Bringing Satellites Closer to Earth

How low can you go? New project to bring satellites nearer to Earth
by Staff Writers
Manchester, UK (SPX) Mar 07, 2017

File image.

The University of Manchester is leading a multi-million pound project to develop satellites which will orbit much closer to the Earth – making them smaller, cheaper, helping to dodge space debris and improving the quality of images they can send back.

Remote sensing satellites currently operate at about 500-800km above the Earth, above the residual atmosphere that exists at lower altitudes. But this means that observations of the ground must also take place over this range, either limiting resolution or requiring large telescopes to be used.

The 5.7m euro grant from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 fund will allow the research team to design new technologies to build satellites that can operate at 200-450 km above the Earth’s surface – lower than the international space station.

Dr Peter Roberts, Scientific Coordinator for the project, said: “Remote sensing satellites are widely used to obtain imagery for environmental and security uses such as agricultural land management, maritime surveillance and disaster management.”

“If we are able to get satellites closer to Earth then we can get the same data using smaller telescopes, or smaller and less powerful radar systems, all of which reduces the satellite mass and cost. But there are also many technical challenges which until now have been too great to overcome. This research tackles the problem on a number of fronts.”

One issue is that the atmosphere is denser the nearer to Earth that satellites get. This means that drag needs to be minimised and countered. To do this, the team will develop advanced materials and test them in a new ‘wind tunnel’ which mimics the composition, density and speed of the atmosphere as seen by a satellite at these altitudes.

This will allow the team to test how materials interact with individual atoms of oxygen and other elements in the atmosphere at speeds of up to 8km per second. The ultimate aim is to be able to use these materials to streamline the satellites. They will also test the materials on a real satellite launched into these lower orbits. The satellite will also demonstrate how the atmospheric flow can be used to control the orientation of the satellite, much like an aircraft does at lower altitudes.

In addition, the team will develop experimental electric propulsion systems which use the residual atmosphere as propellant. This approach has the potential to keep the satellites in orbit indefinitely despite the drag acting upon them. However, it also means that the satellites will re-enter quickly when they’ve reached the end of their mission avoiding the space debris problems experienced at higher altitudes.

All these technological developments will be worked into new engineering and business models identifying what future very low Earth orbit remote sensing satellites would look like and how they would operate. The project will also map out the path for future exploitation of the developed concepts.

Partners in the research are The University of Manchester, Elecnor Deimos Satellite Systems, GomSpace AS, University of Stuttgart, Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya, University College London, The TechToybox, EuroConsult and concentris research management. The project is scheduled to run for 51 months from January 2017.

By Kids Talk Radio

Cooking Space Food in Antarctica


Students at the Barboza Space Center are exploring the idea of cooking space food.  This article will help to set the stage at your school or afterschool STEM program.

How bright is the future of space food
by Staff Writers
Honolulu HI (SPX) Feb 27, 2017

illustration only

Research at the University of Hawai?i at Manoa could play a major role in NASA’s goal to travel to Mars in the 2030s, including what the astronauts could eat during that historic mission.

A trip to Mars and back is estimated to take about two and half years, and ideally, their diet would be healthy while requiring minimal effort and energy. UH Manoa mechanical engineering student Aleca Borsuk may have the solution.

“I picked a really hearty, heat tolerant, drought tolerant species of edible vegetable, and that is amaranth. It’s an ancient grain,” said Borsuk, who determined that she could significantly increase the edible parts, which is basically the entire plant, by changing the lighting. “If you move the lights and have some of them overhead and some of them within the plant leaves, it can actually stimulate them to grow faster and larger.”

This is without adding more lights and by using energy efficient LEDs. Thanks to Borsuk’s work with lighting, plants could play an important role in the future of space travel.

“This plant would do the same thing that it does here on Earth, which is regenerate oxygen in the atmosphere,” said Borsuk. “It also can provide nutrition for the astronauts and if you can imagine being away from Earth for many years, you know tending something that’s green would have a psychological boost as well.”

A 2013 UH Presidential Scholar, Borsuk presented her research at the Hawai?i Space Grant Consortium Spring 2016 Fellowship and Traineeship Symposium and at the 2016 American Society for Horticultural Science Conference in Florida. She is mentored by UH Manoa Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences Associate Professor Kent Kobayashi, who is also an American Society for Horticultural Science Fellow.

By Kids Talk Radio

Getting My Science Experiments to the International Space Station

NanoRacks Receives NASA Johnson Space Center’s Small Business Prime Contractor of the Year Award

By NanoRacks on Feb 21, 2017 09:29 am

February 21, 2017, Houston, TX — NanoRacks LLC has received NASA Johnson Space Center’s 2016 Small Business Prime Contractor of the Year award for the Company’s contributions and outstanding support in the form of hardware and services to the U.S. National Laboratory onboard the International Space Station.

“We are very honored to receive this award from our friends at Johnson Space Center,” says NanoRacks CEO Jeffrey Manber. “We are confident that the future in low-Earth orbit is commercial, and the first step in that journey is the commercial utilization of the Space Station. Every day the growing team at NanoRacks works to fulfill this mission and create exceptional space hardware and services for all of our customers—from educational to industry, and to government.”

NanoRacks has a strong relationship with NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC), with the Company’s headquarters just across the street in Webster, Texas. With the International Space Station as NanoRacks’ prime platform, having close proximity to the team at JSC is crucial for day-to-day operations. The robust relationship with JSC has allowed NanoRacks to grow from initially providing research racks inside the U.S. National Labs, to creating plug-and-play research platforms, to being a leading provider of small satellite deployments in low-Earth orbit, and now to the building of the first-ever private airlock on Station. All with private capital working in partnership with NASA and the other space station partners.

“Over seven years we have self-invested what is now close to $25 million in providing hardware and services for space station customers,” explained Manber. “We believe this is the future pathway for low-earth orbit (LEO) and beyond, that NASA will be a customer and the private sector must share in the costs and the risks, just like with any business on the ground.”

Earlier this February, NanoRacks announced that Boeing has joined as a partner in the building of the first-ever private airlock on the International Space Station. The NanoRacks Airlock Module is a critical step towards the transition to a more commercial ISS, with the potential to increase user capacity and the customer base.

The goal for NanoRacks is to operate its own fleet of private space stations; both manned and unmanned. Those first steps are being taken in NASA’s award to the NanoRacks led IXION team to study re-use of in-space hardware for commercial habitats. Other team members are Loral and ULA.

“Who knows?” jokes Manber. “Maybe in 2020 we will be awarded NASA’s Prime Business Contractor Award!”

To learn more about NanoRacks and our journey into space, please email Be sure to follow NanoRacks on Twitter and Facebook for continued updates about the NanoRacks Airlock and our other commercial ventures.

Download the press release pdf and for media inquiries, please email Abby Dickes at

About NanoRacks
NanoRacks LLC was formed in 2009 to provide commercial hardware and services for the U.S. National Laboratory onboard the International Space Station via a Space Act Agreement with NASA. NanoRacks’ main office is in Houston, Texas, right alongside the NASA Johnson Space Center. The Business Development office is in Washington, DC. Additional offices are located in Silicon Valley, California and Leiden, Netherlands.

In July 2015, NanoRacks signed a teaming agreement with Blue Origin to offer integration services on their New Shepard space vehicle. NanoRacks, along with partners at ULA and Space Systems Loral was also recently selected by NASA to participate in the NextSTEPs Phase II program to develop commercial habitation systems in low-Earth orbit and beyond.

As of July 2016, over 375 payloads have been launched to the International Space Station via NanoRacks services, and our customer base includes the European Space Agency (ESA) the German Space Agency (DLR,) the American space agency (NASA,) US Government Agencies, Planet Labs, Urthecast, Space Florida, NCESSE, Virgin Galactic, pharmaceutical drug companies, and organizations in Vietnam, UK, Romania and Israel.
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By Kids Talk Radio

Mars Society to Hold Int’l Student Mars Art Contest

Mars Society to Hold Int’l Student Mars Art Contest

The Mars Society announced today that it is sponsoring a Student Mars Art (SMArt) Contest, inviting youth from around the world to depict the human future on the planet Mars. Young artists from grades 4 through 12 are invited to submit up to three works of art each, illustrating any part of the human future on the Red Planet, including the first landing, human field exploration, operations at an early Mars base, the building of the first Martian cities, terraforming the Red Planet and other related human settlement concepts.

The SMArt Contest will be divided into three categories: Upper Elementary (grades 4-6), Junior High (grades 7-9), and High School (Grades 10-12). Cash prizes of $1,000, $500 and $250, as well as trophies, will be given out to the first, second and third place winners of each section. There will also be certificates of honorable mention for those artists who don’t finish in the top three, but whose work is nevertheless judged to be particularly meritorious.

The winning works of art will be posted on the Mars Society web site and may also be published as part of a special book about Mars art. In addition, winners will be invited to come to the 20th Annual International Mars Society Convention at the University of California, Irvine September 7-10, 2017 to display and talk about their art.

Mars art will consist of still images, which may be composed by traditional methods, such as pencil, charcoal, watercolors or paint, or by computerized means. Works of art must be submitted via a special online form ( in either PDF or JPEG format with a 500 MB limit. The deadline for submissions is May 31, 2017, 5:00 pm MST. By submitting art to the contest, participating students grant the Mars Society non-exclusive rights to publish the images on its web site or in Kindle paper book form.

Speaking about the SMArt Contest, Mars Society President Dr. Robert Zubrin said, “The imagination of youth looks to the future. By holding the SMArt Contest, we are inviting young people from all over the world to use art to make visible the things they can see with their minds that the rest of us have yet to see with our own eyes. Show us the future, kids. From imagination comes reality. If we can see it, we can make it.”

Questions about the Mars Society’s SMArt Contest can be submitted to:

By Kids Talk Radio

Sea Ice Reports

Sea ice around Antarctica shrinks to record low

Just two years ago, there was a record high level of sea ice in the Southern Hemisphere
FEB 17, 2017 — 4:02 PM EST
Antarctica ice

The extent of sea ice around Antarctica hit a new low in January. This bucks an overall growing trend that has been going on since recordkeeping began in 1979.


The continent of Antarctica is surrounded by sea ice. The amount of ice grows in the winter and shrinks in summer. The total area is covers changes from year to year. And it just set a new record in January, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports. That month, Antarctic sea ice shrunk to the lowest monthly extent ever recorded.

Antarctic sea ice averaged just 4.04 million square kilometers (1.6 million square miles). That’s 1.19 million square kilometers (0.46 million square miles) below the 1981 through 2010 average. And that’s 280,000 square kilometers (108,000 square miles) smaller than the previous record low, set in 2006.

The new record comes just two years after the largest January Antarctic sea ice extent on record. Southern Hemisphere sea ice had been growing by about 3 percent per decade since recordkeeping began in 1979. However, there is a lot of year-to-year variation.

The cause of the record-low ice — and whether future years will similarly buck the growing trend — is unclear, James Pope said in a statement. He is a climate scientist with the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, England. “It is difficult to identify what is causing the record minimum and whether anything significant has changed” so close to the record-setting event, he said. Researchers may not understand for years what caused the decline in sea ice. “We will now study the data with interest and look at what is causing this minimum,” he said.

Meanwhile, in the Northern Hemisphere, where it is winter, Arctic sea ice is growing. But sea ice there set another record. It had its smallest January extent on record. That edges out the previous record — set just last year.

Power Words

(for more about Power Words, click here)

Antarctica     A continent mostly covered in ice, which sits in the southernmost part of the world.

Arctic     A region that falls within the Arctic Circle. The edge of that circle is defined as the northernmost point at which the sun is visible on the northern winter solstice and the southernmost point at which the midnight sun can be seen on the northern summer solstice.

Arctic sea ice     Ice that forms from seawater and that covers all or parts of the Arctic Ocean.

average     (in science) A term for the arithmetic mean, which is the sum of a group of numbers that is then divided by the size of the group.

climate     The weather conditions prevailing in an area in general or over a long period.

continent     (in geology) The huge land masses that sit upon tectonic plates. In modern times, there are six geologic continents: North America, South America, Eurasia, Africa, Australia and Antarctica.

data     Facts and/or statistics collected together for analysis but not necessarily organized in a way that gives them meaning. For digital information (the type stored by computers), those data typically are numbers stored in a binary code, portrayed as strings of zeros and ones.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration     (or NOAA) A science agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Initially established in 1807 under another name (The Survey of the Coast), this agency focuses on understanding and preserving ocean resources, including fisheries, protecting marine mammals (from seals to whales), studying the seafloor and probing the upper atmosphere.

sea     An ocean (or region that is part of an ocean). Unlike lakes and streams, seawater — or ocean water — is salty.

square     (in geometry) A rectangle with four sides of equal length. (In mathematics) A number multiplied by itself, or the verb meaning to multiply a number by itself. The square of 2 is 4; the square of 10 is 100.

survey     (v.) To ask questions that glean data on the opinions, practices (such as dining or sleeping habits), knowledge or skills of a broad range of people. Researchers select the number and types of people questioned in hopes that the answers these individuals give will be representative of others who are their age, belong to the same ethnic group or live in the same region. (n.) The list of questions that will be offered to glean those data.

Readability Score:


Further Reading

NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information: Global Snow and Ice January 2017

By Kids Talk Radio

Mars Projects for Antarctica

Could we do a project like this in Antarctica?

Mission Summary – Crew 174

Mars Desert Research Station End of Mission Summary

Crew 174 – Team PLANETEERS


Team PLANETEERS (All Indian Crew):

Commander:  Mamatha Maheshwarappa

Executive Officer/Crew Scientist:  Saroj Kumar

Engineer/Journalist:  Arpan Vasanth

GreenHab Officer:  Sneha Velayudhan

Crew Health & Safety Officer/Geologist:  Sai Arun Dharmik

Success occurs when your dreams get bigger than your excuses


The Solar System is a tiny drop in our endless cosmic sea (Universe). Within our solar system, a very few planets host an environment suitable for some life forms to exist. The closest one being Mars after the Earth, following the success of rovers such as Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity and several space probes, the human understanding of the planet has reached new levels. The next important aspect is to find out if there exist any life forms or if the planet had hosted any life in the past. Although the rovers send out a lot of information about the planet, so far humans have not found anything substantial. With advancements in science and technology by organizations such as NASA, ESA, ISRO, CNSA along with private industries such as SpaceX manned mission to Mars seems to be within reach in a few years. To carry out successful missions humans will have to develop key tactics to cope up extreme conditions, confined spaces and limited resources. Team Planeteers (MDRS Crew 174) is the first all Indian crew consisting of five young aspirants from different domain who have come together to embark on a special mission in order to develop such key tactics. The crew was successful in executing the planned experiments. The key for their success is the temperament and dedication shown by each individual and fixing small issues immediately. Since all the members were of same origin, food and cultural aspects was an advantage. Going forward the team is planning out for outreach activities. As a part of QinetiQ Space UK, Mamatha will be involved in outreach, education and media activities (TeenTech & STEMNET). Similarly, Saroj and Sneha will be conducting STEM outreach activities at Unversity of Alabama and Rochester Institute of Technology respectively.

Figure 1 Team Planeteers inside the MDRS Hab

Research conducted at MDRS by Crew 174:


  1. Characterizing the transference of Human Commensal Bacteria and Developing Zoning Methodology for Planetary Protection

The first part of this research aims at using metagenomics analysis to assess the degree to which human associated (commensal) bacteria could potentially contaminate Mars during a crewed mission to the surface. This involved collection of environmental soil samples during the first week of the mission from outside the MDRS airlock door, at MDRS airlock door and at increasing distances from the habitat (including a presumably uncontaminated site) in order to characterise transference of human commensal bacteria into the environment and swabbing of interior surfaces carried out towards the end of the mission within the MDRS habitat to characterize the commensal biota likely to be present in a crewed Mars mission. In the interests of astrobiology, however, if microbial life is discovered on the Martian surface during a crewed mission, or at any point after a crewed mission, it will be crucial to be able to reliably distinguish these detected cells from the microbes potentially delivered by the human presence.

The second part of the research aims at testing the hypothesis that human-associated microbial contamination will attenuate with increasing distance from the Hab, thus producing a natural zoning.  The previous studies hypothesize that there may be relatively greater contamination along directions of the prevailing wind because windborne particles or particle aggregates allow attachment of microbes and help to shelter them against various environmental challenges, e.g. desiccation, ultraviolet light, etc. Efforts are afoot to try to develop a concept of zones around a base where the inner, highest contamination zone is surrounded by zones of diminishing levels of contamination occur and in which greater Planetary Protection stringency must be enforced (Criswell et al 2005).  As part of that concept, an understanding of what the natural rate of microbial contamination propagation will be is essential.

a. Sample collection process:

Two sets of samples were collected as the analysis will be carried out at two different stages.

i. Samples of the soil outside the MDRS were collected aseptically into sterile Falcon tubes. Sampling sites included immediately outside the habitat air lock (with presumably the highest level of human-associated bacteria from the crew quarters), at increasing distances from the airlock along a common EVA route (to track decrease in transference with distance), and at a more remote site that ideally has not previously been visited by an EVA (to provide the negative control of background microbiota in the environment).

Figure 2 Soil Samples collected at increasing distances from the Airlock


ii. Various surfaces within the crew quarters were swabbed using a standard sterile swab kit to collect microbes present from the course of normal human habitation. These included door handles, walls, table surface, airlock handles, staircase, working table, computer. This did not expose the science team to additional infection risks (such as not swabbing toilets).

Figure 3 (a) Sterile Swab Kit (b) Internal swab collection (working table)

Sampling locations within the habitat and soil sampling sites during EVA were recorded by photographs and written notes. After collection, the samples were refrigerated at the MDRS Science lab, and then returned with the crew to London for storage and analysis. This is analogous to medical samples being collected from ISS astronauts and returned to Earth for lab analysis. The molecular biology sample analysis and data interpretation, including all the metagenomic analyses to identify bacterial strains present, will be conducted by Lewis Dartnell in collaboration with John Ward. The collaboration agreement is already in place and lab space and resources confirmed. The analysis is carried out in two different stages:


a. Stage 1 Analysis:

The first set of samples will be tested using off-the-shelf simple tests for the presence or absence of human associated microbes, namely coliforms.  These are simple to use and give a yes/no answer, so plots will be made of yes/no results with distance from the hab in different directions.  This could be correlated with prevailing wind directions and/or to show common human pathways from the hab versus directions in which people typically don’t go.

b. Stage 2 Analysis:

The second set of samples (internal swabs) will not be cultured or otherwise processed back on Earth (as culturing of human commensurate and environmental microorganisms could present a biological hazard to the MDRS astronauts). All sampling materials and storage containers were provided by the study, and thus will require no consumables or other resources from the MDRS. All sample collection pots and sampling materials will be removed by the study scientists, and the sampling process itself (small soil samples and surface swabs) will not impact the MDRS habitat or its natural environment.


  1. Zoning and sample collection Protocols for Planetary Protection


Planetary protection is one of the major subjects that require immediate attention before humans travel to Mars and beyond. MDRS being one of the closest analogues on Earth with respect to dry environment on Mars was the best site to perform and simulate issues related to planetary protection. Our work on planetary protection was to simulate zoning protocol to be used to manage relative degrees of acceptable contamination surrounding MDRS and implementation of sample protocols while at EVA’s for soil sample collection, geological study and during hab support activities etc.


a. Zoning protocols for crew exploration around MDRS

During the mission, we extensively studied the zoning protocol in and around the hab and how contamination issues on Mars can be restricted.  On the first day on ‘Mars’ we used the geographical map of MDRS exploration area to formulate and characterize zones around the hab and the strategy for sample collection.

i. Zone: 1 (Area within Hab) – This area is believed to be the most contaminated with the human microbes.

ii. Zone 2 (About 20 meters from the hab) – This is the area where most of the hab support systems and rovers are parked. This zone is supposed to have less microbial contamination than hab but higher than Zone 3 and 4.

iii. Zone 3 (Beyond 20 meters but within 300 meters around the hab) – This area is considered to have regular human presence during an EVA. Soil samples of Zone 2a and 2b were collected for future analysis in lab to study human microbial contamination.

iv. Zone 4 (Special Region) – This area was considered to have insufficient remote sensing data to determine the level of biological potential. This area was marked as no EVA zone and can only be studied in detail by remote sensing data using satellites or drones.


b. Sample collection protocols

The crew studied the sample collection protocol requirements for all the activities such as soil sample collection, geological study and during the operations of hab support systems etc., this was to avoid forward and back contamination.  The protocols were planned to be initiated from the time a crew member leaves the airlock for EVA and until he/she returns from the EVA to Hab. During the EVA, the crew noted every experiment procedure and made sure there was no breach in spacesuits and no human microbial contamination during soil collection. The tools used for the soil collection were required to be completely cleaned and sterilized. The study of rocks on site during an EVA was one of the major challenges where it was realized that special tools were required to pick the rock samples without getting them exposed to spacesuit gloves. Using only gloves to pick rock samples could also rupture the spacesuits and thus there could be a decompression issue. Even with a detailed geological exploration map of MDRS and high resolution satellite imagery, it was noted that the use of drones can drastically reduce the human EVAs and lots of geological and terrain information can be obtained in a shot span of time. This step would heavily reduce the human EVA and thereby contamination issues to special regions where there could be a possibility of having a biological activity. Water, a major carrier of human microbes is proposed to be within the structures of hab. During the simulation, the crew made sure that there was no water spillage outside the hab.


  1. Development of New Techniques to Enhance Plant Growth in a Controlled Environment

A crewed mission to the Mars demands sufficient food supplies during the mission. Thus cultivation of plants and crops play an important role to create a habitat on Mars. There are some factors to be considered before cultivating crops on the Martian surface. First, the planet’s position in the solar system, Mars receives about 2/3rd of sunlight as compared to the Earth that plays a vital role in crop cultivation. Second, the type of soil used for crop cultivation should to be rich in various nutrients. Since the MDRS site is considered as one of the best analogue sites on Earth to simulate Mars environment, the experimental results of plant growth at MDRS was considered for this research. This research aims at growing fenugreek (crop that is rich in nutrients and grows within the mission time) to determine the effect of Vitamin D on the growth.

At MDRS, the fenugreek seeds were allowed to germinate for 2 days. In the mean-time, an EVA was carried out to collect soil from different parts on ‘Mars’. The soil was collected based on the colour and texture. Five types of soil, white (01), red (02), clay (03) coloured soil, course grey soil (04) and sand from river bed (05) were collected. Two set of experiment pots were made as shown in the Figure 4. Each had 15 pots, 10 pots with Earth soil (ES) labelled with different levels of Vitamin D (0- 0.9) and 5 pots of Mars soil (MS) labelled according to the area of the soil collected (0-5). One set of 15 pots was placed in the Green hab and the other in the controlled environment (under the Misian Mars lamp) after planting the well germinated seeds. The plants were watered twice a day in order to maintain the moisture in the soil.

Figure 4 Experimental Setup with Earth and ‘Mars’ Soil

The temperature and humidity levels were monitored twice a day throughout the mission both in the green hab and the controlled environment (Misian Mars Lamp). It was noted that there was a steep increase in the temperature in the green hab as the outside temperature was high that inturn decreased the humidity in the green hab drastically. The situation was managed by switching on the cooler and then by monitoring the heater thermostat. The plants were watered with specific measurement of Vitamin D every day. The experiment was successfully completed by monitoring the growth regularly, it is evident that humidity and temperature impacts the growth of plants. The plants in the green hab showed more growth of primary root than the secondary, the leaves were normal in colour and growth. In the controlled environment, the root growth was fast, the plants developed many secondary roots in few days. The plants looked healthy, the leaves were dark green and bigger than the ones in the green hab as seen in Figure 5.

Figure 5 Plant growth in (a) Misian Mars Lamp (b) GreenHab

In conclusion, the graphs were plotted for the root growth for the Earth Soil with Vitamin D in the green hab and the controlled environment from Sol 08 to Sol 13. The graphs indicated that the low level of Vitamin D (0.1) enhances root growth in the green hab. Under misian Mars lamp, the growth rate is high for ES 0 (without Vitamin D).   Readings tabulated for the Mars soil was plotted on daily basis but, after few days it was noted that there was neglibile growth in the Mars soil. The graphs plotted for few days are as shown in the Figure 6.

Figure 6 Root growth of seedlings (a) Misian Mars Lamp (b) GreenHab


  1. Study of magnetic susceptibility of the rocks and their comparison


The primary objective was to study the magnetic susceptibility and magnetic minerals of the rock samples collected and compare them with multi-spectral remote sensing data back in the lab. MDRS contains a range of Mars analogue features relevant for geological studies. It contains a series of sediments derived from weathering and erosion from marine to fluvial and lacustrine deposits containing also volcanic ashes (Foing et al. 2011). With the preliminary understanding of the MDRS geographical exploration area and identification of potential targets, the lithology can help us decipher the structural history of the region, with understanding of genesis of such rock types and aid exploration efforts. The previous studies done at MDRS reveals that the magnetic susceptibility did not vary significantly near the Hab. Hence, the locations of various geological formations far away from the hab were selected to study the distribution of magnetic minerals. The selected locations for the same were sedimentary outcrops, cattle grid, burpee dinosaur quarry, widow’s peak and near the Motherload of concretions.

We found layers of horizontally bedded sandstone and conglomerates, sandstones and siltstones. Some of them seem to have inverse grading which could have been created by the debris flow. Gypsum and lichens were spotted around the area of sedimentary crops. In the next visit to Motherload of concretions, we have seen a variety of lichens: yellow, black, orange and grey. And in the Cattle grid region, colors of mudstone and conglomerates bands of rich cream, brown, yellow and red were found. The basalt samples were collected from the gravel in the cattle grid region and from the URC north site (porphyr) to be studied in the lab. Near the widow’s peak, shales were found along with gypsum shining bright, distributed around that area. Most of the region was covered mostly with loose soil. The locations of all the samples collected from different regions were marked with the help of GPS. The magnetic susceptibility of rock samples were measured and documented them using the magnetometer in the science lab. Inspection of samples was possible with the microscope at the science dome, with 10X zoom as seen in Figure 4. They need to be studied in thin sections for better understanding and will be done on Earth under the guidance of specialists.

Figure 7 (a) Porphyr under microscope (b) Siltstone under the microscope


  1. Drone Experiment

‘Mars’ has a harsh environment that risks Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA). The main objectives of the drone experiment were:

a. To ease EVAs by understanding the scenario of a region that is hard to access by rover/ATV.

b. To simulate the application of drone in search of a crew member during an emergency situation and during loss of communication.

c. Video making and photography for outreach activities.

The first objective to make use of drone in isolated regions was successfully executed on Sol 07. Since it was the first trial, the drone was operated in beginner’s mode restricting the field of operation to 30m range. The crew was looking out for soil samples, when confronted by a medium size hill the drone was sent out to check for soil sample availability on the other side. The region looked to be same and it was easier for the crew to take a decision to abort the mission and move to a different location.

Execution date:                Sol 07 (Earth date: 02/05/2017)

GPS Satellites:   13

Flight mode:                     Beginner’s mode of max 62 FT altitude and within 30m range.


The second objective was to simulate an emergency situation when one of the crew lost communication with other member during EVAs. The beginner mode range was too less and hence the drone was operated in advanced mode to search the missing crew member. The mission was successful in identifying the crew member.

Execution:         Sol 11 (Earth date: 02/09/2017)

GPS Satellites:   14

Flight mode:                     Advanced mode with 121 FT altitude and 500m range.


Figure 8 Drone Searching a Crew Member


Several photographs/videos were captured as per the planned outreach activity.

By Kids Talk Radio

Your DNA in Antarctica: STEM Stories



You May Not Like Technology But It Likes You

Science and the digital world have overhauled our world, but the stakes just got higher: Now technology wants to remake you, using everything from the internet to stem cells.


01.21.17 9:01 PM ET

In Greek mythology, Prometheus taught man how to farm. But when he gave man fire, the gods felt he had gone too far. And so as punishment, Zeus chained Prometheus to a rock where every day an eagle would come and eat his liver, which would regrow because he was immortal.

Prometheus’s story is about mankind’s dominion over its world and how much power is too much. But counterintuitively it is Zeus, not Prometheus, who many artists and writers in the last thousand years have sided with. The story is relevant today because humanity is at a turning point, and two opposing forces are locked in a war that is just beginning to come into being. On one side are our innovations and the power that comes with them, and on the other side is the fact that when it comes to us ourselves, there seems to be no innovation.

For tens of thousands of years, technology has been directed outward—on the world at large. Now, for the first time in human history, technology has reached a point where it can be directed inward—back on its creators. Technology has found something new it would like to change: Us.

In 2010, researchers at the University of Colorado performed what they thought would be an unremarkable experiment on lab mice. They injured the mice’s limbs and injected them with stem cells to heal the damage. Then something strange happened. The muscles in those little limbs nearly doubled in size and strength. Not only that, the muscles stayed that way for the life of each mouse, defying even the aging process itself. Essentially the researchers had accidentally created a race of “super-mice.”

Another experiment in 2001 involved injecting human stem cells, of all things, into the brains of aging mice. Soon after, the mice began to perform better on the Morris water maze test. In other words, the stem cells had made them smarter.

When people think of stem cells, they usually think of a potential cure for diseases like Parkinson’s. But there is another, potentially far darker, use for stem cells, and that is on people who are perfectly healthy. It is this application, fundamentally changing the human body, that gave me the idea to write my novel, The Prometheus Man.

We’ve all heard stories about a mother who’s able to lift a car off her child as her body mainlines adrenalin. Imagine using stem cells to triple the size of a person’s adrenal gland. You’d produce something on par with one of those people who are so zombified on PCP that they get shot three times and still manage to beat up six cops. The military uses for such a technology, the parts of the human body that could be “improved,” pass through your mind like something from a sideshow in a bad dream.

And we haven’t even gotten to the most lethal part of the human anatomy: the brain. There’s a fixed amount of space in our skulls. Theoretically by growing the parts of the brain you want enhanced, like the part that controls reflexes and coordination, you could also shrink the parts of the brain you want diminished, like, say, the part that contributes to a person’s remorse.

Bear in mind things need not actually play out this way in the real world. As I attempted to capture in my book, it is often the attempt itself that is the true source of horror.

The 20th century saw the innovation of weapons of mass destruction. It also saw innovations in ideology that cheered the destruction of 200 million people, roughly 8 percent of the world’s population, in wars and oppression. But the technologies in their infancy today take things in the opposite direction. By augmenting our bodies, they increase our ability to commit more intimate—and thus more covert—violence. They take us back to our roots. And they do it at a time when wars aren’t fought by equals on a battlefield. They’re often quick attacks—over before most people know about them—where the goal is to inflict maximum despair not on the target but on the people viewing at home.

But it doesn’t end there. Technology can weaponize the human body, but with the internet, governments and other actors have the ability to go after the mind.

The internet is the greatest source of data on the human spirit in history, and it’s about to go even deeper with virtual-reality. People’s hopes and dreams, their fears, their hatreds, it’s all right there. And over the last decade, we have witnessed the rise of something perfectly designed to make use of it: algorithms. Algorithms regularly outperform human analysts on Wall Street. They also make more accurate diagnoses of mental illness than psychiatrists. The algorithms are so much more effective than the doctors that the doctors underperform even when they’re given the results of the algorithm.

Algorithms are getting so good at predicting human behavior that they have the power to identify not just undesirable urges and interests but the activities that predict those undesirable urges and interests. Serial killers, terrorists, dissidents—it’s highly likely that their online habits cohere around some common patterns of behavior. Theoretically we could understand the direction of their lives better than they understand it themselves. And once you understand something enough to predict what it will do, you can control it.

Yet intervention isn’t the real goal. The real goal is to go much further. It is to alter something fundamental to who we are: our experience of reality.

Research is uncovering patterns in our most primal needs that can be exploited. If that sounds paranoid, consider Robert Cialdini, PhD. Dr. Cialdini wrote a bestseller, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, about the ways others play on our programming to create impressions that aren’t true and compel behavior that isn’t in our interests. The stated goal of his book was to free us from this manipulation, but this ideal didn’t stop Dr. Cialdini from becoming an adviser to the Obama campaign. Obama’ objective merits were evidently insufficient on their own. The good doctor felt the candidate’s presidency was so thoroughly in your best interests that he had no qualms about using the dark arts to place his thumb on the scales of your mind.

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There’s a conclusion here. People start out simply wanting to understand reality, but in truth they always hunger to change it.

But Dr. Cialdini was targeting something voluntary: voting. Consider, by contrast, the Reid technique, a nine-step algorithm of sorts that the FBI uses to pressure suspects during an interrogation. The Reid technique has been tested and refined on tens of thousands of suspects, but it has a bug. It produces false confessions. In other words, the technique is so effective it causes innocent people to sign away their freedom, just to make it stop.

The Reid technique, at the height of its powers, creates a false reality in the suspect’s mind more powerful than the fact-based reality outside it. Forget changing someone’s body. The Reid technique achieves the most fundamental change of all. And it is an innovation of perhaps the most frightening kind of violence, the kind that gets us to hang ourselves.

Manipulating our bodies, manipulating our minds—these are pretty scary things. In response, there are those who believe the ethical issues raised by these new technologies can be resolved through debate. But when have we ever done that before? Nuclear weapons could destroy the human race, and yet they still came into existence. Strike that. It was rational for some countries to bring them into existence. That says something pretty stark about us. That says that the larger truth may be the scariest thing of all: we’re not really in charge. It is us—our morality, our virtue—that lags technology, not the other way around. Maybe there was a reason that Zeus didn’t hash things out with Prometheus, but simply put a stop to him altogether.

I love to read things that were written long ago—centuries ago, even thousands of years ago. I’ll tell you what got the hook in my mouth. I realized that many of these writers were just like me. And I felt this … connection. Because it meant the things that frustrated me and fascinated me weren’t unique. They were a part of what it means to be alive.

But there’s a corollary to this. If someone who lived hundreds or thousands of years ago is just like me—and also you, assuming you’re as retrograde as I am—then that means to a large degree we have stayed the same. Yet in the meantime, aided by technology, our power grows. Think about what that means. Technology doesn’t just shrink the world to our convenience. It is magnifying what’s inside us. And in freeing us from a hard-scrabble existence where we have to work 12-hour days to survive, it is giving us room to express our deepest selves.

Our deepest selves, though, are deeply problematic. For the last 50 years, the developed world has experienced unprecedented peace, prosperity and technological comfort. And this is the result. In the U.S., one in four women is taking a prescription drug for mental health. According to the Centers for Disease Control, life expectancy isn’t increasing. It’s just dropped. Data from the Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows 25 percent of men age 25 to 64 don’t work full-time, and most of them are no longer looking for a job. You would expect people to have become less violent. Instead, starting in the ’70s, there was an explosion of violent crime, which was eventually brought under control only by incarcerating the highest percentage of our citizens of any country in the world. Meanwhile, according to the General Social Survey, from 1972 to 2006, women rated themselves less and less happy each year, as by almost every objective measure their lives improved.

Because we are more free from hardship than anyone before us, you would expect us to be healthier, wealthier, and wiser. But in significant ways, we have become the opposite. Why? Because we’re flawed. Because our deepest selves want things they perhaps were never meant to have. And for many of us, prosperity has simply given us room to go to pieces.

The world, it turns out, isn’t infinitely progressive. It’s mean-reverting, and not due to the impersonal factors of randomness or scarcity, but because of the most personal factor of all: us.

There are those who believe that people are so flawed that society must step in and control them with vast amounts of regulation, i.e., with force. But there’s a limit to this, and we can see it by looking at Europe. Europe, with its giant welfare/regulatory states, has higher unemployment than the U.S., lower GDP growth, far less technological innovation, and fertility rates that can only be described as self-repeal. Every problem the U.S. has, Europe has it 20 percent worse. And the funny thing about all that regulation? In Europe, the informal economy, i.e., the part that doesn’t pay taxes or obey the law, is bigger than it is in the U.S., much bigger. So instead of making people more moral, the attempt to control them has only driven them underground. At a certain point, idealism breaks itself on the reality it is attempting to bend.

The Europeans have attempted to take the risk out of life. Instead they’ve taken the life out of themselves.

What emerges from all this, and what’s so amazing about the world, is that life is something we just can’t win. It seems there will never be a war to end all wars, enough wealth to end all poverty, or a perfect order to end all disorder. And there will never be a formula for the human spirit. Experts can’t solve us. We can’t solve us. That thing technology is magnifying, the gravity holding it all together, is the thing we control least of all.

Joe Kennedy once described his children as “hostages to fortune.” I think of my own hostages to fortune, a tough little two-year-old boy and the girl currently incubating in my wife. The world may have its problems, but it really is a wonderful time to be alive. One thing, though, is certain. As technology and prosperity begin to enhance not just our stuff but us ourselves, the future will increasingly be one of our own creation. The problem is that we seem to be the biggest variable of all. And that variability is something we never have been able to suppress or engineer away. That variability, in fact, seems to be a large part of what it means to be alive.

As for Prometheus, Hercules eventually came and broke his chains. Mankind, it seems, will always find a way to set him free.

Scott Reardon is a graduate of Georgetown University and Northwestern Law. He currently works at an investment management firm in Los Angeles.The Prometheus Man is his first novel.

By Kids Talk Radio

First Antarctica then Mars

NASA is now hiring astronauts for trips to space and Mars that would blast them with radiation, but Crave’s Eric Mack learns that some corners of the world already get a similar treatment.


    Why the best Mars colonists could come from places like Iran and Brazil

by Eric Mack


Mars colonists will need to stand up to heavy doses of radiation.


On Monday, NASA officially opened an application window for the next generation of American astronauts it hopes to send to the International Space Station, lunar orbit and eventually to Mars. But to find the best candidates for dealing with the harsh levels of radiation in space and on the Red Planet, the agency may want to consider looking beyond the borders of the United States for applicants.

One of the biggest challenges in sending astronauts into deep space or setting up a base on Mars is dealing with the radiation from the cosmic rays that our sun and other stars send flying around the universe. Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field deflect the worst of this radiation, but Mars has no substantial magnetic field, which has in turn allowed much of its atmosphere to be lost to space over the millennia.

Spacecraft can be equipped with radioactive shielding to some extent, and a base on Mars could also be constructed essentially underground, using several meters of Martian soil to provide radiation protection on par with Earth’s atmosphere (this is what Mars One hopes to do). But when it comes to roaming around the surface of Mars in a spacesuit or in a rover, there’s no real practical way for those astronauts to avoid some big doses of radiation in the process.

When I attended the New Worlds conference earlier in 2015, there was a discussion of the challenge that cosmic radiation presents for space exploration, and there were some pretty far-fetched possible solutions, like genetically engineering astronauts in the future to handle more radiation.

But I was more intrigued by one partial solution that was mentioned in passing and only half-seriously — to consider astronaut candidates who are already used to dealing with more exposure to radiation than most of the rest of us.

For years now, scientists have been studying residents of Ramsar, a town in northern Iran that is believed to have the highest levels of naturally occurring background radiation for an inhabited area. Levels up to 80 times the world average (PDF) have been measured in town, yet studies of the few thousand people living in the area show rates of lung cancer are actually below average. In fact, research shows that a gene responsible for the production of white blood cells and so-called “natural killer cells” that attack tumors was more strongly expressed among the population.

10 spots in our solar system worth visiting…

In other words, there may be no need to engage in controversial “editing” of human genetics to create radiation-resistant astronauts because there might already be good prospects in a few corners of the world.

Besides Ramsar, the beaches near Guarapari, Brazil, also exhibit very high levels of natural radiation. People in Yangjiang, China, live with radiation levels three times the world average but have below-average cancer levels, and the story is the same in Karunagappally, India.

Unfortunately, none of the people from these areas would be eligible for the program NASA is now hiring for — the agency is only looking for American applicants. So who in the United States might be best suited for withstanding the most cosmic radiation?

Related stories

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Red Planet red flags? NASA council has doubts about Mars mission

Las Vegas odds on who will set foot on Mars first are totally nuts

As it turns out, I think it might be me. According to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the National Radiation Map, Colorado — where my family has hailed from for generations — has some of the highest levels of background radiation in the country thanks to the high altitude and naturally occurring radioactive elements working their way up from the Earth.

Today, I’m actually about 50 miles south of the Colorado border, but I’m living at a higher elevation than Denver, and previous reporting has taught me that radon levels are actually quite high in the neighborhood as well.

Unfortunately, I am quite content just writing about space exploration and have no interest in ever leaving this planet myself. (As witness our CraveCast episode, Who wants to die on Mars?) Besides, some of my neighbors — who have lived with this region’s natural radiation for many more generations than my family has — would probably make better candidates.

So if NASA is unwilling to change its eligibility requirements to consider candidates from northern Iran, perhaps the organization ought to consider sending a recruiter to Taos Pueblo in northern New Mexico instead.






By Kids Talk Radio

Farming in Antartica and Mars

Why am I thinking about farming in very cold places both on Earth and on Mars?  Microsoft has a few ideas that I would like to bring to your attention.

Bob Barboza

Dear Bob,

A revolution is coming, one that will overcome challenges we can only imagine, powered by technology we won’t even see.

The next generation of life-changing technologies goes far beyond keyboards, screens, smart phones, cameras, watches, and hard drives. Join Microsoft’s Emerging Tech Virtual Summit: How IoT and Artificial Intelligence Can Transform the World and Your Organization to learn about the next wave of technology innovation.

Join us live online to hear from leading researchers and tech leaders as they explore what’s possible.

Check out the full agenda  ›
Summit Highlights
Farm Beats: Data Driven Farming
By 2050, the world will need to feed 9.7 billion people. Join Ranveer Chandra, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, as he explains how low-cost technology can make small-scale farming more productive to help meet the challenge of feeding a growing world.
Project Natick: Microsoft’s Underwater Datacenter
Fifty percent of us live near the coast. So why doesn’t our data? Hear Ben Cutler, Project Manager, Microsoft Research, discuss the development of undersea datacenters that offer rapid provisioning, lower costs, high responsiveness, and sustainability.
Emerging Tech in the Startup World
Whether it’s IoT, artificial intelligence, or any other innovative solution, many startups are looking to the technology horizon to solve tomorrow’s challenges. Tereza Nemessanyi, Microsoft Entrepreneur-in-Residence, will explore the exciting things startups and entrepreneurs are doing with emerging technology.
By Kids Talk Radio