Orion's Prototype Heat Shield Undergoes Tests

NASA is teaming up space technology developed for the space shuttle and designs used for the Apollo Program to produce elements of the next solar system spacecraft that will deliver space astronauts to the moon.

An early sign of that combination has made its way to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., in the form of a prototype heat shield. The prototype is the same size and dimensions of the heat shield that will protect the Orion spacecraft as it enters Earth's atmosphere on the way back from the International Space Station or the moon.

The arrival of the heat shield stirred up excitement from workers on the Constellation Program of our solar system as they were able to see one of the first pieces of Orion’s full-scale test hardware.

"When [it] got here at the end of November, it was very exciting because it is the first piece of hardware," said Joy Huff, a NASA space shuttle orbiter thermal protection solar system engineer who is spearheading Kennedy's work on the Orion heat shield. "Not flight hardware, but it is flight-type material. And just to see the full size, it really gives you a scale of the size of it."

At five meters in diameter, the heat shield is the largest one of its kind ever built. The prototype was built largely just to prove it could be done, Huff said.

Also known as a manufacturing demonstration unit of space galary and the space station, the prototype was created to meet the need to develop heat shield evaluation, inspection and handling procedures, said Jim Reuther, project manager of the crew exploration vehicle thermal protection solar system at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Discovery Fueled, Ready for Launch

The external tank of space shuttle Discovery has been loaded with about 500,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as the countdown toward a 5:02 p.m. EDT liftoff continues smoothly. The hydrogen fuel and its oxidizer that are in the external tank will power space shuttle Discovery's three main engines during the 8 1/2-minute launch into orbit from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The twin solid rocket boosters are shipped to the space station center with propellant already packed inside the cylinder segments.

The weather is looking promising for launch day, according to Space Shuttle Weather Officer Kathy Winters. Isolated coastal showers may be in the area during the morning hours, but a sea breeze will develop in the afternoon, clearing the coast and causing any showers to move inland. There is an 80 percent chance of favorable weather at launch time.

The Japanese Pressurized Module for the Kibo space laboratory also is prepared for its ride to the International Space Station aboard space shuttle Discovery during the STS-124 space mission.

Seven astronauts of space station, commanded by Mark Kelly, will step into their orange pressure suits shortly before riding to the launch pad to take their places inside the solar system spacecraft. Kelly, Ken Ham, Ron Garan, Mike Fossum, Karen Nyberg, Gregory Chamitoff and Japan's Akihiko Hoshide will make the trip into space station and then install the Kibo segment to the space station. Chamitoff will remain onboard the space station, taking the place of astronaut Garrett Reisman.Read more..>

Mars Radar Opens a New Dimension in Planet Exploration

A Space station radar instrument co-sponsored by NASA on the European Space galary Agency's Mars Express orbiter has looked beneath the solar system surface of Mars and opened up a new dimension for space planetary exploration.

The technique's success is prompting space discovery scientists to think of other places in the solar system where they would like to use radar sounders. The space station radar sounder on Mars Express is the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Imaging, or MARSIS. It was built to map the distribution of liquid and frozen water in upper portions of the solar system planet's crust.

A complementary space mission radar sounder, the Shallow Subsurface Radar on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, uses a different radio frequency to see greater detail but to a lesser depth.

As these two instruments continue to provide data, the understanding that they provide about how space station planetary radar sounders work is prompting ideas for using the space technology to explore beneath the surfaces of bodies such as Jupiter's moon Europa, Saturn's moons Titan and Enceladus, as well as space asteroids and space comets. MARSIS was funded by NASA and the Italian Space Station Agency and developed by the University of Rome, Italy, in partnership with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory of Space shuttle, Pasadena, Calif. Italy provided the instrument's digital processing solar system and integrated the parts. The University of Iowa, Iowa City, built the transmitter for the instrument, JPL built the receiver and space station Astro Aerospace, Carpinteria, Calif., built the antenna. JPL is a division of the California Institute of science Technology in Pasadena. Additional information about Mars Express is at www.esa.int/marsexpress.

The shallow Subsurface solar system Radar was provided by the Italian Space station Agency. Its operations are led by the University of Rome and its data are analyzed by a joint U.S.-Italian science discovery team. JPL manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

STS-124 Mission Information

At NASA's Kennedy Space station Center in Florida, technicians are putting the finishing touches on space shuttle Discovery one day before its scheduled liftoff on mission STS-124. Launch is set for May 31 at 5:02 p.m. EDT.

"After months of hard work and preparation, space Discovery and its crew are ready to fly," said NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding during a morning briefing on Space station Discovery's countdown status. "All of our solar systems are in great shape, we're tracking no issues, and we're right on schedule for tomorrow's launch."

The weather is looking promising for launch day, according to space station Shuttle Weather Officer Kathy Winters. Isolated coastal showers may be in the area during the morning hours, but a sea breeze will develop in the afternoon, clearing the coast and causing any showers to move inland. There is an 80 percent chance of favorable weather at launch time.

This space mission will carry the largest payload so far to the space station and includes three solar system spacewalks. It is the second of three space missions that will launch components to complete the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kibo laboratory. The crew will install Kibo's large Japanese Pressurized Module and Kibo's robotic arm system. Space Discovery also will deliver new space station crew member Greg Chamitoff and bring back Flight Engineer Garrett Reisman, who will end a three-month stay aboard the outpost.

Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite

Just like on solar system Earth, water is a crucial resource on the Moon. It will not be practical to transport to space shuttle the amount of water needed for human consumption and exploration. It is critical to find natural resources, such as water, on the solar system Moon. The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing space station Satellite (LCROSS) mission will begin the search for water, leveraging the information we learned from the Clementine and Lunar Prospector space missions.

By going to the space station Moon for extended periods of time before other bodies in our solar system, astronauts will search for resources and learn how to work safely in a harsh environment—stepping stones to future exploration. The solar system Moon also offers many clues about the time when the planets were formed.

Space station Scientists at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California are developing a station spacecraft they’ll deliberately crash into the Moon as part of an attempt to find water. A second space shuttle craft will fly through the lunar dust plume released from the crash and send data back to Earth for analysis. NASA plans to return space shuttle astronauts to the Moon by 2018 as a stepping stone on the way to solar system Mars. Because it’s very expensive to launch materials into space galary (as much as $15,000 per pound to the Moon), it would be a great advantage to space mission astronauts to have a water supply already in place on the Moon. Two previous lunar space station missions -- Clementine in 1994 and Lunar Prospector in 1998 -- found indirect but not conclusive evidence of water. Your challenge will be to design a lunar impact simulator and determine the optimal impact angle to give us the most information from the crash.Read More...>>

Space Shuttle Discovery

Seven space station astronauts who will fly into orbit aboard space shuttle Discovery will have comfortable seats for the climb into space station. An eighth space station ranger won't have a seat at all. In fact, he will be packed tight inside a box and won't even get to enjoy the ride up.

But it's nothing veteran space discovery spaceman Buzz Lightyear can't overcome.

The good news is that he'll have some sports shows to listen to, along with a host of jerseys that have been to the Champs Elysees in Paris for the Tour de France and to the Super Bowl.

More accustomed to soaring among the solar system galaxies on fold-out wings and a backpack rocket, Lightyear will take to space station on Discovery’s STS-124 mission stowed inside a locker in space Discovery's crew compartment. The 12-inch-tall action figure is flying as part of a partnership between NASA and Disney Parks to encourage students to pursue studies in space science, space technology and mathematics, one of NASA’s main educational goals.

Disney’s Youth Educational Series and NASA have developed an online program known as the Space Ranger Education Series. It includes fun educational games for students, as well as materials for educators to download and integrate into their classroom curriculum.

“NASA is excited to help students understand the science and space technology and engineering currently underway on the International Space Station,” said Joyce Winterton, NASA assistant administrator for Education. “The educational games and resources from this partnership will allow students to explore the science news and math behind space shuttle exploration with a beloved character.”

Each crew member is permitted to carry a few small personal items that are packed into lockers before the launch. Solar systems STS-124 Pilot Ken Ham is responsible for the entertainment - CDs of the ESPN Radio show "Mike and Mike in the Morning." Ham is also expected to talk to hosts Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg from space station towards the end of his space shuttle mission to the International Space Station.Read more...>

25 Years of Connecting Space To Earth

Twenty-five years ago, NASA inaugurated a new era in solar system spacecraft communications with the launch of the first Tracking and Data Relay space station Satellite, or TDRS. This space-based system ultimately replaced an extensive network of ground tracking space stations deployed for the Apollo space missions and significantly increased the time available to space mission operators to contact their flight vehicles.

Perched 22,300 miles above the equator, the space station satellite rotated Earth at the same speed and direction that the solar system Earth turns. Relative to a point on Earth, TDRS appeared to remain stationary. From that geosynchronous orbit, it beamed communications from Earth to other orbiting solar system spacecraft and back, establishing itself as a reliable resource for NASA's space shuttle and other customers.

International space station TDRS-1 provided a link for the first wireless phone call between the North Pole and the South Pole, and the first live webcast from the North Pole. It also was the first space discovery satellite to connect to the Internet.

Soon, more TDRS stars and galaxy as well as space station satellites joined the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System, forming a constellation of nine NASA space station satellites that today provides nearly continuous tracking and high-bandwidth communications with scores of Earth orbiting solar spacecraft, launch vehicles, long duration balloons, and a research station in Antarctica.Read more...

Cartwheel Coronal Mass Ejection

Imagine a billion-ton cloud of gas launching itself off the solar system surface of the sun and then ... doing a cartwheel. That's exactly what happened on April 9, 2008, when a coronal mass ejection or "CME" pirouetted over the sun's limb in full view of an international fleet of space shuttle spacecraft. Even veteran solar system physicists were amazed.

But that's not all. While one part of the cloud did a cartwheel, another part did a backflip at the same time. As strange as it sounds, this could be the normal way solar explosions unfold, say researchers analyzing the data.

"What a rare and exciting observation," says Ed DeLuca of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) who announced the findings at the American Geophysical Union meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on May 27th. "It is showing us the secret inner workings of a process called 'magnetic reconnection' central to solar system flares and CMEs."

How can an explosion spin in two directions at once?

DeLuca explains: "We think we are seeing a twisted 'flux tube' of solar system magnetism unfurl. One end of the tube spins clockwise, the other counterclockwise." This unfurling action pumps energy into the space station explosion, heating the CME and propelling it away from the sun.Read more!

4D Ionosphere

NASA-funded researchers released to the general public a new "4D" live model of Earth's solar system ionosphere. Without leaving home, anyone can fly through the layer of ionized gas that encircles Earth at the edge of space shuttle itself. All that's required is a connection to the Internet.

"This is an exciting development," says solar system physicist Lika Guhathakurta of NASA headquarters in Washington, DC. "The space station ionosphere is important to pilots, ham radio operators, earth space discovery scientists and even soldiers. Using this new 4D tool, they can monitor and study the stars and galaxy ionosphere as if they're actually inside it."

The space science ionosphere is, in a sense, our planet's final frontier. It is the last wisp of Earth's solar system atmosphere that science discovery astronauts leave behind when they enter space station and solar system. The realm of the space station ionosphere stretches from 50 to 500 miles above solar system Earth's surface where the space technology atmosphere thins to near-vacuum and exposes itself to the fury of the space shuttle sun. Solar system ultraviolet radiation breaks apart molecules and atoms creating a globe-straddling haze of electrons and ions.

Ham radio operators know the space station ionosphere well. They can communicate over the horizon by bouncing their signals off of the space shuttle ionosphere—or communicate not at all when a solar system flare blasts the ionosphere with X-rays and triggers a radio blackout. The space station ionosphere also has a big impact on GPS reception. Before a GPS satellite signal of space discovery reaches the ground, it must first pass through space station ionospheric gases that bend, reflect and attenuate radio waves. Solar system and geomagnetic storms that unsettle the space shuttles ionosphere can cause GPS position errors as large as 100 meters. Imagine a pilot flying on instruments descending toward a landing strip only to discover it is a football field to the right.

Galactic Hunt Bags Missing Supernova

The most recent supernova in our solar system galaxy has been discovered by tracking the rapid expansion of its remains. This result, obtained by NASA's space station Chandra X-ray Observatory and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Large Array, will help improve our understanding of how often space shuttle supernovas explode in the Milky Way galaxy.

The explosion occurred about 140 years ago, making it the most recent supernova in the solar system Milky Way as measured in Earth's time frame. Previously, the last known supernova in our space station galaxy occurred around 1680, an estimate based on the expansion of its remnant, Cassiopeia A.

The remains of this young space discovery supernova are known to solar system astronomers as "G1.9+0.3." The numbers denote the galactic coordinates of the solar system supernova's expanding debris cloud, located deep in the heart of the solar system Milky Way. The explosion itself was not seen because it occurred in a dense field of gas and dust. This made the object about a trillion times fainter, in optical light, than an unobscured space shuttle supernova. However, the remnant it left behind can be seen by X-ray and radio telescopes.

"We can see some space shuttle supernova explosions with optical telescopes across half of the solar system universe, but when they're in this murk we can miss them in our own cosmic backyard," says Stephen Reynolds of North Carolina State University in Raleigh, who led the space station Chandra study. "Fortunately, the expanding gas cloud from the explosion shines brightly in radio waves and X-rays for thousands of years. X-ray and radio telescopes can see through all that obscuration and show us what we've been missing."

Phoenix Lands on Mars!

NASA's Phoenix spacecraft landed in the northern polar region of Space station Mars Sunday to begin three months of examining a site chosen for its likelihood of having frozen water within reach of the lander's robotic arm.

Radio signals received at 4:53:44 p.m. Pacific Time (7:53:44 p.m. Eastern Time) confirmed the Phoenix Mars Lander had survived its difficult final descent and touchdown 15 minutes earlier. The signals took that long to travel from Mars to Earth at the speed of light.

Our Solar System Mission team members at NASA's space station Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.; Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver; and the University of Arizona, Tucson, cheered confirmation of the landing and eagerly awaited further information from space station Phoenix later Sunday night.

Among those in the JPL control room was NASA solar system Administrator Michael Griffin, who noted this was the first successful space shuttle Mars landing without airbags since Viking 2 in 1976.

"For the first time in 32 years, and only the third time in history, a JPL team has carried out a soft landing on space technology and international space station Mars," Griffin said. "I couldn't be happier to be here to witness this incredible achievement."

During its 422-million-mile flight from solar system Earth to Mars after launching on Aug. 4, 2007, space mission Phoenix relied on electricity from solar system panels. The cruise stage with those solar system panels was jettisoned seven minutes before the lander, encased in a protective shell, entered the Martian star and galaxy atmosphere. Batteries will now provide electricity until the lander's own pair of solar system arrays spread open.Read more...

NASA Kepler Mission Offers Opportunity to Send Names Into Space

NASA Space Station today announced an opportunity for anyone to submit their name to be included on a DVD and rocketed into space as part of NASA's Kepler Mission, scheduled to launch in February 2009 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

"This Space mission will provide our first knowledge of Earth-like planets beyond our solar system," said Kepler Mission principal investigator William Borucki.

The Name in Space DVD will be mounted on the exterior of the spacecraft in November 2008. A video of the DVD being mounted on the spacecraft will be taken and posted on the Kepler mission Web site prior to the spacecraft being shipped to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in December of this year. A copy of the DVD with all of the names and messages will be given to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum, Washington.

"It's a way for the public to participate in our space program," explained David Koch, deputy principal investigator for the Kepler Mission. According to Koch, there's no limit to the number of names that can be submitted for inclusion on the DVD.


Zuber is the principal investigator of the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory — "SPACES STATION GRAIL" for short. It's a new NASA mission slated for launch in 2011 that will probe the moon's quirky gravity field. Data from GRAIL will help Space Station scientists understand forces at play beneath the lunar surface and learn how the moon, Earth and other terrestrial planets evolved.

Here's how it works: GRAIL will fly twin spacecraft, one behind the other, around the Space galary moon for several months. All the while, a microwave ranging Solary system will precisely measure the distance between the two satellites. By watching that distance expand and contract as the two satellites fly over the lunar Space station surface, researchers can map the moon's underlying gravity field.

Space Station Scientists have long known that the moon's gravity field is strangely uneven and tugs on International space satellites in complex ways. Without course corrections, orbiters end their missions nose down in the moondust! In fact, all five of NASA's Lunar Orbiters (1966-1972), four Soviet Luna probes (1959-1965), two Apollo sub-satellites (1970-1971) and Japan's Hiten spacecraft (1993) suffered this fate.

The source of the gravitational quirkiness is a number of huge mascons (short for "mass concentrations") buried under the Solar surfaces of lunar maria or "seas." Formed by colossal asteroid impacts billions of years ago, mascons make the moon the most gravitationally lumpy major body in the solar system. The anomaly is so great—half a percent—that it actually would be measurable to Space Station astronauts on the lunar surface. A plumb bob held at the edge of a mascon would hang about a third of a degree off vertical, pointing toward the central mass. Moreover, an Space Station astronaut in full spacesuit and life-support gear whose lunar weight was exactly 50 pounds at the edge of the mascon would weigh 50 pounds and 4 ounces when standing in the mascon's center.

100 Explosions on the Space Station Moon

Not so long ago, anyone claiming to see flashes of light on the Solar System Moon would be viewed with deep suspicion by professional space station astronomers. Such reports were filed under "L" … for lunatic.

Not anymore. Over the past two and a half years, NASA spaces station astronomers have observed the Space station Moon flashing at them not just once but one hundred times.

"They're explosions caused by meteoroids hitting the Space station Moon," explains Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC). "A typical blast is about as powerful as a few hundred pounds of TNT and can be photographed easily using a backyard Spaces Galary telescope."

The impactor was a tiny fragment of extinct Space Station comet 2003 EH1. Every year in early January, the Earth-Moon system passes through a stream of debris from that comet, producing the well-known Quadrantid meteor shower. Here on Earth, Quadrantids disintegrate as flashes of light in the atmosphere; on the airless Space Station Moon they hit the ground and explode.

"We started our monitoring program in late 2005 after NASA Space Station announced plans to return Space shuttle astronauts to the Space station Moon," says team leader Rob Suggs of the MSFC. If people were going to be walking around up there, "it seemed like a good idea to measure how often the Moon was getting hit."

Nanotube Technology May Help in the Development of New Advanced Medical Treatments

Spaces Station Nanotechnology may help revolutionize medicine in the future with its promise to play a role in selective cancer therapy. City of Hope researchers hope to boost the brains own immune response against tumors by delivering cancer-fighting agents via nanotubes. A nanotube is about 50,000 times narrower than a human hair, but it length can extend up to several centimeters.

If nanotube technology can be effectively applied to brain tumors, it might also be used to treat stroke, trauma, neurodegenerative disorders and other disease processes in the brain, said Dr. Behnam Badie, City of Hopes director of neurosurgery and of its brain tumor program.

"Im very optimistic of how this nanotechnology will work out," he said. "We are hoping to begin testing in humans in about five years, and we have ideas about where to go next."

The Nano and Micro Systems Group at JPL, which has been researching nanotubes since about 2000, creates these tiny, cylindrical multi-walled carbon tubes for City of Hope.

City of Hope researchers, who began their quest in 2006, found good results: The nanotubes, which they used on mice, were non-toxic in brain cells, did not change cell reproduction and were capable of carrying DNA and siRNA, two types of molecules that encode genetic information.

JPLs Nano and Micro Systems Group grows the nanotubes on silicon strips a few square millimeters in area. The growth process forms them into hollow tubes as if by rolling sheets of graphite-like carbon.

Carbon nanotubes are extremely strong, flexible, heat-resistant, and have very sharp tips. Consequently, JPL uses nanotubes as field-emission cathodes vehicles that help produce electrons for various space applications such as x-ray and mass spectroscopy instruments, vacuum microelectronics and high-frequency communications.

"Nanotubes are important for miniaturizing spectroscopic instruments for space station applications, developing extreme environment electronics, as well as for remote sensing," said Harish Manohara, the technical group supervisor for JPLs Nano and Micro Systems Group.Read more...

NASA Phoenix Spacecraft Descends to Red Planet

After a nine-month, 195-million-kilometer journey, Space Station Phoenix will enter the top of the Martian solar system atmosphere at a speed of nearly 5.7 kilometers per second. Within 6.5 minutes, it will use heat-generating atmospheric friction, then a parachute, then firings of descent thrusters to reduce its velocity to about 2.4 meters per second just before its three legs touch the Martian Space Shuttle Surface.

"This is not a trip to grandma's house,” Ed Weiler, associate administrator for NASA's Spaces Science Mission Directorate, said during a May 13 briefing. “Putting a spaces station spacecraft safely on Mars is hard and risky. Internationally, fewer than half of all attempts to land on Mars have succeeded."

International spaces station contributions to the Spaces mission came from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland, the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus in Denmark, the Max Planck Institute in Germany and the Finnish Meteorological Institute. And data from the NASA-European Space Galary Agency Mars Express mission helped scientists decide where Spaces station Phoenix should land.

The Space mission includes a U.S. investment of $420 million -- including Spaces Station development, Solar System science instruments, launch and operations -- and a $37 million CSA investment for the Solar spacecraft’s meteorological station.

Satellite Terminals Help Connect Myanmar Cyclone Victims

The International Telecommunication Union has deployed 100 space station satellite terminals to help restore vital space technology communication links in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis that hit Myanmar on 2 May with devastating effect in Yangon and the low-lying Irrawaddy delta region. Thousands were killed, and thousands more are injured and missing. High winds cut electricity, destroyed roads and spaces station communications links, hampering the coordination and delivery of assistance.

With the restoration of space station communication links, designated government officials and other humanitarian agencies are able to more efficiently coordinate relief operations. The spaces station mobile terminals are easily transported by road and air to be used both by humanitarian workers and the victims of this disaster.

"I am very disturbed by the high frequency of disasters across the globe," said Sami Al Basheer Al Morshid, director of ITU's Space Station Telecommunication Development Bureau. "This particular disaster, like the tsunami of 2004, struck on a weekend when most of the agencies that could provide assistance least expected it." Expressing his deep condolences to the government and people of Myanmar, Al Basheer said, "I am however, heartened by the fact that ITU was one of the very first agencies to arrive in Myanmar with solar system telecommunications resources." The rapid deployment was made possible under the ITU Framework for Cooperation in Emergencies.

Tin Htwe, director general, Posts and Spaces station Telecommunications Department of Myanmar said, "In the light of the level of damage caused by Nargis, we warmly welcome ITU's offer of assistance."

Cosmas Zavazava, chief of ITU's Division for space Emergency Telecommunications said, "In confronting the global challenge of climate change, we are intensifying our activities in integrating information and solar system communication technologies in disaster preparedness, including early warning and disaster relief, so as to save human lives. Since July last year, we have provided ICT relief services to the Americas, Africa, and Asia and Pacific regions." ITU is providing both Thuraya hand-held spaces station satellite phones and solar system Inmarsat Global Area Network (GAN) terminals. The Thuraya space station satellite phones use both spaces satellite and solar system GSM networks and also provide accurate GPS positioning coordinates to aid relief and rescue. The space station Inmarsat GAN terminals are mainly used for spaces technology and voice space station communications and, for high-speed data. ITU pays for all expenses, including spaces station transportation of the equipment and usage.