Fwd: Human Spaceflight (and Mars) News - May 31, 2013 and JSC Today

Source:  Fwd: Human Spaceflight (and Mars) News - May 31, 2013 and JSC Today    Tag:  radiation dose from flying


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Begin forwarded message:

From: "Moon, Larry J. (JSC-EA411)" < [email protected]>
Date: May 31, 2013 6:00:56 AM GMT-06:00
To: "Moon, Larry J. (JSC-EA411)" < [email protected]>
Subject: FW: Human Spaceflight (and Mars) News - May 31, 2013 and JSC Today

 

Happy Friday everyone.   Mark your calendars early and join us next Thursday at Hibachi Grill in Webster on Bay Area Blvd. for our monthly NASA retirees luncheon at 11:30.   Family and friends are welcome. 

 

A Big shout out of congratulations goes out to Linda Lapradd –she officially joins the retiree ranks after today.

 

 

Have a great and safe weekend.

 

 

Friday, May 31, 2013

 

JSC TODAY HEADLINES

1.            JSC IT Security SATERN Training Deadline Extended to June 21

2.            How to Access Online Journal Articles, Conference Papers or E-Books

3.            Escape Your Silo: Bone and Mineral Lab Tour

4.            CPP Opportunity in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer

5.            The JSC Safety and Health Action Team (JSAT) Says ...

6.            Youth Sports Camps -- Basketball, Baseball and Ultimate Frisbee

7.            AIAA Annual Awards Dinner

8.            Run in the 35th Annual Honeywell Lunar Rendezvous 5K on July 20

9.            Rocket Day at the George Observatory

________________________________________     NASA FACT

" On May 31, 2013, asteroid 1998 QE2 will sail serenely past Earth, getting no closer than about 3.6 million miles, or about 15 times the distance between Earth and the moon."

________________________________________

1.            JSC IT Security SATERN Training Deadline Extended to June 21

While we work to resolve a possible compatibility issue with certain versions of Java software in SATERN, we have extended JSC'S deadline for all employees to complete the required IT Security training from May 31 to June 21.

Don't wait until June 21 to find out if you have the issue -- take your training now. If you do experience issues, contact the SATERN help desk at 1-877-677-2123 and listen to the prompts. If you have a non-ACES machine, also contact your IT point of contact.

All NASA federal employees, contractors and grantees at JSC and White Sands Test Facility must complete the Security Awareness Training (#ITS-013-001) assigned to your learning plan in SATERN.

New employees, contractors and grantees must complete the "Introduction to Information Security for New Employees" training (#ITS-013-002).

To access SATERN, click here.

For more information, contact your organization's Organizational Computer Security Official.

JSC IRD Outreach x36660 http://ird.jsc.nasa.gov/Home.aspx

 

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2.            How to Access Online Journal Articles, Conference Papers or E-Books

Do you need access to online journal articles, conference papers or e-books, but keep getting those annoying user login messages? Your JSC Library, also known as the Scientific and Technical Information Center, can get it for you via the Interlibrary Loan Services. Contact us  or call 281-483-4245, fax 291-244-6624, or come by Building 30A, Room 1077, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. We're here to help you with all your information research needs. Please visit the website for the complete policy and procedures.

Access to this information is provided by JSC's Information Resources Directorate.

Scientific and Technical Information Center x34245 http://library.jsc.nasa.gov

 

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3.            Escape Your Silo: Bone and Mineral Lab Tour

Please join us on June 11 from 1 to 2 p.m. or 2 to 3 p.m. for a tour of the Bone and Mineral Lab (BML). The BML will highlight the procedure by which bone health is monitored (among other ways) by measuring Bone Mineral Density with dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) densitometry on a triennial basis in all astronauts (active and retired). In addition, the BML Technologist Lisa King will demonstrate where, during the DXA scanning of subject and during the analysis of scans, changes to the hip bone can be misrepresented.

Space is limited on both tours, so please register today:

https://satern.nasa.gov/learning/user/deeplink_redirect.jsp?linkId=SCHEDULED_... or 69032

Cynthia Rando x41815 https://sashare.jsc.nasa.gov/hsa/default.aspx

 

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4.            CPP Opportunity in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer

The Office of the Chief Financial Officer has a competitive placement opportunity available in the LB/Integration Management Office. The position is for a GS-13 Program Analyst on the Strategy, Business Systems, and Technology Management Team. Interested applicants may view the CPP in USAJobs here. The CPP is currently open and closes on June 5.

Mary Anne Plaza x41048

 

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5.            The JSC Safety and Health Action Team (JSAT) Says ...

"Safety attention is the best prevention. So don't get hurt, be alert!"

Congratulations to June 2013 "JSAT Says ..." winner Connie Smart, Barrios Technology. Any JSAT member (all JSC contractor and civil servant employees) may submit a slogan for consideration to JSAT Secretary Reese Squires. Submissions for July are due by Monday, June 10. Keep those great submissions coming - you may be the next "JSAT Says ..." winner!

Reese Squires x37776 http://www6.jsc.nasa.gov/ja/apps/news/newsfiles/3275.pptx

 

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6.            Youth Sports Camps -- Basketball, Baseball and Ultimate Frisbee

Starport Summer Sports Camps at the Gilruth Center are a great way to provide added instruction for all levels of players and prepare participants for competitive play. Let our knowledgeable and experienced coaches give your child the confidence they need to learn and excel in their chosen sport.

Baseball Camp: Focuses on the development of hitting, catching, base running, throwing, pitching and drills

Session Dates: July 8 to 12 and July 15 to 19

Times: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Ages: 6 to 12

Price: $200/per session

Basketball Camp: Focuses on the development of shooting, passing, dribbling, guarding and drills

Session Dates: Aug. 5 to 9

Times: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Ages: 9 to 14

Price: $200

Ultimate Frisbee: Focuses on development of throwing, catching, offense, defense, zones and drills

Session Dates: July 1 to 3

Times: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Ages: 9 to 14

Price: $140

Before and after care is available. Register your child now at the Gilruth Center. Space is limited! Visit our website for information and registration forms.

Shericka Phillips x35563 http://starport.jsc.nasa.gov/

 

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7.            AIAA Annual Awards Dinner

The annual American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Houston Section Awards Dinner in honor of Jim McLane welcomes Dr. Harold "Sonny" White for his talk on "Warp Field Physics." We will also be honoring fellow Houston Section members who are celebrating service anniversaries and outstanding achievements, as well as introducing the 2013-2014 AIAA Houston Section Executive Council. Tickets are $20 for AIAA members; $25 for non-members; and $15 for students. Please RSVP by June 5. The registration link, other dinner particulars and speaker biography are located here. You may also email your intent and dinner choice to Michael Frostad or Jennifer Wells by June 5 if you plan to pay at the door. Dinner reservations after the 5th will be filled as available, but there is no guarantee. We look forward to seeing you on June 13! Please contact Jennifer Wells with any questions.

Jennifer Wells 281-336-6302

 

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8.            Run in the 35th Annual Honeywell Lunar Rendezvous 5K on July 20

Be a part of history - run or walk in the 35th Annual Lunar Rendezvous 5K sponsored by Honeywell. The race will begin at 7:30 a.m. on July 20, starting at Space Center Houston and taking runners on-site at JSC. Registration is only $18 before July 13, and $22 after. If you wait until the day of, registration is $25. Entry forms are available online - just search for "Lunar Rendezvous." Packet pickup will be at On The Run Running Store Thursday, July 18, or Friday, July 19, and on race day near the start site. The first male and female open and master runners will be awarded. Awards will also be given to the top three male and female runners in each age group.

Event Date: Saturday, July 20, 2013   Event Start Time:7:30 AM   Event End Time:8:30 AM

Event Location: Space Center Houston and JSC

 

Add to Calendar

 

Jennifer Mason x32424 http://www.lunarrendezvous.org

 

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9.            Rocket Day at the George Observatory

Join us for a Rocket Day from 10 a.m. to noon on June 8! The cost is $20 per person. We will learn about and build a rocket. After the testing of the rocket, we will go on a simulated space flight to the moon. To get tickets, click here.

Note: Park entrance fees apply at $7 per person for everyone over 12 years old.

Megan Hashier 281-226-4179 http://www.hmns.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=450&Ite...

 

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________________________________________

JSC Today is compiled periodically as a service to JSC employees on an as-submitted basis. Any JSC organization or employee may submit articles. To see an archive of previous JSC Today announcements, go to http://www6.jsc.nasa.gov/pao/news/jsctoday/archives.

 

 

 

 

Human Spaceflight News

Friday, May 31, 2013

 

HEADLINES AND LEADS

 

Rover data confirm space radiation danger

 

William Harwood - CBS News

 

Future manned missions to Mars and other remote targets will require internal shielding and advanced propulsion systems to shorten transit times, minimizing exposure to cancer-causing radiation from the sun and deep space, scientists said Thursday. Data collected by the Radiation Assessment Detector, or RAD instrument, during the Curiosity Mars rover's cruise to the red planet last year generally confirmed the results from earlier studies showing space radiation is a major problem that must be overcome before manned trips into deep space are attempted. "NASA's very excited to get this new cruise data to help us refine and improve our radiation environment models we use to estimate crew exposure and risks for various mission scenarios," Eddie Semones, spaceflight radiation health officer at the Johnson Space Center, told reporters.

 

Astronauts face radiation threat on long Mars trip

 

Alicia Chang - Associated Press

 

Astronauts traveling to and from Mars would be bombarded with as much radiation as they'd get from a full-body CT scan about once a week for a year, researchers reported Thursday. That dose would, in some cases, exceed NASA's standards and is enough to raise an astronaut's cancer risk by 3 percent. As plans for deep space exploration ramp up, radiation is a big concern _ from high-energy galactic cosmic rays spewed by distant supernova explosions to sporadic bursts of charged particles hurled by the sun. Earth's magnetic field helps to deflect much of that harmful radiation.

 

Trip to Mars would likely exceed radiation limits for astronauts

 

Irene Klotz - Reuters

 

Radiation levels measured by NASA's Mars Curiosity rover show astronauts likely would exceed current U.S. exposure limits during a roundtrip mission to Mars, scientists said on Thursday. The rover landed on Mars in August to search for habitats that could have supported past microbial life. Results taken during Curiosity's eight-month cruise to Mars indicate that astronauts would receive a radiation dose of about 660 millisieverts during a 360-day roundtrip flight, the fastest travel possible with today's chemical rockets. That dosage does not include any time spent on the planet's surface. A millisievert is a measurement of radiation exposure.

 

Headed To Mars? Watch Out For Cosmic Rays

 

Adam Cole - National Public Radio

 

There was great fanfare when the Mars Science Laboratory launched in November 2011, and again when its precious cargo — NASA's Mars rover Curiosity — touched down on the red planet in August 2012. The eight months in between had drama of their own. Curiosity was constantly bombarded with radiation as it traveled through space — high-energy protons thrown out by the sun, and galactic cosmic rays slicing through the solar system from distant supernovas. Here on Earth, the magnetic field and atmosphere shield us from most of this radiation. But out in the void of space, high energy particles would rip into an astronaut's DNA, slowly increasing the risk of cancer.

 

Space radiation would make Mars mission hazardous

 

Joel Achenbach - Washington Post

 

Of all the hazards facing a human mission to Mars — something NASA and countless space buffs would love to see at some point — one of the hardest to solve is the radiation that saturates interplanetary space. New data, gathered by NASA's Curiosity rover as it traveled to Mars, have confirmed that interplanetary space is a hostile medium and suggest that engineers need to find a way to speed up space travel significantly if they hope to reduce radiation exposure. The new research, published online Thursday by the journal Science, is not a game-changer for human spaceflight. But it brings more hard data to a known risk factor and will help NASA and other space agencies to come up with strategies for making spaceflight safer.

 

Data Point to Radiation Risk for Travelers to Mars

 

Kenneth Chang - New York Times

 

Astronauts traveling to Mars, bombarded by the radiation of outer space, would face modestly higher risks of cancer, new NASA measurements confirm. The findings could lead to a search for better shields to block the radiation, new propulsion technologies to shorten the trip, or a decision by the space agency to recalibrate the allowable risks for such an ambitious interplanetary mission. Radiation on the journey to Mars was measured by NASA's newest Mars rover, Curiosity, which carries an instrument the size of a coffee maker that was originally intended to gauge radiation on the planet's surface.

 

Mars-bound astronauts would face huge radiation exposure

 

Amina Khan - Los Angeles Times

 

Astronauts heading to Mars would face exposure to a deluge of radiation, in some cases as much as NASA policy permits, according to new data from the Curiosity rover. The space agency limits astronauts to a 3% increased risk of fatal cancer. This translates to different levels of radiation exposure, depending on an astronaut's age and gender. But according to a paper published in Friday's edition of the journal Science, radiation exposure in a nonstop round-trip to Mars, which would take about a year, would ring in at about 662 millisieverts. One sievert, or 1,000 millisieverts, of radiation over time is generally associated with a 5% increase in fatal cancer risk.

 

Radiation measured by Curiosity on trip to Mars could threaten astronauts' health

 

Lee Roop - Huntsville Times

 

An already challenging mission to land a human on Mars has gotten even harder with word that new measurements show radiation exposure to astronauts on a trip to the Red Planet "could exceed NASA's current career limit for astronauts if current propulsion systems are used," the space agency said Thursday. Thanks to an instrument aboard the spacecraft that delivered NASA's Mars Curiosity rover to Mars in 2012, NASA has accurate data of the radiation exposure inside a spacecraft that is "similar to potential human exploration spacecraft," NASA said in a press release. The findings are published in the May 31 edition of the journal Science.

 

Doubts cast on Mars mission as radiation levels may prove too high, warns study

 

Steve Connor - The Independent (UK)

 

The first people to make the perilous journey to Mars will have to cope with long periods of boredom, the constant worry of returning home safely and the joy and pain of each other's company. According to the latest research into long-duration space travel, they will also endure the sort of radiation exposure that few people of Earth have experienced. A study has found that astronauts will receive more than half a lifetime's radiation dose during the return journey of a future manned mission to Mars - a calculation that does not take into account the time spent on the surface of the Red Planet.

 

Doubts cast on any manned Mars mission

 

London Telegraph

 

A study has found that simply the return journey to the red planet would expose people to radiation levels which would represent a large proportion of their lifetime dose. The confirmation of what has long been feared comes after Nasa's Curiosity rover counted the number of high-energy space particles striking it on its eight-month journey. A radiation assessment detector (RAD) made measurements of the environment inside the spacecraft.

 

More asteroid outreach, digital and analog

 

Jeff Foust – SpacePolitics.com

 

With NASA's plans for an asteroid retrieval mission not currently winning widespread approval, particularly in Congress, as seen as a recent House Science Committee hearing, the space agency and the administration appear to be stepping up their efforts to build support for the mission.

 

Why We Can't Send Humans to Mars Yet (And How We'll Fix That)

 

Adam Mann - Wired.com

 

While humans have dreamed about going to Mars practically since it was discovered, an actual mission in the foreseeable future is finally starting to feel like a real possibility. But how real is it? NASA says it's serious about one day doing a manned mission while private companies are jockeying to present ever-more audacious plans to get there. And equally important, public enthusiasm for the Red Planet is riding high after the Curiosity rover's spectacular landing and photo-rich mission. Earlier this month, scientists, NASA officials, private space company representatives and other members of the spaceflight community gathered in Washington D.C. for three days to discuss all the challenges at the Humans to Mars (H2M) conference, hosted by the spaceflight advocacy group Explore Mars, which has called for a mission that would send astronauts in the 2030s. But the Martian dust devil is in the details, and there is still one big problem: We currently lack the technology to get people to Mars and back.

 

Virgin Galactic, XCOR Race To Be Coolest In Space

 

Gilliam Rich - Investor's Business Daily

 

The space race is back. But this time it's not a battle between the USA and the USSR but rather a race between private companies to become the coolest brand in space travel. On Friday, Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic auctioned off the chance to sit with "The Great Gatsby" actor Leonardo DiCaprio aboard a space flight. The winning bidder paid $1.5 million for a seat on the spacecraft that has yet to make its first commercial flight. Virgin Galactic plans to start commercial flights later this year or early next year. Branson will be among the firm's first commercial travelers to lower Earth orbit. Virgin Galactic might have the eccentric billionaire behind it and Virgin's brand, which has been successful in the music, aviation and other industries, but it isn't the only company looking towards the final frontier. "We wouldn't be as creative on branding if Virgin wasn't in the market," XCOR Aerospace's Chief Operating Officer Andrew Nelson said at last week's Space Tech Conference.

 

The Front Burner:

Plan shows agency still turns obstacles into opportunities

 

Frank DiBello - Orlando Sentinel (Opinion)

 

(DiBello is president and CEO of Space Florida, the state space development agency)

 

The concept of identifying and capturing an asteroid that keenly interests us, then moving it out of its existing orbit to near the moon for hands-on research, is quirky, brilliant and exactly what we need to do at this point in our nation's history. This mission uses the vehicles and spacecraft that are already being funded, designed and built right now, without requiring an additional major infusion of cash for significant new destination hardware. Grabbing a celestial body and moving it was once science fiction. Now it is real, it is achievable, and we must seize the opportunity, while we are developing the much-needed technologies and capabilities for longer-range manned missions to farther-out destinations in the solar system.

 

The Front Burner:

Return to moon will better advance planetary missions

 

Paul Spudis - Orlando Sentinel (Opinion)

 

(Spudis is a planetary scientist and an advocate for human return to the moon. He recently testified before Congress on a plan for a permanent lunar return.)

 

A human mission to Mars is routinely described as the "ultimate objective" for the U.S. space program, but it is too distant in time and too costly to serve as a guide for near-term, manned space activities. Currently, we continue to use and learn from missions to the International Space Station in low Earth orbit. But what steps should be taken beyond this level? In recent years, without a clearly stated, strategic direction for our civil space program, we've watched it flounder and our space work force depart. After the Obama administration terminated NASA's Constellation program, which would have returned U.S. astronauts to the moon, the space agency has proposed a human mission to an asteroid — a small body independently orbiting the Sun in the vicinity of Earth — as a substitute to help gain deep-space mission experience.

 

MEANWHILE ON MARS...

 

Rounded pebbles on Mars reveal past flowing water

 

Associated Press

 

A fresh analysis by NASA's Curiosity rover confirms a stream once ran through Gale Crater on Mars. During a pit stop last year, Curiosity came upon hundreds of smooth, round pebbles that look strikingly similar to deposits in river banks on Earth. Scientists believe the rover rolled onto an ancient streambed, but needed to study the stones in more detail. So Curiosity snapped high-resolution pictures and fired its laser at several pebbles to analyze the chemical makeup. Researchers say the roundness of the stones was shaped by a fast-flowing stream that probably was ankle to waist-deep. Curiosity landed in the crater near the equator last summer. The analysis appears in Friday's issue of the journal Science. (NO FURTHER TEXT)

 

Curiosity Rover Finds Evidence of Ancient Stream on Mars

Polished pebbles discovered, likely moved by a stream that flowed for a long time

 

Jason Koebler - US News & World Report

 

Polished, smooth rocks found by NASA's Curiosity Rover suggest the planet once had a swift moving streambed, with depths of up to 3 feet and water that moved at speeds of up to 1.6 miles per hour. The pebbles were originally discovered by the rover in 2012, but new analysis of the data has given scientists more clues about the stream. "We know it was a streambed because it takes a fast flow to move pebbles of this size, and they're rounded," says Dawn Sumner, a researcher at the University of California, Davis, one of the authors of the study. "The rounding requires that they're banged against each other and the sand a huge number of times to break the edges of the rocks. It's like how you polish rocks in a polisher, you hit them against each other over and over."

 

NASA Confirms That Curiosity Found An Ancient Martian Stream

 

Alex Knapp - Forbes

 

Last year, NASA announced that the Curiosity rover had found preliminary evidence of an ancient streambed, indicating that water once flowed freely on Mars. After a few more months of study, that preliminary announcement has been confirmed – Curiosity has found the remains of an ancient stream. To make this finding, the researchers analyzed the images taken with Curiosity's mast camera. That camera is capable of taking pictures just like an ordinary camera here on Earth. However, it can also take photos with only one particular color. By taking several of those monochromatic photos, scientists are able to get a more complete picture of the rocks.

 

Mars Rover Curiosity Finds Pebbles Likely Shaped by Ancient River

 

Denise Chow - Space.com

 

Smooth, round pebbles found by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity provide more evidence that water once flowed on the Red Planet, according to a new study. The Curiosity rover snapped pictures of several areas with densely packed pebbles, and by closely analyzing the rock images, researchers discovered that the shapes and sizes of the individual pebbles indicate that they traveled long distances in water, likely as part of an ancient riverbed. The rocks were found near Curiosity's landing site, between the north rim of Gale Crater and the base of Mount Sharp, a peak that rises 3 miles (5 kilometers) above the crater floor.

__________

 

COMPLETE STORIES

 

Rover data confirm space radiation danger

 

William Harwood - CBS News

 

Future manned missions to Mars and other remote targets will require internal shielding and advanced propulsion systems to shorten transit times, minimizing exposure to cancer-causing radiation from the sun and deep space, scientists said Thursday.

 

Data collected by the Radiation Assessment Detector, or RAD instrument, during the Curiosity Mars rover's cruise to the red planet last year generally confirmed the results from earlier studies showing space radiation is a major problem that must be overcome before manned trips into deep space are attempted.

 

"NASA's very excited to get this new cruise data to help us refine and improve our radiation environment models we use to estimate crew exposure and risks for various mission scenarios," Eddie Semones, spaceflight radiation health officer at the Johnson Space Center, told reporters.

 

"Cruise data (are) critical to the understanding the impacts of galactic cosmic rays and solar particle events inside a platform similar to vehicles we're developing for human exploration missions."

 

The RAD instrument, mounted on the upper deck of the Curiosity rover, measured the radiation environment for seven months during the cruise to Mars, recording impacts from charged particles blasted away by the sun during solar storms as well as galactic cosmic rays generated by supernova explosions and other high-energy events. The data were presented Thursday in the journal Science.

 

Radiation exposure is measured in units called Sieverts. In a news release, NASA said exposure to 1 Sievert over time translates into a 5 percent increase in the risk an individual might develop a fatal cancer. NASA's current safety guidelines permit a 3 percent increased risk for astronauts in low-Earth orbit.

 

Not counting solar particles, which only made up about 5 percent of the radiation recorded during Curiosity's flight to Mars, the RAD instrument showed an astronaut flying along with the rover would have been exposed to more than three times the equivalent radiation dose experienced by space station crews.

 

The average annual exposure at Earth's surface from all sources is less than 10 milliSieverts per year. Space station astronauts are exposed to about 100 milliSieverts in six months while Curiosity's RAD instrument showed an exposure of 330 milliSieverts during the half-year cruise to Mars, or about 1.8 milliSieverts per day.

 

Astronauts in low-Earth orbit are protected in part by Earth's magnetic field, which deflects charged particles. Earth's atmosphere provides an additional buffer for most of the planet's surface.

 

But that protection is not available in deep space and the levels recorded by the RAD instrument are comparable to getting a whole-body CT scan every five or six days, said Cary Zeitlin, a principal researcher at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.

 

"The radiation environment in deep space is several hundred times more intense than it is on Earth, even inside a shielded spacecraft," he said.

 

Chris Moore, deputy director of advanced exploration systems at NASA Headquarters, said shorter transit times and improved shielding will be needed to protect future deep space crews.

 

"To get really fast trip times to cut down on radiation exposure we'd probably need nuclear thermal propulsion, and we're working with the U.S. Department of Energy to look at various types of fuel elements for these rockets," Moore said.

 

"But it's a long-range technology development activity and it will probably be many years before that is ready. But it is part of our design reference mission architecture for sending humans to Mars. ... That could probably cut the (one-way) trip time down to around 180 days."

 

Semones said on-board shielding also will be required. One option would be to surround the crew module with water, using hydrogen to protect against charged particles from the sun. Another option would be to develop shields, or panels, that could be deployed inside the spacecraft when solar storms are detected.

 

"The shields that we're developing, the deployable shields, are very effective in reducing or eliminating the effects of solar particle events," he said. "For cosmic rays, generally the thicknesses required to have any substantial reduction exceed the (capabilities of the) spacecraft we can effectively launch."

 

Shields impervious to galactic cosmic rays would be "very, very thick, meters thick, to make an effect," he said. "We're not going to be able to solve it with passive shielding for galactic cosmic rays."

 

"We need to get there faster to reduce the impact of galactic cosmic rays, we need to have local shielding on board to eliminate the effects of solar particles."

 

Moore said data collected by the RAD instrument since Curiosity's landing last August will be presented in an upcoming paper.

 

Astronauts face radiation threat on long Mars trip

 

Alicia Chang - Associated Press

 

Astronauts traveling to and from Mars would be bombarded with as much radiation as they'd get from a full-body CT scan about once a week for a year, researchers reported Thursday.

 

That dose would, in some cases, exceed NASA's standards and is enough to raise an astronaut's cancer risk by 3 percent.

 

As plans for deep space exploration ramp up, radiation is a big concern _ from high-energy galactic cosmic rays spewed by distant supernova explosions to sporadic bursts of charged particles hurled by the sun. Earth's magnetic field helps to deflect much of that harmful radiation.

 

NASA aims to send a crew to orbit the red planet by the mid-2030s. Private outfits like Inspiration Mars _ backed by NASA engineer-turned-space tourist Dennis Tito _ are seeking volunteers for a Mars flight.

 

There have been previous efforts to gauge the radiation risk for future Mars travelers, but the best estimate is coming from NASA's Curiosity mission. Tucked inside the rover when it launched in 2011 was a radiation sensor that took readings during the 8 1/2-month cruise to Mars.

 

From those figures, scientists calculated a spacefarer's radiation exposure for a quicker six-month voyage in a similarly shielded spacecraft. Roundtrip: about 662 millisieverts. That's a sizable chunk of an astronaut's career cap of 1,000 millisieverts which many international space agencies use to limit the accumulated radiation dosage in space.

 

NASA's threshold depends on age and gender. The career dose limit for 30-to-60-year-old male astronauts who never smoked ranges from 800 to 1,200 millisieverts. For female astronauts, the limit ranges from 600 to 1,000 millisieverts.

 

The radiation exposure from a Mars journey is similar to getting a full-body CT scan every five or six days, said lead researcher Cary Zeitlin of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.

 

The estimate is just for zipping there and back; it doesn't include time spent on the Martian surface, which would add to an astronaut's exposure. How much more would depend on length of stay and available shelter.

 

"You'd like the radiation exposure to be lower, but it is what it is," said Dr. Norm Thagard, the first American to fly on the Russian space station Mir, who had no role in the research. "Given the importance of such a mission, the mission should be done."

 

The analysis appears in Friday's issue of the journal Science. The amount of radiation likely won't change unless there's a rocket engine developed that can speed up the interplanetary ride, researchers said.

 

"You want to get there as quickly as possible" to reduce radiation exposure, said Don Hassler, scientist in charge of the radiation instrument aboard Curiosity.

 

Radiation on a Mars trek would be higher than what crew members cocooned inside the International Space Station typically face _ about 200 millisieverts per year. By contrast, people on Earth are typically exposed to about 3 millisieverts a year.

 

Curiosity flew to Mars during a period of low to moderate solar activity. A manned mission that launches during a solar flare or storm would encounter more radiation.

 

NASA engineers are testing propulsion systems and researching ways to reduce radiation exposure on a Mars flight. Among the possibilities: Have astronauts wear a deployable shield resembling a heavy winter coat or have them hunker down in a storm shelter aboard the spacecraft during periods of high solar activity.

 

"Before we can send astronauts there, we need to understand the environments and hazards that they would face" said Chris Moore, deputy director of advanced exploration systems at NASA headquarters.

 

Now, cancer-related risk estimates are "no more than a rough guesstimate," David Brenner, an expert on radiation-induced cancer at Columbia University, said in an email.

 

Thagard, the former NASA astronaut, said he was exposed to 120 millisieverts during his 115 days in low-Earth orbit aboard Mir. Despite the potential health risks, Thagard said there likely won't be a shortage of astronauts willing to hop on a Mars flight.

 

Since landing near the Martian equator last summer, Curiosity has continued to track radiation as it rolls across the dusty surface toward its eventual mountain destination. The rover has turned up the best evidence yet of an ancient watery Mars. A separate study published in Science detailed the existence of more than 500 rounded pebbles near its crater landing site _ the result of being shaped by long-ago flowing water.

 

Online:

Science: http://www.sciencemag.org

 

Trip to Mars would likely exceed radiation limits for astronauts

 

Irene Klotz - Reuters

 

Radiation levels measured by NASA's Mars Curiosity rover show astronauts likely would exceed current U.S. exposure limits during a roundtrip mission to Mars, scientists said on Thursday.

 

The rover landed on Mars in August to search for habitats that could have supported past microbial life.

 

Results taken during Curiosity's eight-month cruise to Mars indicate that astronauts would receive a radiation dose of about 660 millisieverts during a 360-day roundtrip flight, the fastest travel possible with today's chemical rockets. That dosage does not include any time spent on the planet's surface. A millisievert is a measurement of radiation exposure.

 

NASA limits astronauts' increased cancer risk to 3 percent, which translates to a cumulative radiation dose of between about 800 millisieverts and 1,200 millisieverts, depending on a person's age, gender and other factors.

 

"Even for the shortest of (Mars) missions, we are perilously close to the radiation career and health limits that we've established for our astronauts," NASA's chief medical officer Richard Williams told a National Academy of Sciences' medical committee on Thursday.

 

An astronaut living for six months on the International Space Station, which flies about 250 miles above Earth, receives a dosage of about 100 millisieverts.

 

An abdominal X-ray scan generates about 10 millisieverts.

 

At NASA's request, the Institute of Medicine panel is looking into ethics and health standards for long-duration spaceflights.

 

"We're looking at that 3 percent standard and its applicability for exploration-type missions," added NASA's Edward Semones, spaceflight radiation health officer at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, during a conference call later with reporters.

 

"The snapshot today is that we would exceed our limit," Semones said.

 

NASA also is looking into alternative propulsion technologies to speed up the trip to Mars and different types of spacecraft shielding.

 

Information from Curiosity about how much and what type of radiation astronauts can expect on the Martian surface is due to be released later this year.

 

The research was published in this week's edition of the journal Science.

 

Headed To Mars? Watch Out For Cosmic Rays

 

Adam Cole - National Public Radio

 

There was great fanfare when the Mars Science Laboratory launched in November 2011, and again when its precious cargo — NASA's Mars rover Curiosity — touched down on the red planet in August 2012.

 

The eight months in between had drama of their own. Curiosity was constantly bombarded with radiation as it traveled through space — high-energy protons thrown out by the sun, and galactic cosmic rays slicing through the solar system from distant supernovas.

 

Here on Earth, the magnetic field and atmosphere shield us from most of this radiation. But out in the void of space, high energy particles would rip into an astronaut's DNA, slowly increasing the risk of cancer.

 

That's a problem for NASA and the handful of private companies that have pledged to send human explorers to Mars. For a long time, they've been trying to figure out just how much radiation an astronaut would experience on the journey.

 

Enter Curiosity, which was handily equipped with RAD — a Radiation Assessment Detector. The monitoring device was intended to gather radiation data on the surface of Mars.

 

"But about two years before launch we started to realize the fact that RAD was tucked inside the belly of the spacecraft sort of in the same location that a future astronaut might be on a future mission," says Don Hassler, the physicist who led the Southwest Research Institute team that designed RAD.

 

The researchers reasoned they might as well turn the device on during space flight. A few days after launch, RAD powered up and started collecting data.

 

A small portion of the radiation — about 5 percent — came from brief but intense solar storms. Astronauts would be able to avoid this source of radiation by retreating to a sheltered area of their ship. Just ducking down inside a room lined with food supplies would do the trick.

 

The bulk of the radiation was caused by galactic cosmic rays — beams of high energy ions that we don't know how to shield against. Hassler says there's really only one way to minimize the damage caused by these rays: "Go quickly."

 

The shortest possible trip to Mars with current technology would take about six months. During that time an astronaut would experience about four times more radiation than someone on the International Space Station.

 

"An astronaut on ISS for, say six months would receive on the order of maybe 80 millisieverts, compared with the 330 we receive on our way to Mars," Hassler says.

 

The average American is only exposed to about 6 millisieverts of radiation per year. An abdominal CT scan subjects a patient to 10 millisieverts. The dose from a long journey through open space is much higher. Calculating cancer risk from radiation exposure is tricky, but basic estimates suggest a trip to Mars would increase your risk of getting cancer by about 1.5 percent.

 

Double that number for round trip visit, and you quickly approach the limits recommended by the National Council on Radiation Protection.

 

But that doesn't discourage Robert Zubrin, president of The Mars Society and author of The Case for Mars.

 

"Radiation is not a showstopper," he says. "It's not something that the FDA would recommend that everyone do. But we're talking about a mission to Mars here."

 

Zubrin says there are plenty of other risks involved in a Mars mission — and they're risks many would be willing to take. He notes that about 1.5 percent of space shuttle flights ended in disaster.

 

"And yet there are millions of people that, if they had been offered a chance to fly on the shuttle and knowing that, would have jumped at the chance," Zubrin says.

 

The average person already has about a 20 percent chance of dying from cancer. A 40-year-old astronaut who dreams of setting foot on the red planet, might not be bothered by bumping that risk up a few percentage points.

 

"What this paper does is place foursquare in front of the NASA leadership [that] there's no cause for delay, at least as far as radiation is concerned," Zubrin says. "We should now set our course for Mars."

 

Scientists still have questions about radiation on Mars itself. They need more data to better understand the cancer risk for Mars settlers on the surface. But don't worry. Curiosity is working on that too.

 

Space radiation would make Mars mission hazardous

 

Joel Achenbach - Washington Post

 

Of all the hazards facing a human mission to Mars — something NASA and countless space buffs would love to see at some point — one of the hardest to solve is the radiation that saturates interplanetary space. New data, gathered by NASA's Curiosity rover as it traveled to Mars, have confirmed that interplanetary space is a hostile medium and suggest that engineers need to find a way to speed up space travel significantly if they hope to reduce radiation exposure.

 

The new research, published online Thursday by the journal Science, is not a game-changer for human spaceflight. But it brings more hard data to a known risk factor and will help NASA and other space agencies to come up with strategies for making spaceflight safer.

 

Space is not empty but rather is saturated with charged particles. Some are flung from the sun in solar flares and coronal mass ejections. An astronaut protected only by a spacesuit during a spacewalk could become extremely sick if struck by a burst of solar particles.

 

Those particles pose less of a threat inside a shielded spacecraft. But there are other kinds of particles, called galactic cosmic rays, that are spawned in supernovas around the galaxy and arrive at much higher energies, capable of penetrating thick metal barriers. They are virtually unstoppable.

 

The effects of interplanetary radiation on the human body are not well understood. Until now, scientists had limited information about how much radiation penetrates a spacecraft during an interplanetary journey. But the Curiosity rover, which bristles with instruments, carried along a Radiation Assessment Detector, and it measured the incoming radiation during its 253-day trip to Mars, which began in November 2011.

 

Curiosity flew to Mars in a spacecraft that had shielding similar to what astronauts would have on the new crew vehicle being developed by NASA. The detector picked up an average of 1.8 millisieverts of radiation per day. A human being on the surface of the Earth receives only about 3 millisieverts of radiation in an entire year.

 

"The radiation environment in deep space is several hundred times more intense than it is on Earth, and that's even inside a shielded spacecraft," said Cary Zeitlin, a physicist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., and the lead author on the new study.

 

In a fast-trajectory journey to Mars using existing propulsion, astronauts would travel for about 180 days to the Red Planet and 180 days home. According to the report, such a trip would expose them to a total of 662 millisieverts of radiation during the round-trip journey.

 

Some space agencies limit astronauts to 1,000 millisieverts during their entire career. NASA's standard varies from person to person, influenced by age and gender, and it is designed to permit no more than a 3 percent excess risk of death from cancer over the person's lifetime.

 

Astronauts would also be exposed to radiation during their stay on Mars (or in orbit around the planet if the mission did not include a landing). So the total radiation exposure during a mission, particularly one lasting about two years, might exceed the official limits set by space agencies.

 

That does not mean a Mars trip is impossible. The space agencies could decide, for example, that the importance of a Mars mission would justify the waiving of the radiation exposure limit.

 

"The radiation exposure on a trip to Mars would — barring a super-huge solar event — not be lethal. The concerns are mostly about cancer induction (a so-called 'late effect') and damage to the central nervous system," Zeitlin said by e-mail.

 

He said better shielding would help but only to a point. Water and other materials that have a lot of hydrogen are excellent at shielding against cosmic rays. But, Zeitlin said, "Even the best shields will only mitigate the problem to a modest degree, maybe 20-25 percent. While that would be worth pursuing, it would not solve the problem entirely."

 

A faster transit is the key. Using chemical propulsion, it takes at least six months to get to Mars. Geoffrey Landis, a researcher at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, said that it might be possible to cut that travel time in half with a nuclear-based propulsion system.

 

"The difficulty is that you need a very lightweight nuclear reactor to get you enough power for it," Landis said.

 

Data Point to Radiation Risk for Travelers to Mars

 

Kenneth Chang - New York Times

 

Astronauts traveling to Mars, bombarded by the radiation of outer space, would face modestly higher risks of cancer, new NASA measurements confirm.

 

The findings could lead to a search for better shields to block the radiation, new propulsion technologies to shorten the trip, or a decision by the space agency to recalibrate the allowable risks for such an ambitious interplanetary mission.

 

Radiation on the journey to Mars was measured by NASA's newest Mars rover, Curiosity, which carries an instrument the size of a coffee maker that was originally intended to gauge radiation on the planet's surface.

 

Investigators realized that by turning on the instrument right after the rover's launching in November 2011, they could gather data on the radiation hitting the spacecraft from solar storms and from high-energy cosmic rays that come from outside the galaxy.

 

They determined that "the radiation environment is several hundred times more intense than it is on Earth," Cary Zeitlin, a scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., said during a NASA news conference on Thursday, "and that's even inside a shielded spacecraft." The findings will be published in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

 

Radiation dosage is measured in units known as sieverts. A cumulative dose of one sievert is thought to raise the risk of a fatal cancer by about five percentage points.

 

During Curiosity's 253-day, 350-million-mile trip, the rover absorbed about half a sievert — an average of 1.8 thousandths of a sievert per day, mostly from cosmic rays. "That could be higher under different circumstances," Dr. Zeitlin said. The instrument measured radiation from only five solar storms, all modest.

 

NASA is not planning to send people to Mars until the 2030s, but with current technology, it would take six months to get there and six months to return to Earth. As such, astronauts would absorb about two-thirds of a sievert. By contrast, a person on Earth receives less than a thousandth of a sievert per year from outer space, Dr. Zeitlin said. Americans absorb a few thousandths of a sievert per year, mostly from X-rays and CT scans — still much less than from a Mars trip.

 

According to the National Cancer Institute, the lifetime risk of dying from cancer is 21 percent; the two-thirds of a sievert from a round-trip mission to Mars would raise that risk by three percentage points, to 24 percent.

 

The measurements largely agree with earlier estimates and measurements. "These are confirmatory measurements that will help us refine our models," said Edward J. Semones, the spaceflight radiation health officer at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

 

NASA's standards currently limit the excess cancer risk for its astronauts to three percentage points.

 

"We currently would exceed our acceptable limits," Dr. Semones said.

 

Advocates for a human mission to Mars say the radiation risk is overblown. "What it shows is that the cosmic ray dose on a Mars mission is not a show-stopper," Robert Zubrin, founder and president of the Mars Society, said about the new data.

 

"This is modest proportion of overall risk," he added. "Therefore, what it means is that we don't need to delay a humans-to-Mars program until we have a miraculous advanced propulsion system that can get us there faster."

 

A spacecraft malfunction during the mission would pose a much greater risk to the astronauts than the radiation, Dr. Zubrin said.

 

The radiation risk has also not deterred plans by a private group, the Inspiration Mars Foundation, to launch a married couple on a 501-day flyby of Mars in January 2018.

 

"Those numbers are less than the risk a lot of people take in sports," said Taber MacCallum, the chief technology officer for the foundation. "They don't seem that unreasonable to me."

 

Another private group, Mars One, which hopes to establish a settlement on Mars in the 2020s, said it had already received thousands of applications.

 

Mars-bound astronauts would face huge radiation exposure

Measurements taken by the Mars Curiosity rover indicate that astronauts would endure a greater exposure than had been known, complicating a potential manned mission, a study says

 

Amina Khan - Los Angeles Times

 

Astronauts heading to Mars would face exposure to a deluge of radiation, in some cases as much as NASA policy permits, according to new data from the Curiosity rover.

 

The space agency limits astronauts to a 3% increased risk of fatal cancer. This translates to different levels of radiation exposure, depending on an astronaut's age and gender.

 

But according to a paper published in Friday's edition of the journal Science, radiation exposure in a nonstop round-trip to Mars, which would take about a year, would ring in at about 662 millisieverts.

 

One sievert, or 1,000 millisieverts, of radiation over time is generally associated with a 5% increase in fatal cancer risk.

 

"It is clear that the exposure from the cruise phases alone is a large fraction of (and in some cases greater than) currently accepted astronaut career limits," the authors wrote.

 

As the Obama administration calls for a manned trip to the Red Planet by the mid-2030s, mission planners will have to address the challenge, experts said.

 

"It's not a show-stopper," said Lewis Dartnell, an astrobiologist at the University of Leicester in England who was not involved in the work. "But it does mean if we want to do a human mission to Mars as safely as we can, we perhaps need to start thinking about how to better shield and protect these astronauts against radiation in space."

 

Radiation detectors on most unmanned spacecraft are exposed directly to space and pick up all the energetic protons, helium ions and heavier particles flying around out there. But because Curiosity's Radiation Assessment Detector was huddled inside its protective spacecraft, its readings are the first to show what kind of radiation risk humans might face while traveling inside a shielded spacecraft.

 

Curiosity's RAD instrument was designed to measure the radiation on the surface of Mars. But late in the game, scientists realized they could also use it in flight to test how much radiation got through the vessel's shielding.

 

"It actually wasn't really planned until about a year before the launch, and then we realized we had the opportunity to do this," said first author Cary Zeitlin, a physicist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.

 

At a news conference Thursday, RAD lead scientist and Southwest Research Institute physicist Donald Hassler compared Curiosity's protective spacecraft to the similarly designed Orion capsule, a manned craft Lockheed Martin is building that could carry humans to the moon and Mars.

 

Given the ships' similar silhouettes, measurements of radiation within Curiosity's spacecraft could help shed light on the exposure astronauts might face traveling in Orion, he said.

 

Scientists are concerned about the radiation dose humans might get once on Mars, but they think that exposure during the trip from Earth would be much more severe because particles are coming from all directions and not just from above, Zeitlin said.

 

The researchers used RAD to detect two types of radiation: galactic cosmic rays, which are particles hurled from supernova explosions and other high-energy phenomena; and solar energetic particles, shot out from the sun after a flare or a coronal mass ejection.

 

The RAD instrument picked up an average of about 1.8 millisieverts per day of galactic cosmic rays, according to the study. The total radiation was the equivalent of getting a CT scan every five to six days for the duration of the trip, Zeitlin said.

 

Over the 348 million miles Curiosity traveled to Mars, the rover only experienced five solar energetic particle events, which lasted up to a few days. Though levels of radiation shot up during those events, overall they contributed only about 5% of the total radiation exposure during the trip.

 

Still, the researchers noted, the sun has been in a very weak solar maximum recently. If NASA someday sends Mars-bound astronauts into outer space, it could be during a much more active solar season.

 

University of Leicester's Dartnell said that engineers would have to figure out how to make the spacecraft get to Mars much faster — or would have to find creative ways to shield the spacecraft.

 

For example, some researchers have proposed using a ship's water and wastewater supplies to line a small protective chamber for astronauts. Water serves as a very effective shield against radiation.

 

Or, Dartnell added, it may be time to consider "reassessing what level of risk we think is acceptable" for astronauts.

 

Radiation measured by Curiosity on trip to Mars could threaten astronauts' health

 

Lee Roop - Huntsville Times

 

An already challenging mission to land a human on Mars has gotten even harder with word that new measurements show radiation exposure to astronauts on a trip to the Red Planet "could exceed NASA's current career limit for astronauts if current propulsion systems are used," the space agency said Thursday.

 

Thanks to an instrument aboard the spacecraft that delivered NASA's Mars Curiosity rover to Mars in 2012, NASA has accurate data of the radiation exposure inside a spacecraft that is "similar to potential human exploration spacecraft," NASA said in a press release. The findings are published in the May 31 edition of the journal Science.

 

"In terms of accumulated dose, it's like getting a whole-body CT scan once every five or six days," said Cary Zeitlin, a principal scientist at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio and lead author of the paper on the findings.

 

NASA has set a career limit for its astronauts in low-Earth orbit of a 3 percent increased risk of fatal cancer. A typical trip to Mars would take 180 days each way and expose the astronauts to 662 millisieverts of radiation, not counting any time on the planet, according to the new findings. One thousand millisieverts of radiation - or 1 Sievert - increases the risk of fatal cancer by 5 percent.

 

The readings from inside Curiosity's transport ship are based on current shielding technology and propulsion systems. Scientists say improving shielding may yield only limited gains in safety, and the key to a successful mission is faster propulsion.

 

Doubts cast on Mars mission as radiation levels may prove too high, warns study

Latest research claims they will be endure the sort of exposure that few people of Earth have experienced

 

Steve Connor - The Independent (UK)

 

The first people to make the perilous journey to Mars will have to cope with long periods of boredom, the constant worry of returning home safely and the joy and pain of each other's company.

 

According to the latest research into long-duration space travel, they will also endure the sort of radiation exposure that few people of Earth have experienced.

 

A study has found that astronauts will receive more than half a lifetime's radiation dose during the return journey of a future manned mission to Mars - a calculation that does not take into account the time spent on the surface of the Red Planet.

 

Measurements of cosmic rays within the Mars Science Laboratory, the unmanned spacecraft that delivered the Curiosity rover to the planet last year, found that radiation exposure would be higher than some experts had predicted for a human mission to Mars and back.

 

It is the first time that scientists have made radiation measurements on a Mars mission from within a space probe that has similar radiation shielding to a manned spacecraft. Other space probes to Mars had little or no shielding.

 

The researchers found that during the 360-day round trip to Mars a person on board would receive more than 60 per cent of the maximum lifetime dose allowed for an astronaut. Any Martian explorer would be exposed to further radiation during the 500 days or so they spent on the surface of the planet.

 

Nasa currently stipulates that its astronauts should not receive more than 1,000 milli-Sieverts of radiation over their lifetime - which equates to a 5 per cent increase in the risk of cancer. The radiation device on the Mars Science Laboratory measured about 660mSv - equivalent to getting a whole body CT scan once every five or six days.

 

Cary Zeitlin of Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, who led the study published in Science, said that the relatively high radiation exposure would pose serious problems for a future manned mission to Mars, which Nasa is tentatively planning for some time beyond 2020.

 

"Radiation exposure at the level we measured is right at the edge, or possibly over the edge of what is considered acceptable in terms of career exposure limits defined by Nasa and other space agencies," Dr Zeitlin said.

 

"Those limits depend on our understanding of the health risks associated with exposure to cosmic radiation, and at present that understanding is quite limited," he said.

 

However, other experts believe that the risk is manageable. New materials could improve the shielding against cosmic and solar radiation and astronauts could be selected on the basis of their genetic resistance to radiation damage, which increases the risk of cancer by damaging DNA.

 

"These results show that cosmic rays are not a showstopper. This confirms what you might expect: the radiation risk is quite acceptable. Frankly, it's a modest portion of the risks on a Mars mission," Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society in Colorado, told the journal Science.

 

The other risks associated with a manned mission to Mars include:

 

Sleep deprivation

 

The Mars500 project, where six men spent 520 days and nights confined to a terrestrial "spacecraft" in a research institute near Moscow, found that one of the biggest problems was getting enough of the right sort of sleep.

 

There were wide variations in their circadian rhythms - the 24-hour sleep-wake cycle - of the six-crew. One man shifted to a 25-hour period, meaning that every 12th day his body was telling him it was midnight when it was in fact midday.

 

Lack of natural light, fresh air and contact with the outside world disturbed the sleeping patterns of the six volunteers. Only one of the crew retained a near-normal sleep pattern, when he was active during the day and rested at night.

 

Selecting astronauts and the basis of being regular sleepers could help to overcome this difficulty.

 

Microgravity

 

It is well established that long period in low or zero gravity causes major changes to the physiology of the body. The lack of gravity causes muscles to waste away and bones to become frail, while the heart becomes weaker at pumping blood around the body.

 

Regular exercise using a cycle-like device, a zero-gravity treadmill and a set of resistance "weights" not only boost muscles and bone, it maintains levels of red blood cells, which are crucial of overall fitness.

 

Cabin fever

 

Being cooped up for a year or more in the claustrophobic confines of a spacecraft can severely test "interpersonal relationships". One suggestion is to send a pair of astronauts who are already in a proven personal relationship, such as a married couple. This could lead to the first interplanetary marriage guidance if strains develop.

 

Food

 

Space food tends to be an acquired taste. Spicing up the menu with something fresh and tasty would be good for morale as well as health and psychological wellbeing.

 

Growing your own food in some kind of cosmic greenhouse attached to a space ship would be one solution - a cosmic allotment would also give astronauts something to do.

 

Astronauts on board the International Space Station also said that the cuisine of the European Space Agency was favoured over the American or Russian equivalent. So, hiring a French or Italian chef to prepare the space menu may help to maintain the mood of any Martian explorers.

 

Getting back home

 

One of the biggest technical challenges is working out how to get home again. If a manned mission to Mars manages to explore the surface of the planet it may be necessary to find a source of water and fuel that could be used for both drinking and the return journey home.

 

Mars is thought to have deposits of water, which with the help of solar panels could be converted into oxygen and hydrogen, the raw material of rocket fuel. Any return mission to Mars will need a lot of pre-planning to ensure that astronauts are able to get back home - although some very dedicated or foolhardy people may be prepared to volunteer for a one-way ticket.

 

Doubts cast on any manned Mars mission

A mission to Mars would expose astronauts to dangerously high levels of radiation, it has been found, casting doubts on the likelihood of a manned mission ever taking place.

 

London Telegraph

 

A study has found that simply the return journey to the red planet would expose people to radiation levels which would represent a large proportion of their lifetime dose.

 

The confirmation of what has long been feared comes after Nasa's Curiosity rover counted the number of high-energy space particles striking it on its eight-month journey.

 

A radiation assessment detector (RAD) made measurements of the environment inside the spacecraft.

 

Cary Zeitlin of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said that looking at the results astronauts would be subject to a high dose of radiation which would representing a large fraction, around 60 per cent, of the amount that is acceptable over a lifetime.

 

He said: "In terms of accumulated dose, it's like getting a whole-body CT scan once every five or six days.

 

"Understanding the radiation environment inside a spacecraft carrying humans to Mars or other deep space destinations is critical for planning future crewed missions.

 

"Based on RAD measurements, unless propulsion systems advance rapidly, a large share of mission radiation exposure will be during outbound and return travel, when the spacecraft and its inhabitants will be exposed to the radiation environment in interplanetary space, shielded only by the spacecraft itself."

 

The report, published in the journal Science Today, looked at the exposure to galactic cosmic rays and solar energetic particles that the spaceship experienced during the journey to Mars.

 

Dr Zeitlin said a spacecraft carrying astronauts would have protection against solar particles, but that cosmic rays are much more difficult to stop.

 

The next step will be to investigate radiation while on the surface of the planet itself, said Dr Zeitlin, who added this was critical in light of some of the proposed scenarios for Mars missions which envisaged astronauts spending up to 500 days on Mars.

 

"This issue will have to be addressed, one way or another, before humans can go into deep space for months or years at a time," he said.

 

More asteroid outreach, digital and analog

 

Jeff Foust – SpacePolitics.com

 

With NASA's plans for an asteroid retrieval mission not currently winning widespread approval, particularly in Congress, as seen as a recent House Science Committee hearing, the space agency and the administration appear to be stepping up their efforts to build support for the mission.

 

The Office of Science and Technology Policy announced this week plans to host a Google+ "hangout" at 2 pm EDT this Friday on asteroids. NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver will participate, along with The Planetary Society's Bill Nye, Ed Lu of the B612 Foundation, Planetary Resources co-founder Peter Diamandis, and Jose Luis Galache, an astronomer at the Minor Planets Center. The news hook for this hangout is Friday's flyby of Earth by the asteroid 1998 QE2, a near Earth object 2.7 kilometers across that poses no impact risk to the Earth for the foreseeable future. However, the OSTP announcement also refers to the asteroid initiative in the president's 2014 budget request, including an asteroid retrieval mission.

 

On June 18, NASA is hosting a half-day workshop on the asteroid initiative in Washington, which will include the release of a request for information (RFI) "to seek new ideas for mission elements" from the community. The agenda features a variety of senior NASA and OSTP officials. "We will describe our upcoming planning timeline and clearly identify opportunities and processes for providing input into our planning," the NASA announcement reads. For those who can't be there in person, the event will be broadcast on NASA TV. That workshop could address one of the frequent criticisms about the agency's asteroid initiative: the lack of details about mission's cost, schedule, and so on, at least by explaining when those details will be better known.

 

Why We Can't Send Humans to Mars Yet (And How We'll Fix That)

 

Adam Mann - Wired.com

 

While humans have dreamed about going to Mars practically since it was discovered, an actual mission in the foreseeable future is finally starting to feel like a real possibility.

 

But how real is it?

 

NASA says it's serious about one day doing a manned mission while private companies are jockeying to present ever-more audacious plans to get there. And equally important, public enthusiasm for the Red Planet is riding high after the Curiosity rover's spectacular landing and photo-rich mission.

 

Earlier this month, scientists, NASA officials, private space company representatives and other members of the spaceflight community gathered in Washington D.C. for three days to discuss all the challenges at the Humans to Mars (H2M) conference, hosted by the spaceflight advocacy group Explore Mars, which has called for a mission that would send astronauts in the 2030s.

 

But the Martian dust devil is in the details, and there is still one big problem: We currently lack the technology to get people to Mars and back. An interplanetary mission of that scale would likely be one of the most expensive and difficult engineering challenges of the 21st century.

 

"Mars is pretty far away," NASA's director of the International Space Station, Sam Scimemi said during the H2M conference. "It's six orders of magnitude further than the space station. We would need to develop new ways to live away from the Earth and that's never been done before. Ever."

 

There are some pretty serious gaps in our abilities, including the fact that we can't properly store the necessary fuel long enough for a Mars trip, we don't yet have a vehicle capable of landing people on the Martian surface, and we aren't entirely sure what it will take to keep them alive once there. A large part of the H2M summit involved panelists discussing the various obstacles to a manned Mars mission.

 

"I've said repeatedly I'll know when we're serious about sending humans to the Mars surface when they start making significant technology investments in particular areas," engineer Bobby Braun, former NASA chief technologist, told Wired.

 

The good news is that there's nothing technologically impossible about a manned Mars mission. It's just a matter of deciding it's a priority and putting the time and money into developing the necessary tools. Right now NASA, other space agencies, and private companies are working to bring Mars in reach.

 

Here, Wired presents the most challenging obstacles we'll have to overcome to get to Mars and how to fix them.

 

Getting Off the Earth

 

Before you can run you need to walk. And before you can do deep space exploration, you need to get off your own planet.

 

While we've been sending people and probes into space for more than 50 years, a manned Mars mission would be on a much larger scale than almost anything we've done before. There is no rocket in existence that can take off from the Earth's surface and escape its gravitational pull to reach space carrying the weight of a large spacecraft, astronauts and all the supplies and materials needed to get to Mars. Most likely, rockets would have to make several trips to drop off supplies and pieces for a vehicle into low-Earth orbit. There astronauts would slowly build the vehicle over time and then rocket off to the Red Planet.

 

That still requires some heavy lifting. The largest construct assembled in space, the International Space Station, has a mass of 4,500 metric tons and required 31 spaceship flights to complete. According to NASA, a Mars vehicle capable of taking people to the Red Planet and back would be smaller than the space station – around 1,250 metric tons. But our capabilities are hampered by the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet, which was capable of carrying large masses to Earth orbit with relative ease.

 

Using existing rockets, aerospace engineer Bret Drake, who leads planning and analysis at NASA's Exploration Missions and Systems Office, estimated it would take 70 or 80 launches to assemble a Mars mission spacecraft. Considering the ISS took more than a decade to complete, assembling a Mars vehicle would require a very long time.

 

But in the future, this task should be much easier. NASA is hoping to have its Space Launch System ready by 2017, which will be the largest rocket ever flown, even bigger than the Saturn V that carried astronauts to the moon. The private spaceflight company SpaceX is also working on its new Falcon Heavy launch vehicle, which would have somewhat less cargo capacity than NASA's big rocket but still much greater than anything around today. Falcon Heavy's first tests could begin later this year.

 

NASA estimates it would need to fire at least seven of its new SLS rockets to deliver to orbit the people, supplies, and ships necessary for a Mars mission. While no cakewalk, that's a great deal easier, faster, and cheaper than what we could do today.

 

Fuel Storage

 

Humans aren't the only things you want to send on a manned Mars mission.

 

In order to stay alive in space, people need lots of things: food, oxygen, shelter, and, perhaps most importantly, fuel. Somewhere around 80 percent of the initial mass launched to space for a human Mars mission is going to be propellant. Trouble is, storing that amount of fuel in space is hard.

 

Objects in low-Earth orbit (the place you'd park your Mars spaceship while you built it) travel around the world every 90 minutes. During half that time, they experience the intense heat of the sun and then the unheated blackness of space. That difference causes liquid hydrogen and oxygen – rocket fuel – to vaporize. Unless tanks are regularly vented, containers holding these materials are liable to explode.

 

Hydrogen in particular is susceptible to leaking out of its tanks, resulting in a loss of about 4 percent per month. This means that if a Mars mission required a year to assemble in low-Earth orbit, it would lose more than half of its propellant before even departing to the Red Planet. At a cost of around $10,000 to send a kilogram to space, that would be an expensive waste.

 

NASA is actively pursuing new technology that would allow them to store propellant in space for long periods of time. Starting this year, the agency hopes to demonstrate the capability for large, in-space cryogenic loading and transfer. Such technology would be extremely valuable for a manned Mars mission and could one day lead to the equivalent of a Space Age gas depots waiting to top up a rocket's fuel.

 

Advanced Propulsion

 

While you want to get people to Mars as fast as possible to minimize exposure to the hazards of radiation and weightlessness in space, their supplies can leave Earth earlier and travel at a more leisurely pace.

 

A relatively low-power engine could push along a large ship carrying astronauts' supplies for their time on Mars. In its interplanetary plans, NASA would like to send such things on ahead of a crew and have them waiting on the Martian surface when the people arrive.

 

The agency is currently working on advancing solar electric propulsion, which shoots ionized gas behind a craft to move it forward. Previous missions, such as NASA's Dawn and the Japanese Hayabusa spacecraft, have used this method. A Mars mission would need much larger solar electric thrusters than have been used before. One of the potentially useful things that could come from the agency's plans for a mission to collect a small asteroid and tug it back to Earth would be moving this technology forward.

 

Landing on Mars

 

We currently don't have the capability to land people on Mars, plain and simple. This is a fairly recently recognized problem, having only been understood through calculations made in the early 2000s.

 

As engineers began to build larger and larger machines to land on the Martian surface, they realized they were reaching a limit. The thin Martian atmosphere can't quickly inflate very large parachutes, such as those that would be needed to slow a spacecraft big enough to carry humans. But the atmosphere is just substantial enough that a lunar-style vehicle using downward-facing rockets couldn't land without creating too much turbulence.

 

The 1-ton Curiosity rover, which arrived on Mars in 2012, is the largest object our current technology can place on the ground. Human-scale missions, according to NASA, will require landing at least 40 tons. Even the bare bones one-way manned mission proposed by Mars One would bring around 10 tons of material to the surface.

 

"Landing Curiosity was landing a small nuclear car," said engineer Bobby Braun, former NASA chief technologist and currently a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. For a human-scale mission, "We're talking about landing perhaps a two-story house, and then another two-story house with fuel and supplies right next to it."

 

"That's a fantastic challenge," he added. Though Curiosity's landing was a truly remarkable achievement, it "pales in comparison to what might be required one day to land humans."

 

Landing things at that scale will require new technologies that have to be invested in, matured, and tested over and over to make sure that they don't kill their crew.

 

"The one thing we do not want landing for humans to be characterized as is 'Seven Minutes of Terror'," said engineer Kendall Brown of NASA's Marshall Spaceflight Center.

 

Curiosity also had a relatively large landing ellipse. That is, researchers could be reasonably sure where the rover would touch down, but only within an ellipse seven by 20 kilometers. Imagine if a human descent vehicle touched down on Mars and then the astronauts' supplies came down 20 km away. It would be quite a schlep just to go pick up your extra oxygen.

 

The next generation of landers will need accuracy on the order of hundreds of meters and make sure they don't come down on top of some other vital piece of equipment, like a nuclear power plant.

 

Scientists at NASA are currently working on hypersonic inflatable systems. These are basically gigantic balloon-like objects that would expand and stiffen to become something like a super-rigid parachute, helping to slow a landing vehicle down. But the key technology to landing people on Mars is something called supersonic retropropulsion.

 

A spacecraft comes into the Martian atmosphere at a screaming 24,000 kph. Even after slowing down with a parachute or inflatable, it would be traveling well above the speed of sound. Simply sparking a rocket flame would be something like trying to light a candle while someone is blowing on the wick the entire time. And once you had your thruster going, it would be injecting that flame into an extremely dynamic environment, something our technology has never had to handle before.

 

NASA has done wind tunnel tests to look at this problem before, once in the 1960s and 70s for the Viking landers, and again more recently. The good news is the testing shows that supersonic rockets are theoretically possible. The bad news is that NASA is not working on this program anymore.

 

While NASA may yet pick up testing for this again, a member of the private spaceflight business may be leapfrogging them. SpaceX is working to create reusable rocket tanks that descend from orbit and land back at their launch pad. The company is planning to test supersonic retropropulsion later this year, which could be used both on Earth and in an eventual Mars mission.

 

Keeping the Crew Healthy

 

Space is a dangerous place to send complicated, delicately tuned systems, and "perhaps the most complex system of them all is the human body," said health specialist Saralyn Mark, president of SolaMed Solutions, which consults with NASA's health and medical office.

 

Ironically, the thing responsible for powering most life on Earth, the sun, is also the most deadly part of space travel for living organisms.

 

Once outside the protective magnetic field of our planet, solar radiation would accumulate in an astronaut's body, raising his or her risk of cancer. And massive explosions like solar flares or energetic particle events could throw potentially lethal doses of radiation right at a spaceship. That's why the private manned mission to flyby Mars in 2018, Inspiration Mars, is planned for a time of low activity from the sun, when the chance of a solar outburst is lowest. Though, lowering solar activity increases levels of radiation streaming in from the galaxy, which would also be hazardous.

 

The trip out to Mars would probably take between seven and nine months, and humans would need to be protected the entire time. Currently, the most feasible solution is to line a spacecraft with water, which would absorb radiation and provide some amount of shelter during a solar storm. But water is heavy, and any added weight on a mission is an added cost. In the future, the capability to create a mini-magnetic field to protect a crew could be developed, but this is years or possibly decades away.

 

Aside from radiation, the biggest challenges for a manned Mars trip will be microgravity, which causes a host of odd medical conditions, and isolation, which can bring on a range of psychological issues.

 

The record for continuous time spent in space is held by a few pioneering Russians, who remained aboard the Mir space station for periods up to a year or longer. "That's pretty much the limit of our understanding," said Richard S. Williams, NASA's chief health and medical officer. "And when you're talking about going to Mars, that's up to 30 months for a round-trip."

 

What we do know is that extended stays in zero-g cause bone and calcium degradation, muscle loss, and a recently-identified issue that may stem from swelling of the optic nerve. If left unchecked, astronauts arriving on Mars could be weak, brittle-boned, and possibly blind.

 

Medical advances and regular exercise seem to help some of the biological problems of space travel. NASA is currently planning to have its astronauts undergo long stays of up to a year on the International Space Station to better understand these factors.

 

But the psychological issues that a crew en route to Mars will face are largely unknown. With the ISS, Earth is a relatively short Soyuz ride away, and astronauts can gaze down upon it. But crewmembers on a Martian trip would have no way to abort their mission and would suffer an ever-increasing time delay in communication with home.

 

There have been other isolated group experiments that offer some insight into how a Mars crew might fare. The Biosphere-2 experiments of the 1990s had seven or eight people stay in a large simulated environment for two years at a time.

 

"All crewmembers in Biosphere-2 agreed that the psychological issues were the biggest issue," said Taber MacCallum, co-founder of Paragon Space Development and a participant in Biosphere-2.

 

The longest simulation approximating a Mars trip so far has been the Mars 500 mission, which had six men stay for 500 days in a sealed room while researchers monitored the results. The participants in this experiment became lethargic and bored. One of them became depressed. Only two out of the six crewmembers experienced no real problems and only one kept busy and active, with no deterioration of cognitive performance.

 

A Mars mission would test the limits of isolated human groups. Crewmembers would probably have to pass through long-term screenings to make sure they are fit both physically and mentally.

 

Living Off the Land

 

With freezing temperatures and an arid environment, Mars may not seem like the best place to set up camp. But there is a wealth of materials on the Red Planet that astronauts could use to their advantage.

 

NASA and other space agencies call this in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) and it basically means living off the land. A machine could be sent to Mars ahead of astronauts that might extract oxygen from the carbon dioxide atmosphere. Or elements in the soil could be isolated and then used for building materials or rocket fuel.

 

As has been recognized in recent decades, Mars has a lot of water locked up in ice. In certain places, there are enough ice crystals in the soil that a robot could simply scoop up a heap.

 

"Prior plans [to go to Mars] said we have to bring all this water," said space physicist Jim Green, NASA's director of planetary exploration. "Now we say, bring a straw."

 

Though often discussed, ISRU technologies are something that have never been developed. NASA would have to demonstrate that living off the extraterrestrial land is feasible.

 

Human missions to Mars also often call for some sort of crop growing capabilities. At first blush, the idea of farming on Mars seems like a reasonable plan. Your astronauts are going to want fresh vegetables and a farm could lessen the amount of freeze-dried food they might have to take.

 

But growing crops on another planet is tricky. You wouldn't want your crew to rely on the food they produce, said Taber MacCallum, co-founder of Paragon Space Development, which makes life-support systems for space. Plants are finicky. If the crew makes "one mistake, they all die," he said.

 

Looking at the amount of food you'd get out of farming for the amount of energy you'd have to put in, and considering all the temperature controls and other systems technology necessary, MacCallum estimates it would take 15 to 20 years of continuous habitation on Mars before it would be worth putting in an agricultural system.

 

Protecting Ourselves and the Planet

 

Earth is the only place we know of with life. But that doesn't mean something else isn't out there.

 

Because of this possibility, NASA and other spacefaring nations have agreed to follow strict planetary protection standards. When the Apollo 11 astronauts came back from the moon, NASA quarantined them for three weeks just to make sure they weren't harboring some terrible space virus that would destroy mankind. The procedure was repeated until Apollo 14, when scientists felt confident that there was no harm.

 

The moon is sterile. Mars is another case altogether. Evidence suggests that the Red Planet may have once been capable of supporting life. There is a slim but non-zero chance that something is still alive on the planet and could potentially be virulent.

 

Alongside the possibility of destroying mankind with Mars microbes, we also want to avoid the opposite problem. Humans come with their own smorgasbord of bacteria and fungi (your body has 10 microbial cells to every human cell in it) and right now there's nothing we can do to prevent some human contamination from leaking out onto Mars. Future technologies will have to improve our ability to seal ourselves from the dangers of Mars and Mars from the dangers of us.

 

To adhere to the strictest planetary protection protocols, perhaps the best course would be to spend a few missions without humans on the surface of Mars. People could park in orbit or set up camp on one of Mars' moons and teleoperate rovers and other robots on the surface in near-real time. They could pick over the surface for evidence of life and perhaps uncover areas that might be safer to land in. Future technologies could also help prevent Earth contaminants from infecting Mars for when we actually land people.

 

Dealing with Dust

 

"The number one problem on the surface of Mars is going to be dust," said Grant Anderson, chief engineer of Paragon Space Development, which makes life-support systems for space.

 

The arid Martian environment has created ultra-tiny dust grains flying around the planet for billions of years. These fines are not quite like anything we have on Earth.

 

The only similar situation we have faced before was the moon dust that the Apollo missions encountered. The ultra-sharp and abrasive moon soil was recognized as something that could clog up machinery and damage basic functions.

 

"We spent $17 million trying to solve dust problems and I don't know of one that worked," said Anderson. "John Young [commander of Apollo 16] was out on the moon brushing thermal panels with a pig-hair brush and it didn't work well."

 

For a human crew on the surface, living on Mars will be like living in a giant salt flat. The dust will be caustic and the crew's tools will need to be extra-hardy. During Apollo 17, astronaut Harrison Schmitt threw his geologic hammer away because the handle corroded off after just three days.

 

Keeping the crew as free of dust as possible will be even more important because Martian sand is thought to be toxic. Though little is known at this point, Curiosity and a previous mission, the Mars Phoenix lander, proved that the Martian soil is chock full of chemicals called perchlorates. These substances, which are basically highly chlorinated salts, can cause problems in the human thyroid gland. The issue is not well understood but researchers have labeled perchlorate "an emerging chemical of concern" in Earth water supplies.

 

The dust on Mars may also contain carcinogenic material and produce allergic reactions or pulmonary problems in humans, similar to the lunar hay fever experienced by Apollo astronauts. Missions will need to know how the Martian dust will interact with the humidity in a human habitat or else it could burn human skin like lye or laundry bleach.

 

Curiosity is helping scientists understand the extent to which Mars dust poses a hazard to human health. But "precursor missions should have some test of how dust is going to kill you," said Anderson. His company has been developing seals that they think can keep the dust out but they will need extensive experimentation to make sure they work.

 

Making the Plan

 

In the grand scheme of things, engineering challenges are easy. It's the social and political aspects of a manned Mars mission that are likely to be toughest.

 

Currently, many different plans are floating around. NASA has its Design Reference Architecture (.pdf). SpaceX and Inspiration Mars have their visions. Other space agencies are weighing in with their own ideas. But at some point, one of these will have to be chosen as the plan.

 

No one knows exactly how much a human mission will cost but it is likely to run to tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars. Adjusted for inflation, each Apollo landing cost roughly $18 billion, and a Mars mission would be an order of magnitude greater in difficulty. It seems most likely that an undertaking of that scale will be led by an international partnership. That requires everything to be outlined in formal commitments between participating countries. The only similar space mission, building the International Space Station, required about five years for the countries involved to hammer out their deals.

 

The plan would also have to be flexible. The world is complicated and multi-year missions need to cope with changing political landscapes and economic downturns.

 

We often have a vision for beautiful machinery in space, says Sam Scimemi, NASA's director of the ISS: Something like the majestic wheeled space station in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

 

"What we got with the ISS is not as pretty or sexy as a big rotating wheel," Scimemi said. "But this is what the politics, budget, and technical capability all provided for. After all the dreaming, this is what was built."

 

There are many that wish for a new Space Race to spur on the U.S to Mars. But the future is not going to be like the past and the very unique set of circumstances leading to the Apollo project are not likely to be repeated.

 

There are certainly new players that did not exist in the previous Space Age. Private companies have set their sights on the Red Planet, in particular Inspiration Mars and SpaceX, and there are probably many who believe commercial industry should go it alone.

 

"But at current levels of technology, governments are going to play a big role," said space policy expert Scott Pace of the George Washington University. "Human space exploration is driven by visions and hopes, but they must be grounded in facts and analysis. Fantasies don't get you to space."

 

Pace outlined the best ways to get countries to sign off on an ambitious plan like a manned Mars mission.

 

"Destinations are really just symbols, proxies for skills, inspirations, values," he said. "The U.S is not going beyond low-Earth orbit without international partners. Apollo isn't going to happen again. I think our partners are willing to go to the moon and Mars with us, but I don't think they're going to go without us."

 

Virgin Galactic, XCOR Race To Be Coolest In Space

 

Gilliam Rich - Investor's Business Daily

 

The space race is back. But this time it's not a battle between the USA and the USSR but rather a race between private companies to become the coolest brand in space travel.

 

On Friday, Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic auctioned off the chance to sit with "The Great Gatsby" actor Leonardo DiCaprio aboard a space flight. The winning bidder paid $1.5 million for a seat on the spacecraft that has yet to make its first commercial flight.

 

Virgin Galactic plans to start commercial flights later this year or early next year. Branson will be among the firm's first commercial travelers to lower Earth orbit.

 

Virgin Galactic might have the eccentric billionaire behind it and Virgin's brand, which has been successful in the music, aviation and other industries, but it isn't the only company looking towards the final frontier.

 

"We wouldn't be as creative on branding if Virgin wasn't in the market," XCOR Aerospace's Chief Operating Officer Andrew Nelson said at last week's Space Tech Conference.

 

Earlier this year Unilever (UN) bought 22 flights on XCOR's Lynx spacecraft for its Axe Apollo brand body spray promotion.

 

According to Nelson, XCOR and Virgin have about 100 customers that plan to fly on both vehicles, because each ride offers slightly different experiences. XCOR's Lynx craft seats two — the pilot and passenger — giving customers a cockpit view of space. Virgin's aircraft seats eight, two pilots and six passengers.

 

Both companies may be competitors for investment and corporate partnerships but they applaud each other's success, as it helps make commercial lower Earth space flight a reality.

 

Tesla Motors' (TSLA) Elon Musk is revolutionizing electric cars. Another of his firms, SpaceX is revolutionizing space flight with last year's successful launch of its Dragon capsule to the International Space Station. SpaceX isn't geared toward tourism but is focused on taking the mantle from NASA for resupplying the ISS. SpaceX, which has a multibillion-dollar contract with NASA, has paved the way for other companies to receive funding.

 

Nelson believes that in four to five years low Earth orbital space flight could be a $2 billion to $3 billion per year industry. XCOR, which currently charges $90,000 per flight, expects that to drop to $50,000 to $60,000 in the next 10 to 15 years.

 

"We want to provide lower cost access to space," Nelson said. "It's kind of like the Internet, who knows what people will do with it. Space will become a place where commerce is done."

 

The Front Burner:

Plan shows agency still turns obstacles into opportunities

 

Frank DiBello - Orlando Sentinel (Opinion)

 

(DiBello is president and CEO of Space Florida, the state space development agency)

 

The concept of identifying and capturing an asteroid that keenly interests us, then moving it out of its existing orbit to near the moon for hands-on research, is quirky, brilliant and exactly what we need to do at this point in our nation's history.

 

This mission uses the vehicles and spacecraft that are already being funded, designed and built right now, without requiring an additional major infusion of cash for significant new destination hardware.

 

Grabbing a celestial body and moving it was once science fiction. Now it is real, it is achievable, and we must seize the opportunity, while we are developing the much-needed technologies and capabilities for longer-range manned missions to farther-out destinations in the solar system.

 

This nation and its next generation of explorers need a dream they can trust will be there for more than just a few years. The vision of going to the moon or Mars is important, for all of us, but program and career decisions need to be based on reality.

 

Apollo was inspirational and historic, but it was a blank check from Congress to NASA that we will not likely ever see again. That is a cold but immutable fact. For the U.S. space program, the laws of Congress are no less relevant than the fundamental laws of physics.

 

This commentary is not about why America should eat its vegetables, but why this asteroid strategy is truly exciting, meaningful and just flat cool.

 

NASA in general and Kennedy Space Center in particular have long pursued the technology to use the resources available beyond Earth. Developing the capability to use what the solar system provides is a challenge that will excite seasoned engineers and young minds alike. This project does that in a most profound way.

 

This asteroid strategy will require much of this nation's technical brain trust and industrial base. It will demand new technology with serious and long-term applications, it will result in more launches, and sooner, of American astronauts beyond low Earth orbit, and it shrewdly taps into a growing public and scientific interest in near-Earth objects and planetary defense.

 

Exploration and exploitation are becoming parallel tracks of research and development, if not becoming outright indistinguishable. The private sector, the true power of the American economy, is fast investing serious resources in this nation's space program — not only in the technology of launch vehicles but also in commercial exploitation of space resources.

 

Before those investments can begin returning profits, paying taxes, and generating American jobs, the sticky issue of property rights in space will need to be addressed. International space treaties on property rights are currently ambiguous at best and often openly hostile to the concept. This must change for all the obvious reasons.

 

This asteroid strategy enables this issue to come to the attention of the international community sooner rather than later. If the U.S., or a consortium of nations under our leadership, moves an asteroid from one location to another, how is it not now our property? Are there thorny issues to address here? Yes, but let's do it on our terms instead of waiting for the Chinese to do it and then complaining from the sidelines.

 

This idea is the perfect reflection of the innovation and responsiveness we so expect of our space program. We are building hardware to go beyond the Earth, but our budget crisis and congressional stalemate will not allow us to reach the moon or Mars for the foreseeable future.

 

Not unlike the many challenges it has confronted on many a mission before, NASA has proved it can turn an obstacle into an opportunity — an opportunity to keep the dream alive for this nation, and our next generation of explorers and entrepreneurs.

 

The Front Burner:

Return to moon will better advance planetary missions

 

Paul Spudis - Orlando Sentinel (Opinion)

 

(Spudis is a planetary scientist and an advocate for human return to the moon. He recently testified before Congress on a plan for a permanent lunar return.)

 

A human mission to Mars is routinely described as the "ultimate objective" for the U.S. space program, but it is too distant in time and too costly to serve as a guide for near-term, manned space activities. Currently, we continue to use and learn from missions to the International Space Station in low Earth orbit.

 

But what steps should be taken beyond this level? In recent years, without a clearly stated, strategic direction for our civil space program, we've watched it flounder and our space work force depart.

 

After the Obama administration terminated NASA's Constellation program, which would have returned U.S. astronauts to the moon, the space agency has proposed a human mission to an asteroid — a small body independently orbiting the Sun in the vicinity of Earth — as a substitute to help gain deep-space mission experience.

 

But because asteroids are not routinely accessible, an appropriate target that would permit easy and safe human access has yet to be found. Unlike the moon, if the launch window to an asteroid is missed, it could be many months until Earth is once again in the correct position for departure.

 

A workshop of scientists and engineers who studied this problem developed a concept whereby a small asteroid would be captured and brought to near-Earth, or cislunar, space. Next, human crews would be launched directly to this asteroid — now close to Earth, ensuring their relative safety. Once there, they would examine and sample the rock for a few days and then return to Earth.

 

This is the mission concept being touted as a major step in deep-space missions by human crews. But it adds very little to our knowledge of asteroids and does not adequately prepare crews for future planetary missions.

 

Unlike asteroids, the moon is a miniature planet of surprising complexity, and accessible at any time. Tasks associated with planetary spaceflight, such as extended stays in partial-gravity and radiation protection, can be studied and mastered on the moon.

 

Unlike the chemically homogeneous asteroids, the moon's complex geology tells us about its own history and allows us to reconstruct the impact history of the Earth. But most importantly, the moon contains critical material and energy resources that would allow us to create new space-faring capabilities.

 

Water (hydrogen and oxygen) is the most useful material in space — it supports human life, protects us from radiation, can be used to store energy, and is the most powerful chemical rocket propellant known. The poles of the moon contain huge quantities of water, trapped in the dark craters close to areas in near-permanent sunlight. This gift of proximity would allow people, in concert with robots, to work for extended periods on the moon — harvesting lunar resources to supply and nurture a permanent space transportation system.

 

Once we've created the capability to begin provisioning ourselves off-planet, we'll have the ability to go to the planets — not simply Mars, but to anywhere in the solar system.

 

We have a choice. We can create a new, permanent space-faring capability by going to the moon, or we can pursue the asteroid mission, which is reminiscent of earlier flag-and-footprint missions but lacking measurable, long-term value.

 

We went to the moon in the 1960s to prove that it could be done; we would return to the moon 50 years later to prove that we can use its material and energy resources to create new capabilities and commerce. A cislunar transportation system, developed and powered with lunar resources, will extend our reach into deep space and revolutionize spaceflight.

 

This effort is not "been there, done that" — it is a wholly new, untried and necessary pioneering enterprise in space.

 

MEANWHILE ON MARS...

 

Curiosity Rover Finds Evidence of Ancient Stream on Mars

Polished pebbles discovered, likely moved by a stream that flowed for a long time

 

Jason Koebler - US News & World Report

 

Polished, smooth rocks found by NASA's Curiosity Rover suggest the planet once had a swift moving streambed, with depths of up to 3 feet and water that moved at speeds of up to 1.6 miles per hour.

 

The pebbles were originally discovered by the rover in 2012, but new analysis of the data has given scientists more clues about the stream.

 

"We know it was a streambed because it takes a fast flow to move pebbles of this size, and they're rounded," says Dawn Sumner, a researcher at the University of California, Davis, one of the authors of the study. "The rounding requires that they're banged against each other and the sand a huge number of times to break the edges of the rocks. It's like how you polish rocks in a polisher, you hit them against each other over and over."

 

The pebbles are believed to be at least two billion years old. Researchers are unsure how long the stream was, but Sumner says in order for rounding to take place, the stream must have been "flowing for a long period of time over a long distance."

 

"You aren't going to get rounding with transient water or a flash flood," she says.

 

The team found hundreds of pebbles that suggested movement by water. Other discoveries have found what is known as a "mudstone," which likely once sat in standing water.

 

"The combination of finding some rocks that suggest flowing and some that suggest quiet water means that there were a lot of different environments around at one point," Sumner says.

 

Orbiting satellites have captured other evidence of ancient rivers and streams. In January, the European Space Agency found a "striking" river with "numerous tributaries that ran for nearly 1,000 miles and may have been as deep as 1,000 feet at some points. Sumner says discoveries such as those are important, but the Curiosity Rover is able to tell scientists things from the ground that photos from satellites cannot.

 

"One thing about finding an ancient riverbed is that it's hard to estimate how fast and how long the flow lasted," she says. "By finding these pebbles, we can't say how big the stream was, but we can estimate other things. They're all pieces of the puzzle of understanding the history of Mars."

 

NASA Confirms That Curiosity Found An Ancient Martian Stream

 

Alex Knapp - Forbes

 

Last year, NASA announced that the Curiosity rover had found preliminary evidence of an ancient streambed, indicating that water once flowed freely on Mars. After a few more months of study, that preliminary announcement has been confirmed – Curiosity has found the remains of an ancient stream.

 

To make this finding, the researchers analyzed the images taken with Curiosity's mast camera. That camera is capable of taking pictures just like an ordinary camera here on Earth. However, it can also take photos with only one particular color. By taking several of those monochromatic photos, scientists are able to get a more complete picture of the rocks.

 

In addition, Curiosity's ChemCam  also took pictures of the rocks. ChemCam is a high powered laser that is used to blast tiny parts of the rock. The camera in ChemCam then captures the photons that are produced as a result. The spectra produced tell scientists what the chemical compositions of the rock are. Kind of like how you can tell what chemicals are used in fireworks depending on their color. (Science tip: Amaze your friends in July – green is barium chloride and blue is copper chloride).

 

The result, said researcher Rebecca Williams in a statement, are rocks that "look amazingly like streambed deposits on Earth."

 

The researchers also noted more evidence of flowing water. Rocks weren't evenly distributed. There were alternating layers of sand. The rocks found were smooth and rounded, just like a pebble in a stream here on Earth. The combination of all these elements make it pretty certain that the area Curiosity photographed was once a stream.

 

On Mars today, the atmosphere is too thin for water to flow freely on the surface. However, it has been confirmed that there is plenty of water on Mars in the form of ice. And in 2011, the Mars rover Opportunity found deposits of gypsum that could only have been made by water.

 

Put all of this evidence together, and it's pretty definite now that, billions of years ago, water flowed freely on Mars just like it did on Earth. Now the big question remains: was there any Martian life in that water?

 

Alas, it will be some time before that question can be answered definitively. Curiosity isn't equipped to make a definitive determination of life: its mission has been to determine whether the Gale Crater is a good landing spot for future missions to explore the question of Martian life. So far, though, things are looking good.

 

Mars Rover Curiosity Finds Pebbles Likely Shaped by Ancient River

 

Denise Chow - Space.com

 

Smooth, round pebbles found by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity provide more evidence that water once flowed on the Red Planet, according to a new study.

 

The Curiosity rover snapped pictures of several areas with densely packed pebbles, and by closely analyzing the rock images, researchers discovered that the shapes and sizes of the individual pebbles indicate that they traveled long distances in water, likely as part of an ancient riverbed.

 

The rocks were found near Curiosity's landing site, between the north rim of Gale Crater and the base of Mount Sharp, a peak that rises 3 miles (5 kilometers) above the crater floor.

 

Round and smooth

 

Scientists divided a photo mosaic of an area called Hottah into smaller frames to study the small rocks, which were cemented together and ranged in size from 0.08 inches (2 millimeters) to 1.6 inches (41 mm) across. In total, the researchers examined 515 stones and noticed that their surfaces were round and smooth.

 

Rocks worn by wind are typically rough and angular, whereas stones in water tend to become smooth over time, as the rocks get churned around with coarse grains of sand.

 

"We could see that almost all of the 515 pebbles we analyzed were worn flat, smooth and round," study co-author Asmus Koefoed, a research assistant at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, said in a statement.

 

The cemented sections of rock were likely formed by a combination of fine sand, mud, gravel and pebbles, the researchers said. This mixture clumped together and hardened, creating the solid formations seen by the Curiosity rover. Over time, as sand particles were blown across the surface of Mars, the tops of these cemented rocks became worn and flat, the researchers added.

 

Gale Crater

 

"The main reason we chose Gale Crater as a landing site was to look at the layered rocks at the base of Mount Sharp, about five miles away," study co-author Dawn Sumner, a geologist at the University of California, Davis, said in a statement. "We knew there was an alluvial fan in the landing area, a cone-shaped deposit of sediment that requires flowing water to form. These sorts of pebbles are likely because of that environment. So while we didn't choose Gale Crater for this purpose, we were hoping to find something like this."

 

The Martian pebbles offer tantalizing clues about Mars' aqueous past, said Morten Bo Madsen, head of the Mars research group at the Niels Bohr Institute.

 

"In order to have moved and formed these rounded pebbles, there must have been flowing water with a depth of between 10 centimeters (4 inches) and 1 meter (3.3 feet) and a flow rate of about 1 meter per second — or 3.6 km/h (2.2 mph) — slightly faster than a typical natural Danish stream," Madsen said in a statement.

 

Scientists have long been interested in the search for water on Mars in order to determine if conditions on the planet were ever hospitable for microbial life.

 

Although modern-day Mars is an arid place, there is substantial evidence that water likely flowed on the planet's surface several billion years ago. NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers, which both touched down on Mars in 2004, found signs of the planet's watery past.

 

In 2008, the agency's Phoenix Mars Lander confirmed the existence of current water-ice on Mars, after it scraped away clumps of dirt on the surface of the Red Planet.

 

The results of the new study show that Curiosity, which was launched in August 2012, has already achieved one of its main objectives: to investigate whether areas of Mars could have been habitable for ancient microbial life. The answer, apparently, is yes.

 

The results of the new study will be published in the May 31 issue of the journal Science.

 

END