A team of scientists are back for their 16th summer in the High Arctic, using Devon Island’s Haughton Crater as a stand-in for Mars.
“It's bleak and it's beautiful and it just takes you to Mars as soon as you go there,” said Pascal Lee, a planetary scientist with the Mars Institute and director of NASA’s Haughton-Mars Project.
The uninhabited island, located east of Resolute and south of Grise Fiord, is a rocky polar desert marked by an ancient rock impact – a terrain similar to that of the red planet.
“Twenty-two million years ago an asteroid or comet — not sure yet — hit that location and created a gigantic hole in the ground,” said Lee. “Rocks were melted and even vaporized at the time of the impact.”
Using the Haughton Crater as an analog for Mars helps scientists understand the planet’s geology and glaciology, as well as field test exploration vehicles and other technologies.
“We are testing a robotic drill for example this year,” said Lee. “The surface for Mars is very difficult for life as we know it to live on. But underneath the surface, where it's shielded from radiation, ultraviolet light and the cold, we might have a chance for finding signs of life, so we are learning how to drill here so we can do it on Mars.”
Nasa's newest Mars rover Curiosity is expected to land in the planet’s Gale Crater on Aug. 6.
“It's the size of golf cart — it's a much bigger rover — and it's a step in the direction of what we hope to send one day to Mars which are humans and habitats and bigger rovers,” he said.
Though Lee says we're still years away from a manned mission to Mars, he believes research on Devon Island is paving the way.
"My sense is that when humans actually go to Mars one day, they will train on Devon first."
He said a large component of the project involves Nunavut students and young adults working and participating in the research.
“I hope that kids growing up in Nunavut here for example will one day get the sense they really contributed to sending humans to Mars and will get there themselves one day,” Lee said.
Liberty Bell 7 Sinks
After the second manned space mission in 1961, the Liberty Bell 7 capsule was afloat in the Atlantic ocean, awaiting recovery. Astronaut Gus Grissom reported that he heard a dull thud as the hatch blew open--the module began filling with water, and Grissom had to struggle to escape before it sank. Did Grissom "screw the pooch," as Tom Wolfe famously wrote in <i>The Right Stuff</i>? Or was there a mechanical malfunction? The world may never know.
Phobos-Grunt was a 2011 Russian mission to return a sample of soil from Mars' moon Phobos. It would have been the first such sample ever returned to earth. Because of a malfunction in the craft's propulsion system, however, Phobos-Grunt never made it out of low-earth orbit. It remained there, crippled, until early 2012, when its orbit decayed and it disintegrated in the atmosphere off the coast of Chile.
Mars Climate Orbiter Burns Up
This 1998 orbiter mission was supposed to study Mars' climate history and determine if the planet ever held life-sustaining water. But the $125 million craft never made it to Mars, burning up in the atmosphere on the day it was supposed to enter orbit. What caused the costly incident? One team of engineers had performed their calculations in metric units, while another used English units.
Soyuz 5 Lands Hard
After participating in the first in-flight transfer of cosmonauts from one spacecraft to another, pilot Boris Volynov (pictured), led Soyuz 5 back toward Earth. When the service module failed to detach, the craft plummeted toward earth upside-down, subjecting Volynov to extreme heat. The craft subsequently crashed hundreds of miles off course in the Ural mountains, breaking several of Volynov's teeth in the impact and leaving him to awaiting rescue in -38 degree (F) temperatures. He walked "a few kilometers" to a village and took shelter until help arrived. (<a href="http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2009/01/dayintech_0116">Source</a>)
Hubble Telescope Can't See
Although NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has produced incredible images of space for more than 20 years, it was nearly a failure of galactic proportions. After its launch in 1990, Hubble produced only blurry, grainy pictures due to a faulty mirror. Luckily, it was fixed three years later, and went on to capture some of the most incredible space images ever seen.
Kwangmyŏngsŏng Program Flounders
North Korea has attempted to launch its Kwangmyŏngsŏng satellites four times, and met with four failures. North Korean Umha-2 rockets, pictured, were used on the second and third launches but could not bring their satellite payloads into orbit. Fortunately, all the missions were unmanned.
H-IIA Rocket Self-Destructs
H-IIA is the launch system of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Its sixth launch was supposed to deliver a spy satellite into orbit, but a rocket booster failed to detach properly from the H-IIA, making the rocket too heavy to enter orbit. Ground control sent a destruct command to the rocket shortly after.
Glory Sputters Out
Climate science was dealt a blow in March 2011, when NASA's Glory satellite--which was supposed to study humans' effect on the Earth's atmosphere--failed to launch. The Taurus XL rocket carrying the observation satellite crashed into the Pacific after liftoff when Glory's protective casing didn't open.
Cluster Breaks Up
Cluster, a group of spacecraft launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 1995, were lost when launch vehicle Ariane 5 failed to reach orbit. The launch vehicle, on its maiden voyage, self-destructed after a software error caused it to veer off-course. What was the problem? A glitch similar to the issue that doomsayers said would bring disaster at 11:59:59, December 31, 1999. This time, however, the threat was real.
Apollo 13 'Fails Successfully'
NASA's most famous black eye came on April 14, 1970, when an oxygen tank on Apollo 13's service module exploded and the crew narrowly managed to abort the mission safely. The damaged service module that began the drama is pictured here, courtesy of <a href="http://www.alanbeangallery.com/">Alan Bean</a>, Apollo astronaut and "first artist on another world."
Naro-1 was a carrier rocket created for South Korea's Korean Aerospace Research Institute. Both attempts to launch Naro-1 ended in failure, with one disintegrating in the atmosphere and another exploding before making it to space.