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NASA’s InSight Lands Safely on Mars

"We are looking forward to higher-definition pictures to confirm this preliminary assessment," said JPL's Bruce Banerdt, principal investigator of InSight

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US shutdown delays space missions but NASA not grounded: Report,

Though NASA’s InSight landed safely on the surface of Mars, but the spacecraft sits about 4 degrees tilted, the US space agency said.

Early last week, InSight touched down on a lava plain named Elysium Planitia on the Red Planet.

The vehicle sits tilted slightly in a shallow dust-and sand-filled impact crater known as a “hollow”. But, InSight has been engineered to operate on a surface with an inclination up to 15 degrees, NASA said in a statement on Friday.

“The science team had been hoping to land in a sandy area with few rocks since we chose the landing site, so we couldn’t be happier,” said InSight project manager Tom Hoffman at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California.

“There are no landing pads or runways on Mars, so coming down in an area that is basically a large sandbox without any large rocks should make instrument deployment easier and provide a great place for our mole to start burrowing,” he added.

Rockiness and slope grade factor into landing safety and are also important in determining whether InSight can succeed in its mission after landing.

According to the team, rocks and slopes could affect InSight’s ability to place its heat-flow probe — also known as “the mole” or HP3 — and ultra-sensitive seismometer, known as SEIS, on the surface of Mars.

NASA, Hubble, Keplar, asteroids
Early last week, InSight touched down on a lava plain named Elysium Planitia on the Red Planet. Flickr

But, a preliminary assessment of the photographs taken so far of the landing area suggests the area in the immediate vicinity of the lander is populated by only a few rocks.

Higher-resolution images are expected to begin arriving over the coming days, after InSight releases the clear-plastic dust covers that kept the optics of the spacecraft’s two cameras safe during landing.

“We are looking forward to higher-definition pictures to confirm this preliminary assessment,” said JPL’s Bruce Banerdt, principal investigator of InSight.

“If these few images – with resolution-reducing dust covers on – are accurate, it bodes well for both instrument deployment and the mole penetration of our subsurface heat-flow experiment.”

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 Data downlinked from the lander also indicate that during its first full day on Mars, the solar-powered InSight spacecraft generated more electrical power than any previous vehicle on the surface of Mars, NASA noted.

Launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on May 5, InSight will operate on the surface for one Martian year plus 40 Martian days, or sols — the equivalent of nearly two Earth years. InSight will study the deep interior of Mars to learn how all celestial bodies with rocky surfaces, including Earth and the Moon, formed. (IANS)

Next Story

This NASA-ISRO Mission Set to Crunch Key Space Data in Cloud

"Interest in space helps everybody. And there's a lot of commercial interest now. I think if there is a business to be made, commercial space will do that. When there is no business to be made that no one can make money, then the government should do that

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FILE - Tourists take pictures of a NASA sign at the Kennedy Space Center visitors complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida, April 14, 2010. VOA

By NISHANT ARORA

As the humankind aims for deeper space missions like Mars in couple of years from now, the time is to democratize humongous data available via NASA and space agencies like the Indian Space Research organization (ISRO) that can boost space research via next-gen Cloud computing, a top NASA-JPL official has stressed.

Scheduled for launch from Sriharikota launch facility in Andhra Pradesh in 2022, the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission is a joint project between the US and Indian space agencies to co-develop and launch a dual-frequency synthetic aperture radar on an Earth observation satellite. The satellite will be the first radar imaging one to use dual frequencies (L and S Band).

ISRO is likely to spend Rs 788 crore while JPL’s work share is expected to be over $800 million on this key project.

Using advanced radar imaging that will provide an unprecedented, detailed view of Earth, NISAR satellite is designed to observe and take measurements of some of the planet’s most complex processes — ecosystem disturbances, ice-sheet collapse and natural hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and landslides.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning-driven Cloud computing is certainly going to make the key difference once the satellite is up and running.

“NISAR is going to generate 100 terabytes per day. That’s a lot of data. It’s about a hundred times more than anything we’ve ever done together. It doesn’t fit in our data centres. So we have to put it in the Cloud,” Tom Soderstrom, Chief Innovation and Technology Officer, NASA JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), told IANS during an interaction here.

“The data needs to be worked on for the Indian space agency with several others including NASA. Having it in the Cloud gives us a good place to store, analyse and parse it right for the benefit of humankind,” Soderstrom added.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is a federally-funded research and development center in Pasadena, California.

“For our science data processing part, we discovered that we could use GPUs (graphic processing units) which were never done before. So, for NISAR, we tried GPUs and realized that it’s better, sometimes 100 times better, based on what you’re doing and overall four times faster,” Soderstrom explained.

ISRO
Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Chairman K. Sivan, left, and Junior Indian Minister for Department of Atomic Energy and Space Jitendra Singh address a news conference in New Delhi. VOA

The data collected from NISAR mission will reveal information about the evolution and state of Earth’s crust, help scientists better understand our planet’s processes and changing climate, and aid future resource and hazard management.

According to Soderstrom, now they can not only process data much faster but also switch between CPUs and GPUs, whichever is the cheapest.

“Cloud will help us process the data differently. Now, you have lots of interesting data for different spacecrafts. We can now apply machine learning to see trends — both in the science and telemetry data,” said the NASA-JPL executive.

At JPL, everyone has intelligent digital assistant Alexa at his or her desk, helping the staffers organise daily tasks while making sense of intrinsic data-sets.

“An intelligent digital assistant has two pieces to it. It knows who I am and also knows how long I’ve been there, meaning it knows my role. So it can tell me things that I need to know before I even know I need them. You can ask Alexa simple things like when is NISAR launching or how much data it is producing on a daily basis, or where my source data is coming from,” Soderstrom explained.

Alexa can tell you about the mission’s budget. It can tell you about the compute environment and “we can speak to it, type to it or text to it. We apply machine learning to make Alexa smarter and smarter over time”.

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Soderstrom is also bullish on space collaborations between countries to create a better world.

“Interest in space helps everybody. And there’s a lot of commercial interest now. I think if there is a business to be made, commercial space will do that. When there is no business to be made that no one can make money, then the government should do that.

“If space becomes the business, then let the business people do it like Elon Musk began by transporting things to the International Space Station (ISS). JPL, on the other hand, wants to go and do things that have never been done before. So if people can go to the moon and mine it, so be it. Once Mars becomes commonplace, we’re going to Jupiter’s moon Europa in search of life,” elaborated Soderstrom. (IANS)