Monday, November 30, 2009

ISRO to launch 8 foreign satellites

India’s space agency has in its pipeline eight foreign satellites for launch and is scouting to acquire such spacecraft from abroad to expand capacity in the field of communication transponder back home.

“Today, we have eight (foreign) satellites to be launched. This will be launched over the next two-three years”, Managing Director of Antrix Corporation, marketing arm of Bangalore headquartered Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), K R Sridhara Murthi, told PTI.

These are a mix of small and bigger satellites, he said but declined to elaborate, noting that the space agency is yet to formally ink some of these contracts.

But one foreign satellite that is being readied for launch is a 150-kg one from Algeria, which is slated to be launched by home-grown Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle as a piggyback payload likely in April next year.

Mr. Sridhara Murthi said ISRO is looking for opportunities to acquire foreign satellites. In fact, it, along with its global partners, recently unsuccessfully bid to acquire a satellite, which was put up for auctioning by a company facing bankruptcy, in the United States.

Intelsat won the bid with a price of $210 million. ISRO was ready to shell out $100 million for part of the capacity that it intended to use, Mr. Sridhara Murthi said. ISRO’s bold move is a sign of its growing confidence, he said.

ISRO has also started integrating Hylas spacecraft, a contract it jointly bagged with EADS—Astrium, and it would be delivered to the customer, UK—based Avanti Screenmedia, in June.

Under the contract, EADS—Astrium is the prime contractor in charge of overall programme management and would build the communications payload, while Antrix/ISRO would build the satellite with a lift—off mass of around 2.5 tonnes and power of 3.2 KW.

“This year we are producing a very sophisticated high definition television satellite (Hylas) for the first time in the world”, he said.

ISRO is looking to further scale up the participation of industries in space projects and even mulling to outsource some research and development tasks to them.

“Nearly 400 industries take part in space programme today”, he said, noting for example that industries now undertake 70 per cent of work on developing launch vehicles (rockets).

Friday, November 27, 2009

Shuttle Atlantis glides home after station visit

The shuttle Atlantis dropped out of a crystal clear Florida sky and glided to a "picture-perfect" landing at the Kennedy Space Center Friday to close out a successful 11-day space station mission, bringing astronaut Nicole Stott back to Earth after 91 days in space.

Justify Full
"We really had truly an amazing mission," Hobaugh said on the runway. "It was not us, it was not any single group, but it was just an incredible team from all around the nation.

"We were lucky, I mean, part of it's luck and part of it's just pure, great skill, workmanship in processing Atlantis, getting it ready for us. We had no hitches, we went off on time, we landed on time. ... Nicole came back with us, she's doing great, she's headed back to see her family."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Saturn's moon Prometheus

Saturn's moon Prometheus, orbiting near the streamer-channels it has created in the thin F ring, casts a shadow on the A ring in this image taken a little more than a week after the planet's August 2009 equinox.

The ability of the potato-shaped Prometheus to pull material out of the F ring was first theorized in the late 1990s and finally imaged by Cassini in 2004. But because these so-called "streamer-channels" have constantly shifted as Prometheus and the F ring have moved, the F ring has never looked the same twice. The gravitational pull of other moons on other rings has created waves in the edges, but nothing quite as extreme as the streamer-channels of Prometheus.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission Status

The team operating NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter plans to uplink protective files to the spacecraft next week as one step toward resuming the orbiter's research and relay activities.

Since the orbiter spontaneously rebooted its computer on Aug. 26, flight team engineers have been examining possible root causes and repercussions of that incident and three similar events this year on Feb. 23, June 3 and Aug. 6. Meanwhile, the team has kept the spacecraft in a precautionary, minimally active status called "safe mode."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

NASA considering mission to send astronauts to asteroid

That's the rough target date NASA and space industry folks are eying for a mission to send astronauts to a Near Earth Object, aka an asteroid. Such a trip could be a stepping stone to Mars and extended stays on the moon, and guide plans to head off dangerous space rocks on a collision course with Earth, according to

Lockheed Martin, builder of the next-generation Orion spacecraft, the U.S. space program's successor to the shuttle, has drawn up a “Plymouth Rock” plan for NASA touting the voyage as a way to gain a foothold outside low-Earth orbit. Powerful telescopes and beaming energy to Earth from space could be the eventual payoff.

The merits of a human mission to a Near Earth Object were detailed last week during a Boulder, Colo., meeting of the Small Bodies Assessment Group, established by NASA in 2008 to study asteroids, comets, interplanetary dust, small satellites and far-flung orbiters known as Trans-Neptunian Objects.

The plans are to be weighed by NASA and the White House, Paul Abell, a research scientist at the Planetary Science Institute assigned to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, told the Web site. "It's going to take a bit of time. I don't think there's going to be a quick decision."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Astronaut on space shuttle Atlantis becomes a father

A US astronaut on board the space shuttle Atlantis is literally walking on air, with the news of the birth of a daughter back on Earth. Randolph Bresnik, who is on his first space flight, became a father for a second time when baby Abigail was born back home in Houston, Texas.

The event makes Bresnik the second astronaut to become a father in space - the first was Mike Fincke in 2004. Mr Bresnik is due to return to Earth on Friday after an 11-day mission.

The 42-year-old Marine and his crewmates were awoken on Sunday by the song Butterfly Kisses, especially chosen by his wife, Rebecca. Among the lyrics are the lines: "There's two things I know for sure, she was sent here from heaven and she's daddy's little girl."

The couple have a three-year-old son, who they adopted from Ukraine.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Astronauts get extra moving time at space station

The astronauts aboard the shuttle-station complex are getting some extra moving time.

Space shuttle Atlantis has been declared free of any worrisome launch damage. That means the crewmen won't need to conduct another detailed inspection of their ship until after they leave the International Space Station. They will fill the extra time Friday by moving more supplies over to the outpost.

The first of three spacewalks planned for the mission was carried out successfully Thursday. The spacewalkers even got extra work accomplished. Two of the crew will venture back outside Saturday.

Atlantis will remain at the space station until the day before Thanksgiving. The shuttle delivered tons of spare parts and experiments.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Astronauts Inspect Space Shuttle

Space shuttle Atlantis' astronauts scoured their ship Tuesday for any signs of launch damage while pursuing the International Space Station.The early word was that the shuttle appeared to be in good shape. "No issues so far," said LeRoy Cain, chairman of the mission management team.

Atlantis and its crew of six will hook up with the space station Wednesday.

The shuttle gradually was gaining on the station, and the two craft were on opposite sides of Earth at midday Tuesday, not quite 24 hours into the chase. "You've got 8,000 miles of rock between you and it," Mission Control informed shuttle commander Charles Hobaugh.

"I'm seeing somebody out in front, must not be them," Hobaugh joked.

"Can you get the license plate number for us?" Mission Control asked. "Looks like one of those personalized license plates,"

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Solar Dynamics Observatory Investigates the Sun's Cycle of Highs and Lows

This illustration shows convoluted magnetic field lines extending out all over the sun

How intense will the next solar cycle be? Can we predict when a violent solar storm will blast Earth with energetic particles? Could a prolonged period of inactivity on the sun plunge Earth into a prolonged winter? These are a few of the questions that scientists anticipate the new Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) will help to answer.

“The sun is a magnetic variable star that fluctuates on time scales ranging from a fraction of a second to billions of years,” says Madhulika Guhathakurta, lead program scientist for Living With a Star at NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. “SDO will show us how variable the sun really is and will reveal the underlying physics of solar variability.”

Where Do Magnetic Fields Come From?

The sun's magnetic field powers all solar activity. Flows of hot, ionized gases in the sun's convection zone—the region inside the sun where hot gas parcels rise and transport energy toward the surface—act as electrical currents to generate the sun′s powerful magnetic fields.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

NASA and Microsoft Allow Earthlings to Become Martians

NASA and Microsoft Corp. of Redmond, Wash., have collaborated to create a Web site where Internet users can have fun while advancing their knowledge of Mars.

Drawing on observations from NASA’s Mars missions, the "Be a Martian" Web site will enable the public to participate as citizen scientists to improve Martian maps, take part in research tasks, and assist Mars science teams studying data about the Red Planet.

"We're at a point in history where everyone can be an explorer," said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "With so much data coming back from Mars missions that are accessible by all, exploring Mars has become a shared human endeavor. People worldwide can expand the specialized efforts of a few hundred Mars mission team members and make authentic contributions of their own."

Participants will be able to explore details of the solar system's grandest canyon, which resides on Mars. Users can call up images in the Valles Marineris canyon before moving on to chart the entire Red Planet. The collaboration of thousands of participants could assist scientists in producing far better maps, enabling smoother zoom-in views and easier interpretation of Martian surface changes.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Awaiting the Mission

Space shuttle Atlantis is seen on Launch Pad 39a of the NASA Kennedy Space Center shortly after the rotating service structure was rolled back, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2009, Cape Canaveral, FL. Atlantis is scheduled to launch at 2:28p.m. EST on the STS-129 mission to the International Space Station on Monday, Nov. 16, 2009.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Space Shuttle countdown status

Today's launch countdown status briefing held at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, managers reported space shuttle Atlantis, its payload and crew are ready for launch at 2:28 p.m. EST on Monday.

NASA Test Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson reported everything is progressing on schedule for Atlantis' 31st flight to deliver the crew, two Express Logistic Carriers and other necessary parts to the International Space Station.

"Our teams here at Kennedy Space Center, as well as all the NASA centers around the country, have worked very hard preparing this hardware for flight," said Blackwell-Thompson. "We're all looking forward to the mission that lies ahead."

Scott Higginbotham, the STS-129 payload manager, said the processing of the payload for this mission has been a difficult and challenging race for his team. "But we're smiling today," Higginbotham said. "Because we crossed the finish line and we survived." Final inspections were completed and the payload bay doors were closed for flight this morning.

Shuttle Weather Officer Kathy Winters reported weather is looking very good for launch day and for the loading of propellants into Atlantis' external fuel tank. At this time there's only a 10 percent chance of weather hindering a successful launch on Monday.

Water discovery fuels hope to colonize moon

A new chapter in space exploration has been opened up after Nasa confirmed that their mission to bomb the Moon had found "significant quantities" of frozen water.

Scientists said the "exciting" findings had gone "beyond expectations" as fully formed ice was found in a crater on the planet. They said that the ice – thought to be in granules mixed with grains of Moon dust – heralded a major leap forward in space exploration and boosted hopes of a permanent lunar base.

The water was found in one mile high plume of debris that was kicked up by the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) last month when it crashed into the Cabeus crater near the Moon's south pole.

"We are ecstatic," said Anthony Colaprete, project scientist and principal investigator for the £49 million space mission. "Indeed, yes, we found water. And we didn't find just a little bit, we found a significant amount."

He said in a "eureka moment" analysis of the plume of debris sprayed up by a 30 ft crater showed the equivalent of "a dozen two-gallon buckets" of water was thrown up by the impact.

"This is a great day for science and exploration," said Doug Cooke, associate administrator of LCROSS. "The remarkable results have gone beyond our expectations. It is incredibly exciting."

The identification of water-ice in the impact plume is important for purely scientific reasons, but also because a supply of water on the Moon would be a vital resource for future human exploration.

The findings, which completely contradict previous beliefs that the Moon was a dry arid place, justify the controversial mission. It also reignites mankind's dreams of colonising Earth's only satellite. "We're unlocking the mysteries of our nearest neighbour and, by extension, the Solar System," said Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist at Nasa's headquarters in Washington DC.

The mission took place on 9th October and was watched by millions across the globe live on the internet.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Intel accused of ‘coercion and bribery’ in lawsuit

Intel’s antitrust legal battles escalated sharply yesterday when New York’s attorney-general accused the company of using “illegal threats and collusion” to dominate the market for computer microprocessors.

In an 87-page complaint, Andrew Cuomo said that Intel had engaged in a “systematic worldwide campaign of illegal, exclusionary conduct to maintain its monopoly power” in the market for computer chips that began in 2001.

It follows similar claims made in an action by the European Commission that resulted in a record $1.45 billion (£873 million) fine for Intel earlier this year. Mr Cuomo’s move is the first time that such allegations have led to formal regulatory action in America.

The complaint accuses Intel, the world’s biggest computer chip maker, of trying to prevent the sale of competitors’ products by paying billions of dollars in bribes, or “rebates”, to computer manufacturers. Mr Cuomo also said that Intel had retaliated against companies that did too much business with its rivals.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Swift XMM-Newton Satellites Tune Into a Middleweight Black Hole

While astronomers have studied lightweight and heavyweight black holes for decades, the evidence for black holes with intermediate masses has been much harder to come by. Now, astronomers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., find that an X-ray source in galaxy NGC 5408 represents one of the best cases for a middleweight black hole to date.

"Intermediate-mass black holes contain between 100 and 10,000 times the sun's mass," explained Tod Strohmayer, an astrophysicist at Goddard. "We observe the heavyweight black holes in the centers of galaxies and the lightweight ones orbiting stars in our own galaxy. But finding the 'tweeners' remains a challenge."

Several nearby galaxies contain brilliant objects known as ultraluminous X-ray sources (ULXs). They appear to emit more energy than any known process powered by stars but less energy than the centers of active galaxies, which are known to contain million-solar-mass black holes.

"ULXs are good candidates for intermediate-mass black holes, and the one in galaxy NGC 5408 is especially interesting," said Richard Mushotzky, an astrophysicist at the University of Maryland, College Park. The galaxy lies 15.8 million light-years away in the constellation Centaurus.

This archival image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope shows the location of NGC 5408's unusually luminous Xray source.

This archival image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope shows the location of NGC 5408's unusually luminous X-ray source (circled). The irregular-type galaxy lies 15.8 million light-years away in the constellation Centaurus. Credit: NASA/ESA/C. Lang, P. Kaaret, A. Mercer (Univ. of Iowa), and S. Corbel (Univ. of Paris) Using the European Space Agency's orbiting XMM-Newton observatory, Strohmayer and Mushotzky studied the source -- known as NGC 5408 X-1 -- in 2006 and 2008.

XMM-Newton detected what the astronomers call "quasi-periodic oscillations," a nearly regular "flickering" caused by the pile-up of hot gas deep within the accretion disk that forms around a massive object. The rate of this flickering was about 100 times slower than that seen from stellar-mass black holes. Yet, in X-rays, NGC 5408 X-1 outshines these systems by about the same factor.

Based on the timing of the oscillations and other characteristics of the emission, Strohmayer and Mushotzky conclude that NGC 5408 X-1 contains between 1,000 and 9,000 solar masses. This study appears in the October 1 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

"For this mass range, a black hole's event horizon -- the part beyond which we cannot see -- is between 3,800 and 34,000 miles across, or less than half of Earth's diameter to about four times its size," said Strohmayer.

If NGC 5408 X-1 is indeed actively gobbling gas to fuel its prodigious X-ray emission, the material likely flows to the black hole from an orbiting star. This is typical for stellar-mass black holes in our galaxy.

Strohmayer next enlisted the help of NASA's Swift satellite to search for subtle variations of X-rays that would signal the orbit of NGC 5408 X-1's donor star. "Swift uniquely provides both the X-ray imaging sensitivity and the scheduling flexibility to enable a search like this," he added. Beginning in April 2008, Swift began turning its X-Ray Telescope toward NGC 5408 X-1 a couple of times a week as part of an on-going campaign.

Swift detects a slight rise and fall of X-rays every 115.5 days. "If this is indeed the orbital period of a stellar companion," Strohmayer said, "then it's likely a giant or supergiant star between three and five times the sun's mass." This study has been accepted for publication in a future issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

The Swift observations cover only about four orbital cycles, so continued observation is needed to confirm the orbital nature of the X-ray modulation.

"Astronomers have been studying NGC 5408 X-1 for a long time because it is one of the best candidates for an intermediate-mass black hole," adds Philip Kaaret at the University of Iowa, who has studied the object at radio wavelengths but is unaffiliated with either study. "These new results probe what is happening close to the black hole and add strong evidence that it is unusually massive."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Atlantis and Crew Move Closer to Launch Day

The STS-129 mission will be commanded by Charles O. Hobaugh and piloted by Barry E. Wilmore. Mission Specialists are Robert L. Satcher Jr., Mike Foreman, Randy Bresnik and Leland Melvin. Wilmore, Satcher and Bresnik will be making their first trips to space.

Atlantis and its crew will deliver two control moment gyroscopes, equipment and EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 1 and 2 to the International Space Station. The mission will feature three spacewalks.

Atlantis also will return station crew member Nicole Stott to Earth and is slated to be the final space shuttle crew rotation flight.

Technicians on Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida continue final checks of systems in the aft section on space shuttle Atlantis.

Installation work also continues for the shuttle's engine acoustic environment testing equipment. The equipment will record the sound pressure and vibration at liftoff -- which recently were determined to be stronger than originally thought.

Testing of the main engine acoustic environment equipment using microphones and sensors is scheduled to wrap up tomorrow.

The STS-129 mission's six astronauts are now in quarantine in a germ-free environment at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston until they fly to Kennedy on Thursday morning. They will practice final integrated ascent techniques in the motion base simulator and review camera equipment in crew quarters today.

Liftoff of Atlantis' flight to the International Space Station is set for 2:28 p.m. EST Nov. 16. The countdown to launch begins 1 p.m. Friday.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Greetings From Palmer Station, Antarctica

Residents of Palmer Station, Antarctica, used their bright red United States Antarctic Program parkas to send ground-to-air greeting to scientists and flight crew aboard NASA's DC-8 flying science laboratory as it flew over the station during Operation Ice Bridge.

Operation Ice Bridge is a study of Antarctic ice sheets, sea ice and glacial recession. One of three U.S. environmental research stations on the continent, Palmer Station is located on Anvers Island halfway down the Antarctic Peninsula.

Friday, November 06, 2009

More to KSC Runway Than Shuttle Ops

NASA's Shuttle Landing Facility, or SLF, was built for the space shuttle, but it also has hosted an international assortment of gigantic transport aircraft, fighter jets, race cars and even off-course skydivers. Someone watching from the control tower might in one day see astronauts diving at the runway in a Shuttle Training Aircraft, NASA security helicopters sweeping the area, or a mosquito aircraft spraying near the launch pad perimeter. They also can find themselves making room on the runway for the occasional stray private pilot.

Such is life as an air traffic controller at one of the world's longest runways. "You never know what's going to happen next," said Ron Feile, who oversees the air traffic control and operations at the SLF for EG&G. Built a few miles west of the shuttle launch pads at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the landing strip was built for such a unique mission that it may be hard to think of it as an airport. But that's what it is, just ask the folks who man the control tower 100 feet above the 3-mile-long, concrete runway."You're always vigilant, you're always on your toes," said Ken Hooks, who has been working as an air traffic controller since 1968. The control tower at the SLF is relatively new and offers some of the best views around of the spaceport. Standing inside the glass enclosure at the top of the tower, controllers have the same gear that other airports use to monitor and regulate aircraft moving around the area. The space is split between a NASA-focused controller for the runway, and one who works for the Air Force’s Eastern Range.

The controllers oversee rectangles of airspace running far north of Kennedy down to Port Canaveral. If something is flying inside any of the areas, the controllers want to know what it is. "You'll have all these small little aircraft that are in here and have official business, but you need to know who they are, where they are and what they're doing," Hooks said.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Spitzer Observes a Chaotic Planetary System

Before our planets found their way to the stable orbits they circle in today, they wiggled and jostled about like unsettled children. Now, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has found a young star with evidence for the same kind of orbital hyperactivity. Young planets circling the star are thought to be disturbing smaller comet-like bodies, causing them to collide and kick up a huge halo of dust.

The star, called HR 8799, was in the news last November 2008, for being one of the first of two stars with imaged planets. Ground-based telescopes at the W.M. Keck Observatory and the Gemini Observatory, both in Hawaii, took images of three planets orbiting in the far reaches of the system, all three being roughly 10 times the mass of Jupiter. Another imaged planet was also announced at the same time around the star Fomalhaut, as seen by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Both HR 8799 and Fomalhaut are younger and more massive than our sun.

Astronomers had previously used both Spitzer and Hubble to image a rotating disk of planetary debris around Fomalhaut, which is 25 light-years from Earth. HR 8799 is about five times farther away, so scientists weren't sure if Spitzer would be able to capture a picture of its disk. To their amazement and delight, Spitzer succeeded.

The Spitzer team, led by Kate Su of the University of Arizona, Tucson, says the giant cloud of fine dust around the disk is very unusual. They say this dust must be coming from collisions among small bodies similar to the comets or icy bodies that make up today's Kuiper Belt objects in our solar system. The gravity of the three large planets is throwing the smaller bodies off course, causing them to migrate around and collide with each other. Astronomers think the three planets might have yet to reach their final stable orbits, so more violence could be in store.

"The system is very chaotic and collisions are spraying up a huge cloud of fine dust," said Su. "What's exciting is that we have a direct link between a planetary disk and imaged planets. We've been studying disks for a long time, but this star and Fomalhaut are the only two examples of systems where we can study the relationships between the locations of planets and the disks."

When our solar system was young, it went through similar planet migrations. Jupiter and Saturn moved around quite a bit, throwing comets around, sometimes into Earth. Some say the most extreme part of this phase, called the late heavy bombardment, explains how our planet got water. Wet, snowball-like comets are thought to have crashed into Earth, delivering life's favorite liquid.

The Spitzer results were published in the Nov. 1 issue of Astrophysical Journal. The observations were made before Spitzer began its "warm" mission and used up its liquid coolant.

Hubble image showcases star birth in M83

The spectacular new camera installed on NASA's Hubble Space Telescope during Servicing Mission 4 in May has delivered the most detailed view of star birth in the graceful, curving arms of the nearby spiral galaxy M83.

Nicknamed the Southern Pinwheel, M83 is undergoing more rapid star formation than our own Milky Way galaxy, especially in its nucleus. The sharp "eye" of the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) has captured hundreds of young star clusters, ancient swarms of globular star clusters, and hundreds of thousands of individual stars, mostly blue supergiants and red supergiants.

The image at right is Hubble's close-up view of the myriad stars near the galaxy's core, the bright whitish region at far right. An image of the entire galaxy, taken by the European Southern Observatory's Wide Field Imager on the ESO/MPG 2.2-meter telescope at La Silla, Chile, is shown at left. The white box outlines Hubble's view.

WFC3's broad wavelength range, from ultraviolet to near-infrared, reveals stars at different stages of evolution, allowing astronomers to dissect the galaxy's star-formation history.

The image reveals in unprecedented detail the current rapid rate of star birth in this famous "grand design" spiral galaxy. The newest generations of stars are forming largely in clusters on the edges of the dark dust lanes, the backbone of the spiral arms. These fledgling stars, only a few million years old, are bursting out of their dusty cocoons and producing bubbles of reddish glowing hydrogen gas.

The excavated regions give a colorful "Swiss cheese" appearance to the spiral arm. Gradually, the young stars' fierce winds (streams of charged particles) blow away the gas, revealing bright blue star clusters. These stars are about 1 million to 10 million years old. The older populations of stars are not as blue.

A bar of stars, gas, and dust slicing across the core of the galaxy may be instigating most of the star birth in the galaxy's core. The bar funnels material to the galaxy's center, where the most active star formation is taking place. The brightest star clusters reside along an arc near the core.

The remains of about 60 supernova blasts, the deaths of massive stars, can be seen in the image, five times more than known previously in this region. WFC3 identified the remnants of exploded stars. By studying these remnants, astronomers can better understand the nature of the progenitor stars, which are responsible for the creation and dispersal of most of the galaxy's heavy elements.

M83, located in the Southern Hemisphere, is often compared to M51, dubbed the Whirlpool galaxy, in the Northern Hemisphere. Located 15 million light-years away in the constellation Hydra, M83 is two times closer to Earth than M51.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. Goddard manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute conducts Hubble science operations. The institute is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. in Washington, and is an International Year of Astronomy 2009 program partner.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Space shuttle Atlantis' payload bay

Launch Pad 39A technicians at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida will install the cargo for the STS-129 mission into space shuttle Atlantis' payload bay today.

The payload consists of Express Logistics Carrier 1 and 2, holding about 28,000 pounds of supplies and spare parts for the International Space Station.

Workers also will attach the orbiter midbody umbilical unit from the pad's rotating service structure to the shuttle today. The unit provides access to and permits servicing of Atlantis' mid-fuselage area. Liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen for the fuel cells and gases, such as nitrogen and helium, are provided through the unit.

The six Atlantis astronauts returned to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston yesterday after completing the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, or TCDT, training. They'll conduct final launch preparations at Johnson before flying back to Kennedy for the anticipated launch to the space station at 2:28 p.m. EST on Nov. 16.

On Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the STS-129 crew, appear ready for liftoff following the completion of their Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test

Atlantis and Crew Prepare for Flight
The STS-129 mission will be commanded by Charles O. Hobaugh and piloted by Barry E. Wilmore. Mission Specialists are Robert L. Satcher Jr., Mike Foreman, Randy Bresnik and Leland Melvin. Wilmore, Satcher and Bresnik will be making their first trips to space.

Atlantis and its crew will deliver two control moment gyroscopes, equipment and EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 1 and 2 to the International Space Station. The mission will feature three spacewalks.

Atlantis also will return station crew member Nicole Stott to Earth and is slated to be the final space shuttle crew rotation flight.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Messenger's Third Mercury Flyby

A NASA spacecraft's third and final flyby of the planet Mercury gives scientists, for the first time, an almost complete view of the planet's surface and provides new scientific findings about this relatively unknown planet.

The Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging spacecraft, known as MESSENGER, flew by Mercury on Sept. 29. The probe completed a critical gravity assist to remain on course to enter into orbit around Mercury in 2011. Despite shutting down temporarily because of a power system switchover during a solar eclipse, the spacecraft's cameras and instruments collected high-resolution and color images unveiling another 6 percent of the planet's surface never before seen at close range.

Approximately 98 percent of Mercury's surface now has been imaged by NASA spacecraft. After MESSENGER goes into orbit around Mercury, it will see the polar regions, which are the only unobserved areas of the planet.

"Although the area viewed for the first time by spacecraft was less than 350 miles across at the equator, the new images reminded us that Mercury continues to hold surprises," said Sean Solomon, principal investigator for the mission and director of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

Many new features were revealed during the third flyby, including a region with a bright area surrounding an irregular depression, suspected to be volcanic in origin. Other images revealed a double-ring impact basin approximately 180 miles across. The basin is similar to a feature scientists call the Raditladi basin, which was viewed during the probe's first flyby of Mercury in January 2008.

"This double-ring basin, seen in detail for the first time, is remarkably well preserved," said Brett Denevi, a member of the probe's imaging team and a postdoctoral researcher at Arizona State University in Tempe. "One similarity to Raditladi is its age, which has been estimated to be approximately one billion years old. Such an age is quite young for an impact basin, because most basins are about four times older. The inner floor of this basin is even younger than the basin itself and differs in color from its surroundings. We may have found the youngest volcanic material on Mercury."

One of the spacecraft's instruments conducted its most extensive observations to date of Mercury's exosphere, or thin atmosphere, during this encounter. The flyby allowed for the first detailed scans over Mercury's north and south poles. The probe also has begun to reveal how Mercury's atmosphere varies with its distance from the sun.

"A striking illustration of what we call 'seasonal' effects in Mercury's exosphere is that the neutral sodium tail, so prominent in the first two flybys, is 10 to 20 times less intense in emission and significantly reduced in extent," says participating scientist Ron Vervack, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, or APL, in Laurel, Md. "This difference is related to expected variations in solar radiation pressure as Mercury moves in its orbit and demonstrates why Mercury's exosphere is one of the most dynamic in the solar system."

The observations also show that calcium and magnesium exhibit different seasonal changes than sodium. Studying the seasonal changes in all exospheric constituents during the mission orbital phase will provide key information on the relative importance of the processes that generate, sustain, and modify Mercury's atmosphere.

The third flyby also revealed new information on the abundances of iron and titanium in Mercury's surface materials. Earlier Earth and spacecraft-based observations showed that Mercury's surface has a very low concentration of iron in silicate minerals, a result that led to the view that the planet's crust is generally low in iron.

"Now we know Mercury's surface has an average iron and titanium abundance that is higher than most of us expected, similar to some lunar mare basalts," says David Lawrence, an APL participating mission scientist.

The spacecraft has completed nearly three-quarters of its 4.9-billion-mile journey to enter orbit around Mercury. The full trip will include more than 15 trips around the sun. In addition to flying by Mercury, the spacecraft flew past Earth in August 2005 and Venus in October 2006 and June 2007.

The spacecraft was designed and built by APL. The mission is managed and operated by APL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Challenge Everything

There is an interesting experiment happening at the Johnson Space Center. The basic question being addressed by this experiment is “what would happen if we could tap into the expertise of the 15,000 employees at JSC to solve any one of the difficult challenges that we are wrestling with?” Actually the experiment is also tapping the expertise at the other NASA Centers. The idea was a brainchild of the JSC Vision 2028 team and the Center Director's, Inclusion and Innovation council engagement teams. Called Project Blue Moon, it is a six month pilot to create an open collaboration environment across the NASA Community.

I know been there, done that. I know the outside has been making use of open collaboration environments for years. Yes I know all about open source and the strides it made in operating systems development. And yes, open collaboration is normally wide open and engages expertise outside of a company. Yet given all of that the interesting part of the experiment is the focus on the potentially untapped talent within OUR OWN community.

The potential to find a solution in the most unlikely of places within NASA or tapping into the limitless passion of our community to contribute to the NASA mission. Two stories come to mind when I think of the possibilities of this experiment. The first is the legendary tale of the janitor at KSC who was asked what was he doing and his response was “I am helping to put a man on the moon.” He was passionate about what he was doing and understood the linkage between what he was doing and the mission of the agency.

But what if he had other expertise? What if he loved to tinker on his time off and was given the opportunity to play around with one of the challenges of that time? Imagine if his passion could be directed to leverage some of his hidden talents and experiences? The second story was one that was shared with me about a couple of guys that wanted to take pictures of space. They solved their challenge with the most unlikely set of equipment. What is great is that I would never have thought of their solution. They came at the problem from a completely different angle.

As with any organization we are great at tapping into our “community of practice.” We know the experts and we are able to obtain innovative solutions from these experts. The JSC experiment though challenges everyone to also look for creative solutions outside of your discipline. Maybe there are outstanding ideas that are only apparent from another discipline across the center or across the Agency. Maybe there is a robotic solution from JPL that would support a problem that we are grappling with in human exploration.

Our community is filled with individuals who have moved from their original area of expertise and yet they would welcome the opportunity to offer up ideas for challenges in their old disciplines. We have employees that have hobbies, workshops at home and interests that keep them abreast of the latest innovations that are not being taped. The Blue Moon project is trying to tap into this wealth of ideas.

The flip side of the Blue Moon challenge is to get people to offer up solutions. Our community is not shy and will voice their ideas in the areas that they are currently responsible for. Yet it is human nature not to offer up ideas in what may be seen as outside of your expertise. What if I’m wrong? What if I offer up a “stupid” idea? This experiment is trying to create an environment where there are not any stupid ideas. We are challenging anyone with any ideas for a solution to post their concepts.