Russia Meteorite 2013: The largest of the century!
Asteroids are an excellent source of natural resources (minerals, etc.) As stated in the U.S. fiscal year of 2014 budget, NASA requested $100 million to initiate plans to capture an asteroid, haul it into the lunar orbit, and send manned missions to the asteroid by 2025! Mining an asteroid in the future could help resupply rapidly depleting fossil fuels and natural minerals. Beside the apparent need for resources, NASA hopes to advance technological developments that will provide opportunities for “international cooperation, new industrial capabilities, and helping scientists better understand how to protect Earth if a large asteroid is every found on a collision course. You may have heard about the recent Russia Chelyabinsk meteorite incident. 1,500 injured and 7,000 buildings suffered. A small asteroid invaded Earth’s atmosphere and struck the ground in Russia. The shockwaves shattered thousands of windows!
NASA proposes identifying suitable targets, or asteroids 20 to 30 feet in diameter (extremely hard to spot) in favorable orbits (near Earth and small revolution) that would allow easy capture and transport to Earth. These desired small asteroids hit Earth on a regular basis; the asteroid that hit Russia was 50 feet in diameter. NASA’s Orion crew capsule and heavy-lift booster will send astronauts to the asteroid for sample returns. NASA has two teams working the proposed mission: one searching for suitable asteroids and developing unmanned technology to capture the asteroid, and another on future manned missions and sample collection.
In the wake of the asteroid (then meteorite) rocking Russia and a close call with an asteroid passing close to Earth on the same day, astronomers are extremely interested in asteroids.
2017: test flight
2019: capture mission
2021: asteroid hauled back to cislunar (between Earth and moon) orbit
by 2025: astronauts sent to asteroid
Harwood, William. “NASA mulls asteroid capture mission, eventual manned visits.” CBS News. CBS News, 5 Apr 2013. Web. 12 Apr 2013.
Mars, the Red Planet: Home of Curiosity and soon-to-be InSight?
10 days after Curiosity’s successful landing, the U.S. space embassy ordered another Mars mission in 2016 to examine below Mars’ surface. Researchers want to examine Mars’ seismic activities— to see if Mars has fault lines like Earth and what of “marsquakes” are there. The InSight Mission (Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) will launch in March 2016. The budget for the mission is $425 million, not including the cost of the launch vehicle. JPL and the team of engineers and scientists who built Curiosity will build InSight, set to be Curiosity’s companion. InSight will harbor a French built seismometer and solar panels. One of InSight’s four instruments, the Heat Flow and Physical Properties (HP3), will crack through the surface using a 14-inch “hollowed-out electromechanically- festooned stake” called the Tractor Mole. The Mole will descend 16 feet below the planet’s surface. Its thermal senors will also measure the temperature of Mars’ interior to learn about the planet’s thermal temperature. The mission of InSight will be to analyze Mars’ core to learn about the early formation of rocky bodies like Earth. InSight will determine the core’s size and composition and whether it’s solid or liquid. It will take InSight 6 months to reach Mars (will land in September 2016) and a full Martian year (680 Earth days) to gather data.
Dunn, Marcia. “NASA plans to sent next rover to Mars in 2016.” Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Bay Times, 21 Aug 2012. Web. 21 Aug 2012.
Kolawoe, Emi. “New Mars mission InSight scheduled for 2016, will explore planet’s interior.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 21 Aug 2012. Web. 21 Aug 2012.
Curiosity uses its laser for the first time to zap a rock “Coronation.” What a fitting name! Curiosity is the crowning achievement of NASA/ JPL for missions in Mars exploration in recent years. Curiosity’s ChemCam, or Chemistry and Camera equipment hit the fist-sized “Coronation” with 30 pulses (Each pulse = more than 1 million watts in five one-billionths of a second!) of laser in a 10-second period. By exciting atoms in “Coronation” into a glowing plasma, ChemCam can capture the light with a telescope and analyze the rock with three spectrometers to determine its elemental composition. If the composition changed as the pulses progressed, then dust or other surface material covered the rock. ChemCam uses laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, which can determine the composition of targets in extreme environments, such as on sea-floor, and is used in experimental applications in cancer detection and environmental monitoring. For its 2-year mission, Curiosity will continue to use its spectacular 10 instruments to determine whether Gale crater ever offered suitable environmental conditions for life.
Webster, Guy. “Rover’s Laser Instrument Zaps First Martian Rock.” NASA. NASA, 19 Aug 2012. Web. 20 Aug 2012.
Curiosity/ Mars Science Laboratory has successfully landed on the Red Planet on August 5, 2012 at 10:31 PM (Pacific Time). JPL engineers gave the landing a “perfect 10”! The Mars rover escaped the 7 minutes of terror and will continue its 2-year mission. This revolutionary success marks the first time since the 1970s (Viking probes) that NASA sent a mission for astrobiology. Curiosity will analyze samples on Mars to determine if Mars has ever been habitable for life forms. The $2.5 billion project offset the recent loss of the 30-year space shuttle program. The rover sent its first three images of Mars, sending JPL into an uproar.
For more information on Curiosity (its specifications, mission objectives, and technology) as well as two videos (animation of Curiosity on Mars and JPL’s animation of the “7 minutes of terror”), please visit this post.
Grecius, Tony, ed. “Mars Science Laboratory.” NASA. NASA, August 2012. Web. 6 Aug 2012.