Mars: Top Ten Fun Facts


One of the first images taken by Perseverance on Mars!

Do you remember when I had the good fortune of chaperoning Team Mercury to the Kennedy Space Center? My daughter, along with her team of high school Space Exploration students and their teacher John Yi, took a trip to the KSC when they won NASA’s App Development Challenge. We watched the launch of a rocket, NASA’s Orion Ascent Abort-2, toured the building where rockets are built, the Vehicle Assembly Building, built our own rockets, stood under the Space Shuttle Atlantis, and learned about NASA’s work to get Perseverance to Mars through lectures and participation in the Mars Experience.

On February, 18, 2021, Perseverance landed on Jezero Crater on Mars, and the excitement of the engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab was palpable. Perseverance, which launched from Earth on July 30, 2020, will stay on Mars at lease one Mars year (657 Earth days) with a goal of seeking “signs of ancient life and collect samples of rock and regolith (broken rock and soil) for possible return to Earth.” Hon, did you watch the landing? Want to view raw images from Mars? Click here.

Top Ten Fun Facts About Mars

  1. Mars is named after the Roman God of war.
  2. Mars is red because of rusty iron in the ground.
  3. The average temperature on Mars is minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  4. There are signs of ancient floods on Mars, but now water mostly exists in icy dirt and thin clouds.
  5. A day on Mars is 24 hours and 37 minutes.
  6. A year on Mars is 687 Earth days because it takes a lot longer than Earth to complete its orbit around the Sun.
  7. Mars has two moons. Their names are Phobos and Deimos.
  8. Based on the make-up of the planet and atmosphere (iron, magnesium, sulfur, acids and CO2), researchers have concluded that Mars smells like rotten eggs.
  9. Mars is home to the highest mountain in our solar system, a volcano called Olympus Mons, which is about three times the height of Mount Everest.
  10. The first spacecrafts to land on Mars were the Viking Landers, which touched down on the surface in 1976.

Sources: NASA Science Space Place, Australian Academy of Science, National Geographic Kids

Tips on Isolation from Astronaut Scott Kelly

Captain Scott Kelly

Captain Kelly being interviewed by The New York Times journalist, Jonathan Schwartz, on 10/17 at West Orange High School.

I’d pay attention to Scott Kelly even if I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting him with my daughter’s Space Exploration class! The students met him privately before attending his interview with journalist Jonathan Schwartz to discuss his memoir Endurance.

He published an excellent article in The New York Times“I Spent a Year in Space, and I Have Tips on Isolation to Share, Take it from someone who couldn’t: Go outside.”

Favorite line: “I’ve found that most problems aren’t rocket science, but when they are rocket science, you should ask a rocket scientist

Take it from someone who couldn’t: Go outside.

By

Mr. Kelly is a retired NASA astronaut who spent nearly a year on the International Space Station.

Being stuck at home can be challenging. When I lived on the International Space Station for nearly a year, it wasn’t easy. When I went to sleep, I was at work. When I woke up, I was still at work. Flying in space is probably the only job you absolutely cannot quit.

But I learned some things during my time up there that I’d like to share — because they are about to come in handy again, as we all confine ourselves at home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Here are a few tips on living in isolation, from someone who has been there.

Follow a schedule

On the space station, my time was scheduled tightly, from the moment I woke up to when I went to sleep. Sometimes this involved a spacewalk that could last up to eight hours; other times, it involved a five-minute task, like checking on the experimental flowers I was growing in space. You will find maintaining a plan will help you and your family adjust to a different work and home life environment. When I returned to Earth, I missed the structure it provided and found it hard to live without.

But pace yourself

When you are living and working in the same place for days on end, work can have a way of taking over everything if you let it. Living in space, I deliberately paced myself because I knew I was in it for the long haul — just like we all are today. Take time for fun activities: I met up with crewmates for movie nights, complete with snacks, and binge-watched all of “Game of Thrones” — twice.

And don’t forget to include in your schedule a consistent bedtime. NASA scientists closely study astronauts’ sleep when we are in space, and they have found that quality of sleep relates to cognition, mood, and interpersonal relations — all essential to getting through a mission in space or a quarantine at home.

You can also practice an instrument (I just bought a digital guitar trainer online), try a craft, or make some art. Astronauts take time for all of these while in space. (Remember Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield’s famous cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity?)

Keep a journal

NASA has been studying the effects of isolation on humans for decades, and one surprising finding they have made is the value of keeping a journal. Throughout my yearlong mission, I took the time to write about my experiences almost every day. If you find yourself just chronicling the days’ events (which, under the circumstances, might get repetitive) instead try describing what you are experiencing through your five senses or write about memories. Even if you don’t wind up writing a book based on your journal like I did, writing about your days will help put your experiences in perspective and let you look back later on what this unique time in history has meant.

Take time to connect

Even with all the responsibilities of serving as commander of a space station, I never missed the chance to have a videoconference with family and friends. Scientists have found that isolation is damaging not only to our mental health, but to our physical health as well, especially our immune systems. Technology makes it easier than ever to keep in touch, so it’s worth making time to connect with someone every day — it might actually help you fight off viruses.

Listen to experts

I’ve found that most problems aren’t rocket science, but when they are rocket science, you should ask a rocket scientist. Living in space taught me a lot about the importance of trusting the advice of people who knew more than I did about their subjects, whether it was science, engineering, medicine, or the design of the incredibly complex space station that was keeping me alive.

Especially in a challenging moment like the one we are living through now, we have to seek out knowledge from those who know the most about it and listen to them. Social media and other poorly vetted sources can be transmitters of misinformation just as handshakes transmit viruses, so we have to make a point of seeking out reputable sources of facts, like the World Health Organization and the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

We are all connected

Seen from space, the Earth has no borders. The spread of the coronavirus is showing us that what we share is much more powerful than what keeps us apart, for better or for worse. All people are inescapably interconnected, and the more we can come together to solve our problems, the better off we will all be.

One of the side effects of seeing Earth from the perspective of space, at least for me, is feeling more compassion for others. As helpless as we may feel stuck inside our homes, there are always things we can do — I’ve seen people reading to children via videoconference, donating their time and dollars to charities online, and running errands for elderly or immuno-compromised neighbors. The benefits for the volunteer are just as great as for those helped.

Go outside

One of the things I missed most while living in space was being able to go outside and experience nature. After being confined to a small space for months, I actually started to crave nature — the color green, the smell of fresh dirt, and the feel of warm sun on my face. That flower experiment became more important to me than I could have ever imagined. My colleagues liked to play a recording of Earth sounds, like birds and rustling trees, and even mosquitoes, over and over. It brought me back to earth. (Although occasionally I found myself swatting my ears at the mosquitoes. )

For an astronaut, going outside is a dangerous undertaking that requires days of preparation, so I appreciate that in our current predicament, I can step outside any time I want for a walk or a hike — no spacesuit needed. Research has shown that spending time in nature is beneficial for our mental and physical health, as is exercise. You don’t need to work out two and a half hours a day, as astronauts on the space station do, but getting moving once a day should be part of your quarantine schedule (just stay at least six feet away from others).

You need a hobby

When you are confined in a small space you need an outlet that isn’t work or maintaining your environment.

Some people are surprised to learn I brought books with me to space. The quiet and absorption you can find in a physical book — one that doesn’t ping you with notifications or tempt you to open a new tab — is priceless. Many small bookstores are currently offering curbside pickup or home delivery service, which means you can support a local business while also cultivating some much-needed unplugged time.

I’ve seen humans work together to prevail over some of the toughest challenges imaginable, and I know we can prevail over this one if we all do our part and work together as a team.

Oh, and wash your hands — often.

Scott Kelly is a retired NASA astronaut who spent nearly a year on the International Space Station.

 

NASA Trip–Food For Mars

Team Mercury: Mr. Yi, Max, Andrew, Clare, Javier, Frances and Darcy

One of the coolest things we did at the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex was the Astronaut Training Experience. In the Botany Lab of “Mars Base 1,” we planted seeds, discussed what kinds of  food would last on Mars, and learned the effects of different colored lights on the growing process.

A trip to Mars is a 3 year mission:  6-9 months travel time, 18 months there, and another 6-9 months to return to Earth. Some food would be sent ahead of a time while some would be grown by astronauts.

A recent New York Times article A Menu for Mars? NASA Plans to Grow Chiles in Space by Sarah Mervosh  talks about food on Mars.

Scientists are working on building a garden in space. The goal is to grow fresh produce to supplement existing packaged foods.

NASA has already harvested a variety of edible leafy greens, grown without earthly gravity or natural light. Soon, researchers plan to expand to a more difficult crop, Española improved chiles, in their quest to answer one of the most pressing questions of a Mars mission: How will astronauts get enough nutritious food to survive years in the unforgiving depths of space?

Scientists believe the project, if successful, could open the door to growing similar crops in space — think tomato plants and strawberries — and perhaps eventually to more advanced foods, like potatoes.

“This is the most complex crop we have done to date for food purposes,” said Matthew W. Romeyn, who is leading the pepper experiment for NASA.

The peppers are being tested on Earth, he said, and could be sent to space as early as next spring.

Scott Kelly, a retired astronaut who set an American record in 2016 when he returned after spending 340 days in space, said he received a shipment of fresh fruit and vegetables every few months while on the International Space Station. But that would not be possible on a trip to Mars.

“It’s not like you can just run out to the store,” he said. “To have fresh food, it helps with nutrition. It also helps with morale.”

No matter how many options there are, packaged food alone would not be enough to fuel a mission to Mars.

Certain vitamins break down over time, leaving astronauts at risk of inadequate nutrition, said Gioia D. Massa, a scientist who works on space crop production for NASA.

“We don’t really have a food system that we are confident will be good for the entire duration of a Mars mission,” she said. “We feel plants are a very good way to help solve that problem.”

More recently, NASA harvested red romaine lettuce, which had been nurtured under the purplish, LED lighting of a special vegetable garden known simply as “Veggie.”

If this space gardening plan works, scientists say, it could help combat “menu fatigue” among astronauts, who typically lose weight while spending months in space.

Aside from nutrition, gardening has another big benefit.

Maintaining a garden could also serve as a hobby for crew members during monotonous months. “It’s kind of like, why do people like flowers?” Mr. Kelly said. “When you are living in an environment that is very antiseptic or laboratory-like, or on Mars, it would be pretty devoid of life with the exception of you and your crewmates. Having something growing would have a positive psychological effect.”

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Placing our plants under blue and red lights.

 

NASA Trip–Vehicle Assembly Building

Even though we were told the Vehicle Assembly Building covers 8 acres, the enormity of the building didn’t hit home until we walked inside. Then, it was like looking up inside a skyscraper!

Top Ten Fun Facts About NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building

  1. The VAB is part of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and was designed so that the Saturn V and Space Shuttle could be assembled and stacked vertically onto the Mobile Launch Platform.
  2. Construction for the Vehicle Assembly Building was completed in 1966.
  3. At 525 feet tall, the VAB is the largest single story building in the world.
  4. The American flag painted on the VAB as part of the 1976 United States Bicentennial celebrations was the largest in the world at that time.
  5. On the American flag, each star is 6 feet tall, each stripe is 9 feet wide, and the blue field is the size of a regulation basketball court.
  6. 4,225 pilings were driven down 164 feet to bedrock with a foundation consisting of 30,000 cubic yards of concrete.
  7. Inside the building, there are four high bays where rockets can be assembled.
  8. The doors to the VAB are the largest in the world at 456 feet (139.0 m) high, and take 45 minutes to completely open or close.
  9. The VAB has its own weather! Since the building’s interior volume is so vast, humid air rises, moisture condenses and forms on surfaces, and the condensations falls down, like rain.
  10. The building has been used as a backdrop in several Hollywood movies including Marooned, SpaceCamp, Apollo 13, Contact to name a few.

Team Mercury

Source: Wikipedia

American Hero, Astronaut Scott Kelly

Captain Scott Kelly

Captain Kelly being interviewed by The New York Times journalist, Jonathan Schwartz, on 10/17 at West Orange High School.

I was on a high! 

It’s not what you think. Accompanying my youngest daughter’s Space Exploration class, I got to meet Astronaut Captain Scott Kelly! “I am so excited to meet you!” I said. “Two summers ago, we watched the International Space Station cross the night sky and you were on it! Did you see me waving?” Kelly responded, “Yes, and I waved back!” Guess what? Kelly is funny!

Kelly, promoting his book Endurance, filled a high school auditorium. According to Amazon, “it’s a stunning, personal memoir from the astronaut and modern-day hero who spent a record-breaking year aboard the International Space Station—a message of hope for the future that will inspire for generations to come.”

Kelly talked about growing up, how he wasn’t the best student, and didn’t know what he wanted to be when he grew up. In college, he read a book about flight pilots that changed the course of his life.

In October 2015, Kelly set the record for the total accumulated number of days spent in space by an American astronaut, 520. This record was broken in 2016 by astronaut Jeff Williams. For the so-called ISS year long mission, Kelly spent 340 consecutive days (11 months, 3 days) in space. Kelly’s identical twin brother, Mark Kelly, is a former astronaut. The Kelly brothers are the only siblings to have traveled in space. While Scott Kelly spent a year in space, Mark stayed on Earth as a control subject. Researchers are looking at the effects of space travel on the human body, as part of the NASA Twins Study.

Memorable quotes from a real American Hero.
“When I’m in space, I think of earth, and when I’m on earth, I think of space.”
“It would take over 200 days to get to Mars and over 200 days to get back.”
“Flying in space is a privilege.”
“If we can dream it, we can do it.”

Selfie that Captain Kelly took while he was on the ISS.

Want to learn more about Astronaut Kelly’s time in space?

Tonight, PBS is airing Part 2 of Beyond A Year In Space,an Emmy award winning documentary which “follows Scott Kelly’s record-breaking 12-month mission as the Twin Study as NASA charts the effects of long-duration spaceflight for the next generation of astronauts.”

Sources: Amazon, Space.com, Wikipedia, PBS