InSight lands on Mars

After months in space and a truly harrowing entry to Mars’ atmosphere, NASA’s InSight probe gently touched down on Mars.

The Insight probe — the full name of which is actually Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport — touched down safely on Mars’ Elysium Planitia at 7:52pm on the evening of Monday November 26, making it the eighth successful unmanned mission to Mars in the history of mankind.

WATCH: The moment InSight touched down:

At at a post-landing briefing at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California Insight’s Project Manager Tom Hoffman remarked “I’m very, very happy that it looks like we have an incredibly safe and boring looking landing location”.

Elysium Planitia, located in the northern hemisphere and near the equator of the red planet, is a soft sandy plain on the Martian surface — a perfect spot for InSight to carry out its life purpose: to study the geology of Mars’ core.

Essentially an interplanetary geologist, the InSight probe is distinct from the famous Mars Rovers, in that the probe will remain in place for the duration of its mission. It will dig deep into the Martian crust, searching for so called marsquakes and drawing a picture of what lies beneath the surface from the data it collects.

“In the coming months and years the history books will be rewritten about the interior of Mars” Michael Watkins, JPL’S Director predicted in the press briefing.

Before the mission can officially start, more definitive checks will be carried out to assure the spacecraft’s on-board equipment and mechanics have survived the tough entry into Mars’ hostile atmosphere.

InSight entered the planet’s atmosphere at 12,300 miles per hour and slowed itself down to a walking pace in around seven minutes. A combination of rockets and parachutes allowed the craft to land safely on the plain, which has been described as being as horizontal as a car park in the famously flat Kansas.

credit to Nasa - Scott

NASA’s probe InSight. (Photo Credit: NASA)

The landing concluded a journey which began in May 2018 and 300 million miles away on planet Earth. The Insight probe was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on the May 5, 2018, from an Atlas V-401 Rocket, making it the first Mars’ mission launched from the west coast of the United States as opposed to Florida on the east coast.

 

InSight was closely followed by two NASA CubeSats — miniaturised satellites about the size of a briefcase — called Mars Cube One or MarCO. These types of satellites are easily and relatively cheaply sent up to orbit earth but this mission marks their first use deep in our solar system, offering the possibility of improved communications and data collection infrastructure in deep space.

Probes over People

The landing is great news but looking at the bigger picture of deep space exploration you might be moved to ask — where are all the people?

It’s a good question and it is one that is getting asked more and more of late. Since the discontinuation of the shuttle program in 2011, NASA’s operations have become a lot more geared toward unmanned scientific exploration.

Think of deep space milestones of late; the curiosity rover on Mars, the New Horizons probe responsible for beautiful close ups of the dwarf planet Pluto, and now Mars’ InSight.

Since the last mission to the Moon in the 1970’s there have been no humans beyond low-Earth orbit. As we approach the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s historic first landing on the Moon and see private companies like SpaceX inch ever closer to perfecting their own space launch systems, the question regarding when humans will next explore deep space in person will become central to U.S space policy.

Under the current administration NASA has received a slight increase in funding to just under US$20 billion — a rather modest amount as federal agencies go — and outlined goals for a permanent presence on the moon as the main deep space goal acting as a way station for an eventual trip to Mars.

Credit to NASA

The hope is to station humans on Mars in the future (Photo Credit: NASA)

The fundamentals of these plans pre-dated the Trump administration as the space agency developed a new Space launch system and deep space craft called Orion.

Some outlandish proposals have been put forward by the Trump administration, such as the so called “Space Force”— an American military presence in space. The idea has been met with derision, with Former U.S. Navy Captain and retired Astronaut Mark Kelly tweeting that it was ‘a dumb idea”.

However, NASA’s official line remains true to the goal of putting humans on the red planet.

Only exploring low earth orbit might seem like having stayed in the shallow end of the pool but it has been responsible for falling costs more reusable space technology and so more access to space.

NASA’s Administrator Jim Bridenstine reckoned optimistically in InSight’s post landing press conference when asked will humans will get there; “I’m going with the mid 2030’s”.

Successful first launch for Space X’s Heavy Falcon

‘Starman’ orbiting Earth in a 2008 Tesla Roadster | Photo Credit: Space X/Youtube

Elon Musk’s latest test rocket, the Falcon Heavy, has blasted off from Cape Canaveral, in a historic launch.

The departure of the rocket was risky, with only a 50% chance of a successful lift off, according to the Space X CEO.

After the event he said that he had imagined: “a giant explosion on the pad, a wheel bouncing down the road.”

However, after the Falcon Heavy made its debut, it became the most capable launch vehicle available.

An astonishing live stream of the rocket blasting off from the Kennedy Center in Florida and proceeding to orbit the Earth, has been viewed a massive 5 million times since it began last night.

 

The aim of this launch was to blast a car, Musk’s 2008 cherry red Tesla, with a mannequin in the driver seat, towards Mars’ orbit.

The mannequin, named ‘Starman’, shot to space with David Bowie’s Life on Mars playing in the background, with the intention of orbiting Mars.

Musk referred to this approach as “kind of silly and fun”, but added he thinks “silly and fun things are important.”

Musk has admitted that ‘Starman’ has ventured further than initially planned, because Space X burned one of the boosters for too long.

He tweeted: “Third burn successful. Exceeded Mars orbit and kept going to the Asteroid Belt.”

Elon Musk tweeted about the success of the launch | Photo Credit: @elonmusk on Twitter

The final fate of the car is unknown – its journey may last a billion years and may take it as far as 250 miles from Earth, which is the equivalent of 10,000 trips around the equator.

The only other blip in the launch was the launchers central booster, which failed to return safely to Earth, unlike the two side boosters.

Musk said that it had crashed into the Atlantic at 300mph, missing the floating landing platform.

 

Principia Mission exhibit sends National Museum of Scotland to its Peake

In 2015, European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake entered the International Space Station as the first Brit, in more than 20 years.

The National Museum of Scotland have announced that the Soyuz Spacecraft, used Tim Peakes’ Principia Mission, will be displayed as part of a series of 10 brand new galleries, shown from May to August in 2018.

 

Brand new virtual experience of Tim Peake’s Principia landing

 

Following a successful exhibition at London Science centre – and after a year orbiting planet earth – the 1.5 tonne spacecraft will land in Edinburgh where it will settle for the summer. The new exhibition will include a virtual reality experience, ‘Space Decent with Tim Peake’ which is sponsored by Samsung and allows visitors to visually experience Tim Peake’s real journey returning to earth.

National Museum of Scotland Communication Officer, Alice Wyllie shows her excitement, “We certainly anticipate the Tim Peake’s spacecraft will be hugely popular with our visitors!”

The National Museum of Scotland have also announced their plan to display two additional exhibitions as the final phase of their £80 million masterplan. These will be dedicated to East Asia and ancient Egypt; set up with the intention of modernising the museum to form a more appealing image and improve its outreach.

Brainstorm: Super Bowl 2017 – Our top 5 Movie trailers

Many things happened during this year’s Super Bowl. The plucky young Falcons were latently smited by Tom Brady’s laser arm to win his 5th ring. Lady Gaga auditioned for the circus in her breathless speedrun through her musical discography.

Most importantly, however, we got another truckload of tantalising film trailers. Every time a Quarterback was tilted over (looking at you Tom Brady), or when the handsomely paid athletes asked for a time out – in which there were many – we were greeted with a slew of teasers; here are our best picks.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

The Guardians are back, all in their retro Sci-fi glory! Another golden oldy (this time provided by Fleetwood Mac – The Chain) and even more dizzying glimpses at their expanded cast.

Do we see much of the plot? Nope. Does it look like it has captured the smirking fun from the original? Seems so.

LIFE

LIFE looks like the menage-a-trois lovechild of Ridley Scott’s Alien, Danny Boyle’s Sunshine and Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity. Is that a good thing? It might be. Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal scowl behind spacesuits and an unknown but definitely murderous substance is wrecking havoc inside claustrophobic spaces.  Watch this space (see what we did there).

Logan

Hugh Jackman is back as the brooding, (extra) bearded anti-hero of basically all of the previous X-men films. But with gore, pained music and naughty words!

Logan now has a young and precocious child, roadtripping across beige landscapes and running away from a bald Stephen Merchant and a menacing Boyd Holbrook (straight off of the plane from Narcos). Will the film be naff? Maybe, but it probably won’t be worse than X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Pirates Of The Carribean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

It’s at this point that the films are starting to blur together. Instead of a skeleton monkey, we have a skeleton parrot! Wow, what a difference.

More beaches, undead (of some variety) pirates and Geoffrey Rush debuts a sunburnt face in his reoccuring slot as Captain Barbossa – will he be a goodie or a baddie this time?!

The trailer features some more CGI multi-ship fights, an assumedly mud smothered cameo from (Captain!) Jack Sparrow and was that an appearance from Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

John Wick: Chapter 2

We love a wee meta trailer and what’s better than a John Wick trailer masquerading as the latest Shades of Grey film?

The retired one man army galavants across Rome in tailored, always black suits. His movements with a gun are like a lethal tango across blood-soaked floors; expect an even higher death-count than before.

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