Cassini Spacecraft to Monitor North Pole on Titan

Though there are no plans to investigate whether Saturn's moon Titan has a Santa Claus, NASA's Cassini will zoom close to Titan's north pole this weekend.

The flyby, which brings Cassini to within about 960 kilometers (600 miles) of the Titan surface at 82 degrees north latitude, will take place the evening of Dec. 27 Pacific time, or shortly after midnight Universal Time on Dec. 28.

The encounter will enable scientists to gather more detail on how the lake-dotted north polar region of Titan changes with the seasons. Scientists will be using high-resolution radar to scan the large and numerous lakes in the north polar region for shape-shifting in size and depth.

The ion and neutral mass spectrometer team will take baseline measurements of the atmosphere to compare with the moon's south polar region when Cassini flies by that area on Jan. 12. Cassini will also be collecting images for a mosaic of a bright region called Adiri, where the Huygens probe landed nearly five years ago.

Cassini will have released the Huygens probe exactly five years and three days before this latest flyby. Huygens began its journey down to Titan on the evening of Dec. 24, 2004 California time, or early Dec. 25 Universal Time, and reached the surface Jan. 14, 2005.

Cassini last flew by Titan on Dec. 11, 2009 California time, or Dec. 12 Universal Time. Although this latest flyby is dubbed "T64," planning changes early in the orbital tour have made this the 65th targeted flyby of Titan.


Keep you place cool by Patio misting systems

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Three New Expedition 22 Crew Members Welcomed Aboard Station

NASA astronaut T.J. Creamer, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi docked with their new home at 5:48 p.m. EST Tuesday. The trio launched aboard the Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft at 4:52 p.m. Sunday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

From inside the station, Expedition 22 Commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineer Maxim Suraev monitored the approach of the Russian spacecraft as it docked to the Earth-facing port of the Zarya module.

After completion of leak checks, the hatches between the two vehicles were opened at 7:30 p.m. Williams and Suraev, who arrived at the station Oct. 2 aboard the Soyuz TMA-16, welcomed the new Expedition 22 flight engineers aboard their orbital home for the next five months.

Creamer, 50, is making his first flight into space. Selected as an astronaut in 1998, Creamer was a support astronaut for the Expedition 3 crew and worked with hardware integration and robotics.

Kotov, 44, is making his second spaceflight, having previously served six months aboard the station as an Expedition 15 flight engineer in 2007. Kotov will be a flight engineer for Expedition 22 and assume the duties of Expedition 23 commander when Williams and Suraev depart in March 2010.

Noguchi is making his second spaceflight. He flew on the STS-114 return-to-flight mission of Discovery in 2005 and conducted three spacewalks totaling more than 20 hours.

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Liquid in Titan Lake Zone

NASA's Cassini Spacecraft has captured the first flash of sunlight reflected off a lake on Saturn's moon Titan, confirming the presence of liquid on the part of the moon dotted with many large, lake-shaped basins.

Cassini scientists had been looking for the glint, also known as a specular reflection, since the spacecraft began orbiting Saturn in 2004. But Titan's northern hemisphere, which has more lakes than the southern hemisphere, has been veiled in winter darkness.

The sun only began to directly illuminate the northern lakes recently as it approached the equinox of August 2009, the start of spring in the northern hemisphere. Titan's hazy atmosphere also blocked out reflections of sunlight in most wavelengths. This serendipitous image was captured on July 8, 2009, using Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer.

The new infrared image is available online at: http://www.nasa.gov/cassini, http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://wwwvims.lpl.arizona.edu.

This image will be presented Friday, Dec. 18, at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

"This one image communicates so much about Titan -- thick atmosphere, surface lakes and an otherworldliness," said Bob Pappalardo, Cassini project scientist, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "It's an unsettling combination of strangeness yet similarity to Earth. This picture is one of Cassini's iconic images."

Titan, Saturn's largest moon, has captivated scientists because of its many similarities to Earth. Scientists have theorized for 20 years that Titan's cold surface hosts seas or lakes of liquid hydrocarbons, making it the only other planetary body besides Earth believed to harbor liquid on its surface. While data from Cassini have not indicated any vast seas, they have revealed large lakes near Titan's north and south poles.

In 2008, Cassini scientists using infrared data confirmed the presence of liquid in Ontario Lacus, the largest lake in Titan's southern hemisphere. But they were still looking for the smoking gun to confirm liquid in the northern hemisphere, where lakes are also larger.

Katrin Stephan, of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Berlin, an associate member of the Cassini visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team, was processing the initial image and was the first to see the glint on July 10th.

"I was instantly excited because the glint reminded me of an image of our own planet taken from orbit around Earth, showing a reflection of sunlight on an ocean," Stephan said. "But we also had to do more work to make sure the glint we were seeing wasn't lightning or an erupting volcano."

Team members at the University of Arizona, Tucson, processed the image further, and scientists were able to compare the new image to radar and near-infrared-light images acquired from 2006 to 2008.

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Metallic Foam Reduces Airplane Noise

Over the last century, airplanes have revolutionized society. It is possible to traverse the country, coast to coast, to visit far-away family in a matter of hours. We can cross the ocean, leaving at breakfast, and arrive in time for dinner in Paris thanks to airplanes. People and goods from across the globe can travel farther and faster than our great grandparents could have imagined.

For all the benefits of air travel, there are still a few areas of aviation that NASA and the aeronautics industry are continuously striving to improve. One of these important areas is noise reduction.

For people who live around airports, noise created by planes can cause a disturbance. At NASA centers across the country, new and innovative technologies are being researched and tested that can help reduce noise from planes. NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio is one of the centers helping new ideas take flight.

Glenn researchers have been working with a metallic foam that is installed around an engine to reduce noise. The firm foam, crafted from stainless steel, looks like a tightly-compacted honeycomb made of silver metal, and feels uniform on the surface—gently abrasive, like a fine grained pumice stone. In the hand it feels lighter than expected for its size.

"This is an open cell foam which is mostly air. The foam is formed by ligaments—like a sponge that you use in your kitchen, except the ligaments are metal," says Cheryl Bowman, an engineer at Glenn.

NASA Glenn's noise reduction experiments with this foam got their start in an entirely different line of inquiry. Several years ago, Dr. Mohan Hebsur (Ohio Aerospace Institute) was working for the Materials Division in the Advanced Metallic Group at Glenn. As he was researching specific material systems for their ballistic impact resistance, he proposed using metallic foams as engine case liners. Through the course of his testing, he sent his foam to NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where they noticed something interesting about the metallic foam.

"Mohan started out focusing on one alloy for its good impact resistance but discovered an interesting acoustic benefit that was independent of metal type," Bowman says.

This is where Dan Sutliff got involved. Sutliff, a Glenn engineer and the NASA team lead for the project, has been partnering with Langley for a decade on researching aircraft noise reduction. They knew that open cell materials, like traditional foams, were effective in noise absorption, but they were too combustible for use on an engine. Sutliff and Mike Jones (Co-team lead) from Langley developed an experiment and fine-tuned the properties of the metallic foam.

Partnering with Porvair Advanced Materials (a subsidiary of Selee Corporation) of Hendersonville, North Carolina, they created the metallic foam with exacting properties, including the pore sizes and density that were optimal for engine-generated noise frequencies. They then installed the Foam Metal Liner over the rotor of Glenn’'s Advanced Noise Control Fan, an 8-foot long, 4-foot in diameter test fan that is about the size of an aircraft engine.

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NASA Airborne Telescope Will Be Used to Study Cosmos

A NASA jumbo jet that will help scientists unlock the origins of the universe with infrared observations reached a milestone Friday when doors covering the plane’s telescope were fully opened in flight.

The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, a modified 747SP jet known as SOFIA, flew for one hour and 19 minutes, which included two minutes with the telescope's doors fully opened. The goal was to allow engineers to understand how air flows in and around the telescope. It was the first time outside air has interacted with the part of the plane that carries the 98-inch infrared telescope.

"Today we opened the telescope cavity door, the first time we have fully exposed the telescope and the largest cavity ever flown while in flight," said Bob Meyer, SOFIA program manager at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif. "This is a significant step toward certifying NASA's next great observatory for future study of the universe."

Besides these test flights of the airplane, two flights to operate and verify the scientific capabilities of the telescope assembly are planned for spring 2010. Telescope systems such as the vibration isolation system, the inertial stabilization system and the pointing control system will be tested during daytime flights.

These flights will prepare the telescope assembly for the first flight with the telescope operating. That first flight will be the initial opportunity scientists have to use the telescope and begin the process of quantifying its performance to prepare for SOFIA's planned 20-year science program.

SOFIA is a joint venture of NASA and the German Aerospace Center. NASA supplied the aircraft. The telescope was built in Germany.

Dryden manages the SOFIA program. The aircraft is based at NASA's Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., manages SOFIA's scientific program. The Universities Space Research Association, in Columbia, Md., and the German SOFIA Institute in Stuttgart, Germany, operate SOFIA's scientific program.

To see a picture of SOFIA with the doors to the telescope cavity open, visit:
http://www.nasa.gov/centers/dryden/multimedia/imagegallery/SOFIA/ED09-0279-07.html

Video from SOFIA's flight will air on NASA Television. For NASA TV streaming video, schedules, and downlink information, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

For more details about SOFIA and its mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/sofia

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Nasa Technology News : Hubble Finds Smallest Kuiper Belt Object Ever Seen

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has discovered the smallest object ever seen in visible light in the Kuiper Belt, a vast ring of icy debris that is encircling the outer rim of the solar system just beyond Neptune.

The needle-in-a-haystack object found by Hubble is only 3,200 feet across and a whopping 4.2 billion miles away. The smallest Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) seen previously in reflected light is roughly 30 miles across, or 50 times larger.

This is the first observational evidence for a population of comet-sized bodies in the Kuiper Belt that are being ground down through collisions. The Kuiper Belt is therefore collisionally evolving, meaning that the region's icy content has been modified over the past 4.5 billion years.

The object detected by Hubble is so faint - at 35th magnitude -- it is 100 times dimmer than what the Hubble can see directly. So then how did the space telescope uncover such a small body?

In a paper published in the December 17th issue of the journal Nature, Hilke Schlichting of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., and her collaborators are reporting that the telltale signature of the small vagabond was extracted from Hubble's pointing data, not by direct imaging.

Hubble has three optical instruments called Fine Guidance Sensors (FGS). The FGSs provide high-precision navigational information to the space observatory's attitude control systems by looking at select guide stars for pointing. The sensors exploit the wavelike nature of light to make precise measurement of the location of stars.

Schlichting and her co-investigators determined that the FGS instruments are so good that they can see the effects of a small object passing in front of a star. This would cause a brief occultation and diffraction signature in the FGS data as the light from the background guide star was bent around the intervening foreground KBO.

They selected 4.5 years of FGS observations for analysis. Hubble spent a total of 12,000 hours during this period looking along a strip of sky within 20 degrees of the solar system's ecliptic plane, where the majority of KBOs should dwell. The team analyzed the FGS observations of 50,000 guide stars in total.

Scouring the huge database, Schlichting and her team found a single 0.3-second-long occultation event. This was only possible because the FGS instruments sample changes in starlight 40 times a second. The duration of the occultation was short largely because of the Earth's orbital motion around the sun.

They assumed the KBO was in a circular orbit and inclined 14 degrees to the ecliptic. The KBO's distance was estimated from the duration of the occultation, and the amount of dimming was used to calculate the size of the object. "I was very thrilled to find this in the data," says Schlichting.

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Nasa Technology News : The View From Space

The View From Space

They've only been on orbit a couple of months, but two new sensors examining our upper atmosphere and oceans already are demonstrating the International Space Station's value as an Earth science observing platform.

The experiments -- the Hyperspectral Imager for the Coastal Ocean, or HICO, and the Remote Atmospheric and Ionospheric Detection System, or RAIDS -- work in tandem as the HICO and RAIDS Experiment Payload, or HREP. The joint payload is operated by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington and its partners.

HICO is the first hyperspectral sensor specifically designed to investigate the coastal ocean and nearby land regions from space. Its imaging shows unique characteristics across the electromagnetic spectrum, including those ranges not visible to the human eye, such as ultraviolet and infrared light.
RAIDS, built jointly by the Naval Research Laboratory and The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, Calif., is a hyperspectral sensor suite used to study the Earth's thermosphere and ionosphere -- layers of the atmosphere where the space shuttle and space station orbit.

Its eight optical instruments measure the chemistry, composition and temperature of the thermosphere and ionosphere. It also is testing new techniques for remotely sensing these atmospheric regions, which are very difficult to measure, yet very important for understanding the behavior of low-altitude satellites, space junk and sub-orbital rocket systems.

"The instruments take advantage of the space station as a host platform for Earth observation," said Julie Robinson, International Space Station program scientist at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. "The space station was designed to host numerous instruments for looking at Earth and space, providing attachments sites, power and data."

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NASA Partners with Saudi Arabia on Moon and Asteroid Research

NASA and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) have signed a joint statement that allows for collaboration in lunar and asteroid science research. The partnership recognizes the Saudi Lunar and Near-Earth Object Science Center as an affiliate partner with the NASA Lunar Science Institute at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

"This collaboration is within the scope of the Memorandum of Understanding on Science and Technology signed between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States of America last year and later ratified by the Council of Ministers," said H.H. Dr. Turki Bin Saud Bin Mohammed Al-Saud, vice president for Research Institutes, KACST. "The international interest in lunar science and, more recently, near Earth objects led to the establishment of the Saudi Lunar and Near Earth Object Science Center as a focal point for lunar science and NEO studies in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, we are looking forward to our expanding collaboration with NASA for the benefit of both countries."

"NASA's Lunar Science Institute exists to conduct cutting-edge lunar science and train the next generation of lunar scientists and explorers," said Greg Schmidt, institute deputy director at Ames. "Our international partnerships are critical for meeting these objectives, and we are very excited by the important science, training and education that our new Saudi colleagues bring to the NASA Lunar Science Institute."

"This is an important advance in our growing program of bilateral science and technology cooperation," said U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Smith. "It will help realize President Obama's goal, expressed in his June 4 speech to the Muslim world, of increasing our cooperation on science and technology, which we believe closely corresponds to King Abdullah's vision."

The Saudi science center's proposal brings technical and engineering expertise to advance the broad goals of lunar science at the institute. Specific areas of lunar study of both scientific and cultural importance include radar and infrared imaging, laser ranging and imaging, and topographical studies. The center's studies in near-Earth object science also offer important contributions to an area of importance to NASA

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Geminids Meteor Shower: Nature's 'Holiday Light Show'

The Geminids are one of the best meteor showers of the year and never seem to disappoint observers! Join Bill Cooke of the Meteoroid Environment Office, located at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, in a live web chat on Friday, December 11 from 3:00-4:00 EST to learn more about the Geminids meteor shower.

This meteor shower gets the name "Geminids" because it appears to radiate from the constellation Gemini. For the best viewing opportunity, go outside, take a blanket and something hot to drink, lay on your back and look up into the night sky. Best viewing time is between midnight and dawn on December 13-14.

An observer in the Northern hemisphere can start seeing the Geminids meteors as early as December 6, when one meteor every hour or so could be visible. During the next week, rates increase until a peak of 50-80 meteors per hour is attained on the night of December 13-14. The last Geminids are seen on December 18, when an observer might see a rate of one or so every hour.

History of the Geminids

The initial appearance of the Geminids meteor shower came fairly sudden during the 1860s. The first notation of the shower occurred in 1862 at Manchester, England. During the 1870s, observations of the Geminids became more numerous as astronomers realized a new annual shower was active.

The first estimate of the strength of Geminids came in 1877 with an hourly rate given at about 14. Rates increased slightly during the remainder of the 19th century to about 23 an hour. Reported rates continued to increase through most of the 20th century. During the 1900s, rates averaged about 20 per hour. The rates averaged near 50 per hour during the 1930s, 60 per hour during the 1940s and 1950s, 65 per hour during the 1960s and 80 per hour during the 1970s. The rates stayed near 80 per hour during the remainder of that century.

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Magnetic Dance of Titan and Saturn


When it flies by Saturn's largest moon, Titan, this weekend, NASA's Cassini spacecraft will study the interactions between the magnetic field of Saturn and Titan.

The flyby will take place the evening of Dec. 11 California time, or shortly after midnight Universal Time on Dec. 12.

As Titan plows through the magnetic bubble, or magnetosphere around Saturn, it creates a wake in the magnetic field lines coming away from the planet.

This flyby will allow Cassini's fields and particles instruments to study that wake about 5,200 kilometers (3,200 miles) away from the moon, a relatively unexamined region. Other instruments will also be taking a closer look at Titan's clouds.

At closest approach to Titan, Cassini will swing to within about 4,900 kilometers (3,000 miles) of the surface of the moon.

Cassini last zoomed by Titan two months ago. Although this latest flyby is dubbed "T63," planning changes early in the orbital tour have made this the sixty-fourth targeted flyby of Titan.

Titan is a kind of "sister world" to Earth because it has a surface covered with organic material and an atmosphere whose chemical composition hearkens back to an early Earth.

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Nasa Technology : New Date for Endeavour's Rollover

Space shuttle Endeavour will be moved from its hangar to the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida a day earlier than planned.

First motion from Orbiter Processing Facility-2 to the VAB, is targeted for 1 p.m. EST on Dec. 11, pending good weather and approval from a review meeting scheduled for Friday morning.

Managers moved up the rollover after evaluating Endeavour's processing progress and confirming the change wouldn't adversely affect the team.

Forecasters are calling for possible bad weather on Saturday, so targeting rollover for Friday gives the team additional flexibility to make the move this week.

Once in the VAB, Endeavour will be attached to the waiting solid rocket boosters and external fuel tank for its STS-130 mission to the International Space Station, currently targeted to launch in early February.

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Nasa Technology News

Nasa Technology NewsLiftoff of NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California is scheduled for Dec. 11.

Launch and mission managers finished the Flight Readiness Review on Sunday and gave their "go" to load propellants into the Delta II rocket's second stage today. The scheduled Launch Readiness Review and press conferences will take place Wednesday, Dec. 9.

This week at Vandenberg, weather officials predict intermittent showers, wind and thick clouds due to an approaching front. The official launch forecast will be available closer to launch day.

The WISE spacecraft will circle Earth over the poles, scanning the entire sky one-and-a-half times in nine months. The mission will uncover hidden cosmic objects, including the coolest stars, dark asteroids and the most luminous galaxies.

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Space Shuttle News : Cassini's Superhuman Senses

spacecraft

The Cassini spacecraft is loaded with an array of sophisticated instruments and cameras, to deliver valuable data from the mission to scientists around the world.

In many ways, the spacecraft's instruments can be classified to the way human senses operate. Your eyes and ears are "remote sensing" devices because you can receive information from remote objects without being in direct contact with them. Your senses of touch and taste are "direct sensing" devices. Your nose can be construed as either a remote or direct sensing device.

You can certainly smell the apple pie across the room without having your nose in direct contact with it, but the molecules carrying the scent do have to make direct contact with your sinuses. Cassini's instruments can be classified as remote and microwave remote sensing instruments, and fields and particles instruments. These are all designed to record significant data and take a variety of close-up measurements.

However, the instruments on the Cassini spacecraft are much more advanced than our own. Cassini can "see" in wavelengths of light and energy that the human eye cannot. The instruments on the spacecraft can "feel" things about magnetic fields and tiny dust particles that no human hand could detect.

The remote sensing instruments can calculate measurements from a great distance. This set includes both optical and microwave sensing instruments including cameras, spectrometers, radar and radio.

The fields and particles instruments take direct sensing measurements of the environment around the spacecraft. These instruments measure magnetic fields, mass, electrical charges and densities of atomic particles. They also measure the quantity and composition of dust particles, the strengths of plasma (electrically charged gas), and radio waves.

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Another Stall of Right-Rear Wheel Ends Drive

Spirit's right-rear wheel stalled again on Sol 2099 (Nov. 28, 2009) during the first step of a two-step extrication maneuver. This stall is different in some characteristics from the stall on Sol 2092 (Nov. 21). The Sol 2099 stall occurred more quickly and the inferred rotor resistance was elevated at the end of the stall. Investigation of past stall events along with these characteristics suggest that this stall might not be result of the terrain, but might be internal to the right-rear wheel actuator. Rover project engineers are developing a series of diagnostics to explore the actuator health and to isolate potential terrain interactions. These diagnostics are not likely to be ready before Wednesday. Plans for future driving will depend on the results of the diagnostic tests.

Before the Sol 2099 drive ended, Spirit completed 1.4 meters of wheel spin and the rover's center moved 0.5 millimeters (0.02 inch) forward, 0.25 millimeters (0.01 inch) to the left and 0.5 millimeters (0.02 inch) downward. Since Spirit began extrication on Sol 2088, the rover has performed 9.5 meters (31 feet) of wheel spin and the rover's center, in total, has moved 16 millimeters (0.63 inch) forward, 10 millimeters (0.39 inch) to the left and 5 millimeters (0.20 inch) downward.

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Mars Odyssey Mission Status Report

NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter put itself into a safe standby mode on Saturday, Nov. 28, and the team operating the spacecraft has begun implementing careful steps designed to resume Odyssey's science and relay operations within about a week.

Engineers have diagnosed the cause of the Nov. 28 event as the spacecraft's proper response to a memory error with a known source. The likely cause is an upset in the orbiter's "memory error external bus," as was the case with a similar event in June 2008.

In safe mode over the weekend, Odyssey remained in communication with ground controllers and maintained healthy temperatures and power. To clear the memory error, the team commanded Odyssey today to perform a cold reboot of the orbiter's onboard computer. The spacecraft reported that the reboot had been completed successfully.

"This event is a type we have seen before, so we have a known and tested path to resuming normal operations," said Odyssey Project Manager Philip Varghese of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Odyssey has been orbiting Mars since 2001. In addition to its own major scientific discoveries and continuing studies of the planet, the Odyssey mission has played important roles in supporting the missions of the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity and the Phoenix Mars Lander.

Until Odyssey is available again as a communications relay, Spirit and Opportunity will be operating with direct communications to and from Earth.

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Nasa News : NASA Receives Tranquility

The last major component set to be added to the International Space Station, the Node 3 module known as Tranquility, was officially transferred from the European Space Agency to NASA during a ceremony Nov. 20.

Inside the cavernous Space Station Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, officials from the two cooperating space agencies took the opportunity to reflect on the nearly completed station and its role in future space exploration.

"Station is truly a phenomenal engineering accomplishment, but as important as all that hardware is on orbit, what it really is, it's the unity of all of us as partners," said Bob Cabana, Kennedy's director and a former astronaut who commanded the first space station construction mission. "All those different cultures coming together and working together as one for the betterment of not just our own countries, but our world, and preparing us to go beyond low Earth orbit to explore in space."

The pressurized node will provide additional room for crew members and many of the space station's life support and environmental control systems already on board. These systems include air revitalization, oxygen generation and water recycling. A waste and hygiene compartment and a treadmill also will be relocated from other areas of the station.

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Latest Space Shuttle News

Atlantis Astros Feted Today; Endeavour Crew Rehearse for STS-130.

After a flawless mission to resupply the International Space Station, the STS-129 crew members now are back at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. They will be honored with a homecoming ceremony at nearby Ellington Field today.

Meanwhile, preparations for space shuttle Endeavour and its crew are ramping up for the STS-130 mission targeted to launch Feb. 4, 2010.

Endeavour is scheduled to roll over from the orbiter processing facility to the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in late December. There, it will be lifted and attached to the waiting external tank and twin solid rocket boosters.

The STS-130 crew members, Commander George Zamka, Pilot Terry Virts Jr., Mission Specialists Nicholas Patrick, Robert Behnken, Stephen Robinson and Kathryn Hire, are rehearsing deorbit procedures today at Johnson.

Endeavour will deliver a third connecting module, the Tranquility node, to the station in addition to the seven-windowed Cupola module, which will be used as a control room for robotics.


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Atlantis Lands in Florida

Atlantis Lands in Florida

Space shuttle Atlantis and its crew of seven astronauts ended an 11-day journey with a 9:44 a.m. EST landing at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Atlantis flew 171 orbits around Earth and traveled 4,490,138 miles since its Nov. 16 launch.

The STS-129 mission included three spacewalks and the installation of two platforms to the International Space Station's truss, or backbone. The platforms hold large spare parts to sustain station operations after the shuttles are retired.

The shuttle crew delivered about 30,000 pounds of replacement parts for systems that provide power to the station, keep it from overheating, and maintain a proper orientation in space. The shuttle left the space station 86 percent complete, weighing 759,222 pounds.

Astronaut Nicole Stott returned to Earth after 91 days in space. She had spent 87 days aboard the space station and 80 days as an Expedition 20/21 flight engineer. She is the last astronaut who will be transported to or from the space station by the space shuttle.

Atlantis' main gear touched down at 9:44:23 a.m., followed by the nose gear at 9:44:36 and wheel stop at 9:45:05 a.m. STS-129 was the 129th space shuttle mission, the 31st for Atlantis and the 31st shuttle mission to the International Space Station. It was the fifth and final flight of 2009.

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Technology News from Kennedy Space Center


Technology News : The seven-member crew of Atlantis are packing the orbiter and preparing to return home, wrapping up the 31st shuttle flight to the International Space Station. Atlantis is scheduled to land at 9:44 a.m. EST Friday at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Commander Charlie Hobaugh and Pilot Barry Wilmore, with help from Mission Specialist Randy Bresnik, will check out Atlantis' flight control surfaces, including the rudder and the wing flaps. Those surfaces will guide Atlantis’ unpowered flight through the atmosphere to a landing. The astronauts also will test fire reaction control system thrusters. The thrusters will control the shuttle’s orientation as it descends and begins its re-entry through the atmosphere.

A recumbent seat for Mission Specialist Nicole Stott will be setup on the shuttle's mid-deck. Stott is returning after 90 days in space, 80 as a station crewmember.

Tuesday at 10 a.m., European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne handed over command of the station to NASA astronaut Jeff Williams. De Winne and Expedition 21 Flight Engineers Roman Romanenko and Robert Thirsk are scheduled to leave the station for return to Earth in a Soyuz capsule on Nov. 30.

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Nasa Technology News

NASA Chooses Small Business High Tech Projects for Development.

NASA has selected for development 368 small business innovation projects that include research to minimize aging of aircraft, new techniques for suppressing fires on spacecraft and advanced transmitters for deep space communications.

Chosen from more than 1,600 proposals, the competitively selected awards will address agency research and technology needs. The awards are part of NASA's Small Business Innovation Research, or SBIR, and Small Business Technology Transfer, or STTR, programs.

The SBIR program selected 335 proposals for negotiation of Phase 1 contracts, and the STTR program chose 33 proposals for negotiation of Phase 1 contract awards. The selected SBIR projects have a combined value of approximately $33.5 million. The selected STTR projects have a combined value of approximately $3.3 million.

The SBIR contracts will be awarded to 245 small, high technology firms in 36 states. The STTR contracts will be awarded to 31 small high technology firms in 19 states. As part of the STTR program, selected firms will partner with 26 universities and research institutions in 20 states.

Past innovations from the program have benefited a number of NASA efforts, including air traffic control systems, Earth observing spacecraft, the International Space Station and the development of spacecraft for exploring the solar system.

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NASA Provides Venerable Hubble Hardware to Smithsonian


Two key instruments from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have a new home in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington after being returned to Earth aboard space shuttle Atlantis last May.

Astronauts brought back the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, or WFPC-2, and the Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement, or COSTAR, after more than 15 years in space. The camera returned the iconic images that now adorn posters, album covers, the Internet, classrooms and science text books worldwide.

"This was the camera that saved Hubble," said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "I have looked forward for a long time to stand in front of this very instrument while on display to the public."

After Hubble's launch and deployment aboard the shuttle in 1990, scientists realized the telescope's primary mirror had a flaw, known as a spherical aberration. The outer edge of the mirror was ground too flat by a depth of 2.2 microns, roughly equal to one-fiftieth the thickness of a human hair. This tiny flaw resulted in fuzzy images because some of the light from the objects being studied was scattered.

Hubble's first servicing mission provided the telescope with hardware that basically acted as eye glasses. Launched in December 1993 aboard space shuttle Endeavour, the mission added the WFPC-2, about the size of a baby grand piano, and COSTAR, about the size of a telephone booth. The WFPC-2 had the optical fix built in, while the COSTAR provided the optical correction for other Hubble instruments.

The WFPC-2 made more than 135,000 observations of celestial objects from 1993 to 2009. The camera was the longest serving and most prolific instrument aboard Hubble.

"For years the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 has been taking pictures of the universe," said John Trauger of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Today, we are taking pictures of the WFPC-2 and I guess if there was ever a camera that deserves to have its picture taken, this is it."

The Hubble instruments will be on display in the National Air and Space Museum's Space Hall through mid-December. They then will travel to Southern California to go on temporary display at several venues. In March 2010, the instruments will return to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, where they will take up permanent residency.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory designed and built the WFPC-2. The COSTAR instrument was built by Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colo. The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. The project is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. The institute is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc., in Washington.

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Space Station, Space Shuttle Joint Crew News Conference Tuesday

The 12 crew members aboard space shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station will hold a news conference at 7:13 a.m. CST on Tuesday, Nov. 24.

Reporters can ask questions from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Kennedy Space Center in Florida and headquarters in Washington. Journalists from Canada, Europe and Russia also will participate in the news conference. U.S. journalists must RSVP by calling the public affairs office at a participating NASA location by noon Nov. 23.

NASA Television will provide live coverage of the 40-minute news conference. For NASA TV downlink, schedule and streaming video information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

Atlantis' STS-129 mission includes three spacewalks and the installation of two platforms to the station's truss, or backbone. The platforms will store spare parts needed to sustain station operations after the shuttle fleet is retired. Atlantis will return with station resident Nicole Stott, marking the final time the shuttle is expected to rotate station crew members.

For more information about STS-129 and its crew, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle

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Space Shuttle Pilot Set to Talk With Tennessee Students from Orbit

Space Shuttle Pilot

Congressman Bart Gordon and Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville will host a live conversation between more than 120 students and NASA astronaut Barry E. Wilmore on Sunday, Nov. 22. Wilmore is the pilot of space shuttle Atlantis, which launched Nov. 16 on an 11-day mission to the International Space Station. Members of Wilmore's family also will attend the event.

The live call from orbit will take place between 11:08 a.m. and 11:28 a.m. CST. Twenty students, ranging from kindergarten to college age, will ask questions of Wilmore and fellow astronauts Nicole Stott and Leland Melvin. Stott has served as a flight engineer and member of the Expedition 21 crew living aboard the International Space Station for more than two months. She will return to Earth aboard Atlantis. Melvin is a mission specialist and crewmate of Wilmore's aboard Atlantis.

Reporters interested in attending the event should contact Monica Greppin at 931-372-3214. Gordon is the chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee. Wilmore was born and raised in Gordon's district in Tennessee and earned bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering from Tennessee Technological University.

The downlink is one in a series with educational organizations in the U.S. and abroad to improve teaching and learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is an integral component of NASAs Teaching From Space office. The office promotes learning opportunities and builds partnerships with the education community using the unique environment of human spaceflight.

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Earhart's Scarf to Fly Again

A scarf belonging to famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart will circle the Earth repeatedly as part of the personal cargo being carried into space by the astronauts of space shuttle Atlantis’ STS-129 mission.

Albert Bresnick was a personal photographer to Earhart, and now, astronaut Randy Bresnick is rekindling the family connection. The Marine aviator and first-time space flier received the white, green and red scarf from the 99s Museum of Women Pilots in Oklahoma City, an organization of female pilots that formed with the help of Earhart. Randy Bresnick is also bringing along a photo from the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum in Atchison, Kan.

In 1932, Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, becoming in the process a prominent and celebrated adventurer. She, along with her navigator, disappeared over the Pacific Ocean five years later while trying to become the first woman to circumnavigate the globe in an airplane.

The remaining crew members of STS-129 have chosen a wide assortment of medals, shirts, patches and even a thumb drive to commemorate their 11-day venture to the International Space Station.

A cycling jersey from Lance Armstrong's LiveStrong Foundation will travel on the flight, completing the distance in seven minutes that Armstrong and the cyclists in the peloton rode in three weeks during the Tour de France.

Veteran astronaut Charles O. Hobaugh, also a Marine pilot, commands the mission that will deliver a pair of racks loaded with equipment to the station.

First-time shuttle Pilot Barry E. Wilmore has seen to it that Tennessee Technical University is well-represented in the commemorative assortment known as the Official Flight Kit. The school, which Wilmore graduated from with a master's in electrical engineering, will see a thumb drive, purple and gold placard, gold medallion, and a stuffed-toy eagle make the trip into space aboard space shuttle Atlantis.

The toy eagle will be joined by a stuffed-toy blue spider from the University of Richmond, the alma mater of veteran Mission Specialist Leland Melvin. A football jersey from Melvin's Heritage High School days also will make the trip. Melvin was drafted in 1986 by the NFL's Detroit Lions and took part in training camps with the Dallas Cowboys and Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts.

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NASA Technology Spinoffs Art Contest

NASA Technology Spinoffs Art Contest winner

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. is recognizing award-winning artwork honoring NASA Spinoff technology that was used to restore the Statue of Liberty National Monument, a unit of the National Park Service.

Students are recognizing NASA Goddard's 50th anniversary by reflecting on science, technology, engineering and the fine arts. NASA Goddard was opened in 1959.

NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program (IPP) Office sponsored "Goddard Celebrates 50 Years of Technology Spinoffs Art Contest" last winter. The purpose of the contest was to allow middle and high school students across the country to demonstrate through art, their knowledge of how NASA Goddard scientific technological achievements have made impacts on the quality of life. Some of the reference or source material the students were to use was the IPP Office annual publication, NASA Spinoff magazine, and the IPP Office website.

After receiving and reviewing contest submissions, Ja Hyun "Ashely" Lim was chosen as the winner. At the time of contest submission, she was a ninth grader at North County High School in Glen Burnie, Md. Lim's eloquent rendering of a paint brush stroke from the Space Shuttle's lift off pad launch gantries to the Statute of Liberty monument plainly demonstrates "movement" of NASA technology from one application of a technology to another external to NASA.

The connection between the Statue of Liberty and NASA is in a NASA Goddard-developed technology. When the Statue of Liberty was being restored in the early 1980s, the bars that help to support the copper skin of the Statue of Liberty were covered with a corrosion-resistant coating developed by NASA Goddard engineers. The coating is known as IC531, and is an aerospace Spinoff product manufactured by Inorganic Coatings, Inc. of Malvern, Penn.

IC531 was used as an interior structure primer coating for Miss Liberty. The coating was developed by NASA Goddard to protect gantries and other structures at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla. launch site.


The high-ratio silicate formulation in IC531 bonds to steel and in just 30 minutes and creates a very hard ceramic finish with superior adhesion and abrasion resistance.


Lim was honored at the NASA Goddard Celebrates 50 Years of Technology Spinoffs Event this past summer. In the spirit of cooperation, the NASA Goddard IPP will be presenting a framed copy of Lim's artwork to the National Park Service at the Statue of Liberty on Nov. 13 at 9:30 a.m. EST at Ellis Island, N.Y.


Located on a 12-acre island, the statue of ‘Liberty Enlightening the World' was a gift of friendship from the people of France to the people of the United States and is a universal symbol of freedom and democracy.

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Scientists Discover Record Fifth Planet Orbiting Nearby Star

Astronomers have announced the discovery of a fifth planet circling 55 Cancri, a star beyond our solar system. The star now holds the record for number of confirmed extrasolar planets orbiting in a planetary system.

55 Cancri is located 41 light-years away in the constellation Cancer and has nearly the same mass and age as our sun. It is easily visible with binoculars. Researchers discovered the fifth planet using the Doppler technique, in which a planet's gravitational tug is detected by the wobble it produces in the parent star. NASA and the National Science Foundation funded the research.

"It is amazing to see our ability to detect extrasolar planets growing," said Alan Stern, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "We are finding solar systems with a richness of planets and a variety of planetary types comparable to our own."

The newly discovered planet weighs about 45 times the mass of Earth and may be similar to Saturn in its composition and appearance. The planet is the fourth from 55 Cancri and completes one orbit every 260 days. Its location places the planet in the "habitable zone," a band around the star where the temperature would permit liquid water to pool on solid surfaces. The distance from its star is approximately 116.7 million kilometers (72.5 million miles), slightly closer than Earth to our sun, but it orbits a star that is slightly fainter.

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LCROSS Impact Data Indicates Water on Moon

The argument that the moon is a dry, desolate place no longer holds water. Secrets the moon has been holding, for perhaps billions of years, are now being revealed to the delight of scientists and space enthusiasts alike.

NASA today opened a new chapter in our understanding of the moon. Preliminary data from the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, indicates that the mission successfully uncovered water during the Oct. 9, 2009 impacts into the permanently shadowed region of Cabeus cater near the moon's south pole.

The impact created by the LCROSS Centaur upper stage rocket created a two-part plume of material from the bottom of the crater. The first part was a high angle plume of vapor and fine dust and the second a lower angle ejecta curtain of heavier material. This material has not seen sunlight in billions of years.

"We're unlocking the mysteries of our nearest neighbor and by extension the solar system. It turns out the moon harbors many secrets, and LCROSS has added a new layer to our understanding," said Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Scientists have long speculated about the source of vast quantities of hydrogen that have been observed at the lunar poles. The LCROSS findings are shedding new light on the question of water, which could be more widespread and in greater quantity than previously suspected.

Permanently shadowed regions could hold a key to the history and evolution of the solar system, much as an ice core sample taken on Earth reveals ancient data. In addition, water, and other compounds represent potential resources that could sustain future lunar exploration.

Since the impacts, the LCROSS science team has been working almost nonstop analyzing the huge amount of data the spacecraft collected. The team concentrated on data from the satellite's spectrometers, which provide the most definitive information about the presence of water. A spectrometer examines light emitted or absorbed by materials that helps identify their composition.

"We are ecstatic," said Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "Multiple lines of evidence show water was present in both the high angle vapor plume and the ejecta curtain created by the LCROSS Centaur impact. The concentration and distribution of water and other substances requires further analysis, but it is safe to say Cabeus holds water."

The team took the known near infrared spectral signatures of water and other materials and compared them to the spectra collected by the LCROSS near infrared spectrometer of the impact.

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Robot Armada Might Scale New Worlds

Robot ArmadaAn armada of robots may one day fly above the mountain tops of Saturn's moon Titan, cross its vast dunes and sail in its liquid lakes. Wolfgang Fink, visiting associate in physics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena says we are on the brink of a great paradigm shift in planetary exploration, and the next round of robotic explorers will be nothing like what we see today.

"The way we explore tomorrow will be unlike any cup of tea we've ever tasted," said Fink, who was recently appointed as the Edward and Maria Keonjian Distinguished Professor in Microelectronics at the University of Arizona, Tucson. "We are departing from traditional approaches of a single robotic spacecraft with no redundancy that is Earth-commanded to one that allows for having multiple, expendable low-cost robots that can command themselves or other robots at various locations at the same time."

Fink and his team members at Caltech, the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Arizona are developing autonomous software and have built a robotic test bed that can mimic a field geologist or astronaut, capable of working independently and as part of a larger team. This software will allow a robot to think on its own, identify problems and possible hazards, determine areas of interest and prioritize targets for a close-up look.

The way things work now, engineers command a rover or spacecraft to carry out certain tasks and then wait for them to be executed. They have little or no flexibility in changing their game plan as events unfold; for example, to image a landslide or cryovolcanic eruption as it happens, or investigate a methane outgassing event.

"In the future, multiple robots will be in the driver's seat," Fink said. These robots would share information in almost real time. This type of exploration may one day be used on a mission to Titan, Mars and other planetary bodies. Current proposals for Titan would use an orbiter, an air balloon and rovers or lake landers.

In this mission scenario, an orbiter would circle Titan with a global view of the moon, with an air balloon or airship floating overhead to provide a birds-eye view of mountain ranges, lakes and canyons. On the ground, a rover or lake lander would explore the moon's nooks and crannies. The orbiter would "speak" directly to the air balloon and command it to fly over a certain region for a closer look. This aerial balloon would be in contact with several small rovers on the ground and command them to move to areas identified from overhead.

"This type of exploration is referred to as tier-scalable reconnaissance," said Fink. "It's sort of like commanding a small army of robots operating in space, in the air and on the ground simultaneously."

A rover might report that it's seeing smooth rocks in the local vicinity, while the airship or orbiter could confirm that indeed the rover is in a dry riverbed - unlike current missions, which focus only on a global view from far above but can't provide information on a local scale to tell the rover that indeed it is sitting in the middle of dry riverbed.

A current example of this type of exploration can best be seen at Mars with the communications relay between the rovers and orbiting spacecraft like the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. However, that information is just relayed and not shared amongst the spacecraft or used to directly control them.

"We are basically heading toward making robots that command other robots," said Fink, who is director of Caltech's Visual and Autonomous Exploration Systems Research Laboratory, where this work has taken place.

"One day an entire fleet of robots will be autonomously commanded at once. This armada of robots will be our eyes, ears, arms and legs in space, in the air, and on the ground, capable of responding to their environment without us, to explore and embrace the unknown," he added.

Papers describing this new exploration are published in the journal "Computer Methods and Programs in Biomedicine" and in the Proceedings of the SPIE.

For more information on this work, visit http://autonomy.caltech.edu . More information on JPL missions is at http:/www.jpl.nasa.gov/ .

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NASA Satellites Make a Movie and Get Rainfall, Wind Info on Ida

NASA Satellites Make a Movie and Get Rainfall, Wind Info on IdaNASA satellites are amazing examples of technology. The TRMM satellite peers into tropical cyclones and can tell how much rain is falling per hour and where. QuikScat uses microwave technology to measure Ida's surface wind speed. The GOES-12 satellite, operated by NOAA, produces stunning visuals that are now made into movies by NASA. Both of these satellites have provided the latest views of Tropical Storm Ida today.

Since this morning Ida weakened to tropical storm strength as a result of wind shear (winds blowing at different levels of that atmosphere that can tear a storm apart) and cooler waters. Tropical cyclones need sea surface temperatures of 80 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer to maintain strength.

NASA satellites have helped forecasters see that much of the rainfall and cloud cover are north of the storm's center.

The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite flew over Ida earlier today November 9, at 1217 UTC (7:17 AM EST) just before she dropped down from hurricane status.

TRMM data showed Scattered convective thunderstorms are shown producing moderate to heavy rainfall of over 50 millimeters per hour (~2 inches) north of the storm and in a strong band on the eastern side. At that time Ida had winds estimated at 70 knots (~80.5 mph), they've since dropped.

This morning's TRMM overpass showed that most of the deep convection (rising air and developing thunderstorms) has been sheared off by wind shear, and pushed northeast of the center of circulation. TRMM showed only a small area of convection around the center.

At 1 p.m. ET, Tropical Storm Ida still had maximum sustained winds near 70 mph, and it was moving north-northwest near 18 mph. Ida is going to turn north, then north-northeast over the next 24 hours. That means, that Ida's center is expected to make landfall along the northern Gulf coast Tuesday morning. The latest minimum central pressure reported by an air force reconnaissance aircraft was 992 millibars.

NASA's Quick Scatterometer satellite (QuikScat) observed Ida's winds by using microwaves to peer into the clouds. QuikScat can determine the speed of the rotating winds within the storm at the surface of the ocean. From a pass this morning at 6:23 a.m. ET, QuikScat confirmed that tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 200 miles from Ida's center. The National Hurricane Center's discussion noted that "A QuikScat pass around 12 UTC (7 a.m. ET) showed winds of 50-55 knots in the core...and assuming that the instrument did not quite resolve the maximum wind speed...the advisory intensity will be set to 60 knots."

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NASA Reproduces a Building Block of Life in Laboratory

NASA Reproduces a Building Block of Life in Laboratory

NASA scientists studying the origin of life have reproduced uracil, a key component of our hereditary material, in the laboratory. They discovered that an ice sample containing pyrimidine exposed to ultraviolet radiation under space-like conditions produces this essential ingredient of life.

Pyrimidine is a ring-shaped molecule made up of carbon and nitrogen and is the basic structure for uracil, part of a genetic code found in ribonucleic acid (RNA). RNA is central to protein synthesis, but has many other roles.

"We have demonstrated for the first time that we can make uracil, a component of RNA, non-biologically in a laboratory under conditions found in space," said Michel Nuevo, research scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "We are showing that these laboratory processes, which simulate occurrences in outer space, can make a fundamental building block used by living organisms on Earth."

Nuevo is the lead author of a research paper titled “Formation of Uracil from the Ultraviolet Photo-Irradiation of Pyrimidine in Pure Water Ices,” Astrobiology vol. 9 no. 7, published Oct. 1, 2009.

NASA Ames scientists have been simulating the environments found in interstellar space and the outer solar system for years. During this time, they have studied a class of carbon-rich compounds, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which have been identified in meteorites, and are the most common carbon-rich compound observed in the universe. PAHs typically are six-carbon ringed structures that resemble fused hexagons, or a piece of chicken wire.

Pyrimidine also is found in meteorites, although scientists still do not know its origin. It may be similar to the carbon-rich PAHs, in that it may be produced in the final outbursts of dying, giant red stars, or formed in dense clouds of interstellar gas and dust.

“Molecules like pyrimidine have nitrogen atoms in their ring structures, which makes them somewhat whimpy. As a less stable molecule, it is more susceptible to destruction by radiation, compared to its counterparts that don’t have nitrogen,” said Scott Sandford, a space science researcher at Ames. “We wanted to test whether pyrimidine can survive in space, and whether it can undergo reactions that turn it into more complicated organic species, such as the nucleobase uracil.”


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MESSENGER Spacecraft Reveals More Hidden Territory on Mercury

messenger spacecraft

A NASA spacecraft gliding over the battered surface of Mercury for the second time this year has revealed more previously unseen real estate on the innermost planet. The probe also has produced several science firsts and is returning hundreds of new photos and measurements of the planet's surface, atmosphere and magnetic field.

The MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging, or MESSENGER, spacecraft flew by Mercury shortly after 4:40 a.m. EDT, on Oct. 6. It completed a critical gravity assist to keep it on course to orbit Mercury in 2011 and unveiled 30 percent of Mercury's surface never before seen by a spacecraft.

"The region of Mercury's surface that we viewed at close range for the first time this month is bigger than the land area of South America," said Sean Solomon, principal investigator and director of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution of Washington. "When combined with data from our first flyby and from Mariner 10, our latest coverage means that we have now seen about 95 percent of the planet."

The spacecraft's science instruments operated throughout the flyby. Cameras snapped more than 1,200 pictures of the surface, while topography beneath the spacecraft was profiled with a laser altimeter. The comparison of magnetosphere observations from the spacecraft's first flyby in January with data from the probe's second pass has provided key new insight into the nature of Mercury's internal magnetic field and revealed new features of its magnetosphere. The magnetosphere is the volume surrounding Mercury that is controlled by the planet's magnetic field.

"The previous flybys by MESSENGER and Mariner 10 provided data only about Mercury's eastern hemisphere," explains Brian Anderson of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, known as APL, in Laurel, Md. "The most recent flyby gave us our first measurements on Mercury's western hemisphere, and with them we discovered that the planet's magnetic field is highly symmetric."

The probe's Mercury Laser Altimeter, or MLA, measured the planet's topography, allowing scientists, for the first time, to correlate high-resolution topography measurements with high-resolution images.

"The MLA collected altimetry in regions where images from MESSENGER and Mariner 10 data are available, and new images were obtained of the region sampled by the altimeter in January," said Maria Zuber, co-investigator and head of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "These topographic measurements now improve considerably the ability to interpret surface geology."

The Mercury Atmospheric and Surface Composition Spectrometer observed Mercury's thin atmosphere, known as an exosphere. The instrument searched for emissions from sodium, calcium, magnesium, and hydrogen atoms. Observations of magnesium are the first detection of this chemical in Mercury's exosphere. Preliminary analysis suggests that the spatial distributions of sodium, calcium, and magnesium are different. Simultaneous observations of these spatial distributions, also a first for the spacecraft, have opened an unprecedented window into the interaction of Mercury's surface and exosphere.

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Masten Space Systems Claim Lunar Lander Challenge Prizes

Masten Space Systems

With only a few days remaining in the 2009 competition period, Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California successfully met the Level 2 requirements for the Centennial Challenges - Lunar Lander Challenge and by posting the best average landing accuracy, won the first place prize of $1,000,000.The flights were conducted with their “Xoie” (XA-0.1E) vehicle on October 30 at the Mojave Air and Space Port.

Armadillo Aerospace, the long-time leader in Lunar Lander Challenge efforts, was the first team to qualify for the Level 2 prize with successful flights on September 12 in Caddo Mills, Texas. The average landing accuracy determines which teams will receive first and second place prizes. The average accuracy for Armadillo Aerospace flights was 87 cm. but the Masten team achieved an accuracy of 19 cm, moving them into first place. Armadillo Aerospace will receive the $500,000 second place prize.

“Xoie” uses liquid oxygen and isopropyl alcohol as propellants and it has an all-aluminum rocket engine. The vehicle weighs 300 pounds when empty and 850 pounds when fully loaded with propellant. The Masten team scheduled flight attempts for October 28 and 29. On October 28 they began two different flight attempts but these were canceled before liftoff due to computer communication problems and other technical issues.

Similar difficulties on the morning of October 29 also resulted in no official flight attempts. In the afternoon of October 29 a very good flight of over three minutes was completed with a very accurate landing. However a fuel leak led to a fire after touchdown that damaged wiring, insulation and other components and so the attempt could not continue. The judges allowed the Masten team to schedule a second attempt for the morning of October 30.

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Operation Ice Bridge Studies Antarctic Sea Ice

Operation Ice Bridge Studies Antarctic Sea Ice

An iceberg is seen out the window of NASA's DC-8 research aircraft as it flies 2,000 feet above the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctica on Wednesday, Oct., 21, 2009. This was taken on the fourth science flight of NASA's Operation Ice Bridge airborne Earth science mission to study Antarctic ice sheets, sea ice, and ice shelves.

At the mid-point of this field campaign, seven flights over Antarctica have been completed in the first 13 days of Operation Ice Bridge. The mission is on track to complete its 17 planned flights by mid-November.

Which flight target is flown on a given day is largely determined by difficult-to-forecast Antarctic weather conditions. Several of the instruments onboard cannot gather data through clouds. Twice so far, however, flights have been scrubbed at the last minute due to snow at the airport in southernmost Chile.

As of the landing of the Oct. 27 flight, completed targets included: three flights over glaciers, two over sea ice, one over the Getz ice shelf, and one to study the topography of the ice sheet on the mission's closest approach to the South Pole.

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Crew Focuses on Science, Oxygen Generation System Maintenance

Nasa Technology news

The Expedition 21 crew aboard the International Space Station spent Monday performing maintenance on the Oxygen Generation System and conducting a variety of scientific experiments.

Flight Engineers Jeff Williams, Nicole Stott and Robert Thirsk worked on replacing part of the station’s Oxygen Generation System (OGS). The OGS produces oxygen for breathing air for the crew, as well as for replacement of oxygen lost due to experiment use, airlock depressurization, module leakage, and carbon dioxide venting.

Thirsk and Williams also participated in the Integrated Cardiovascular experiment, which studies the effects of long-term spaceflight on the size of the heart and the flow of blood in a crew member’s body.

Flight Engineer Maxim Suraev worked with the Russian experiment known as Relaxation, observing radiation patterns from Earth’s ionosphere.

Commander Frank De Winne packed items for return to Earth aboard space shuttle Atlantis during the upcoming STS-129 mission to the orbital outpost. Atlantis’ launch is scheduled for Nov. 16 at 2:28 p.m. EST.

The Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) was deorbited Sunday, its maiden flight successfully completed with its destructive entry into the Earth’s atmosphere over the south Pacific Ocean.

The HTV arrived at the orbiting laboratory on Sept. 17 when it was grappled by Stott using Canadarm2 and berthed to the Harmony node’s Earth-facing port. HTV delivered about 4.5 tons of internal supplies and equipment and external experiment packages, and disposed of about 1,600 pounds of station trash. Stott released the HTV from the grip of Canadarm2 at 1:32 p.m. on Friday.

Attention now turns to next week’s launch of the newest Russian module, the Mini-Research Module 2 (MRM2), which is scheduled for liftoff on Nov. 10 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:22 a.m. The MRM2 is slated to automatically dock to the space-facing port of the Zvezda Service Module on Nov. 12.

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From Nothing, Something: One Layer at a Time

Nasa TechnologyA group of engineers working on a novel manufacturing technique at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., have come up with a new twist on the popular old saying about dreaming and doing: "If you can slice it, we can build it."

That's because layers mean everything to the environmentally-friendly construction process called Electron Beam Freeform Fabrication, or EBF3, and its operation sounds like something straight out of science fiction.

"You start with a drawing of the part you want to build, you push a button, and out comes the part," said Karen Taminger, the technology lead for the Virginia-based research project that is part of NASA's Fundamental Aeronautics Program.

She admits that, on the surface, EBF3 reminds many people of a Star Trek replicator in which, for example, Captain Picard announces out loud, "Tea, Earl Grey, hot." Then there is a brief hum, a flash of light and the stimulating drink appears from a nook in the wall.

In reality, EBF3 works in a vacuum chamber, where an electron beam is focused on a constantly feeding source of metal, which is melted and then applied as called for by a drawing—one layer at a time—on top of a rotating surface until the part is complete.

While the options for using EBF3 are more limited than what science fiction allows, the potential for the process is no less out of this world, with promising relevance in aviation, spaceflight—even the medical community, Taminger said.

Commercial applications for EBF3 are already known and its potential already tested, Taminger said, noting it's possible that, within a few years, some aircraft will be flying with large structural parts made by this process.

To make EBF3 work there are two key requirements: A detailed three-dimensional drawing of the object to be created must be available, and the material the object is to be made from must be compatible for use with an electron beam.

First, the drawing is needed to break up the object into layers, with each cross-section used to guide the electron beam and source of metal in reproducing the object, building it up layer by layer.

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Space Station Treadmill For Fitness

Space Station Treadmill For Fitness

The DIY Podcast topic module about fitness explains that space station crew members use treadmill exercises to maintain bone mass, cardiovascular fitness and muscle endurance. The device that's mentioned and demonstrated is the Treadmill Vibration Isolation System, or TVIS. Now, a new treadmill to go along with TVIS has been added to the station, and you may want to include it in your classroom's podcast about fitness.

COLBERT, the world's most famous treadmill, was transferred to the station in September during the STS-128 shuttle mission. The Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill, or COLBERT, is named after Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert of "The Colbert Report." NASA chose the acronym COLBERT after the television comedian received the most votes in an online NASA poll to name a space station node. NASA opted to name the node Tranquility, but named the treadmill after Colbert.COLBERT (the treadmill, not the comedian) has a maximum speed of 12.4 mph, which is faster than the Olympic 100 meter race record.

Crew members usually run about 4 to 8 mph. The COLBERT design allows ground experts tracking crew health in orbit to create individual exercise prescriptions and uplink them to the crew as a profile.The following links to images, video and background information will be helpful if your students want to include COLBERT in their fitness production.


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Nasa Technology : Building an Original

Platforms surround the Ares I-X in High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building before it was moved to the launch pad on Oct. 20, 2009 . Closer in height to the hulking Saturn V moon rockets than the space shuttle, Ares I-X looks unlike any rocket that's ever stood at Launch Complex 39. But it blends familiar hardware from existing programs with newly developed components.

Four first-stage, solid-fuel booster segments are derived from the Space Shuttle Program. A simulated fifth booster segment contains Atlas-V-based avionics, and the rocket's roll control system comes from the Peacekeeper missile. The launch abort system, simulated crew and service modules, upper stage, and various connecting structures all are original.

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Progress Launches to Space Station

Progress Launches to Space Station

A new Progress cargo resupply vehicle launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station at 9:14 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Oct. 14. Less than nine minutes later, the ISS Progress 35 reached its preliminary orbit and deployed its solar arrays and navigational antennas.

It replaces the trash-filled Progress 34 which undocked on Sept. 21 and was destroyed on re-entry into Earth's atmosphere over the Pacific on Sept. 27.

Progress 35 is set to dock to the station on Saturday, Oct. 17 at 9:41 p.m. with more than two tons of oxygen, air, propellant and other supplies and equipment aboard.

The station's 35th Progress unpiloted spacecraft brings to the orbiting laboratory 1,918 pounds of propellant, 110 pounds of oxygen and air, 926 pounds of water and 1,750 pounds of spare parts and supplies for the Expedition 21 crew.

Once the Expedition 21 crew members have unloaded the cargo, Progress 35 will be filled with trash and station discards. It will be undocked from the station and like its predecessors deorbited to burn in the Earth's atmosphere.

The Progress is similar in appearance and some design elements to the Soyuz spacecraft, which brings crew members to the station, serves as a lifeboat while they are there and returns them to Earth. The aft module, the instrumentation and propulsion module, is nearly identical.

But the second of the three Progress sections is a refueling module, and the third, uppermost as the Progress sits on the launch pad, is a cargo module. On the Soyuz, the descent module, where the crew is seated on launch and which returns them to Earth, is the middle module and the third is called the orbital module.

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Green Flight Competition

This challenge originated in 2007 as the Personal Air Vehicle Challenge and in 2008 it was called the General Aviation Technology Challenge. In those challenges the teams demonstrated light aircraft that incorporate improvements to maximize fuel efficiency, reduce noise and improve safety. These innovations are intended to result in aircraft with less negative impacts on the environment and on their communities. These are features that might be applied in the full range of private, commercial and military aircraft of the future. Awards totaling $250,000 were made in the 2007 competition and awards totaling $97,000 were made in 2008.

The next aviation challenge will focus more directly on efficiency and will be called the Green Flight Challenge. The aircraft will still need to meet stringent safety and noise requirements as well as reasonable speed and range. The driving requirement will be to exceed an equivalent fuel-efficiency of 200 passenger miles per gallon.

To compute the equivalence, the energy content of the electricity or fuel will be compared to one gallon of gasoline. The expectation is that electric, bio-fueled and hybrid-powered aircraft will compete. The competition will not be held until the summer of 2011, so that teams have time to develop and test truly novel aircraft.


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NASA technology transfer

NASA technology transferThe National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 and a series of subsequent legislation recognizes transfer of Federally owned or originated technology to be a national priority and the mission of each Federal agency. Accordingly, NASA is obliged to provide for the widest practicable dissemination of information concerning results of NASA's activities. The legislation specifically mandates that each Federal agency have a formal technology transfer program, and take an active role in transferring technology to the private sector and state and local governments for the purposes of commercial and other application of the technology for the national benefit.

In accordance with NASA's obligations under mandating legislation, IPP, on behalf of NASA, facilitates the transfer of technology to which NASA has title for commercial application and other national benefit. IPP seeks potential licensees and negotiates license agreements to transfer NASA technology. More than 1600 such technology transfer successes have been documented in NASA's Spinoff Magazine over the years, which include commercial applications in health and medicine, transportation, public safety, consumer goods, agriculture, environmental resources, computer technology, manufacturing, and energy conversion and use.

Licensing terms are negotiated on a case-by-case basis, although technology fields of use are defined as narrowly as practical in every case; exclusive licenses are uncommon, but still possible in exceptional cases. IPP also facilitates the reporting of new technologies by both NASA and contractor inventors, as well as assesses the commercial potential and strategic value of those technologies to NASA's missions. Therefore, IPP facilitates the protection of NASA's rights in intellectual property to which it has title, thus providing the basis for licensing and technology transfer.


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Undergrad Proposal Deadline Nears for NASA Reduced Gravity Flights


Nasa Technology News: The deadline is fast-approaching for undergraduate students to submit their team proposals to NASA's Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program. Proposals must be received by 11:59 p.m. CDT , Wednesday, Oct. 28.

NASA's Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program gives aspiring explorers a chance to propose, design and fabricate a reduced gravity experiment. Selected teams will get to test and evaluate their experiment aboard a modified Boeing 727 jetliner provided by the Zero-Gravity Corporation of Las Vegas . Zero-Gravity Corporation will conduct the flights in cooperation with the Reduced Gravity Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston .

The aircraft will fly approximately 30 roller-coaster-like climbs and dips during experiment flights to produce periods of weightlessness and hyper-gravity ranging from 0 g to 2 g.

"Today's students will be conducting tomorrow's space exploration," said Douglas Goforth, the program manager at Johnson. "Conducting a hands-on research and engineering project in a truly reduced gravity laboratory gives students a head start in preparing for those future ventures."

All applicants must be full-time students, U.S. citizens and at least 18 years old. NASA will announce selected teams Dec. 9. Teams will fly in the summer of 2010. Selected teams also may invite a full-time, accredited journalist to fly with them and document the team's experiment and experiences.

Through this program, NASA continues its tradition of investing in the nation's education programs. It is directly tied to the agency's education goal of strengthening NASA and the nation's future workforce. Through this and other college and university programs, NASA will identify and develop the critical science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills and capabilities needed to carry out its space exploration mission.

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