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Indian orbiter MOM still on lookout for methane on Mars

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Mysuru (Karnataka): The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), India’s first interplanetary mission is still groping around the red planet to locate methane gas in its atmosphere, a senior space scientist said on Monday.

“The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is yet to detect methane gas or find the exact source of it. I don’t have an update on how much of science we have been able to find out,” Indian space agency’s former director S.K. Shivakumar told IANS at the 103rd Indian Science Congress here.

Though India was the first country whose maiden space probe was the first to showcase stunning pictures of the red planet in its very first attempt on September 24, 2014, the 475kg orbiter with five scientific instruments on board is yet to relay substantial data or information on Mars’ origin and evolution in the solar system.

“Being a technology person, I don’t know what is its (MOM) current status,” he said on the sidelines of a plenary session on ‘Space Science, Technology, and Applications’, on the second day of the five-day annual event at Manasagangotri campus of University of Mysore.

The Rs.450-crore mission was launched on November 5, 2013, from spaceport Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh, about 80km northeast of Chennai, and reached the Martian orbit after a 10-month voyage through the inter-planetary space.

“As of Sunday evening and Monday morning, the orbiter is doing well, going around Mars, taking a different set of pictures and whatever is required with its other payloads,” Shivakumar said.

The spacecraft was successful in surviving a solar eclipse and a 15-day blackout in June last year. It was under solar conjunction from June 8 after it went behind the sun and away from the earth due to a solar eclipse, which occurs once in 26 months over the red planet. The spacecraft is still elliptically orbiting around Mars even 28 months after it entered the Martian orbit.

“As the orbiter still has 37kg of fuel, it will continue to orbit around Mars as long as it can. Though built for six months, it is still alive and going on and on,” Shivakumar added.

Though the orbiter’s communication system was disrupted by the sun’s corona (outer atmosphere) during the fortnight-long eclipse, it got activated and its scientific instruments resumed their activities after being on autonomous mode.

Orbiter takes 3.2 earth days or 72 hours, 51 minutes and 51 seconds to go around Mars once while orbiting at a distance of 500 km nearest and over 80,000 km at the farthest from its surface. (IANS)

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NASA Developing Technology For Human Missions to Moon, Mars

NASA said its series of crewed missions to Mars, planned to start in the 2030's and culminating in a surface landing, would be supported by the work it does on the Moon in the coming years

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NASA, Microsoft
NASA charts roadmap for human missions to Moon, Mars. Pixabay

Revealing its human explorations plans, NASA has told the US Congress that the agency is currently focusing on developing technologies and systems that enable a series of human and robotic lunar missions that are extensible to Mars.

The “National Space Exploration Campaign” that NASA submitted to the Congress on September 24 calls for human and robotic exploration missions to expand the frontiers of human experience and scientific discovery of the natural phenomena of Earth, other worlds and the cosmos, the US space agency said in a statement on Thursday.

The campaign has five strategic goals, including returning US astronauts to the surface of the Moon to demonstrating the capabilities required for human missions to Mars and other destinations.

NASA said it intends to transition from the current model of human space activities in low-Earth orbit to a model where the government is only one customer for commercial services.

The US space agency is building a plan for Americans to orbit the Moon starting in 2023, and land astronauts on the surface no later than the late 2020s.

NASA
The campaign has five strategic goals, including returning US astronauts to the surface of the Moon to demonstrating the capabilities required for human missions to Mars and other destinations. Flickr

A key component of establishing the first permanent American presence and infrastructure on and around the Moon is the Gateway, a lunar orbiting platform to host astronauts farther from Earth than ever before, NASA said.

Some elements of the Gateway already are under construction at NASA centers across the United States, including facilities in Ohio, Texas and Alabama, and at commercial partner facilities.

The Gateway will be assembled in space, incrementally, using the Orion spacecraft and SLS, as well as commercial launch vehicles. The first element, providing power and propulsion, will launch from Florida in 2022, NASA added in the statement.

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“The lunar surface will serve as a crucial training ground and technology demonstration test site where we will prepare for future human missions to Mars and other destinations,” NASA said, adding that by the late 2020s, a lunar lander capable of transporting crews and cargo will begin trips to the surface of the Moon.

NASA said its series of crewed missions to Mars, planned to start in the 2030’s and culminating in a surface landing, would be supported by the work it does on the Moon in the coming years. (IANS)