Slamming into the Martian atmosphere at 13,000 mph and enduring temperatures of up to 3,800 degrees Fahrenheit, a peak deceleration of up to 15 Gs, and the jerk of a supersonic braking parachute--that's just the opening act.
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover, the most scientifically powerful robotic lander ever built, will use a suite of sophisticated instruments to search for carbon compounds and the geological markers that might indicate whether ancient, once-wet environments were ever habitable.
Scientists currently are assessing four potential landing sites for the rover's August 2012 arrival at the Red Planet that offer the best chance for a successful landing and the most scientifically promising terrain. (For the main story in this package, see "On Mars, satisfaction awaits Curiosity.")
"What we know going into this is every one of … Read more
Under the watchful eyes of anxious engineers, NASA's $2.4 billion Mars Science Laboratory rover has taken its first baby steps, rolling a few feet forward and back in an environmentally controlled clean room.
It was a seemingly modest test for an unfinished spacecraft that still faces technical challenges and months of assembly and testing. But with landing on the Red Planet now just two years away, the short drive on July 23 marked a major milestone for the men and women building the car-size rover.
"It's gone from designs on napkins to PowerPoint, to CAD drawings, … Read more
The International Space Station's coolant system is back up and running normally after a challenging three-spacewalk repair job, astronauts said Thursday.
The fix allows the crew to power up science equipment and other systems that had to be shut down when an ammonia pump shorted out July 31.
In an interview with CBS News, the station's three NASA astronauts--robot arm operator Shannon Walker and spacewalkers Douglas Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell Dyson--said the impromptu repair went well, despite unexpected problems.
"I think it was really NASA at its finest with all the teams on the ground and the … Read more
A new study shows that despite regular exercise, astronauts on long-duration spaceflights experience significant muscle wasting and a surprising loss of force, reducing their efficiency in space and their ability to respond to emergencies when returning to Earth.
The research suggests the reduction in the capacity for work after six months in space can exceed 40 percent, which would temporarily reduce the performance of a returning astronaut to that of an 80-year-old. The study suggests more effective exercise techniques are required to keep astronauts in shape during long missions.
Robert Fitts of Marquette University, lead author of a paper published … Read more
Getting more accurate forecasts about space weather may not help you decide whether to water your garden, but it could soon clue you in better to when events in the solar system may be putting a damper on your electronic activities.
Johns Hopkins University, Boeing, and Iridium Communications announced on Wednesday that they have launched a new space-based service that they say will help scientists monitor magnetic storms around Earth.
Dubbed the Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment (AMPERE), the system utilizes commercial satellites orbiting Earth to take magnetic-field measurements in real time. The result is output that gets … Read more
NASA seems to be continuously developing rovers to explore and possibly colonize the moon and Mars, but none is as downright bizarre as the Athlete, an imposing, spidery robot that H.G. Wells might love.
Initially built in 2005, the latest-generation Athlete (or, All-Terrain Hex-Limbed Extra-Terrestrial Explorer) is actually two three-limbed robots that join together to form a platform for transporting payloads weighing up to 990 pounds in Earth gravity.
At full height when standing, the prototype is about 13 feet tall, but that's only half the size of what a launch version of Athlete might be.
We all know what it's like to send a text message or e-mail whose tone is completely misinterpreted. A series of additional messages to better explain ourselves ensues and the efficiency of the original message is long gone.
That's one reason engineers at the University of Washington are testing a tool called MobileASL that uses motion detection to identify American Sign Language and transmit images over U.S. cell networks. Sometimes, words alone just don't cut it.
"Sometimes with texting, people will be confused about what it really means," says Tong Song, a Chinese national who is studying at Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf in Washington, D.C., and participating in UW's summer pilot test. "With the MobileASL, phone people can see each other eye to eye, face to face, and really have better understanding."
Eve Riskin, a UW professor of electrical engineering, says the MobileASL team's study of 11 students is the first to examine how deaf and hearing-impaired people in the U.S. use mobile video phones. The researchers plan to launch a larger field study this winter.
The engineers are now working to optimize compressed video signals for sign language, increasing the quality of the images around the face and hands to reduce the data rate to 30 kilobytes per second. To minimize the amount of battery power, the phones employ motion sensors to determine whether sign language is being used.… Read more
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--Astronauts Douglas Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell Dyson wrapped up a successful spacewalk Monday, installing a new ammonia pump to help flight controllers recover from a failure that shut down half the International Space Station's cooling systems.
"We had an extremely successful EVA today," Kirk Shireman, deputy manager of the space station program at the Johnson Space Center, said after the spacewalk. "We're very pleased with the results. We still have some more activities this afternoon and tomorrow to fully recover from the pump module failure, but things are certainly looking positive … Read more
A new NASA mission aims to come to grips with the way nature whips up hurricanes.
Set to begin Sunday, the agency's six-week Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes (GRIP) mission will see a series of planes outfitted with sophisticated instruments take to the skies in an attempt to understand the birth of a hurricane, in order to give people a better chance to prepare for them.
This is NASA's first domestic hurricane project since 2001 and its largest ever. Three NASA planes, several satellites, and four planes from research partners will team up to measure tropical storms as … Read more