Open a door and watch what happens — the hinge allows it to open and close, but doesn’t permanently bend. This simple concept of mechanical motion is vital for making all kinds of movable structures, including mirrors and antennas on spacecraft. Material scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are working on new, innovative methods of creating materials that can be used for motion-based mechanisms. (more…)
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The team operating NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is considering a path across a small sand dune to reach a favorable route to science destinations.
A favorable route would skirt some terrain with sharp rocks considered more likely to poke holes in the rover’s aluminum wheels.
While the team has been assessing ways to reduce wear and tear to the wheels, Curiosity has made progress toward a next site for drilling a rock sample and also toward its long-term destination: geological layers exposed on slopes of Mount Sharp. The rover has driven into a mapping quadrant that includes a candidate site for drilling. Meanwhile, testing on Earth is validating capabilities for drilling into rocks on slopes the rover will likely encounter on Mount Sharp. (more…)
Eighth graders didn’t have Facebook or Twitter to share news back then, in January 2004. Bekah Sosland, 14 at the time, learned about a NASA rover landing on Mars when the bouncing-ball video on the next morning’s Channel One news in her Fredericksburg, Texas, classroom caught her eye.
“I wasn’t particularly interested in space at the time,” she recalled last week inside the spacecraft operations facility where she now works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “I remember I was talking with friends, and out of the corner of my eye I noticed this thing bouncing and rolling on a red surface. I watched as it stopped and opened up, and it had this rover inside.” (more…)
A year after NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity’s landed on Mars, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., are testing a sophisticated flight-control algorithm that could allow for even more precise, pinpoint landings of future Martian spacecraft.
Flight testing of the new Fuel Optimal Large Divert Guidance algorithm – G-FOLD for short – for planetary pinpoint landing is being conducted jointly by JPL engineers in cooperation with Masten Space Systems in Mojave, Calif., using Masten’s XA-0.1B “Xombie” vertical-launch, vertical-landing experimental rocket. (more…)
AUSTIN, Texas — Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics helped develop a blueprint for a possible future NASA lander mission to Europa, an icy moon of Jupiter that has a global ocean covered by an ice shell. Europa’s large reservoir of liquid water has long enchanted planetary scientists with the possibility of harboring life. Many experts believe it to be the most likely place in our solar system besides Earth to host life today. The proposed mission is designed to assess the moon’s habitability by studying its surface composition, ice shell, ocean and geology.
Don Blankenship, senior research scientist at the institute, is part of the science definition team commissioned by NASA to draft the report, which appears in the August 2013 issue of Astrobiology. Blankenship and two colleagues — Krista Soderlund, postdoctoral fellow at the institute; and Britney Schmidt, formerly a postdoctoral fellow at the institute, now assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology — developed a part of the mission scenario that would use sound waves to study the moon’s icy shell, deep ocean and possible shallow lakes. (more…)
PASADENA, Calif. — NASA’s Curiosity rover has, for the first time, used a drill carried at the end of its robotic arm to bore into a flat, veiny rock on Mars and collect a sample from its interior. This is the first time any robot has drilled into a rock to collect a sample on Mars.
The fresh hole, about 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) wide and 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) deep in a patch of fine-grained sedimentary bedrock, can be seen in images and other data Curiosity beamed to Earth Saturday. The rock is believed to hold evidence about long-gone wet environments. In pursuit of that evidence, the rover will use its laboratory instruments to analyze rock powder collected by the drill. (more…)
Mars Science Laboratory Mission Status Report
PASADENA, Calif. – After imaging during the holidays, NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity resumed driving Jan. 3 and pulled within arm’s reach of a sinuous rock feature called “Snake River.”
Snake River is a thin curving line of darker rock cutting through flatter rocks and jutting above sand. Curiosity’s science team plans to get a closer look at it before proceeding to other nearby rocks. (more…)
PASADENA, Calif — Just in time for the holidays, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, in orbit around Saturn for more than eight years now, has delivered another glorious, backlit view of the planet Saturn and its rings.
On Oct. 17, 2012, during its 174th orbit around the gas giant, Cassini was deliberately positioned within Saturn’s shadow, a perfect location from which to look in the direction of the sun and take a backlit view of the rings and the dark side of the planet. Looking back towards the sun is a geometry referred to by planetary scientists as “high solar phase;” near the center of your target’s shadow is the highest phase possible. This is a very scientifically advantageous and coveted viewing position, as it can reveal details about both the rings and atmosphere that cannot be seen in lower solar phase. (more…)