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Comments: 118 • Responses: 44  • Date: 

Slimchimichanga9 karma

How big an impact has the tighter budget had on NASA's ability to do these projects? Do you do without, get creative or both?

maven2mars12 karma

Good question. While shrinking NASA budgets for planetary science are a challenge for our community, we of course always try to do the best with what we have. Contact your congressman/woman to show your support and concern for planetary science in this era of tight budgets.

rediffusion98267 karma

Suppose you had the ability to send any kind of equipment you wanted to Mars. What would you send in hope of finding the answer to a nagging question in the space exploration community?

Furthermore, is the Mars One program a rational leap forward in the exploration of Mars?

maven2mars10 karma

I personally would love to send a magnetometer on a balloon that would 'hop' and drift around Mars for years within 1 km of the surface. One of the major unknowns is the strength and pattern of magnetic fields to the surface. We know they must be strong but we don't know how strong or how well they correlate to specific geological features.

Another instrument I would love to send to Mars is a ground-based ionosonde. This instrument is basically a radar emitter and receiver that bounces radio waves off the underside of the Martian ionosphere. Our knowledge of the ionosphere below about 130 km is quite limited thus far and so such a continuous ground-based measurement would be of great help in understanding this important region of the Mars upper atmosphere.

maven2mars9 karma

I don't think Mars One is a credible endeavor at this time. If a bunch of billionaires want to give their money over to it then great. More luck to them. But I don't think the rationale has been sufficiently explained. Moreover, huge technical challenges stand in the way and any timetable that is thrown out there is probably extremely optimistic.

1minuteman5 karma


maven2mars6 karma

Our team runs very smoothly.

Animastryfe5 karma

The 'research' link on your Berkeley homepage is dead.

maven2mars6 karma

Sorry I'll get around to fixing that soon. Check back in a few days

itsjoeco4 karma

Can we geoengineer away global warming?

maven2mars3 karma

Maybe we can. The problem is where and how do you test it? Can you be sure your attempts at a solution will be stable not make things worse in the long run?

spacetess4 karma

How will MAVEN work with the other spacecraft and rovers that are already at Mars?

maven2mars2 karma

Great question! This'll be a longish answer so sit tight.

maven2mars5 karma

MAVEN is going to work with several other spacecraft orbiting and on the surface of Mars. First of all, MAVEN's instrument suite is most complementary to that on board the European Space Agency's Mars Express mission. The 2 missions working together will be able to untangle spatial and temporal variations in the near-Mars space environment. Also, one of them can work as a monitor for the undisturbed solar wind conditions while the other is embedded in Mars's atmosphere to watch atmospheric loss in action so that we can understand the link between solar conditions and atmospheric escape.

maven2mars4 karma

Secondly, MAVEN needs to know about the atmospheric conditions in Mars's lower atmosphere. In this regard, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft will provide daily 'weather" reports to the MAVEN team.

maven2mars4 karma

Thirdly, the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars has a radiation detector known as RAD (Radiation Assessment Detector). By monitoring the flux of high-energy particles both in orbit around Mars and on the surface, we will be able to better understand how these high-energy particles propagate through Mars's atmosphere and the effects they should have on the atmosphere.

Nomad473 karma

Will Maven be able to determine if the upper atmosphere of mars has anything resembling earth’s jet stream and if so, will it be able to tell us how fast it is moving?

maven2mars6 karma

Sadly, MAVEN does not contain every single instrument we would've liked to put in orbit around Mars :-). Unfortunately, to investigate whether Mars has a stratospheric jet stream analogous to Earth's, we would need some sort of a Doppler wind monitor.

ShEsHy3 karma

Do you place any worth in the idea that life came to Earth from Mars?

maven2mars10 karma

While it's not a total impossibility (Martian meteorites do land here), no I don't. Earth has has had life for at least 3.8 billion years and there's no good evidence (yet) that Mars had life. But stay tuned for MAVEN results.

jjmmzz2 karma

What kind of results could MAVEN give that would suggest life was once, or currently is, on Mars?

maven2mars5 karma

MAVEN is not going to detect life on Mars (current or past), but it will help us understand the ways the atmosphere and climate have evolved over time, which would have formed the conditions necessary for past habitability.

FeelinCrasy3 karma

Can we live on Mar's one day?

jespley2 karma

I heard a rumor that the systems engineer for the UC-Berkeley instruments (Dave Curtis) is a team of cloned androids. Is this true?

maven2mars2 karma

Based on quality of work performed and mere probability it must be true.

remote_production2 karma

In his AMA, Ron Paul said he would not vote to fund NASA because it would be spending taxpayers' money to sent a human to Mars for "entertainment". Any thoughts?

maven2mars1 karma

Did he say he would cut all of NASA's funding?

maven2mars3 karma

Well I think Dr. Paul is mistaken in thinking that the free market would have ever invested in space exploration or space technology, at the beginning at least. Public investment in such technology is what liberated this industry to take off in a way that has. Put simply, private companies will not invest in highly speculative ventures that may take years or decades to turn a profit. Government can afford to take risks on projects and ventures that don't always work out. This is a necessary underpinning for our entire technology economy. Thousands and thousands of modern technologies got their start in government-funded labs.

thegreatgazoo2 karma

If we start to terraform Mars, do you think there will be environmentalists saying that we should leave Mars alone?

maven2mars5 karma

Great question! I think the answer is undeniably yes. There will be plenty of people who will say we should leave Mars exactly as they found it and not 'spoil it' like we have with Earth. While I do think it's very important to characterize Mars in its original state as well as we possibly can for posterity, I think ultimately the Terraformers will win the argument is the need for population growth demands it. Keep in mind this is probably 500+ years in the future :-)

Comrade_Troll2 karma

If you had an unlimited budget to develop any kind of technology to put in orbit around Mars or land on Mars, what would you do? Also, thank you many times for doing this AMA.

maven2mars4 karma

Whew, with an unlimited budget that would be a long list!

1) seismology network of dozens of seismic stations so we can finally truly understand the interior of Mars (currently we understand only the barest details).

2) surface and airborne magnetometers all over the planet to characterize the crustal magnetic field.

3) radioisotope dating labs on Mars to unravel the plot's geologic history in a way we can currently only attempted directly.

4) in situ resource utilization experiments so we can understand what it would take to have a self-sustaining human presence on Mars.

5) A space elevator for easy access to and from the surface

FranticFane2 karma

What was the hardest step in getting where you are today?

maven2mars5 karma

Taking the school leaving examination is back in Ireland :-)

Randomguy12732 karma

1: What about space interests you the most?

2: What's your favorite space themed movie?

maven2mars5 karma

  1. I know this isn't really an answer, but probably what interests me most about space is how crazy big it is and what incredible diversity it contains, even just within the planets of our own solar system, let alone further afield.

  2. Hmmm, that's a tough one. I think maybe 'Event Horizon' or 'Alien'.

Randomguy12732 karma

Thanks for responding (first time someone has on one of my questions)

maven2mars3 karma

You're welcome!

johnyb052 karma

Hi, thanks for doing an AMA! How will MAVEN collect data on the composition of the atmosphere? What sort of equipment does it use to collect data?

maven2mars6 karma

No problem! MAVEN has an instrument onboard called NGIMS (neutral gas ion mass spectrometer) which will 'sniff' the Martian atmosphere and tell us the relative and absolute concentrations of its various constituent gases:

FunCookie162 karma

What's the resolution on the spectrometer? Do you think it will be plausible to send something like an orbitrap to Mars?

maven2mars2 karma

do you mean the neutral gas ion mass spectrometer? Following presentation defines the resolution in terms of the fraction of the signal in one mass channel to contaminate adjacent mass channel: 0.000001.

I don't know what an orbitrap is.

cathedrameregulaemea1 karma

What career advice can you offer to a graduate of electronic engineering, wanting to get into the space-industry and specifically into designing (and operating :D) the science instruments for our orbiters, landers and rovers?

What's the next big thing in terms of technology development for sensors? Either remote/proximity sensing? Are you aware of / do you think there're any particular schools or programs that are hubs for planetary-science-payload-R&D?

I asked a related question at the Curiosity IAmA, but didn't get an answer. Any response would be much appreciated :)

maven2mars1 karma

If you specifically want to get into designing, building and operating science instruments for orbiters, landers and rovers, you should do plenty of web research to find out the institutions where these instruments are designed and built. Great places to start are our university space sciences Labs (there are many great labs across the USA) and NASA centers (e.g. JBL, Goddard, Johnson etc). Then apply for jobs at those institutions.

Apocalyptic_Squirrel1 karma

What kind of animal would be best to have as a pet on Mars? I'm genuinely curious and I believe that you are the most qualified person to answer this question

maven2mars3 karma

you can put any pet in a spacesuit I suppose :-). But if you are talking about the kind of pet that could just live on Mars, then only some kind of microbe would have a chance.

That being said, large parts of Mars have very rough topography and so wouldn't be too well-suited to cattle or any other lumbering domesticated animal. Something like a mountain goat or lion would do pretty well, provided it was enclosed in a pressure suit with a breathing apparatus :-)

rempix1 karma

Manned or unmanned?

maven2mars2 karma

MAVEN is an unmanned mission to explore the upper atmosphere of Mars. Learn more about it, here:

T1mac1 karma

I'm is also a member of the MAVEN Science Closure Team, which is responsible for defining a clear path to answering the mission's top-level science questions.

What are a few of these "top-level science questions"? What are the answers?

maven2mars2 karma

Haha, well obviously we don't know the answers yet. However, these top-level science questions are:

1) What is the current state of the Mars upper atmosphere? 2) What is the rate of atmospheric escape at the current epoch and how does it relate to the controlling drivers such as solar activity? 3) What has been the integrated loss over time since the beginning of the solar system?

PoopBubbles1 karma

  1. Are there any interesting facts that you have learned in this job? 2.Are there questions you still have about space?

maven2mars2 karma

  1. Yes, thousands of interesting facts. 2. Of course. We are only just barely scratching the surface in terms of understanding of just the other planets in our solar system, let alone the rest of the galaxy/universe.

habitmelon1 karma

What sort of software is MAVEN running, and how do terrestrial engineers/operators/scientists interact with it?

maven2mars1 karma

The MAVEN project runs many kinds of scientific, engineering and management software, but I'm guessing you are referring to the spacecraft itself. The flight software for the spacecraft itself is a proprietary Lockheed Martin (the spacecraft manufacturer) type of software that I can't comment on. The flight software for the Particles and Fields instruments is written in C by our engineers. The software requirements are so specific for a mission like this that it doesn't make sense to purchase any company's software. Moreover, if we write it ourselves, we can make sure it's free of bugs :-)

habitmelon2 karma

Yeah, I was referring to the spacecraft. That makes sense to build your own, is it possible to modify the software from Earth? The reason I ask is this article about the Mars Pathfinder mentioned that there was a C interpreter that allowed the engineers on Earth to modify global variables in the program on board Pathfinder.

maven2mars1 karma

Yes, the MAVEN flight software allows such flexibility.

maven2mars1 karma

You might find this related pdf interesting: MAVEN Science Data Management |

bennythomson1 karma

How will MAVEN measure the loss of atmosphere?

How do the magnetometers help? Seeing as how there's no magnetic field

When will the data from MAVEN make an impact? Meaning, when will you be able to take all the data, and made conclusions from it.

Thanks! And best of luck! I'm very excited for this mission.

Edit: what is the estimated orbital decay date?

maven2mars3 karma

Great question! MAVEN will measure atmospheric loss in a number of ways. First, MAVEN will directly measure escaping planetary ions which have been picked up by the solar wind and carried away. Secondly, maven will indirectly measure neutral particles escaping the planet through measuring how the tenuous extended atmosphere (called the exosphere) changes.

maven2mars3 karma

MAVEN data will make an impact probably in the early part of 2015. We will be taking data for at least 1 Earth year, starting November 2014 until November 2015. As soon as the science team is confident that the instruments are working correctly, we will begin to interpret the data and start coming to conclusions about Mars' climate history and atmospheric loss rates.

maven2mars2 karma

MAVEN's orbit hopefully will not decay! Yes, because the orbit to settle into the atmosphere, thrusters must be used to maintain that orbit and of course there's only a limited amount of fuel, but we are confident that we have enough propellant to keep ourselves in ideal orbit for science for at least 3.5 years, contingent upon securing additional funding from NASA for operations beyond the nominal one Earth year mission.

EdVolpe1 karma

First off, thank you for your advancement of humanity's knowledge of space! I love astronomy. My question is how long do you think it will be until there is a human colony on Mars? As the gravity is so much less than Earth's and there is an actual atmosphere on Mars, unlike the Moon, would it be a good planet to colonise?

maven2mars3 karma

Great, it's great to see people interested and enthusiastic about astronomy and space! My own personal feeling is we are still at least 50 years away from a human colony on Mars. It could eventually be economically self-sustaining but the amount of investment needed to get it there is surely in the hundreds of billions and it's not clear anyone or any group of people will want to invest that kind of money with a return that could take many decades.

Also, gravity is not that much less than earth. It's about 38% of earth gravity. An interesting side effect of this is that the children of colonists born on Mars would probably not be able to visit Earth without special walking suits because they wouldn't have the bone density required.

However, Mars is quite well-suited for colonization because of 3 fortunate coincidences:

1) the length of day is just a bit over 24 hours and 37 minutes, so sleep cycles wouldn't be a problem.

2) Mars' orbital obliquity is 25.2°, similar to Earth's ~23°, so the seasons on Mars would be somewhat analogous to those on earth.

3) Due to the non-negligible atmospheric pressure, we would not need full space suits but lighter pressure suits with breathing apparatus.

Radiation on the surface would still be a serious problem though. To mitigate this risk, we would likely have to build human habitats underground.

EdVolpe1 karma

Very interesting, thank you very much and I hope the mission goes well!

maven2mars2 karma

You're welcome and thank you!

Supremetacoleader1 karma

How will this mission benefit our Society?

maven2mars1 karma

The benefits of the MAVEN mission to society are twofold:

1) Space science missions such as this provide high-tech, well-paying US jobs in both science and aerospace engineering. Such expertise can only be good for our economy in the long run.

2) The scientific benefits of MAVEN may be a little bit further down the road, but it is difficult to argue that learning more about our nearest planetary neighbor cannot benefit the human race in the long run.

FranticFane1 karma

What is your biggest goal in life?

maven2mars5 karma

to keep doing interesting science!

djgump351 karma

With the work you have done, and will do in the future, do you think the results can be applied to study our own atmosphere, if you haven't already, and have you thought of another application that could benefit us on Earth?

maven2mars1 karma

While the MAVEN results will not be directly applicable to earth science, there is always scientific value in comparing similar physical processes in different physical environments. Comparative Planetology is a relatively new field of study as scientists have tended in the past to study planets in isolation. There is a growing acceptance that such quantatative comparisons can only help us understand the processes that govern all planetary systems.

MogarTheGreatest1 karma

What type of college/studies did you have to take to get to where you are now?

maven2mars1 karma

hi. I did an undergraduate degree in theoretical physics (the American equivalent would be a double major in math and physics). Then I applied to grad school programs in the USA. I was lucky that UC Berkeley has a top-class space science lab. Graduate degrees in physics, astronomy and Earth/Planetary science are the easiest route into space and planetary research.

vet-inte0 karma

If ever, when do you think we will populate Mars?

maven2mars1 karma

See answer above.

itsjoeco0 karma

If you had to describe yourself with one word, what would it be?

maven2mars4 karma

Tough one...Curious!

piggybaggy0 karma

So there's been some increased solar activity as of late. Be honest, these are dangerous, right? NASA's official position is just so people don't panic. I am staying inside this weekend. What are you doing?

maven2mars2 karma

Our atmosphere and magnetic field protect us from any solar radiation down here on Earth's surface.