Friday, May 30, 2008

It's a space week for sure!

The Carnival of Space Geeks is here.

Over at Flame Trench will be live coverage of the Discovery Mission on Saturday here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Viking I and Phoenix Part 2

foot pad of Phoenix
Phoenix Lander
Viking I lander
first Picture from Viking I

Viking vs. Phoenix part I

Since my father's company was a small contractor to manufacture the prisms in the Viking I & II landers I've been interested in the differences of the two missions (30 years apart). From the Phoenix's Mission FAQ Page here:
What advantages does the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA) have over the Viking mission's Gas Chromatograph in detecting organics?
The Phoenix mission has two advantages over the Viking mission with respect to organics. The first is that Phoenix is slowly heating the sample to 1000 C, whereas Viking heated very quickly to 500 C. There are many organics thought to be possibly stable on Mars that vaporize in the 700 C to 800 C range. These types of organics are often call kerogens. The other is the location where Phoenix is landing. The Viking mission showed that water can neutralize the effect of the strong oxidant that is hypothesized to be responsible for destroying organics. It is thought that the ice in the polar regions might also protect the sample. In terms of the ultimate sensitivity, the instruments are comparable. It is the nature of the sample the generates the gas that goes to the mass spectrometer that provides the advantage to Phoenix.

Phoenix Landing Via MRO

hiRise picture from MRO
From the Phoenix website here.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Mars is Ours again!

The previous ``soft landing'' on a planet was three decades ago, with NASA's Viking probes. Recent crafts sent to Mars, such as NASA's wheeled rovers, weighed less and relied on air bags to cushion the final impact.

Now on the surface, the Phoenix must work quickly. Martian winter begins in three months. The sun will drop below the horizon, and a thick ice of water and carbon dioxide will coat the lander's solar panels, ending its life.

The golf cart-size probe will use an 8-foot robotic arm, as well as a drill, to penetrate several feet of soil at the landing spot, near Mars's northern polar ice cap.

The flexible arm will scoop dirt and ice into ovens about the size of a matchbox. They will heat samples to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (980 degrees Celsius).

The probe will then test the burned soil for organic chemicals and minerals crucial to life. Much of the information can be analyzed on the spot and radioed back to Earth.

NASA's Viking probes also examined Martian soil in the 1970s, when the primary concern was locating safe landing spots. Dirt samples at those sites lacked much water.

From Bloomberg News here.

It will be interesting to compare the samples from Viking to Phoenix's. Will they find microbes? Will they find the water? It will be an interesting three months.

To find the latest pictures here in the NASA/Phoenix site.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Landing Day!

From BBC here:

The final seven minutes of the probe's ten-month journey is regarded as the riskiest part of the mission.

After it enters the top of the Martian atmosphere at nearly 5.7km/s (13,000 mph), the probe must perform a series of manoeuvres to come safely to rest.

It will release a parachute, use pulsed thrusters to slow to a fast walking speed, then come to a halt on three legs.

If all goes to plan, the Phoenix lander will reach the surface of Mars at 0053 BST (1953 EDT) on 26 May.

Nasa controllers will know in about 15 minutes whether the attempt has been successful.

I like the name Phoenix because of the previous landings that have been attempted and failed (Mars Polar lander, Beagle 2, etc.). This mission will raise from the flames and be a successful one. (It has a 50-50!)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Space Policy for the 2008 canidates

From John McCain's website:
"Let us now embark upon this great journey into the stars to find whatever may await us."

-John McCain

John McCain is a strong supporter of NASA and the space program. He is proud to have sponsored legislation authorizing funding consistent with the President's vision for the space program, which includes a return of astronauts to the Moon in preparation for a manned mission to Mars. He believes support for a continued US presence in space is of major importance to America's future innovation and security. He has also been a staunch advocate for ensuring that NASA funding is accompanied by proper management and oversight to ensure that the taxpayers receive the maximum return on their investment. John McCain believes curiosity and a drive to explore have always been quintessential American traits. This has been most evident in the space program, for which he will continue his strong support.

For Obama on Flame Trench blog here:
After months of varying policy statements on the issue of space exploration, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama gave what sounded like a more firm commitment to NASA's plans to build the Orion spacecraft to replace the space shuttle.

In a town-hall style meeting and rally in Kissimmee last night, the Democrats' likely nominee fielded questions from a crowd that included some folks from Brevard County with an interest in the space program.

Here's a little of what he said:

"I want us to understand what it is we want to accomplish, so we can continue to build this program. Other countries are in position to leapfrog us if we don't continue to make this investment."

However, Obama wants to delay Orion for five years to fund Education.

And lastly from Hillary's campaign here from The Space Review:
“increase support for basic and applied research by increasing the research budgets at the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the Department of Defense.” Notice the absence of NASA.

Meanwhile, she did say that she would “make the financial investments in research and development necessary to shore up and expand our competitive edge.” That implies that she would, at the very least, restore NASA’s aeronautics budget to its pre-2004 level. That means finding an extra half billion dollars. Without making any commitment to an overall increase in the agency’s budget, it’s hard to see how this could be done without cutting into the budgets for science and exploration.

Basically Hillary's will be a better one than her husbands. But no support for returning to the Moon.
And what she will do to NASA for Climate Change here from her campaign site:
Develop a comprehensive space-based Earth Sciences agenda. A National Academy of Sciences report found that “[a]t a time of unprecedented need, the nation’s Earth observation satellite programs, once the envy of the world, are in disarray.” (NAS final report of the Decadal Survey Panel, [January 2007].) Incredibly, the number of operating sensors and instruments on NASA satellites that observe the Earth is likely to drop by 35 percent by 2010 and 50 percent by 2015. Among other things, NASA’s Earth Sciences program is vital to our country’s – and the world’s – long-term efforts to confront climate change. Hillary will fully fund NASA’s Earth Sciences program and initiate a Space-based Climate Change Initiative to help us secure the scientific knowledge we need to combat global warming and to prepare for extreme climate events.

From The Space Review article on Climate Change:
In her speech she promised that if elected she will “launch a new, comprehensive space-based study of climate change.” Bravo! The problem is, who will design the parameters of this study? Who will choose which data sets to acquire and how to correlate them with previous studies? If the answer is Al Gore, James Hansen, and other partisans of the anthropomorphic global warming theory, then the study will be regarded by skeptics as hopelessly compromised. If the same kind of study was designed by Fred Singer and Bjorn Lomborg, Clinton would be among the first to raise questions about its validity.

My bet is no exploration or posts on the Moon or Mars and most of the budget within Earth Orbit.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Phoenix Landing events for Sunday, May 25

If all goes as plans, here are the scheduled events on Sunday for Phoenix:
- Trajectory correction maneuver opportunity (TCM6X), 8:46 a.m.
-- News briefing, noon
-- Begin non-commentary live television feed from JPL control room, 3 p.m.
-- Begin commentated live television feed from JPL control room, 3:30 p.m.
-- Propulsion system pressurization, 4:16 p.m.
-- Begin "bent-pipe" relay relay (continuous transmission of Phoenix data as it is received) through NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft to Goldstone, Calif., Deep Space Network station, 4:38 p.m.
-- Green Bank, W. Va., radio telescope listening for direct UHF from Phoenix, 4:38 p.m.
-- Cruise stage separates, 4:39 p.m.
-- Spacecraft turns to attitude for atmospheric entry, 4:40 p.m.
-- Spacecraft enters atmosphere, 4:46:33 p.m.
-- Likely blackout period as hot plasma surrounds spacecraft, 4:47 through 4:49 p.m.
-- Parachute deploys, 4:50:15 p.m., plus or minus about 13 seconds.
-- Heat shield jettisoned, 4:50:30 p.m., plus or minus about 13 seconds.
-- Legs deploy, 4:50:40 p.m., plus or minus about 13 seconds. -
- Radar activated, 4:51:30 p.m.
-- Lander separates from backshell, 4:53:09 p.m., plus or minus about 46 seconds.
-- Transmission gap during switch to helix antenna 4:53:08 to 4:53:14 p.m.
-- Descent thrusters throttle up, 4:53:12 p.m.
-- Constant-velocity phase starts, 4:53:34 p.m., plus or minus about 46 seconds.
-- Touchdown, 4:53:52 p.m., plus or minus about 46 seconds.

-- Lander radio off 4:54:52 p.m., plus or minus about 46 seconds.
-- Begin opening solar arrays (during radio silence) 5:13 p.m.
-- Begin NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter playback of Phoenix transmissions recorded during entry, descent and landing, 5:28 p.m. However, data for analysis will not be ready until several hours later.
-- Begin Europe's Mars Express spacecraft playback of Phoenix transmissions recorded during entry, descent and landing, 5:30 p.m. However, data for analysis will not be ready until several hours later.
-- Post-landing poll of subsystem teams about spacecraft status, 5:30 p.m.
-- Mars Odyssey "bent-pipe" relay of transmission from Phoenix, with engineering data and possibly including first images, 6:43 to 7:02 p.m. Data could take up to about 30 additional minutes in pipeline before being accessible. If all goes well, live television feed from control room may show first images as they are received. The first images to be taken after landing will be of solar arrays, to check deployment status.
-- News briefing, 9 p.m.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

2001: A Space Odessy 40th

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of 2001. NASA had a special ceremony here.
2001: A Space Odyssey shows an imagined version of our future in space, some of which has come to pass:

* One of the most notable visions is the large, low Earth orbiting, revolving space station in the film. Although the shape is different, today's space station is permanently crewed and international.
* Flat-screen computer monitors that were unheard of in 1968 are now commonly used on the space station.
* The film imagines glass cockpits in spacecraft, which are now present on the flight deck of the space shuttle.
* The film also envisions in-flight entertainment in space. Today there are DVDs, iPods and computers with e-mail access.
* Another famous scene from the movie depicts an astronaut jogging in space. Aboard the International Space Station, exercise in space is routine. In April 2007, 210 miles above Earth, astronaut Sunita Williams ran the Boston Marathon while in orbit.