New NASA rover to scout for life’s habitats on Mars

A nuclear-powered rover as big as a compact car is set to begin a nine-month journey to Mars this weekend to learn if the planet is or ever was suitable for life.

PHOTOS Reuters
PHOTOS Reuters

The launch of NASA’s $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory aboard an unmanned United Space Alliance Atlas 5 rocket is set for 10:02 a.m. EST (1502 GMT) on Saturday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, located just south of the Kennedy Space Center.

The mission is the first since NASA’s 1970s-era Viking program to directly tackle the age-old question of whether there is life in the universe beyond Earth.

“This is the most complicated mission we have attempted on the surface of Mars,” Peter Theisinger, Mars Science Lab project manager with NASA prime contractor Lockheed Martin, told reporters at a pre-launch press conference on Wednesday.

The consensus of scientists after experiments by the twin Viking landers was that life did not exist on Mars. Two decades later, NASA embarks on a new strategy to find signs of past water on Mars, realizing the question of life could not be examined without a better understanding of the planet’s environment.

“Everything we know about life and what makes a livable environment is peculiar to Earth,” said astrobiologist Pamela Conrad of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and a deputy lead scientist for the mission. “What things look like on Mars are a function of not only the initial set of ingredients that Mars had when it was made, but the processes that have affected Mars,” she said.

New Mars Rover

Without a large enough moon to stabilize its tilt, Mars has undergone dramatic climate changes over the eons as its spin axis wobbled closer or farther from the sun.

The history of what happened on Mars during those times is chemically locked in its rocks, including whether liquid water and other ingredients believed necessary for life existed on the planet’s surface, and if so, for how long. In 2004, the golf cart-sized rovers Spirit and Opportunity landed on opposite sides of Mars’ equator to tackle the question of water. Their three-month missions grew to seven years, with Spirit succumbing to the harsh winter in the past year and Opportunity beginning a search in a new area filled with water-formed clays. Both rovers found signs that water mingled with rocks during Mars’ past.

The new rover, nicknamed Curiosity, shifts the hunt to other elements key to life, particularly organics.

“One of the ingredients of life is water,” said Mary Voytek, director of NASA’s astrobiology program. “We’re now looking to see if we can find other conditions that are necessary for life by defining habitability or what does it take in the environment to support life.”

The spacecraft, which is designed to last two years, is outfitted with 10 tools to analyze one particularly alluring site on Mars called Gale Crater. The site is a 96-mile (154-kilometer) wide basin that has a layered mountain of deposits stretching 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) above its floor, twice as tall as the layers of rock in the Grand Canyon. Scientists do not know how the mound formed but suspect it is the eroded remains of sediment that once completely filled the crater.




24 November 2011, Thursday / REUTERS, CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA.

Techno center to boost local defense industry

The Turkish government aims to make Teknopark Istanbul the country’s Silicon Valley for the defense industry. The center is expected to employ around 30,000 people and generate yearly revenues up to $5 billion.
Teknopark Istanbul will become Turkey’s most important technology center, says Minister Nihat Ergün (4th right). AA photo
Teknopark Istanbul will become Turkey’s most important technology center, says Minister Nihat Ergün (4th right). AA photo

The Turkish government on Nov. 18 laid the foundations for Teknopark Istanbul, a technology center that will house hundreds of mainly defense companies and their research and development efforts, hoping to create a Silicon Valley for the country’s defense industry.

Science, Industry and Technology Minister Nihat Ergün, Deputy Defense Minister Kemal Yardımcı and Defense Industry Undersecretary Murad Bayar were among dignitaries who attended a ceremony to mark the laying of the foundation of the technology park’s research and development building at Kurtköy, Pendik, on Istanbul’s Asian side.

Teknopark Istanbul will probably become Turkey’s most important technology center, Minister Ergün said. Recalling the government’s targets to reach a gross domestic product of $2 trillion and an export volume of $500 billion, Ergün said “Teknopark Istanbul will contribute to reaching these figures.”

Teknopark Istanbul will operate a 700,000-square-meter indoor space at Sabiha Gokcen Airport near Istanbul, accommodating 30,000 personnel and targeting up to $5 billion in defense and nondefense business annually, to become one of Europe’s largest technology parks.

Its major shareholders are the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM) with a 45 percent stake; and the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce (İTO) with a 40 percent stake. İTO, which also runs a university with the same name, has some 300,000 member companies.

“Teknopark Istanbul will introduce new technologies to a city that already generates an annual $133 billion” in economic activity, Turgut Şenol, Teknopark’s CEO, told the Hürriyet Daily News.

“The site will bring together companies and 27 universities in Istanbul, targeting strategic fields like aviation, maritime, electronics, information technology, nanotechnology, energy and automotive, biotechnologies, automation systems and robot technologies,” he said. Some of the world’s technology giants are in talks with Teknopark Istanbul to build their own offices there, Şenol added.

“The site will offer its residents tax advantages and logistical benefits, as they will be located within a major European airport and have quick access to a trans-European motorway,” he said. “Here, we will be hosting both Turkish and foreign technology ventures.”

Şenol, a former SSM department chief, had also chaired defense companies Ayesaş and Meteksan Savunma. Before that, he was a business development chief at military electronics company Havelsan, one of Turkey’s top five defense companies.

A procurement official familiar with the Istanbul Teknopark project said the compound will help make Turkey an advanced production center for local, foreign and joint venture programs. “We place strategic importance in this site, which we are certain will support several international programs involving both Turkish and Western manufacturers,” he said.

In recent years, Turkish companies have won subcontracts from multinational programs, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, attack helicopters and naval vessels, as well as contracts for vehicles, electronics and software for Turkey’s military. “Foreign contractors surely will benefit from Teknopark Istanbul, as international production programs involving Turkey are on a visible rise,” Şenol said.

According to him, the first resident companies will start operations at the technology park by the end of 2012. Partners SSM and İTO have earmarked an initial construction budget of $100 million for the project.

“Our principal mission is to contribute to the national innovation system and to boost the local industry’s international competitiveness through multinational partnerships and technological advancement,” Şenol said. Defense analysts said the technology park is intended to further boost local companies with a first-ever serious investment in research and development.

“That’s a mission fully in line with the Turkish government’s strategic objective of creating an increasingly independent, competitive and export-oriented local industry,” said one Ankara-based defense analyst. The government in recent years has encouraged domestic design, development and production of the weapons it requires. It also has encouraged joint development and coproduction with foreign companies.

Friday, November 18, 2011
Ümit Enginsoy
ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News

Study: Brain analysis can help predict psychosis

Computer analysis of brain scans could help predict how serious or long term a psychotic patient’s illness may become and help doctors make more accurate decisions about how best to treat them, researchers said on Monday.

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

In a study in the journal Psychological Medicine, scientists from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry and University College London’s computer science department found that using computer algorithms to analyse MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) brain scans can predict a patient’s outcome.

“This is the first step towards being able to use brain imaging to provide tangible benefit to patients affected by psychosis,” said Paola Dazzan of King’s, who co-led the study.

She said this could in future lead to a quick reliable way of predicting how a patient’s illness will develop, allowing doctors to give the best treatments to those most in need and avoid giving long courses of antipsychotic drugs to people with only very mild forms of psychosis.

Psychosis is a condition that affects people’s minds, altering the way they think, feel and behave. It can also be accompanied by hallucinations and delusions.

The most common forms of psychosis are part of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia — which affects around 24 million people worldwide — and bipolar disorder, but psychotic symptoms can also occur in conditions like Parkinson’s disease and alcohol or drug abuse.

A study published in March found that people who use cannabis in their youth also dramatically increase their risk of psychotic symptoms, and that continued use of the drug can up the risk of developing a psychotic disorder.

Experts say many patients recover from psychosis with minimal symptoms, but for others, the psychosis can persist and affect their ability to function normally. But at the moment psychiatrists have no good way of assessing how likely a person who has had one psychotic episode is to go on to have more.

Dazzan’s team worked with 100 patients and took MRI brain scans when they came into health clinics with their first psychotic episode. The researchers scanned also the brains of 91 healthy people as a control group.

The patients were followed up around six years later and put into groups of those who had developed either continuous, episodic or intermediate psychosis, depending on whether their symptoms continued or faded away during this time.

The team then analysed in detail the scans from 28 people who had continuous psychosis, 28 patients with an episodic course, and 28 healthy controls and used the data gained to “train” computer software based on pattern recognition to enable it to distinguish between different illness severities.

When the resulting algorithm was used on scans of patients who had had a first psychotic episode, it was able to pick out those who had gone on to develop continuous psychosis and those who went on to develop a more benign, episodic psychosis in seven out of 10 cases, the researchers said.

“Although we have some way to go to improve the accuracy of these tests and validate the results on independent large samples, we have shown that in principle it should be possible to use brain scans to identify…patients who are likely to go on to have a continuous psychotic illness and those who will develop a less severe form,” said Janaina Mourao-Miranda, who worked with Dazzan on the study.

“Structural MRI scans can be obtained in as little as 10 minutes, so this technique could be incorporated into routine clinical investigations,” she added.




07 November 2011, Monday / REUTERS, LONDON

Turkish hacker claims credit for French paper cyber-attack

A Turkish hacker claimed credit today for bringing down the website of a French satirical weekly that published images of the Prophet Mohammed that he said were an insult to Islam.

The Charlie Hebdo's publisher looks at documents removed by firemen in front of the offices of the French satirical magazine after they were destroyed by a petrol bomb attack overnight. AFP photo
The Charlie Hebdo's publisher looks at documents removed by firemen in front of the offices of the French satirical magazine after they were destroyed by a petrol bomb attack overnight. AFP photo

But in an interview with France’s Le Journal du Dimanche, the hacker also said he was against violence and did not support those who are suspected of having firebombed the weekly’s offices.

The Paris offices of the weekly, Charlie Hebdo, were destroyed in a fire on Wednesday after it published a special Arab Spring edition with Mohammed on the cover as “guest editor” saying: “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter!”

Police said they suspect the offices were firebombed and the newspaper has said it received threats from Muslim fundamentalists.

The weekly’s website was also taken down in a cyber-attack claimed by Turkish hackers’ group Akıncılar. It remained offline on Sunday.

“We didn’t do anything wrong, it’s not like we siphoned off bank accounts. This was a protest against an insult to our values and beliefs,” the hacker, who identified himself as Ekber, told the newspaper in Istanbul.

The 20-year-old, who uses the hacker name “Black Apple,” said he had launched the attack after reports broke online of the weekly’s plans. He said it took six hours of work by a team of hackers to take down the site.

However when asked whether he supported the firebombing, Ekber said: “Of course not, we do not support violence. Islam is a religion of peace.”

He said the group was also prepared to launch cyber-attacks on another French newspaper, Liberation, which has republished the images.

Charlie Hebdo has said its site remains offline because the Belgian company hosting it, Bluevision, was refusing to reinstate the page after receiving death threats.

It has also claimed that Facebook threatened to terminate its account because it was publishing inappropriate images.

Akıncılar, the Turkish hackers’ group, is named after the famed Akıncı warrior-horsemen of the Ottoman Empire and has claimed responsibility for thousands of cyber-attacks in recent years.

The group has previously targeted the site of a Turkish satirical magazine, “Penguen” (“the Penguin”), after it questioned Islamic faith in a cartoon.

It has also carried out attacks on Israeli, Armenian and Kurdish websites in what it said was the defense of Turkish national values.

Sunday, November 6, 2011
PARIS – Agence France-Presse

Fake Mars mission to open hatch on 520 days isolation

The crew of an isolation experiment to simulate a 520-day mission to Mars are in the final countdown before the opening on Friday of the hatch on the windowless cells in which they have been locked away since June last year.

Employees work on the Phobos-Grunt (Phobos-Soil) spacecraft, which has been constructed to retrieve the first ever soil samples from the surface of Phobos, one of the moons of Mars, in Baikonur on Oct. 31.
Employees work on the Phobos-Grunt (Phobos-Soil) spacecraft, which has been constructed to retrieve the first ever soil samples from the surface of Phobos, one of the moons of Mars, in Baikonur on Oct. 31.

The $15-million Mars500 experiment aims to answer one of the big questions of deep-space travel: could people endure the stresses of a voyage of more than six months to the Red Planet?

The six male volunteers from Europe, China and Russia are not exposed to weightlessness or solar radiation, but in just about every other way life inside the 550-cubic-meter mock spaceship in Moscow resembles that of a real space flight. Clothed in blue jumpsuits, the would-be astronauts take daily urine and blood samples, eat rations like those of real astronauts and do not shower often.

Communication with the outside world comes with a 20-minute lag and the crew have faced power outages and other impromptu glitches. Halfway through, two crew members donned 32-kilograms (70-pound) spacesuits to clomp about in a dark sand-filled container meant to imitate the surface of Mars.

“The research we have points to levels of high stress,” said Igor Ushakov, the head of the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems which runs the “spaceship.”

“The most difficult thing for them was being starved of information.”

Psychologists fear a return to the noise and activity of ordinary life will come as a shock to the crew, and plan a period of rehabilitation. “The key principle is to take it step by step to return them to the world which they left,” Ushakov told Reuters.

A previous 420-day experiment ended in drunken disaster in 2000, when two participants got into a fistfight and a third tried to forcibly kiss a female crew member. But Mars500 is being hailed as a success. The emergency exit remained sealed and it proved an unexpected publicity coup for the European Space Agency, a collaborator on the project. “It was not designed to be a PR thing but I think it naturally evolved to be quite a positive and comprehensive advertisement for what we might eventually do next,” ESA’s head of human space flight operations Martin Zell told Reuters. How real is it?

With video cameras tracking the crew everywhere but the toilets, Mars500 has been likened to a scientific reality show. To kill time, China’s Wang Yue practiced calligraphy, France’s Romain Charles strummed his guitar and together the crew, aged from 28-38, played karaoke, chess and Nintendo Wii. The elaborate pretence of their imaginary spaceflight includes four days’ quarantine after they “return.”

“Folks who get close to us will need to go through a small medical examination, so we don’t catch a cold!” Italian Diego Urbina tweeted earlier this month. In another tweet, he said he most yearned for “family, calling my friends, bumping into strangers, going to the beach.” Over 100 different experiments have crowded in on the Mars500 project, with researchers of every stripe interested in scrutinizing the men.

Space officials say space technology is still decades away from being able to land astronauts on the Red Planet, more than 35 million miles (56 million kilometers) away across the solar system.




03 November 2011, Thursday / REUTERS, MOSCOW

NASA evacuates astronauts from deep-sea training

Six astronauts and scientists participating in the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations, or NEEMO, program left the Aquarius Undersea Laboratory after five days.

This NASA satellite image, taken October 24.(Reuters)
This NASA satellite image, taken October 24.(Reuters)

NASA evacuated astronauts and scientists participating in an underwater space simulation in the Florida Keys over concerns about Hurricane Rina, officials said on Wednesday.

Six astronauts and scientists participating in the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations, or NEEMO, program left the Aquarius Undersea Laboratory after five days.

The start of the 15th NEEMO mission had been delayed by another storm in the area.

NASA said it will not reschedule the simulation, which was slated to last 13 days off the coast of Key Largo. The goals of the mission were to practice operations and test tools being developed for a future planned human mission to an asteroid.

Rina, a surprising late addition to the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, was headed toward Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula but losing strength on Wednesday.

Computer models forecast Rina, the sixth hurricane of the Atlantic season, will weaken into a tropical storm and move over western Cuba, potentially bringing strong winds and heavy rains to southern Florida and the Keys.

Participants in the NEEMO mission included NASA astronaut Shannon Walker, Japan’s Takuya Onishi and Canada’s David Saint-Jacques and scientists Steven Squyres with Cornell University and James Talacek and Nate Bender with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

The NEEMO crew conducted six underwater spacewalks and one day of scientific research. They also used a deep-water submersible to simulate robotic exploration of an asteroid.

“Despite the length, we accomplished a significant amount of research,” NASA project manager Bill Todd said in a statement.

The next NEEMO mission is targeted for the summer of 2012. The 400 square-foot lab, which is about the size of a school bus, is anchored to the ocean floor near Key Largo at a depth of about 62 feet (19 metres).


27 October 2011 Thursday



China says to launch unmanned space-docking craft

Officials with China’s space programme have said the docking tests will provide experience for the building of a permanent manned space station around 2020.

China said on Wednesday it will launch within weeks its first spacecraft capable of docking with a module it put into orbit last month, in what will mark a crucial test of its growing space programme.

The unmanned Shenzhou-8 spacecraft, carried by the Long March-2F rocket, will blast off in early November, state media reported, and will later try to dock with the Tiantong-1, or “Heavenly Palace-1” space laboratory module China launched in September.

Officials with China’s space programme have said the docking tests will provide experience for the building of a permanent manned space station around 2020.

It is also the latest in a long string of Chinese space launches that have burnished national pride, as budget restraints and shifting priorities have held back U.S. manned space launches.

The official Xinhua news agency did not give a specific date for the launch, but said the craft was being transported to the remote Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi Desert.

Beijing is still far from catching up with space superpowers. Russia, the United States and other countries jointly operate the International Space Station, a group to which China does not belong.

The United States will not test a new rocket to take people into space until 2017. Russia has said manned missions are no longer a priority for its space programme, which has struggled with delays and glitches.

China launched its second moon orbiter last year after it became only the third country to send its astronauts walking in space outside their orbiting craft in 2008.

It plans an unmanned moon landing and deployment of a moon rover in 2012, and the retrieval of lunar soil and stone samples around 2017. Scientists have talked about the possibility of sending a man to the moon after 2020.

China is also jostling with neighbours Japan and India for a bigger presence in space, but its plans have faced international wariness. Beijing says its aims are peaceful, and that the involvement of its military is natural given the magnitude of the undertaking.




26 October 2011 Wednesday

Turkish satellite RASAT becomes operational

The satellite, which was sent into space from Russia on Aug. 17 of this year, makes a complete orbit around the world every 98 minutes and completed 900 tours in total yesterday.

RASAT, Turkey’s own remote sensing satellite has begun to transmit its first photos to a Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK) land station located in Ankara, according to an official announcement on Tuesday reported by the Anatolia news agency.

The satellite is the first national product in the field of space technology in Turkey and was produced by TUBITAK with the sponsorship of the State Planning Organization (DPT). TUBITAK has been receiving photos taken by RASAT for 10 days in its location at the Middle East Technical University (ODTU) in Ankara.

The satellite, which was sent into space from Russia on Aug. 17 of this year, makes a complete orbit around the world every 98 minutes and completed 900 tours in total yesterday.

TUBITAK officials stated that RASAT will be a cornerstone for Turkish space projects in the future. Universities and research centers will be able to use data provided by RASAT to carry out scientific research.

RASAT will publish photos and data with updates on its website at



19 October 2011 Wednesday

Space mission ‘challenge’ for Turkey, official says

Kiyoshi Higuchi, vice president of Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency, visits the Turkish capital Ankara as part of the planned cooperation with Japan for the development of space technology. ‘Turkey’s objective to send an astronaut to space by 2023 is not impossible, but they might face trouble,’ he says in an interview
Kiyoshi Higuchi, vice president of Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZ
Kiyoshi Higuchi, vice president of Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZ

Turkey’s objective to send an astronaut into space by 2023 will be a challenge, because the development of space technology is a strenuous and expensive process that is often snagged by failures, according to a Japanese aerospace official.

“It is not impossible. They might face trouble. It will be a challenge, but they should not hesitate to continue trying,” Kiyoshi Higuchi, vice president of Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), said in an interview with the Hürriyet Daily News.

Higuchi, on a visit to Ankara as part of the planned cooperation with Japan for the development of space technology, stressed that Turkey’s booming economy could be an advantage in speeding up the process.

“Turkey’s economy has grown very dramatically. If the same rate of growth takes place with respect to technology, 12 years will not be impossible. Turkey has already reached some level of technology with a number of operational satellites in space,” he said.

Japan’s own development of an aerospace program was an uphill task that took several decades, Higuchi said, and his country was ready to share its experience.

“Japan had a very smooth start because we imported technology from the United States in 1970. After that we wanted to have our own domestic technology, which resulted in severe failures. It took us 10 years to understand and mature U.S. technology, and another 10 years to create our own. We want to share with Turkey how we conquered our struggles,” he said.

Drawing attention to the large resources that space technology requires, the Japanese official said the construction of a single large satellite, for instance, took several years of work by about 10,000 people.

“The technology imported must be at a level that can be understood by the country receiving it,” he said. “I don’t know if Turkey will acquire technology from Japan, but right now we have an agreement to cooperate and communicate.”

Second satellite will be built in Turkey

Several Turkish engineers are already in Japan as part of a deal with Japanese company Mitsubishi to manufacture the Türksat 4A satellite, which is set to launch next year. Under the deal, a second satellite will be built in Turkey by Turkish engineers, making the transfer of know-how crucial.

In 1999, the Turkish Air Force began work on the blueprints of a space program. In 2001, the government decided to set up an agency to establish the country’s space policy, but the plans were never materialized. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan brought up the issue again this year during his election campaign.

“It is our recommendation and hope to have a counterpart in Turkey, a space implementation agency, to enhance our cooperation,” Higuchi said.

The would-be Turkish Space Agency (TUK) will determine the country’s space policy, with eventual objectives to protect Turkey’s rights in space, manufacture spacecraft and train astronauts. The Turkish Aeronautical Association (THK) has set 2023, the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic, as the target date for launching a Turkish astronaut into space.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Sera De Vor
ANKARA- Hürriyet Daily News

Japan to coopetate with Turkey in space sector

Higuchi said he would contribute to the space institution which Turkey was planning to set up as well as share his and his country’s experiences in space sector.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Vice President Kiyoshi Higuchi said he would contribute to the space institution which Turkey was planning to set up as well as share his and his country’s experiences in space sector.

Higuchi told AA on Tuesday that JAXA contacted Turkish officials regarding the establishment of a space institution in Turkey, and they would cooperate with Turkey.

Higuchi said that opening a space institution, which would regulate Turkey’s space activities, was important.

Noting that space studies were still very risky, Higuchi said that Turkey did not have a space shuttle launch system, adding that it would be Turkish government to decide whether to have it or not.

Higuchi said that if Turkey demanded, Japan could help in this issue.

Higuchi gave a conference in Rixos Hotel in Ankara. He will give another conference in Istanbul on Wednesday.