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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 charts roadmap for human missions to Moon, Mars. Pixabay
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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)

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Habitability Of Surrounding Planets Affected By Super Flares Of Red Dwarfs: NASA

Red dwarfs -- especially young red dwarfs -- are active stars, producing flares blast out energy

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Superflares from red dwarfs may affect habitability of planets Pixabay

Using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have found that violent outbursts, or superflares, from red dwarf stars could affect the habitability of any planets orbiting it.

Young low-mass stars flare much more frequently and more energetically than old stars and middle-age stars like our Sun, the findings of the study published in the Astrophysical Journal showed.

The findings are based on observations of the flare frequency of 12 red dwarfs.

Hubble is observing such stars through a large programme called HAZMAT — Habitable Zones and M dwarf Activity across Time.

“M dwarf” is the astronomical term for a red dwarf star — the smallest, most abundant and longest-living type of star in our galaxy.

Hubble Telescope. red dwarf
Hubble Telescope. Flickr

The HAZMAT programme is an ultraviolet survey of red dwarfs at three different ages — young, intermediate, and old.

“The goal of the HAZMAT programme is to help understand the habitability of planets around low-mass stars,” explained the programme’s principal investigator, Evgenya Shkolnik from Arizona State University.

“These low-mass stars are critically important in understanding planetary atmospheres,” Shkolnik added.

Stellar flares from red dwarfs are particularly bright in ultraviolet wavelengths, compared with Sun-like stars.

Red dwarf  planet
Artist’s view of planets transiting red dwarf star in TRAPPIST-1 system. Flickr

Hubble’s ultraviolet sensitivity makes the telescope very valuable for observing these flares.

The flares are believed to be powered by intense magnetic fields that get tangled by the roiling motions of the stellar atmosphere.

When the tangling gets too intense, the fields break and reconnect, unleashing tremendous amounts of energy.

The team found that the flares from the youngest red dwarfs they surveyed — just about 40 million years old — are 100 to 1,000 times more energetic than when the stars are older.

This younger age is when terrestrial planets are forming around their stars.

Red dwarf
This illustration shows a red dwarf star orbited by a hypothetical exoplanet. NASA

About three-quarters of the stars in our Milky Way galaxy are red dwarfs. Most of the galaxy’s “habitable-zone” planets — planets orbiting their stars at a distance where temperatures are moderate enough for liquid water to exist on their surface — orbit red dwarfs.

In fact, the nearest star to our Sun, a red dwarf named Proxima Centauri, has an Earth-size planet in its habitable zone.

Also Read: NASA Plans For Science Payloads For Delivery To Moon

However, red dwarfs — especially young red dwarfs — are active stars, producing flares that could blast out so much energy that it disrupts and possibly strips off the atmospheres of these fledgling planets. (IANS)