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NASA’s Space Probe ‘Dawn’ To Return Due To Lack of Key Fuel

It has continued to gather high-resolution images, gamma ray and neutron spectra, infrared spectra and gravity data at Ceres.

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NASA, Hubble, Keplar, asteroids
Nasa's Opportunity rover might have 'died' on Mars. Flickr

After 11 years of gathering breathtaking imagery, and performing unprecedented feats of spacecraft engineering, Dawn — NASA’s space probe for the asteroid belt — is drawing to a close due to lack of a key fuel, the US space agency said.

Launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in September 2007, Dawn was majorly tasked to study two of the three known protoplanets of the asteroid belt Vesta and Ceres, which when combined, make up 45 per cent of the mass of the main asteroid belt.

The spacecraft is likely to run out of a key fuel knwon as hydrazine — which keeps it oriented and in communication with Earth — between September and October.

When that happens, Dawn will lose its ability to communicate with Earth, but will remain in a silent orbit around Ceres for decades, NASA said in a statement late on Thursday.

“Not only did this spacecraft unlock scientific secrets at these two small but significant worlds, it was also the first spacecraft to visit and orbit bodies at two extraterrestrial destinations during its mission,” said Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division at Headquarters in Washington.

Dawn NASA. asteroid
Dawn will lose its ability to communicate with Earth, but will remain in a silent orbit around Ceres for decades. (IANS)

 

From 2011 to 2012, the spacecraft swept over Vesta, capturing images of craters, canyons and even mountains of this planet-like world.

Then in 2015, Dawn’s cameras spotted a cryovolcano and mysterious bright spots on Ceres, which scientists later found might be salt deposits produced by the exposure of briny liquid from Ceres’ interior.

“Dawn has shown us alien worlds that, for two centuries, were just pinpoints of light amidst the stars. And it has produced these richly detailed, intimate portraits and revealed exotic, mysterious landscapes unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” said Marc Rayman, Dawn’s mission director and chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in California.

It has continued to gather high-resolution images, gamma ray and neutron spectra, infrared spectra and gravity data at Ceres.

Dawn NASA. asteroid
This colorful composite image from NASA’s Dawn mission shows the flow of material inside and outside a crater called Aelia on the giant asteroid Vesta. Flickr

 

Nearly once a day, Dawn will swoop over Ceres about 22 miles (35 kilometers) from its surface — only about three times the altitude of a passenger jet — gathering valuable data until it expends the last of the hydrazine that feeds thrusters controlling its orientation.

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Engineers have designed Dawn’s final orbit, around Ceres, which has no atmosphere, to ensure it will not crash for at least 20 years — and likely decades longer, NASA said.

According to Rayman, Dawn’s is “an inert, celestial monument to human creativity and ingenuity.”(IANS)

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NASA Explore Technology To Build Future Homes Made of Fungi For Moon, Mars

Upon arrival, by unfolding that basic structure and simply adding water, the fungi will be able to grow around that framework into a fully functional human habitat

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NASA
Keeping that in mind, the myco-architecture project out of NASA Ames Research Center in California is prototyping technologies that could "grow" habitats on the Moon, Mars and beyond out of life - specifically, fungi and the unseen underground threads that make up the main part of the fungus, known as mycelia. Pixabay

Instead of habitats made of metal and glass, NASA is exploring technologies that could grow structures out of fungi to become our future homes in the stars, and perhaps lead to more sustainable ways of living on Earth as well.

Creating a livable home for future astronauts means doing more than growing a roof to go over their heads. Astronauts will need to have all their basic needs met, just like on Earth, and face the additional challenges of living in a harsh environment on a distant world, the US space agency said in a statement.

Keeping that in mind, the myco-architecture project out of NASA’s Ames Research Center in California is prototyping technologies that could “grow” habitats on the Moon, Mars and beyond out of life – specifically, fungi and the unseen underground threads that make up the main part of the fungus, known as mycelia.

“Right now, traditional habitat designs for Mars are like a turtle – carrying our homes with us on our backs – a reliable plan, but with huge energy costs,” said Lynn Rothschild, the principal investigator on the early-stage project.

“Instead, we can harness mycelia (vegetative part of a fungus) to grow these habitats ourselves when we get there”. Ultimately, the project envisions a future where human explorers can bring a compact habitat built out of a lightweight material with dormant fungi that will last on long journeys to places like Mars.

Upon arrival, by unfolding that basic structure and simply adding water, the fungi will be able to grow around that framework into a fully functional human habitat – all while being safely contained within the habitat to avoid contaminating the Martian environment.

Mycelia are tiny threads that build complex structures with extreme precision, networking out into larger structures like mushrooms.
With the right conditions, they can be coaxed into making new structures – ranging from a material similar to leather to the building blocks for a Mars habitat.

NASA
Instead of habitats made of metal and glass, NASA is exploring technologies that could grow structures out of fungi to become our future homes in the stars, and perhaps lead to more sustainable ways of living on Earth as well. Pixabay

That last layer of mycelia is what organically grows into a sturdy home, first activated to grow in a contained environment and then baked to kill the lifeforms – providing structural integrity and ensuring no life contaminates Mars and any microbial life that’s already there. Even if some mycelia somehow escaped, they will be genetically altered to be incapable of surviving outside the habitat, said NASA.

Mycelia could also be used for water filtration and biomining systems that can extract minerals from wastewater – another project active in Rothschild’s lab – as well as bioluminescent lighting, humidity regulation and even self-generating habitats capable of healing themselves. And with about 40% of carbon emissions on Earth coming from construction, there’s an ever-increasing need for sustainable and affordable housing here as well.

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The harsh environments of the Moon and Mars will require new ways of living – growing homes instead of building them, mining minerals from sewage instead of rock. “But by turning to the elegant systems of our own natural world, we can design solutions that are green and sustainable. Whether on distant worlds or our own ever-changing Earth, fungi could be what brings us boldly into the future,” said NASA. (IANS)