Exploring Mars Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow 

public domain image of Mars from space, Going to Mars book reviews, lynettemburrows.com

I posted a series of book reviews titled, Going to Mars Word-by-Word, in September 2012. It was a fun exploration of the portrayal of Mars in classic to modern science fiction. In real life, we’ve been exploring Mars in new and better ways since then.

The number of launches to Mars is too long, international and complex for a single post by a space enthusiast with limited aerospace knowledge. We’ll focus on a few of the NASA missions. 

Odyssey

Mars Odyssey launched on April 7, 2001 and arrived on October 24, 2001. It is an orbiting spacecraft that studies Mars’ surface. Its mission is to detect water, shallow buried ice, and to study the radiation environment. 

It is still operational.

Spirit and Opportunity

Spirit was a Mars Exploration Rover launched by NASA on June 10, 2003. Its twin, Opportunity, launched on July 7, 2003. About the size of a golf cart, they carried the same scientific instruments. They landed on opposite sides of the planet on January 4 and 25 (UTC), 2004. 

They searched for and characterized a wide range of rocks and soil for clues about past water activity on Mars. Scientists planned for the rovers to drive up to 40 meters (approx. 44 yards) a day for up to 1 kilometer (about three quarters of a mile). 

These mechanical geologists exceeded their creators’s wildest dreams. Spirit concluded its mission in 2010. Opportunity worked for almost fifteen years. Scientists lost communication with it on June 10, 2018, during a planet-wide dust storm. It drove 45.16 kilometers (28.05 miles). The findings of the two rovers showed scientists that a very long time ago, Mars had salty seas and may have looked a lot like water on Earth.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) blasted off in 2005. On March 10, 2006, the orbiter reached Mars. Its scientific instruments studied the planet’s surface from orbit. The mission was to seek the history of water on Mars with extreme close-up photography. 

The MRO’s last communication came on December 31, 2010. 

Mars Phoenix

The Phoenix Mars Lander launched on August 4, 2007 (UTC) and landed on May 25, 2008. It studied the Martian arctic, searched for evidence of a habitable zone, and assessed the biological potential of the ice-soil boundary.  

On July 31, 2008, NASA’s Phoenix Mars lander discovered water ice on Mars. The sample contained the same elements as water on earth. Elements we believe are important components of the building blocks for life. 

The Lander also observed snow falling from the clouds and found salts and minerals that suggest Mars ice had thawed in the distant past. The lander also exceeded its life expectancy. After five months, instead of 90 days, its mission ended November 2, 2008. NASA lost contact with the lander completely in 2010.

Curiosity

Artist's rendition of Curiosity Rover exploring Mars shows a collection of metal boxes on a platform with four wide all terrain wheels and a camera on a stalk above the over and a robotic arm extended to rock in front of the rover.

Mars Science Laboratory, also known as Curiosity, is twice as long and three times as heavy as the twins, Spirit and Opportunity. Launched on November 26, 2011, it landed on Mars on August 6, 2012 using precision landing techniques similar to the way the Space shuttle landings on Earth. Its landing inspired me to launch my blog series, Going to Mars Word-by-word.

This rover’s mission was to study martian rocks and soil in greater detail to understand the geologic processes that formed them and to study the atmosphere. Its design and power supply gave it an expected lifetime of a full martian year (687 Earth days.)

As of June 2022, Curiosity is still active.

Exploring Mars Today

According to NASA, there are five missions exploring Mars at present: Perseverance, MAVEN, Ingenuity, InSight, and Curiosity.

Other countries and space agencies have current missions on Mars as well. Some of these Mars missions are multiple nations and space agencies’s cooperative efforts.

For an international list of missions to Mars, see Space.com’s post or its brief history of Mars missions.

Going to Mars Word-by-Word

Illustration of a spaceship approaching the red planet, Mars, by Robert W. Burrows © 2013 for the post Exploring Mars on author Lynette M. Burrows' website

There are eight book reviews in this series. The first one reviews A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs and the last one is Mars Crossing by Geoffrey Landis. Wouldn’t itl be fun to explore the series to see if new information gained from exploring Mars changes my review?

What new information have you learned about Mars in the past ten years?

Image Credits

Middle image Curiosity Rover, NASA/JPL-Caltech, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Last image by Robert W. Burrows © 2013.

NASA Spinoff Tech You Have Used

Did you know that one degree celsius difference in temperature between your right and left leg means you may have sensory nerve damage in your lower back? Did you know a hot spot on your skin, or inside your body, could mean an infection or an inflammatory disease? Detected cold spots often mean poor blood supply. How do we determine these temperatures? Infrared technologies owe much to NASA sponsored research. Yes, we’re talking about more NASA spinoff technology. This is spinoff tech you have used in your home or in a medical facility.

image of the moon NASA spinoff tech you have used could have come from the Apollo Lunar Landing Program

What is Infrared

Infrared Radiation (IR) is invisible to most humans. Also infrared light, it is electromagnetic radiation (EMR) with wavelengths longer than those of visible light.

German-born British astronomer, Sir William Herschel discovered infrared radiation on February 11, 1800 when he observed its effect on a thermometer.

The first experiments with infrared occurred during WWII. German engineers attempted to create heat-seeking missiles and proximity fuses. The war ended before they could.

Many countries experimented with thermal detectors of IR. Thermocouples and bolometers are two such devices still used today.

NASA developed IR scanners for detecting objects in space. That led to an entire array of other uses for infrared detection.

Ear or Aural Thermometers

image of infrared or ear thermometer, a NASA spinoff tech

With concerns about the pandemic and fevers, have you used one of these or had one used on you recently?

Diatek Corporation of San Diego, California adapted infrared sensor technology developed for space missions into an ear thermometer. Within two seconds it measures heat radiated from an eardrum. It save nurses time and stress on their wrists (from shaking down thermometers—ask me how I know!)

Thermography

Thermography is a test that uses an infrared camera to detect heat patterns and blood flow in body tissues.

There are thermography cameras, videos, and scanners.

With those of these devices your medical team can detect restricted blood flow because of narrowing of the blood vessels or a blood clot. The device also detects inflammatory diseases and some cancers.

Body Imaging

An image of an MRI machine, another NASA spinoff tech

In the mid-1960s, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) pioneered digital signal processing (DSP) for the Apollo Lunar Landing program. DSP is used in advanced body imaging techniques including computer-aided tomography, also known as CT and CATScan, and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

 NASA Spinoffs You Have Used

Have you used an ear thermometer? Had a thermal video or thermography done? Perhaps you’ve had an MRI or CATScan. There is undoubtedly NASA Spinoff tech you have used in your home or elsewhere. Did you know these things were spinoffs? 

Is There an Awesome NASA Spinoff in Your Home?

Have you heard of NASA Spinoffs? When Congress established NASA in 1958, it required the space agency to share information about its discoveries. They also gave NASA the go-ahead to patent inventions and help businesses develop commercial uses for them. The results are amazing. Thousands of devices started because of research for space vehicles or exploration. Is there an awesome NASA Spinoff in your home? Maybe.

Image of the Hubble Telescope in space one of the many satellites NASA tracks and led to the possibility of awesome NASA spinoffs being in your home.

Spinoffs

Since 1976, NASA has published Spinoff https://spinoff.nasa.gov/ a publication that features an average of 50 of these technologies. Technologies that range from ear thermometers to Ventricular assist devices to water purification systems and much more.

Research for cutting-edge technologies often takes years and many, many dollars. Small businesses often could invest the time but rarely had the funds.

In the 1980s, the Small Business Administration began a funding project to promote development of innovative technologies. Their idea was that both government agencies and private industry would benefit from the research and development.

Small businesses apply for funds, then develop technology that’s of interest to NASA. The small company can then use what they learned to develop products for their company. It’s a win-win. And boy have we won some cool tech. One such awesome piece of technology (that you won’t find in your home) is FINDER.

Detecting Heartbeats Remotely

NASA often must deal with weak signals. Slight movements of a satellite might result from gravity fluctuations. NASA needs to know about those movements to keep the satellite in the proper position and to understand the effects of gravity.

In the early 2000s,  the Department of Homeland Security’s First Responders Group’s (FRG) R-Tech division wanted to know if the system NASA used could remotely detect human vital signs. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) developed FINDER (Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response). FINDER picks out faint but correlating movements of human breathing and heartbeats.

R4 Inc., in Edgewood Maryland licensed FINDER. And spent the next couple of years developing it for first responders to use in real-world situations.

Real-World Test

In April 2015, Nepal suffered severe damage from a 7.8-magnitude earthquake. One of R4’s founders took two FINDER prototypes to Nepal. The devices found four victims trapped under as much as ten feet of rubble. All four men survived.

The quake destroyed thousands of buildings, caused landslides, and avalanches. Approximately 9,000 people died, 22,000 were injured, and 3.5 million left homeless.

Portable & Significant

The technology, more formally known as laser Doppler vibrometer, is a portable, suitcase-sized device now manufactured by SpecOps Group and R4.

Trajectory Magazine

The significance of this device is that it only detects people who are alive. Search and rescue dogs locate the living and dead. This device saves time, allows rescuers to focus on the living, and allows them evaluate the heart rate and prioritize which person needs rescued first.

As of 2017, FINDER had been available commercially for about three years. In that time, they had sold 166 units. They sold many to international urban search and rescue teams. 

NASA More Than A Space Agency

NASA’s mandate to help business create and use technology is one more reason to support NASA. Although slow-to-start, NASA has become an advocate for children and women and minorities to get education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

More Awesome Spinoffs To Come

Had you heard about NASA Spinoffs before? FINDER is only one of the amazing things developed from technologies used in or needed for space exploration. Is there an awesome NASA Spinoff in your home? Stay tuned for future posts!.

An Inspiring Woman In Space And On The Ground

From last week’s strong Mohawk woman of the revolutionary war era we’re coming forward hundreds of years. This week’s Women’s History Month spotlight is on an inspiring woman in space and on the ground, Ellen Ochoa. Ms. Ochoa, a Hispanic-American Woman, made history in our lifetime. Engineer, inventor, astronaut, and administrator, she is a champion of and for women.

Dr. Ellen Ochoa, Director of Johnson Space Center and an inspiring woman
Official portrait of JSC Center Director Ellen Ochoa. Photographer: Bill Stafford
Public Domain

“We do a disservice to society as a whole, if we are not providing the same kinds of encouragement to women to contribute as we do to men.”

– Ellen Ochoa

Early Life

Ochoa’s paternal grandparents immigrated from Sonora, Mexico to Arizona. They later moved to California where Ochoa’s father, Joseph, was born. Ellen Ochoa was born May 10, 1958 in Los Angeles, California, U.S. Her parents were Joseph and Rosanne (née Deardorf) Ochoa.

She loved math and science in school, even if other kids looked down on her for that. She played the flute and wanted to be a musician.

Like many of us, she watched the moon landing. She was eleven. It never occurred to her to want to be an astronaut. There were no female astronauts then.

Astronaut descending ladder for Apollo 11 moon landing
Photo credit: NASA

Education

Ochoa’s parents divorced while she attended  Grossmont High School in El Cajon. She graduated from San Diego State University, Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor of science degree in physics in 1980. She earned a master’s degree in science in 1981 at  Stanford Department of Electrical Engineering. And in 1985, she achieved her doctorate at Stanford.

“I know myself how important it is to see somebody else doing that someone that maybe you have something in common with or can relate to in some way.”

Ellen Ochoa

Inspired

Ochoa was 25 when she saw NASA’s first female astronaut in space, Sally Ride. Ms. Ride was an engineer. And she’d studied at Stanford. Ochoa decided she wanted to be an astronaut, too. They rejected her first application. So she got another job and kept working toward her goal.

Inherently, women and men are of equal worth, have equal amounts to contribute and we absolutely need to make sure that we are getting those contributions from women.

Ellen Ochoa

Inventor

Ochoa joined NASA in 1988 as a research engineer at Ames Research Center At Ames, she led a research group. They worked on optical systems for automated space exploration. She patented an optical system to detect defects in a repeating pattern. And she is a co-inventor on three additional patents.

First Hispanic Woman In Space

Image of Astronaut Dr. Ellen Ochoa, an inspiring woman

Selected by NASA in January 1991, Ochoa became an astronaut in July of that year. She served on a nine-day mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1993 and became the first Hispanic woman in space.

Astronaut Ochoa playing the flute in space

A mission specialist on STS-56 (1993), she was also a payload commander on STS-66. Then she was a mission specialist and flight engineer on STS-96 and STS-110 in 2002.

A member of the Presidential Commission on the Celebration of Women in American History, Ochoa carried a special item on STS-96. Above, mission specialists (l.-r.) Ellen Ochoa, Julie Payette and Tamara Jernigan float together in the International Space Station with the gold, white and purple suffrage banner from the National Woman’s Party. This actual banner was used early in the century (around 1916-1920) as women fought for the right to vote. 

Ochoa logged more than 950 hours in space. And if that’s not an inspiring woman…

Another First

Ochoa retired from spacecraft operations and became Deputy Director of the Johnson Space Center. On January 1, 2013, Ochoa became the first Hispanic and second female director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Awards and Recognitions

Ochoa has won many awards. She’s received NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal, the Outstanding Leadership Medal, and four Space Flight Medals.

Ochoa’s Advice

“You don’t have to wait until you’re older to make an impact on other people’s lives.” Ellen Ochoa

“If you are interested in something, you still need to learn other things,” she said. “Try hard if you want to do it.”

Ochoa to the Scholastic Kids Press Corps

More About Ochoa

Ochoa retired from federal service as Director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in 2018. She became vice chair of the National Science Board, which runs the National Science Foundation.  

Besides being an astronaut, researcher, and engineer, Ochoa is a classical flutist.

She lives in Texas with her husband, Coe Fulmer Miles, and their two children. 

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this brief look at an inspiring woman in space and on the ground, Dr. Ellen Ochoa. You might want to read about 30 other inspiring women or a spy who may not have been one. Or sign up for my newsletter for information on my next novel featuring strong women characters.

Going to Mars Word-by-Word: the Landis Way

The next stop in our Going to Mars Word-by-Word tour is Mars Crossing by Geoffrey Landis. Published by Tor Books in 2000, this is the first novel by an experienced and award-winning short story author. It won a nomination for a Nebula and won the Locus Award for best first novel in 2001.  Hop aboard for a gritty, near-future science fiction tale of the exploration of Mars the Landis way.Lynette M. Burrows, Science Fiction Author; Lynette M. Burrows, action-suspense science fiction

 

WHAT IT’S ABOUT

By 2028, two missions have been sent to Mars. Both the Brazilian and the American expeditions met with catastrophe and death on the Red Planet. A NASA-private venture hopes the third mission to Mars will be the first to return. Their plan relies on a return vessel sent to Mars years earlier, capable of manufacturing fuel for the return trip from the Martian atmosphere.

The mixed-gender, multi-national crew of six lands on Mars successfully but their celebrations are short-lived. A catastrophic failure kills one of the crew and causes irreparable damage to the return ship. And there is no hope of a rescue mission coming from Earth.

As a last-ditch effort to survive, they set out to cross 4,000 miles of Mars to the north pole in the hopes that the abandoned Brazilian vehicle will be operational. Limited supplies and equipment, alien terrain, the ever-present dust are only a portion of the hazards they face. The Brazilian vehicle can only carry two.

Using alternating viewpoints and flashbacks, Landis slowly reveals each surviving astronaut has a painful secret from the past. The isolation and desperation of their trek, combined with their secrets, create tension and intrigue on every step of their journey. And one of the crew is willing to commit murder to ensure a place on the return trip to Earth.

HOW THE RED PLANET IS PORTRAYED

Mars Crossing conveys an authentic, fully-realized Martian landscape. The terrain crossed in the story includes familiar landmarks and a few surprises. Landis describes a place of beautiful desolation and isolation, a harsh and unforgiving land. It feels accurate. It feels real. And it’s no wonder, the author is in the know about real Mars exploration.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Geoffrey Landis wears many hats: He has published more than 80 short stories, nearly 50 poems, one one science fiction novel, and more than 400 scientific papers. His short fiction has numerous awards including a Nebula and two Hugos. See his bibliography here.

Landis can write authentically about Mars because he is a physicist at the NASA John Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. He is a member of the science team of the Mars Exploration Rovers mission that landed rovers Spirit and Opportunity on Mars. Opportunity is still working after nine years! Landis also worked on the Mars Pathfinder project. You can read more about the projects he has and is working on here.

CONCLUSION

For me, Mars Crossing has a nice balance of characterization, science, and drama. The novel has been compared to the greats of the field. The most fascinating part of it was the intriguing questions it posed about sending humans on  interplanetary journeys:

Would you take a trip to Mars knowing that the two previous missions failed?

How would you decide who could go home and who would face certain death on the Red Planet?

What would you be willing to do to secure a seat on the trip home?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Have you read Mars Crossing? Won’t you share what you thought of it? If you haven’t read it, will you?

This is the final novel I had planned for this blog series. Yet there are many more novels I could explore. Tell me, would you like this series to continue?  If so, what novels or stories about Mars would you like for me to cover over the next few months?