David W. Brown’s “Mars or Bust” (Review, Dec. 19) is spot on: Mars is the next true destination for humans in space exploration. Over the past 20 years NASA’s Mars Exploration Program has changed our understanding of the planet’s extensive rivers and oceans, ability to support past or present life, and ability to support human explorers. Human-scale entry and landing systems are the only real remaining technology hurdle, yet Mars Science Laboratory”s Curiosity and Perseverance landing systems have significantly moved us forward, and with pinpoint landing they can become the explorer’s resupply lines. The first round-trip mission to another planet, to collect and return soil samples from Mars, is under way.
Past agency and administration commitment to sending humans to Mars has been fickle, ranging from extensive study teams producing viable roadmaps, to posters and slogans with little substance. Lunar programs to enable Mars are largely a distraction. No technologies for Mars require demonstration at the moon; landing on an airless moon has no bearing on systems needed for planetary atmospheres. The moon may be an exciting commercial destination, but not for the next generation of explorers. Mars is the next major step in human exploration, exciting the public, spurring new global partnerships, creating unimaginable technological spin-offs, and uniting us by pushing ever closer to answering “Are we alone?” in this vast universe of planets. NASA needs to make the financial and leadership commitments to land humans by 2040, and avoid distractions. The Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs prove we can do this, so let’s get on with it!
J. Douglas McCuistion
Mr. McCuistion was director, NASA Mars Exploration Program, 2004-12.
Mr. Brown portrays NASA’s Artemis lunar program as a misguided attempt to reboot Apollo and argues that NASA should cancel it and send astronauts directly to Mars. While the president has made it clear that Mars is our destination, and that we will get there via the moon, Mr. Brown’s “plan” is another expensive mission to nowhere.
The 2016 transition team at NASA, which I participated in, was composed of scientists, academics, businesspeople and an astronaut. Our perspectives varied, but we came to agree that America must return to the moon immediately and permanently. Doing that is technically, fiscally and politically possible. Over the last four years the vice president’s National Space Council has engaged all of government in building a practical program that maximizes NASA’s existing investments in deep-space exploration systems and empowers America’s space entrepreneurs. It engages international partners from Japan to Italy in constructive competition with China’s aggressive lunar aspirations. It establishes legal precedents for commercial space activities. It develops the infrastructure, capabilities and experience required for us to really get to Mars. Artemis has broad support in the space community and bipartisan backing in Congress.
Since Gene Cernan left the moon 48 years ago, billions of dollars have been spent on cancelled NASA exploration programs. Mars and the moon are uninhabited today, not because we couldn’t get there, but only because we have not maintained our focus. Let’s finish this job for America and for the future of all humankind.
Vice president of Space Development, National Space Society
Yorba Linda, Calif.
100-million-year old beetle fossil sheds light on family of ancient bugs – CNET
A beetle trapped in amber for over 100 million years is offering scientists clues to why the bioluminescent insects may have glowed way back during the Cretaceous period, about 145 to 66 million years ago.
In a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, scientists reveal that a Cretophengodes beetle found “preserved with life-like fidelity in amber” has a direct connection to its firefly cousins.
It’s been a bit of a mystery to scientists why ancient beetles could glow. But based on their distant relatives like fireflies, scientists believe the function could likely have been used as a defense against predators, as well as a way to attract mates — much like the modern-day beetle larvae in the same family have used light.
“The discovery of a new extinct Elateroid beetle family is significant,” study co-author Erik Tihelka from the School of Earth Sciences said in a statement, “because it helps shed light on the evolution of these fascinating beetles.”
Because this particular beetle fossil was well-preserved in amber, scientists were able to see the light organ on the abdomen of the male beetle. That provides proof adult Cretophengodes were able to produce light, some 100 million years ago.
The majority of light-producing beetles belong to the Elateroidea family, which has over 24,000 known species. The discovery of this beetle provides the missing fossil link between living families, and in doing so helps scientists understand how these beetles evolved and how they should be classified.
With the recent launch of Starlink, SpaceX set a record for rapid reuse – Sunday Vision
SpaceX continues to make strides as it pushes the boundaries of reusing the Falcon 9 first stage rocket.
On Wednesday morning, the company plans to launch the next batch of 60 Starlink satellites, and reuse the booster number 1051. This will in fact be the eighth flight of this Falcon 9 rocket – setting a new record for the number of uses for any single rocket core. SpaceX expects to reach 10 uses of at least one stage of the Falcon 9 later this year.
The next launch attempt is also noteworthy as it would mark a rapid turnaround for this first phase. The missile last flew on December 13, launching the Sirius XM-7 mission in geostationary transport orbit. This 38-day period will significantly eclipse the previous Falcon 9 Phase 1 transformation margin, which is 51 days. This indicates that the company’s engineers and technicians are continuing to learn best practices for recovering and refurbishing the missiles.
The Starlink mission is scheduled to launch at 8:02 AM EST (13:02 UTC) on Wednesday from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Its launch was originally delayed by 24 hours from Monday due to unfavorable weather conditions in the offshore recovery area, where Just read the instructions Will wait for the return of the first stage. Then the important company delayed an additional day, say More time was needed for “pre-launch inspections”. It is not clear if this refers to the missile or the payload.
This will be the sixteenth launch of “operational” Starlink satellites, in addition to an earlier launch of experimental satellites. This mission is already the largest satellite operator in the world, and will bring the total number of Starlink satellites launched by SpaceX to over 1,000. Some of these satellites are no longer operational, are in the process of exiting orbit, or have already done so.
In starting to build this constellation, SpaceX owns it Introducing a public beta To define the regions of North America and is expected to offer broader coverage later this year. First impressions It was generally positive.
At the same time, SpaceX is also working to address the concerns of scientists who are concerned that large constellations of satellites transmitting the Internet from space will distort the night sky and damage astronomical observations. Last year, the company started adding “masks” to reduce the reflection of its satellites. However, Recent analysis From these “DarkSats” they indicate that more effort may be required.
Weather conditions for launch on Wednesday appear favorable for the mission, both at the launch site and in the recovery area. SpaceX should start live 15 minutes before take off.
All-purpose dinosaur opening reconstructed – Science Daily
For the first time ever, a team of scientists, led by the University of Bristol, have described in detail a dinosaur’s cloacal or vent — the all-purpose opening used for defecation, urination and breeding.
Although most mammals may have different openings for these functions, most vertebrate animals possess a cloaca.
Although we know now much about dinosaurs and their appearance as feathered, scaly and horned creatures and even which colours they sported, we have not known anything about how the vent appears.
Dr Jakob Vinther from the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, along with colleagues Robert Nicholls, a palaeoartist, and Dr Diane Kelly, an expert on vertebrate penises and copulatory systems from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, have now described the first cloacal vent region from a small Labrador-sized dinosaur called Psittacosaurus, comparing it to vents across modern vertebrate animals living on land.
Dr Vinther said: “I noticed the cloaca several years ago after we had reconstructed the colour patterns of this dinosaur using a remarkable fossil on display at the Senckenberg Museum in Germany which clearly preserves its skin and colour patterns.
“It took a long while before we got around to finish it off because no one has ever cared about comparing the exterior of cloacal openings of living animals, so it was largely unchartered territory.”
Dr Kelly added: “Indeed, they are pretty non-descript. We found the vent does look different in many different groups of tetrapods, but in most cases it doesn’t tell you much about an animal’s sex.
“Those distinguishing features are tucked inside the cloaca, and unfortunately, they’re not preserved in this fossil.”
The cloaca is unique in its appearance but exhibits features reminiscent to living crocodylians such as alligators and crocodiles, which are the closest living relatives to dinosaurs and other birds.
The researchers note that the outer margins of the cloaca are highly pigmented with melanin. They argue that this pigmentation provided the vent with a function in display and signalling, similar to living baboons and some breeding salamanders.
The authors also speculate that the large, pigmented lobes on either side of the opening could have harboured musky scent glands, as seen in living crocodylians.
Birds are one the few vertebrate groups that occasionally exhibit visual signalling with the cloaca, which the scientists now can extend back to the Mesozoic dinosaur ancestors.
Robert Nicholls said: “As a palaeoartist, it has been absolutely amazing to have an opportunity to reconstruct one of the last remaining features we didn’t know anything about in dinosaurs.
“Knowing that at least some dinosaurs were signalling to each other gives palaeoartists exciting freedom to speculate on a whole variety of now plausible interactions during dinosaur courtship. It is a game changer!”
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