NASA’s Cool, Tiny Space Helicopter Will Explore Mars

NASA put the first man on the moon, built an international space station, made the Hubble Space Telescope (which still gives us gorgeous shots of the universe), yadda yadda. Those are old news, right? But then, as I’ve recently been thinking about it, I realize the people at NASA just never seem to run out of surprises throughout the decades. They went surprisingly sustainable, announcing the launch of a recycled supply rocket. They went surprisingly cute, making their satellites capture pictures of more than a million penguins. They even have a (non-surprisingly) fantastic podcast.

Another one is coming from NASA in a tiny gift box. A four-pound autonomous space helicopter will be launched alongside their 2020 rover mission to Mars. And the experimental device is only the size of a softball!

Traveling at the speed of light, it’ll still take several minutes for any commands sent from Earth to reach the helicopter, so the flying rover will have to be at least partially autonomous as it provides scientists and other autonomous vehicles with the first long-term bird’s-eye view of the planet.

NASA made the tiny space helicopter carry batteries and other hardware that were customized to be as light as possible. And aside from being incredibly light, the device also needs to have incredibly fast mechanisms or functions in order to survive the conditions in Mars.

[T]he Martian atmosphere is practically non-existent. The air pressure at the planet’s surface is lower than it is at a helicopter’s maximum altitude when flying above Earth. In order to take off, the tiny flying robot needs to spin it’s two blades ten times faster — 3,000 times per minute — than it would on Earth[.]

Once the new rover and its passenger — the tiny space helicopter — reach Mars in 2021, they will be scanning for signs of life, identifying hazards for future astronauts, and assisting other ground-based rovers in ongoing geology research.

By then, all of us should prepare for more Martian surprises in store. Again, care of NASA’s coolness.

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Hubble Space Telescope Celebrates with New Nebula

NASA has more cause to celebrate than discovering the possibility of life on Saturn’s Moon and four earth-sized planets. This year, the 28th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope is marked by gorgeous images and a fly-through video of a breathtaking accomplishment: the Lagoon Nebula.

Hubble, a joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), launched on April 24, 1990. The ESA’s Hubble site describes the Lagoon Nebula as a “colossal object” that’s 55 light-years in width and 20 light-years in height. Even though it is about 4,000 light-years away from Earth, it is three times larger in the sky than the full Moon.

The entirety of the Lagoon Nebula cannot be completely captured by the images NASA released, showing only its heart. But the magnificence we can glimpse at is still mind-blowing. It joins a stellar line-up of the previous years’ anniversary explorations of the Hubble Space Telescope, including the Bubble Nebula and a pair of spiral galaxies. As part of the celebration, the Hubble site also publicizes some trivia for us:

Since its launch, the space telescope has made over 163,500 trips around Earth, more than 1.5 million observations of over 43,500 celestial objects and generated 153 terabytes of data.

28 years ago, the scientists and astronomers that were part of the core team for this project had soaring ambitions, and yet they probably never imagined the heights their Hubble Space Telescope would reach. What a remarkable feat for science. And today, with another dazzling nebula, what a remarkable reminder of how science allows us to see the beauty of the universe.

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Organic Matter Found on Mars — Two NASA Studies

For many decades, the idea of life outside Earth has intrigued many of us, but most especially scientists, astronomers, and well, sci-fi writers. For them and other Mars enthusiasts (a.k.a. people who eagerly believe that Mars can harbor life), the recent year has shown us great updates. Snow has been discovered in the planet. Soil made to simulate the planet’s conditions has grown earthworms.

Due to updates like these, some organizations are being inspired to plan ahead for life on Mars. MIT designed dome forests that will adapt to the environment there. The UAE is building a Mars-like metropolis as well, in preparation for a future in that planet. And it looks like they are bound to be more inspired as NASA releases the results of two new major studies about the Red Planet in the journal Science.

The first study centers on methane, a simple organic molecule that forms the basis for natural gas. Biological sources produce most of the methane on Earth, so researchers suspected that methane on Mars could point them towards biological sources — life! — on Mars.

Astronomers were already detecting methane in Mars as far back as 2003, but they first confirmed its presence there in 2015. After analyzing years worth of data, they realized that the methane was probably coming from pockets of ice. When these ice pockets melt during “summer” in Mars, methane slips out and methane levels go higher. Scientists say the seasonal presence of methane might clue us in on how there used to be life in the Red Planet, though the current study is still inconclusive about that.

The next study, however, also implies the idea of ancient life, as scientists find evidence of organic matter in soil that came from Mars.

In the second study, [NASA’s Curiosity rover] collected soil samples from two spots in Gale crater estimated to be about three billion years old. When Curiosity heated them up, the researchers recognized several organic molecules commonly found in Earth’s organic-rich sedimentary rock.

The discovery of methane in the Martian atmosphere and organic matter on Martian soil suggests interesting similarities between that planet and ours. Thus, it further spurs the question of life on Mars. And since the Curiosity rover is still roving around and looking for signs, one can only hope its next breakthrough will finally answer that question.

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NASA’s Podcast Boasts Real Space Stories

Do you want to hear astronauts themselves talk about the possibility of life on Saturn’s moon, the adventures of planet protection officers against alien microbes, and other real stories that could have come from science fiction books but definitely didn’t? You might want to check out NASA’s official website for their fantastic podcast.

The podcast features plenty of astronauts reliving their greatest accomplishments and talking about their rigorous training. Recent episodes bring you audio from inside the Orion, the capsule that NASA is developing to carry a crew of four astronauts into deep space, and along Scott Tingle’s path from test pilot to astronaut.

NASA’s Johnson Space Center launched “Houston, We Have a Podcast” last July 2017 and has since released more than 40 episodes on its official site. The cleverly-titled podcast is revitalized every week, which means you only have to wait that long to get your new fill of amazing space-related content.

The show overflows with the voices of the engineers, researchers and mission control flight directors who develop and test NASA’s most complex technology and protect astronauts during their flights. There’s historical information on pioneering missions and space explorers, too.

While on the way home from work, shopping at the grocery, or making dinner, you might want to relive your childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut. Thanks to the podcast form, it has never been this contemporary and accessible.

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UAE To Build Mars-Like Metropolis For Space Study

The future is closer than ever before, and it’s brighter than we expected. Experts are optimistic about the expansion of the AI universe and it seems technology may not be killing us after all. With the wave of new technologies comes grand efforts by nations to advance society. In particular, the UAE is planning to build a Mars-like metropolis to prepare humankind for its potential march into space.

A team will live inside the experimental city for a year, which will recreate the conditions of the Red Planet. Scientists will work in laboratories dedicated to investigating self-sufficiency in energy, food and water for life on Mars.

Looks like preparations for an impending apocalypse are finally coming to fruition. Or perhaps we’re just being cautious. The dome-shaped buildings will simulate Mars’ environment down to the degree. Developers will also erect a museum and educational spaces.

“We believe in the potential of space exploration, and in collaborating with global partners and leaders in order to harness the findings of this research and movement that seeks to meet people’s needs and improve quality of life on earth,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid of Dubai.

The UAE hopes to build an initial settlement on Mars within the coming century. Will you be among the first to experience life on another planet?

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