• 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).

Study Links Fresh Mars Gullies to Carbon Dioxide

gullies on a Martian sand dune

The gullies on a Martian sand dune in this trio of images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter deceptively resemble features on Earth that are carved by streams of water. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

PASADENA, Calif. -- A growing bounty of images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reveals that the timing of new activity in one type of the enigmatic gullies on Mars implicates carbon-dioxide frost, rather than water, as the agent causing fresh flows of sand.

Researchers have tracked changes in gullies on faces of sand dunes in seven locations on southern Mars. The periods when changes occurred, as determined by comparisons of before-and-after images, overlapped in all cases with the known winter build-up of carbon-dioxide frost on the dunes. Before-and-after pairs that covered periods only in spring, summer and autumn showed no new activity in those seasons.

"Gullies that look like this on Earth are caused by flowing water, but Mars is a different planet with its own mysteries," said Serina Diniega, lead author of a report on these findings in the November issue of the journal Geology. She analyzed these gullies while a graduate student at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and recently joined NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena. "The timing we see points to carbon dioxide, and if the mechanism is linked to carbon-dioxide frost at these dune gullies, the same could be true for other gullies on Mars."

Scientists have suggested various explanations for modern gullies on Mars since fresh-looking gullies were discovered in images from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor in 2000. Some of the proposed mechanisms involve water, some carbon dioxide, and some neither.

Some fresh gullies are on sand dunes, commonly starting at a crest. Others are on rockier slopes, such as the inner walls of craters, sometimes starting partway down the slope.

Diniega and co-authors at the University of Arizona and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md., focused their study on dune gullies that are shaped like rockier slope gullies, with an alcove at the top, a channel or multiple channels in the middle, and an apron at the bottom. The 18 dune gullies in which the researchers observed new activity range in size from about 50 meters or yards long to more than 3 kilometers (2 miles) long.

"The alcove is a cutout at the top," Diniega said. "Material being removed from there ends up in a fan-shaped apron below."

Because new flows in these gullies apparently occur in winter, rather than at a time when any frozen water might be most likely to melt, the new report calls for studies of how carbon dioxide, rather than water, could be involved in the flows. Some carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere freezes on the ground during winter and sublimates back to gaseous form as spring approaches. The dunes studied are poleward of 40 degrees south latitude.

"One possibility is that a pile of carbon-dioxide frost accumulating on a dune gets thick enough to avalanche down and drag other material with it," Diniega said. Other suggested mechanisms are that gas from sublimating frost could lubricate a flow of dry sand or erupt in puffs energetic enough to trigger slides.

At an increasing number of sites, before-and-after images have documented changes in Martian gullies. The new report uses images from the Mars Orbiter Camera on Mars Global Surveyor, which operated from 1997 to 2006, and from the High Resolution Science Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) camera and Context Camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been examining Mars since 2006.

"The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is enabling valuable studies of seasonal changes in surface features on Mars," said Sue Smrekar of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., deputy project scientist for this orbiter. "One key to doing that has been the capability to point from side to side, so that priority targets can be checked more frequently than just when the spacecraft flies directly overhead. Another is the lengthening span of years covered by first Mars Global Surveyor and now this mission."

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the orbiter. The University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory operates the HiRISE camera, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, built and operates the Context Camera and formerly did the same for the Mars Orbiter Camera. For more about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, visit http://www.nasa.gov/mro. For more about HiRISE, visit http://hirise.lpl.arizona.edu.

Silica on a Mars Volcano Tells of Wet and Cozy Past

Volcanic cone in the Nili Patera caldera on Mars

This volcanic cone in the Nili Patera caldera on Mars has hydrothermal mineral deposits on the southern flanks and nearby terrains. Two of the largest deposits are marked by arrows, and the entire field of light-toned material on the left of the cone is hydrothermal deposits. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/JHU-APL/Brown Univ.
› Full image and caption

PASADENA, Calif. -- Light-colored mounds of a mineral deposited on a volcanic cone more than three billion years ago may preserve evidence of one of the most recent habitable microenvironments on Mars.

Observations by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter enabled researchers to identify the mineral as hydrated silica and to see its volcanic context. The mounds' composition and their location on the flanks of a volcanic cone provide the best evidence yet found on Mars for an intact deposit from a hydrothermal environment -- a steam fumarole, or hot spring. Such environments may have provided habitats for some of Earth's earliest life forms.

"The heat and water required to create this deposit probably made this a habitable zone," said J.R. Skok of Brown University, Providence, R.I., lead author of a paper about these findings published online today by Nature Geoscience. "If life did exist there, this would be a promising type of deposit to entomb evidence of it -- a microbial mortuary."

No studies have yet determined whether Mars has ever supported life. The new results add to accumulating evidence that, at some times and in some places, Mars has had favorable environments for microbial life. This specific place would have been habitable when most of Mars was already dry and cold. Concentrations of hydrated silica have been identified on Mars previously, including a nearly pure patch found by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit in 2007. However, none of those earlier findings were in such an intact setting as this one, and the setting adds evidence about the origin.

Skok said, "You have spectacular context for this deposit. It's right on the flank of a volcano. The setting remains essentially the same as it was when the silica was deposited."

The small cone rises about 100 meters (100 yards) from the floor of a shallow bowl named Nili Patera. The patera, which is the floor of a volcanic caldera, spans about 50 kilometers (30 miles) in the Syrtis Major volcanic region of equatorial Mars. Before the cone formed, free-flowing lava blanketed nearby plains. The collapse of an underground magma chamber from which lava had emanated created the bowl. Subsequent lava flows, still with a runny texture, coated the floor of Nili Patera. The cone grew from even later flows, apparently after evolution of the underground magma had thickened its texture so that the erupted lava would mound up.

"We can read a series of chapters in this history book and know that the cone grew from the last gasp of a giant volcanic system," said John Mustard, Skok's thesis advisor at Brown and a co-author of the paper. "The cooling and solidification of most of the magma concentrated its silica and water content."

Observations by cameras on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter revealed patches of bright deposits near the summit of the cone, fanning down its flank, and on flatter ground in the vicinity. The Brown researchers partnered with Scott Murchie of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md., to analyze the bright exposures with the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument on the orbiter.

Silica can be dissolved, transported and concentrated by hot water or steam. Hydrated silica identified by the spectrometer in uphill locations -- confirmed by stereo imaging -- indicates that hot springs or fumaroles fed by underground heating created these deposits. Silica deposits around hydrothermal vents in Iceland are among the best parallels on Earth.

Murchie said, "The habitable zone would have been within and alongside the conduits carrying the heated water." The volcanic activity that built the cone in Nili Patera appears to have happened more recently than the 3.7-billion-year or greater age of Mars' potentially habitable early wet environments recorded in clay minerals identified from orbit.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA. Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory provided and operates CRISM, one of six instruments on the orbiter. For more information about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mro.

Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Richard Lewis 401-863-3766
Brown University, Providence, R.I.

Geoffrey Brown 240-228-5618
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.

Neil Armstrong - First Television Interview

Neil Armstrong's sister blows the whistle on NASA


Moon Landing Hoax - Wires Footage

Neil Armstrong sets foot on the moon

NASA Celebrates 10th Anniversary Of Space Station With Crew News Conference And New Web Content

WASHINGTON -- The International Space Station partner agencies will mark a major milestone on Nov. 2 with the 10-year anniversary of people living permanently aboard the space station. NASA will commemorate the event with a news conference featuring the six crew members currently in orbit.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will begin the event, speaking live to the station crew at 9:30 a.m. EDT from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. His remarks and the following news conference will be broadcast live on NASA Television.

The news conference will begin immediately after the administrator's conversation with the crew and be open to participation from accredited media representatives at participating NASA or international partner locations. U.S. media planning to attend should contact their respective NASA newsroom by 4 p.m. Monday, Nov. 1.

Expedition 25, the 25th crew to live and work aboard the station, consists of Commander Doug Wheelock; his fellow NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Shannon Walker; and Russian cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin, Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka.

The crew is awaiting the launch of space shuttle Discovery's six astronauts on the STS-133 mission to deliver supplies, spare parts and a permanent cargo module to the station. STS-133 is scheduled to lift off at 4:40 p.m. EDT on Nov. 1 from Kennedy.

"As we look forward to the next 10 years, taking us through 2020, the space station will serve many roles," said Mike Suffredini, International Space Station program manager. "With its permanent human presence, it will serve as a foothold for long-term exploration into space, being an integral part of testing human endurance, equipment reliability and processes essential for space exploration."

Since the Expedition 1 crew arrived at the station, humans have continuously occupied the orbiting laboratory. More than 196 people have visited the complex, and by the exact time of the anniversary (5:21 a.m., Nov. 2, 2000), the station will have completed 57,361 orbits of the Earth, traveling some 1.5 billion miles.

Representatives of the five international agencies that built and operate the station have agreed in principle to continuing its use for another decade. The governments of the 15 participating nations in the station partnership are in the process of formally endorsing that plan. More than 600 different research and technology development experiments have been conducted on the station, many of which are producing advances in medicine, recycling systems and a fundamental understanding of the universe.

In addition to the crew news conference, NASA is updating the content of the International Space Station section of its website in recognition of the 10th anniversary. The update supports the on-going transition from station assembly to utilization. The website now will focus on the research in the unique microgravity environment of low-Earth orbit.

The updated section of the NASA website incorporates an improved organization system to help visitors find what they are looking for with regard to research and technology development, crews and expeditions, international cooperation and the new capabilities of the station as a U.S. national laboratory.

The new space station section also provides better linkages with social media applications, including a new International Space Station Program scientist blog, and Twitter accounts for astronauts aboard the station and the National Laboratory. For more information, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/station

NASA Spacecraft Preps for Comet Flyby

Epoxi team members in mission control
Navigators and mission controllers for NASA’s EPOXI mission communicated with the spacecraft for a trajectory correction maneuver on October 27, 2010..

In one of its final mission trajectory correction maneuvers, the EPOXI mission spacecraft has refined its orbit, preparing it for the flyby of comet Hartley 2 on Nov. 4. The time of closest approach to the comet on that day is expected to be about 7:02 a.m. PDT (10:02 a.m. EDT).

Today's trajectory correction maneuver began at 11 a.m. PDT (2 p.m. EDT), when the spacecraft burned its engines for 60 seconds, changing its velocity by 1.59 meters per second (3.6 miles per hour).

On Nov. 4, the spacecraft will fly past Hartley 2 at a distance of about 700 kilometers (435 miles). It will be only the fifth time in history that a spacecraft has been close enough to image a comet's nucleus.

EPOXI is an extended mission that uses the already "in-flight" Deep Impact spacecraft to explore distinct celestial targets of opportunity. The name EPOXI itself is a combination of the names for the two extended mission components: the extrasolar planet observations, called Extrasolar Planet Observations and Characterization (EPOCh); and the flyby of comet Hartley 2, called the Deep Impact Extended Investigation (DIXI). The spacecraft will continue to be referred to as "Deep Impact."

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the EPOXI mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The University of Maryland, College Park, is home to the mission's principal investigator, Michael A'Hearn. Drake Deming of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., is the science lead for the mission's extrasolar planet observations. The spacecraft was built for NASA by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo.

For more information about EPOXI, visit: http://epoxi.umd.edu/ .

Kuiper Belt of Many Colors

The sun isn't kind to objects without atmospheres. Bombarded by solar radiation, the surfaces of some comets, for example, tend to be a charred carbon-black. But the 1,000 objects so far directly imaged in the Kuiper Belt – that swath of icy bodies circling around the sun with Pluto – appear to be a wide range of colors: red, blue, and white.

With scant observations to go on – most of the Kuiper belt objects are just a single pixel of light to the Hubble Space Telescope – few hypotheses have been developed to explain the colors. But a new computer model maps out the right combination of materials and space environment that could produce some of those lovely hues. The model suggests that these objects have many layers, and that the red colors of one particularly interesting group of these objects -- the so-called Cold Classical Kuiper Belt -- could come from organic materials in the layer just under the crust.

"This multi-layer model provides a more flexible approach to understanding the diversity of colors," says John Cooper, a Heliospheric physicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "The model calculates the rate at which energy comes in from radiation and could be causing changes at different depths. So we can define different layers based on that."

The layers may have different colors, and could also be dynamic. For example, a deeper layer of relatively pure water ice could erupt upwards to form a new uppermost layer, perhaps accounting for the bright icy surface of Eris, the largest of the known Kuiper Belt objects.

Just how these bodies are composed has been a mystery ever since the first observed Kuiper Belt member, a red Cold Classical named 1992 QB1, was discovered in1992, says Cooper, who presented his model in October at the Division for Planetary Sciences meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Pasadena, Calif. Subsequent discoveries of many more objects created instant buzz not only because they helped demote Pluto from a planet to just-another-Kuiper-Belt-object, but because of the Kuiper Belt's mysterious diversity. These bodies sport not just coats of many colors, but also have different sizes and different orbits.

"There's a group called the Cold Classicals that move in relatively circular orbits, and are nearly aligned in the same plane as the orbits of the other planets," says Cooper. "These are all consistently reddish. Other objects, which might range from red to blue to white, tend to move in more elliptical or inclined orbits, which suggest they came from a different location within the solar system early in its history. So, it's possible that the uniformly red Cold Classicals represent a more pristine sample, showing the original composition of the Kuiper Belt with minimal disturbances."

The first thing Cooper had to do was explain why the objects don't have a black crust like, for example, Halley's Comet, since Kuiper Belt bodies are made of hydrocarbons and water ice, and "from lab experiments we know that usually when you take a mixture of ice and carbon and overexpose it to radiation, you get new, dark, tarry materials," says Cooper.

Cooper calculated how the space radiation constantly flowing past the Kuiper Belt should affect different objects depending on where they're located. He believes that the Cold Classicals formed in a sweet spot where plasma ions from the Sun aren't intense enough to overcook the outermost surface to a dark crust.

Instead, the plasma ions have the right amount of energy to simply "sandblast" the topmost layer of the surface -- which is perhaps a millimeter thick -- right off. The sandblasting is partly due to what's known as "ion sputtering" where an incoming plasma ion causes a mini-explosion on the surface, blowing away molecules. Additional erosion could come from impacts of tiny dust grains ejected into the Kuiper Belt region when nearby larger objects collide. Over time, the combined effects of plasma sputtering and meteoritic dust erode away the top layer.

That means that what we see as red must actually be from the exposed second layer. Cooper explains that this second layer is gently cooked by radiation from interstellar space. The radiation can penetrate deeply into the object but also is not overly intense because the sun's magnetic field protects the solar system from its strongest effects. This radiation passes through the crust right into the "shelf" layer where it can induce simple chemical reactions, turning water ice, carbon, methane, nitrogen and ammonia – the basic substances believed to be on these bodies – into organic molecules containing oxygen and carbon like formaldehyde, acetylene and ethane. "Cooking" by radiation can make these molecules appear red to our eyes.

"So if there wasn't any cooking at all, we would just see primordial ice, and the object would appear bright and white," says Cooper. "And if there was too much radiation we would just see black crust, but instead we see a moderately processed shelf layer, which under these circumstances is red."

Cooper's layer model accounts for bright white Kuiper belt objects as well. Further beneath the red shelf would be less-processed water ice in a deep mantle layer that could volcanically erupt through the crust onto the surface, leaving visible global layers or localized patches of bright white ice. "Some of these objects in the Kuiper Belt like Eris are quite bright," he says. "So these may not be dead icy objects, they may be volcanically active over billions of years."

At this point, the layer model is based on limited data from the Voyager mission that has provided information on the energy levels of radiation beyond Neptune. NASA's New Horizons mission will pass through the Kuiper Belt region beyond Neptune's orbit in 2014, getting a good look at Pluto and its largest moon Charon in 2015, and later, if all goes well, one or two other objects. Cooper hopes it will pass close enough to another object to make detailed observations of its surface, which would help confirm what materials are present. New Horizons can provide additional verification simply by confirming that the energy distribution and particles in this region of the solar system jibe with what the model requires.

Not only would such data help explain the many-colored mystery of the Kuiper Belt, but it would support current theories that organic materials might be common in the universe.

"When you take the right mix of materials and radiate them, you can produce the most complex species of molecules," says Cooper. In some cases you may be able to produce the components of life -- not just organic materials, but biological molecules such as amino acids. We're not saying that life is produced in the Kuiper Belt, but the basic chemistry may start there, as could also happen in similar Kuiper Belt environments elsewhere in the universe and that is a natural path which could lead toward the chemical evolution of life."

NASA Trapped Mars Rover Finds Evidence of Subsurface Water

The ground where NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit became stuck last year holds evidence that water, perhaps as snow melt, trickled into the subsurface fairly recently and on a continuing basis.

Stratified soil layers with different compositions close to the surface led the rover science team to propose that thin films of water may have entered the ground from frost or snow. The seepage could have happened during cyclical climate changes in periods when Mars tilted farther on its axis. The water may have moved down into the sand, carrying soluble minerals deeper than less soluble ones. Spin-axis tilt varies over timescales of hundreds of thousands of years.

The relatively insoluble minerals near the surface include what is thought to be hematite, silica and gypsum. Ferric sulfates, which are more soluble, appear to have been dissolved and carried down by water. None of these minerals are exposed at the surface, which is covered by wind-blown sand and dust.

"The lack of exposures at the surface indicates the preferential dissolution of ferric sulfates must be a relatively recent and ongoing process since wind has been systematically stripping soil and altering landscapes in the region Spirit has been examining," said Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis, deputy principal investigator for the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

Analysis of these findings appears in a report in the Journal of Geophysical Research published by Arvidson and 36 co-authors about Spirit's operations from late 2007 until just before the rover stopped communicating in March.

The twin Mars rovers finished their three-month prime missions in April 2004, then kept exploring in bonus missions. One of Spirit's six wheels quit working in 2006.

In April 2009, Spirit's left wheels broke through a crust at a site called "Troy" and churned into soft sand. A second wheel stopped working seven months later. Spirit could not obtain a position slanting its solar panels toward the sun for the winter, as it had for previous winters. Engineers anticipated it would enter a low-power, silent hibernation mode, and the rover stopped communicating March 22. Spring begins next month at Spirit's site, and NASA is using the Deep Space Network and the Mars Odyssey orbiter to listen if the rover reawakens.

Researchers took advantage of Spirit's months at Troy last year to examine in great detail soil layers the wheels had exposed, and also neighboring surfaces. Spirit made 13 inches of progress in its last 10 backward drives before energy levels fell too low for further driving in February. Those drives exposed a new area of soil for possible examination if Spirit does awaken and its robotic arm is still usable.

"With insufficient solar energy during the winter, Spirit goes into a deep-sleep hibernation mode where all rover systems are turned off, including the radio and survival heaters," said John Callas, project manager for Spirit and Opportunity at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "All available solar array energy goes into charging the batteries and keeping the mission clock running."

The rover is expected to have experienced temperatures colder than it has ever before, and it may not survive. If Spirit does get back to work, the top priority is a multi-month study that can be done without driving the rover. The study would measure the rotation of Mars through the Doppler signature of the stationary rover's radio signal with enough precision to gain new information about the planet's core. The rover Opportunity has been making steady progress toward a large crater, Endeavour, which is now approximately 8 kilometers (5 miles) away.

Spirit, Opportunity, and other NASA Mars missions have found evidence of wet Martian environments billions of years ago that were possibly favorable for life. The Phoenix Mars Lander in 2008 and observations by orbiters since 2002 have identified buried layers of water ice at high and middle latitudes and frozen water in polar ice caps. These newest Spirit findings contribute to an accumulating set of clues that Mars may still have small amounts of liquid water at some periods during ongoing climate cycles.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the rovers for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mer/news/mer20101028.html

Teen Sailor Meets NASA Team That Helped Saved Her Life

It has been almost six months since 16-year-old Abby Sunderland’s 40-foot vessel, Wild Eyes, was damaged in a storm, leaving her stranded in the middle of the Indian Ocean. But today, she finally got a chance to meet the people who developed the technology used to save her life.

Abby visited NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on Oct. 25 to meet Search and Rescue Manager Dave Affens and a team of engineers. He and his team developed the Search and Rescue Satellite (SARSAT) technologies that contributed to her rescue. “Without NASA technology, she may have lost her life,” Affens said. “This case was more interesting than most because we contributed to every aspect of it.

“The system is great, super actually,” Sunderland said about the search-and-rescue technology that pinpointed her exact location during the aggressive storm.

This animation depicts the next-generation search and rescue system, the DASS. Under this system, instruments used to relay emergency beacon signals will be installed on GPS satellites. When one emergency signal goes off at least four satellites will be in view. Search and Rescue authorities can begin processing the signal to determine its precise location almost instantly. (No audio)

After giving a presentation about her extraordinary journey from Marina Del Ray, Calif., to her dismasting 2,000 miles from the nearest land, Sunderland took questions from the engineering team and a group of congressional staffers, who were also in attendance, regarding the moments that lead up to her rescue and the safety measures and devices she used during her ordeal. In addition, Affens explained in detail to Sunderland and the group how SARSAT technology operates.

Abby Sunderland and Jim Garvin

Abby Sunderland, left, gets a "Science On a Sphere" demonstration from Goddard's chief scientist, Dr. Jim Garvin. Credit: NASA Goddard/Bill Hrybyk

David Affens, Abby Sunderland, and George Theodorakos

During her visit to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center on Oct. 25, 2010, Abby Sunderland met with David Affens (left), NASA Search and Rescue mission manager, and George Theodorakos, the NASA systems engineer who created the search-and-rescue systems that allowed rescuers to find Sunderland. Credit: NASA Goddard/Bill Hrybyk

Abby Sunderland

Abby Sunderland waves from her vessel, Wild Eyes, as she attempted to be the youngest person to sail the world solo, a record previously held by her older brother.

MicroPLB Type GXL handheld device

A MicroPLB Type GXL handheld device used to transmit distress signals — similar to the one Abby Sunderland was given by Microwave Monolithics Inc. (MMInc.)before her journey. All 406 MHz emergency beacons should be registered, and Search and Rescue authorities encourage owners of these beacons to do so as registration will help rescue forces find persons in distress faster in an emergency. Credit: NASA Goddard/Rebecca Roth

“We developed the concept of detecting distress signals by the satellite, relaying it to the ground stations where the locations were calculated,” Affens explained. “We then launched the distress-detection device on a NOAA weather satellite, tested the concept, and approved the system for operational use.

Currently, the SARSAT system has saved more than 205 lives in the United States this year alone. However, Affens and his team are developing new technology that will detect distress signals in less than five minutes, a process made possible by placing repeater technology on the Air Force’s network of Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites. The current system, which places the technology on the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite or GOES (which alerts) and the Polar Operational Environmental Satellite or POES (which provides the location of the distressed) could take up to an hour or more depending on the location of the satellite.

Sunderland's signal reached an Indian satellite (INSAT) and two NOAA weather satellites that were launched by NASA and used NASA technology to pinpoint her location less than an hour later.

“It was a real surprise when the airbus flew over me. I wasn’t expecting it, I was expecting it to be weeks,” she said about the amount of time it took for her rescue to begin. “When you set off your beacon, you know someone is going to hear you, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to be helped. But I don’t think it could have been done any faster,” she added.

Also critical to her rescue was a small, yellow device that Microwave Monolithics Inc. (MMInc.) in Simi Valley, Calif., had developed under a NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program award. The MicroPLB Type GXL handheld device -- about the size of a BlackBerry -- emitted an emergency distress signal picked up by a SARSAT satellite orbiting 22,500 miles up in space. The satellite also was equipped with NASA-developed repeater technology that then relayed the signal to the United States via the international satellite-aided search and rescue network now comprised of 40 participating nations.

The company’s president, Daniel Ch’en, had given Sunderland the beacon before she attempted to sail the world solo and non-stop, a record previously held by her older brother, Zac. “I wasn’t expecting her to use it, and I was hoping she wouldn’t have to, but I knew this would be the last line of safety [if needed],” he added.

The company originally developed the device for the U.S. government. It is the only sub-miniature PLB certified by the international satellite-based search and rescue community. It operates for a minimum of 48 hours after the user activates the emergency signal. These extra hours are vital given that most rescue teams cannot reach the individual until after a storm subsides, which can be more than a day or two. In Sunderland’s case, the boat sent to rescue her arrived two days after she had activated her device. Most PLBs, in general, are not made for 48-hour operation.

Because Sunderland used the device correctly and made a point to register the beacon with NOAA (adding personal and contact information), the U.S. Coast Guard’s Pacific Area Command in Alameda, Calif., was able to contact her parents in less than 10 minutes.

“We couldn’t ask for a better scenario,” said U.S. Coast Guard’s Adolfo Viezca, also in attendance. “When beacons aren’t registered and I’m on the receiving end, I don’t know who you are, where you are and I end up with a quagmire.”

Sunderland isn’t discouraged by her ordeal. She still plans on sailing the world solo, carrying the beacon and relying on NASA technology of course. “Overall, it’s the best experience of my life,” she said.

After meeting with Affens and his team, Sunderland was able to enjoy the other revolutionary science and technological developments at Goddard. Center Director Rob Strain presented her with a glass globe with an image of the Hubble Space Telescope emblazoned inside as a keepsake. In addition to enjoying the Visitors Center exhibits, including the Science On a Sphere globe, Sunderland visited the Earth Science and LRO control centers, and the Spacecraft Test & Integration Facilities.

Christina Coleman
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Hinode Investigates the Magnetic Field Structure of Active Regions

Hinode has shown us complex structures in the solar chromosphere, once thought to be static, these move and twist with time.

These prominences were observed on the southwestern limb of the Sun on April 24, 2007 in the light of Hydrogen-alpha, at a wavelength of 656.3 nm, which is in the red part of the visible spectrum. Hinode observations of such prominences have shown that these phenomena are not simple or static. High-resolution Hinode images have revealed plumes rising from the prominence base, streams of plasma that rain back down, and complex vortices. The large structure to the right in the images is approximately 36,000 km (22,000 mi) across, just slightly less than the circumference of Earth. Image Credit: Hinode

The times are (UT):

Complex structures in the solar chromosphere.


Complex structures in the solar chromosphere.


Complex structures in the solar chromosphere.


Complex structures in the solar chromosphere.


Complex structures in the solar chromosphere.

So, they are spaced every 7 minutes.
Janet Anderson
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

AMS Discoveries Will Surprise, Lead Scientist Predicts

Nobel Laureate Samuel Ting

Image above Professor Sam Ting, AMS Principal Investigator from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he doesn't know what the instrument will find, but it is expected to test several aspects of theories about the origin and structure of the universe. The experiment, which studies cosmic rays, may also reveal the nature of dark matter. Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossman

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 inside the SSPF.

Image above: The intruments in the AMS are sensitive enough to pick up cosmic rays passing through it even as the instrument sits in the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 (AMS) destined for the International Space Station already is collecting cosmic ray signatures, even as it sits in a work stand at the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, said Prof. Samuel Ting, the principal investigator for the program.

It ‘s not making any grand discoveries yet, since the particles it is picking up were stripped of some of their qualities when they passed through Earth's atmosphere. But once in place aboard the space station, the 7 1/2-ton AMS will see charged particles as they exist in the vacuum of space.

Space shuttle Endeavour is to carry the AMS to the station in February 2011, and mount it on the truss that holds the orbiting laboratory's main solar arrays.

So what does Ting expect the AMS to find? Speaking to a standing-room-only audience for the Kennedy Engineering Academy on Oct. 19, Ting said he doesn't know what the detector will find.

"Expert opinion is based on existing knowledge," he said. "Discovery breaks down existing knowledge."

Ting won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1976 along with Burton Richter for their discovery of a heavy elementary particle.

Though he doesn't know exactly what to expect, Ting has several ideas of what he hopes to find using the AMS, including the possibility that it opens up an entirely new field of particle physics. Up until now, he said, the study of cosmic rays has been limited to measuring light using telescopes and instruments like those on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

The AMS is to be the first to study charged particles in space, he said.

One of his desires is that the particles recorded by AMS prove the existence of a parallel universe made up of anti-matter, or particles that are, in electrical charge and magnetic properties, the exact opposite of regular particles. Such a universe has been theorized, but not proven. The discovery of massive amounts of anti-matter could answer fundamental questions about the universe's origin.

"Unless you do the experiments, you don't know who is right," Ting explained.

Ting is also searching for proof of what makes up dark matter, the theoretical material that is thought to make up a large part of the universe. Also, AMS may point out whether all matter in the universe is made up of the same two kinds of quarks that make up all the known matter on Earth.

Designing such an experiment, especially one that works in the harsh and unforgiving environment of space, did not happen quickly and Ting says he was taken aback by how difficult it was.

"I did not realize there is really a big difference between doing an experiment on the ground and doing an experiment in space," he said.

Although new particle accelerators were being built on Earth, Ting said he set out to study cosmic rays in space because, "no matter how large an accelerator you build, you can't compete with space."

For example, cosmic rays produce particle energy almost a hundred million times more powerful than the world's largest particle accelerator is capable of, he said.

Ting's work on AMS started in 1994 with a meeting with then-NASA Administrator Dan Goldin. The project grew from there to incorporate more than 500 physicists in some 16 nations around the world. Mostly built in Europe and Asia, the AMS effort also received help from its project office at NASA's Johnson Space Center and from the Department of Energy.

The experiment is filled with cutting-edge technology. It relies largely on a ring of powerful magnets that influence the particles as they move through the AMS. The magnets were changed after Ting's team opted to replace the superconducting versions that would last three years with magnets that did not need to be cooled but would let the experiment run many years longer, possibly as long as the space station itself is operational.

A series of detectors will pick up the ray's movements, in particular how their paths change as they pass through the magnets. Ting said different particles leave unique signatures that researchers will comb through to determine how much anti-matter exists and the nature of it.

The device also requires specialized electronics that run 10 times faster than current space electronics. The electronics have to be so much faster because the cosmic rays AMS will detect move so fast.

The AMS detector was tested in a couple ways. First, a smaller prototype was flown on board space shuttle Discovery in 1998 to prove the concept would work. Shortly before being flown to Kennedy, the AMS-2 was placed in the Large Hadron Collider at Cern, Switzerland. The particle accelerator, the world's largest, was used to help set up the AMS instrumentation.

Buoyed by extensive support in the scientific community, Ting said he was able to overcome numerous sticking points along the way to get the AMS-built and ready to launch on a shuttle.

"If people believe in you, they will find a way to support you," he said.

Steven Siceloff
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center

NASA Simulates the Sun's Power on Earth to Test Hardware Intended for Space

Testing at the Solar Thermal Test Facility at Marshall Space Flight Center.

The Solar Thermal Test Facility's concentrator mirror is composed of 144 smaller hexagonal segments. When all the mirrors are fully uncovered, the mirror beams about 1,000,000 watts per square meter of solar energy intensity into the vacuum chamber at the focal point. (NASA/D. Oliver)

Testing at the Solar Thermal Test Facility at Marshall Space Flight Center.

The instrument currently being tested only needs 14,700 watts per square meter intensity so the facility covers most of the mirrors, or those that appear white, only uncovering a few with holes, those that look glassy, to beam sunlight into the vacuum chamber. Normal solar intensity at the Marshall Center with no mirrors is 1000 watts per square meter. (NASA/D. Oliver)

Testing at the Solar Thermal Test Facility at Marshall Space Flight Center.

Engineers put the instrument inside this vacuum chamber where the pressure is lowered to the vacuum conditions of space. The black liquid nitrogen cooled walls simulate the super-cold conditions space has to offer. The sun is illuminating the front of the instrument bright white. (NASA/D. Oliver) In the hostile environment of space, satellites could get burned by the ultra-hot sun in front of them and chilled by the frigid cold conditions of space behind them.

Researchers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., are using their Solar Thermal Test Facility to simulate some of the harshest conditions space has to offer to learn what these extreme temperatures can do to flight hardware close to the sun. They're currently testing Strofio, a unique NASA instrument that will fly aboard an upcoming European Space Agency mission, in this facility to test the thermal balance before the instrument is on its way to Mercury.

The facility looks like it belongs in a galaxy far, far away. A two-story tall curved mirror -- actually is made of 144 separate mirror segments, each hexagonally shaped and about 18 inches in diameter -- forms the backbone of the facility.

About 50 yards away, sitting in a field, lies another mirror tilted at a slight angle. This secondary mirror reflects the sun towards the primary mirror, which captures the energy and then focuses inside a small vacuum chamber mounted in front of the mirror’s focal point.

The giant wall of mirrors works by capturing the light from the sun and redirecting that energy to whatever happens to be sitting in the vacuum chamber. That superheats the instrument, allowing scientists to know how their hardware will behave as it nears the sun. Of course they can't use all 144 mirror segments at once -- that would beam 5000 watts worth of energy onto whatever happens to be inside the vacuum chamber. For the Strofio tests, engineers will only need to partially uncover about 26 mirror segments. They'll reach temperatures hot enough to test their instrument, but not so high that they melt away their hard work.

But that's only half the equation. Thanks to the Southwest Research Institute, the NASA facility has installed a liquid nitrogen shroud on the inside of the vacuum chamber that will flow super-cold liquid nitrogen. That will allow engineers to chill the vacuum chamber to the freezing cold temperatures, just like those in deep space.

In the front, the mirrors expose the instrument to the hotness of the sun. In the back, the nitrogen exposes it to the coldness of a vacuum. Together they accurately mimic the conditions of space, allowing scientists to test how their instrument will perform on its actual mission.

"It really gives you a good opportunity to understand how your instrument will perform in the conditions of deep space," says Dr. Jimmy Lee, mission manager for Strofio. "We're trying to understand on Earth how our tool will perform thousands of miles away in radically different conditions. That’s critical for a mission like ours."

These tests prove vital for equipment like Stofio that are destined to travel close to the sun. Strofio will fly in polar orbit around Mercury where it will determine the chemical composition of Mercury's surface using a technique called mass spectroscopy, providing a powerful new data to study the planet's geological history. It will launch with the ESA's Mercury Planetary Orbiter mission in 2014.

When Strofio reaches its orbit around mercury, the sun will expose it to temperatures over 120 degrees Celsius or 248 Fahrenheit. That's a stretch even for the relatively resilient NASA computers which historically only operate at around 24 degrees Celsius or 75 Fahrenheit. Engineers will have to continuously test Strofio to handle the tough Mercury conditions.

For now, the Solar Thermal Test Facility's team continues to test Strofio in preparation for its upcoming mission. Hopefully, they'll continue to have the opportunity to bring the conditions of deep space to the middle of Huntsville, Ala.

Kim Newton, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

Astronaut Doug Wheelock 'Checks In' From Space Station, Kicking Off NASA Partnership With Foursquare

NASA astronaut and International Space Station Commander Doug Wheelock became the first person to "check in" from space Oct. 22 using the mobile social networking application Foursquare. Wheelock's check in to the International Space Station launched a partnership between NASA and Foursquare to connect its users to the space agency, enabling them to explore the universe and discover Earth.

Foursquare users "check in" to venues wherever they go, using the service to find friends nearby, get helpful tips about the places they're visiting, and be challenged and rewarded for experiencing new things.

NASA Badge from Foursquare

NASA Explorer Badge from Foursquare

Image Credit: Foursquare
"Check-ins from around the world have been cool, but this blew my mind! We're psyched to partner with NASA to help users explore the space program and the universe," said Dennis Crowley, chief executive officer and co-founder of Foursquare.

When Wheelock checked in to the International Space Station venue using Foursquare's mobile site aboard the orbiting laboratory, he received a message that revealed a new Foursquare badge.

"You are now 220 miles above Earth traveling at 17,500 mph and unlocked the NASA Explorer Badge! Show this badge and get a free scoop of astronaut ice cream."

When Wheelock completes his mission and returns to Earth at the end of November, the NASA Explorer badge will be available for Foursquare users to earn.

The partnership also features a completely customized homepage for NASA where the agency will provide official tips and information about the nation's space program in locations throughout the United States.

Watch "Check In" on Foursquare

NASA's work ranges from proving flight technologies to creating capabilities for sustainable human and robotic exploration to exploring Earth, the solar system and the universe beyond to developing critical enabling technologies such as the space shuttle and conducting science in orbit aboard the International Space Station. Through this partnership, when Foursquare users check in to NASA sites, they will discover interesting things that happen at each of the agency's locations.

Wheelock launched to the space station as a flight engineer for the Expedition 24 crew on June 15. On Sept. 22, he assumed command of the orbiting laboratory and Expedition 25. During his time in space, he and astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson conducted three spacewalks to replace a faulty cooling pump module on the station's backbone, known as the truss. Additionally, the Expedition 24 and 25 crew members continue work on more than 100 microgravity experiments in human research, biology and biotechnology, physical and materials sciences, technology development, and Earth and space sciences.

NASA astronaut checks in to Foursquare from space

WASHINGTON — A NASA astronaut on Friday used the popular location-sharing service Foursquare to "check in" from space.

Douglas Wheelock, who is orbiting the Earth aboard the International Space Station, sent a message from his Twitter account, @Astro_Wheels, saying he had "unlocked the 'NASA Explorer Badge'" on Foursquare.

Foursquare, which boasts more than four million members, allows users to broadcast their whereabouts to other users of the service and earn "badges" for the places they check in from or to become the "mayor."

The NASA Explorer Badge can be earned by those who are "220 miles above the Earth traveling at 17,500 mph," which puts Wheelock in a rarified category.

"Check-ins from around the world have been cool, but this blew my mind!" Foursquare co-founder and chief executive Dennis Crowley said.

"We're psyched to partner with NASA to help users explore the space program and the universe," Crowley said.

NASA has been quick to adopt Facebook, Twitter and other social networking tools and offers Foursquare badges to visitors to a number of NASA facilities, including the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and mission control in Houston.

Timothy Creamer, a NASA flight engineer, sent the first "tweet" from space in January and astronauts have been tweeting regularly since then.

Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi earlier this year used Twitpic to send spectacular pictures of Earth as seen from space, including views of Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Fuji and other landmarks.

NASA's Foursquare page is located at foursquare.com/NASA

Discovery's Final Flight

Final space shuttle flight was supposed to retire the fleet as NASA turned to its next exploration program.The space agency eventually scheduled two additional flights after Space Shuttle Discovery’s last launch,.

Discovery will launch Nov. 1 for its last trip to the International Space Station. The spacecraft will deliver the Permanent Multipurpose Module, the final U.S. section of the space station that will serve as storage space.
When the astronauts depart, the space station will be at its best possible configuration, Lindsey said.

Discovery also will bring the space station’s first humanoid robot, Robonaut 2, which will get its first tryout in zero gravity.
Robonaut 2, also called R2, is a stationary robot that resembles a human torso, arms and hands.

After initial testing, R2 might be able to help astronauts with menial cleaning tasks, Ambrose wordsv” envisions future versions of R2 helping astronauts perform difficult spacewalks.

Discovery mission specialists Alvin Drew and Tim Kopra will perform two spacewalks to remove a pump module that failed four months ago and install new equipment.

The shuttle program will carry out the three remaining flights with about half of the 14,000 civil and contractor employees who have worked on the program for 30 years.

Space Shuttle Endeavour will fly to the space station Feb. 26, and NASA has authorization to fly Space Shuttle Atlantis in summer 2011.

A shuttle carries seven times the payload amount of any other spacecraft that flies to the space station, which makes the last three flights crucial to transporting equipment and spare parts, John Shannon, manager of the space shuttle program office, said.

“Two year’s from now, it’s going to be challenging, especially if there’s a delay in the commercial vehicle development”

NASA is fixing a last-minute issue on Discovery.A crew will drain the fuel tanks to find and seal the leak,

NASA has installed additional protection tiles to the breaks and fuels loge.The mission will last 11 days with time for an additional day if needed to complete work.

Discovery will launch the day before NASA’s 10-year anniversary of human presence on the space station.
“Things go by pretty quick,” “I’ll have more time to soak in all the details that missed the first time up there.”

The Long Voyage of Discovery

ISS023-E-022370: Space shuttle Discovery

Space shuttle Discovery is featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 23 crew member as the shuttle approaches the International Space Station during STS-131 rendezvous and docking operations. Image Credit: NASA.

It has flown to space more than any other craft, and it has carried more crew members to orbit. It was the first spacecraft to retrieve a satellite and bring it back to Earth. It has visited two space stations. It launched a telescope that has seen deeper in space and in time than ever before. And twice it has demonstrated the United States' will to persevere following devastating tragedy, returning America to orbit following the two worst accidents in space history.

Although all five vehicles that have comprised NASA's space shuttle fleet are unmatched in achievements, space shuttle Discovery is unique among the extraordinary.

In 38 trips to space, Discovery has spent 351 days in orbit, almost a full year. Discovery has circled Earth 5,628 times, all the while speeding along at 17,400 miles per hour. It has traveled almost 143 million miles. That equals 288 round trips to the moon or about one and a half trips to the sun.

Discovery has carried more crew members -- 246 -- than any space vehicle. Those have included the first female to ever pilot a spacecraft, the oldest person to fly in space, the first African-American to perform a spacewalk, the first cosmonaut to fly on an American spacecraft and the first sitting member of Congress to fly in space.

S26-31-012:  Discovery and TDRS-C satellite

Discovery was used for NASA's Return to Flight Mission following the Challenger accident, during which the STS-26 crew delivered the TDRS-C satellite to Earth orbit. Image Credit: NASA.

It took four years to build Discovery, the third shuttle orbiter built. Named for past sailing ships of exploration, it rolled out of its Palmdale, Calif. assembly plant in October 1993 and was delivered via piggyback airplane flight to NASA' s Kennedy Space Center the next month. Discovery's first launch was Aug. 30, 1984 on mission STS-41D. That flight launched three communications satellites and tested an experimental solar array wing. The mission was commanded by astronaut Henry W. Hartsfield.

On its second mission, Discovery became the first spacecraft to retrieve a satellite and bring it home. Through a spectacular series of spacewalks using the free-flying Manned Maneuvering Unit jetpacks, two malfunctioning satellites were retrieved and tucked into Discovery's payload bay for the trip home.

In 1985, Discovery became the only shuttle orbiter to fly four times in a single year. One of those missions, STS-51D, counted the first sitting member of Congress among its crew, Utah Senator Jake Garn.

After more than a two and a half year hiatus to add safety improvements throughout the shuttle systems following the January 1986 Challenger accident, Discovery took America back to orbit on mission STS-26 in September 1988. Commanded by astronaut Rick Hauck, the mission tested safety improvements and launched a NASA communications satellite. It was Discovery's seventh flight and the nation's first return to flight.

STS063-711-080: Mir

Cosmonaut Valeriy V. Polyakov, who boarded Russia's Mir Space Station on January 8, 1994, looks out Mir's window during rendezvous operations with the Space Shuttle Discovery. Image Credit: NASA.

One-time cold war adversaries found common ground above the Earth aboard Discovery in February 1994 on mission STS-60, as Sergei Krikalev of Russia became the first cosmonaut to fly on a U.S. spacecraft. The eight-day research flight was commanded by astronaut Charles F. Bolden, Jr.

Discovery moved the fledgling partnership closer on mission STS-63 one year later as it became the first shuttle to rendezvous with the Russian Mir Space Station. As Discovery flew to within 40 feet of the orbiting complex, the mission broke other barriers as well. Commanded by astronaut James D. Wetherbee, the crew included the first female to pilot a U.S. spacecraft -- astronaut Eileen Collins.

Discovery's only other visit to Mir came on mission STS-91 in June 1998, a docking with the space station that ended the Shuttle-Mir Program. The cooperative effort had seen nine shuttle missions dock to the Russian station since Discovery's trailblazing rendezvous in 1995.

STS095-362-034: Scott E. Parazynski and John Glenn

Astronaut Scott E. Parazynski (left), STS-95 mission specialist, prepares to withdraw blood from the arm of U. S. Senator John H. Glenn, Jr. (D.-Ohio), payload specialist, positioned in his sleep station on the space shuttle Discovery's middeck. Image Credit: NASA.

In October 1998, Discovery flew a science mission that again broke barriers on Earth and in space. The crew included the oldest astronaut to fly to space -- astronaut John Glenn, who at age 77 made his second trip to orbit on Discovery's STS-95 mission. In 1962, Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth. In addition to other duties with the STS-95 crew, Glenn was a test subject for a host of experiments that studied aging.

In October 2000, Discovery launched on the 100th mission of the Space Shuttle Program, a flight to the new and growing International Space Station on mission STS-92. The 12-day mission installed a shuttle docking port on the station and the first piece of the station's exterior truss structure, setting the stage for the arrival of its first resident crew only a few weeks later.

In February 2003, the world again mourned as the shuttle Columbia and her crew were lost during reentry. America resolved to continue the shuttle program and again improve the safety of flight, and NASA again turned to Discovery to return the nation to space on mission STS-114 to the International Space Station. The mission, commanded by Eileen Collins, included new procedures to ensure the shuttle heat shield was in good condition for the trip home, among them a first of its kind "back flip" as Discovery approached the station to enable the station crew to capture high resolution imagery of the shuttle's heat shield.

S114-E-6645: Stephen Robinson on Canadarm2

Astronaut Stephen K. Robinson, STS-114 mission specialist, anchored to a foot restraint on the International Space Station’s Canadarm2, participates in the mission’s third spacewalk. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA's final mission of 2006 was expected to be one of its most challenging. Discovery's STS-116 mission to the space station called for installation of the port five truss segment and a major overhaul of the station's electrical power system. Problems arose while retracting one of the station's solar arrays, which was to be relocated on a future flight. During the retraction, the array snagged. During two spacewalks, astronauts Bob Curbeam, Suni Williams and Christer Fuglesang assisted in the retraction by hand, successfully troubleshooting the problem and folding the array.

Discovery participated in another space milestone in October 2007 as mission STS-120 marked the first time that two female commanders were in space together. Discovery Commander Pam Melroy flew the shuttle to dock with the space station, which was under the command of astronaut Peggy Whitson. The mission installed the Harmony module on the complex and relocated and deployed the solar array that had been folded on STS-116. The crew and ground had to improvise as the array was unfolded, installing straps that mended and stabilized the panel.

On STS-124 in May 2008, Discovery headed back to the station to deliver the centerpiece of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kibo experiment laboratory. STS-124 was the second of three shuttle flights that delivered the elements to complete the Japanese lab.

On its final flight in November 2010, Discovery will deliver a final module to the U.S. segment of the station, the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module, as well as the first humanoid robot to fly in space, Robonaut2. The new module will be a storeroom and provide additional research space. Robonaut2 is a technology demonstration to learn how humanoid robots can assist crews in orbit. Discovery also will carry a host of spare equipment to be stored aboard the complex. Befitting the milestones that have punctuated Discovery's career, its final visit to the station will coincide with the 10-year anniversary of a permanent human presence aboard the outpost.

Missions Finder

Missions Finder



Expedition 25 Getting Ready for Progress and Shuttle

Flight Engineer Scott Kelly
Image above: Flight Engineer Scott Kelly peers into a viewfinder that measures visual perception. The PASSAGES experiment takes place inside the Columbus laboratory. Credit: NASA TV

The six-member Expedition 25 crew is preparing to host two visiting vehicles – a cargo craft and a space shuttle – over the next two weeks. They also conducted a periodic fire drill to ensure everyone is prepared to respond in the unlikely event of such an emergency.

The ISS Progress 40, a Russian resupply craft, is due to deliver cargo, supplies and other gear to the International Space Station on Oct. 30. Space shuttle Discovery is scheduled to arrive on Nov. 3 to install the new Permanent Multi-Purpose Module (PMM) during the STS-133 mission.

The docked ISS Progress 39 spacecraft fired its engines at 3:41 p.m. EDT Wednesday boosting the space station to the correct altitude for the docking of both vehicles.

The station residents are reviewing the activities they will conduct during Discovery’s stay. Besides the installation of the PMM, the STS-133 crew members will conduct two spacewalks and transfer cargo to and from the station.

The newest Expedition 25 crew members, Scott Kelly, Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka, continue familiarizing themselves with station systems. The three flight engineers arrived at the station aboard the Soyuz TMA-01M on Oct. 9.

Commander Doug Wheelock spent some time swapping fluid lines on the rack flow control assembly which is part of the station’s internal thermal control system. Wheelock and Kelly also participated in the PASSAGES experiment which measures visual perception during long-duration missions in microgravity. From inside the Columbus laboratory the participants look into a viewfinder that observes their gaze parallel to the ground.

Flight Engineer Shannon Walker continued her work with the Japanese experiment HydroTropi. The botanical experiment takes place in the Kibo laboratory and studies how plants, such as a cucumber, grow at a molecular level in microgravity. Data obtained from the results may lead to significant advancements in agricultural production on Earth.

Flight Engineer Fyodor Yurchikhin checked the U.S. video cameras that will be attached to Russian Orlan spacesuits to be worn during the Russian EVA 26 planned for Nov. 15. He also inventoried gear to be disposed on the ISS Progress 37 vehicle which is scheduled to undock Oct. 25.

Pinwheel of Star Birth

Hubble image of NGC 3982
Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Acknowledgment: A. Riess (STScI)

Though the universe is chock full of spiral-shaped galaxies, no two look exactly the same. This face-on spiral galaxy, called NGC 3982, is striking for its rich tapestry of star birth, along with its winding arms. The arms are lined with pink star-forming regions of glowing hydrogen, newborn blue star clusters, and obscuring dust lanes that provide the raw material for future generations of stars. The bright nucleus is home to an older population of stars, which grow ever more densely packed toward the center.

NGC 3982 is located about 68 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major. The galaxy spans about 30,000 light-years, one-third of the size of our Milky Way galaxy. This color image is composed of exposures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2), the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), and the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). The observations were taken between March 2000 and August 2009. The rich color range comes from the fact that the galaxy was photographed invisible and near-infrared light. Also used was a filter that isolates hydrogen emission that emanates from bright star-forming regions dotting the spiral arms.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. in Washington, D.C.

Obama signs Nasa up to new future

Falcon 9 launch (AP)

The legislation calls for funds to be allocated to the development of commercial crew launch services

The US space agency (Nasa) has been given a new direction, one that will seek to put astronauts in orbit using privately-run launch services.

The change comes into effect with the signing by President Barack Obama of the Nasa Authorization Act 2010.

The legislation, passed by Congress last week, mandates the agency to fly the space station until 2020 and to launch one extra shuttle next year.

It also instructs Nasa to start work on a rocket for deep-space exploration.

The president's signature on the act brings to an end eight months of fractious debate on Capitol Hill about the future course of the agency.

Start Quote

"If we can't develop a new rocket for $11.5bn, building on a lot of the technologies that were already developed in spending $9bn... we ought to question whether we can build a rocket”

End Quote Democratic Senator Bill Nelson

Nasa's Administrator Charles Bolden told reporters: "Our nation's leaders have come together and endorsed a blueprint for Nasa, one that requires us to think and act boldly as we move our agency into the future. This legislation supports the president's ambitious plan for Nasa to pioneer new frontiers of innovation and discovery."

The act will mark a sea change in the way Nasa does some of its business, particularly in the realm of human spaceflight.

The legislation calls for $1.3bn to be allocated to the development of commercial crew services over the next three years.

The money will seed private companies to design and build rockets and capsules capable of delivering astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

The legislation also signals a formal end to the Constellation programme begun under President George Bush that sought to return humans to the Moon with a new spaceship called Orion and two new rockets called Ares 1 and Ares 5.

Some $9bn was spent on Constellation. Much of its technology and know-how will now be directed into an alternative rocket system big enough to launch a spaceship, or at least some of its elements, on missions that go far beyond the ISS.

Atlantis shuttle (Nasa)
Nasa will aim to fly one last shuttle to the space station, probably in June or July 2011

These ventures are likely to include asteroids and, eventually, Mars.

Legislators want Nasa to receive $11.5bn over the next six years to have the new heavy-lift rocket ready for operation by 31 December 2016.

Some critics of the legislation have questioned whether the funding being requested is sufficient for the task, but Florida Senator Bill Nelson who helped build bipartisan support for the legislation said it should be ample.

"If we can't develop a new rocket for $11.5bn, building on a lot of the technologies that were already developed in spending $9bn - if we can't do it for that then we ought to question whether we can build a rocket."

The act authorises $19bn for Nasa in the federal year 2011, a significant increase on 2010.

This would allow the agency to expand its activities in a number of areas, including in Earth observation where some missions have been allowed to run past their nominal lifetimes without replacements being ordered up in time to prevent data gaps.

Lockheed Martin

Work done on Constellation will now be directed into the new heavy-lift launch system

"I think it's wonderful that we're now at this stage," commented Dr Sally Ride, the first American woman in space and one of a group of experts tasked by President Obama with reviewing human spaceflight policy when he came into office.

"The extensive discussion of the president's budget and the deliberation of the elements of this bill I believe have resulted in legislation that will strengthen Nasa and the space programme."

The $19bn is not completely guaranteed. The money still has to be allocated by congressional appropriators, but Senator Nelson said he thought wide support on Capitol Hill for Nasa would ensure its activities were not denied funding as a result of more general arguments over federal spending and the need to reduce the nation's deficit.