from the world's big
Help future Mars rovers better navigate the red planet's treacherous terrain.
- NASA just announced its AI4Mars project, which lets you can take a virtually simulated tour around Mars via the Curiosity rover.
- The simulation project is calling on users to help the rover better classify the planet's sometimes dangerous terrain by labeling images taken by Curiosity.
- This project gives you a chance to participate in enhancing the new machine learning approaches for exploring Mars and unveiling its secrets.
Improving future rovers<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="152ec3e534f89608151837f90ad46b21"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/8W-KMiqKAFw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Designed by a team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the simulation project is calling on users to help the rover better classify the planet's sometimes dangerous terrain. Your task is to identify and label images taken by Curiosity from Mars' surface for scientists to use. The crowdsourced data will help train a future rover to more safely navigate obstacles like bedrocks or sand.</p><p>Mars rovers have an unfortunate habit of getting stuck in sand traps, and sometimes never getting out, as was the tragic fate of NASA's <a href="https://www.space.com/18766-spirit-rover.html" target="_blank">Spirit Rover</a>. The project hopes to make future rovers similar to self-driving vehicles that know "where it's safe to drive, land, sleep and hibernate," <a href="https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/hiro-ono/ai4mars/about/research" target="_blank">according to the website</a>. </p>
How it works<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="36e003afeadd9aab9186ad3cf6b05521"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/LJXQ0-a9IJE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>When you open the classification tool on the website, you're instructed to select different surface types — sand, soil, bedrock, and big rocks — using a polygon drawing tool designated for the type of terrain you are labeling. After you've identified everything in the image, you click "Done" to move on to the next photo and do it again. If you aren't sure about an object, the website asks you to leave it unlabeled. It also asks you not to overlap the polygons. If you get confused, click "Tutorial" to open a popover and a discussion board where you can ask questions.</p><p>You won't get to virtually control Curiosity around the surface of Mars like a video game. But this project does give you a chance to get an intimate look at the planet's surface and enhance the new machine learning approaches for exploring mars and unveiling its secrets. </p><p>Similar projects calling on volunteers to help with scientific research can be found at <a href="https://www.zooniverse.org/projects" target="_blank">Zooniverse's project page</a>. For example, you can help researchers find asteroids in images from the Hubble Space Telescope, or help Seismologists by listening for Earthquakes using technology that makes seismic waves audible. </p>
The planet that we are searching for is a little bit smaller and closer than we originally thought.
- Years ago, California Institute of Technology professor Konstantin Batygin was inspired to embark on a journey of discovering what lurked beyond Neptune. What he and his collaborator discovered was a strange field of debris.
- This field of debris exhibited a clustering of orbits, and something was keeping these orbits confined. The only plausible source would be the gravitational pull of an extra planet—Planet Nine.
- While Planet Nine hasn't been found directly, the pieces of the puzzle are coming together. And Batygin is confident we'll return to a nine-planet solar system within the next decade.
Here's what the world's space agencies hope to learn about the Red planet.
- Three nations have plans to send unmanned missions to Mars in summer 2020: the United States, China, and the United Arab Emirates.
- SpaceX has discussed executing both manned and unmanned Mars missions this decade, though the company describes these dates as "aspirational."
- Each space agency plans to study a different aspect of Mars, though searching for signs of past life is a common theme among the missions.
NASA<p>This summer, NASA plans to send an unmanned rover to the Red planet for its Mars 2020 mission. A key objective of this mission, which will include deploying a small autonomous helicopter, is to find evidence of extraterrestrial life, not only by "seeking signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, but also searching for signs of past microbial life itself," NASA writes on its <a href="https://mars.nasa.gov/mars-exploration/missions/mars2020/" target="_blank">website</a>.</p><p>But the agency doesn't plan to send people to Mars anytime soon. NASA first wants to return humans to the moon, aiming to "land astronauts on the surface no later than the late 2020s." The agency has no official timeline for putting humans on Mars, and a <a href="https://spacenews.com/independent-report-concludes-2033-human-mars-mission-is-not-feasible/" target="_blank">2019 report</a> suggested the late 2030s is the earliest it could do so.</p>
Mars Exploration Rover – A
China<p>In 2019, China successfully landed a <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/china-lands-craft-on-far-side-of-moon" target="_blank">rover on the dark side of the moon</a>. This summer, the nation has its sights on an even more ambitious goal: sending an orbiter, lander, and rover to Mars in one trip, something no nation has done before. The mission is called Tianwen-1, meaning "questions to heaven," and its aim is to search for pockets of water below the Martian surface, while also looking for signs of ancient life. </p>
United Arab Emirates<p>In July 2020, the U.A.E.'s <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammed_bin_Rashid_Space_Centre" target="_blank">Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre</a> plans to launch the Hope Mars Mission, which includes a probe that would orbit Mars and study its weather patterns. For the U.A.E., the mission is designed to push the country toward a knowledge-based economy. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Going to Mars was not the main objective," Omran Sharaf, mission lead for the Hope spacecraft, which is also known as the Emirates Mars Mission, told <a href="https://www.space.com/united-arab-emirates-hope-mars-mission.html" target="_blank">Space.com</a>. "It's a means for a bigger goal: to expedite the development in our educational sector, academic sector."</p><p>The Hope Mars Mission, if successful, would be the first mission to Mars by any West Asian, Arab, or Muslim-majority country. </p>
Japan<p>In 2024, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) plans to launch a uniquely bold interplanetary mission that will involve sending a probe to orbit Mars, landing on the Martian moon Phobos, collecting surface samples, and then returning those samples to Earth in 2029. JAXA <a href="http://mmx.isas.jaxa.jp/en/" target="_blank">says</a> the mission has two main objectives:</p><ul><li>To investigate whether the Martian moons are captured asteroids or fragments that coalesced after a giant impact with Mars, and to acquire new knowledge on the formation process of Mars and the terrestrial planets.</li><li>To clarify the mechanisms controlling the surface evolution of the Martian moons and Mars, and to gain new insights into the history of the Mars Sphere, including that of the Martian moons.</li></ul>
An improved, color enhanced version of the 360-degree Gallery Pan taken by Mars Pathfinder in 1997.
SpaceX<p>Elon Musk's aerospace company has its eyes on two Mars voyages: a cargo-only mission in 2022, and a human mission in 2024. The second mission would involve building a propellant depot and preparing a site for future crewed flights. But the company describes these dates as "aspirational." After all, SpaceX plans to use its Starship spacecraft to send Japanese billionaire Yukazu Maezawa and a handful of artists into lunar orbit in 2023. Musk has <a href="https://www.inverse.com/article/51291-spacex-here-s-the-timeline-for-getting-to-mars-and-starting-a-colony" target="_blank">suggested</a> this trip would be Starship's first mission.</p>
Russia and the European Union<p>Roscosmos and the European Space Agency plan to send a Russian lander and a European rover to the Martian surface in 2022 as part of <a href="http://www.esa.int/Science_Exploration/Human_and_Robotic_Exploration/Exploration/ExoMars" target="_blank">ExoMars</a>. The mission aims to find out if there has ever been life on Mars, and also to understand the history of water on the planet. It's part of a long-term Mars project that began in 2016. This second phase was initially planned for 2020, but due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, the space agencies decided to postpone the mission by two years.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><span></span>"We want to make ourselves 100% sure of a successful mission. We cannot allow ourselves any margin of error. More verification activities will ensure a safe trip and the best scientific results on Mars," <a href="http://www.esa.int/Science_Exploration/Human_and_Robotic_Exploration/Exploration/ExoMars/ExoMars_to_take_off_for_the_Red_Planet_in_2022" target="_blank">said</a> ESA Director General Jan Wörner.</p>
India<p><a href="https://www.isro.gov.in/Spacecraft/mars-orbiter-mission-spacecraft" target="_blank">In 2014</a>, the Indian Space Research Organization executed its first interplanetary trip with its Mars Orbiter Mission. It marked the first time an Asian nation reached Martian orbit, and also the first time a nation successfully reached the Red planet on its maiden voyage. India has plans for a follow-up Mars Orbiter Mission 2, but it remains unclear when that will occur, and what the mission will entail. Some <a href="https://astrotalkuk.org/episode-90-an-update-on-isros-activities-with-s-somanath-and-r-umamaheshwaran/" target="_blank">reports</a> suggest the mission will include a rover and lander, in addition to an orbiter.</p>
The lessons we've learned here on Earth will affect how we govern a new world.
- The colonization of Mars is a real possibility for the not-too-distant future. A big question that author Michael Shermer and others are considering is how what we know about government on Earth will shape the politics of a new planet.
- Favored by Elon Musk, Shermer shoots down the suggestion of a direct democracy because he says that historically it does not work. Direct democracy can lead to a "mob mentality" where hysterics overtake logic, leading to witch hunts and other bad consequences.
- Shermer explains why he thinks the government on Mars will, in many ways, mirror what we know as a representative democracy. There will be constitutional republic and a Bill of Rights that determines what people can and can't do.
Astronaut Garrett Reisman talks NASA, SpaceX, and where we're headed next.
- 2020 is off to rocky start, but there are some exciting things happening on the space travel front.
- Private companies like SpaceX and Boeing have partnered with NASA to get American spacecrafts into space, back to the moon, and onwards to Mars.
- "I think in a hundred years first of all we're going to be celebrating 2020, so 2120 get ready for a big party," says astronaut Garrett Reisman.