NASA extends Mars rover and Moon orbiter missions

Nature Newsblog - Sat, 2014-08-30 11:44

A false-colour image of the Mars Opportunity rover, taken in March 2014.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

NASA is on the verge of releasing its long-awaited prioritization of planetary missions, meant to guide the agency if tight budgets force it to switch off an operating spacecraft. But two missions that had been considered on the verge of closure — the Mars Opportunity rover and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) — have each received a reprieve of another two years of operations, scientists close to the projects have confirmed.

Although NASA officials had insisted otherwise, Opportunity and LRO were considered particularly vulnerable because funding for them was included in a supplement to the White House’s annual budget request to Congress, rather than as part of the main planetary sciences division budget.

In a decade of operation, Opportunity has rolled more than 40.6 kilometres across Mars, exploring areas including the most ancient habitable environment known on the planet. The rover is suffering from several mechanical issues as well as problems with its flash memory that have triggered computer resets in recent weeks. Opportunity, which costs on the order of US$13 million annually, is heading for a region called Marathon Valley where scientists think clay minerals formed in a watery environment.

The LRO finished its main task in 2010: mapping possible  locations for astronauts to return to the Moon. More recently it has focused on studying change on the lunar surface, such as from fresh meteorite impacts.

The complete ‘senior review’, encompassing five other planetary missions, will be released at a planetary sciences advisory group meeting in Washington DC on 3 September.

Of the five other missions, two of them are big-ticket items — on the order of $60 million annually — that are considered shoo-ins for approval. The Curiosity rover landed on Mars two years ago and is still heading for its ultimate goal, a mountain named Mount Sharp. (The harsh rocks of Mars have taken a toll on Curiosity, however, and the rover recently had to backtrack out of a sandy valley so as not to get stuck, as well as give up on drilling what would have been its fourth hole on Mars.)

The Cassini mission has been orbiting Saturn since 2004, but as seasons change it has been observing new phenomena on the planet. “In many ways it’s a brand-new mission,” project scientist Linda Spilker, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said earlier this month. Cassini engineers are planning for a ‘grand finale’ in 2017, when the probe will repeatedly dive between the gaseous planet and its ring system to make unprecedented close-up measurements. “It will be seven seconds of terror every 22 days,” Spilker said.

The three remaining missions under scrutiny are the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which costs around $30 million annually and plays a crucial communications relay role at Mars; the 13-year-old Mars Odyssey orbiter, at $12 million annually; and a $3 million contribution for an instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft, launched in 2003.

Jim Green, head of NASA’s planetary sciences division, has said repeatedly that the agency will work within its budgetary constraints to try to fulfill the recommendations of the senior review panel. The big unknown is how much money the agency will have to spend for each of the extended missions. NASA typically allocates around $1.3 billion annually to planetary sciences, but Congress has yet to decide the numbers for fiscal year 2015, which begins on 1 October.

Categories: General, News

Small molecule acts as on-off switch for nature's antibiotic factory

Biology News - Thu, 2014-08-28 18:58

The soil bacteria Streptomyces form filamentous branches that extend into the air to create spiraling towers of spores. Scientists have identified the developmental on-off switch for Streptomyces, a group of soil microbes that produce more than two-thirds of the world's naturally derived antibiotic medicines.

Categories: Biology News, General

Ebola vaccine trials fast-tracked by international consortium

Biology News - Thu, 2014-08-28 18:58

A candidate Ebola vaccine could be given to healthy volunteers in the UK, The Gambia and Mali as early as September, as part of an series of safety trials of potential vaccines aimed at preventing the disease that has killed more than 1,400 people in the current outbreak in West Africa.

Categories: Biology News, General

Genomic sequencing reveals mutations, insights into 2014 Ebola outbreak

Biology News - Thu, 2014-08-28 18:58

In response to an ongoing, unprecedented outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in West Africa, a team of researchers from the Broad Institute and Harvard University, in collaboration with the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation and researchers across institutions and continents, has rapidly sequenced and analyzed more than 99 Ebola virus genomes. Their findings could have important implications for rapid field diagnostic tests. The team reports its results online in the journal Science.

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New book list, August 20, 2014

Ernst Mayr Library Blog - Thu, 2014-08-21 11:15

Birds and climate change: impacts and conservation responses.
By James W. Pearce-Higgins, Rhys E. Green. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. HOLLIS# 014117392
QL698.95.P43 2014

Climate change adaptation in Africa: an historical ecology.
By Gufu Oba. Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge, 2014. HOLLIS# 014117419
SF55.H67 O43 2014

Coastal conservation.
Edited by Brooke Maslo and Julie L. Lockwood, Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. HOLLIS# 014117424
QH541.5.C65 C5485 2014

Collaborative partnerships in transboundary wildlife management: a review of southern African experiences.
By Solomon Mombeshora. Harare, Zimbabwe: Regional Office for Southern Africa, IUCN, The World Conservation Union, 2005. HOLLIS# 010205332
SK575.S55 M66 2005

Endangered elephants: past, present, and future: Symposium on Human-Elephant Relationships and Conflicts, Sri Lanka, September 2003.
Editor, Jayantha Jayewardene. Rajagiriya: Biodiversity and Elephant Conservation Trust, 2004. HOLLIS# 010296666
QL737.P98 S98 2004

Fish chemosenses.
Editors, Klaus Reutter, B.G. Kapoor. Enfield, NH: Science Publishers, c2005. HOLLIS# 009795725
QL639.1.F5524 2005

Foundations of fisheries science.
Edited by Greg G. Sass, Micheal S. Allen; section edited by Robert Arlinghaus [and four others]. Bethesda, Maryland: American Fisheries Society, 2014. HOLLIS# 014122140
SH328.F68 2014

Handbook of Western Australian birds. Volume 2: Passerines (Blue-winged Pitta to Goldfinch).
By R.E. Johnstone and G.M. Storr, edited by Deborah Louise Taylor. Perth, W.A.: Western Australian Museum, 1998- . HOLLIS# 007975815
QL693.J655 1998 v. 2

Handbook on the economics of ecosystem services and biodiversity.
Edited by Paulo A.L.D. Nunes, Pushpam Kumar, Tom Dedeurwaerdere. Cheltenham, UK; Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar, [2014]. HOLLIS# 014122147
QH541.15.E25 H25 2014

Indian birds.
By R. K. Gaur. New Delhi: Brijbasi Printers, 1994. HOLLIS# 010296659
QL691.I4 G38 1994

Inseklopedie van Suider-Afrika.
By Erik Holm. Pretoria: LAPA Uitgewers, 2008. HOLLIS# 012041994
QL485.S6 H65 2008

Mamíferos de España.
[By] Juan Carlos Blanco; prólogo de Miguel Delibes de Castro. 1. ed. Barcelona: Planeta, 1998. HOLLIS# 008190988
QL728.S7 B485 1998 v. 1-2

Quantitative genetics in the wild.
Edited by Anne Charmantier, Dany Garant, Loeske E.B. Kruuk. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. HOLLIS# 014122167
QH432.Q36 2014

Rare and endangered plants and animals of Gujarat, February 2003: as part of the Project Conservation of Rare and Endangered Biodiversity of Gujarat.
Vadodara: Gujarat Ecology Society, 2003. HOLLIS# 010296691
QK86.I4 R37 2003

Salmonid spawning habitat in rivers: physical controls, biological responses, and approaches to remediation.
Edited by David A. Sear and Paul DeVries. Bethesda, Md.: American Fisheries Society, 2008. HOLLIS# 012316469
SH167.S18 S3 2008

Shark nursery grounds of the Gulf of Mexico and the East Coast waters of the United States.
Edited by Camilla T. McCandless, Nancy E. Kohler, and Harold L. Pratt, Jr. Bethesda, Md.: American Fisheries Society, 2007. HOLLIS# 012514564
QL638.9.S4537 2007

Spezielle Zoologie. [Teil. 1], Einzeller und wirbellose Tiere.
[Editors], Wilfried Westheide und Reinhard RiegerEinzeller und wirbellose Tiere3rd ed. Berlin; Heidelberg :Springer Spektrum, 2013. HOLLIS# 014137379
QL362.E36 2013 [Teil 1]

Teleosts: evolutionary development, diversity and behavioral ecology.
Skylar Carone, editor. Hauppauge, New York: Nova Science Publisher’s, Inc., [2014]. HOLLIS# 014122188
QL618.2.T45 2014

Wetland conservation in Sri Lanka: proceedings of the National Symposium on Wetland Conservation and Management: June 19th and 20th, 2003, IUCN-The World Conservation Union, Sri Lanka Country Office.

Colombo: IUCN, Sri Lanka, c2004. HOLLIS# 010296670
QH77.S72 N37 2003

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