Scientists reverse aging in mice by repairing damaged DNA

March 30, 2017

Could lead to an anti-aging drug that counters damage from old age, cancer, and radiation.

A research team led by Harvard Medical School professor of genetics David Sinclair, PhD, has made a discovery that could lead to a revolutionary new drug that allows cells to repair DNA damaged by aging, cancer, and radiation.

In a paper published in the journal Science on Friday (March 24), the scientists identified a critical step in the molecular process related to DNA damage.

The researchers found that a compound known as NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), which is naturally present in every cell of our body, has a key role as a regulator in protein-to-protein interactions that control DNA repair. In an experiment, they found that treating mice with a NAD+ precursor called NMN (nicotinamide mononucleotide) improved their cells’ ability to repair DNA damage.

“The cells of the old mice were indistinguishable from the young mice, after just one week of treatment,” said senior author Sinclair.

Disarming a rogue agent: When the NAD molecule (red) binds to the DBC1 protein (beige), it prevents DBC1 from attaching to and incapacitating a protein (PARP1) that is critical for DNA repair. (credit: David Sinclair)

Human trials of NMN therapy will begin within the next few months to “see if these results translate to people,” he said. A safe and effective anti-aging drug is “perhaps only three to five years away from being on the market if the trials go well.”

What it means for astronauts, childhood cancer survivors, and the rest of us

The researchers say that in addition to reversing aging, the DNA-repair research has attracted the attention of NASA. The treatment could help deal with radiation damage to astronauts in its Mars mission, which could cause muscle weakness, memory loss, and other symptoms (see “Mars-bound astronauts face brain damage from galactic cosmic ray exposure, says NASA-funded study“), and more seriously, leukemia cancer and weakened immune function (see “Travelers to Mars risk leukemia cancer, weakend immune function from radiation, NASA-funded study finds“).

The treatment could also help travelers aboard aircraft flying across the poles. A 2011 NASA study showed that passengers on polar flights receive about 12 percent of the annual radiation limit recommended by the International Committee on Radiological Protection.

The other group that could benefit from this work is survivors of childhood cancers, who are likely to suffer a chronic illness by age 45, leading to accelerated aging, including cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancers unrelated to the original cancer, the researchers noted.

For the past four years, Sinclair’s team has been working with spinoff MetroBiotech on developing NMN as a drug. Sinclair previously made a link between the anti-aging enzyme SIRT1 and resveratrol. “While resveratrol activates SIRT1 alone, NAD boosters [like NMN] activate all seven sirtuins, SIRT1-7, and should have an even greater impact on health and longevity,” he says.

Sinclair is also a professor at the University of New South Wales School of Medicine in Sydney, Australia.


Abstract of A conserved NAD+ binding pocket that regulates protein-protein interactions during aging

DNA repair is essential for life, yet its efficiency declines with age for reasons that are unclear. Numerous proteins possess Nudix homology domains (NHDs) that have no known function. We show that NHDs are NAD+ (oxidized form of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) binding domains that regulate protein-protein interactions. The binding of NAD+ to the NHD domain of DBC1 (deleted in breast cancer 1) prevents it from inhibiting PARP1 [poly(adenosine diphosphate–ribose) polymerase], a critical DNA repair protein. As mice age and NAD+ concentrations decline, DBC1 is increasingly bound to PARP1, causing DNA damage to accumulate, a process rapidly reversed by restoring the abundance of NAD+. Thus, NAD+ directly regulates protein-protein interactions, the modulation of which may protect against cancer, radiation, and aging.

The ‘impossible’ EM Drive is about to be tested in space

September 24, 2016

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An actual EM Drive is about to be launched into space for the first time, so scientists can finally figure out – once and for all – if it really is possible for a rocket engine to generate thrust without any kind of exhaust or propellant.

Built by American inventor and chemical engineer, Guido Fetta, the EM Drive is as controversial as it gets, because while certain experiments have suggested that such an engine could work, it also goes against one of the most fundamental laws of physics we have.

As Newton’s Third Law states, “To each action there’s an equal and opposite reaction,” and many physicists say the EM Drive categorically violates that law.

This is because in order for a thruster to gain momentum in a certain direction, it has to expel some kind of propellent or exhaust in the opposite direction.

But the EM Drive simply goes in one direction with no propellant, and thus violates the law of conservation of momentum, which Newton derived from his Third Law.

And not only that, but it could produce enough thrust to blast humans to Mars in just 70 days.

As Fiona MacDonald put it back in June, space enthusiasts love to get excited about the EM Drive, because if it works, it has the potential to remove major barriers in our need to explore the Solar System and beyond.

But just as many are sick of hearing about it, because, on paper at least, it doesn’t work within the laws of physics.

Invented by British scientist Roger Shawyer back in 1999, the EM Drive – short for electromagnetic propulsion drive – purportedly works like this.

It uses electromagnetic waves as ‘fuel’, creating thrust by bouncing microwave photons back and forth inside a cone-shaped closed metal cavity. This causes the ‘pointy end’ of the EM Drive to accelerate in the opposite direction that the drive is going.

“To put it simply, electricity converts into microwaves within the cavity that push against the inside of the device, causing the thruster to accelerate in the opposite direction,” Mary-Ann Russon explains over at The International Business Times.

Since its invention, the EM drive has shown no signs of quitting, in test after test. Last year, trials by NASA scientists at the Eagleworks lab revealed “anomalous thrust signals”, and an independent researcher in Germany conceded that the propulsion system, somehow, does indeed produce thrust.

Fast-forward to now, and there are rumours that the NASA Eagleworks paper we reported on in June has finally passed the peer-review process, and is expected to be published by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Journal of Propulsion and Power.

If the rumours by José Rodal from MIT are true – and let’s be clear, they’re still just rumours at this point – it could be huge.

As Brendan Hesse explains for Digital Trends:

“This is an important step for the EM Drive as it adds legitimacy to the technology and the tests done thus far, opening the door for other groups to replicate the tests. This will also allow other groups to devote more resources to uncovering why and how it works, and how to iterate on the drive to make it a viable form of propulsion.

So, while a single peer-reviewed paper isn’t going to suddenly equip the human race with interplanetary travel, it’s the first step toward eventually realising that possible future.”

And on top of all of that, we’re about to see an actual EM Drive be blasted into space.

Guido Fetta is CEO of Cannae Inc, and the inventor of the Cannae Drive – a rocket engine that’s based on Roger Shawyer’s original EM Drive design. Last month, he announced that he would launch this thruster on a 6U CubeSat – a type of miniaturised satellite.

David Hambling reports for Popular Mechanics that roughly one-quarter of this shoebox-sized satellite will be taken up by the Cannae Drive, and they’ll stay in orbit for at least six months: “The longer it stays in orbit, the more the satellite will show that it must be producing thrust without propellant.”

No launch date has been set just yet, but it could happen in as soon as six months’ time.

As Hambling points out, Fetta better hurry, because a team of engineers in China, and Shawyer himself, are both also working on their own launchable EM Drives, so someone’s going to get there first, and we seriously cannot wait to see what will happen.

http://www.sciencealert.com/the-impossible-em-drive-is-about-to-be-tested-in-space

NASA challenged designers to make a Martian home — one company created something incredible

October 17, 2015

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In response to a NASA challenge, 3D design firm Fabulous designed the Sfero – a  burrowing robot that 3D prints homes on Mars. The Sfero will access the iron in the Martian soil and the permafrost that NASA believes is underground to create a dome-shaped habitat that Mark Watney could only dream of.

http://www.techinsider.io/3d-printed-martian-house-home-design-2015-9

Our universe may be a Matrix-like computer game designed by aliens, says NASA scientist

August 17, 2015

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Everything you have ever done or will do could simply be the product of a highly-advanced computer code.

Every relationship, every sentiment, every memory could have been generated by banks of supercomputers.

This was the terrifying theory first proposed by British philosopher Nick Bostrom.

The shocking hypothesis was penned four years after Andrew and Lana Wachowski wrote and directed The Matrix, a film set in a dystopian future in which humans are subdued by a simulated reality.

In his paper, Dr Bostrom suggested a race of far-evolved descendants could be behind our digital imprisonment.

The futuristic beings – human or otherwise – could be using virtual reality to simulate a time in the past or recreate how their remote ancestors lived.

Sound crazy? Well, it turns out NASA thinks Dr Bostrom might be right.

The Standard Model of Physics does not yet hold an explanation for the force of gravity

The Standard Model of Physics does not yet hold an explanation for the force of gravity

Rich Terrile, director of the Centre for Evolutionary Computation and Automated Design at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has spoken out about the digital simulation.

“Right now the fastest NASA supercomputers are cranking away at about double the speed of the human brain,” the NASA scientist told Vice.

“If you make a simple calculation using Moore’s Law [which roughly claims computers double in power every two years], you’ll find that these supercomputers, inside of a decade, will have the ability to compute an entire human lifetime of 80 years – including every thought ever conceived during that lifetime – in the span of a month.

“In quantum mechanics, particles do not have a definite state unless they’re being observed.

“Many theorists have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how you explain this.

“One explanation is that we’re living within a simulation, seeing what we need to see when we need to see it.

“What I find inspiring is that, even if we are in a simulation or many orders of magnitude down in levels of simulation, somewhere along the line something escaped the primordial ooze to become us and to result in simulations that made us – and that’s cool.”

The idea that our Universe is a fiction generated by computer code solves a number of inconsistencies and mysteries about the cosmos.

Professor Fermi known for achieving the first controlled nuclear reaction, leads a lecture

Professor Fermi known for achieving the first controlled nuclear reaction, leads a lecture

Enrico Fermi outside an atomic energy plant in Newport in October 1957

Enrico Fermi outside an atomic energy plant in Newport in October 1957

The first is the Fermi Paradox – proposed by physicist Enrico Fermi during the 1960s – which highlights the contradiction between the apparent high probability of extraterrestrial civilisations within our ever-expanding universe and humanity’s lack of contact with, or lack of evidence for, these alien colonies.

“Where is everybody?” Mr Fermi asked.

It could simply be that Earth and mankind truly is the centre of the universe.

Another mystery explained by Dr Bostrom’s Matrix-like theory is the role of Dark Matter.

US theoretical cosmologist Michael Turner has called the hypothetical material “the most profound mystery in all of science”.

Dark Matter is one of many hypothetical materials used to explain a number of anomalies in the Standard Model – the all-encompassing theory science has used to explain the particles and forces of nature for the last 50 years.

The Standard Model of particle physics tells us that there are 17 fundamental particles which make up atomic matter.

A scientist works within the ATLAS control room, part of the Large Hadron Collider facility

A scientist works within the ATLAS control room, part of the Large Hadron Collider facility

Scientists hope to prove the existence of Dark Matter within the CERN accelerator

Scientists hope to prove the existence of Dark Matter within the CERN accelerator

The Higgs boson, which was first theorised by scientists during the 1960s, is amongst these 17 fundamental particles.

In summer 2012, scientists at CERN observed what is now believed to be the elusive “God particle”.

But the Standard Model is as-yet unable to explain a number of baffling properties of the universe – including the fact that the universe is expanding at an ever-increasing speed.

Dark Matter is believed to be a web-like matter that binds visible matter together.

If it exists, it would explain why galaxies spin at the speed they do – something which remains unexplained based only on what we can currently observe.

The Standard Model does not yet hold an explanation for the force of gravity.

The as-yet unproven existence of Dark Matter could be explained by a virtual universe.

But not everybody is convinced about The Matrix explanation.

Professor Peter Millican, who teaches philosophy and computer science at Oxford University, thinks the virtual reality explanation is flawed.

“The theory seems to be based on the assumption that ‘superminds’ would do things in much the same way as we would do them,” he said.

“If they think this world is a simulation, then why do they think the superminds – who are outside the simulation – would be constrained by the same sorts of thoughts and methods that we are?

“They assume that the ultimate structure of a real world can’t be grid like, and also that the superminds would have to implement a virtual world using grids.

“We can’t conclude that a grid structure is evidence of a pretend reality just because our ways of implementing a pretend reality involve a grid.”

Professor Millican does believe there is worth in investigating the idea.

“It is an interesting idea, and it’s healthy to have some crazy ideas,” he told The Telegraph.

“You don’t want to censor ideas according to whether they seem sensible or not because sometimes important new advances will seem crazy to start with.

“You never know when good ideas may come from thinking outside the box.

“This Matrix thought-experiment is actually a bit like some ideas of Descartes and Berkeley, hundreds of years ago.

“Even if there turns out to be nothing in it, the fact that you have got into the habit of thinking crazy things could mean that at some point you are going to think of something that initially may seem rather way out, but turns out not to be crazy at all.”

http://www.express.co.uk/life-style/science-technology/575653/The-Matrix-Universe-Planet-Earth-NASA-Scientist

By 2050, the Earth-Moon region could be a settled, commercial haven: NASA researchers

May 16, 2015

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The year 2050 isn’t a long way off. By the time it comes around commercial firms will control Lower Earth Orbit, space tourism will be ‘very viable’, space-led power generation will be in production and there will be both small and large settlements on the Moon.

These are the thoughts of a NASA-formed initiative that was created to “speculate” how “earth, space, and public/private entities might be operating and relating to each other” in the future.

In a similar way to how the not-so-top secret Google X works on projects that are considered ‘Moonshots’ – projects that are long shots – this space research looked at how the space between Earth and the Moon would be changed beyond recognition due to commercialisation.

The future thinkers behind how space exploration and relations will look in 35 years time came together twice in the last two years as part of a project called ‘Space 2100’. Their research was published online by NASA earlier in March, although the agency is keen to stress that the predictions and suggestions are not “official… policy or intentions”.

The Cis-lunar economy

Primarily, the direction of the six-strong research group was led by the thoughts of Ken Murphy, who coined the idea of the ‘cislunar econosphere’ in 2012. This idea is based around the principle that as space travel becomes more common, the Moon and anything closer will increasingly be controlled by commercial companies rather than by governments.

“Governments will play a major role in developing methods and negotiating standards and policies so that vehicles and settlements owned/operated by a variety of entities can operate, co-operate and support each other via a flexible, collaborative infrastructure, even though they may both compete and team with each other economically,” said the researchers in their report.

The growth of commercial space ventures such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX is living proof that in (most) of our lifetimes, space won’t be a mysterious place that is beyond our imaginations, let alone our reach.

The commercial takeover of the space industry has already started with SpaceX’s approval to launch military and spy satellites for US government. On the less intimidating front, the same is happening in the commercial sphere with the much-delayed work of Virgin Galactic and the highly improbable Mars One. 

As Murphy said back in 2012, we need to “embrace the chaos of free markets” to propel us into space.

“The first thing to understand is that we are not going to go straight to the Moon and then begin backfilling cislunar space with commercial activity, although some folks advocate for such,” he said.

“What’s going to happen is that activity is going to expand outward.”

This expansion outwards could eventually see the creation of two habitats on Mars; one large and one small.

The smaller habitat will initially be created to construct the larger community, but its purpose will shift towards housing personnel who will be responsible for mining operations to get valuable resources from the Moon.

“The 300-person habitat in the moon’s vicinity will house personnel to run mining operations, way stations, and construction of a large habitat,” the researchers wrote.

“This habitat will provide radiation shielding and artificial gravity.

“It will demonstrate food production and other technologies, using in-situ space materials to achieve near self-sufficiency.”

“The large habitat (thousands or tens of thousands of residents) might be used for a lunar civilization or become the initial instance of portable communities for colonizing other parts of the solar system.”

They also envisioned that 3D printing will have a large part to play in the development of off-Earth communities. Last year the first 3D printer was sent to space and in recent weeks a NASA scientists has said that by the time the printing technique is deployed on Mars, we will be looking to print entire buildings and settlements.

However, the report says that while they were focussing on what would have changed between the Earth and the Moon, they believe there would have been at least one manned mission to Mars by 2050. Just recently, the space agency has been testing its ‘flying saucer’, which is set to be involved in delivering astronauts to the planet’s surface.

This manned mission to the Red Planet would allow for “deep space lessons learned” to be applied to what is happening closer to home.

The challenges

This black-sky speculating from the NASA staff will be music to the ears of those who are looking forward into the future. But as the authors of the paper observe, there are going to be plenty of challenges to overcome before we get there.

From first impressions, the problem with many of the scientists’ speculations would be the technological advancements that would be needed to achieve their thoughts. However, these are rapidly progressing and will continue to do so.

“Our current approaches combined with normal acceleration in computing and manufacturing,” will allow this, they said.

Although much of this future development is likely to happen because the human race needs it happen to survive, a big problem will be space politics and law.

For example, the researchers point out that the Moon Treaty may lead to complications with the mining of resources from the rock.

They said that the treaty “introduced the concept that while a celestial body may not be appropriated, a natural resource, once extracted, might be subject to appropriation, with possible governance and limitation by an international body.”

As well as a debate around the substance of any material taken from the Moon with a view to further use, there are also international economic and political issues around the mining process. Given world leaders can’t agree on issues around how to tackle extremism or other internationally significant concerns, there are bound to be complexities when it comes to colonising the Moon and other planets.

To add to this, there have already been territory problems on the International Space Station.

The Outer Space Treaty 1976 sets out that the Moon and other bodies “shall be free for exploration” and that the Moon is “not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupations”.

Despite this long-standing agreement between more than 100 countries, it’s possible that it may not be respected or there may be calls for change when travel to the moon is an everyday occurrence.

As well as this, the researchers say that space tourism doesn’t fit into the legal definition of Commercial Human Spaceflight, and there will be liability issues – what happens if 50 people die on a spaceflight?

It is issues such as these that have caused some commentators to call for more space lawyers to start practicing.

Looking towards 2100

If the paper is correct, commercialising the moon will become a reality in the lifetimes of many people who are currently alive.

But the researchers’ initial project was to look at what could happen around the space industry by 2100. Unsurprisingly, their ideas focussed on the larger concepts, such as energy production, clean living, the control of ageing and more. Broader themes are undoubtedly easier to predict than specific enhancements.
Included in this, they drew up a timeline of what could be in place by 2100.

At the furthest reaches of their minds they foresee that robotic missions for interstellar space colony construction may be in place.

They also say that there may be space research conducted through citizen outreach and partnerships.

On the way to making space this accessible, the researchers said that during 2050-2075 there could be the development of rendezvous and rescue vehicles for those in need of help in space. As well as this, interstellar robotic probes could be launched and space may be accessible to academic researches and small businesses, at a low cost.

Whether any of what the paper’s authors have forecast comes true or not will remain to be seen, but what is almost certain is that we will have to discuss the wider issues about our future in space and how commercialisation alongside it will work.

As Murphy said back in 2012: “What should be clear is that economic development is not easy. It depends on complex webs of inter-relationships nurturing one another to grow the whole.

“It also requires an openness to pursuing things in a new way, even if they are perceived as disruptive to existing markets.”

When it comes to space, this is going to be the key.

http://factor-tech.com/feature/by-2050-the-earth-moon-region-could-be-a-settled-commercial-haven-nasa-researchers/

We’ll find alien life in the next 20 years with our new, awesome telescopes says NASA

July 19, 2014

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Fortunately, NASA is preparing to launch a couple of new telescopes that will make Hubble and Kepler look like tin toys by comparison. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which is essentially an upgraded version of Kepler, will launch in 2017. A year later in 2018, Hubble’s successor — the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) — will launch as well. Between them, they should be able to find hundreds of thousands of planets, and then “sniff” out the atmospheric conditions using the JWST’s spectrometer to divine whether any alien life has lived or died there.

In a public meeting with NASA’s chief, the agency’s top scientists have said that they expect to find alien life within the next 20 years. Unfortunately, for those hoping that Europa or Mars might harbor life, NASA is fairly confident that the discovery of extraterrestrials will probably be outside our Solar System rather than within it. But still, suffice it to say, the discovery of life of any kind outside of Earth’s atmosphere would be massive news. Within 20 years, we could finally find out that we’re not alone in the universe — and, well, that would change everything.

This rather shocking belief — that we will find signs of alien life within 20 years — stems back to the massive success of the Kepler space telescope. Kepler was designed to seek out distant stars with orbiting planets — and that’s exactly what it found, in spades. In just 2014 alone, and while staring at just a tiny patch of night sky, Kepler confirmed the existence of more than 700 new planets. Thanks to Kepler, the astronomy community now thinks that every star is orbited by at least one planet, and probably a lot more than one. When you consider that there are around 300 billion stars in just the Milky Way, and billions of galaxies in the universe, and thus an almost inconceivable number of planets in the universe, it’s easy to see why many scientists believe alien life to be a near certainty.

While Kepler can spot planets that orbit distant stars, it has two limitations. One, it can only spot fairly large planets (much larger than Earth) — and two, it can’t actually tell us what the atmospheric conditions are like on the new planets. While the size of the planet isn’t all that significant (its orbital period and distance from its parent star is more important), being able to analyze the atmosphere is key to discovering whether it harbors life or not (and for discerning habitability, if we want to one day visit or colonize the planet).

Hubble vs. James Webb Space Telescope, primary mirror size

Fortunately, NASA is preparing to launch a couple of new telescopes that will make Hubble and Kepler look like tin toys by comparison. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which is essentially an upgraded version of Kepler, will launch in 2017. A year later in 2018, Hubble’s successor — the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) — will launch as well. Between them, they should be able to find hundreds of thousands of planets, and then “sniff” out the atmospheric conditions using the JWST’s spectrometer to divine whether any alien life has lived or died there.

At the NASA meeting, the agency’s chief Charles Bolden said, “It’s highly improbable in the limitless vastness of the universe that we humans stand alone.” NASA astronomer Kevin Hand went as far as to say, “I think in the next 20 years we will find out we are not alone in the universe.” John Grunsfeld, a veteran astronaut that’s now a NASA science chief, said, “This technology we are using to explore exoplanets is real. The James Webb Space Telescope and the next advances are happening now. These are not dreams – this is what we do at NASA.”

Suffice it to say, if JWST can identify signs of life in the atmosphere of a remote planet — methane or some other biological marker perhaps — then everything would change. We would no longer be alone in the universe. We could no longer putter around indefinitely, causing untold damage to Earth’s ecology. If it turns out that much of the universe is already occupied with other life forms, we’d have to actually get a move on and colonize some darn planets.

http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/186321-well-find-alien-life-in-the-next-20-years-with-our-new-awesome-telescopes-says-nasa

NASA Leading the Path to Mars

April 22, 2014

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Artist’s Concept of a Solar Electric Propulsion System

 

Engineers and scientists around the country are working hard to develop the technologies astronauts will use to one day live and work on Mars, and safely return home and the Humans to Mars Summit this week is bringing together the best minds to share ideas about the path ahead.  NASA will be leading the charge.

Last week, our solar system put on quite a show.  An alignment of Earth, moon and sun, produced a rare and spectacular blood moon lunar eclipse.  In addition, Mars made its closest approach to Earth since 2007.  And even as Mars drew tantalizingly close to Earth, NASA is drawing nearer to our goal of a human mission to the Red Planet.  This week, April 22-24, NASA joins with the non-profit group, Explore Mars, and more than 1,500 leaders from government, academia, and business at the Humans to Mars (H2M) Summit 2014 at George Washington University to discuss the value, challenges and status of America’s path to Mars.

While NASA has been on a path to Mars for decades with our earlier Mars rovers and orbiters, a critical national policy statement in support of our strategy was made on April 15, 2010 during a visit by President Obama to Kennedy Space Center where he challenged the nation to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars in the 2030s.  Since then, NASA has been developing the capabilities to meet those goals through a bipartisan space exploration plan agreed to by the administration and Congress and embraced by the international space community.  While humans have been fascinated with Mars since the beginning of time, there are a number of very tangible reasons why we need to learn more about our closest planetary neighbor.  For one thing, Mars’ formation and evolution are comparable to Earth’s and we know that at one time Mars had conditions suitable for life.  What we learn about the Red Planet may tell us more about our own home planet’s history and future and help us answer a fundamental human question – does life exist beyond Earth?

While robotic explorers have studied Mars for more than 40 years, NASA’s path for the human exploration of Mars begins in low-Earth orbit aboard the International Space Station (ISS) our springboard to the exploration of deep space.  Astronauts aboard the ISS are helping us learn how to safely execute extended missions deeper into space.  We are guaranteed this unique orbiting outpost for at least another decade by the Administration’s commitment to extend the ISS until at least 2024.  This means an expanded market for private space companies, more groundbreaking research and science discovery in micro-gravity and opportunities to live, work and learn in space over longer periods of time.

Our next step is deep space, where NASA will send the first mission to capture and redirect an asteroid to orbit the moon.  Astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft will explore the asteroid in the 2020s, returning to Earth with samples. This experience in human spaceflight beyond low-Earth orbit will help NASA test new systems and capabilities – such as Solar Electric Propulsion – we’ll need to support a human mission to Mars.  Beginning in 2017, NASA’s powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will enable these “proving ground” missions to test new capabilities.  Human missions to Mars will rely on Orion and an evolved version of SLS that will be the most powerful launch vehicle ever flown.

A fleet of robotic spacecraft and rovers already are on and around Mars, dramatically increasing our knowledge about the Red Planet and paving the way for future human explorers.  The Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover measured radiation on the way to Mars and is sending back radiation data from the surface.  This data will help us plan how to protect the astronauts who will explore Mars.  Future missions like the Mars 2020 rover, seeking the signs of past life, also will demonstrate new technologies that could help astronauts survive on Mars.

Engineers and scientists around the country are working hard to develop the technologies astronauts will use to one day live and work on Mars, and safely return home and the Humans to Mars Summit this week is bringing together the best minds to share ideas about the path ahead.  NASA will be leading the charge.

It is important to remember that NASA sent humans to the moon by setting a goal that seemed beyond our reach.   In that same spirit, we have made a human mission to Mars the centerpiece of our next big leap into the unknown.  The challenge is huge, but we are making real progress today as a radiation monitor on the Curiosity rover records the Martian radiation environment that our crews will experience; advanced entry, descent and landing technologies needed for landing on Mars are ready for entry speed testing high-above the waters of the Pacific Ocean in June; Orion is finishing preparation for a heat shield test in December; and flight hardware for the heavy lift rocket necessary for Mars missions begins manufacture in New Orleans.  The future of space exploration is bright, and we are counting on the support of Congress, the scientific community and the American people to help us realize our goals.

http://blogs.nasa.gov/bolden/2014/04/21/nasa-leading-the-path-to-mars/