Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Space Shuttle Endeavour Returns to Earth for Final Time Wednesday

Space shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to return to Earth for the final time on Wednesday, June 1, completing a 16-day mission to outfit the International Space Station. If Endeavour lands Wednesday, it will have spent 299 days in space and traveled more than 122.8 million miles during its 25 flights. It launched on its first mission on May 7, 1992.Wednesday's landing opportunities at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida are at 2:35 a.m. and 4:11 a.m. EDT. Endeavour's entry flight control team led by Tony Ceccacci will evaluate weather conditions at Kennedy before permitting Endeavour to land.
If the shuttle is unable to return Wednesday, additional opportunities are available on Thursday at Kennedy and at backup landing site Edwards Air Force Base in California. For recorded updates about landing, call 321-867-2525.Approximately two hours after Endeavour lands, NASA officials will hold a briefing to discuss the mission. The participants will be:

  • Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Space Operations

  • Mike Moses, space shuttle launch integration manager

  • Mike Leinbach, space shuttle launch director

After touchdown, the astronauts will undergo routine physical examinations and meet with their families. The crew is expected to participate in a post-landing news conference about six hours after landing. Availability is subject to change due to real time circumstances. The news events will be broadcast live on NASA Television and the agency's website.

The Kennedy Press Site will be open for shuttle Atlantis’ rollout to Launch Pad 39A scheduled for 8 p.m. Tuesday and will remain open until 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.News media representatives who have been approved for STS-134 mission badges but have not picked them up yet may do so at NASA's Pass and Identification Building on State Road 3 on May 31 from 4 - 6 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. on June 1.The last bus will depart from the news center for the Shuttle Landing Facility one hour before landing.If the shuttle landing is diverted to Edwards after Wednesday, reporters should call the public affairs office at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at 661-276-3449. Dryden has limited facilities available for previously accredited journalists.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Spitzer Sees Crystal Rain in Infant Star Outer Clouds

Tiny crystals of a green mineral called olivine are falling down like rain on a burgeoning star, according to observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. This is the first time such crystals have been observed in the dusty clouds of gas that collapse around forming stars. Astronomers are still debating how the crystals got there, but the most likely culprits are jets of gas blasting away from the embryonic star.

You need temperatures as hot as lava to make these crystals, said Tom Megeath of the University of Toledo in Ohio. He is the principal investigator of the research and the second author of a new study appearing in Astrophysical Journal Letters. "We propose that the crystals were cooked up near the surface of the forming star, and then carried up into the surrounding cloud where temperatures are much colder, and ultimately fell down again like glitter."

Spitzer's infrared detectors spotted the crystal rain around a distant, sun-like embryonic star, or protostar, referred to as HOPS-68, in the constellation Orion. The Spitzer observations were made before it used up its liquid coolant in May 2009 and began its warm mission.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Endeavour's Late Inspection Complete

space shuttle
Space shuttle Endeavour's crew completed today's inspection of the shuttle's thermal protection system at 2:16 a.m. EDT. The crew began the inspection early. They used the 50-foot-long Orbiter Boom Sensor System to conduct a high fidelity, three-dimensional scan of areas of the shuttle that experience the highest heating during entry - the wing leading edges and nose cap. Managers and engineers in Mission Control will review the data to validate the heat shield's integrity and assure it has suffered no significant micrometeoroid and orbital debris damage.

The late inspection occurred earlier in the mission than normal, prior to undocking. As a consequence, the risk of re-entering with undetected micrometeoroid debris is increased but deemed acceptable.

During the mission's fourth and final spacewalk on Friday, the boom will be left at the space station to extend the robotic reach. Mike Fincke and Greg Chamitoff will prepare it for its stay by replacing its grapple fixture with a power data grapple fixture to enable its use as the new International Space Station Boom Assembly. Once on station without power and in the extended exposure to the vacuum of space, the boom's imagery sensors will cease functioning.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Asteroid Research Begins Under the Sea

view high resolution

NASA is using a capability-driven approach to new concepts of human exploration for multiple destinations in our solar system; one of those destinations are near-Earth asteroids. Across the agency, experts are being called into action to develop solutions to this new challenge. In particular, the NEEMO 15 analog field test, slated for mid-October this year, will test new tools, techniques, time lining approaches and communication technologies which could be useful when humans approach asteroids in space.

During the week of May 9-15, 2011, the NEEMO 15 support team is conducting engineering evaluations in the Aquarius undersea research laboratory in Key Largo, Fla. The purpose of these engineering tests is to understand the equipment, techniques and test concepts that will be implemented in the October NEEMO 15 mission, to make sure that all systems are ready for more rigorous testing when the crew will be living full-time in the Aquarius undersea habitat.

The specific operations for visiting an asteroid have not been considered in great detail before. Gravity on an asteroid is negligible, so walking around on one isn't really an option. Anchoring to the surface will probably be necessary, but asteroids are made up of different materials - some solid metal, some piles of rubble and some, a combination of rock, pebbles and dust. Weak gravity and diverse materials present problems whose solutions can be experimented with on the ocean floor, which is what the NEEMO 15 mission is trying to do.

NEEMO 15 will focus on three different aspects of a mission to an asteroid surface. The first is anchoring to the surface of the asteroid. Unlike the moon or Mars, an asteroid would have little, if any, gravity to hold astronauts or vehicles to its surface, so an anchor would be necessary. To move around on the surface of an asteroid will require a method of connecting multiple anchors to form pathways. The best way in which to connect these anchors will be the second aspect of a near-Earth asteroid mission addressed by NEEMO 15. Finally, since NASA's purpose in visiting an asteroid would be for scientific research, the third aspect of this mission investigated by NEEMO 15 would be different methods of sample collection.

Friday, May 20, 2011

NASA'S Mars Atmosphere Mission


NASA's mission to investigate the mystery of how Mars lost much of its atmosphere passed a critical milestone on October 4, 2010. NASA has given approval for the development and 2013 launch of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission. Clues on the Martian surface, such as features resembling dry riverbeds and minerals that only form in the presence of liquid water, suggest that Mars once had a denser atmosphere, which supported the presence of liquid water on the surface. As part of a dramatic climate change, most of the Martian atmosphere was lost. MAVEN will make definitive scientific measurements of present-day atmospheric loss that will offer insight into the Red Planet's history. This project is a vital complement to past, present, and future Mars missions. MAVEN will take us a step closer in learning about the evolution of our intriguing celestial neighbor.”

NASA Goddard will manage the project, which will cost $438 million excluding the separately government-furnished launch vehicle and telecommunications relay package. Goddard will also build some of the instruments for the mission. In addition to the PI coming from CU-LASP, the university will provide science operations, build instruments, and lead Education/Public Outreach. Lockheed Martin of Littleton, Colo., will build the spacecraft based on designs from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and 2001 Mars Odyssey missions and perform mission operations. The University of California-Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory will also build instruments for the mission. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., will provide navigation support, the Deep Space Network, and the Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

NASA's Next Mars Rover Nears Completion

NASA's Mars Rover

Assembly and testing of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft is far enough along that the mission's rover, Curiosity, looks very much as it will when it is investigating Mars.

Testing continues this month at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., on the rover and other components of the spacecraft that will deliver Curiosity to Mars. In May and June, the spacecraft will be shipped to NASA Kennedy Space Center, Fla., where preparations will continue for launch in the period between Nov. 25 and Dec. 18, 2011.

The mission will use Curiosity to study one of the most intriguing places on Mars -- still to be selected from among four finalist landing-site candidates. It will study whether a selected area of Mars has offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life and for preserving evidence about whether Martian life has existed.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Nasa future mission Juno

Juno’s principal goal is to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter. Underneath its dense cloud cover, Jupiter safeguards secrets to the fundamental processes and conditions that governed our solar system during its formation. As our primary example of a giant planet, Jupiter can also provide critical knowledge for understanding the planetary systems being discovered around other stars.

With its suite of science instruments, Juno will investigate the existence of a solid planetary core, map Jupiter's intense magnetic field, measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere, and observe the planet's auroras.

Juno will let us take a giant step forward in our understanding of how giant planets form and the role these titans played in putting together the rest of the solar system.

Key things to know about Juno
o Spacecraft launches in August 2011
o Five-year cruise to Jupiter, arriving July 2016
o One year at Jupiter will complete the mission (orbiting the planet 32 times)
Juno will improve our understanding of our solar system’s beginnings by revealing the origin and evolution of Jupiter.

Specifically, Juno will…
o Determine how much water is in Jupiter’s atmosphere, which helps determine which planet formation theory is correct (or if new theories are needed)
o Look deep into Jupiter’s atmosphere to measure composition, temperature, cloud motions and other properties
o Map Jupiter’s magnetic and gravity fields, revealing the planet’s deep structure
o Explore and study Jupiter’s magnetosphere near the planet’s poles, especially the auroras – Jupiter’s northern and southern lights – providing new insights about how the planet’s enormous magnetic force field affects its atmosphere.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Sunset from an Astronaut's Perspective

Astronauts onboard the International Space Station see the Earth from a unique perspective — for example, in one 24-hour period, they see not one sunrise and sunset, but 16 on average. Each changeover between day and night is marked by the terminator, a line on Earth's surface separating the sunlit side from the darkness.

While the terminator is often conceptualized as a hard boundary, in reality the edge of light and dark is diffuse due to the scattering of light by the Earth's atmosphere. This zone of diffuse lighting is experienced as dusk or twilight on the ground; while the Sun is no longer visible, some illumination is still present due to light scattering over the local horizon.

The terminator is visible in this panoramic view across central South America, looking towards the northeast. An astronaut shot the photo at approximately 7:37 p.m. local time. Layers of the Earth's atmosphere, colored bright white to deep blue, are visible on the horizon (or limb). The highest cloud tops have a reddish glow due to direct light from the setting sun, while lower clouds are in twilight.

Friday, May 06, 2011

China's First Space Station: A New Foothold in Earth Orbit

China's state-run news outlets report that preparations of the country's first space station module, called Tiangong-1, are in full swing for a launch in the second half of this year and will be followed by an unpiloted spacecraft.

The spacecraft twosome, the station module and China's Shenzhou 8 vehicle, will mark the country's first round of orbital rendezvous and docking tests – viewed as a springboard to larger space adventures. A Long March 2F rocket is the booster of choice for the individual launches, according to reports by China's Xinhua news agency.

According to state media reports, the Tiangong-1 space station module is outfitted with a docking port on its front and rear ends. It will tip the scales at roughly 8 1/2 tons and purportedly will have a two-year lifetime in Earth orbit. Next year, China's Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10 missions, each carrying astronauts, are expected to link up with the station module, according to current plan.

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

Space Tourist Trips Around the Moon Get Roomier Spaceship

Fifty years after the first American astronaut rocketed into space, one commercial spaceflight company is hoping to push the envelope even further, with tourist trips around the moon. And now they plan to use a bigger spaceship.

The Virginia-based space tourism firm Space Adventures has brokered commercial rides to the International Space Station for the last 10 years under a partnership with Russia's Federal Space Agency, which provided the Soyuz spacecraft for the flights. The three-person Soyuz vehicle also forms the core of Space Adventures' trip for two around the moon at $150 million per passenger, but the U.S. company on may 5th announced a new twist: an extra module to give customers more room during the lunar visit.

Space Adventures already has one customer signed on for the circumlunar joyride and is in contract negotiations with a second, which means the first flight could occur as soon as the end of 2015, said the company's chairman Eric Anderson. "The mission, in my mind, will be another watershed event," Anderson said in a news briefing today. "It's remarkable that a private company will be able to work in the market and finance what is likely to be humanity's first return to the moon in what will, at that time, be 45 years."

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Virgin Galactic's Space Tourist Ship Passes Major Flight Test

A private spaceship built to carry space tourists on suborbital flights for the company Virgin Galactic passed a major glide test flight while flying over California's Mojave Desert on 4th may 2011: The spacecraft tested out the novel system it will use when re-entering Earth's atmosphere. Today's flight marked Virgin Galactic's seventh glide test for its first SpaceShipTwo spacecraft, called the VSS Enterprise, and took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port.

Today's flight marked Virgin Galactic's seventh glide test for its first SpaceShipTwo spacecraft, called the VSS Enterprise, and took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port. The WhiteKnightTwo/SpaceShipTwo combo serves as a launch system, the backbone of Virgin Galactic’s aspirations to create a spaceline -- one that would whisk tourists into space on a suborbital trajectory. SpaceShipTwo vehicles are designed to carry six passengers and two pilots to the edge of space and back.

The pay-per-view flights are billed as giving tourists a spectacular view of the Earth and several minutes of weightlessness. A per-seat price of $200,000 is being offered by Virgin Galactic. The space liner operations are backed by British billionaire, Sir Richard Branson, founder of the firm.

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Sunday, May 01, 2011

Largest 3-D Map Opens Window to the Ancient Universe

The largest-ever three-dimensional map of the distant universe has been created using the light of the brightest objects in the cosmos. Since this distant light took eons to reach Earth, the map is essentially a window back in time, providing an unprecedented view of what the universe looked like 11 billion years ago.Normally, researchers make maps of the universe by looking at galaxies.

"Here, we are looking at intergalactic hydrogen gas, which blocks light," said researcher An┼że Slosar, a physicist at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory. "It's like looking at the moon through clouds -- you can see the shapes of the clouds by the moonlight that they block."

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