The Downlink • Jul 08, 2022
Breaking new ground
This week marked the 25th anniversary of NASA’s Mars Pathfinder mission’s arrival at Mars. This is one of the first images sent back from the lander after it deployed the Sojourner rover, seen near the center of the image. Sojourner was the first wheeled rover ever to explore Mars, and the mission as a whole kicked off a new era of Mars exploration. The latest issue of The Planetary Report takes an in-depth look at how Pathfinder paved the way for the missions exploring Mars today.
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Perseverance has reached a different kind of ground and scientists are excited about it. The NASA rover just reached a patch of sedimentary rock, which forms when layers of mud, silt, and sand gradually compress into a solid form. This is one of the most likely places to find evidence of microscopic fossils, if there ever was life on Mars. Perseverance will analyze one or more rocks in the area, perhaps caching some in sample tubes for a future mission to return to Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
The first science images from JWST are coming and they’re going to be amazing. Scientists who’ve already had sneak peeks at the images say they brought tears to their eyes. The images, which will be shared with the public on July 12, will include the deepest-field image of the universe ever taken. NASA will also share data collected by the powerful new space telescope, including the spectrum of an atmosphere around an exoplanet.
With space exploration technology, sometimes off-the-shelf works just fine. Smallsat manufacturer NanoAvionics recently shared images taken by a GoPro camera that it used on a recent test of one of its satellites. It wasn’t as simple as that, though. The company had to build custom housing for the electronics, make a custom “selfie stick” to attach the GoPro, and develop camera control electronics and special software to communicate with the satellite systems.
From The Planetary Society
Pathfinder was groundbreaking in many ways, including as one of the first Discovery-class missions. This category of innovative, low-cost missions has gone on to make huge contributions to planetary science and exploration, with well-known missions including MESSENGER, InSight, Lucy, Psyche, and more. Space exploration historian Michael Neufeld joined the latest episode of Planetary Radio: Space Policy Edition to trace the fascinating history of one of NASA’s most successful programs of planetary exploration. Pictured: An artist’s impression of Pathfinder and Sojourner. Image credit: NASA.
Changing the future of space exploration can be a difficult, painful process. Few know this as well as former NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver. She joins this week’s Planetary Radio to talk about her new memoir, “Escaping Gravity,” which chronicles her efforts to create NASA’s commercial crew program.
Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn can all be seen with the naked eye low on the eastern horizon before dawn, although Mercury is getting difficult to spot. Jupiter and Saturn are both rising earlier and can be seen in the evening and midnight skies, respectively. Get a full look on what you can find in the July night sky.
Wow of the Week
The five nearest planets to Earth are all visible in the night sky right now, as Planetary Society member Christopher Becke discovered for himself. He captured this photo of the pre-dawn skies showing Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, along with the Moon. You can find more of his work on Twitter at @BeckePhysics. Image credit: Christopher Becke.
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