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NASA to Launch New Mars Sample Receiving Project Office at Johnson

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NASA
NASA’s Perseverance rover deposited the first of several samples onto the Martian surface on Dec. 21, 2022, the 653rd Martian day, or sol, of the mission.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA announced Thursday its new Mars Sample Receiving Project office, responsible for receiving and curating the first samples returned from the Red Planet, will be located at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The safe and rapid release of Mars samples after they return to Earth to laboratories worldwide for science investigations will be a priority.

The office will reside within Johnson’s Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science division, NASA’s organization with expertise in processing and curating extraterrestrial samples.

“NASA Johnson houses the largest and most diverse collection of astromaterials in the world, beginning with samples returned from the Apollo Program,” said Johnson Center Director Vanessa Wyche. “With our expertise, we look forward to managing the project that will receive scientifically compelling Mars samples gathered by the NASA Perseverance rover.”

Johnson will work with the agency’s Mars Exploration Program to develop and design plans for sample recovery and subsequent transition to science investigations. The project team will recover, contain, transfer, assess safety, curate, and coordinate scientific investigation of the samples collected by NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, which are expected to arrive on Earth in 2033.

Samples returned to Earth will enhance humanity’s understanding of Mars through detailed chemical and physical analyses in laboratories around the world that are beyond the capabilities of instruments delivered to Mars. Perseverance is gathering samples in and around Jezero Crater, where billions of years ago, a river once flowed into a lake and deposited rocks and sediments in a fan shaped delta formation. Deltas are one of the best places on Mars to search for potential signs of ancient microbial life.

“Age-old samples, like those being collected on Mars, are critical in our quest to better understand our universe,” said Rep. Brian Babin of Texas. “I’m proud Johnson will lead NASA’s effort in curating these samples and play a key role in propelling our scientific discoveries forward.”

A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including caching samples that may contain signs of ancient microbial life. The rover is currently characterizing the planet’s geology and past climate, paving the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and is the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith.

“The Mars Sample Return Program is essential for the human exploration of Mars,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas. “Establishing this Sample Receiving Project office is a large step forward in helping us gain knowledge and make progress in our efforts to go to Mars.”

“Johnson will work with the agency’s Mars Exploration Program and ESA to complete studies and develop plans for sample recovery and transportation, facility development and operation, and science investigations,” says Gerhard Kminek, ESA’s MSR lead scientist.

More Campaign Information

Returning samples to Earth from Mars is expected to be the most complex robotic space flight campaign ever attempted. The NASA-European Space Agency (ESA) Mars Sample Return Campaign promises to revolutionize humanity’s understanding of Mars by bringing scientifically selected samples to Earth for study using the most sophisticated instruments around the world. The campaign would fulfill a solar system exploration goal, a high priority since the 1970s and in the last three National Academy of Sciences Planetary Decadal Surveys.

This strategic NASA and ESA partnership would be the first mission to return scientifically selected samples from another planet and the first launch from the surface of another planet. The samples collected by NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover during its exploration of an ancient lakebed are thought to present the best opportunity to reveal clues about the early evolution of Mars, including the potential for past life. By better understanding the history of Mars, we would improve our understanding of all rocky planets in the solar system, including Earth.

For more information about the Mars Sample Return campaign, visit:

https://mars.nasa.gov/msr

Source: NASA

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Unlocking the Next Frontier: Odysseus Lunar Lander’s Historic Mission

“Odysseus lunar lander aims to make history with first U.S. spacecraft touchdown on moon in 50 years. A testament to human ambition and innovation.”

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In the vast expanse of space, where dreams of exploration meet the harsh realities of technology and finance, Thursday marks a potential landmark moment in the annals of space exploration. The Odysseus lunar lander, a testament to human ingenuity and perseverance, stands on the precipice of making history as it aims to achieve what no U.S.-made spacecraft has done in five decades: a controlled touchdown on the lunar surface.

Intuitive Machines-1 Lunar Landing (Official NASA Broadcast)

After a breathtaking lift-off from Florida, Odysseus embarked on its journey towards the moon, capturing awe-inspiring images of our planet Earth along the way. Now, as it hurtles closer to its destination, the anticipation mounts for what could be the most perilous test yet – a soft landing on the moon’s surface.

Intuitive Machines, the pioneering force behind Odysseus, dares to tread where no private company has ventured before. If successful, this endeavor would mark the resurgence of American-made spacecraft landing on the moon since the final Apollo mission in 1972.

However, the road to lunar exploration is fraught with challenges, both technical and financial. While the Apollo program once commanded a budget exceeding 4% of all U.S. government spending, today’s NASA operates on a fraction of that, a mere 0.4%. To stretch resources further, NASA has turned to outsourcing robotic lunar landings to commercial entities like Intuitive Machines, aiming to achieve ambitious goals like the Artemis program’s lunar return with reduced costs.

But cost isn’t the only hurdle. The technical feat of landing a spacecraft precisely on a celestial body a quarter of a million miles away is akin to hitting a golf ball from New York to Los Angeles and landing it in a specific hole – a daunting task even with today’s advanced technology. Compounding the challenge is the time delay of roughly three seconds for signals to travel between Earth and the moon, leaving little room for error during critical maneuvers.

Moreover, the legacy of Apollo-era expertise has waned over the decades, leaving a gap that new technology alone cannot bridge. As Dr. Scott Pace of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute aptly notes, “These are people doing it for the first time, and there’s no substitute for that experience.”

Yet, amidst these challenges, there’s an undeniable sense of optimism and determination. As Lisa Altemus of Intuitive Machines emphasizes, success in lunar exploration requires collective resilience, collaboration, and a willingness to learn from failures. It heralds not just a scientific achievement but the dawn of a new era – an emerging lunar economy where the moon’s resources could unlock boundless opportunities for humanity.

If Odysseus achieves its mission, it will not only mark the first U.S. spacecraft landing on the moon in half a century but also pave the way for future lunar endeavors, including the exploration of the moon’s south pole, a region rich in potential resources like ice and water.

As we stand on the brink of this historic moment, let us marvel at the audacity of human ambition, the tenacity of scientific endeavor, and the boundless possibilities that lie beyond Earth’s confines. The journey to the moon may be fraught with challenges, but with each step, we inch closer to unlocking the mysteries of our celestial neighbor and forging a new chapter in the saga of space exploration.

https://www.azfamily.com/app/2024/02/22/us-company-attempts-first-moon-landing-thursday-since-1972/

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NASA Astronaut Available for Interviews Prior to Space Station Mission

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NASA astronaut Tracy Dyson poses for a portrait at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Credits: NASA

NASA astronaut Tracy C. Dyson is available in limited opportunities to discuss her mission beginning at 8 a.m. EST on Monday, Feb. 26. The interviews will take place ahead of Dyson launching to the International Space Station in March.

The virtual interviews will stream live on NASA+, NASA Television, and the agency’s website. Learn how to stream NASA TV through a variety of platforms including social media.

Interested media must submit a request to speak with Dyson no later than 12 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23, to the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston newsroom at 281-483-5111 or jsccommu@mail.nasa.gov.

Dyson is scheduled to launch aboard the Soyuz MS-25 spacecraft Thursday, March 21, and will spend approximately six months aboard the space station. She will travel to the station with Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy and spaceflight participant Marina Vasilevskaya of Belarus, both of whom will spend approximately 12 days aboard the orbital complex.

During her expedition, Dyson will conduct scientific investigations and technology demonstrations that help prepare humans for future space missions and benefit people on Earth. Among some of the hundreds of experiments ongoing during her mission, Dyson will continue to study how fire spreads and behaves in space with the Combustion Integrated Rack, as well as contribute to the long-running Crew Earth Observations study by photographing Earth to better understand how our planet is changing over time.

After completing her expedition, Dyson will return to Earth this fall with Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub on the Soyuz MS-25 spacecraft.

Learn more about International Space Station research and operations at:

https://www.nasa.gov/station

-end-

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New NASA Mission will Study Ultraviolet Sky, Stars, Stellar Explosions

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WASHINGTON /PRNewswire/ — As NASA explores the unknown in air and space, a new mission to survey ultraviolet light across the entire sky will provide the agency with more insight into how galaxies and stars evolve. The space telescope, called UVEX (UltraViolet EXplorer), is targeted to launch in 2030 as NASA’s next Astrophysics Medium-Class Explorer mission.

This image shows the heart of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1097, as seen by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, D. Sand, K. Sheth

In addition to conducting a highly sensitive all-sky survey, UVEX will be able to quickly point toward sources of ultraviolet light in the universe. This will enable it to capture the explosions that follow bursts of gravitational waves caused by merging neutron stars. The telescope also will carry an ultraviolet spectrograph to study stellar explosions and massive stars.

“NASA’s UVEX will help us better understand the nature of both nearby and distant galaxies, as well as follow up on dynamic events in our changing universe,” said Nicola Fox, associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This mission will bring key capabilities in near-and far-ultraviolet light to our fleet of space telescopes, delivering a wealth of survey data that will open new avenues in exploring the secrets of the cosmos.”

The telescope’s ultraviolet survey will complement data from other missions conducting wide surveys in this decade, including the Euclid mission led by ESA (European Space Agency) with NASA contributions, and NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, set to launch by May 2027. Together, these missions will help create a modern, multi-wavelength map of our universe.

“With the innovative new UVEX mission joining our portfolio, we will gain an important legacy archive of data that will be of lasting value to the science community,” said Mark Clampin, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters. “This new telescope will contribute to our understanding of the universe across multiple wavelengths and address one of the major priorities in Astrophysics today: studying fleeting changes in the cosmos.”

NASA selected the UVEX Medium-Class Explorer concept to continue into development after detailed review of two Medium-Class Explorer and two Mission of Opportunity concept proposals by a panel of scientists and engineers, and after evaluation based on NASA’s current astrophysics portfolio coupled with available resources. The UVEX mission was selected for a two-year mission and will cost approximately $300 million, not including launch costs.

The mission’s principal investigator is Fiona Harrison at Caltech in Pasadena, California. Other institutions involved in the mission include University of California at Berkeley, Northrop Grumman, and Space Dynamics Laboratory.

The Explorers Program is the oldest continuous NASA program. The program is designed to provide frequent, low-cost access to space using principal investigator-led space science investigations relevant to the agency’s astrophysics and heliophysics programs.

Since the launch of Explorer 1 in 1958, which discovered the Earth’s radiation belts, the Explorers Program has launched more than 90 missions, including the Uhuru and Cosmic Background Explorer missions that led to Nobel prizes for their investigators.

The program is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center for the Science Mission Directorate, which conducts a wide variety of research and scientific exploration programs for Earth studies, space weather, the solar system, and the universe.

For more information about the Explorers Program, visit:

https://explorers.gsfc.nasa.gov

SOURCE NASA

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