September 30th, 2013
06:30 PM ET

On Mars and thirsty? Drink from the dirt

Mars might appear dry as a desert, but astronauts may someday be able to tap its soil to quench their thirst. Research recently published suggests that the dust from the Martian's surface contains about 2% water by weight.

This is one of several insights emerging from data that the Mars rover Curiosity has been collecting. Five studies in the journal Science were published last week based on data from the rover's first 100 days on the Red Planet.

Thanks to Curiosity, scientists now know more than ever about the composition of the Martian soil.

"It's the first time that the soil has been analyzed at this level of accuracy," said Chris Webster, manager of NASA's Planetary Sciences Instruments Office.

Read more about the latest fascinating findings from Mars
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Filed under: Mars • Solar System • Space
August 28th, 2012
03:16 AM ET

Human voice makes giant leap in space thanks to Curiosity

The voice of NASA's chief has boldly gone where no voice has gone before - to another planet and back.

Words uttered by Charles Bolden, the administrator of NASA, were radioed to the Curiosity Rover on the surface of Mars, which in turn sent them back to NASA's Deep Space Network on Earth, NASA said in a statement Monday.

The successful transmission means Bolden's space-faring comments are the first instance of a recorded human voice traveling from Earth to another planet and back again, according to NASA.

In the recording, Bolden congratulated NASA employees and other agencies involved in the Curiosity mission, noting that "landing a rover on Mars is not easy."

"Others have tried," he said. "Only America has succeeded."

The announcement by NASA of the voice transmission, the latest in a series of advances by Curiosity since it landed on Mars earlier this month, comes just days after the death of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon.

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Filed under: Mars • Solar System • Space
August 10th, 2012
07:24 PM ET

'Impressive' Curiosity landing only 1.5 miles off, NASA says

Early data shows the Mars rover Curiosity landed with amazing accuracy this week, coming down about 1.5 miles from its target after a 350-million-mile journey, NASA scientists said Friday, perhaps giving planners more confidence about landing spacecraft in tight spaces in the future.

The $2.6 billion rover is on a two-year mission to determine whether Mars ever had an environment capable of supporting life. It landed Monday and will spend the next four days installing operational software that will give it full movement and analytic capabilities, scientists said at a news conference at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Curiosity missed its target entry point into Mars' atmosphere by about only one mile, and most everything in its complicated descent and landing operations - a spectacle popularly known as the "seven minutes of terror" - happened on time, including the deployment of the largest-ever supersonic parachute and the heat shield separation.

"From all the data we've received so far, we flew this right down the middle, and it's incredible to work on a plan for (years) and then have things happen ... according to plan," said Steve Sell, who was involved in the powered descent phase.

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Filed under: Mars • Science • Space
August 6th, 2012
07:46 AM ET

Monday's live events

The race to the presidency now turns toward the general election in November.  Watch Live for all the latest news and views from the campaign trail.

Today's programming highlights...

12:00 pm ET - Mars rover post-landing briefing - The Curiosity rover successfully landed on Mars this morning, and NASA and JPL officials are celebrating.  Two briefings on the landing and mission will take place today - the first at noon ET, with the second at 7:00 pm ET.


Filed under: Elections • Mars • On today • Politics • Solar System • Space
Failed space probe to fall to Earth in days, Russia says
The Phobos-Grunt probe, pictured here on October 18, failed to leave Earth orbit after its November 9 launch.
January 11th, 2012
06:24 PM ET

Failed space probe to fall to Earth in days, Russia says

A Russian probe that was supposed to reach one of Mars' moons but failed to escape Earth orbit is expected to fall to Earth between Saturday and Monday, Russia's space agency said.

It's too early to say where pieces of the unmanned Phobos-Grunt probe could fall. But on Sunday afternoon - the middle of the re-entry window - the nearly 15-ton probe is projected to be over the Indian Ocean, hundreds of miles southwest of Indonesia, the Roscosmos space agency said Wednesday.

Twenty to 30 fragments, weighing a total of up to 440 pounds, could survive the heat of re-entry, Roscosmos said, according to the state-run Ria Novosti news agency.

The craft is carrying 7.5 tons of toxic fuel. That fuel is expected to burn up on re-entry, Ria Novosti reported, citing Roscosmos.


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On the Radar: New Mars mission, 15 missing boaters, Korea talks
An artist's concept of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover.
July 22nd, 2011
06:05 AM ET

On the Radar: New Mars mission, 15 missing boaters, Korea talks

Three things you need to know today.

Next Mars mission: Where on Mars will we go next year?

NASA and the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum on Friday will announce the destination for the latest Mars rover, scheduled to land on the Red Planet in August 2012.

The newest rover, called the The Mars Science Laboratory, or Curiosity, is scheduled for liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in November.

Curiosity, two times as long and five times as heavy as previous Mars rovers, will look for conditions that could sustain microscopic life and any evidence of past life on Mars.

NASA's two previous Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, began their planned three-month missions on Mars in 2004. Spirit stopped communicating with Earth in 2010, but Opportunity is still at work, just last week logging its 20th mile on the Martian surface.

Watch Friday's event live and engage in a live chat at beginning at 10 a.m. ET.

Missing Pacific boaters: The U.S. Coast Guard is sending one of its ships to Fanano atoll in the South Pacific after a small boat matching the description of a skiff reported missing with 15 people was spotted on the uninhabited atoll aboard 600 miles southeast of Guam.

The crew of a vessel leaving Ruo Island, the intended destination of the missing skiff, reported seeing an overturned boat on the beach of the Fanano atoll, the Coast Guard said in a statement. Several people were also on shore, it said.

A long-range Navy search plane flew over the area after the Coast Guard received the report.

"Once on scene, the aircraft reported back that a damaged vessel was overturned on the beach and several crude shelters had been erected on the beach," the statement said.

Korea talks: South Korea's chief envoy to six-party talks on ending North Korea's nuclear program is to meet with a senior North Korean diplomat on the sidelines of the ASEAN regional forum, South Korean officials say.

Wi Sung-lac, the chief negotiator for the South, has proposed holding talks with Ri Yong-ho, who is widely expected to succeed Kim Kye-gwan as the North's top envoy to the multilateral talks, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reports.

The agenda of their discussion has not been disclosed.

This is North Korea's first response to South Korea's proposal to hold nuclear talks since the beginning of this year, a South Korean foreign ministry official who did not want to be identified due to sensitivity of the matter told CNN.

North Korea pulled out of the six-party talks on nuclear disarmament in 2008.

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Filed under: Guam • Mars • North Korea • South Korea • Space • World
Spirit may be fading on Mars, NASA says
An August 2004 image from NASA's Mars rover Spirit shows a rock outcrop on the red planet.
May 25th, 2011
11:48 AM ET

Spirit may be fading on Mars, NASA says

NASA to Mars rover:  Phone home or else.

The space agency said it will reach out to contact the Mars rover Spirit a final time Wednesday after a series of unanswered attempts.

NASA speculates that an extreme Martian winter may have frozen the rover’s communication apparatus or weakened its energy level, hindering its ability to communicate.

In a press release Tuesday, NASA said, in essence, what we have here is a failure to communicate.

"We no longer believe there is a realistic probability of hearing from Spirit," Dave Lavery, NASA’s program executive for solar system exploration, said in the release.

Created for a three-month mission, Spirit landed on Mars in January 2004 and exceeded its intended life span by several years, giving scientists an in-depth look at the surface conditions of the red planet.

But there have been obstacles - namely massive dust storms, paralyzing sandboxes and plain ol' feisty weather that has challenged the rover's functionality.

Over most of the past seven years though, despite various violent conditions, Spirit has always managed to re-establish connection.

Not this time.

The last transmission received by the rover was March 22, 2010, NASA said.

The rover program will now focus its energies on Spirit’s twin rover, Opportunity, which landed 21 days after Spirit. Also, NASA is prepping the November launch of Curiosity, a bigger, more-tricked out rover (six 20-inch wheels?) slated to arrive on Mars in mid-2012.

As for Spirit, NASA said any communication from the rover will basically be relegated to voice mail.

“The Deep Space Network may occasionally listen for any faint signals when the schedule permits," Lavery is quoted in the release.

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Four bright planets cluster in predawn sky Wednesday
A crescent moon and Venus, right, are seen at dawn over the Kennedy Space Center on May 1.
May 10th, 2011
10:54 PM ET

Four bright planets cluster in predawn sky Wednesday

As if you needed another reason to get up before sunrise, four bright planets will cluster in the predawn sky Wednesday morning so close together they'll probably fit behind your outstretched hand (from where you stand, of course).

Throughout May, the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter will rearrange themselves on a daily basis to form different shapes in the eastern sky. The show ends with a grand finale on May 30, when a crescent moon joins the four planets.

Watch NASA illustration of the planets clustering

The best view will be about a half hour before sunrise on Wednesday, when Venus and Jupiter will be so bright "you might think you've witnessed a double supernova beaming through the morning twilight," scientist Tony Curtis said on NASA's Science News site.

The whole patch will be less than 10 degrees wide. Venus and Jupiter will be only a half degree apart, Curtis said. Does the planets' alignment augur the end of the world?

"Keep an eye on Venus in particular. As the sun rises and the sky fills with morning blue, the Goddess of Love does not fade away. You can actually see Venus in broad daylight if you know where to look," he said.

Venus, the brighter of the two, will be to the right of Jupiter, the editors of StarDate magazine said last week. Mercury will be visible to the lower right of Venus, about the same distance from Venus to Jupiter. It won't be as bright but its proximity to Venus will help you find it. To the lower left of Jupiter, you'll find Mars, which may be too low and faint to see without the aid of binoculars.

Mercury, Venus and Jupiter will form a bright celestial triangle in May almost equilateral in appearance. On May 20, a new triangle will appear with Mars, Venus and Mercury forming the vertices.

Did you see them? Send us your images!

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Filed under: Mars • Mercury • Space
Reporters get first in-person look at new Mars rover
Reporters on Monday got to see the laboratory where engineers and scientists have been preparing the "Curiosity" Mars rover.
April 4th, 2011
09:31 PM ET

Reporters get first in-person look at new Mars rover

Reporters put on "bunny suits" before visiting the new rover.

NASA's next Mars rover, "Curiosity," was unveiled to reporters Monday at the Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena, California.

"Curiosity" is about the size of a Mini Cooper and weighs about 2,000 pounds.  It has six 20-inch wheels and is far bigger than its predecessors "Spirit" and "Opportunity." It also is equipped with a drill that will be looking at "interesting rocks" in hopes of finding hydrocarbons or any signs that life could have existed at any time on the red planet.

It is set to be launched from Florida in late November, and will take about 10 months to travel to Mars.  Scientists hope to gather information from the mission for at least two years.

Getting to see the rover up close meant going through a "clean entry," which meant reporters had to wipe down all equipment and don a "bunny suit," efforts to prevent "earthly contaminants" from attaching to the rover.  The suit included a shower cap-type cover for your head, booties to cover your shoes, a hood that covered your neck and snapped under your chin, a mask that hooked onto your ears and another pair of boots that came just to your knees and gloves.

Next was an air shower, and then a quick walk on some tacky paper to catch the last bit of whatever off the bottom of your shoes.

The rover was named in 2009 by Clara Ma, then a 12-year-old student from Lenexa, Kansas, who submitted the winning essay in a nationwide naming contest.  For her prize, she was flown to the Jet Propulsion Laboratories, where she not only got to see the rover, but also got to sign the bottom of it.  She also has been invited to watch the launch in Florida.

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Filed under: Mars • Science • Space