Monday, August 30, 2010

Successful Ice Cloud and Land Elevation Mission

orbiting sentinels is expected to return to Earth in a few days. The agency's Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation (ICESat) satellite completed a very productive scientific mission earlier this year. NASA lowered the satellite's orbit last month and then decommissioned the spacecraft in preparation for re-entry. It is estimated that the satellite will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere and largely burn up on or about August 29.

ICESat's lasting legacy will be its impact on the understanding of ice sheet and sea ice dynamics. The mission has led to scientific advances in measuring changes in the mass of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, polar sea ice thickness, vegetation-canopy heights, and the heights of clouds and aerosols. Using ICESat data, scientists identified a network of lakes beneath the Antarctic ice sheet. ICESat introduced new capabilities, technology and methods such as the measurement of sea ice freeboard – or the amount of ice and snow that protrudes above the ocean surface - for estimating sea ice thickness.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

WISE Captures the Unicorn's Rose

Unicorns and roses are usually the stuff of fairy tales, but a new cosmic image taken by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Explorer (WISE) shows the Rosette nebula located within the constellation Monoceros, or the Unicorn.

This flower-shaped nebula, also known by the less romantic name NGC 2237, is a huge star-forming cloud of dust and gas in our Milky Way galaxy. Estimates of the nebula's distance vary from 4,500 to 5,000 light-years away.

At the center of the flower is a cluster of young stars called NGC 2244. The most massive stars produce huge amounts of ultraviolet radiation, and blow strong winds that erode away the nearby gas and dust, creating a large, central hole. The radiation also strips electrons from the surrounding hydrogen gas, ionizing it and creating what astronomers call an HII region.

Although the Rosette nebula is too faint to see with the naked eye, NGC 2244 is beloved by amateur astronomers because it is visible through a small telescope or good pair of binoculars. The English astronomer John Flamsteed discovered the star cluster NGC 2244 with a telescope around 1690, but the nebula itself was not identified until John Herschel (son of William Herschel, discoverer of infrared light) observed it almost 150 years later.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Perseids Complete 2010

The 2010 Perseid meteor shower is drawing to a close after painting brilliant streaks across the August nighttime skies. This year's shower began around July 17, peaked August 12-13 and will be officially over by August 24.

"The Perseids are a great shower, one I look forward to every year. And this year didn’t disappoint!" said Dr. Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office, located at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The Perseid meteor shower has been observed for at least 2,000 years and is associated with the comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 133 years or so. Each year in August, the Earth passes through a cloud of the comet's debris. These bits of ice and dust travel around 132,000 mph, burning up about 56 miles overhead in the Earth's atmosphere to create one of the best meteor showers of the year. The shower is called the "Perseids" because the meteors appear to come from the direction of the constellation Perseus.

Monday, August 23, 2010

space shuttle orbiter

A jet engine noise reduction device called a chevron, now in use on commercial airliners, is a good example of a NASA-developed technology that climbed the TRL scale to success, said Fay Collier, manager of NASA's Environmentally Responsible Aviation Project.

Chevrons are the saw-tooth pattern that can be seen on the trailing edges of some jet engine nozzles. As hot air from the engine core mixes with cooler air blowing through the engine fan, the jagged edges serve to smooth the mixing, which reduces turbulence that creates noise.

The new Boeing 787 is among the most modern jets relying on chevrons to reduce engine noise levels, sporting chevrons on the nacelles, or fan housings. The Boeing 747-8 has chevrons on both the nacelles and inner core engine nozzles.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

GRIP 'Shakedown' Flight Planned over Gulf Coast

The first flight of NASA's hurricane airborne research mission is scheduled to take off from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., on Tuesday, Aug. 17. NASA's DC-8 research aircraft will be making a planned five-hour flight along the Gulf Coast from western Florida to Louisiana primarily as a practice run for the many scientific instruments aboard.

Mission scientists, instrument teams, flight crew and support personnel gathered in Fort Lauderdale this weekend to begin planning the six-week Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes mission, or GRIP. NASA's DC-8, the largest of NASA's three aircraft taking part in the mission, is based at the Fort Lauderdale airport. The two other aircraft -- the WB-57 based in Houston and the autonomous Global Hawk flying out of southern California -- will join the campaign in about a week.

Monday, August 16, 2010

NRC's 2010 Astrophysics Decadal Survey

National Research Council's Astro2010 report, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics. We appreciate the science community's efforts in defining a set of compelling science objectives for space-based astrophysical research for the coming decade, and for carefully considering the cost of the initiatives the report recommends.

We look forward to assessing the report's findings and recommendations for strengthening the nation's world-class space astrophysics program. From new worlds to new physics, the coming decade of discovery leverages not only our current space observatories – such as the Hubble, Spitzer, Chandra and Fermi space telescopes – but also our planned facilities – especially those from previous decadal surveys, the James Webb Space Telescope and the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). The survey calls for new facilities that expand our reach into the cosmos that will include opportunities for coordination and cooperation with other Federal agencies and international partners.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Launch Preps Move Ahead for Mission to International Space Station

During space shuttle Discovery's final spaceflight, the STS-133 crew members will take important spare parts to the International Space Station along with the Express Logistics Carrier-4. Discovery is being readied for flight inside Kennedy's Orbiter Processing Facility-3 while its solid rocket boosters are stacked inside the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building. STS-133 is slated to launch Nov. 1.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Crew to Perform Second of Three Spacewalks Wednesday

Flight controllers and engineers continue meetings to review the results from the first spacewalk conducted Saturday by International Space Station Expedition 24 Flight Engineers Doug Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell Dyson and to plan for the second of what now will be three spacewalks to complete the replacement of a failed pump module on the station’s starboard truss.

In the wake of an eight-hour, three-minute spacewalk Saturday that fell short of removing the failed pump module due to a leak in the fourth of four ammonia line connectors hooked up to the old pump, mission operations and station program officials laid out a series of procedures for Wheelock and Caldwell Dyson to perform at the beginning of the second spacewalk Wednesday designed to greatly reduce, or eliminate the possibility of ammonia leaking from the final fluid connector – called M3 – when it is demated to set the stage for the failed pump to be removed from the truss.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Second CME to Hit Earth's Magnetic Field

Another great image from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) of the news-making solar event on August 1, 2010 resulting in two Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) launched in Earth's direction.

Earth's magnetic field is still reverberating from the CME impact of August 3rd, which sparked auroras as far south as Wisconsin and Iowa in the United States. Analysts believe a second CME is right behind it, due to arrive today. This second impact could re-energize the fading geomagnetic storm and spark a new round of Northern Lights.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Hundreds of New Views from Telescope Orbiting Mars

At the center of this view of an area of mid latitude northern Mars, a fresh crater about 6 meters in diameter holds an exposure of bright material, blue in this false color image.

The latest set of new images from the telescopic High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter offers detailed views of diverse Martian landscapes.

Features as small as desks are revealed in the 314 observations made between June 6 and July 7, 2010, now available on the camera team's site and NASA's Planetary Data System.

The camera is one of six instruments on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which reached Mars in 2006.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Wind Shear Accident Was Catalyst for Technology

On that day 25 years ago the public affairs specialist was a young U.S. Air Force airman heading home on leave to North Carolina, flying out of Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

"I was looking out my window, sitting at the end of the runway aboard the second airplane lined up to take off," said Creech. "I had a window seat and was looking out the window when I noticed some really, really black thunder clouds at our end of the runway. Then I saw orange, extremely bright orange, light. My brain didn't register what I was seeing."

One hundred and thirty four people of the 163 on board the Delta Lockheed L-1011 and one person on the ground died that day, in part because of a powerful thunderstorm microburst-induced wind shear, a rare but potentially deadly downdraft.

Dave Hinton, now the deputy director of the Aeronautics Research Directorate at NASA's Langley Research Center, also remembers that accident vividly. He and a team of researchers studied it for years as part of their efforts to help develop predictive wind shear radar, a technology that is now standard on all airliners.

"It was a tremendously productive cooperation between multiple agencies and companies," said Hinton. "We advanced the state of the art from basic knowledge of a meteorological phenomena to developing well defined system requirements for on board sensors and crew procedures."

"They followed the technology development and as a result provided the credibility and basis for certification," said Hinton. "That meant that within two to three years of our wrapping up the project there were certified systems available. " Those airborne systems, better ground-based radar and improved pilot training have now virtually eliminated U.S. airliner wind shear accidents.

Monday, August 02, 2010

NASA's ATHLETE Warms Up for High Desert Run

Engineers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are currently putting their All-Terrain, Hex-Limbed, Extra Terrestrial Explorer through a series of long drive tests on the long, dirt roads found adjacent to JPL.

The JPL grounds do not include an unpaved area of sufficient size for testing such a large robot over a long distance. Some of the dirt roads in the Arroyo Seco are wide enough for ATHLETE, and its close proximity to JPL allows the robot to be secured in its hangar between test runs.

The engineers want to test the moon rover's ability to meet a NASA milestone of traveling at least 40 kilometers over 14 days under its own power. The official demonstration is slated to begin in the Arizona high desert next month.

ATHLETE is a 1/2-scale working prototype of a robot under development to transport habitats and other cargo on the surface of the Moon or Mars. The ATHLETE concept is a level cargo deck carried by six wheels, each on the end of a configurable leg. The prototype stands approximately 4.5 meters tall and 4.5 meters wide and weighs about . The robot moves relatively slowly, with a top speed during traverse of approximately 2 kilometers per hour.