• 2010 nasa special
    a total eclipse of the Sun is visible from within a narrow corridor that traverses Earth's southern Hemisphere. The path of the Moon's umbral shadow crosses the South Pacific Ocean where it makes no landfall except for Mangaia (Cook Islands) and Easter Island (Isla de Pascua).

STS-128 Mission Information

STS128-S-002: STS-128 crew portrait
Image above: Seated are Commander Rick Sturckow (right) and Pilot Kevin Ford. From the left (standing) are mission specialists José Hernández, John "Danny" Olivas, Nicole Stott, European Space Agency's Christer Fuglesang and Patrick Forrester. Stott is scheduled to join Expedition 20 as flight engineer after launching to the International Space Station on STS-128.

Commander Rick Sturckow will lead the STS-128 mission to the International Space Station aboard space shuttle Discovery with Kevin Ford serving as pilot. Also serving aboard Discovery are mission specialists Patrick Forrester, José Hernández, John "Danny" Olivas, Christer Fuglesang and Nicole Stott.

Stott will remain on the station as an Expedition 20 flight engineer replacing Timothy Kopra. Kopra will return home aboard Discovery as a mission specialist.

Discovery is carrying the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module containing life support racks and science racks. The Lightweight Multi-Purpose Experiment Support Structure Carrier will also be launched in Discovery's payload bay.

This is Discovery's 37th mission to space and the 30th mission of a space shuttle dedicated to the assembly and maintenance of the International Space Station.

NASA to Test Inflatable Spacecraft

The American space agency NASA announced a few days ago that a new flight test would be taking place today, featuring the first inflatable reentry spacecraft. Its mission will be to deploy when a carrier enters the Earth or the Martian atmosphere, and to act as a heat shield and aerodynamic brake. The inflatable concept is not new, but these tests represent the first time ever when an actual prototype of such an advanced system is challenged practically. The test will take place at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, in Wallops Island, Virginia.
The new protective outer layer is especially designed to protect reentering vehicles, but it had to do so while being very lightweight and resistant to speed and heat. Therefore, experts opted for a silicon-coated Kevlar aeroshell structure, which is both lightweight, and capable of being stored within a 16-inch (40.6-cm) -diameter cylinder. When nitrogen fills it, and it expands, the structure reaches a circular diameter of about ten feet (three meters), sufficient for a wide array of applications. It can naturally be made to inflate to even larger proportions.

“We'd like to be able to land more mass on Mars. To land more mass you have to have more drag. We need to maximize the drag area of the entry system. We want to make it as big as we can, but the limitation has been the launch vehicle diameter,” NASA Fundamental Aeronautics Program Hypersonics Project chief scientist Neil Cheatwood explains. He is also the principal investigator for the new project, dubbed the Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE).

“The whole flight will be over in less than 20 minutes. We separate from the rocket 90 seconds after launch and we begin inflation about three-and-a-half-minutes after that. Our critical data period after it inflates and re-enters through the atmosphere is only about 30 seconds long,” IRVE Project Manager Mary Beth Wusk adds. The new prototype will be lifted to an altitude of about 130 miles (209 kilometers) by a 50-foot Black Brant 9 rocket system.

Dual Orion capsules studied for manned asteroid missions

A manned asteroid mission using two Orion spacecraft, docked nose-to-nose to form a 50-ton deep space vehicle, is being studied by Lockheed Martin Space Systems as an alternative to resumption of U.S. lunar landing missions.

The Orion asteroid mission concept is being unveiled just as the Presidential committee reviewing U.S. human space flight is citing asteroid missions after 2020 as a less costly alternative to NASA's proposed lunar landing infrastructure. Results of the review will be briefed to President Obama by Norman Augustine, committee chairman, by the end of August.

Credit: Lockheed Martin

The docked Orion configuration as shown in a Lockheed Martin graphic (above) would have a total of four large solar arrays and two service modules as well as two command modules for extra space on the several week flight. Single 25-ton Orion spacecraft would first be used to replace the space shuttle for servicing the International Space Station. But use of them for asteroid missions and other deep space sites would maximize utilization of the Orion system if lunar landings are deleted as a near term goal.

If one looks closely at the graphic, a space suited astronaut deployed from the Orion, is standing atop the asteroid. The graphic is from a Lockheed Martin promotional movie that shows concepts under study by the Orion prime contractor.

Under the Bush Administration strategy, NASA had planned a resumption of lunar landing missions by about 2020 using the Orion as a lunar orbiting command ship while its crew descended to the moon in Altair landers for lengthy stays on the surface.

The official NASA line has been solidly "all moon" for the last several years, while more realistic assessments over the same period have shown that is not feasible. NASA more recently, however, had become more open about an asteroid mission capability for Orion after space scientists and planners meeting before formation of the committee began to criticize the lunar goal as too fragile.

Development and cost problems with the Ares 1 and Ares 5 launch vehicle programs have also become increasingly apparent since about 2007.

Augustine and other committee members such as former astronaut Sally Ride have already reported publicly that NASA's current plan to retire the shuttle, finish the space station and return to the moon by the early 2020s is not even remotely feasible under NASA's current funding profile.

Credit: University of Arizona

Orion missions to asteroids would be useful to characterize and sample them. This would be important as early preparation to use some yet undetermined system if the need ever arose to divert an asteroid to save Earth from a devastating impact. Some asteroids are solid bodies, while others are rubble piles of loose rock, making samples and close up characterization useful for diversion studies that would differ depending upon the type of asteroid threatening Earth.

In fact a Lockheed Martin video titled "Orion For Crewed Science Missions" shows the twin Orion configuration closely orbiting an asteroid while space suited astronauts explore its surface. With the minuscule gravity of an asteroid, astronauts flying manned maneuvering units could travel between the Orion combo and the object without ever requiring a much heavier, and expensive, asteroid landing vehicle.

The video, little noticed at the time, was shown in early August at a propulsion conference in Denver sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. The AIAA "Joint Propulsion Conference" so called because it brings together multiple international agencies often makes news as it also did in 2008 when Chinese researchers openly discussed their scramjet technology program.

At this year's event, the Lockheed Martin video was part of a presentation delivered by former astronaut Brian Duffy, now Lockheed Martin vice president and program manager for the Altair lunar module part of the Orion lunar landing infrastructure.

Duffy's presentation also cited satellite servicing that could be performed by astronauts from an Orion configuration, equipped with a shuttle-type manipulator arm deployed from its service module.

The presentation also discussed use of single Orion spacecraft to service geosynchronous orbit military and civilian satellites and the potential for them to travel to Lagrangian points to service telescopes like the giant new Webb space telescope set for launch in about four years. Lagrangian points balance out gravity from the sun, Earth and moon allowing spacecraft to remain parked at those locations. They are about 1 million mi. from Earth, about the same distance as some asteroids passing near Earth. This means Orions configured for missions to telescopes, like Webb, at Lagrangian points would have a life support capability also generally suitable for asteroid missions.

The twin Orion design includes large service modules on each spacecraft to allow extra space for astronauts to live in. More importantly more capability to carry life support systems for several week missions could be carried in the two service modules.

Space Shuttle Discovery Continues Launch Preparations

Next Scheduled Launch Just A Week Away

While space shuttle Discovery's STS-128 launch preparations continue at Florida's Kennedy Space Center, the astronaut crew completed its final planned integrated ascent training in Houston at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Launch is planned for 0158 EDT on Monday, August 24th.

Late last week, shuttle managers approved 18 additional plug pull tests on the orbiter side of the external fuel tank to ensure there are no issues with its intertank region. Engineers at the tank's manufacturing plant in New Orleans are assessing high-tech X-ray data to ensure protective foam ramps on the tank slated for November's STS-129 mission show no defects.

The ice-frost ramps (IFR) protect brackets along the external tank from development of ice when super-cold liquid oxygen and hydrogen are loaded prior to launch. Foam loss during the last two shuttle launches from one particular IFR high up on the liquid oxygen tank has led to a detailed examination to determine if it is acceptable to launch Discovery without further work.

Meanwhile, the STS-128 crew conducted its final launch training session integrated with Mission Control before heading into quarantine Monday. They will fly to Kennedy on Wednesday to prepare for launch.

FMI: www.nasa.gov

North Carolina players test pill that can give body temperature readings

At first, it was hard for University of North Carolina football player Kendric Burney to swallow.

They handed him a pill containing a battery, thermometer and radio transmitter and told him it would lodge in his intestine, where it would stick around for one to two days to measure his core body heat.

“I’m not going to lie. The thought of putting that in my stomach was just plain weird,” said Burney, a junior cornerback.

But by gulping down the vitamin-sized CorTemp capsule, Burney and 17 other Tar Heel football players began sweating out data that will be used later this season to help determine whether higher body temperatures increase the possibility of concussions. North Carolina’s coaches also plan to use the data to better regulate drills during practice and during games in heat that often reaches the high 90s through the early stretch of fall games.

“That allows us to monitor as coaches, ‘How long do we want to do that particular type of drill?’ ” coach Butch Davis said. “What’s appropriate for a receiver might not be appropriate for an offensive lineman. So I think it’s brilliant.”

The CorTemp pill — a white, silicone-coated capsule big enough “that it feels like you’re swallowing a gummy bear,” according to offensive lineman Alan Pelc — was originally developed by NASA to measure astronauts’ body temperature in space. But over the last six years, scores of football teams have used the $40-per-pop doses to better learn how to beat the heat on the field.

It works like this: Players ingest the pills about five hours before practice; the removal of an attached magnet activates the battery. A device that looks like a remote control, held within six inches of the player, records the temperature via radio transmitter.

Researchers at NASA and the Department of Energy

Researchers at NASA and the Department of Energy recently tested key technologies for developing a nuclear fission reactor that could power a human outpost on the moon or Mars. The tests prove that the agencies could build a "safe, reliable, and efficient" system by 2020, the year NASA plans to return humans to the moon.

Generating power: A power-conversion unit consisting of two Stirling engines, sitting opposite each other, is set up for testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Pumped liquid metal is used to transfer heat from the reactor to the engines, where it is converted to electricity.
Credit: NASA

A fission reactor works by splitting atoms and releasing energy in the form of heat, which is converted into electricity. The idea for using nuclear power in space dates back to the late 1950s, when they were considered for providing propulsion through Project Orion. In the 1960s a series of compact, experimental space nuclear reactors were developed by NASA under the Systems Nuclear Auxiliary Power program. But public safety concerns and an international treaty banning nuclear power in space stopped development.

Now nuclear power is being considered for lunar and Mars missions because, unlike alternatives such as solar power, it can provide constant energy, a necessity for human life-support systems, recharging rovers, and mining for resources. Solar power systems would also require the use of energy storage devices like batteries or fuel cells, adding unwanted mass to the system. Solar power is further limited because the moon is dark for up to 14 days at a time and has deep craters that can obscure the sun. Mars is farther away from the sun than either the Earth or the moon, so less solar power can be harvested there.

The new nuclear power system is part of a NASA project started in 2006, called Fission Surface Power, that is examining small reactors designed for use on other planets. While nuclear power remains controversial, the researchers say that the reactor would be designed to be completely safe and would be buried a safe distance from the astronauts to shield them from any radiation it would generate.

The recent tests examined technologies that would see a nuclear reactor coupled with a Stirling engine capable of producing 40 kilowatts of energy--enough to power a future lunar or Mars outpost.

"We are not building a system that needs hundreds of gigawatts of power like those that produce electricity for our cities," says Don Palac, the project manager at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, OH. The system needs to be cheap, safe, and robust and "our recent tests demonstrated that we can successfully build that," says Palac.

Mount Hood

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Mount Hood, Oregon Mount Hood, Oregon

Forest Fire Smoke Plumes Probed

An instrument from the National Center for Atmospheric Research collects data from a smoke plume generated by a forest fire over Canada on July 1, 2008.An instrument from the National Center for Atmospheric Research collects data from a smoke plume generated by a forest fire over Canada on July 1, 2008. Credit: NASA
> Larger image In a nondescript room on a Canadian Air Force Base, an international team of fire trackers, weather forecasters and various atmospheric scientists puzzle over computer models, satellite tracks and flight charts. Their goal is to find the best fire targets and tailor the flight path of NASA’s airborne laboratories to track and investigate the properties of smoke plumes.

The researchers are part of the summer deployment of NASA’s Arctic Research of the Composition of the Troposphere from Aircraft and Satellites, or ARCTAS, mission. The mission is just five days into its summer study of the smoke plumes from northern latitude forest fires, and already the choreographed effort between modelers and experimenters is producing a wealth of new data.

NASA Wants Proposals for Space TaxisNASA Wants Proposals for Space Taxis

PHOTO NASA plans to use $50 million of federal economic stimulus funds to seed development of commercial passenger transportation service to space, agency officials said.
NASA plans to use $50 million of federal economic stimulus funds to seed development of commercial passenger transportation service to space, agency officials said.
(Getty Images)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - NASA plans to use $50 million of federal economic stimulus funds to seed development of commercial passenger transportation service to space, agency officials said on Monday.

Aspiring spaceship operators will have 45 days to submit proposals, which will be competitively evaluated. Awards for the Commercial Crew Development program are expected to be announced before the end of September.

The United States is retiring its fleet of space shuttles next year after seven more missions to complete construction of the $100 billion International Space Station, which orbits about 225 miles above Earth.

After that, the United States plans to buy rides for astronauts to and from the station from Russia, one of the 16 nations involved in the station program.

Sky-gazers keep eye on meteor shower

A meteor streaks across the sky Tuesday over Vinton, Calif., during the annual Perseid meteor shower.A meteor streaks across the sky Tuesday over Vinton, Calif., during the annual Perseid meteor shower. (Kevin Clifford/Associated Press)

The Perseid meteor shower reaches its peak at about 2 p.m. ET on Wednesday, but for viewers in Canada the annual event is still expected to put on a show Wednesday night.

About 100 meteors per hour can be seen streaking across the sky during the shower's peak, NASA astronomers say.

The peak, however, is at about 2 p.m. ET on Wednesday, meaning people in Canada won't get to the see it at its zenith.

But the meteor shower did put on a show Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning and is expected to do the same Wednesday evening.

NASA astronomers recommend watching the shower between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m., when both the moon and the constellation Perseus are low on the horizon, though the number of meteors will be fewer than at the shower's apex.

The Perseids are named for the location of their appearance in the sky within Perseus, but the actual origin of the meteor shower can be traced to debris left behind from the 109P/Swift-Tuttle comet, which passes through the inner solar system every 130 years.