Dec 11

First blog on my Mars Science Laboratory #NASATweetup experience , the first of several as the event was too HUGE for one blog


A Saturn 1B rocket at Kennedy Space Center


Beaded drops of Irish rain rolled of the wing as the Airbus 330 lifted off, destination Orlando International Airport Florida. An unusual blue November 360 sky received the plane as the Sugar Loaf mountain receded below  on the horizon.  To Bach’s Oboe Concerto (D minor) I watched the wing flex in turbulent air as the journey continued somewhere over the Atlantic. Clumpy clouds echoed lunar landscapes below as I browsed the available in-flight entertainment.

At MCO airport near the Hertz car pick up point I met with my long time friend Jane Houston Jones @jhjones a lovely warm welcome full of joy and smiles.  Our hotel was close to Kennedy Space Centre, the heat was most appreciated by me coming from a cold Irish winter. November sunshine instantly set my vitamin D levels on the rise, the Florida sun and my face met at every available moment.

Kennedy Space Centre Day 1 Wednesday 23rd

As I was a foreign national (an alien) I had to get extra official badges from NASA so I could participate in the Tweetup (Friday /Saturday) and have the right to be in very restricted areas at the launch site , accompanied by NASA personal.

At the KSC I wandered in the Rocket Garden and yes I was in the zone, walking down the gantry as if I was going to enter the Apollo capsule  for real. Visually there was a riot of textures and shapes that took my eye into future paintings celebrating the power of rockets that leave this planet for other worlds.   Christmas trees, Christmas carols and Christmas wreaths around NASA logos in the heat seemed surreal as I explored the attractions of all things space.

One of the most engaging was the Hubble 3D IMAX movie narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, oh boy that was fantastic. It included several images of M16 the pillars of creation in 3D which for me was super. I had being drawing it several times  for kids at my  @ScienceWeek workshops #STARSAREUS just before I left Ireland.  The movie showed me more detail than I’ve ever seen before, now it’s parked in my head forever. The air conditioning was cold in the theatre I could not wait to get back outside to the bright light and  cosy heat.

I met and chatted to several Tweetup people on my walk around , we all had pink badges so we were very visible to each other anywhere we went.  Beside a full size model of Curiosity I met a lovely couple, the Lanza’s.They had a daughter who had worked on the Chem Cam on MSL. They were very proud of this fact, we engaged in conversation about the incredible adventure ahead of this robot and how important the science will be for future manned missions to Mars.  I took instant delight in the wheels of Curiosity, Opportunity and Sojourner, beautiful engineering, visually stunning space architecture, well displayed at Exploration Space.

Jane kindly got me a ticket to the MSL Guest  Briefing at 4:30pm, just before that we met Scott Maxwell i.e. @Marsroverdriver Scott drives the Mars rover Opportunity from planet Earth!!!  Off planet driving 🙂

At the MSL @MarsCuriosity briefing I was proud to stand for the first time in my life to the singing of the American National Anthem.  Excellent NASA speakers outlined the mission, its tasks, goals and mechanisms.  Excitement levels climbed as the reality of my visit began to hit home with several days left to the launch.

We enjoyed, no actually enjoyed is too bland a word for the pleasure of eating rock shrimp for dinner that evening at Florida Seafood all washed down with some American beer. Sleep came later to the sound of palm trees blowing in the wind.

@skysketcher follow me on Twitter 🙂

More images in my link here


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Oct 11

The strange attraction of Gale Crater

Source: NASA Science News


NASA's newest rover "Curiosity" is getting ready to leave Earth. Its destination: Gale Crater on Mars. Today's story from Science@NASA explains the attraction of this Martian crater with a strangely-sculpted mountain the middle.(read more)

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Sep 11

NASA's Mars Rover Opportunity Begins Study of Martian Crater

Source: NASA Rovers

Opportunity at Work Examining 'Tisdale 2,'.
Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The initial work of NASA's Mars rover Opportunity at its new location on Mars shows surface compositional differences from anything the robot has studied in its first 7.5 years of exploration.

Opportunity arrived three weeks ago at the rim of a 14-mile-wide (22-kilometer-wide) crater named Endeavour. The first rock it examined is flat-topped and about the size of a footstool. It was apparently excavated by an impact that dug a crater the size of a tennis court into the crater's rim. The rock was informally named "Tisdale 2."(read more)

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Aug 11

Mars Rover Opportunity arrives at Endeavour Crater

Source: NASA-Mars Exploration Rovers

Portion of the west rim of Endeavour crater.
Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU.

After a journey of almost three years, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has reached the Red Planet's Endeavour crater to study rocks never seen before.

On Aug. 9, the golf cart-sized rover relayed its arrival at a location named Spirit Point on the crater's rim. Opportunity drove approximately 13 miles (21 kilometers) since climbing out of the Victoria crater.

"NASA is continuing to write remarkable chapters in our nation's story of exploration with discoveries on Mars and trips to an array of challenging new destinations," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "Opportunity's findings and data from the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory will play a key role in making possible future human missions to Mars and other places where humans have not yet been."

Endeavour crater, which is more than 25 times wider than Victoria crater, is 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter. At Endeavour, scientists expect to see much older rocks and terrains than those examined by Opportunity during its first seven years on Mars. Endeavour became a tantalizing destination after NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter detected clay minerals that may have formed in an early warmer and wetter period.

"We're soon going to get the opportunity to sample a rock type the rovers haven't seen yet," said Matthew Golombek, Mars Exploration Rover science team member, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. "Clay minerals form in wet conditions so we may learn about a potentially habitable environment that appears to have been very different from those responsible for the rocks comprising the plains."

The name Spirit Point informally commemorates Opportunity's twin rover, which stopped communicating in March 2010. Spirit's mission officially concluded in May.

"Our arrival at this destination is a reminder that these rovers have continued far beyond the original three-month mission," said John Callas, Mars Exploration Rover project manager at JPL.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which launched Aug. 12, 2005, is searching for evidence that water persisted on the Martian surface for a long period of time. Other Mars missions have shown water flowed across the surface in the planet's history, but scientists have not determined if water remained long enough to provide a habitat for life.

NASA launched the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity in the summer of 2003. Both completed their three-month prime missions in April 2004 and continued years of extended operations. They made important discoveries about wet environments on ancient Mars that may have been favorable for supporting microbial life. (read source)

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Jul 11

NASA'S next Mars Rover will land at Gale Crater

Source: NASA Mars Science Laboratory

Image credit: NASA

NASA's next Mars rover will land at the foot of a layered mountain inside the planet's Gale crater.

The car-sized Mars Science Laboratory, or Curiosity, is scheduled to launch late this year and land in August 2012. The target crater spans 96 miles (154 kilometers) in diameter and holds a mountain rising higher from the crater floor than Mount Rainier rises above Seattle. Gale is about the combined area of Connecticut and Rhode Island. Layering in the mound suggests it is the surviving remnant of an extensive sequence of deposits. The crater is named for Australian astronomer Walter F. Gale. (read more)

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Jul 11

Landing Site for Next Mars Rover Narrowed to two

Source: NASA Mars Science Lab

Eberswalde crater
(left) and Gale crater (right).
Image credit: NASA.

NASA's next Mars rover will land either beside the site of a former river delta or beside a mountain of stacked layers. These enticing locations are the two finalists as the Mars Science Laboratory landing sites: Eberswalde crater and Gale crater.

Selection of one of those sites is anticipated this month. The mission's spacecraft, including the rover named Curiosity, is in preparation for launch in the period Nov. 25 to Dec. 18, 2011. (read more)

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Jun 11

NASA Mars Rover arrives in Florida after cross-country flight

Source: NASA.
Image credit: NASA.

NASA's next Mars rover has completed the journey from its California birthplace to Florida in preparation for launch this fall.

The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover, also known as Curiosity, arrived Wednesday at NASA's Kennedy Space  Center aboard an Air Force C-17 transport plane. It was accompanied by the rocket-powered descent stage that will fly the rover during the final moments before landing on Mars. The C-17 flight began at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, Calif., where the boxed hardware had been trucked from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in  Pasadena, Calif.

The rover's aeroshell -- the protective covering for the trip to the Red Planet - and the cruise stage, which will guide it  to Mars, arrived at Kennedy last month. The mission is targeted to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station  between Nov. 25 and Dec. 18. The car-size rover will land on Mars in August 2012. (read more)

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Jun 11

Opportunity passes "Skylab" crater

Source: NASA/JPL-PIA14132

The "Skylab" crater on Mars: Image credit:

A drive of 482 feet (146.8 meters) on June 1, 2011, took NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity past 30 kilometers in total odometry during 88 months of driving on Mars. That's 50 times the distance originally planned for the mission.
Opportunity used its navigation camera to take the exposures combined into this view of a wee crater, informally named "Skylab". (read more)

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May 11

NASA concludes attempts to contact Mars Rover Spirit

Source: NASA-Mars Exporation Rovers

Artist's concept of a NASA Mars Exploration Rover.
Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell University

NASA is ending attempts to regain contact with the long-lived Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, which last communicated on March 22, 2010.

A transmission that ended on Wednesday, May 25, was the last in a series of attempts. Extensive communications  activities during the past 10 months also have explored the possibility that Spirit might reawaken as the solar energy available increased after a stressful Martian winter without much sunlight. With inadequate energy to run its survival heaters, the rover likely experienced colder internal temperatures last year than in any of its prior six years on Mars. Many critical components and connections would have been susceptible to damage from the cold. (read more)

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Dec 10

Fisheye from Edge of 'Santa Maria' Crater

Source: NASA Home Image Release

Image credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Mars Rover Opportunity gained this view during the 2,459th Martian day, or sol of the rover's work on Mars (Dec. 24, 2010) from the edge of a football-field-size crater informally named "Santa Maria."

This view is the right-eye member of a stereo pair from Opportunity's front hazard-avoidance camera.

The rover's upraised robotic arm, itself out of view, casts a dragon-shaped shadow in the foreground.

Opportunity's viewpoint for this scene is the position reached by a drive on Sol 2454. Drives on sols 2452 and 2454 brought Opportunity a few meters counterclockwise around the western side of the crater from the place where the rover first approached the crater on Sol 2451 (Dec. 16, 2010).

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Jan 10

NASA's Mars Rover Has Uncertain Future on Sixth Anniversary

Source: NASA

NASA's Mars rover Spirit will mark six years of unprecedented science exploration and inspiration for the American public on Sunday. However, the upcoming Martian winter could end the roving career of the beloved, scrappy robot.

Spirit successfully landed on the Red Planet at 8:35 p.m. PST on Jan. 3, 2004, and its twin Opportunity arrived at 9:05 p.m. Jan. 24, 2004. The rovers began missions intended to last for three months but which have lasted six Earth years, or 3.2 Mars years. During this time, Spirit has found evidence of a steamy and violent environment on ancient Mars that was quite different from the wet and acidic past documented by Opportunity, which has been operating successfully as it explores halfway around the planet. (read more)

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