Mars rover drill collects rock sample
Rover's drill collected samples from Gale Crater on Mars.
February 9th, 2013
05:13 PM ET

Mars rover drill collects rock sample

A space-age jack of all trades, NASA's Curiosity rover recorded a first by using its drill to collect a sample from a Martian rock.

The rover sent images of the hole in sedimentary bedrock to Earth on Saturday, NASA said in a statement.

NASA said the rover will analyze the rock powder sample.

The flat rock is believed to hold evidence of wet environments that disappeared long ago, officials said.

Curiosity used a drill attached to the end of its robotic arm. It's the first time any robot has drilled such a sample on the Red Planet.

"The most advanced planetary robot ever designed now is a fully operating analytical laboratory on Mars," said John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for the agency's Science Mission Directorate. "This is the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August, another proud day for America."

In its first two months on Mars, Curiosity stumbled upon an area where it appears that water once flowed in a vigorous stream. Scientists said the rover spotted rock outcrops that seem to have formed in the presence of water, with rounded gravels that may have been transported by water.

Post by:
Filed under: In Space • Mars • Robots
Looking for life on Mars: What's next
The Opportunity Rover's dusty self-portrait.
January 4th, 2013
10:52 AM ET

Looking for life on Mars: What's next

James Wray is an assistant professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. He is a collaborator on the Curiosity rover and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter science teams. His research explores the chemistry, mineralogy and geology of Martian rocks as records of environmental conditions throughout the planet’s history.

In less than a month, the Opportunity rover will begin her 10th year on the surface of Mars. She has already outlived her 90-day warranty 35 times over, like a human living 2,500 years instead of 70 – an astonishing engineering achievement.

But how has Mars science advanced during this period?

Opportunity and her twin sister, Spirit, went to Mars to determine whether, where, and how liquid water ever flowed across the Martian surface. Before their missions, we knew Mars had dry river valleys, but how could we be sure that water carved them? Where were the minerals that liquid water leaves behind: the clays that dominate our tropical soils on Earth, or salts deposited after evaporation?

Opportunity landed on Mars and opened her robotic eyes to a paradise of salt-rich rocks, with the frozen ripples of 3-billion-year-old ponds confirming that water once was there. But as the years passed on, like any Eden, the paradise felt more like a prison, and a heretical plan emerged to journey a seemingly impossible distance in pursuit of new knowledge.
FULL POST

Post by:
Filed under: In Space • Mars • Robots
'Curiosity's middle name is Patience'
December 3rd, 2012
03:48 PM ET

'Curiosity's middle name is Patience'

Here's the short version of today's Mars news: Curiosity has, in fact, detected simple organics in Martian soil, but that detection is not definitive evidence of Mars-native organic compounds. Scientists first need to make sure that the compounds detected by the Mars Science Laboratory aren't actually stowaways from Earth.

At the American Geophysical Union's Fall Meeting, a panel of Curiosity scientists shed some light on all the recent hype about a Big Deal Discovery on Mars. According to Paul Mahaffy, the principal investigator for the SAM instrument aboard Curiosity, "SAM has no definitive detection to report of organic compounds," which actually isn't unexpected. Part of the reason Curiosity was sampling the soil at Rock Nest, a pit stop on the way to Mount Sharp, is that it was expected to be very ordinary, which is helpful for cleaning out the rover's instruments of Earth contaminants.

This declaration may seem to conflict with a statement made later in the conference, where Mahaffy stated that SAM detected "very simple chlorinated hydrocarbons" - organic compounds. The panelists qualified this statement by saying that they're proceeding methodically and scientifically, to ensure that the hydrocarbons they've found didn't hitch a ride aboard Curiosity from Earth. Even if it turns out that they didn't, there's another step before declaring the organics to be of Martian origin: The science team has ensure that the compounds didn't arrive on Mars from space.

If that sounds like bad news or no news to you, think again. Curiosity's team is very satisfied with the rover, which is four months in to a planned two-year mission. "We landed on an ancient riverbed,"  said Dr. Michael Meyer, one of the lead scientists for NASA's Mars Exploration Program. "I think that's just spectacular."

John Grotzinger, the project scientist for Curiosity, said that the rover's in great shape do to more good science on top of the reams of data it's already collected, noting that all of Curiosity's instruments have checked out healthy. He compared the rover to a car getting ready for a long road trip; the "CSI lab on wheels" will begin its drive to its main target, Mount Sharp, early in 2013.

As to whether Curiosity will find evidence of life on Mars or not, Grotzinger said that such a discovery is at least months away. Right now, the team is excited about rich data that helps form a picture of what the environment on Mars might have been like in the past.

Grotzinger added, "What I've learned from this is you have to be careful about what you say and even more careful about how you say it. We're doing science at the speed of science; we live in a world that's at the pace of Instagrams."

"Curiosity's middle name is Patience, and we all have to have a healthy dose of that."

Post by:
Filed under: In Space • Mars • Robots • Science Education
August 10th, 2012
09:59 AM ET

Moon lander prototype blows up in NASA test

(CNN) - An unmanned moon lander under development crashed and blew up during an engine test Thursday afternoon at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, the space agency reported.

There were no injuries in the failed test of the lander, dubbed "Morpheus." The craft had gone through several previous exercises in which it was hung from a crane, but Thursday was to have been its first free flight.

Instead, the prototype rose a short distance, rolled over and slammed into the ground. The craft caught fire immediately and exploded about 30 seconds later.

"The vehicle itself is lost," Jon Olansen, the Morpheus project manager, told reporters. "But we are working currently on gathering more data and information to understand what occurred in the test and how we can learn from it and move forward."

Olansen said operators have recovered memory devices from the wreckage and will be pulling the data off of them for clues to the cause of the accident.

"From early indications, it seems to be within our guidance navigation control system, seems to point toward hardware," Olansen said.

In a written statement, NASA said failure is "part of the development process for any complex spaceflight hardware," and designers will learn from whatever caused Thursday's crash.

The Morpheus lander is designed to carry up to 1,100 pounds of cargo for a future moon mission. Its engines are fueled partly by methane, which the agency says is easier to handle and store than other propellants such as liquid hydrogen or hydrazine.

Olansen said the space agency has spent about $7 million on the project over two and a half years, and the test lander lost Thursday was "in the $500,000 class." Another one is currently under construction at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and may be complete in two to three months.

"We want to make sure that what we learn today gets applied to that next vehicle," he said.

Post by: ,
Filed under: On Earth • Robots
Scientists target 3-mile-high Martian mountain
An oblique view of Mount Sharp, where Curiosity is expected to land in August 2012.
March 30th, 2012
04:11 PM ET

Scientists target 3-mile-high Martian mountain

There's a formation on Mars that's been enticing scientists since it was first observed in the 1970s: Mount Sharp, in the middle of Gale Crater. If Gale Crater sounds familiar, it's because that's where the Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - is slated to land in August of this year.

Curiosity is the first Mars rover to even attempt to land on the narrow strip of flatter ground at the foot of Mount Sharp, thanks to precision-landing technology on the one-ton rover.

So why is Mount Sharp such an interesting target? Scientists hope that by studying the roughly 5-kilometer-high formation, (3.1 miles) Curiosity will be able to shed more light on whether conditions were ever favorable for life on Mars. Just to give you an idea how tall this thing is, the Grand Canyon is only a mile (1.6 kilometers) deep according to the National Park Service.

Georgia Tech's James Wray, a science team collaborator for the Curiosity mission, tells us that Mount Sharp has kilometers of sedimentary layers that could reveal clues to millions of years of Martian geologic history. As on Earth, where geologists study formations to understand how they fit into the stratigraphic - that is, chronologic - history of the planet, Mount Sharp presents an opportunity to do the same on Mars.

"Mount Sharp is the only place we can currently access on Mars where we can investigate this transition in one stratigraphic sequence," said Caltech's John Grotzinger, chief scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory, in a statement. Wray likens it to "reading thousands of successive pages from an encyclopedia of Martian history."

Mount Sharp is an apt name - in the tradition of naming Martian features after scientists (Gale Crater was named for Australian astronomer Walter Gale), the mountain is named after a geologist, Robert P. Sharp, who was at the forefront of planetary science and a member of NASA's first few Mars missions.

Follow @CNNLightYears on Twitter.

Post by:
Filed under: In Space • Robots
Robotic wheelchair improves mobility
March 26th, 2012
07:30 AM ET

Robotic device helps paraplegics stand, company says

For someone who is handicapped, everyday tasks that most of us take for granted can be difficult. Simply reaching the top shelf at the grocery store, getting out of bed in the morning and even opening a door can be a struggle.

AMS Mekatronic, a Turkish research and design company, has introduced an innovative robotic device that transforms the concept of the traditional wheelchair.

The Tek RMD, or Robotic Mobilization Device, gives someone who is disabled the ability to stand upright, move around and be put in a more "comfortable position," its creator says.

A video demonstration of the device posted by AMS Mekatronic shows Yusuf Akturkoglu, the victim of a spinal cord injury, sitting in a bed using a remote to move the Tek RMD in front of him. He can mount the device from the rear by strapping himself in and pulling himself up. Using a suspension system with gas spring balances, the user needs only to gently pull on the device's handles to rise into a standing position.

When CNN asked him about the Tek RMD, Akturkoglu said it gives him greater mobility than he had before.

"I can live my life much closer to my life before the accident," he said. "I can fit into places that I didn't used to," and the psychological impact of communicating at eye level, instead of having to look up all the time, has made him more social.

Inventor Necati Hacikadiroglu told CNN he created the device because he has "always believed robotic technology could make a difference in disabled people's lives."

He says he designed the Tek RMD with a rear-mounting mechanism that will aid those who have difficulty getting into a normal wheelchair.

"You [normally] have to lift your body with your arms and throw your body into the chair." For a lot of people, this is difficult and can be "very dangerous without outside assistance," he said.

The Shepherd Center in Atlanta specializes in treating and rehabilitating victims of spinal cord injuries. John Anschutz, manager of the Assistive Technology program at the center, says it's important that the new device allows users to navigate very tight spaces.

"I don't know of a traditional wheelchair that can get into tight spaces like the [Tek RMD] can," he said. "To allow access to small-type spaces and allow for reach in those environments is really exciting."

But he also says that this device may not replace the traditional wheelchair.

"I suspect that this would not be used as a primary chair. It seems that it's more useful in a home or office environment."

The Tek RMD costs $15,000 and is sold in Turkey. There is not yet a distributor in the U.S.

Post by:
Filed under: Discoveries • News • Robots
Grenade-throwing robot to fight fires on ships
The Navy is developing a Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR) to help fight ship fires.
March 13th, 2012
03:17 PM ET

Grenade-throwing robot to fight fires on ships

It might look like science fiction but the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) hopes to turn this humanoid robot into a seafaring fact in an effort to improve firefighting capabilities on board military vessels.

Currently at the development stage, the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (or SAFFiR for short) is intended to combat fires in the cramped conditions of a ship, saving lives and costly equipment.

Armed with cameras and a gas sensor, the battery-powered SAFFiR will be "capable of activating fire suppressors" and throwing "propelled extinguishing agent technology (PEAT) grenades," says the NRL.

FULL STORY

Post by:
Filed under: On Earth • Robots

Contributors

  • Elizabeth LandauElizabeth Landau
    Writer/Producer
  • Sophia DengoSophia Dengo
    Senior Designer