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Old 07-31-2012, 02:32 PM  
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With Mars mission and rover Curiosity, NASA hunts building blocks of life

http://www.washingtonpost.com/nation...ALX_story.html

The last time the United States landed a mission on Mars to look for extraterrestrial life or its building blocks, Gerald Ford was president and the nation had just finished celebrating its 1976 bicentennial.

Next week, the long-delayed second attempt will try to deposit a rover on the planet’s surface.

The descent and landing in the early hours of Aug. 6 will be the most complex and hair-raising in planetary history. The destination is a deep crater with a three-mile-tall mountain that NASA could only dream about using as a landing site until very recently.

It’s the most ambitious, the most costly ($2.5 billion) and the most high-stakes mission ever to another planet. It was also described last week by the agency’s top scientist, former astronaut John M. Grunsfeld, as “the most important NASA mission of the decade.”

“There is no doubt that this is a risky mission, and that is coming from a human-spacecraft guy,” Grunsfeld said. “It’s hard to get something this big and complex to the surface of Mars, and then to get it to start roving. Thousands of people around the world working on it will be feeling their lives are riding on the mission landing successfully. We’ll all know soon if the risk was worth it.”

What the Mars Science Laboratory mission and its rover named Curiosity bring to Mars is a capacity to analyze the planet with much more sophistication than before, and to do it over a sizable and scientifically rich expanse.

The goal is not to find Martian life per se but rather to ferret out carbon-based organic compounds that are building blocks of life, and then to determine whether the Gale Crater landing site was ever suitable for creatures. Both are integral parts of the science of astrobiology — the search for life beyond Earth.

A fully loaded SUV

At 10 feet long and seven feet high at the top of its camera mast, Curiosity is the size of an SUV and weighs almost a ton, about three times more than the Spirit and Opportunity rovers sent to Mars in 2003 on a primarily geological mission. Its robotic arm for digging soil and drilling rock is seven feet long, almost three times longer than previous rover arms. This tool will provide more and better samples for the lab’s instruments, which will do their analysis on Mars and send back the results to scientists here.

Curiosity will have numerous ovens to bake soil and rocks up to 1,800 degrees and analyze what comes out; it will have a laser zapper to free up potentially important targets in rocks; it will have cameras with unprecedented capabilities, including one that will take video of the last several minutes of the high-drama landing, now dubbed “seven minutes of terror” by NASA.

Getting to Mars, and especially landing on it, is difficult. Forty-four missions — flybys, orbits and landings — have been sent to the planet by NASA, the former Soviet Union, Russia, the European Space Agency, Japan and China, and about one-third have made it. All six successful landings were flown by NASA. (A Soviet capsule made a soft landing in 1971 but then sent back only 14 seconds of data, so it is not considered to have succeeded.)

Curiosity’s descent — after a voyage that began last Nov. 25 and covered 354 million miles — will be particularly stressful because the weight of the spacecraft required a new landing technique. The capsule containing Curiosity will enter the atmosphere at 13,200 mph and have less than seven minutes to slow down enough to drop the rover gently onto the surface of the planet.

Much of the technology is new or being used in a novel way and, while the component parts have been tested and retested, the landing as a complete sequence has never been tried. “Actually, the landing will be our first test that the systems can work,” said the project’s chief engineer, Robert Manning.



But the risk goes beyond the difficulty of the landing and the complexity of Curiosity’s 10 major instruments. That’s because Curiosity will land just as Congress and the administration debate a plan to slash NASA’s Mars and planetary programs significantly. NASA officials and Mars aficionados hope the rover will make discoveries that will limit the cuts, while knowing that a crash landing or failed instruments could further curtail the programs.

“I think a major discovery by Curiosity, such as finding the building blocks of life or any other indication of life, would certainly lead us to reconsider our science approach at Mars,” said James Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Sciences Division. “Why? Because if there is, or was, life on Mars, then we’d have to assume life is everywhere in the galaxies. We would have to rethink our place in the universe.”

‘Our place in the universe’

One reason that NASA has not sent a life-detecting mission to Mars in so long is that the first one came back with very disappointing results. The twin Viking landers touched down in 1976 with great anticipation that not only the building blocks of life but also life itself would probably be found.

Instead, the Viking mission found a cold, desert planet that came to be seen as virtually incapable of supporting life. While one life-detection experiment using nutrients brought to Mars and tagged with radioactive carbon did show positive results several times, NASA officials and other scientists concluded that those findings were most likely in error. More disheartening, the instrument designed to identify organic molecules came back with a finding of “no organics.” Without organics, virtually all scientists say, there can be no life.

But in the past decade, NASA scientists and others have produced evidence that the planet was once much warmer and wetter. They know, for instance, that the Gale Crater site was once covered in water, and they know that it has minerals and clays that can be formed only in the presence of water.

In addition, NASA astrobiologist Michael Mumma reported in 2009 finding plumes of methane gas erupting at specific spots and at predictable times on Mars. More than 90 percent of methane on Earth is formed as a byproduct of biology, from cows’ digestive systems and rotting trees to the life cycle of tiny microbes. It remains unknown whether some of the methane on Mars also comes from biological sources.

And finally, a paper in May from Andrew Steele of the Carnegie Institution of Washington identified organic material in meteorites known to have fallen to Earth from Mars. An expert in the contamination of rocks that fall to Earth from space, Steele concluded that some of the organic material he found was clearly not from Earth, and so it either came from Mars or was picked up by the meteorite as it flew through space.

Climbing the mountain

Combining the promising new science about Mars with the capabilities of Curiosity, NASA science chief Grunsfeld said he considers it likely that organic materials will be found this time. Gale Crater is a much more promising site than the plains where the Viking landers did their work, and Curiosity has more than 35 years of improved technology and know-how.

The rover will also be the first to approach, analyze and then partially climb a Martian mountain. The layered outcrops of what has been named Mount Sharp will provide a geological history of the crater and perhaps the planet, and so are an integral part of the Curiosity mission.

Geologists will be looking at those layers to determine when water was present in the crater, whether it moved like a river or was like a lake, what elements and compounds were in the soil and air, and even what temperatures and other atmospheric conditions existed. The lead scientist for the rover is John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology, and he is a geologist.

“We have never had an opportunity even close to this on Mars before,” he said, referring to the exposed and “readable” cliffs of Mount Sharp. “We’re just waiting with bated breath.”

An additional Curiosity goal is to learn more about how to protect astronauts who may someday fly to Mars. The landing of a large vehicle is part of that learning curve, but so too is Curiosity’s radiation assessment detector, a toaster-size instrument that will measure and identify high-energy and potentially harmful radiation on the Martian surface, such as protons, energetic variations of common elements, neutrons and gamma rays.

The Curiosity mission is scheduled to last for another two years, but it could continue much longer if funding becomes available. The rover’s power source is a nuclear battery that, if all goes according to plan, could move the rover and keep it warm for years longer.

There is precedent for prolonged rover missions: The Spirit and Opportunity rovers were designed to operate on Mars for 13 weeks, but Spirit sent back information until 2009, and Opportunity is still traveling. So if the landing succeeds and the rover and instruments work as planned, Curiosity might be telling us about Mars for years to come.
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Old 12-03-2012, 02:13 PM   #466
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Originally Posted by Dave Lane View Post
The guy who "invented" the wheel was a scientist.

sci·ence [sahy-uh ns] noun

1.a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws.

2. systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.

3. any of the branches of natural or physical science.

4. systematized knowledge in general.

5. knowledge, as of facts or principles; knowledge gained by systematic study.
Talk about overly broad definitions of science. Systematized knowledge in general? Come on....

You know as well as I do that things such the wheel, written language, agriculture, etc are pre-scientific. You are being disingenuous if you claim otherwise.
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Old 12-03-2012, 02:16 PM   #467
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Originally Posted by Fat Elvis View Post
Talk about overly broad definitions of science. Systematized knowledge in general? Come on....

You know as well as I do that things such the wheel, written language, agriculture, etc are pre-scientific. You are being disingenuous if you claim otherwise.
You cannot possibly be serious with this. There is no such thing as "Pre-scientific". You were just given the definition of science for crying out loud...
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Old 12-03-2012, 02:18 PM   #468
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It's odd that we're talking about the wheel and written language when we live in a world that's seen more technological advancement in the last century than in all known prior history, and that advancement has been increasing exponentially for the last 30 years or so. Sometimes I feel like I'm living in an episode of star trek. I mean, shit, I just saw a commercial that had a woman's phone translating real time into spanish. Hello Tricorder.
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Old 12-03-2012, 02:21 PM   #469
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Indeed.

Where else could fiberoptics and the LASER have come from!
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Old 12-03-2012, 02:25 PM   #470
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You cannot possibly be serious with this. There is no such thing as "Pre-scientific". You were just given the definition of science for crying out loud...
Using your definitions the Heliopolitan religion of the Nile is "scientific."
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Old 12-03-2012, 02:26 PM   #471
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Indeed.

Where else could fiberoptics and the LASER have come from!
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Old 12-03-2012, 02:34 PM   #472
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Originally Posted by Fat Elvis View Post
Using your definitions the Heliopolitan religion of the Nile is "scientific."
I don't think you understand what it means at all.

Science is not an era. It's not a frame of time. It's not a theory to be applied. There is no point in time where a switch flipped and shit got scientific. Nobody invented science.

It's simply the application of observation and experimentation to better understand the world. A caveman finding a round rock, and noticing that the round rock rolls down the hill better than a square pointy rock, would be considered science. So yes, I'm certain we could find some aspect of Heliopolitan religion that would be considered "Scientific".
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Old 12-03-2012, 02:34 PM   #473
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Dude science is trial and error, experimentation and observation. It doesn't require lab coats and beakers. We are all scientists on one level or another. Who ever was doing the trial and error (spelled experimentation) on the first wheel was a scientist like it or not.

They weren't professional scientists and didn't have a degree, or lab coat. There were "scientists" at Stonehenge and building pyramids. Written language probably was less "scientific" but all advances were basically by "scientists", in whatever low tech existed at that time.
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Old 12-03-2012, 02:45 PM   #474
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I don't think you understand what it means at all.

Science is not an era. It's not a frame of time. It's not a theory to be applied. There is no point in time where a switch flipped and shit got scientific. Nobody invented science.

It's simply the application of observation and experimentation to better understand the world. A caveman finding a round rock, and noticing that the round rock rolls down the hill better than a square pointy rock, would be considered science. So yes, I'm certain we could find some aspect of Heliopolitan religion that would be considered "Scientific".
I completely understand what it means, and I believe I understand what you think it means. I don't think you understand my criticism of what you purport it means. You've turned "science" into something so overly broad to the point to where it has seemingly lost all substantive meaning.

I'm not "anti-science."

We're just going to have to disagree on this.
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Old 12-03-2012, 03:00 PM   #475
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I completely understand what it means, and I believe I understand what you think it means. I don't think you understand my criticism of what you purport it means. You've turned "science" into something so overly broad to the point to where it has seemingly lost all substantive meaning.

I'm not "anti-science."

We're just going to have to disagree on this.
But science is overly broad by its very nature. That's not a negative at all.

You started this by saying the wheel and written language weren't science, and they were before the time of science. Like "Science" was late to the game. But that's completely false. If you understood, you would realize that both of those things were created according to the very definition of science. Just because science covers an insanely wide range of different uses, that doesn't mean it has lost any substantive meaning at all. Why on Earth would you think that? Science has branched out and diversified and evolved in countless ways. But at its roots, it's still just observation, documentation, and explanation of the world around us.

I don't see any other less broad ways to define it in which it would still retain its root meaning.

Why is it that you would think the invention of the wheel is not something scientific? How would you explain it?
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Old 12-03-2012, 03:01 PM   #476
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I get the big news, but I've never understood why it is so important to find "organic compounds". Haven't we already found vast lakes of methane liquids on some moons and other planets? Methane is organic, ethane is organic, etc. Doesn't mean life.
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Old 12-03-2012, 03:20 PM   #477
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Originally Posted by Fish View Post
I don't think you understand what it means at all.

Science is not an era. It's not a frame of time. It's not a theory to be applied. There is no point in time where a switch flipped and shit got scientific. Nobody invented science.

It's simply the application of observation and experimentation to better understand the world. A caveman finding a round rock, and noticing that the round rock rolls down the hill better than a square pointy rock, would be considered science. So yes, I'm certain we could find some aspect of Heliopolitan religion that would be considered "Scientific".
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Old 12-03-2012, 03:39 PM   #478
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I get the big news, but I've never understood why it is so important to find "organic compounds". Haven't we already found vast lakes of methane liquids on some moons and other planets? Methane is organic, ethane is organic, etc. Doesn't mean life.
Methane and ethane are not "compounds" in the classic sense. They are things that exist in all nature, much like oxygen. We know they exist everywhere. The "organic compounds" that matter are ones not normally observed in nature off planet Earth. Compounds that could be interpreted as life that may have decomposed or would be essential elements that could contribute to the formation of life.
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High Tech is Sorcery and the people who are really powerful are literally telling people to commit crimes using the psychic interspace created by the WWW and Wireless. They are controlling peoples actions like drones . The two things are deeply intertwined. The more man's brain interfaces with machines the creepier it gets. They use brains separate from a human body in a supercomputer and you have The Image of the Beast. The military has been doing this since the 50s
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Old 12-03-2012, 03:45 PM   #479
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so then, what are "compounds"? Methane, ethane, butane, etc., are all molecules that contain carbon and are hydrocarbons, thus "carbon compounds". I wouldn't be too excited until they said what the compounds were chemically.
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Old 12-03-2012, 03:52 PM   #480
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Roswell
and Israel...latitude...

Cydonia is more than people think it is...
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