NASA Seeks Concept Proposals for Future Moon Lander

On Wednesday, NASA issued a request for proposals for concept definition and requirements analysis support for the Altair lunar lander. Proposals are due to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston by 2 p.m. CST on Feb. 27.

NASA's Constellation Program will use Altair to land four astronauts on the moon following launch aboard an Ares V rocket and rendezvous in low Earth orbit with the Orion crew vehicle. The lunar lander will provide the astronauts with life support and a base for weeklong initial surface exploration missions of the moon. Altair also will return the crew to the Orion spacecraft that will return them home to Earth.

This contract will provide resources to conduct NASA-directed engineering tasks in support of evaluating vehicle conceptual designs, maturing the vehicle design and reviewing the products for system requirements reviews and system definition reviews. It is anticipated that multiple awards will be made as a result of this solicitation.

Johnson will manage the contracts, which will be awarded through a full and open competition. The selections will be made in the spring of 2009.

For more information about the request for proposal, visit:

For more information about NASA's Constellation Program and the Altair lunar lander, visit:

NASA Invites Public to Choose Hubble's Next Discovery

NASA is giving everyone the opportunity to use the world's most celebrated telescope to explore the heavens and boldly look where the Hubble Space Telescope has never looked before.

NASA is inviting the public to vote for one of six candidate astronomical objects for Hubble to observe in honor of the International Year of Astronomy. The options, which Hubble has not previously photographed, range from far-flung galaxies to dying stars. Votes can be cast until March 1. Hubble's camera will make a high resolution image revealing new details about the object that receives the most votes. The image will be released during the International Year of Astronomy's "100 Hours of Astronomy" from April 2 to 5.

Space enthusiasts can cast their vote at:

Everyone who votes also will be entered into a random drawing to receive one of 100 copies of the Hubble photograph made of the winning celestial body.

NASA also invites teachers and students to participate in an accompanying Hubble Space Telescope classroom collage activity that integrates art, science and language arts. Students in participating classes will select their favorite Hubble images and assemble them in a collage. Students in each class also will choose their favorite object from the image voting contest and write essays about why they made their selections.

The Hubble Space Telescope, launched in 1990, was designed so that it can be repaired in space by astronauts. The next servicing mission to the telescope is targeted to launch on space shuttle Atlantis May 12, 2009. Mission objectives include extending Hubble's operational life by five years, repairing its out-of-commission instruments and enhancing its scientific power. To do so, astronauts will replace gyroscopes and batteries on the telescope, repair the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph and the Advanced Camera for Surveys and install two new instruments -- the Wide Field Camera 3 and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph.

For more information about the servicing mission, visit:

For more information about the Hubble Space Telescope, visit:

Award-Winning NASA TV Show Launches Second Season

NASA 360, a half-hour television program that explores NASA's contributions to everyday life, is celebrating its one-year anniversary. NASA produces the program in partnership with the National Institute of Aerospace, or NIA, in Hampton, Va. It is part of the NASA eClips project that provides free NASA educational video content via the Internet.

"The show has really taken off," said Michael Finneran, NASA 360 executive producer at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. "We focus on how technologies developed by or for NASA are being used in everything from space exploration to consumer products. And we do it in an entertaining way."

"The National Institute of Aerospace is excited to be working with NASA on this program," said Robert Lindberg, NIA president and executive director.

NASA 360 has a fast-paced feel and visual content designed to appeal to a wide variety of audiences. It is hosted by Johnny Alonso and Jennifer Pulley. Alonso has performed in movies and on television, including in "Dawson's Creek" and "One Tree Hill." Pulley has appeared in "NASA Connect" and many television commercials.

The NASA 360 team just finished its sixth show. The crew traveled to a remote location in Moses Lake, Wash., to see how NASA is testing new rovers that may go to the moon in the future. Previous shows have highlighted global warming research, solar technologies, NASA contributions to car racing, and how remote sensing and other innovations are helping uncover history. Other episodes have looked at Mars exploration, new spacesuit research and NASA contributions to cordless power tool development and snow ski designs.

Future programs will take viewers to Hawaii, where NASA researchers test gear in rocky terrain similar to the moon's polar region. Other segments will feature astronaut training and more NASA contributions to the world of sports.

"NASA 360 can be seen online at NASA's Web site, on YouTube, MySpace and Facebook. Viewers also can subscribe to the video podcast through iTunes. We're using the Internet to try to reach younger audiences to excite them about NASA and its work," said co-producer Mike Bibbo of NIA.

"And for those people who may not spend as much time on the web, NASA 360 also can be seen on 900 public broadcasting, cable and commercial stations across the country and 1,200 Voice of America outlets all over the world," co-producer Kevin Krigsvold of NIA added. "It also airs on NASA TV available by satellite or on some cable systems."

The program has won numerous awards, including two Communicator Awards for overall program and editing, two Omni Awards for overall program and editing, two Davey Awards for overall program and editing, two Marcom Awards and two Ava Awards.

To find NASA 360, visit:


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Astronomers Observe Planet With Wild Temperature Swings

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has observed a planet that heats up to red-hot temperatures in a matter of hours before quickly cooling back down.

The "hot-headed" planet is HD 80606b, a gas giant that orbits a star 190 light-years from Earth. It was already known to be quite unusual, with an orbit shuttling it nearly as far out as Earth is from our sun, and much closer in than our planet Mercury. Astronomers used Spitzer, an infrared observatory, to measure heat emanating from the planet as it whipped behind and close to its star. In just six hours, the planet's temperature rose from 800 to 1,500 Kelvin (980 to 2,240 degrees Fahrenheit).

"We watched the development of one of the fiercest storms in the galaxy," said astronomer Greg Laughlin of the Lick Observatory, University of California at Santa Cruz. "This is the first time that we've detected weather changes in real time on a planet outside our solar system." Laughlin is lead author of a new report about the discovery appearing in the Jan. 29 issue of Nature.

HD 80606b was originally discovered in 2001 by a Swiss planet-hunting team led by Dominique Naef of the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland. Using a method known as the Doppler-velocity technique, the astronomers learned that the planet is wildly eccentric, with an orbit more like a comet's than a planet's. HD 80606b's orbit takes it as far out as 0.85 astronomical units from its star, and as close in as 0.03 astronomical units (one astronomical unit is the distance between Earth and the sun).

The planet takes about 111 days to circle its star, but it spends most of its time at farther distances while zipping through the closest part of its orbit in less than a day. (This is a consequence of Kepler's Second Law of Planetary Motion, which states that orbiting bodies -- planets and comets -- sweep out an equal area in equal time.)

"If you could float above the clouds of this planet, you'd see its sun growing larger and larger at faster and faster rates, increasing in brightness by almost a factor of 1,000," said Laughlin.

Spitzer observed HD 80606b before, during and just after its closest passage to the star in November of 2007, as the planet sizzled under the star's heat. When Laughlin and his colleagues planned the observation, they did not know whether the planet would disappear completely behind the star, an event called a secondary eclipse, or whether it would remain in view. Luckily for the team, the planet did indeed temporarily disappear from view, providing the planet's initial and final temperatures (had the planet had not been eclipsed, the team would have known only the temperature change without knowing the starting point).

The extreme temperature swing observed by Spitzer indicates that the air near the planet's gaseous surface must quickly absorb and lose heat. This type of atmospheric information revealing how a planet responds to sudden changes in heating -- an extreme version of seasonal change -- had never been obtained before for any exoplanet (a planet orbiting another star).

"By studying this planet under such extreme circumstances, we figure out how it handles heat -- does it retain it or dissipate it? In this case, the answer is that the planet releases the heat right away," said Laughlin. "We were essentially able to perform the 'thought experiment' -- what would happen to a planet like Jupiter if we could drag it very close to the sun?"

Laughlin and his colleagues say that a key factor in being able to make the observations is the planet's eccentric orbit. Unlike so-called hot Jupiter planets that remain in tight orbits around their stars, HD 80606b rotates around its axis roughly every 34 hours. Hot Jupiters, on the other hand, are thought to be tidally locked like our moon, so one side always faces their stars. Because HD 80606b spins on its axis many times per orbit, the astronomers were able to measure how its atmosphere responds to being baked by the star.

"The planet is spinning at a fast enough rate for the planet's hot spot to come into view," said co-author Drake Deming of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "The hot spot can't hide."

Amateur and professional astronomers alike are gearing up to observe HD 80606b this coming Valentine's Day, when it will swing around the front of its star. There's a 15 percent chance that the planet will eclipse its star, an event known as the primary transit. If so, the event would not only be remarkable to see, but would also provide more details about the nature of this temperamental world.

Other authors include Jonathan Langton, Daniel Kasen, Steve Vogt, and Eugenio RiveraStefano Meschiari from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Washington. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

More information about Spitzer is at More information about extrasolar planets is at .

NASA Tracks Changes to Earth's Green-covered Regions

NASA's satellite imagery, combined with high-resolution commercial imagery, is giving scientists new insight into the changing appearance of our planet on a regional scale, and whether it is due to human activity or extreme climate.

Researchers from NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., and California State University Monterey Bay, Seaside, Calif., analyzed several years of imagery data collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument aboard the NASA Terra satellite, and then fused these results with high-resolution commercial images to identify changes to local vegetative "green" areas. They found that regional land cover disturbances can be identified, most recently as wildfire-burned areas and extensive forest harvests.

"This is the first application of its kind. NASA is beginning to take full advantage of using its daily satellite imagery data in tandem with the compelling visual detail and color images from commercial sources," said Chris Potter, lead author of the new study, published in the May 2008 Imaging Notes, a trade journal for the commercial satellite imaging companies.

By using NASA MODIS to pinpoint changes in extensive areas of land cover, underlying commercial images are given unique, dynamic attributes, allowing consumers and land use planners to make better interpretations of areas showing remarkable changes in color and vegetation.

Scientists found that between 1970 and 2005, California experienced a 75 percent increase in its population, resulting in rapid and extensive urbanization and loss of natural vegetative ground coverage. These urbanized areas expanded into irrigated prime farmland, fallow marginal farmlands and wildlands.

Between 2001 and 2005, the MODIS images taken above an area of approximately 3,200 sq. miles, revealed continually shrinking green areas in California. The area studied included forests (46 percent), shrublands (29 percent) and herbaceous cover (7 percent). According to the MODIS time series analysis, the forests and shrublands showed most of the continual reduction in surface area. In contrast, about 200 square miles of the MODIS image area, less than one percent, showed signs of expanding vegetation green areas. Scientists focused on the shrinking green areas for the remainder of the study.

By using high-resolution commercial images, scientists were able to examine in greater detail the Earth's diminishing vegetation coverage. The image analysis revealed a recent wildfire-burned area and extensive forest harvests near Lower Bear River Reservoir in Amador County, Calif.. Similar areas showed extensive forest cutting in the state's Mendocino, Butte, and Pulmas counties.

NASA researchers will continue to explore use of image analysis to help show greater detail of the ever-changing appearance of Earth.

"The use of satellite imagery has made the mapping of land cover changes possible on local and global scales, which has helped a variety of disciplines, including agronomy, urban planning, and forestry," said Potter.

The study also appeared in the following peer-reviewed article: Potter, C., V. Genovese, P. Gross, S. Boriah, M. Steinbach, and V. Kumar, 2007, "Revealing land cover change in California with satellite data," EOS Transactions, American Geophysical Union, 88(26): 269-274. Download pdf version [3.9 Mb].

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Growing Up With the Mars Rovers

I am not supposed to be here, working with the Mars Exploration Rovers. There wasn’t supposed to be a Mars Rover here for me to work on. I arrived at JPL less than a month before Spirit’s landing in January 2004.Long before I earned the privilege of working on such a project, the three-month mission (six if we were lucky) would be completed. Robots are intricate machines, and Mars is a harsh place. Neither Spirit nor Opportunity should be here – and, as a result, neither should I be here to talk about them. Five years on Mars – inconceivable! But somehow, Spirit, Opportunity and I are celebrating our fifth anniversaries within a few weeks of each other. We’ve grown up together, in a way.

I have been working with the rovers for almost four and a half of their five years. I’ve discovered that Spirit and Opportunity are more than just a couple of robots or tools – they are a grand vision, a shared dream. A dream so powerful and so compelling that even those who come late to it, as I did, are fully invested. I look around at the room as I write this and I see people who have been here from the beginning (or even before the beginning from Pathfinder days in 1997) and I see the newest generations – those I have helped to train and with whom I have shared the vision. This dream is large enough for all of us.

Most engineers build a product and give it to the user. But those of us working on the Mars program are lucky enough to continue working with the scientists and get a real sense of the great purpose of what we do. We are an integral part of contributing to our understanding of the universe around us. I often step back and realize how truly fortunate I am, working on this amazing project with these remarkable, talented people.

This team of people is a family, and the rovers are our children. And, like parents of adult children who have moved away, we worry, we try to keep them safe, we try to teach them what we know and we give them guidance. Sometimes they listen and sometimes they don’t. But together, we’ve made amazing discoveries. Once Mars was a warmer place, a wetter place, a more Earthlike place – something we could only infer indirectly before. And it’s still a beautiful place with strangely colored sunsets that remind us we’re looking at another world.

Now, experience has matured us. And aged us. We have faced a lot of challenges. Racing to find places to survive harsh Martian winters, climbing mountains and crater walls, riding out dust storms, and working around arthritic body parts (broken wheels and failing arm joints). There have been sleepless nights and new gray hairs. But as Spirit and Opportunity begin long journeys to new places, we remember our starry-eyed youth and still nothing seems entirely out of reach. Five years on Mars? That’s just the beginning.

Wall Divides East and West Sides of Cosmic Metropolis

A new study unveils NGC 604, the largest region of star formation in the nearby galaxy M33, in its first deep, high-resolution view in X- rays. This composite image from Chandra X-ray Observatory data (colored blue), combined with optical light data from the Hubble Space Telescope (red and green), shows a divided neighborhood where some 200 hot, young, massive stars reside.

Throughout the cosmic metropolis, giant bubbles in the cool dust and warm gas are filled with diffuse, multi-million degree gas that emits X-rays. Scientists think these bubbles are generated and heated to X- ray temperatures when powerful stellar winds from the young massive stars collide and push aside the surrounding gas and dust. So, the vacated areas are immediately repopulated with the hotter material seen by Chandra.

However, there is a difference between the two sides of this bifurcated stellar city. (See annotated image for the location of the "wall".) On the western (right) side, the amount of hot gas found in the bubbles corresponds to about 4300 times the mass of the sun. This value and the brightness of the gas in X-rays imply that the western part of NGC 604 is entirely powered by winds from the 200 hot massive stars.

This result is interesting because previous modeling of other bubbles usually predicted them to be fainter than observed, so that additional heating from supernova remnants is required. The implication is that in this area of NGC 604, none or very few of the massive stars must have exploded as supernovas.

The situation is different on the eastern (left) side of NGC 604. On this side, the X-ray gas contains 1750 times the mass of the sun and winds from young stars cannot explain the brightness of the X-ray emission. The bubbles on this side appear to be much older and were likely created and powered by young stars and supernovas in the past.

A similar separation between east and west is seen in the optical results. This implies that a massive wall of gas shields the relatively quiet region in the east from the active star formation in the west.

This study was led by Ralph Tuellmann of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and was part of a very deep, 16-day long observation of M33 called the Chandra ACIS Survey of M33, or ChASeM33.

62 Years at NASA and Still Going Strong

Sixty-two years ago today, Jack Boyd, senior advisor to the Ames director, first reported to work at Moffett Field, the home of NASA's Ames Research Center.

To get there, Boyd traveled on a transcontinental train from Virginia to the San Francisco Bay Area. While most of his classmates at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University chose to work close to home at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., Boyd struck out on his own, and trailblazed his way to Ames.

"You'd have to be crazy not to be excited about space exploration," Boyd said about what motivates him to come into work every morning. "It's always fun. I'm continually amazed to think I've been with NASA for 62 years."

He first reported to work at the Personnel Office on Jan. 15, 1947, where after looking over his mechanical engineering degree with an aeronautics option, they decided to assign him to the Fluid Dynamics Division. "They walked me over to the1-foot-by-3-foot wind tunnel, introduced me to my colleagues and said, 'get to work!'" Boyd remembered. At 21 years old, Boyd was earning a respectable $2,644 a year, at a time when Walter Vincenti, his branch chief, and Harvey Allen, his division chief, were conducting cutting-edge, high-speed research in the Ames 1-foot-by-3-foot and 6-foot-by-6-foot wind tunnels on swept wings, conical camber, canards on supersonic aircraft, flights through non-Earth atmospheres and the shape of future space capsules.

In 1963, Harvey Allen nominated Boyd to corral all the new research at Ames into comprehensive programs. In the late 1960s, as America was redefining its space exploration mission and sending humans to the moon, Boyd served as the Ames’ lead to assist NASA Headquarters in Washington in creating new NASA research programs.

"Since the moon landing nearly 40 years ago, I think NASA's most remarkable achievement has been the robotic exploration of Mars, starting with the Viking spacecraft in 1976 to the Mars Exploration Rovers and Phoenix," Boyd said, when reflecting on NASA's many accomplishments.

Boyd worked as deputy director for Aeronautical and Flight Systems at Ames; deputy director of NASA's Dryden Research Center in Edwards, Calif.; acting deputy director and associate director of Ames, and then associate administrator for management at NASA Headquarters. He helped consolidate NASA’s helicopter research program, prepared Dryden for its role as a space shuttle landing site; implemented affirmative action programs for NASA; completed NASA’s advanced secure computing facility; worked with defense agencies on classified research, and led NASA to implement the reorganization and reforms of the Packard report about federal laboratories. Additionally, Boyd served as chancellor for research and was an adjunct professor of aerodynamics, engineering and the history of spaceflight for the University of Texas System.

In his 'second career' at Ames, Boyd supported educational outreach. Even when he became the executive assistant to the director, his primary role was that of advisor, teacher and mentor. Today, in addition to being the senior advisor to the Ames director, he also serves as the senior advisor for history and as the center ombudsman. In April last year, Boyd received the 2008 NASA Headquarters History Division Award for his energetic outreach and promo¬tion of NASA history and for making history relevant to NASA’s present and future.

"I'm most proud of my work helping and mentoring the new engineers as they came to work at NASA," Jack said.

Looking ahead, Boyd says he is excited for the upcoming launch of the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, mission to look for water ice on the moon, and the Kepler mission to search for Earth-sized planets outside our solar system; the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, airborne laboratory which will help scientists study the universe using infrared astronomy; and all of NASA's continued efforts in aeronautics and exploration of our solar system.

Boyd's advice to anyone just starting out?

"Try to make as many acquaintances as possible to learn what's going on around NASA, and learn to deal with people," he advised with a smile.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory and the Mystery of the Missing Sinks

Picture a tree in the forest. The tree "inhales" carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, transforming that greenhouse gas into the building materials and energy it needs to grow its branches and leaves.

By removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the tree serves as an indispensable "sink," or warehouse, for carbon that, in tandem with Earth's other trees, plants and the ocean, helps reduce rising levels of carbon dioxide in the air that contribute to global warming.

Each year, humans release more than 30-billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels for powering vehicles, generating electricity and manufacturing products. Up to five-and-a-half additional tons of carbon dioxide are released each year by biomass burning, forest fires and land-use practices such as slash-and-burn agriculture. Between 40 and 50 percent of that amount remains in the atmosphere, according to measurements by about 100 ground-based carbon dioxide monitoring stations scattered across the globe. Another estimated 30 percent is dissolved into the ocean, the world's largest sink.

But what about the rest? The math doesn't add up. For years, scientists have sought to find the answer to this mystery. Though scientists agree the remaining carbon dioxide is also "inhaled" by Earth, they have been unable to precisely determine where it is going, what processes are involved, and whether Earth will continue to absorb it in the future. A new NASA satellite scheduled to launch in February 2009 is poised to shed a very bright light on these "missing" sinks: the Orbiting Carbon Observatory.

"It's important to make clear that the ‘missing' sinks aren't really missing, they are just poorly understood," said Scott Denning, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo. "We know the ‘missing' sinks are terrestrial, land areas where forests, grasslands, crops and soil are absorbing carbon dioxide. But finding these sinks is like finding a needle in a haystack. It would be great if we could measure how much carbon every tree, shrub, peat bog or blade of grass takes in, but the world is too big and too diverse and is constantly changing, making such measurements virtually impossible. The solution is not in measuring carbon in trees. The solution is measuring carbon in the air."

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory will do just that: measure carbon in the air, from Earth's surface to the top of the atmosphere.

"NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite will work as a detective from space, measuring the distribution of carbon dioxide thousands of times daily as it orbits the planet, providing the data to create very precise carbon dioxide maps that will help us confirm the whereabouts, nature and efficiency of the sinks absorbing the 30 percent of carbon dioxide that disappears each year from the atmosphere," said Steve Wofsy, a professor of atmospheric and environmental chemistry at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., and a co-investigator for the mission.

Carbon, a chemical element that is the basis of all known life and part of the chemical compound carbon dioxide, is the basic "currency" of the carbon cycle. It is "inhaled" by sinks to fuel photosynthesis in plant life. It is "exhaled" by natural sources when plant life dies or burns, and through human activities like the burning of fossil fuels, crops and forests.

If we think of Earth as "breathing," the balance between photosynthesis, or "inhaling," and respiration, or "exhaling," was about equal until humans began mining and burning large amounts of fossilized organic matter like coal, oil and natural gas a couple of hundred years ago.

Until about 1990, most scientists believed land was primarily a source of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere because forests are continuously being destroyed by human activities like deforestation in tropical areas, urban and suburban development, and land clearing for farming.

"The amazing truth is that on a global scale, photosynthesis is greater than decomposition and has been for decades," said Denning. "Believe it or not, plant life is growing faster than it's dying. This means land is a net sink for carbon dioxide, rather than a net source."

Denning outlined the six different ways carbon dioxide sinks can develop on land:

-- Carbon dioxide fertilization, a process often prominent in land areas, happens when more carbon dioxide in the air stimulates photosynthesis to produce a temporary "bump" in the growth rates of plant life.

-- Agricultural abandonment occurs where once-deforested land formerly used as family farms is abandoned, allowing forests to re-grow into terrestrial carbon dioxide sinks.

-- Forest fire suppression, the aggressive extinguishing of forest fires that has led to preservation of more wooded areas than existed 100 years ago, saves trees that pull carbon dioxide from the air for growth.

-- Woody encroachment occurs when cattle graze on grass but leave behind carbon dioxide-absorbing woody shrubs that accumulate over land ranges throughout the western U.S. and elsewhere.

-- Boreal, or northern, warming takes place in northern latitude forests that are experiencing longer frost-free growing seasons due to global warming, allowing more woody growth and more absorption of carbon dioxide.

-- Lastly, carbon dioxide sinks are created when nitrogen in agricultural fertilizer or nitrogen oxide from car emissions dissolves into clouds, spreads for hundreds of miles on vegetation with rainfall, and acts in tandem with carbon dioxide fertilization to accelerate plant growth.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory will help scientists locate and characterize areas experiencing these biological processes.

"The future behavior of carbon dioxide sinks is one of the most uncertain things in predicting climate in the 21st century," said Denning. "Mapping today's sinks will allow us to measure how much of the carbon budget is controlled by carbon dioxide intake from ocean mixing, versus carbon dioxide fertilization, versus forest re-growth, etc. If we can determine that current land sinks are dominated by carbon dioxide fertilization, it would buy us more time to develop alternative energy and other mitigation measures."

Past attempts by researchers to measure terrestrial carbon dioxide were limited by an inability to account for the different ages of forests or how disturbances to the forests have affected their ability to absorb carbon dioxide. Similar attempts to measure carbon dioxide in human-managed ecosystems like cropland, pastures, golf courses and suburban landscapes are also difficult because such areas are so varied and numerous.

"We're expecting the Orbiting Carbon Observatory to allow us to identify the precise geographic locations of these ‘missing' carbon dioxide-absorbing areas as well as the make-up of the sinks and the rate at which they soak up carbon dioxide," said Wofsy. "The efficiency of a sink and its location with respect to that of sources emitting carbon dioxide has critical implications for our ability to regulate carbon dioxide in global efforts to offset the well-documented global climate warming trend. We're anticipating a big step forward on this front with the Orbiting Carbon Observatory's help."

For more information on the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, visit: .

Pieces Coming Together for First Test Launch of NASA's New Spacecraft

NASA is using powerful computers and software programs to design the rocket that will carry crew and cargo to space after the space shuttle retires. But those computers will have their work checked the old-fashioned way with the first of several uncrewed demonstration launches beginning in 2009.

Ares I-X, the first Ares I test rocket, will lift off from Kennedy Space Center, Fla. in the summer of 2009. It will climb about 25 miles (40.2 km) in a two-minute powered test of Ares I first stage performance and its first stage separation and parachute recovery system.

A less obvious -- but no less critical -- test will be of overall vehicle aerodynamics. Is the design safe and stable in flight? This is a question that must be answered before astronauts begin traveling into orbit and beyond.

With that question answered, the flight of Ares I-X will be an important step toward verifying analysis tools and techniques needed to further develop Ares I, NASA's next launch vehicle.

In order to ensure that the rocket's flight characteristics are fully understood, extreme care is being taken to precisely fabricate the rocket's simulated upper stage and the simulated Orion crew module and associated launch abort tower. These full-scale hardware components must accurately reflect the shape and physical properties of the models used in computer analyses and wind tunnel tests in order to confidently compare flight results with preflight predictions.

At NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., where the Orion crew module and tower-like launch abort system simulators are taking shape, researchers and managers are working to overcome multiple challenges.

"We are a highly matrixed team -- a lot of people from various organizations -- that must work together successfully on a tight schedule," explained Kevin Brown, project manager for the Ares I-X Crew Module/Launch Abort System (CM/LAS) project.

"We have a team doing fabrication and assembly work in conjunction with an off-site contractor, and we have another team readying to install about 150 sensors once the crew module and launch abort tower are completed," he added.

The simulated crew module, faithful to the vehicle that will ferry astronauts to the International Space Station by 2015, to the moon in the 2020 timeframe and ultimately to points beyond, will measure approximately five meters (16.4 ft) in diameter. While the conical module will have the same basic shape as the Apollo Command Module, it will be significantly larger. The simulated launch abort system, positioned above the crew module at launch, will add another 46 feet (14 m) in length to the combined simulator.

The sensors will measure aerodynamic pressure and temperature at the nose of the rocket, and contribute to measurements of vehicle acceleration and angle of attack. How the tip of the rocket slices through the atmosphere is important because that determines the flow of air over the entire vehicle.

"This launch will tell us what we got right and what we got wrong in the design and analysis phase," said Jonathan Cruz, deputy project manager for Ares I-X CM/LAS. "We have a lot of confidence, but we need those two minutes of flight data before NASA can continue to the next phase of rocket development," he said.

The completed two-part flight test article is to be delivered to Kennedy in early 2009. Before launch, the combined crew module and launch abort system tower will be used to help demonstrate lifting, handling and stacking of Ares I-X flight test vehicle elements.

Ares I-X will provide important data for developing Ares I in time to support the vehicle's critical design review in 2010.

Space Shuttle Crew Visits Troops On Overseas Trip

NASA astronauts of the STS-126 space shuttle mission will begin a new journey next week -- an 11-day trip to greet U.S. military personnel serving overseas. Shuttle Endeavour's crew will pay a special visit to troops in Germany and the Middle East from Jan. 26 to Feb. 5.

The trip is sponsored by Armed Forces Entertainment, the lead Department of Defense agency for providing entertainment to U.S. military personnel serving overseas. The shuttle crew members visiting the troops are Navy Capt. Chris Ferguson, who commanded the flight, Air Force Col. Eric Boe, who served as the pilot, and Mission Specialists Donald Pettit, Navy Capt. Steve Bowen, Navy Capt. Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Army Lt. Col. Shane Kimbrough.

"We are really looking forward to visiting the men and women who support and defend our country overseas," Ferguson said. "Although our jobs are different, we know it's tough being away from family and friends -- and being far from home. As a military family, we know that support and a pat on the back go a long way."

During their visit with the troops, the shuttle crew will present an overview of the STS-126 mission, which completed a 16-day flight in November 2008. The mission delivered equipment to the International Space Station that will allow the outpost to house up to six astronauts for long-duration stays.

"This is the first time in Armed Forces Entertainment's 55-year history that we have hosted astronauts on a tour to visit our troops overseas," said Air Force Col. Edward Shock, chief of Armed Forces Entertainment. "And with this crew, it makes it even more poignant -- since five of the six crew members are U.S. military themselves. They know the risks and the sacrifices our men and women in uniform make, and have a deep appreciation for their dedication."

For more information on the astronauts' overseas tour and updates, visit:

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Space Station Commander Guides New HD Tour Of Complex

Expedition 18 Commander Mike Fincke, aboard the International Space Station with Flight Engineers Sandy Magnus and Yury Lonchakov, recently filmed a high-definition tour of the orbiting complex. The 35-minute tour will air as a special Video File on NASA Television’s HD Channel 105 at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. CST Thursday and Friday.

The special Video File also will be broadcast in standard-definition on NASA TV immediately following the regularly scheduled daily Video File broadcasts. For technical information on how to receive the special broadcast in high definition, and for NASA TV streaming video, downlink and scheduling information, visit:

With a mass of almost 630,000 pounds, the station has grown to a size larger than an average four-bedroom house on Earth. The next space shuttle mission, designated STS-119, will continue the space station’s assembly by delivering a fourth and final set of solar arrays. Shuttle Discovery and its seven-member crew are targeted to launch Feb. 12.

For the latest information about Expedition 18 and its crew, visit:

For more information on the STS-119 mission and its crew, visit:

Satellites Confirm Half-Century of West Antarctic Warming

The Antarctic Peninsula juts into the Southern Ocean, reaching farther north than any other part of the continent. The southernmost reach of global warming was believed to be limited to this narrow strip of land, while the rest of the continent was presumed to be cooling or stable.

Not so, according to a new analysis involving NASA data. In fact, the study has confirmed a trend suspected by some climate scientists.

"Everyone knows it has been warming on the Antarctic Peninsula, where there are lots of weather stations collecting data," said Eric Steig, a climate researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle, and lead author of the study. "Our analysis told us that it is also warming in West Antarctica."

The finding is the result of a novel combination of historical temperature data from ground-based weather stations and more recent data from satellites. Steig and colleagues used data from each record to fill in gaps in the other and to reconstruct a 50-year history of surface temperatures across Antarctica.

Over the years, climate research in northern latitudes led researchers to believe that the Arctic is where impacts of global climate change would be seen first. Less certain is how climate is affecting Antarctica where inland temperatures are known to plunge to minus 112°F, and ground-based weather stations have been sparse.

It's this sparse data collection—from ground-stations on the Antarctic Peninsula and previous reports that much of East Antarctica has experienced cooling since 1978—that led the International Panel on Climate Change to conclude in its most recent report that Antarctica is the one continent where we have failed to detect human-caused temperature changes.

With funding from the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs, Steig and colleagues set out to reconstruct Antarctica’s recent past. Ground-based stations have recorded temperatures since 1957, but most of those readings come from the peninsula and areas on the edges of the continent. But at the same time, scientists such as study co-author Joey Comiso of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., have been gathering measurements from a series of Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) instruments deployed on satellites since 1981.

To construct the new 50-year temperature record, the team applied a statistical technique to estimate temperatures missing from ground-based observations. They calculated the relationship between overlapping satellite and ground-station measurements over the past 26 years. Next, they applied that correlation to ground measurements from 1957 to 1981 and calculated what the satellites would have observed.

The new analysis shows that Antarctic surface temperatures increased an average of 0.22°F (0.12°C) per decade between 1957 and 2006. That's a rise of more than 1°F (0.5°C) in the last half century. West Antarctica warmed at a higher rate, rising 0.31°F (0.17°C) per decade. The results, published Jan. 22 in Nature, confirm earlier findings based on limited weather station data and ice cores.

While some areas of East Antarctica have been cooling in recent decades, the longer 50-year trend depicts that, on average, temperatures are rising across the continent.

West Antarctica is particularly vulnerable to climate changes because its ice sheet is grounded below sea level and surrounded by floating ice shelves. If the West Antarctic ice sheet completely melted, global sea level would rise by 16 to 20 feet (5 to 6 meters).

To identify causes of the warming, the team turned to Drew Shindell of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, who has used computer models to identify mechanisms driving Antarctica's enigmatic temperature trends.

Previously, researchers focused on Antarctic ozone depletion, which influences large-scale atmospheric fluctuations around the continent—most notably, the Southern Annular Mode, which speeds up wind flow to isolate and cool the continent.

Shindell compared Steig's temperature data with results from a computer model that can simulate the response of the atmospheric system to changes in land surface, ice cover, sea surface temperatures, and atmospheric composition. He found the ozone-influenced Southern Annular Mode is not necessarily the primary influence on Antarctic climate. Instead, it appears that smaller-scale, regional changes in wind circulation are bringing warmer air and more moisture-laden storms to West Antarctica.

"We still believe ozone depletion can increase wind speeds around Antarctica, further isolating the interior," Shindell said. "But it's clear now that it's not such a dominant influence on temperature trends."

NASA in the 2009 Inaugural Parade

The President and First Lady
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue after the Jan. 20, 2009, swearing-in ceremony. Image Credit: NASA/Paul Alers.

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NASA's New Lunar Electric Rover
This prototype is of the new rover designed for lunar exploration and was part of the NASA contingent that took part in the 56th Inaugural Parade. The small pressurized rover is about the size of a pickup truck (with 12 wheels) and can house two astronauts for up to 14 days. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

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The View From Inside
This panoramic view of the parade route and reviewing stand was taken from inside the new lunar rover as it traveled down Pennsylvania Avenue. Image Credit: NASA.

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STS-126 Crew Passes the Reviewing Stand
The crew of the STS-126 mission takes its place in history along side others representing NASA at the 56th Inaugural Parade. Image Credit: NASA/Paul Alers.

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Rex Waldeim
Astronaut Rex Waldheim is shown alighting from the lunar rover after participating in the 56th Inaugural Parade. Image Credit: NASA/Robert Ambrose.

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Viewing the Future
Astronaut Michael Gernhardt drives the lunar rover during the 56th Inaugural Parade. Image Credit: NASA/Robert Ambrose.

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The Reviewing Stand
The crew of STS-126 and other NASA representatives pass the reviewing stand during the inaugural parade. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

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Lunar Rover Crew Salutes the President
President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden watch as the NASA Lunar Electric Rover stops in front of the reviewing stand. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

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NASA in the 56th Inaugural Parade Beginning the Parade
President and Mrs. Obama walk down Pennsylvania Avenue at the beginning of the 56th Inaugural Parade. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

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Missions NOAA-N Prime Update

In the early morning hours on Jan. 15, the NOAA-N Prime spacecraft was transported from the Building 1610 payload processing facility to Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It was hoisted from the pad surface and mated to the Delta II rocket. Spacecraft 'state of health' checks are under way.

The liquid oxygen tanking test and countdown demonstration and simulated flight test have been successfully completed. The Flight Program Verification, an integrated test of the Delta II and NOAA-N Prime, is scheduled for Jan. 22. This is the last major test before launch. The fairing is scheduled to be installed around the spacecraft on Jan. 27. Liftoff is set for Feb. 4 during a window that extends from 5:22 to 5:32 a.m. EST.

NOAA-N Prime is the latest satellite in the Advanced Television Infrared Observational Satellites (ATN) –N series built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. NOAA-N Prime will provide a polar-orbiting platform to support environmental monitoring instruments for imaging and measuring the Earth’s atmosphere, its surface and cloud cover, including Earth radiation, atmospheric ozone, aerosol distribution, sea surface temperature, and vertical temperature and water profiles in the troposphere and stratosphere. The satellite will assist in measuring proton and electron fluxes at orbit altitude, collecting data from remote platforms and will assist the Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking system.

Deadline Nears for Student Contest to Name NASA's Next Mars Rover

NASA is issuing a last call to the nation's youth for entries in a contest to name the agency's next Mars rover.

The naming contest, in partnership with Disney-Pixar's WALL-E, invites ideas from students 5 to 18 years old and enrolled in a U.S. school. The contest began two months ago. Entries will be accepted until midnight Jan. 25 (Eastern Time).

Entrants should submit essays explaining why their suggested name for the rover is the right fit. In March, the public will have an opportunity to rank nine finalist names via the Internet as additional input for judges to consider. In April, NASA will announce the winning name.

The Mars Science Laboratory rover will be larger and more capable than any craft previously sent to land on the Red Planet. The rover will check to see whether the environment in a selected landing region ever has been favorable for supporting microbial life and preserving evidence of life. The rover also will search for minerals that formed in the presence of water and look for several chemical building blocks of life. NASA is currently building and testing the rover, which will launch in 2011.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Mars Science Laboratory for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For contest information and rules visit: .

NASA Tests Engine Technology for Landing Astronauts on the Moon

A technology development engine that may help NASA safely return astronauts to the lunar surface has successfully completed its third round of testing. The goal of these tests is to reduce risk and advance technology for a reliable and robust rocket engine that could enable America's next moon landing.

The tests by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in West Palm Beach, Fla., helped to gather data on this concept engine that might play a role in the next stage of human exploration of the moon. Most rockets make spacecraft travel faster. The goal of a lunar lander descent engine is to slow the vehicle so astronauts can land safely.

The Common Extensible Cryogenic Engine, or CECE, is a deep-throttling engine, which means it has the flexibility to reduce thrust from 100 percent down to 10 percent -- allowing a spacecraft to gently land on the lunar surface. The 13,800-pound thrust engine uses extremely cold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen as propellants.

During the test, the engine was successfully throttled from a high of 104 percent of the engine's potential down to eight percent, a record for an engine of this type. A cryogenic engine is needed to provide high performance and put more payload on the surface of the moon. The CECE demonstrator has evaluated two engine configurations during three rounds of hot-fire testing.

"The first test series in 2006 was a challenge but showed promise," said Tony Kim, Deep Throttling Engine project manager at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. "Testing in 2007 provided an in-depth examination of low-power-level throttling and engine performance characteristics. This third cycle we actively addressed and found solutions to the challenges we faced."

The team carefully assessed test results that showed pressure oscillations in the engine at lower throttle levels called "chugging." Chugging may not be a concern for the engine itself, but the resulting vibrations could have the potential to resonate with the structure of the rocket and cause problems for the lander or crew.

Injector and propellant feed system modifications successfully eliminated engine chugging by controlling liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen flow to the combustion chamber. The latest engine configuration incorporates a new injector design and propellant feed system that carefully manages the pressure, temperature and flow of propellants.

"The technology developed from this effort will help engineers successfully design future cryogenic engines to meet the throttling requirements of the Constellation Program's Altair lunar lander," Kim said.

The CECE is based on the existing Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RL10 upper stage rocket engine. Previous first-hand flight experience, as well as this data, will allow engineers to develop simulation models that can focus testing for efficiency and effectiveness.

The CECE collaboration includes engineers from Marshall, NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. NASA has invested in CECE technology since 2005 as part of the Propulsion and Cryogenics Advanced Development project at Glenn. The project is funded by the Exploration Technology Development Program in NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate.

Four Out of Six Apollos

Their names are now part of exploration history -- Sea of Tranquility, Ocean of Storms, Frau Mauro, Hadley Rille, Descartes and Taurus-Littrow. They are the sites on the lunar surface visited by America's Apollo astronauts. Six unique locations. each with its own unique set of challenges to those who wanted to explore its secrets.

"To paraphrase an old bromide, those who forget the past are doomed to land like it," said Chirold Epp of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "Having looked at the Apollo landings I have come to two conclusions. One -- those crews did a great job. Two -- data from several of the landings support the idea that we must give future moon landers more information to increase the probability of mission success."

To prepare for their missions, Apollo crews were heavily trained to recognize specific large-scale lunar surface features at or near the designated landing site. These features would help the astronauts find their way to a safe area as close to the planned landing site as possible. But sometimes lighting conditions would conspire with local topography to deceive even the most highly-trained eye.

With two minutes left on the descent of the lunar module Falcon, Apollo 15 mission commander David Scott looked out his window and could not find the sequence of four craters as a visual guide to his planned landing spot northwest of the fourth and final crater, Index. Said Scott during a 1971 Technical Debrief: "When we pitched over, I couldn't convince myself that I saw Index Crater anywhere."

On the very first Apollo landing, the surface features were prominently displayed, just not the right kind in the right place. At 1,500 feet above the Sea of Tranquility Neil Armstrong saw the kind of surface features an Apollo commander does not want to find in his landing zone. Said Armstrong during a 1969 Technical Debrief: "…we were landing just short of a large rocky crater surrounded with a large boulder field with very large rocks covering a high percentage of the surface."

The closer each moon crew came to the lunar surface, the more detail they could make out. The hills, valleys and boulders of the local terrain came into view and the craters became more defined. But the astronauts did not have time to appreciate their surroundings. Their fuel supply was limited and getting to the surface under rocket power was mandatory to mission success.

As each of the six crews entered the final minute of their ride to the surface, the hills, valleys, boulders and craters that had just moments ago been there for the viewing had all but disappeared.

Observed Armstrong during the Technical Debrief: "…at something less than 100 feet; we were beginning to get a transparent sheet of moving dust that obscured visibility a bit. As we got lower, the visibility continued to decrease."

Dust problems were not exclusive to the Apollo 11 landing site. All of the moon landing crews encountered some form of vision-obscuring dust. On Apollo 12, Pete Conrad encountered so much dust that his final descent to the surface was done in the blind. Said Conrad in a 1969 Technical Debrief: "The dust went as far as I could see in any direction and completely obliterated craters and anything else… I couldn't tell what was underneath me. I knew I was in a generally good area and I was just going to have to bite the bullet and land, because I couldn't tell whether there was a crater down there or not."

With limited piloting time available and restricted visibility below, the Apollo crews skillfully put their lunar modules down on the ground. But each of the six crews knew that getting to the lunar surface was not the endgame. Staying on the lunar surface long enough to walk around and complete the mission's scientific goals was what they came for. For an Apollo mission's success, attitude was important.

"In one respect an Apollo lunar module is like a pinball machine -- it doesn't like to tilt," said Epp. "If a lunar module came to rest at an angle beyond 12 degrees tilt the astronauts might not be able to launch themselves off the surface. So if a crew landed on a hill or with a footpad or two on a large rock or in a crater, that could make for a bad day."

Apollo 15's lunar module Falcon came to rest with its rear footpad on the rim of a 20-foot-wide crater. This caused one of the lunar module's footpads to be off the surface entirely and placed the spacecraft at an 11-degree tilt. Stated Scott in the mission's debrief -- "…at the altitudes looking down as we approached the landing, it was very difficult to pick out depressions… as far as the shallow depressions there and the one in which the rear footpad finally rested, I couldn't see that they were really there. It looked like a relatively smooth surface."

Although Apollo 16 lunar module's landing tilt was only 2.5 degrees, if it had come down less than 100 feet in any direction from that point would have placed them on a slope of between 6 and 10-degrees. Apollo 16 commander John Young commented in the mission's Technical Debrief: "I couldn't judge slope out the window worth a hoot, and that's the truth. Even down low. The ground looks flat, but I'm sure it would look flat if it had been a 6 -- 8-degree slope too. I don't see any way around that."

Young made his statement soon after he returned from the moon in 1972. The boulders, craters, crevices and dusty slopes of the Descartes Highlands were fresh on his mind. Tomorrow's moon crews will certainly encounter the same challenges. But thanks to a new NASA program that remembers the lessons of Young and the other intrepid men of Apollo, these future lunar explorers may very well have a way to "see any way around that." With NASA's Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT), they could be seeing their lunar landing sites in a whole new light.

For more on NASA's Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology (See: Where No Lunar Lander has Gone Before ) .