NASA’S MARS CURIOSITY ROVER ARRIVES AT MARTIAN MOUNTAIN
From the FMS Global News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton NASA.GOV. NEWS Released September 11 2014 by Dwayne Brown
This image shows the old and new routes of NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover and is composed of color strips taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. This new route provides excellent access to many features in the Murray Formation. And it will eventually pass by the Murray Formation’s namesake, Murray Buttes, previously considered to be the entry point to Mt. Sharp.Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has reached the Red Planet’s Mount Sharp, a Mount-Rainier-size mountain at the center of the vast Gale Crater and the rover mission’s long-term prime destination.
“Curiosity now will begin a new chapter from an already outstanding introduction to the world,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “After a historic and innovative landing along with its successful science discoveries, the scientific sequel is upon us.”
Curiosity’s trek up the mountain will begin with an examination of the mountain’s lower slopes. The rover is starting this process at an entry point near an outcrop called Pahrump Hills, rather than continuing on to the previously-planned, further entry point known as Murray Buttes. Both entry points lay along a boundary where the southern base layer of the mountain meets crater-floor deposits washed down from the crater’s northern rim.
“It has been a long but historic journey to this Martian mountain,” said Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “The nature of the terrain at Pahrump Hills and just beyond it is a better place than Murray Buttes to learn about the significance of this contact. The exposures at the contact are better due to greater topographic relief.”
After 2 years and nearly 9 kilometers of driving, NASA’s Mars Curiosity has arrived at the base of Mount Sharp.
The decision to head uphill sooner, instead of continuing to Murray Buttes, also draws from improved understanding of the region’s geography provided by the rover’s examinations of several outcrops during the past year. Curiosity currently is positioned at the base of the mountain along a pale, distinctive geological feature called the Murray Formation. Compared to neighboring crater-floor terrain, the rock of the Murray Formation is softer and does not preserve impact scars, as well. As viewed from orbit, it is not as well-layered as other units at the base of Mount Sharp.
Curiosity made its first close-up study last month of two Murray Formation outcrops, both revealing notable differences from the terrain explored by Curiosity during the past year. The first outcrop, called Bonanza King, proved too unstable for drilling, but was examined by the rover’s instruments and determined to have high silicon content. A second outcrop, examined with the rover’s telephoto Mast Camera, revealed a fine-grained, platy surface laced with sulfate-filled veins.
While some of these terrain differences are not apparent in observations made by NASA’s Mars orbiters, the rover team still relies heavily on images taken by the agency’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to plan Curiosity’s travel routes and locations for study.
For example, MRO images helped the rover team locate mesas that are over 60 feet (18 meters) tall in an area of terrain shortly beyond Pahrump Hills, which reveal an exposure of the Murray Formation uphill and toward the south. The team plans to use Curiosity’s drill to acquire a sample from this site for analysis by instruments inside the rover. The site lies at the southern end of a valley Curiosity will enter this week from the north.
Though this valley has a sandy floor the length of two football fields, the team expects it will be an easier trek than the sandy-floored Hidden Valley, where last month Curiosity’s wheels slipped too much for safe crossing.
MSL – Senior Review Proposal, Science Sections
Curiosity reached its current location after its route was modified earlier this year in response to excessive wheel wear. In late 2013, the team realized a region of Martian terrain littered with sharp, embedded rocks was poking holes in four of the rover’s six wheels.
This damage accelerated the rate of wear and tear beyond that for which the rover team had planned. In response, the team altered the rover’s route to a milder terrain, bringing the rover farther south, toward the base of Mount Sharp.
“The wheels issue contributed to taking the rover farther south sooner than planned, but it is not a factor in the science-driven decision to start ascending here rather than continuing to Murray Buttes first,” said Jennifer Trosper, Curiosity Deputy Project Manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
“We have been driving hard for many months to reach the entry point to Mount Sharp,” Trosper said. “Now that we have made it, we will be adjusting the operations style from a priority on driving to a priority on conducting the investigations needed at each layer of the mountain.”
After landing inside Gale Crater in August 2012, Curiosity fulfilled in its first year of operations its major science goal of determining whether Mars ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life. Clay-bearing sedimentary rocks on the crater floor, in an area called Yellowknife Bay, yielded evidence of a lake bed environment billions of years ago that offered fresh water, all of the key elemental ingredients for life, and a chemical source of energy for microbes.
NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Project continues to use Curiosity to assess ancient habitable environments and major changes in Martian environmental conditions. The destinations on Mount Sharp offer a series of geological layers that recorded different chapters in the environmental evolution of Mars.
The Mars Exploration Rover Project is one element of NASA’s ongoing preparation for a human mission to the Red Planet in the 2030s. JPL built Curiosity and manages the project and MRO for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
SPACE STATION EXPEDITION 40 CREW RETURNS TO EARTH, LANDS SAFELY IN KAZAKHSTAN
A trio of International Space Station crew members returned to Earth and landed in Kazakhstan at 10:23 p.m. EDT on Sept. 10, 2014 (8:23 a.m., Sept. 11, in local time) after spending 167 days aboard the orbital laboratory. Seen left to right, Oleg Artemyev and Alexander Skvortsov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and NASA’s Steve Swanson were examined by medical personnel after being removed from their Russian Soyuz spacecraft.Image Credit: NASA Television
Three crew members from the International Space Station (ISS) returned to Earth Wednesday after 169 days of science and technology research in space, including a record 82 hours of research in a single week, which happened in July.
Expedition 40 Commander Steve Swanson of NASA and Flight Engineers Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) touched down southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan at 10:23 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Sept. 10 (8:23 a.m., Sept. 11, in Dzhezkazgan).
During their time aboard the space station, the crew members participated in a variety of research focusing on Earth remote sensing, human behavior and performance and studies of bone and muscle physiology.
One of several key research focus areas during Expedition 40 was human health management for long duration space travel as NASA and Roscosmos prepare for two crew members to spend one year aboard the orbiting laboratory in 2015.
During their time on the station, the crew members orbited Earth more than 2,700 times, traveled more than 71.7 million miles and welcomed five cargo spacecraft. Two Russian ISS Progress cargo spacecraft docked to the station bringing tons of supplies in April and July. The fifth and final European Space Agency (ESA) Automated Transfer Vehicle also launched to the station in July with the spacecraft bearing the name of Belgian physicist Georges Lemaitre, who is considered the father of the big-bang theory.
SpaceX launched a Dragon cargo spacecraft to the station in April, the company’s third of at least 12 planned commercial resupply missions. In July, Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus spacecraft completed its third of at least eight resupply missions scheduled through 2016 under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract.
During his time on the complex, Swanson ventured outside the confines of the space station for a spacewalk to replace a backup computer relay box that unexpectedly failed. Skvortsov and Artemyev conducted two spacewalks during Expedition 40, totaling 12 hours and 34 minutes.
The space station is more than a scientific research platform. It also serves as a test bed to demonstrate new technology. Even routine tasks, such as monitoring and operating the carbon dioxide removal system, provides valuable data for next-generation life support systems. Carbon dioxide removal from the pressurized compartments of the station proved to work differently in space than predicted by ground tests.
The crew also saw the arrival of the Haptics-1 experiment, part of an effort to develop technology that would allow an astronaut in orbit to control a robot as it explores its target, such as an asteroid or Mars, during future human exploration missions.
Having completed his third space station mission, Swanson now has spent a total of 196 days in space. Skvortsov has accumulated 345 days in space on two flights, and Artemyev accrued 169 days in space on his first mission.
Expedition 41 now is operating aboard the station with Max Suraev of Roscosmos in command. Suraev and his crewmates, Flight Engineers Reid Wiseman of NASA and Alexander Gerst of ESA, will tend to the station as a three-person crew until the arrival in two weeks of three new crew members: Barry Wilmore of NASA and Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova of Roscosmos. Wilmore, Samokutyaev and Serova are scheduled to launch from Kazakhstan Thursday, Sept. 25.
HOW EVOLUTIONARY PRINCIPLES COULD HELP SAVE OUR WORLD
Battling modern threats to food, land and health with applied evolutionary biology
From FMS Global News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton September 11 2014 National Science Foundation (NSF)
The age of the Anthropocene–the scientific name given to our current geologic age–is dominated by human impacts on our environment. A warming climate. Increased resistance of pathogens and pests. A swelling population. Coping with these modern global challenges requires application of what one might call a more-ancient principle: evolution.
That is the recommendation of a diverse group of researchers, in a paper published today in the online version of the journal Science. A majority of the nine authors on the paper have received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
“Evolution is not just about the past anymore, it is about the present and the future,” said Scott Carroll, an evolutionary ecologist at University of California-Davis and one of the paper’s authors. Addressing societal challenges–food security, emerging diseases, biodiversity loss–in a sustainable way is “going to require evolutionary thinking.”
The paper reviews current uses of evolutionary biology and recommends specific ways the field can contribute to the international sustainable development goals (SDGs), now in development by the United Nations.
Evolutionary biology has “tremendous potential” to solve many of the issues highlighted in the SDGs, said Peter Søgaard Jørgensen, another Science author from the University of Copenhagen’s Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate. The field accounts for how pests may adapt rapidly to our interventions and how vulnerable species struggle to adapt to global change. The authors even chose this release date to coincide with the upcoming meeting of the UN General Assembly, which starts September 24.
Their recommendations include gene therapies to treat disease, choosing drought-and-flood-resistant crop varieties and altering conservation strategies to protect land with high levels of genetic diversity.
“Many human-engineered solutions to societal problems have turned out to have a relatively short useful life because evolution finds ways around them,” said George Gilchrist, program officer in NSF’s Division of Environmental Biology, which funded many of the Science authors.
“Carroll and colleagues propose turning the tables and using evolutionary processes to develop more robust and dynamic solutions.”
Applied evolutionary biology just recently made the leap from an academic discipline to a more-practical one, spurred by an effort within the community to better synthesize and share research insights. And–above all–increasing environmental pressures.
“The fact that we are changing the world means that evolutionary processes are going to be affected,” said Thomas Smith, of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and another Science author.
The question is, according to Smith: Do we want to be engaged in this change, or not?
The paper also serves as a platform for establishing a cross-disciplinary field of applied evolutionary biology, Carroll said, and a way to promote the field as a path to sustainable development solutions.
“Evolutionary biology touches on many elements of the life sciences, from medicine to conservation biology to agriculture,” said Smith.
“And unfortunately, there has not been an effort to unify across these fields.”
This disconnect exists despite the use of evolutionary tactics in many disciplines: treating HIV with a cocktail of drugs, for example, to slow pathogen resistance. And the effects of evolution already swirl in the public consciousness–and spark debate.
Think of the arguments for and against genetically modified crops, or warnings about the increasing price of combating drug resistance (which costs more than $20 billion in the U.S. each year, according to the nonprofit Alliance for Prudent Use of Antibiotics).
Seldom are these issues described in an evolutionary context, said Smith. “We are missing an opportunity to educate the public about the importance of evolutionary principles in our daily lives.”
In conservation, evolutionary approaches are often disregarded because of the belief that evolution is beyond our ability to manage and too slow to be useful, according to a paper Smith co-authored in the journal Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics (AREES).
That article, recently published online, also tackles applied evolution. It was co-authored by Carroll, University of Maine Biologist Michael Kinnison, Sharon Strauss–of the Department of Evolution and Ecology at University of California-Davis–and Trevon Fuller of UCLA’s Tropical Research Institute. All are NSF-funded. Kinnison and Strauss are also co-authors on the Science paper.
Yet contemporary evolution–what scientists are observing now–happens on timescales of months to a few hundred years, and can influence conservation management outcomes, according to the AREES paper.
Considering the evolutionary potential and constraints of species is also essential to combat “evolutionary mismatch.” This means the environment a species exists in, and the one it has evolved to exist in, no longer match.
Such disharmony can be “dire and costly,” the authors write in Science, citing the increasingly sedentary lifestyles–and processed food diets–of modern humans. These lifestyles are linked with increasing rates of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disorders. Restoring our health requires greater physical activity and less refined carbohydrates: “Diets and activity levels closer to those of the past, to which we are better adapted,” the Science paper said.
Implementing applied evolutionary principles often requires very careful thinking about social incentives, said Jørgensen. Public vaccination programs, for example, and pest control in crops often create tension between individual and public good.
Applied evolution, therefore, requires input from biologists, doctors, agriculturalists: “We are making a call for policy makers, decision-makers at all levels,” to be involved, Jørgensen said.
Evolutionary biologists do not have all the answers, said Smith. And using applied evolution is not without risk. But we have reached a point “where we need to take risks in many cases,” he said. “We cannot just sit back and be overly conservative, or we are going to lose the game.”
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly
Back tomorrow with luck. Jeanne