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First Manned Mission to Mars May Happen Soon

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It looks like mankind is in for another giant leap. And soon. Space.com reported that, according to NASA, preparations for the first manned mission to Mars are proceeding as planned, with humans expected to set foot on the Red Planet in the 2030s. 

NASA administrator Charles Bolden said, "We are farther down the path to sending humans to Mars than at any point in NASA's history. We have a lot of work to do to get humans to Mars, but we'll get there."

The “work” in question includes completing the development of the spacecraft and rockets that will get humans there and back again. The Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft are two of the pieces of equipment still being tested.

The next Mars rover is planned to launch in 2020 and will carry the Mars Oxygen ISRU experiment, also known as MOXIE. According to NASA, MOXIE will take carbon dioxide out of the thin Martian atmosphere and produce oxygen. If MOXIE is successful, humans will have oxygen to breathe and rockets will be able to use that oxygen to help power the trip back to Earth. This will be the first time oxygen has ever been produced on another planet.

The one thing still standing in the way of this manned mission to Mars is money. Andy Weir, author of The Martian, which has been made into a film starring Matt Damon, said, "I don't have faith in Congress to give them enough money to make that happen, so I'm being a little more conservative." Weir instead guesses that humans won’t set foot on Mars until 2050.

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NASA, JPL-Caltech
NASA Could Be Sending Autonomous Bee Drones to Mars
NASA, JPL-Caltech
NASA, JPL-Caltech

While NASA is inching closer to landing humans on Mars, a team from Japan and the U.S. is working on exporting something else to the red planet: robot bees. As Co.Design reports, the engineers believe their hive of drones, dubbed Marsbees, could be used to explore the surface of Mars autonomously.

The project is one of a handful being funded by NASA in 2018 as part of the space agency’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program. According to the initial designs, the Marsbees would collect data and images from Mars just like the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers do now. But the drones' small size and large numbers give them a few key advantages.

The Marsbees would be carted onto the planet by way of a conventional rover that acts as a roaming beehive. The bumblebee-sized drones would use flapping apparatuses the size of cicada wings to fly around Mars, capturing data individually or swarming together to analyze larger swaths of land. If one robot fails, there would be more to make up for the missing sensor, and after gathering enough information they could return to the ground-based hub to recharge and relay the data back to Earth.

The team still needs to perfect a prototype before the swarms of Martian bees can become a reality. Wing size is a crucial factor, since the atmosphere on Mars is thinner than it is on Earth. Once they have that design element in place, the engineers still need to prove their drones can take off, land, navigate through the air, and complete missions. They hope to tackle each of those points in the first phase of the project using a $125,000 grant from NASA.

Concept art for marsbees.
C. Kang, NASA

[h/t Co.Design]

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NASA/JPL-Caltech
Send Your Name to Space on NASA's Latest Mars Lander
NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA/JPL-Caltech

Humans may not reach Mars until the 2030s (optimistically), but you can get your name there a whole lot sooner. As Space.com reports, NASA is accepting names from the public to be engraved on a small silicon microchip that's being sent into space with their latest Mars lander, InSight.

All you have to do is submit your name online to NASA, and the space agency will put it on the lander—in super-tiny form, of course—which will set off for Mars in May 2018.

This is the public's second shot at getting their name to Mars: NASA first put out a call for names to go to the Red Planet with InSight in 2015. The planned 2016 launch was delayed over an issue with one of the instruments, and since the naming initiative was so popular—almost 827,000 people submitted their names the first time around—they decided to open the opportunity back up and add a second microchip.

A scientist positions the microchip on the InSight lander.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

NASA is encouraging people to sign up even if they've sent in their names for other mission microchips. (The space agency also sent 1.38 million names up with Orion's first test flight in 2014.) You can put your name on both of InSight's microchips, in other words, as well as any future missions. The agency's "frequent flyer" program allows you to keep track of every mission to which your name is attached. Interplanetary fame, here you come.

You can submit your name for the InSight mission until November 1 using this form. If you miss the deadline, though, don't worry too much: You'll soon be able to submit your name for Exploration Mission-1's November 2018 launch.

[h/t Space.com]

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