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NASA prepares for ‘7 minutes of terror’ on Mars

Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Can InSight make it down on to the surface of Mars ?

The space agency’s InSight lander will be descending 80 miles through the Martian atmosphere on Monday.

Having traveled more than 89 million miles since its launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base back in May, the ambitious spacecraft is currently on track to reach Mars on November 26th.

Actually getting the probe safely on to the Martian surface however is no easy task – it has to slow from 12,300mph to just 5mph during a make-or-break descent referred to as ‘7 minutes of terror’.

“Landing on Mars is hard. It takes skill, focus and years of preparation,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

“Keeping in mind our ambitious goal to eventually send humans to the surface of the Moon and then Mars, I know that our incredible science and engineering team – the only in the world to have successfully landed spacecraft on the Martian surface – will do everything they can to successfully land InSight on the Red Planet.”

If InSight does survive the descent, the $1 billion lander will attempt to learn more about what lies beneath the surface of the Red Planet using an array of instruments including a burrowing temperature sensor and a seismometer designed to detect Marsquakes.

“This mission will probe the interior of another terrestrial planet, giving us an idea of the size of the core, the mantle, the crust and our ability then to compare that with the Earth,” said NASA chief scientist Jim Green.

“This is of fundamental importance to understand the origin of our solar system and how it became the way it is today.”

Source: NASA.gov

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Space

China’s Next Lunar Mission Will Be a Visit of Moon’s Far Side

Will there be any unexpected surprises? Might they find evidence of alien visitors on the far side…

via unexplained-mysteries:

China’s latest space mission will, for the first time, see a spacecraft attempt to land on the Moon’s far side.

Known as Chang’e-4, the mission will attempt to unravel some of the mysteries of this relatively unexplored region of the lunar surface which remains facing permanently away from the Earth.

It will launch on December 8th and land at a predetermined site sometime early next year. To maintain communications with Earth, a satellite will be used to relay data and messages back and forth.

According to reports, the lander will be carrying a payload of seeds and silkworm eggs inside a ‘lunar mini biosphere.’ If the eggs actually manage to hatch, then they will produce the first living creatures from Earth to have ever been born on another world.

The mission will also attempt to carry out a low-frequency radio-astronomical study – an intriguing prospect as the far side of the Moon is sheltered from interference from Earth’s ionosphere.

Meanwhile, an accompanying rover will conduct a mineralogical and topographical study of the area around the landing site while taking photographs as it goes.

The mission’s target will be the Von Karman Crater within the Moon’s South Pole-Aitken basin.

It will certainly be interesting to see what it finds there.

Unexplained-Mysteries

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NASA’s InSight lander records the Martian wind

Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
The audio is decidedly eerie.

NASA has released the first ever recording of the wind buffeting a spacecraft on the surface of Mars.

While photographs taken on the Red Planet have helped us to build up a picture of what it might be like to stand on the surface of another world, there has always been one thing missing – sound.

Now NASA has posted up an audio clip recorded on December 1st of the InSight probe’s seismometer and air pressure sensor vibrating as the Martian wind blew across them at the landing site.

The recording begins at 00:35 in the video, but will require headphones and a subwoofer to hear properly. A processed and more audible version of the sound can also be heard at 00:58.

“The seismometer readings are in the range of human hearing, but are nearly all bass and difficult to hear on laptop speakers and mobile devices,” the caption reads. “We provide the original audio and a version pitched up by two octaves to make them audible on mobile devices.”

Source: Newsweek.com

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NASA Announces Date for First SpaceX Crew Dragon Test Flight

The Final Countdown(s)

Not counting the time Elon Musk jettisoned a dummy in a Tesla toward Mars, SpaceX hasn’t flown a crewed mission. Ever. In fact, the United States hasn’t flown a crewed mission since the July 2011 Atlantis flight. Luckily, we’ve had Russia to rely on. 

That could change next year. On January 7, the first flight of a SpaceX Dragon craft designed to carry a crew is set to take off from Kennedy Space Center, according to NASA. Now, to be clear, this Dragon capsule is meant for a crew, but this particular flight will not be a crewed mission – yet.

Think of it as a test for NASA’s future Commercial Crew Program. Called Demo-1, the flight – and others like it over the next few months – will culminate in a crewed launch in June 2019 (Demo-2).

Testing…123

In addition to SpaceX, Boeing – which also has a commercial crew contract with NASA – also has many test flights planned over the next year, and a crewed mission in August 2019 using the CST-100 Starliner capsule. Boeing’s first test flight won’t be as early as SpaceX though – it’s slated for March 2019.

Between these flight tests, both companies will also need to complete “abort tests” – proving that the astronauts can safely escape unscathed in the possibility of an emergency. After each test, NASA will look over all the data, reviewing performance, safety, and looking for opportunities to resolve issues – until all systems are certified.

So the big question: Will both companies stay on schedule? If all goes well. But delays also aren’t entirely avoidable. “Flying safety has always taken precedence over schedule,” says NASA spokeswoman Marie Lewis to Reuters. SpaceX has seen delays before. And it’s not just Elon Musk. Space is full of delays.

But, patience is key. As the old saying goes: Test twice and launch once, right?

READ MORE: SpaceX’s crew rocket set for January test flight [Reuters]

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