Sunday, February 22, 2009

spacEurope's not dead!

Just changed identity.
He goes now by the name of...

Thank you all for making of this place a wonderful adventure!
Now I invite you all to come and meet the new place, drinks are on the house!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cold feet...

NASA will hold a media teleconference tomorrow, Sept. 23, at 12:30 p.m. EDT, to discuss data from the joint NASA and European Space Agency Ulysses mission that points out to the fact that our sun's solar wind is at a 50-year low.

According to NASA's press release, this situation might lead to the alteration of, not just the Earth, but the solar system's conditions.

Present at the conference will be Ed Smith, NASA Ulysses project scientist and magnetic field instrument investigator, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., Dave McComas, Ulysses solar wind instrument principal investigator, Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, Karine Issautier, Ulysses radio wave lead investigator, Observatoire de Paris, Meudon, France, Nancy Crooker, Research Professor, Boston University, Boston, Mass.

To follow closely...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Roving the Worlds: A Plea For Telepresence > By Nicholas Previsich

Exciting news about the future of Opportunity has been resonating around the small but intense spaceflight community over the past weekend, so there is no need to repeat it in detail here. Suffice to say that the Mars Exploration Rovers continue to live up to their class name, and have done nothing short of revolutionized our thinking about the planet in the process.

Mars is now a place, a diverse world full of discrete locales, each with their own peculiar features, charms, pitfalls, personalities, all from a very human viewpoint at scales that we can see and touch in our minds. How utterly unexpected this is at the emotional level for some reason; how bountiful has been the science return, both due to the remarkable longevity of the MERs and the ingenuity with which they have been guided and used.

Our technological expertise evolves almost in the biological sense, albeit far more rapidly, and continually opens more doors for us as we see the Universe for what it really is, discovering new frontiers that inevitably reveal new methods, new tools, new ways of thinking, continuously rejuvenating our perpetually adolescent species at all levels. The desire to explore at the human scale of perception is primordial because it has been the key to our survival. It is all very well to observe a mountain peak in the hazy distance from the comfort of a lush valley; it is quite another to journey there, touch the hard rock itself, feel the cold, and perhaps lay one's hand on a plant found near the summit, never before seen, whose berries stop the young from dying of a pernicious vitamin deficiency...

This has been our history. This is the legacy and the future of humanity: our endless curiosity, our willingness to take risks that no sane animal would ever consider, our odd ability to see beyond the immediate both during and after our ventures and then extrapolate applications, determine future goals, and move ever onward. This is who and what we are.

Toward this fundamental drive, this vastly important end, the MERs have revealed at least one method by which humanity can efficiently tackle the formidable problem of exploring a vast Solar System at the scale to which we have evolved to evaluate. It seems both reasonable and practical to propose a long-term exploration strategy for not only Mars but the other "terrestrial" worlds within our grasp as follows: Rove them.

Over the next 200 years, it should be possible to examine at least 10% of the surfaces of the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, Titan, and Triton directly via mobile automatons. Such a reconnaissance would not only reveal unexpected wonders both aesthetic and scientific, but also lay a firm foundation for future manned exploration by characterizing these worlds at the human scale and also identifying landing sites that will offer the best possible return on the massive investment of human flight. Of equal importance is the fact that Earth's entire population will be able to participate in the adventure almost as directly as if they were members of the pioneering expeditions of old: Magellan, Columbus, Lewis & Clark, continuously seeing new horizons and new terrain.

It is not only pragmatic, but proper. Exploration is for the benefit of the entire species, and for the first time in history all mankind can participate as much or as little as each individual may choose. Those who have chosen to do so have advanced...even locked on our small planet, they have already advanced far beyond not only the dreams but also the very comprehension of their ancestors even a millennium before. If the new frontier of the Solar System is opened to all, where will we be in just five hundred more years?

Friday, September 19, 2008


What a great, GREAT day...Emily says it all...but let me just add this:


When you start on your journey to Ithaca,
then pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
Do not fear the Lestrygoniansand the Cyclopes and the angry Poseidon.
You will never meet such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your body and your spirit.
You will never meet the Lestrygonians,
the Cyclopes and the fierce Poseidon,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not raise them up before you.

Then pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many,
that you will enter ports seen for the first time
with such pleasure, with such joy!
Stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and corals, amber and ebony,
and pleasurable perfumes of all kinds,
buy as many pleasurable perfumes as you can;
visit hosts of Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from those who have knowledge.

Always keep Ithaca fixed in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for long years;
and even to anchor at the isle when you are old,
rich with all that you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would never have taken the road.
But she has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not defrauded you.
With the great wisdom you have gained, with so much experience,
you must surely have understood by then what Ithacas mean.

-K. P. Kavafis (C. P. Cavafy), translation by Rae Dalven

Portugal > Future Gateway to Space?

Sir Richard "Virgin Galactic" Branson, announced, according to Portugal News, in his visit to Portugal that this country, my country, Europe's oldest nation, from where the navigators departed 6 centuries ago to give "new worlds to the world", can become be an ideal venue to build a “spaceport”. While Branson said he was considering the idea of a Portuguese space centre, he added any additonal progress would only be discussed in four years time.

The founder of Virgin Galactic also admitted that discussions have already taken place with Portuguese authorities concerning the development of a space centre.
The centre would be similar to the one already under construction in New Mexico in the United States, from where space tourists, including, so far, five Portuguese nationals, will fly to space sometime between the end of 2010 and during 2011.
To date, five Portuguese nationals have purchased a ticket to fly to space on a Virgin Galactic flight.

Portuguese Minister of Economy, Manuel Pinho, was caugth by surprise with Branson's announcement , but added that this opportunity “hold the view that Portugal is a country of potential”.

After a press conference held in Lisbon, after which he made the announcement, Branson travelled to Portugal's northern capital, where he visited and inaugurated Caminho das Estrelas, a travel agency which has the exclusive rights in Portugal to sell Virgin Galactic products and that is managed by Mário Ferreira who will be the first Portuguese travelling to space.
Wait for further developments, I need to know more details about this... :-)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

MSL 3rd Landing Site Selection Meeting > Final Report > By Researcher X

So the last day begins with evaluation of the final site: Gale Crater. This site was added back into consideration this summer, driven inpart by new evidence that there is interesting mineralogy in the thick stack of strata inside the crater. The lead talk is presented by Dawn Sumner (using Ken Edgett's slides). An argument is made that Gale represents 'an Early Mars type section'. The landing ellipse itself shares a characteristic with Holden crater, in that you are landing on an alluvial fan. The main advantage of the site is a thick site of strata in the central mound (5000 m of finally bedded materials) -- this thick stratigraphic section has multiple bedding styles and a wide variety of erosional expression.
Along with this thick morphological evidence for stratigraphy, Ralph Milliken describes that Gale has interesting compositional stratigraphy as well -- and there is a lot of connection between thestratigraphy derived from both morphology and composition. There are clays in the lower materials, which the presenters suggest might be lacustrine, and possible sulfate-bearing materials in the upper units. Interestingly, Gale's upper stratigraphy has a yardangy texture of pasted on material, which Ralph compares to ILDs in Valles Marineris (an interesting connection). The final Gale talk is by Brad Thomson, who insists that Gale's stratigraphy can be connected to fluvial activity, and both are in a well understood context and chronology. At this point, the discussion on Gale starts to address possible uncertainty in the lacustrine interpretation of its stratigraphy, and the chronological constraints of this site. Others jump in, but Ken Edgett argues that we don't know much about any stratigraphic sectionon Mars (he says that we know of one lake on Mars, Eberswalde, a second one that's not really that bad ('a distant second') Jezero, and then a whole lot of unknowns).

So following the discussion of the sites, we move on into general discussion. The first major topic is that Jim Bell asks Bethany Ehlmann to really lay out the evidence for the carbonate detection at Nili, because 'he doesn't believe it'. So we are in for some detailed spectral interpretation where I quickly get lost in 'bending-mode this', 'band-depth that', and 'continuum-removal' the other.
The next general discussion topic is that the PIs for the various instruments lay out what they actually think MSL can do, to help incorporate into our votes, and we're off to lunch ... voting will happen first thing after lunch on 11 topics. (see the list here
) Tension builds during lunch as various factions try and anticipate how things will go.

Unlike the second workshop, the way voting goes at this meeting is that we have one last round of discussion on each of the sites, and then we vote on paper.
Detailed results are going to be posted at this site
, but here is what I could write down:
The top three sites with weighted averages are Eberswalde, Holden, and Gale; all with weighted averages between 40-45. The next two sites are Mawrth and Nili, almost at the same score (~37-38). S. Meridiani finishes sixth, and Miyamoto is much lower than any of the others. We are assured that Mawrth and Nili are not actually dead -- in fact, it is likely that one of them will be brought back into consideration for reasons beyond the scope of this meeting. For example, we know that Holden and Eberswalde are virtually right next to each other, and it is unlikely that both will survive to later stages of consideration. (The old 'actuator' risk that might keep the southern sites from driving still exists, under the radar, but it is still there). We are assured repeatedly that this round of voting is not 'the decision, 'but instead will be factored into the decision carefully. The contingencies that will ultimately result in the next shorter list will be complicated and are beyond the scope of this meeting. Matt Golombek gives us a preview of the next meeting in April; the next workshop will be focused on the 'nitty gritty' of traverses, engineering, and choices about how to actually use MSL to explore the surface.
After the vote is revealed, there is some discussion of whether things were fair: (Diana Blaney: Is there a bimodal distribution related to who is in the room -- basically the 'spectroscopy' sites have sunk to the middle from comparatively favored position at early landing sites...Steve Ruff: Why did the vote go on the questions tailored in this way? A pure ranking would have been better).
So that's that -- *phew*. A bunch of people are bummed out by the results (quite openly), but some are happy (less openly). It'll be interesting to see what landing site actually comes out in the wash next year.

MSL 3rd Landing Site Selection Meeting > Day 2 Summary > By Researcher X

Four sites today -- totally exhausting and finishing close to 7 PM -- but good arguments about what we would want to do with this billion dollar piece of hardware...
The second day of the landing site workshop got off to a rip-roaring start, as the top site from the first two landing site workshops was presented with several detailed talks by Jack Mustard (the main proponent), Nicola Mangold, Bethany Ehlmann, and Dave Des Marais. The context that Jack Mustard laid out for his presentation was the question: where would we go on Mars if any putative biology never developed photosynthesis? His argument was we would want to go somewhere where there is lots of water rock-interactions -- fluid in cracks or where fluids moved through the subsurface.
The Nili Fossae Trough site is interesting because it has diverse exposures of alteration products, especially phyllosilicates. Bethany Ehlhmann's talk also presents evidence that at least in some portions of the stratigraphy, there are also other alteration minerals, including carbonates. The basic traverse path carries the vehicle from an interesting ejecta (out of place) material into a valley or reentrant of mineralogical diversity. Jack Mustard argues that as you drive on the way to the reentrant, you get some The fact that the ellipse science is on 'float rock' is criticized by some in the audience who don't like this sort of thing and prefer rocks in their clear bedrock context.
There is a presentation of the idea that Nili saw extended fluvial episodes or 'extended wetness'. There is some pushback from the audience on this. How long and/or how episodic?
The discussion than devoloves into an argument about whether MSL would have any hope of observing supposed life in cracks (eloquently argued in the negative by Dawn Sumner). Perhaps these water-rock interactions may have provided energy gradients for life, but what's the concentration mechanism? (Crowd tension rises...) Jack and Dave Des Marais then argue that we don't really know what martian life looks like, and our presumptions might be substantially biased by terrestrial experience and photosynthetic organisms.

The second site of the day is Holden crater -- a large crater which impacted into the Udon-Ladon-M???? valley system that extends north towards the Chryse basin through a really old degraded Holden proto-basin. The region has some of the best preserved evidence for fluvial activity -- Eberswalde crater, another candidate, to be discussed shortly sits directly to Holden's north. John Grant and Ross Irwin are the lead proponents of this site -- he first emphasizes that Holden is a go-to site. The landing ellipse is on an alluvial fan, and the presenters call in Kelin Whipple to describe how examining these alluvial deposits might tell us about the environment of early Mars. Both at the edge of the alluvial fan, and in the light toned layered deposits in the 'go-to' target to the south, bedding, meter-scale subunits, and clearly discernable units are apparent. The context and local stratigraphy is well-established. Two possibilities for layered units are distal alluvial deposition or lacustrine -- the presenters argue that this does not matter much, but I am a bit skeptical (lacustrine is much sexier). One unanticipated element of the Holden ellipse is that there are clear 'bedrock' blocks available in the Holden drive site, including megabreccia and a mound with good mafic signatures and linear veins running through it. This was presented as a possible advantage vis a vis Nili, which has similar (perhaps more spectacular) veined materials.
Ralph Milliken presents the mineralogy of this site -- the main spectral signature of interest with CRISM is clay.
The third site of the day is Holden's neighbor, Eberswalde crater, and 'the best delta on Mars'. Jim Rice is the lead presenter, although the best discussion of the actual fluvial architecture is given by Kevin Lewis, who has produced spectacular elevation models of the delta. One of the cool things that comes out of this discussion is the fact that the foreset beds of Eberswalde are actually clear in new data, which is the first time these have been convincingly observed. (Earlier suggestions have all been based on observational artifacts!). All of the presenters for this site argue that the source-to-sink architecture of this site is clearly apparent, which is a positive element for understanding its context. The landing ellipse is on the putative lake beds, supported by the fact that across the ellipse Eberswalde, like Holden, has smectite clay. During the discussion of Eberwalde, the room starts to try and wrestle with whether the strength of the clay absorptions matter for how we might understand preservation potential. Bethany Ehlmann argues that stronger absorptions are better -- probably indicative of more 'good stuff' that could help preserve biosignatures. However, there are two counter-arguments raised: (1) the absorption strength in the CRISM wavelength range do not translate particularly well into abundances, and (2) Ralph Milliken and Jurgen Schieber argue that it is better to have weaker clay absorptions with a presumption about how biosignatures might actually be preserved rather than just strong absorptions alone.

The final site of the day is Mawrth Vallis, and here my notes get particularly flaky because my laptop has long since run out of power (not enough damn power strips). JP Bibring is the lead presenter for the Mawrth site, which gets focused on one of four possible ellipses in this region "ellipse 2" (a complication which confuses the audience at various times). The main target at Mawrth is some of the best phyllosilicate absorptions on Mars, with diversity among the various clay minerals [Fe-phyllosilicates beneath Al-phyllosilicates] and considerably interesting bedding. By the end of the Mawrth discussion, the main issue seems to be that no one has any reasonable idea how the stack of clays actually ended up a stack of clays, and the whole stratigraphy of the region is a bit uncertain. One possibility is that the kaolinite (Al) bearing upper units might or might not be draped across the region (indeed, perhaps all of the clays are draped), creating some uncertainty into how the actual material gets where we observe it. Part of why I run out of power is that the Mawrth presenters (*cough, Bibring, cough*) run an hour over time -- probably not helping their case since I'm getting hungry and the rest of the audience seems like its getting punchier and punchier. I wonder if this has any influence on the ultimate decision making process...I hope not. Anyhow, more coming when I get around to summarizing the ultimate day tonight or tomorrow. Votes will be cast and one site will be presented, and then people will hopefully civilly discuss the merits of each site.

Out for now...

MSL 3rd Landing Site Selection Meeting > Day 1 Summary > By Researcher X

spacEurope counted once more with the precious participation of our Researcher X at the third landing site selection meeting for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), taking place at Monrovia, CA.

Here are his impressions on the meeting's first day:

I'm in attendance at the 3rd MSL landing site workshop in a Doubletree Hotel in Monrovia, CA. The goal of this meeting is to further help focuswhere this remarkable vehicle will attempt to explore. The good news isthat we are down to only seven sites {Eberswalde Crater, Holden Crater,Nili Trough, Mawrth Vallis, Miyamoto Crater, S. Meridiani, and GaleCrater}. Thus, the meeting will have more focus than the previous meetings where 40 or more sites have been discussed. Here, we will ultimately vote on four points related to the site (1) Diversity: Can multiple rock units be observed? (2) Context: are they found in a well understood framework? What will we know ahead of time about the locale? What will we know about its connection to its region/ the rest of Mars?(3) Was the site a habitable environment? (on the basis of both geomorphology and mineralogy?) and (4) Preservation potential: If it was habitable, could we preserve signs of that habitability?

The first day began with some good engineering news. The project manager assured us that all of the current sites can be reached with single target specification, mitigating the need for a complicated pairing of landing sites with possible safer backups. Also, the need for a 'safe haven' has disappeared, so the selection process has been significantly simplified since the second landing site workshop. The landing site safety evaluation team also bring the news that all seven of the candidate sites areacceptable at 95% success level. There is some site to site variability in the margin of safety, it is small and is outweighed by remaining uncertainties that affect all of the sites.

The schedule for the first day is arranged in two parts. In the morning, we hear substantial discussion of terrestrial perspectives on habitability and biosignature preservation. The challenges of finding ancient life onEarth are substantive (though somewhat different than on Mars); the record of life on early Earth is radically limited by dynamic resurfacing of the planet by plate tectonics. Even where they are found Archean rocks alsotend to have been beat up (by temperature, pressure, and metamorphism).Thus, many locations where people have thought to find early life it isvery controversial. The key message of these talks is (1) sedimentary rocks are good, preferably shallow water sediments (virtually all biosignature preservation potential is in sedimentary rocks); (2) isolating possible biosignatures from oxidative degradation is important (sequestration is very important); (3) a source-to-sink framework for landing sites very important if we are to actually understand MSL resultsin context.

The second task of the day is to discuss two specific landing sites, which happen to be right next to each other (but substantially different): Miyamoto and S. Meridiani. Miyamoto crater is a 100+ km Noachian basinwith common exposures of phyllosilicate clays in much of its landing ellipse, and possible signs of inverted channnels. The proponent of this site (Horton Newsom) argued that there is evidence that some of these clays may be fluvial as well, but there is no clear evidence of this connection. Much of the criticism of this site during the discussion focuses on actual evidence that this location was habitable, its limitedexposed section, and the disconnect between the phyllosilicates in this site and its somewhat tenuous evidence for fluvial activity (inverted materials which Horton claims are inverted channels).

The second of day one's two landing sites is S. Meridiani. Effectively,this landing ellipse is drawn on exactly the same sulfate rock units that the MER Opportunity rover has been driving around on (although perhaps at a different point in the stratigraphic section). The good news about this site is that we are absolutely sure that we can land on these rocks safely. The real science target in S. Meridiani are a variety of phyllosilicates that appear to be in bedrock just outside of the ellipse. Thus, you get diversity from landing directly on sulfates and then driving to clays. Sandra Wiseman (the proponent of this site) argues that these phyllosilicates are essentially the oldest materials in this location, which were then cut by later valleys. In the discussion, there is a lot of focus on the unknown origin for the phyllosilicates. Could they simply be ejecta from Miyamoto? Are they really layered compositionally? Many of the challenges are about its stratigraphic context.

So that's pretty much the results of the first day. Things are almost certainly going to get more contentious as we discuss the other five sites. We're putting votes off until Wednesday afternoon so that's when the real fight will come out -- though the people running the workshop keep telling us that its not a competition, just a search for the bestsite.

I wanted to give you some perspective of the room as well. The chairs are hilariously wrapped with some sort of stretchy polyester fabric and are really silly looking. The room is a bit bigger than the last meeting (thankfully), but we have rapidly run out of coffee in the hotel provided vats both mornings. Many of the speakers have had single slides with missing images -- a result of people's powerpoint files being incompatible with the projection computer. Always worth thinking about this sort of thing when NASA put people on the Moon. :)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Phoenix Mission > AFM update with Daniel Parrat

I am really sorry for the lack of information in the last weeks but things outside spacEurope’s realm have been quite time consuming.
As I have made mention in the last post, the AFM was something to keep an eye on for the following days, that was because I have requested our dear Daniel Parrat for an update.
If you are remembered, Daniel works as an Instrument Sequence Engineer on the microscopy station of MECA, i.e. the Optical Microscope (OM) and the FAMARS instrument at the Phoenix Science Operations Center.

With no more delays neither fancy headers, but with a lot of excuses for this long silence here is Parrat’s report.


The fourth day (or sol) after the landing, we did a check up of the instrument, the first one since pre-launch. Our silicon chip was in great shape, the eight cantilevers having survived the launch, the journey in space and the landing. This first result was very encouraging, but unfortunately we could only enjoy it for a few minutes: the same day, the first measurement of a calibration substrate failed. The stage was stopped before reaching the first sensor tip, thinking that it was already in contact with it. In terms of Phoenix operations, that meant that AFM imaging was “out of the table” for a while. Fortunately, we were still allowed to initialize it during OM experiments (as a self-defense mechanism against a possible bad motion of the stage).

Looking at the results of those initializations, we soon realized that the AFM was more sensitive than what we thought to thermal changes. This was confirmed by experiments in our lab, and we found that reinitializating it every half-hour, in combination with a few changes in the approach procedure, was sufficient to solve the problem. However, it took still about five weeks – the longest of my life – to get the approval for those changes in the commanding sequences. The reason is that each instrument team had to do some changes at that time, the AFM being at low priority (well, it had the lowest one).

On sol 44, we were back on track. We were very nervous about trying again to bring the calibration substrate towards the AFM. It had been on Mars for more than seven weeks, without further testing than a basic initialization.

A couple of hours before the downlink of the results, I was at home with my family. I received a phone call from Urs Staufer: “Are you not coming? The first image is there!!!”. That’s how I missed the downlink of the first AFM image from Mars. However, I was so happy that this detail did not ruin this wonderful day. When I came to the operations center, everybody was celebrating and busy analyzing the image (it is probably not yet over…). It looked very nice, showing three lines of the calibration substrate. This first image was taken in static mode, also called contact mode (see “Famars-Part I” in Rui’s blog for explanations).

However, once again, the happiness was not total (I would say 81%, the ISEs of the mission will understand). During the same day, we also tried to take another image, this time in dynamic mode. However, this one was not successful, only showing a sad blank image. So the lab was calling us again…

After a series of tests (both in the lab and on Mars!), we found that the heat generated by the SWTS motors was transmitted to the AFM scanner in a very short time, causing the signal to drift a lot (even more than in static mode). John Michael Morookian, who knows the whole MECA payload better than anybody else, found a convenient way to reduce the heat generated by the stage. His proposition seemed the best for me, even if there was a risk of going two or three microns too far because of the higher speed of the stage.

Using this new approach and having adjusted the feedback parameters of the AFM, we were finally able to take a good image in dynamic mode, on Sol 64. The sample was another calibration substrate with “chess-like” structure (TGX1 for the experts). I was perhaps even happier with this image. First because it showed that the scanner that I built produced only a few distortions in the image, and secondly because the AFM tip was still sharp, even after a few scans in static mode. From an engineering point of view, we were at the Nirvana. From a science point of view, we had not yet started…

Dynamic mode being usable, the chase for Martian particles could finally start. On sol 68, we targeted a substrate with possible scientific interest. This substrate, designed and fabricated at Imperial College by Tom Pike, Sanjay Vijendran and Hanna Sykulska, was composed of small pits (5 microns wide and deep), which could have trapped some particles delivered previously by the robotic arm. And it did! One of the AFM images of that substrate showed a tiny particle, quietly nested in one of the pits. Its diameter was about one micron, a size much smaller than any other object measured in space (at my knowledge). If you think to the powers of 10, it’s a 10-6m object “seen” at a distance of about 1011m from the viewer…

Now the MECA microscopy team continues its experiments, both with the OM and the AFM. A few other good AFM images were taken, and we hope that the extended mission will allow discovering other interesting particles. Today we have just started the transition to Earth time operations, which is a relief after having spent the last three months at Mars time. We will soon reach the end of the initial 90 days, which makes me both happy and sad. Happy because the Phoenix instruments are all still doing well, and sad because the Phoenix team will soon no longer exist, after all these years of work together...

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Welcome, back, Rui! We missed you, and anxious to resume where we left off...

Humanity has been launching rockets for thousands of years, as weapons, as entertainment, and most recently as vehicles. There are varying emotional reactions to all these events, but the latter is by far the most striking.

The launch of a space vehicle is an astonishingly emotional experience for all who witness it, even via telecommunications rather than in person. Certainly part of it is from the long build-up, the drama of 'will it or won't it go today'? The need to check and recheck, to be absolutely certain that this fire-breathing beast will perform its best during its few brief minutes of life and place its precious cargo where it needs to be is drama by definition, and nobody can escape its allure.

Then there is fire, and noise, and the slow majesty of this incredible creation of the hearts and minds and efforts of humanity leaving our world.Watch the crowd at such a moment. Some are cursing, some are praying with clasped hands. Some are frozen at the sight, transfixed, mumbling benedictions under their breath. Many have tears rolling down their cheeks. Many scream "Go!!! Go!!! GO!!!" as the rocket begins to pick up speed, executes its roll program, and heads downrange to the silence and the blackness, finally disappearing into the sky as if it never was, as the smoke settles and quiet returns to the launch site. All who witness this are touched, forever.

Why do we behave this way? Nobody ever sheds tears for a fireworks display.
Something deep within us knows how important this all is. Something inside us all longs to go there too, and cheers on the rockets that symbolically transport our dreams and collective future to new places, for our posterity, for our survival. We know where we need to be, someday...whether we know it or not.

Editor's note: Dear Nick, it is great to be back and to count with your passionate words...good to see you have made your homework... ;-)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

This might get handy in the following days

Interview with Tom Pike

The FAMARS instrument:
Part I
Part II

We're back...

Humm...perchlorate... problem with spacesuits' dry cleaning hey?
Now...who runs the laundry?...

Answers soon. Just give me the time to catch up...

Oh...If you have questioned yourself where this blogger of yours has been...this is one of the possible answers...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

BepiColombo Update

After receiving information that certain rumours hit the internet (translated version here) about serious problems affecting the BepiColombo mission, envolving increasing costs and, serious enough, according to an anonymous source to endanger the mission to the point of cancellation, I have contacted Dr. Johannes Benkhoff, in order to know the facts from BepiColombo Project Scientist himself.

And what had Dr. Benkhoff to tell to spacEurope readers? According to the Project Scientist, who was not able to read these rumours, made himself available to list some facts:

During the development and the thoroughly study of the mission with respect to available technology's which can survive the harsh environment around Mercury, the team encountered a strong mass increase of the spacecraft. Currently the mission is above the capabilities of the Soyuz fregat launcher. Therefore, in Benkhoff's words, a solution needs to be found, this goes through two possibilities that are currently under discussion: Decrease of the mass by allowing more risks or looking for another more powerful launcher which has the draw back of more costs.

The Project Scientist informed spacEurope that a "Tiger Team" is, now, investigating both options. The work of the Tiger Team has not finished yet.

We hope to return soon with more details.

Dr. Benkhoff just informed spacEurope that the Tiger Team will work until the PDR (Preliminary Design Review). This Review is foreseen to be finished before the end of the year. The Project Scientist expects an official announcement of any changes to the mission (possible new launcher, revised mission profile, etc.) within the next couple of months.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Home for spacEurope?

While on Mars the time is to dig, here on Earth I am digging for time...

Updates have not been as regular as I whish them to be but I think that this is happening for a good reason.
But not all is I made mention to yesterday, Barry Goldstein, Phoenix Project Manager, will be soon at spacEurope for another Live Q&A and Stuart Atkinson will deliver us a new, and promising interview with Mark Lemmon, Phoenix Co-Investigator, SSI Lead, Dust Cycles, Texas A&M University.

Stay alert!

In the meanwhile here is why (besides the extra amount of work I'm dealing with...) spacEurope has been a bit rusty...
I have been, during the days of life of this blog, comparing spacEurope to a home, to a place where everyone is welcomed, where everyone has a role.
Brick by brick, step by step.
Some of you know, others don’t, that I am a pilgrim, in the sense that I, literally, walk the paths of this planet in search for answers and, more important in my perspective, posing new questions.
Call it a personal q’n’a if you wish…
In the course of those walks I feel privileged to have crossed my journey with other humans and their experiences which always taught me something, at least to be aware that my reality isn’t the world’s omphalo…
In the course of those walks I have met people that have dedicated their lives to those who, like me, assume this walking way of knowing our world as a very important aspect of our existence.
That was something I have been thinking for a long time. To host.
To build a house of knowledge, a place where people could share perspectives, a place to speak, listen, see and learn.
A place where one would bring what could and take what needed.

I’ve been investing some money, and the return of that investment will permit me to pass from a virtual place into a wood and stone one in the year of 2009.

The objective? To welcome you, reader, and all those with the will to learn that might land in a inner, hidden, peaceful corner of Portugal.

Ideas regarding the structure of the place are still finding their way, still getting acquainted, but the main issue will be that this house for the Homo Viator would have basically the same structure as this blog you are visiting, non profitable.
Taking a look into the future things would work in a way that solidarity assumes a very important role.
People would express their will to visit, there would be places for 20/30 people, we could even organize thematic workshops there…
Since there would be no money involved, the idea was to each one bringing something that would become part of this house of friends with knowledge as quest.
A book, a bottle of wine, an idea, something from back home…
Something that would make of this place a home where everyone visiting would feel as it own.
Although I have posted a picture
in a previous post, the location is not yet decided, that is why other candidates make their appearance as the one below…

Just imagine that patio in a hot summer night filled with people around a table in a conversation until the rise of the sun…Although both this estates (and others…) please me a lot, they are for sale now and I doubt that it will be available within a year, and more area is required to permit that what I intend to do become a reality, with lots of space to satisfy the objectives of those arriving, and this can vary, if someone comes with the spirit of gathering around a table discussing, perfect! If someone needs a place where it can be on its own, to study, to work in a peaceful environment, to think…perfect!
Whatever is your goal, your search, your dream...hope to see you there one year from now!
Until then, I'll try to give keep you inform about the latest developments.


Rui Borges
Sintra Portugal
spacEurope Editor