Seeing astronauts on Mars in the near future still seems as unlikely as the moon landing must have seemed when President John F. Kennedy first got the program going in the early 1960s. But the folks over at NASA are still dreaming Martian dreams, and conducting weird experiments on twins (Not because they're necessarily going to be "weird" experiments but because twin experiments are creepy by nature, yes?)
Right now, they're working on a Mars Ascent Vehicle for the Mars Sample Return Mission. The goal will be to get a vehicle to Mars, get it landed, collect actual bits of the planet and send the samples back to Earth. Once the samples got back to the third rock from the sun, scientists would be able to test them in person using more sensitive instruments to glean some ideas about the history of Mars, and whether the planet has ever been capable of supporting life, (Pretty cool, right?)
The project, with a vehicle built by NASA contractor SpaceX, is considered one of the most important scientific endeavors happening in the next decade. Thing is, NASA doesn't have the money for the actual program, which will cost about $250 million, Charles Whetsel, manager of the Mars Program Formulation Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Forbes.
In fact, Charles Borden, head of NASA, recently warned that there will likely be more budget cuts to the program if Congress doesn't avoid sequestration next year. The cuts could mean layoffs at the Johnson Space Center, he said. Either way the Mars sample collection won't likely happen until at least 2020, or later, Whetsel said. Seems like there's no telling when an actual earthling will walk on Mars.
But if NASA ever does send an astronaut on a long-term spaceflight to such a place, understanding the aging process in space will be crucial, but luckily there's a pair of twin astronauts who have already volunteered to do a study on that. Last year, Scott Kelly and Mark Kelly (husband of Gabrielle Giffords) the astronaut twins, pitched an idea to study the difference in aging between two genetically identical people, one on Earth and the other on the International Space Station.
In 2015, Scott will spend a year in space while his brother stays home.NASA is calling for proposals for the study, "Differential Effects on Homozygous Twin Astronauts Associated with Differences in Exposure to Spaceflight Factors," according to a NASA release. Most likely stuff to do with genetics and cells and aging (Those wanting to know what happens when you dress twins in matching sweater vests and then send one into space are aiming a little high.)
All proposals should be submitted by September 17, so if you've always wanted to figure out some mysterious twin aging thing, you'd best get cracking.
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