An anonymous reader writes It's the oldest rock on Earth--and it's from Mars. A 4.4-billion-year-old martian meteorite, found in a dozen pieces in the western Sahara, has ignited a frenzy among collectors and scientists; prices have reached $10,000 a gram, and museums and universities are vying for slivers of it. It is the only known martian meteorite made of sediment, a conglomerate of pebbles and other clumps of minerals from when the planet was warm, wet, and possibly habitable. The story of the discovery of the rock and its significance is fascinating, as well as the details presented about the economics of rare space materials. Apropos, this older story about missing moon rocks.
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schwit1 writes There's no easy way to say this: You're eating too much chocolate, all of you. And it's getting so out of hand that the world could be headed towards a potentially disastrous (if you love chocolate) scenario if it doesn't stop. ... Chocolate deficits, whereby farmers produce less cocoa than the world eats, are becoming the norm. Already, we are in the midst of what could be the longest streak of consecutive chocolate deficits in more than 50 years. It also looks like deficits aren't just carrying over from year-to-year—the industry expects them to grow. Last year, the world ate roughly 70,000 metric tons more cocoa than it produced. By 2020, the two chocolate-makers warn that that number could swell to 1 million metric tons, a more than 14-fold increase; by 2030, they think the deficit could reach 2 million metric tons.
Joe Gilmore was showing some of his work at Maker Faire Atlanta when Timothy Lord pointed his camera at him. Joe may never create a Mars colony or build the tallest skyscraper in North America, but what he does is fun to the point of whimsy, and seems to bring smiles to a lot of faces. (Alternate Video Link)
superboj sends an article written after its author investigated the Mars One Project for over a year. Even though 200,000 people have (supposedly) signed up as potential volunteers on a one-way trip to Mars, there are still frightfully few details about how the mission will be accomplished. From the article: [Astronaut Chris Hadfield] says that Mars One fails at even the most basic starting point of any manned space mission: If there are no specifications for the craft that will carry the crew, if you don’t know the very dimensions of the capsule they will be traveling in, you can’t begin to select the people who will be living and working inside of it. "I really counsel every single one of the people who is interested in Mars One, whenever they ask me about it, to start asking the hard questions now. I want to see the technical specifications of the vehicle that is orbiting Earth. I want to know: How does a space suit on Mars work? Show me how it is pressurized, and how it is cooled. What’s the glove design? None of that stuff can be bought off the rack. It does not exist. You can’t just go to SpaceMart and buy those things." The author concludes that the Mars One Project is "...at best, an amazingly hubristic fantasy: an absolute faith in the free market, in technology, in the media, in money, to be able to somehow, magically, do what thousands of highly qualified people in government agencies have so far not yet been able to do over decades of diligently trying, making slow headway through individually hard-won breakthroughs, working in relative anonymity pursuing their life’s work."
An anonymous reader writes According to observations made by NASA and ESA orbiters, the extremely close flyby of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring to Mars was accompanied by a meteor shower larger than any seen on Earth. NASA said that dust from Comet Siding Spring vaporized high up in the Martian atmosphere, producing "an impressive meteor shower." An observer on Mars surface might have seen thousands of shooting stars per hour. "This historic event allowed us to observe the details of this fast-moving Oort Cloud comet in a way never before possible using our existing Mars missions," Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division at the agency's Headquarters in Washington, said in the statement.
rudy_wayne writes with this opinion piece at Wired published in the wake of the crash of SpaceShipTwo, which calls the project nothing more than a "millionaire boondoggle thrill ride." A selection: SpaceShipTwo is not a Federation starship. It's not a vehicle for the exploration of frontiers. Virgin Galactic is building the world's most expensive roller coaster, the aerospace version of Beluga caviar. It's a thing for rich people to do. Testing new aircraft takes a level of courage and ability beyond most humans. Those engineers and pilots are at the peak of human achievement. What they're doing is amazing. Why Virgin is doing it is not. When various corporate representatives eulogize those two pilots as pioneers who were helping to cross the Final Frontier, that should make you angry. That pilot died not for space but for a luxury service provider. His death doesn't get us closer to Mars; it just keeps rich people further away from weightlessness and a beautiful view.
MarkWhittington writes Professor Richard Binzel published a commentary in the journal Nature that called for two things. He proposed that NASA cancel the Asteroid Redirect Mission currently planned for the early 2020s. Instead, he would like the asteroid survey mandated by the George E. Brown, Jr. Near-Earth Object Survey Act of 2005, part of the 2005 NASA Authorization Act, funded at $200 million a year. Currently NASA funds the survey at $20 million a year, considered inadequate to complete the identification of 90 percent of hazardous near-Earth objects 140 meters or greater by 2020 as mandated by the law.
An anonymous reader writes: The Atlantic has a nice profile of SpaceX's rise to prominence — how a private startup managed to successfully compete with industry giants like Boeing in just a decade of existence. "Regardless of its inspirations, the company was forced to adopt a prosaic initial goal: Make a rocket at least 10 times cheaper than is possible today. Until it can do that, neither flowers nor people can go to Mars with any economy. With rocket technology, Musk has said, "you're really left with one key parameter against which technology improvements must be judged, and that's cost." SpaceX currently charges $61.2 million per launch. Its cost-per-kilogram of cargo to low-earth orbit, $4,653, is far less than the $14,000 to $39,000 offered by its chief American competitor, the United Launch Alliance. Other providers often charge $250 to $400 million per launch; NASA pays Russia $70 million per astronaut to hitch a ride on its three-person Soyuz spacecraft. SpaceX's costs are still nowhere near low enough to change the economics of space as Musk and his investors envision, but they have a plan to do so (of which more later)."
astroengine writes The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on board NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has become the first instrument orbiting Mars to beam back images of comet Siding Spring's nucleus and coma. And by default, it has also become the first ever mission to photograph a long-period comet's pristine nucleus on its first foray into the inner solar system. Interestingly, through analysis of these first HiRISE observations, astronomers have determined that the icy nucleus at the comet's core is much smaller than originally thought. "Telescopic observers had modeled the size of the nucleus as about half a mile, or one kilometer, wide," writes a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory news release. "However, the best HiRISE images show only two to three pixels across the brightest feature, probably the nucleus, suggesting a size less than half that estimate."
globaljustin writes "Alan Drysdale, a systems analyst in advanced life support and a contractor with NASA concluded, "Small women haven't been demonstrated to be appreciably dumber than big women or big men, so there's no reason to choose larger people for a flight crew when it's brain power you want," says Drysdale. "The logical thing to do is to fly small women." Kate Greene, who wrote the linked article, took part in the first HI-SEAS experiment in Martian-style living, and has some compelling reasons for an all-women crew, energy efficiency chief among them: Week in and week out, the three female crew members expended less than half the calories of the three male crew members. Less than half! We were all exercising roughly the same amount—at least 45 minutes a day for five consecutive days a week—but our metabolic furnaces were calibrated in radically different ways. During one week, the most metabolically active male burned an average of 3,450 calories per day, while the least metabolically active female expended 1,475 calories per day. It was rare for a woman on crew to burn 2,000 calories in a day and common for male crew members to exceed 3,000. ... The calorie requirements of an astronaut matter significantly when planning a mission. The more food a person needs to maintain her weight on a long space journey, the more food should launch with her. The more food launched, the heavier the payload. The heavier the payload, the more fuel required to blast it into orbit and beyond. The more fuel required, the heavier the rocket becomes, which it in turn requires more fuel to launch.
From the L.A. Times, and with enough time to tune in, comes this tip: Comet Siding Spring's closest approach to the red planet will occur at 11:27 a.m. [Pacific Time] on Sunday. At its closest approach, the comet will come within 87,000 miles of Mars. That's 10 times closer than any comet on record has ever come to Earth. Sadly, this historic flyby is not visible to the naked eye. People who live in the Southern Hemisphere have a shot at seeing the comet if they have access to a good telescope six inches or wider. However, most of us in the Northern Hemisphere will not be able to see the comet at all, experts say, no matter how big a telescope we've got. Here to save the cometary day is astronomy website Slooh.com. Beginning at 11:15 a.m PDT on Sunday, it will host a live broadcast of the comet's closest approach to Mars, as seen by the website's telescopes in South Africa and in the Canary Islands. Later in the day, beginning at 5:30 p.m. PDT, Slooh will broadcast another view of the comet from a telescope in Chile.
astroengine writes: Early results from NASA's recently arrived MAVEN Mars spacecraft show an extensive, tenuous cloud of hydrogen surrounding the red planet, the result of water breaking down in the atmosphere, scientists said Tuesday. MAVEN, an acronym for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, arrived on Sept. 21 to help answer questions about what caused a planet that was once warm and wet to turn into the cold, dry desert that appears today. "It's measurements like these that will allow us to estimate the escape rate of hydrogen from the Martian atmosphere to space today. It's an important measurement to make because the hydrogen ... comes from water lower down in the atmosphere," MAVEN scientist Mike Chaffin, with the University of Colorado, Boulder, told reporters on a conference call.
HughPickens.com writes Alan Boyle writes that over the years, Elon Musk's showmanship, straight-ahead smarts and far-out ideas have earned him a following that spans the geek spectrum — to the point that some observers see glimmers of the aura that once surrounded Apple's Steve Jobs. "To me, it feels like he's the most obvious inheritor of Steve Jobs' mantle," says Ashlee Vance, who's writing a biography of Musk that at one time had the working title The Iron Man. "Obviously, Steve Jobs' products changed the world ... [But] if Elon's right about all these things that he's after, his products should ultimately be more meaningful than what Jobs came up with. He's the guy doing the most concrete stuff about global warming." So what is Musk's vision? What motivates Musk at the deepest level? "It's his Mars thing," says Vance. Inspired in part by the novels of Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, Musk has come around to the view that humanity's long-term future depends on extending its reach beyond Earth, starting with colonies on Mars. Other notables like physicist Stephen Hawking have laid out similar scenarios — but Musk is actually doing something to turn those interplanetary dreams into a reality. Vance thinks that Musk is on the verge of breaking out from geek guru status to a level of mass-market recognition that's truly on a par with the late Steve Jobs. Additions to the Tesla automotive line, plus the multibillion-dollar promise of Tesla's battery-producing "gigafactory" in Nevada, could push Musk over the edge. "Tesla, as a brand, really does seem to have captured the public's imagination. ... All of a sudden he's got a hip product that looks great, and it's creating jobs. The next level feels like it's got to be that third-generation, blockbuster mainstream product. The story is not done."
MarkWhittington writes The Mars One project created a great deal of fanfare when it was first announced in 2012. The project, based in Holland, aspires to build a colony on Mars with the first uncrewed flight taking place in 2018 and the first colonists setting forth around 2024. The idea is that the colonists would go to Mars to stay, slowly building up the colony in four-person increments every 26-month launch window. However, Space Policy Online on Tuesday reported that an independent study conducted by MIT has poured cold water on the Mars colony idea. The MIT team consisting of engineering students had to make a number of assumptions based on public sources since the Mars One concept lacks a great many technical details. The study made the bottom line conclusion that the Mars One project is overly optimistic at best and unworkable at worst. The concept is "unsustainable" given the current state of technology and the aggressive schedule that the Mars One project has presented.
astroengine writes: A NASA-backed study explores an innovative way to dramatically cut the cost of a human expedition to Mars — put the crew in stasis. The deep sleep, called torpor, would reduce astronauts' metabolic functions with existing medical procedures. Torpor also can occur naturally in cases of hypothermia. "Therapeutic torpor has been around in theory since the 1980s and really since 2003 has been a staple for critical care trauma patients in hospitals," aerospace engineer Mark Schaffer, with SpaceWorks Enterprises in Atlanta, said at the International Astronomical Congress in Toronto this week. "Protocols exist in most major medical centers for inducing therapeutic hypothermia on patients to essentially keep them alive until they can get the kind of treatment that they need." Coupled with intravenous feeding, a crew could be put in hibernation for the transit time to Mars, which under the best-case scenario would take 180 days one-way.
sciencehabit writes Oceanographers have a saying: Scientists know more about the surface of Mars than they do about the landscape at the bottom of our oceans. But that may soon change. Using data from satellites that measure variations in Earth's gravitational field, researchers have found a new and more accurate way to map the sea floor. The improved resolution has already allowed them to identify previously hidden features—including thousands of extinct volcanoes more than 1000 meters tall—as well as piece together some lingering uncertainties in Earth's ancient history.
An anonymous reader writes: Elon Musk's ambitions for SpaceX keep getting bigger. First he wanted to make the trip to Mars affordable, then he wanted to establish a city-sized colony, and now he's got his eye on the future of humanity. Musk says we need a million people on Mars to form a "sustainable, genetically diverse civilization" that can survive as humanity's insurance policy. He continued, "Even at a million, you're really assuming an incredible amount of productivity per person, because you would need to recreate the entire industrial base on Mars. You would need to mine and refine all of these different materials, in a much more difficult environment than Earth. There would be no trees growing. There would be no oxygen or nitrogen that are just there. No oil." How fast could we do it? Within a century, once the spacecraft reusability problem is solved. "Excluding organic growth, if you could take 100 people at a time, you would need 10,000 trips to get to a million people. But you would also need a lot of cargo to support those people. In fact, your cargo to person ratio is going to be quite high. It would probably be 10 cargo trips for every human trip, so more like 100,000 trips. And we're talking 100,000 trips of a giant spaceship."
StartsWithABang writes: The next great leap in human spaceflight is a manned mission to a world within our Solar System: most likely Mars. But if something went wrong along the journey — at launch, close to Earth, or en route — whether biological or mechanical, would there be any way to return to Earth? This article is a fun (and sobering) look at what the limits of physics and technology allow at present. If you're interested in a hard sci-fi, near-future look at how a catastrophic Mars mission might go, you should read an excellent novel called The Martian by Andy Weir.
MarkWhittington writes The recent arrival into Mars orbit of both NASA's MAVEN and India's Mangalyaan Mars Orbiter Mission has not escaped the notice of China. The achievement of its Asian rival has especially proven galling to the Chinese. China has yet to successfully send a space probe beyond the moon. The development has elicited calls in Beijing to accelerate China's Mars program. China currently plans to send a rover to Mars in 2020 and, perhaps, do a Mars sample return mission in 2030. However, it feels that India, which China regards as its rival in an Asian space race, has stolen the spotlight and has left the Chinese behind. China is now keen to try to play catchup with its own Mars mission. One of the hold ups for a Chinese interplanetary exploration program is the delays surrounding the development of the Long March 5 rocket, which will be roughly the equivalent of the America Delta IV in its capabilities. The Chinese launch vehicle unveiling has slipped to at least 2015 because of the technological challenges it faces. The Long March 5 is also needed to launch the 20 ton modules of the Chinese space station, currently planned for later this decade.
astroengine writes India's Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) got straight to work as it closed in on Martian orbit on Tuesday — it began taking photographs of the Red Planet and its atmosphere and surface as it slowed down to reach its ultimate destination. After a two day wait, those first images are slowly trickling onto the Internet.