Tuesday, November 04, 2008

China has eye on Mars

A report in the Times of India indicates that China is aiming to become the latest nation to dispatch a probe to Mars. According to the story, the probe will take 11 months to reach Mars and will be powered by a Russian built spacecraft. Wang Li, an official with China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, said. "The satellite will conduct a range of explorations such as the probe of space environment, solar winds as well as magnetic fields on the planet. " Said Wang Li, "The move signifies China has made a solid leap forward in Mars exploration." The full story can be read at the Times of India website.

Force Field would protect astronauts on Mars trip

British scientists based at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and universities of York and Strathclyde have made a major breakthrough that offers the promise of a safe trip to Mars by astronauts. One of the biggest worries facing mission planners for a trip to Mars is the issue of Solar Storms. Astronauts leaving the safety of the earth's magnetic field face the very real danger of exposure to lethal levels of radiation. The Apollo missions left the earth's protective field for only a few days, but an 18 month round trip to Mars would almost certainly encounter one or more of these storms. The effect would pound the spacecraft's electronics and quite likely kill the crew. It has been proposed that a crew with adequate warning of a storm could orientate their craft so as put as much of its bulk between them and the incoming radiation, or to carry very heavy shielding, but this new line of research proposes manufacturing a portable magnetic field to protect the craft. This mini-magnetosphere would be housed in two outrider satellites in front of the spacecraft. The system is in the process of being patented and a working prototype could be built within 5 years.

Monday, November 03, 2008

NASA's Phoenix Lander signing off

The onset of the Martian winter and chilling temperatures as low minus 141 degrees Fahrenheit means that mission controllers of NASA's Phoenix Lander are facing the possibility that the probe may well be about to sign off for good. Communications in the last few days have been patchy to say the least, with the craft showing great reluctance to talk to mission control. As energy levels on the craft plummeted, mission control switched off various power hungry devices including 2 heaters, but it was touch and go if Phoenix would be able to stir back into life. 2 Nail biting days went by (29th, 30th Oct) before a signal was received. Though Phoenix is now back in touch, it is felt that the craft may only have a few weeks left before it finally succumbs to the harsh environment, though it has lasted several months longer than originally planned.