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Mars Rover's Major Discovery: 'Great Lake' On Red Planet

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NASA Photo/Curiosity heading towards Mount Sharp

NASA has announced a major discovery by the Curiosity rover; water may have been more plentiful on the planet's surface than previously thought. This could mean that some forms of life existed on Mars millions of years ago.

In a news conference earlier this week, lead scientist John Grotzinger said that observations by the rover on its year-long trek across the Gale Crater indicate that the area was likely dotted with rivers, deltas and even a "great lake" in the distant past. Taking soil samples and detailed photos as it made its way towards Mount Sharp, the rover discovered layered sediments which are a sign that water may have existed on the surface of the dry, dusty red planet many years ago.

“As a science team, Mars is looking very attractive to us as a habitable planet,” Dr. Grotzinger said in an interview. “Not just sections of Gale Crater and not just a handful of locations, but at different times around the globe.”

While scientists continue to evaluate the data coming from the robotic probe, they have also posited that the existence of Mount Sharp, an unusually tall peak on the edge of the Gale Crater, could support their water theory as well. They believe the mountain is the remains of sediments laid down by a series of lakes that filled the deep bowl over millions years. When the water dried up as the planet lost its atmosphere, they believe that winds dug out the crater leaving the massive 3-mile high peak.

"All that driving we did really paid off for science," added Grotzinger, referring to Curiosity's travels. "It didn't just get us to Mount Sharp - it gave us the context to appreciate Mount Sharp." 

Next up on the the rover's agenda; climbing Mount Sharp itself. Curiosity has been on Mars more than 2 years so far and NASA has extended its mission indefinitely.


WATCH: NASA's Orion Test Flight Marks the First Step on the Long Road to Mars

Orion

NASA's Orion spacecraft is set to have its first test flight this morning from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. If the test flight proves successful, the next-gen space capsule is expected to one day carry astronauts to the moon, asteroids, and Mars. 

NBC News reports:

The planned 4.5-hour mission — known as Exploration Flight Test 1, or EFT-1 — isn't carrying people. It's an uncrewed flight, meant to check critical systems that can't be fully tested on Earth, including the craft's heat shield and parachutes.

The data gathered from more than 1,200 sensors will be factored into the construction of more flightworthy Orion spaceships, with the aim of flying astronauts for the first time in 2021. If NASA holds to its schedule, the cone-shaped spacecraft would send crews to a near-Earth asteroid by 2025, and to Mars and its moons starting in the 2030s.

"We're now on the way to Mars, and that's what's most important," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told NBC News in advance of liftoff.

The launch was scheduled a little after 7 am (ET) but has been delayed due to high ground winds.

Watch the launch, AFTER THE JUMP...

UPDATE: NASA has scrubed the launch for today and will try again on Friday morning. More at NPR here

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Cessna Pilot Captures Stunning Footage of Antares Rocket Explosion: VIDEO

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Yesterday, we told you about the unmanned Antares rocket bound for the International Space Station (ISS) that exploded mere seconds after launch. Today, video has surfaced showing the explosion as seen from a Cessna plane flying not far from the launch site. The extraordinary video captures the rockets' brief ascent and fiery explosion that luckily left no one on the ground injured. Said amateur videographer Ed Sealing of his footage,

I took this video of the very unfortunate Orbital Sciences rocket explosion on my iPad Mini. Video was taken in our Cessna 177 Cardinal from an altitude of 3000ft. Sorry for the sound. I'll have a better one up once it's been edited out.

According to USA Today, NASA's investigation into the incident is ongoing:

"It is far too early to know the details of what happened," said Frank Culbertson, Orbital's executive vice president and general manager of its Advanced Programs Group.

"We will not fly until we understand the root cause," he said.

Culbertson said he believes the range-safety staff sent a destruct signal to the rocket after it encountered problems and before it hit the ground, but was not certain. Bill Wrobel, director of NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, said crews were letting the fire burn out.

Watch the incredible footage for yourself, AFTER THE JUMP... 

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Unmanned Rocket Bound For International Space Station Explodes: VIDEO

ROCKET

In a stunning new video, an unmanned rocket headed for the International Space Station (ISS) exploded mere seconds after launching. USA Today reports:

The Antares rocket supplied by contractor Orbital Sciences blew up six seconds after liftoff, NASA said.

NASA and Orbital Sciences were gathering data to determine the cause of the failure of the Orbital CRS-3, the space agency said.

"There has been a vehicle anomaly," Orbital Sciences, the contractor supplying the rocket, said on its Twitter feed.

[…]

The Cygnus cargo ship was loaded with 5,000 pounds of gear for the six people living on the space station. It was the fourth Cygnus bound for the orbiting lab; the first flew just over a year ago. 

Among the cargo were more than a dozen student research projects, including an experiment from students at Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in Houston to test the performance of pea shoot growth in space. 

NASA is paying the Virginia-based Orbital Sciences and the California-based SpaceX company to keep the space station stocked in the post-shuttle era. This is the first disaster in that effort.

No word yet on when a new mission will be planned to get the necessary cargo to ISS astronauts.

Watch the video, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Check Out This Breathtaking View of Earth From the International Space Station: VIDEO

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As George Clooney's character in Gravity said, "You can't beat the view"

NASA Expedition 38 crew members Mike Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio recorded this incredible footage of Earth from the Cupola - the massive observatory module of the ISS. 

As the planet rotates in view, the astronauts name countries, cities, and landmarks rocketing across the skyline.

See if you spot your home, AFTER THE JUMP...

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NASA Unveils Incredible Star Trek-style Warp Drive Space Ship: PHOTOS

NASA

This week, NASA engineer Harold White and digital artist Mark Rademaker unveiled the IXS Enterprise - a years-in-the-making CGI design concept for a potential warp drive space ship of the future. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto sadly not included. 

The Washington Post reports:

“We wanted to have a decent image of a theory conforming Warp ship to motivate young people to pursue a STEM career,” Rademaker said in an e-mail interview. “It does have some Sci-Fi features that might never transfer to a possible final design, unless we really want to.”

A warp ship such as the IXS Enterprise could allow travel to interstellar space in a matter of weeks rather than, say, centuries. And the science behind why it might be possible is truly mind-boggling.

An over-simplified explanation is that the concept seeks to exploit a “loophole” in Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity that allows travel faster than the speed of light by expanding space-time behind the object and contracting space-time front of it.

When asked the question on all our minds – “When can I get one of these?” White said that proving that the math behind the model is the first and most important step in the process. 

For now, we'll just have to make do with the awesome photos of the design, which you can check out AFTER THE JUMP...

[photos via Flickr]

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