Mars ‘terror,’ future Moon missions and an epic journey to the Sun: 2018’s year in space

2018 has been a busy year for space exploration. Here are some of the highlights: MARS LANDER’S ‘SEVEN MINUTES OF TERROR’ NASA’s Mars InSight Lander reached the Red Planet on Nov. 26 after an epic journey of more than 300-million miles that lasted six months. The final stage of its descent, however, was fraught with … Continue reading “Mars ‘terror,’ future Moon missions and an epic journey to the Sun: 2018’s year in space”

2018 has been a busy year for space exploration. Here are some of the highlights:

MARS LANDER’S ‘SEVEN MINUTES OF TERROR’

NASA’s Mars InSight Lander reached the Red Planet on Nov. 26 after an epic journey of more than 300-million miles that lasted six months. The final stage of its descent, however, was fraught with difficulty – NASA engineers characterize landing on Mars as “seven minutes of terror.”

Safely settled on the surface of the planet, sensors on the Lander recently captured the first-ever “sounds” of Martian wind. The probe also used a camera on its robotic arm, to take its first Mars selfie.

NASA’S INSIGHT MARS LANDER ARRIVES ON THE RED PLANET, ENDS SUCCESSFUL JOURNEY

The InSight mission, which is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will provide scientists with a wealth of data. By studying Mars’ deep interior, the mission is expected to provide valuable information on the formation of rocky worlds, including Earth.

Mars looms ever larger in America’s space future.

In November, NASA announced that it has selected the location where its Mars 2020 Rover will land on the Red Planet. The rover is expected to reach the Martian surface on Feb. 18, 2021.

NASA’s long-term goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. However, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin thinks that a slightly later target date of 2040 is more realistic. In an interview in 2016, the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 astronaut told Fox News that by 2040, astronauts could have visited Mars’ moon Phobos, which could serve as a sort of stepping stone to the Red Planet.

MASSIVE MARS DISCOVERY

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover found organic molecules on Mars, the space agency revealed in a major announcement in June.

The molecules, which were found in rocks from an ancient lake bed, provide fresh insight into the Red Planet, according to scientists. The rocks are billions of years old, NASA said.

While NASA went to great lengths to explain that it has not discovered life on Mars, the organic molecules could provide vital clues.

MASSIVE MARS DISCOVERY: ORGANIC MOLECULES 'FUNDAMENTAL TO OUR SEARCH FOR LIFE' FOUND BY NASA ROVER

“Organic compounds are fundamental to our search for life,” said Paul Mahaffy, director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Goddard, Md.

Described as the most technologically advanced rover ever built, Curiosity launched on Nov. 26, 2011. The rover landed on Mars' Gale Crater on Aug. 6, 2012, with the goal of determining whether Mars was ever able to support microbial life.

RENDEZVOUS WITH ASTEROID BENNU

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, reached its orbit at asteroid Bennu on Dec. 3 after traveling more than 1 billion miles through space. The spacecraft launched in September 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The asteroid may provide answers to the origin of our solar system, according to NASA.

OSIRIS-REx will spend almost a year surveying the space rock from orbit. The probe is scheduled to briefly touch the asteroid with a robotic arm in July 2020 and retrieve a sample that will be returned to Earth in September 2023.

NASA'S OSIRIS-REX SPACECRAFT REACHES ASTEROID BENNU AFTER EPIC JOURNEY

Scientists recently made a fascinating discovery on the asteroid. They analyzed data from the probe and identified water locked inside the asteroid’s clay, the space agency announced. The spacecraft’s two spectrometers revealed the presence of “hydroxyls,” which are molecules containing oxygen and hydrogen atoms bonded together.

Other countries are also ramping up their efforts to study asteroids. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Hayabusa 2 spacecraft recently lowered two small rovers onto a distant asteroid. Hayabusa 2 arrived at Ryugu on June 27, 2018, when the asteroid was almost 170 million miles from Earth. The spacecraft, which traveled almost 2 billion miles to reach the space rock, is expected to leave Ryugu at the end of 2019 and return to Earth around the end of 2020.

DRAMATIC LAUNCH ESCAPE

On Oct. 11, NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin made a dramatic escape after their Soyuz booster rocket failed just two minutes after launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The spacecraft was about 30 miles above Earth’s surface when the crew was forced to make a dangerous “ballistic re-entry” into Earth’s atmosphere. After the successful deployment of its parachute, the rescue capsule landed safely in the steppes of Kazakhstan about 30 minutes after the rocket failure.

A Russian investigation attributed the failure to a sensor that was damaged during the rocket's final assembly.

US, RUSSIAN ASTRONAUTS MAKE DANGEROUS BALLISTIC RE-ENTRY INTO EARTH’S ATMOSPHERE AFTER ROCKET FAILS

Less than two months later, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying three astronauts, including one American, successfully docked with the International Space Station. The launch from Kazakhstan was the first successful manned mission to the space lab since the aborted Soyuz launch.

The Soyuz spacecraft is currently the only vehicle that can ferry crews to the space station, but Russia stands to lose that monopoly in the coming years with the arrival of SpaceX's Dragon and Boeing's Starliner crew capsules.

MYSTERIOUS SPACE STATION LEAK

The leak was spotted on Aug. 30 in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft attached to the orbiting space lab. The crew quickly located and sealed the tiny hole that created a slight loss of pressure, and space officials said the station has remained safe to operate.

The capsule leak caused a flap between the U.S. and Russian space agencies. Russian space chief Dmitry Rogozin observed that the hole could have been drilled during manufacturing — or in orbit. The space station's commander at the time flatly denied any wrongdoing by himself or his crew.

SPACE STATION CREW TO INSPECT MYSTERIOUS HOLE ON SPACEWALK

The Russian space chief has since backpedaled on his statement, saying that he never pointed the finger at U.S. astronauts and blaming the media for twisting his statement.

Rogozin said recently that the Russian official probe is ongoing. During a grueling spacewalk in December, Russian cosmonauts took samples of the black epoxy sealant protruding from the hole and put insulation over the area. Roscosmos will discuss the probe findings with NASA and other space station partners, according to Rogozin.

NASA ANNOUNCES MOON, MARS MISSION PARTNERS

In November, NASA announced that Lockheed Martin and eight other companies will compete for $2.6 billion worth of contracts to help take American astronauts back to the Moon and Mars.

In addition to Lockheed, which built the Mars InSight lander, NASA's commercial partners include Astrobotic Technology, Deep Space System, Draper, Firefly, Intuitive Machines, Masten Space Systems, Moon Express and Orbit Beyond.

The contracts could be worth as much as $2.6 billion over a span of 10 years and flights could start as soon as next year, officials said. The original list included more than 30 companies vying for the bids, including Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin.

NASA SAYS LOCKHEED MARTIN, 8 OTHER COMPANIES WILL HELP BRING ASTRONAUTS BACK TO THE MOON AND MARS

President Donald Trump wants U.S. astronauts to return to the Moon as a foundation for future Mars missions.

The last time a human set foot on the Moon was during the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972. Only 12 men, all Americans, have set foot on the Moon.

NASA’s goal is also to send to manned missions into space from U.S. soil during the coming years. Since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, the U.S. has been relying on Russian Soyuz rockets, launched from Kazakhstan, to get astronauts to the ISS.

In August, NASA also named nine “American hero” astronauts that will crew the test flights and first space station resupply missions on SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.

PARKER SOLAR PROBE’S EPIC JOURNEY TO ‘TOUCH THE SUN’

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe blasted off on its odyssey from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket in the early hours of Aug. 12, 2018.

The $1.5 billion mission will take humanity closer to the Sun than ever before. Parker is the first spacecraft to fly through the Sun’s corona, the outermost part of the star’s atmosphere

To withstand the heat of nearly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, the probe is protected by a special 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield.

NASA'S PARKER SOLAR PROBE BLASTS OFF ON EPIC JOURNEY TO 'TOUCH THE SUN'

Parker will face “brutal” heat and radiation during the epic journey that will take it to within 3.83 million miles of the Sun’s surface, according to the space agency. This is seven times closer than the previous closest spacecraft, Helios 2, which came within 27 million miles of the Sun in 1976.

Harnessing Venus’ gravity, Parker will complete seven flybys over seven years to gradually bring its orbit closer and closer to the Sun. On its closest approach in 2024, the probe will be traveling at approximately 430,000 mph, setting a new speed record for a manmade object.

The Sun’s corona, which can be seen during a total solar eclipse, is usually hidden by the bright light of the star’s surface. The probe, named after pioneering solar physicist Dr. Eugene Parker, will provide a wealth of invaluable scientific data.

Scientists expect to shed new light on the Sun’s potential to disrupt satellites and spacecraft, as well as electronics and communications on Earth.

In November, the probe snapped a stunning picture of the Sun’s atmosphere.

‘SUPER-EARTH’ DISCOVERY

In March, scientists announced the discovery of 15 new planets, including a “super-Earth” that may have liquid water on its surface.

The planets are orbiting small, cool stars near our solar system, known as “Red Dwarfs.”

One of the brightest Red Dwarfs, K2-155, has three “super-Earths,” one of which, K2-155d, could be within the star’s habitable zone. K2-155d, which has a radius 1.6 times that of Earth, may harbor liquid water, according to three-dimensional global climate simulations.

K2-155 is about 200 light-years from Earth. A light-year, which measures distance in space, equals 6 trillion miles.

PLANETS IN GALAXIES BEYOND MILKY WAY SPOTTED FOR FIRST TIME

In February, revealed the discovery, for the first time, of planets in galaxies beyond the Milky Way.

Using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, a team of astrophysicists from the University of Oklahoma identified the extragalactic planets about 3.8 billion light-years away. The space observatory helped scientists find about 2,000 objects with comparable mass to the Moon and Jupiter.

The Oklahoma University team used a technique called microlensing, which identifies the gravitational signature of planets orbiting extremely distant stars.

MYSTERIOUS INTERSTELLAR OBJECT

Oumuamua, the first interstellar object ever spotted in our solar system, also garnered plenty of attention in 2018. NASA said that Oumuamua is a "metallic or rocky object," while a study from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics speculated that it could be a “lightsail” sent from an ancient civilization.

Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia, Jennifer Earl, Amy Lieu and the Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

Man who exposed ‘Area 51 UFO tests’ claims US government still monitors him 30 years later

The man who exposed Area 51 to the world is still being tracked by the U.S. Government, he claims.

Bob Lazar claims to have seen test flights of nine captured UFOs, and says he even worked as an engineer on the alien spacecrafts, in a TV interview in 1989.

Now a new documentary, Bob Lazar: Area 51 and Flying Saucers, takes a deep dive into his theories and where is now.

CLICK ON THE SUN FOR MORE

Thirty years ago he claimed to have worked near Area 51 at hangar  S-4 where he claims UFOs with tiny alien seats were made out of a material called Element 115.

Going by the fake name Dennis, he told reporters: "The propulsion system is a gravity propulsion system. The power source is an antimatter reactor. This technology does not exist at all."

The U.S. Government always denied the existence of Area 51 until five years ago when CIA documents listed it as an aviation test site.

Lazar described the cover up as "a crime against the scientific community".

He later claimed the Government had threatened his life, his wife and family in an effort to silence him.

(Credit: YouTube)

In the documentary he says he regrets blowing the whistle on the alien test site, adding: "At this point in my life, I’d probably lean towards not saying anything."

These days he lives in  Michigan with wife Joy and and runs United Nuclear, selling lasers, chemicals and science products.

Lazar claims the FBI once raided his lab, saying: "At the risk of sounding paranoid, I do always have a suspicion that someone is monitoring me – it’s something that is difficult to get out of my mind."

Nowadays he actively ignores tales of aliens and space craft.

He added: "I do not follow UFO stories or reports and am not interested in researching life outside of Earth.

"My primary interest was, and still is, the incredibly advanced technology. I know if we can control and develop it, it can change the world."

The journalist who introduced Lazar to the public, George Knapp backs-up his story adding: "His vehicle also had break-ins. Mind games being played. Threats were issued

"Lazar and others were bugged and followed, and it certainly seemed like someone wanted to frighten him into remaining silent, or maybe they wanted to drive him a little crazy.

"I was present for many of these events. I saw them with my own eyes, and I witnessed the aftermath as well."

But Lazar's reputation has taken a kicking throughout the years – like when researchers failed to find a record of him attending his alleged schools, MIT and the California Institute of Technology.

He tells the documentary: "How can I prove anything else? Do you think Los Alamos just hired me out of high school?"

Documentary filmmaker Jeremy Corbell told Mail Online:  "If this story’s true, it is probably the most important UFO story in human history, because it reveals the truth."

This story originally appeared in The Sun.

NASA scientist says Earth may have been visited by aliens

NASA was set up in part to find traces of extraterrestrial life in the universe. While the government space agency has yet to find any definitive evidence that extraterrestrials exist, one NASA scientist believes we may have already been visited by them here on Earth.

In a new research paper, Silvano P. Colombano, who in addition to being a computer scientist at NASA Ames Research Center, is also a professor, theorizes that intelligent life may not be what we are used to and may not necessarily use the traditional building blocks of that humanity is accustomed to, such as carbon.

"I simply want to point out the fact that the intelligence we might find and that might choose to find us (if it hasn’t already) might not be at all be produced by carbon based organisms like us," Colombano wrote in the paper.

NASA PICKS LANDING SPOT FOR MARS 2020 ROVER IN HUNT FOR ALIEN LIFE

So if extraterrestrials are not carbon-based, what does that do to our assumptions about what to look for? Well, a lot, Colombano noted.

"Our typical life-spans would no longer be a limitation (although even these could be dealt with multi-generational missions or suspended animation), and the size of the 'explorer' might be that of an extremely tiny super-intelligent entity," Colombano added in the paper.

Colombano also suggests that extraterrestrials may have figured out technology that humans can not comprehend yet, making tasks such as interstellar travel possible. "If we adopt a new set of assumptions about what forms of higher intelligence and technology we might find, some of those phenomena might fit specific hypotheses, and we could start some serious enquiry," he suggested.

Still, the scientist concedes that interstellar travel could be "an unbreakable barrier, over spans of thousands of years," though he added that interstellar journey could be possible depending on what we assume about various forms of life.

NASA POSTS PHOTO OF 'CRASHED FLYING SAUCER FROM OUTER SPACE'

"Considering further that technological development in our civilization started only about 10K years ago and has seen the rise of scientific methodologies only in the past 500 years, we can surmise that we might have a real problem in predicting technological evolution even for the next thousand years, let alone 6 Million times that amount!" he explained.

Colombano, who holds a doctorate in biophysical sciences according to his LinkedIn page, also said that not every UFO sighting can be "explained or denied" and asked people to look through the "very large of amount of 'noise' when it comes to reporting on the subject.

Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia