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NASA Looks To Volcanic Rocks As Target For Next Mars Rover

samzenpus posted about 4 months ago | from the get-cracking dept.

Mars 33

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "At a 3-day workshop, planetary scientists advocated for igneous rock–bearing landing sites as high-priority targets for NASA's next Mars rover mission, scheduled to launch in 2020. The $1.5 billion rover, a near-copy of the Curiosity rover, will collect about 30 samples of rock and soil for eventual return to Earth. Mineralized fracture zones at such sties may have been home at one time hydrothermal systems, with hot, fluid-filled fractures. Hydrothermal sites on Earth harbor ecosystems with extremophilic microbes."

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can we think bigger picture? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47039111)

Collecting rocks on mars is nice and all, but can we work towards bigger goals such as establishing a permenant base somewhere not on earth? Learning about rocks on mars may help us learn about planet formations but can't we do that once we have a foothold there?

Re:can we think bigger picture? (1)

qbast (1265706) | about 3 months ago | (#47039137)

Like where? There is no other habitable planet around and pouring bazilion dollars just to get dozen people living in a dome does not make much sense.

Re:can we think bigger picture? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47039623)

Because we don't have FTL capabilities and Mars is all we have as a possible planet we can terraform and expand to. And because it would be AWESOME.

Re:can we think bigger picture? (2)

Baron von Daren (1253850) | about 3 months ago | (#47040385)

Sure, it would be awesome and in useful, in many ways, to have a semi-permanent base on Mars. It probably should be a long term goal, but not a current focus.

Terraforming itself is unrealistic even as an extremely long term goal. Who knows what the technology will render possible, but Mars isn’t a great candidate for terraforming. Its gravitational field is weak and it has little or no magnetosphere to name a few things; both of these factors greatly degrade its capacity to maintain a substantial atmosphere. Even if Mars were a near perfect candidate, the cost, required will, and logistical/technological challenges would be staggering. We can barely make a positive dent in Earth’s biosphere (many would argue we've only had a negative impact despite the fact that our lives depend on it); and we only have vague ideas about how to begin building any kind of atmosphere on Mars, much less an atmosphere conducive to Earth-like biodiversity. An Earth-like atmosphere is just one facet...and so on. It would only be a realistic endeavor for a vastly more technologically advanced humanity, not to mention one that otherwise had its shit together.

I've always held we are more likely to visualize ourselves before we terraform another planet.

Re:can we think bigger picture? (2)

tomhath (637240) | about 3 months ago | (#47039269)

What will they do once a base is established that a rover can't do?

Re:can we think bigger picture? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47039417)

Suffocate and/or starve.

Re:can we think bigger picture? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47039271)

Collecting rocks on mars is nice and all, but can we work towards bigger goals such as establishing a permenant base somewhere not on earth? Learning about rocks on mars may help us learn about planet formations but can't we do that once we have a foothold there?

The $1.5 billion rover, a near-copy of the Curiosity rover, will collect about 30 samples of rock and soil for eventual return to Earth.

Or we could spend that money on something worthwhile. This is just stupid, I was all into space and all that in my youth, but when you get older you realize what an eminence waste of money and time this is. Is this going cure global changes? Is ti going to cure the Earth of disease? NO.

Or we could be stacking that money up in hopes of light speed travel to exoplanets!

And now I will sit back and watch this be -5...

Re:can we think bigger picture? (1)

WhiteZook (3647835) | about 3 months ago | (#47039367)

Can you suggest a $1.5 billion project that would cure the Earth of disease or fix other global issues ?

Re:can we think bigger picture? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47039781)

Forcibly vaccinating people like Jenny McCarthy with an ounce of lead is an entirely economical solution to improving herd immunity.

Re:can we think bigger picture? (1)

citizenr (871508) | about 3 months ago | (#47041237)

$1.5 billion should be just enough to kill all the lawyers.

Re:can we think bigger picture? (4, Interesting)

Tuidjy (321055) | about 3 months ago | (#47039467)

Well, your post does deserve a counter-argument, if not a down-vote, and not for the misused vocabulary, either.

First of all, I can't really get very upset over 1.5 billions, because the US government is spending a lot more on things I like a lot less. But we do have a set of laws that govern how money is collected, allocated and spent, and if there's a country that does better by me on all three, I'm not aware of it.

Second, I actually personally know two different groups of people who hope to hitch their projects on this horse. One of their projects has immediate applications to alleviating the frequency shortage that the US is experiencing, and the other may end up with some interesting applications for jet engines, which may eventually trickle down to civilian aviation. So just because the rover is a near copy, there's no reason to expect that there are not a number of significant improvements along for the ride (or on the ground)

Third, space exploration has had unexpected benefits, and the thing about unexpected benefits is that you can't tell what they are before hand. This goes for all branches of research, and if we had anyone who does not like a specific 'useless' project stop it, you'd be probably arguing that urine is perfectly fine for tanning hides, thank you.

And fourth, the people who are going to get those 1.5 billions are scientists/engineers/technicians in the existing facilities of entities which already have their claws deep inside the hide of the US government. This money will go on buying votes and influence, one way or another - best politicians money can buy, and all that. So it may as well go to Boeing/JPL for a flight to Mars, rather to be spent of 'clean' coal and pushing corn into everything you can think of.

Re:can we think bigger picture? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47040025)

"space exploration has had unexpected benefits, and the thing about unexpected benefits is that you can't tell what they are before hand"

1) Name one.
2) Sounds an awful lot like circular reasoning... like a religion! Why don't you give me a million dollars, it might have unexpected benefits that you can't know beforehand!

Re:can we think bigger picture? (1)

Tuidjy (321055) | about 3 months ago | (#47040271)

1) Name one.
The term "Spinoff" was coined to describe exactly this. NASA publishes a list, which was up to 1500 last time I checked... but I guess your Google is broken.

So, I'll just mention something I learned last week, when I had some Teflon-coated fiberglass installed. The contractor mentioned it was developed by NASA for astronauts' suits, and I checked it - he was right.

2) Sounds an awful lot like circular reasoning... like a religion!

"Do this, and you may have a result similar to what has as has occurred 1500 times for NASA, and innumerable times for other people (Viagra, aspirin, porcelain) ..."

May I inquire which religion you are referring to, so that I hurry up and join?

Re:can we think bigger picture? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47039571)

You want to know where you can get some real money (not a paltry $1.5 billion)? War. Stop the damned wars that go on every single day in this world and we'll have so many more resources to spend on social, scientific, medicinal, exploration, and whatever other programs your little brain can come up with. 1.5 billion over that time frame is nothing. It's less than nothing on the grand scale. Look at how much money the space program gets compared to everything else.

Re:can we think bigger picture? (1)

triffid_98 (899609) | about 3 months ago | (#47039999)

The $1.5 billion rover, a near-copy of the Curiosity rover, will collect about 30 samples of rock and soil for eventual return to Earth.

Or we could spend that money on something worthwhile.

No problem. Would you prefer 3 weeks of corporate farm subsidies (20B/yr), one Ohio class submarine (2B/ea) or three B-2 bombers (500M/ea)?

Re:can we think bigger picture? (2)

WhiteZook (3647835) | about 3 months ago | (#47039393)

Robotic exploration is several orders of magnitude cheaper and easier. It's also much quicker.

Re:can we think bigger picture? (2)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 3 months ago | (#47039561)

Cheaper? Yep. Easier. Probably.

Quicker? Doubt it. The robot can't do much beyond what it was designed to do. And when you run into something interesting beyond its design parameters, all you can do is build another robot and send it along in a few years.

A man on the scene, presuming he's not a complete idiot, should be much more versatile than any robot.

Note, by the by, that I am opposed to any base on Mars (or anywhere else) unless it is intended to be a PERMANENT presence. Send twelve to the moon and never go back? Waste of time. Establish a permanent, expanding presence on the moon? All for it. Ditto Mars. And Jupiter's moons.

Oh, and terraform Venus while we're at it....

Re:can we think bigger picture? (1)

WhiteZook (3647835) | about 3 months ago | (#47039643)

I believe that in your estimate of the speed of human workers on Mars, you forgot to allocate for the time it would take to get them there alive and well, including the development of a landing module, habitat, an exploration vehicle, and optionally a return rocket. And of course, a big rocket to get all that stuff to Mars and land it on the surface without breaking it.

Re:can we think bigger picture? (1)

cytg.net (912690) | about 3 months ago | (#47039855)

1.5B? 2020? MarsOne aims to put people on up there by 2024 .. Maybe those 1.5B + exepenses could be put to better use in a collective effort to put homo sapiens on that rock instead.

Re:can we think bigger picture? (1)

Squidlips (1206004) | about 3 months ago | (#47040615)

Putting people on Mars? Where are they going to get the volunteers? An Insane Asylum? Some people may think it would be a grand adventure, but it they will be very, very sorry when they get to Mars.

Re: can we think bigger picture? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47040831)

I'm certain you could find qualified volunteers by the dozen.

Geologists running the show at NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47039161)

All you need to do is look at what they're doing to Curiosity's mission planning (they're still not at Mt. Sharp yet because of detours) to see how well the Mars 2020 mission is going to accomplish its primary science objectives. Igneous rock is going to be a tall order for a rover to investigate because it is A) harder than steel (the drill on Curiosity would have a tough time even scratching it [planetary.org] ) and B) sharper too (Curiosity's wheels are easily damaged by sharp rocks [universetoday.com] ).

To top all this off there really really isn't much mass budget or volume leeway for improvements based on what we learned from Curiosity.

Re:Geologists running the show at NASA (2)

Squidlips (1206004) | about 3 months ago | (#47040081)

No, NASA is run by ex-pilot and astronauts,alas. I wish it was run by geologists, or at least some scientist. So what's the obsession with Mt. Sharp? They have found plenty of good stuff en-route including clays and mudstones. It would be insane to by-pass such deposits just to satisfy the pop-Press. And don't you think that JPL would test the drill against volcanic rocks if that is where the mission is going to?

Wheels (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47039303)

Hopefully they will fix the wheels for the next rover before sending it. Otherwise seems like a waste of rapidly dwindling plutonium.

Wow, what a bunch of mis-guided responses (3, Insightful)

Squidlips (1206004) | about 3 months ago | (#47039633)

I think that the current MSL rover is doing the right thing, searching for lake-bottom sediments and not rusing to the base of Mt. Sharp like the non-scientists in the Media seem so keen on. Searching for extremophiles is fine, but not at the expense of more missions to study water-borne sediments. Vallis Mawrth and other sites beckon.

NASA Looks To Volcanic Rocks As Target For Next Ma (-1, Flamebait)

danielpauldavis (1142767) | about 3 months ago | (#47039725)

I would really like my government to stop throwing money on these ridiculous gambles that their pagan spontaneous-life-by-water conceit might actually find some evidence somewhere in the universe. There isn't any here, that's for sure.

Re:NASA Looks To Volcanic Rocks As Target For Next (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47042387)

As opposed to your evidence-free and rather hilarious life-by-magic that's supposed to be a world-wide thing even though in areas without prior contact there's no concept of it?

Salshtod (0)

oldmac31310 (1845668) | about 3 months ago | (#47039833)

is a sty that is getting worser and worserer. Everybody know that pigs live in sties. Not extremophilic microbes. Doh.

Based on a theory that may not be true (1)

Squidlips (1206004) | about 3 months ago | (#47040101)

Targeting extremophilic deposits assumes that life on Mars, if it ever existed, really did or colonize start volcanic pipes or underwater vents. This is a big assumption.

Re:Based on a theory that may not be true (1)

Rei (128717) | about 3 months ago | (#47041273)

Why? Pretty much everywhere we look on Earth, life has colonized, even boiling springs and groundwater in mines many kilometers underground. The whole point of life is that anywhere that the most basic fundamentals can be met, it eventually finds a way there.

Meh. At least they'll probably find some neat rocks ;) I happen to own land comprise of basalt (and a bit of rhyolite) modified by a hydrothermal system. You find the neatest rocks on such land - opal, quartz, chalcedony (jasper, chrysoprase, etc), zeolites, calcite amygdules, etc. My favorite samples I've found are botryoidal chalcedony and a zeolite covered in mesolite "hair". :) The key is finding a place where nature has cut a gash in the ground for you, as recently as possible; the neat stuff doesn't persist forever when expose to the elements (especially calcite and zeolites)

I wonder if Mars will have some minerals that simply don't exist on Earth? :)

(Sorry for being a rock geek!)

Re:Based on a theory that may not be true (1)

Gavagai80 (1275204) | about 3 months ago | (#47042007)

Just a theory, but it's theorized that life on earth may have originated at deep sea vents. If we don't know how long life on Mars lasted or how far it colonized, it makes sense to look for it at the most likely origin point.

Thinking inside the box (2)

Pausanias (681077) | about 3 months ago | (#47040999)

I'm all in favor of spending money on space exploration, but the way I see it, Mars represents a point of diminishing returns. In the true spirit of exploration, we should begin looking at other interesting environments, such as drilling into Europa or Enceladus. This obsessive focus on Mars is a boon for Mars experts, but it has a real cost in terms delayed progress towards understanding other solar system and deep space targets.

Space exploration missions will inspire audiences and yield side-benefits no matter where they go. Why not spread what little wealth there is and look towards bolder, more exciting targets?

Here's another well-argued perspective on my point:

http://www.theonion.com/articl... [theonion.com]

Re:Thinking inside the box (1)

Gavagai80 (1275204) | about 3 months ago | (#47042029)

We're nowhere remotely close to having the technology to drill through Europa or Enceladus. We've never drilled anywhere near that far into Earth, with all the heavy equipment we have here. The fact that it's ice doesn't really help, it's harder-than-rock ice and melting it will probably take similar energy to melting rock on Earth.
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