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Could Humans Set Up Camp in Martian Lava Tubes?

Pits like this, seen in a HiRISE image, may one day be entrances to human bases on Mars. (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

Pits like this, seen in a HiRISE image, may one day be entrances to human bases on Mars. (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

The concept of off-world habitation has been getting extra attention recently, especially with the announcement of 100 semi-finalists selected for the MarsOne “mission” (quotes because there’s more than a small amount of doubt that it will ever really take off – pun intended) and world-famous astronauts like Buzz Aldrin unabashedly telling us to “get our asses to Mars.” But even if we did manage to send a set of human derrières to the Red Planet, where would they call home? Building a safe habitation for humans for any sort of long term stay would be a time-intensive and expensive challenge, to say the least, and the environment of Mars – regardless of how much it might look like the deserts of Arizona or Utah in pictures – is harsh, unforgiving, and downright inhospitable for people.  A lot of protection against the Martian elements would have to be built into modules for living and working, especially the extreme daily (and seasonal, depending on latitude) temperature changes and exposure to both solar and cosmic radiation. Protection equals mass, and mass equals fuel, and fuel equals more mass… and more money. What if there were a way for humans to set up base somewhere that radiation exposure and temperature variations could be mitigated? Somewhere like an easily-accessible cave where Mars itself could provide safe shelter to astronauts?

(Hey, it worked well for humans in the past.)

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Astronaut Ron Garan Says Let’s Set Up a Moon Base First

Ron Garan: "I think we have a long, long way to go to get to Mars." (HuffPost LIVE)

Ron Garan: “I think we have a long, long way to go to get to Mars.” (HuffPost LIVE)

Former NASA astronaut Ron Garan was recently interviewed for Huffington Post’s LIVE broadcast. Ron talked about his new book The Orbital Perspective (read my review here) along with what it was like to be an astronaut and the way his experiences changed his views of life on Earth. (He also live-narrated some of the work being done at the time of the interview outside the ISS during EVA 30!)

In addition to talking about astronaut stuff, Ron weighed in on the human exploration of Mars, recently brought into the spotlight – for better or worse – with the announcement of 100 finalists by the Dutch MarsOne company, which has aspirations of creating the first human colony on the Red Planet. Ron says that while it will be important for us to venture out into the Solar System, really the next logical step would be to establish a permanent presence on our own Moon first.

“This is our closest neighbor, it’s three days away… There are so many things that could be done on the Moon that would have tremendous benefit.”
– Ron Garan, NASA astronaut

You can watch the entire video here, and share what you think in the poll below – should we go back to the Moon first? Or head right on out to Mars?

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Long Before it Captured a Comet, Rosetta Caught These Views of Mars

"Selfie" of Rosetta captured as it passed Mars in Feb. 2007

“Selfie” of Rosetta captured as it passed Mars in Feb. 2007. Credits: CIVA/Philae/ESARosetta. Edited by J. Major.

These days the world is looking in awe at the incredible images of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko from ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft. But it took Rosetta over ten years to arrive at the comet, during which time it got some great views of other worlds in our Solar System as well: Earth (a couple of times), the asteroids Lutetia and 2867 Steins, and, on this day in 2007, Mars!

The image above was captured by the Philae lander riding aboard Rosetta as the two spacecraft passed just 1,000 km (621 miles) over Mars on Feb. 24-25, 2007. The image shows one of Rosetta’s 14-meter (50-foot) -long solar panels with the surface of Mars below, showing the Mawrth Vallis region in the planet’s northern lowlands.

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Three Worlds, One Shot: a February 2015 Conjunction Event

Conjunction of the Moon, Venus, and Mars on Feb. 20, 2015. © Jason Major.

Conjunction of the Moon, Venus, and Mars on Feb. 20, 2015. © Jason Major.

Did you have clear skies last night? If so, you may have been able to catch the sight above: a conjunction of the crescent Moon and the planets Venus and Mars in the western sky!

I captured the photo above with a Nikon D7000 and a Sigma 150-500mm lens. Venus is the brighter object at left, Mars appears dimmer and redder above. Part of the Moon’s “dark side” can be seen due to Earthshine – sunlight reflected off Earth onto the Moon. (Sometimes romantically called “the old Moon in the new Moon’s arms.”)

Although the worlds were only within a degree or two of each other in the sky they were in reality very far apart (obviously). The actual distances from Earth to each at the time of the event? Moon: 363,784 km; Venus: 213 million km; Mars: 329.1 million km.

Check out this and other images in my Flickr gallery here.

Ice May Be Buried Beneath These Ancient Martian Hills

HRSC image of a portion of Phlegra Montes on Mars, acquired by ESA’s Mars Express on Oct. 8, 2014. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU BERLIN, CC by-SA 3.0 IGO

The southern portion of Phlegra Montes on Mars, acquired by ESA’s Mars Express on Oct. 8, 2014. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC by-SA 3.0 IGO

Scientists have been hunting for evidence of water on Mars ever since we started looking at the Red Planet through telescopes. But Mars does have water, and lots of it; solid water in the form of ice locked up in its polar caps and buried under its surface. And, if observations made by ESA’s Mars Express are indicative of similar processes seen on Earth, these ancient hills may also hold hidden deposits of underground ice.

Read the rest of my article on Discovery News here.

These 100 People Are One Step Closer to Living – and Dying – on Mars

You may be looking at the faces of future Martians.

The video above, released Feb. 15, shows the results of the latest round of selections for the MarsOne mission: to establish living conditions on Mars and, eventually, send 24 individuals who will become the first permanent human residents on another planet.

(Note: being selected for MarsOne does not include a return ticket.)

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