle” and ripping Mars a new impact crater.**
So, with this unprecedented mission comes an unprecedented way of lowering it to the Martian surface. Sure, you have your obligatory drogue parachute, you even have a few rocket bursts to soften the touch-down (along the lines of this year’s Phoenix powered landing), but the MSL will also have a “sky crane” to help it out (in a not-so-dissimilar way to the lowering of the descending Mars Exploration Rovers in 2004, only more awesome).
To be honest, I’m as enthusiastic about this plan as I was when I found out that Phoenix would use a jetpack after freefalling the height of two Empire State Buildings (i.e. “are you mad??“)… but then again, what would I know? It looks like the powered landing worked out pretty well for Phoenix… Continue reading “Mars Science Laboratory Sky Crane: Cool or Crazy?”