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Elon Musk: ‘I’m Hopeful That The First People Can Be Taken To Mars in 10, 12 Years’

posted Jun 18, 2014, 9:23 PM by M Stoltz

By Elizabeth Howell
Universe Today, 06.18.14

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, is a hot topic in the media these days. He recently unveiled a manned version of his successful Dragon spacecraft. He’s talking about retrieving the first stage of his Falcon 9 rocket, a feat that has never been accomplished.

Last night (June 18), Musk spoke on CNBC because his company was named #1 to the cable network’s second annual Disrupter 50 list. You can watch portions of the interview here and we’ve isolated the space-related parts below based on the transcript from CNBC (which does not exactly match Musk’s words, but is pretty close.)

And Musk is still a big fan of Mars exploration, as he says in the interview he hopes to see people walk on the planet in 10-12 years.

To read the full article, please click here.

The Overprotection of Mars

posted Nov 18, 2013, 6:43 AM by M Stoltz

By Andrew Williams
Astrobiology Magazine, 11.18.13

A recent commentary paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience argues that planetary protection policies and practices designed to guard solar system bodies from biological contamination from spacecraft need to be re-evaluated because they are “unnecessarily inhibiting” a more ambitious agenda to search for life on Mars.

In the paper, called The Overprotection of Mars, co-authors Alberto G. Fairén of the Department of Astronomy, Cornell University and Dirk Schulze-Makuch of the School of the Environment, Washington State University, also argue that, from an astrobiological perspective, the most interesting missions to “Special Regions” - where, in theory, Mars life could exist or Earth life could survive - are rendered “unviable” as a result of onerous Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) planetary protection protocols and the need to comply with “detailed and expensive sterilization requirements.”

To read the full article, please click here.

[Image: NASA]

Curiosity Rover Makes Big Water Discovery in Mars Dirt, a 'Wow Moment'

posted Sep 27, 2013, 7:28 PM by M Stoltz

By Mike Wall,, 09.26.13

Future Mars explorers may be able to get all the water they need out of the red dirt beneath their boots, a new study suggests.

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has found that surface soil on the Red Planet contains 2 percent water by weight. That means astronaut pioneers could extract roughly 2 pints (1 liter) of water out of every cubic foot (0.03 cubic meters) of Martian dirt they dig up, scientists said.

"For me, that was a big 'wow' moment," said study lead author Laurie Leshin, of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. "I was really happy when we saw that there's easily accessible water here in the dirt beneath your feet. And it's probably true anywhere you go on Mars." 

The new study is one of five papers published in the journal Science today (Sept. 26) that report what researchers have learned about Martian surface materials from the work Curiosity did during its first 100 days on the Red Planet.

Soaking up atmospheric water

Curiosity touched down inside Mars' huge Gale Crater in August 2012, kicking off a planned two-year surface mission to determine if the Red Planet could ever have supported microbial life. It achieved that goal in March, when it found that a spot near its landing site called Yellowknife Bay was indeed habitable billions of years ago.

To read the full article, please click here.

[Image: NASA]

Mars Rover Comes Up Empty in Search for Methane

posted Sep 19, 2013, 1:23 PM by M Stoltz

By Kenneth Chang, New York Times, 09.19.13

In findings that are as scientifically significant as they are crushing to the popular imagination, NASA reported Thursday that its Mars rover, Curiosity, which has been trundling across the red planet for a little over a year, has deflated hopes that life could be thriving on Mars today.

The conclusion, published in the journal Science, comes from the fact that Curiosity has been looking for methane, a gas that is considered a possible calling card of microbes, and has so far found none of it. While the absence of methane does not entirely preclude the possibility of present-day life on Mars, it does return the idea to the realm of pure speculation without any hopeful data to back it up.

“You don’t have direct evidence that there is microbial process going on,” as Sushil K. Atreya, a professor of atmospheric and space science at the University of Michigan and a member of the science team, put it.

To read the full article, please click here.

[Image: NASA/JPL]

Architects Envision an Underground Colony on Mars

posted Sep 7, 2013, 7:29 PM by M Stoltz

By Lauren Davis,, 09.07.13

When humans finally travel to Mars, what will their first buildings look like? ZA Architects envision an underground colony with spiderweb floors spun from basalt fibers.

ZA's proposal involves sending robots ahead of a human expedition to drill into the basalt-rich soil of Mars, creating caverns for underground human settlement. Human astronauts would then complete the construction. Skylights would sit at the surface, providing light for the human dwellers as well as feeding light into agricultural cavities. The caverns would have multiple levels, with the floors made out of basalt fibers, made by extruding molten basalt, and woven into netting by robots.

In an interview with Dezeen, Arina Ageeva, one of the architects behind this proposal, acknowledges that the robotics they envision for the project don't currently exist, but Ageeva believes that it wouldn't be far-fetched to see robots capable of executing this project in the next decade.

Mars Colonization [ZA Architects via Dezeen]

'We Are All Martians': Chemist's Otherworldly Claim Stirs Debate

posted Aug 28, 2013, 6:45 PM by M Stoltz

By Alan Boyle, NBC News, 08.28.13

Are we all Martians? A controversial hypothesis contends that life on our planet had to get its start somewhere else — most likely on Mars — because the chemistry on early Earth couldn't have provided the required molecular machinery.

"The evidence seems to be building that we are actually all Martians; that life started on Mars and came to Earth on a rock," Steven Benner, a chemist at the Florida-based Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, said in a news release. What's more, recent studies suggest that the conditions suitable for the origin of life "may still exist on Mars," he said.

Scientists have long debated the idea that life got its start elsewhere in the universe, and then was transported to Earth on meteorites or comets — an idea known as panspermia. In a presentation to the annual Goldschmidt Conference in Florence, Italy, Benner lays out an unusually detailed case for panspermia involving early Mars and Earth.

To read the full article, please click here.

Shaping a New Earth on Mars

posted Apr 4, 2013, 12:35 PM by M Stoltz   [ updated Apr 4, 2013, 12:36 PM ]

By Markus Hammonds, Discovery News, 04.04.13

As you read this, you’re one of nearly 7 billion human beings on this planet. And that number is likely to increase massively. In fact, if the population of Earth continues to increase at its current rate, there will be over 10 billion people in the world by the year 2050.  As we start to run out of space on Earth, there's one particular audacious possible solution.  What if we could shape another planet into a second Earth?

Terraforming is the hypothetical process through which we could engineer the surface of an entire planet to make it habitable for our own planet’s life to thrive. We’ve certainly proven that we can influence and alter the environment of a whole planet, even though in the case of Earth the results weren’t exactly beneficial. Or desirable. The difficult part is, given a blank canvas, we aren’t entirely sure how to even begin.

In science fiction, the concept of terraforming is quite widespread; it features prominently in cult titles like FireflyCowboy Bebop, and Star Trek. Don’t let that make you think the idea is pure fiction though.

Many scientists and engineers have given serious thought to the puzzle of how to terraform a planet, and NASA has even hosted meetings and debates on the topic. As you might expect, the whole operation is far from straightforward.

To read the full article, please click here.

[Image: Daein Ballard/Wikimedia Commons]

Ancient Flood Channels Cut Deep into Mars

posted Mar 7, 2013, 7:10 PM by M Stoltz   [ updated Mar 7, 2013, 7:10 PM ]

By Irene Klotz, Discovery News, 03.07.13

Relatively recently, water blasted out from an underground aquifer on Mars, carving out deep flood channels in the surface that were later buried by lava flows, radar images compiled from an orbiting NASA probe shows.

The channels are at least twice as deep as previous estimates for Marte Vallis, an expanse of plains just north of the Martian equator that is the youngest volcanic region on the planet.

Most outflow channels on Mars date back billions of years, when the planet was believed to be warmer and wetter than the cold, dry desert it is today.

Marte Vallis is the exception. Channels still visible on the surface cut through very young lava flows, indicating liquid water was present in the relatively recent past. But a key piece of the story has been hidden below ground.

To read the full article, please click here.


Asteroids May be Tougher Target than Mars for Manned Missions

posted Feb 9, 2013, 10:35 AM by M Stoltz   [ updated Mar 7, 2013, 2:52 PM ]

By Mike Wall,, 02.05.13

Though asteroids are viewed as stepping stones in NASA's manned march to Mars, sending humans to a space rock may actually be a bigger challenge than putting boots on the Red Planet.

Mars is farther away than any near-Earth asteroid that NASA would target, but this disadvantage may be outweighed by the greater knowledge scientists have gained of the Red Planet thanks to the many Mars missions that have launched over the years, experts say.

Further, mapping out an asteroid mission is nearly impossible at this point, since NASA does not yet know where it's going.

"There are still no good asteroid targets for such a mission, a necessary prerequisite for determining mission length and details such as the astronauts’ exposure to radiation and the consumables required," states a December 2012 report from the U.S. National Research Council (NRC).

To read the full article, please click here.

[Image: NASA]

Clues to a Biosphere on Mars

posted Jan 23, 2013, 9:18 AM by M Stoltz

By Planetary Science Institute (Release), 01.23.13

The subsurface environment on Mars may hold clues to the origin of life, scientists argue in a recently published research article led by Planetary Science Institute’s
Joseph Michalski. A large fraction of the life on Earth may exist as microbes deep underground on our home planet. The same could have been true in the past on 

“Recent results produced by several authors using data from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars instrument aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have shown that the subsurface of Mars was widely altered by subsurface water” Michalski said. “Here, we argue that all of the ingredients for life existed in the subsurface, and it may have been the most habitable part of Mars.” 

To read the full release, please click here.

[Image: HRSC/Mars Express]

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