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posted by takyon on Tuesday August 02 2016, @05:01AM   Printer-friendly
from the forward-to-Mars dept.

Writing on Popular Science, Sarah Fecht says:

In 2018, SpaceX could become the first private company to land its own spacecraft on Mars. But it doesn't plan to do so alone. NASA wants to see if SpaceX's landing tech could put astronauts on Mars, and to find out, its vowed to help the private company send an uncrewed capsule to the Red Planet.

Summarizing an article from SpaceFlightNow, she continues:

While SpaceX would fund and build the uncrewed Red Dragon capsule and the Falcon Heavy rocket it launches on, NASA would take a supportive role in the mission, providing communications through the Deep Space Network--a mesh of telescopes around the world that keeps NASA in constant contact with all its spacecraft, despite the Earth's spinning.

NASA will also help locate a landing site for the Red Dragon, Spaceflight Now reports, and will help to prevent Earth microbes from hitching a ride on the Red Dragon and contaminating Mars.

All told, NASA estimates it'll spend about $32 million dollars on the mission--quite a bargain, considering the space agency hopefully get a new landing technology out of it. The Red Dragon would fire retrothrusters to attempt a soft landing on Mars--something that's never been attempted before for such a large spacecraft. SpaceX is expecting to spend about $300 million on it.

By contrast, NASA spent $2.5 billion on the Curiosity rover and its novel "sky crane" landing method. If all goes well, the Red Dragon mission will pave the way to put people on Mars, either by NASA or SpaceX.

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @10:56AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02 2016, @10:56AM (#383055)

    > ... and will help to prevent Earth microbes from hitching a ride on the Red Dragon and contaminating Mars.

    I get it that it would be scientifically nice if we could study Mars before introduction of masses of Earth life. On the other hand, Mars and Earth have both been bombarded with similar space debris for forever, it's not like Mars will have a completely different make up of the surface.

    Maybe it would make more sense to bring along suitable microbes to start the Terraforming process? Rather than decontamination, how about controlled inoculation?

  • (Score: 2) by Yog-Yogguth on Wednesday August 03 2016, @05:19PM

    by Yog-Yogguth (1862) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday August 03 2016, @05:19PM (#383674) Journal

    "Everyone" avoids the fact that Mars has no global magnetosphere (only some local "magnetic umbrellas") so the solar wind would eventually remove most of any gases added and I think it would happen fairly fast as well since the depletion scales with the amount of "excess" atmosphere (i.e. more than the existing natural level) available to strip away. Even Musk's suggestion of two opposite polar atmospheric nuclear detonations in order to release vast quantities of gas from frozen carbon dioxide and water won't do anything to help retain it, and then that gas would soon (perhaps a century or two?) be gone, blowing out into the solar system and some even out beyond it into interstellar space.

    By the way Mars currently has blue sunsets, not many seem to know that. I'll be unlazy... here is your blue sunset [] courtesy of Curiosity and from Opportunity we got a movie [], the .mov file is the highest quality that seems to be actually there last time I checked. Sure it could be said to be underwhelming, maybe, but it's a blue sunset :)

    The Martian sunset was used as inspiration for a scene in the short film Wanderers [] (site using Flash and Vimeo scripts for the video) which can also be found on Vimeo [] (direct download URL for 1080p 1920 × 816 97.884MB version []) or Youtube []). Highly recommended!

    Back on the topic of terraforming if one really wants to terraform Mars (which could be made into the ultimate test for finding existing or dormant life as long as we don't import any —and that would be an amazing gigantic and very long science experiment) then the first thing one has to do is to create higher retention of Martian atmosphere. It should be possible using existing technology but it's a huge job. It such a large job that one really ought to have proved ones mettle with not only simulated rotational gravity space stations or Lagrange point space colonies but all the way to orbiting planetary rings/ringworlds (not the Ringworld kind) before that because all of those combined are likely less difficult and less work!

    For atmosphere retention if nothing else then one could do it the same way one could do it for creating a significant atmosphere on the Moon (it currently has something like a 2 cm or three quarters of an inch high "atmosphere"/exosphere) which would be to create an orbiting magnetic field from satellites and/or an orbital ring(s) system to deflect more solar wind: an artificial magnetosphere. Even without much of an atmosphere/exosphere the solar wind is constantly ever so slowly eroding the moon; the moon has an extremely faint tail/coma (just like a comet) of eroded matter.

    Then there's the radiation [] issue [] (scroll to "Radiation on Mars") which is also directly connected to both missing or weak magnetic fields and a thin atmosphere, if I was to live on Mars I'd really like to spend most of the time well shielded underground. Even more so for successful procreation required for actual colonization.

    In addition and despite all that the likelihood of life existing on Mars is still there, Viking instruments said it found organic molecules and some of the scientists involved still insist it had to be from life, then there's the huge methane plume that is (as far as I know) still unexplained (and possibly recurring), and also the other actual scientific controversies about possible fossilized bacteria (from the Martian meteorite) as well as something about non-oxygen (acetone?) based life or something like that which I don't remember much about (also NASA). All controversial and sure there doesn't seem to be anything much on the surface but five meters down or more there could still be plenty of stuff. On Earth the biosphere goes surprisingly deep (not counting water).

    There is a lot we don't know.

    So why does anyone care? Well...

    "Any time we go to a space environment, or in a challenging environment, we are going to see things in a different way than we can on Earth and that opens the door to discovery and innovation" —Dr. Julie Robinson (NASA)

    So imagine how much can be learned if we find new life in a new environment, even just monocellular life. It opens up so many possibilities we do not know of yet for learning both about it and also new things about everything we already know. That's why especially NASA (Mars is hard "goblin territory" and NASA has had the most success) but also others like ESA, Roscosmos, JAXA, ISRO, and CNSA would like to try to keep things pristine.

    "Every" time I comment it turns into a "novel", I apologize to all :3