Archive for January, 2010

Making Mars the New Earth, What would it take to green the red planet? Warming

Could we “terraform” Mars—that is, transform its frozen, thin-aired surface into something more friendly and Earthlike? Should we? The first question has a clear answer: Yes, we probably could. Spacecraft, including the ones now exploring Mars, have found evidence that it was warm in its youth, with rivers draining into vast seas. And right here on Earth, we’ve learned how to warm a planet: just add greenhouse gases to its atmosphere. Much of the carbon dioxide that once warmed Mars is probably still there, in frozen dirt and polar ice caps, and so is the water. All the planet needs to recapture its salad days is a gardener with a big budget.

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NASA Offers Shuttles at Clearance Prices, Is Investigating Cocaine Found in Hangar

For nearly three decades (since 1981), the Space Shuttle was an iconic symbol of the American space program and the country’s primary way of reaching space. Now as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is working on its replacement, it’s putting the famous spacecraft up for sale.

NASA in December 2008 first offered the Shuttles for sale, hoping to find buyers among museums, schools and elsewhere. In total, NASA reportedly was offering two of its current fleet of three shuttles for sale for $42M USD a piece (as well as potentially offering the Enterprise, a shuttle prototype).

Over its history NASA has built five operational shuttles. The first shuttle, OV-102 Columbia flew 27 times before tragically disintegrating (killing all crew aboard) upon reentry in 2003. NASA also lost its second Shuttle, OV-099 Challenger to a tragic disaster back in 1986. Currently, there are three Shuttles that have survived their service — OV-103 Discovery, OV-104 Atlantis, and OV-105 Endeavour, which last flew in September, November, and July of 2009, respectively.

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Endeavour’s payload shipped out to launch pad 39A

STS 130

The container with Tranquility is lifted into pad 39A’s gantry this morning. Credit: NASA-KSC

The Tranquility module that’ll be a new room with a view for the International Space Station was trucked to space shuttle Endeavour’s launch pad overnight, destined for blastoff next month.

Packed in a special transport canister shaped like the shuttle’s 60-foot-long payload bay, Tranquility was moved out of Kennedy Space Center’s Space Station Processing Facility last week. After a layover at the rotating building, where the container was turned upright, and then a weather-related hold, the module reached pad 39A before dawn today.

Ground crews went to work hoisting the canister up the gantry to unload Tranquility into the pad’s cleanroom for its eventual insertion into the shuttle bay later this week.

The module was built in Italy by Thales Alenia Space as part of the collaboration between the European Space Agency and NASA in the space station program. It was delivered to KSC in May to undergo final testing and preps for flight.

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For £17.7m, shuttle is a gift that’s out of this world

Space Shuttle

The price of Nasa’s Space Shuttle fleet has just been slashed from £25.8m Credit: Getty

It flew faster and higher than any machine in history and was the was the ultimate boy’s toy, but at $42 million (£25.8 m) it was beyond most budgets. But now the price of Nasa’s soon-to-be redundant space shuttles has plummeted to something more down-to-earth: a new analysis of the costs of hauling the monster from the Kennedy Space Centre to a major US airport has led the space agency to slash the price to $28.2 m (£17.7m) .

Discovery, which has completed 37 missions into space and 5,247 orbits, has already been promised to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, but shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour are still available.

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Has USA hit its final frontier in human space exploration?

Still hoping for that Jetsons future?

Ruh-roh, as the Jetsons’ dog, Astro, might put it.

Just six years ago, President Bush laid out a vision of space exploration that harked back to NASA’s halcyon days built on astronauts as explorers. Bush wanted to sling them from low Earth orbit to a base on the moon and then, perhaps, on to a first manned landing on another planet, Mars.

But that was before huge federal deficits arrived, public support failed to show, and unmanned explorers scored successes — namely the Hubble telescope and Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which are still sending back signals years after they were expected to expire.

So as we look to the next decade, what sort of human space exploration will we see?

“We are on a path that will not lead to a useful, safe human exploration program,” former Lockheed Martin chief Norman Augustine said when he testified to Congress in September about the blue-ribbon space exploration panel he chaired. “The primary reason is the mismatch between the tasks to be performed and the funds that are available to support those tasks.”

But NASA’s guardians say it’s premature to end the role of the astronaut.

“I do not see this president being the president who presides over the end of human spaceflight,” said NASA chief Charles Bolden, a former space shuttle pilot, when he spoke Jan. 5 at the American Astronomical Society meeting here. In the speech, Bolden said his agency would stress missions — small ones — with other nations as partners and look to new technologies, not the big chemical rockets of the past, to propel missions.

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NASA’s Rosetta “Alice” Spectrometer Reveals Earth’s UV Fingerprint

Orisis

During the spacecraft’s approach, the Earth appeared as a crescent. This image of the Earth was taken around the same time by the OSIRIS camera on Rosetta. Credit: ESA 2009 MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

On November 13, the European Space Agency’s comet orbiter spacecraft, Rosetta, swooped by Earth for its third and final gravity assist on the way to humankind’s first rendezvous to orbit and study a comet in more detail than has ever been attempted.

One of the instruments aboard Rosetta is the NASA-funded ultraviolet spectrometer, Alice, which is designed to probe the composition of the comet’s atmosphere and surface – the first ultraviolet spectrometer ever to study a comet up close. During Rosetta’s recent Earth flyby, researchers successfully tested Alice’s performance by viewing the Earth’s ultraviolet appearance.

“It’s been over five years since Rosetta was launched on its 10-year journey to comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and Alice is working well,” says instrument Principal Investigator Dr. Alan Stern, associate vice president of the Space Science and Engineering Division at Southwest Research Institute.

“As one can see from the spectra we obtained during this flyby of the Earth, the instrument is in focus and shows the main ultraviolet spectral emission of our home planet. These data give a nice indication of the scientifically rich value of ultraviolet spectroscopy for studying the atmospheres of objects in space, and we’re looking forward to reaching the comet and exploring its mysteries.”

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If you want to watch a space shuttle launch, time’s running out

Shuttle experience

This year begins a new decade, but it also will see the end of the United States’ trailblazing approach to manned spaceflight: the space shuttle program.

“In just five more flights, a chapter of history will be forever closed,” says Mike Mullane, a three-time NASA space shuttle astronaut and author of Riding Rockets. “It will be decades – perhaps generations – before humans will again see a winged vehicle launch into space and glide back to a runway landing.”Under current plans, NASA’s shuttle fleet will be retired by fall 2010. After that, there will be no more shuttle launches. But until then, travelers to Florida still have time to catch a launch.

“Watching a space shuttle launch is a dream come true for a lot of people,” said Andrea Farmer, public relations manager at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. “It’s so powerful and amazing to see this colossal machine lift off into space. All of your senses are impacted by the launch: You see the shuttle launching, you hear the engines roar and you feel the ground rumbling under your feet.”

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NASA helps Haiti disaster relief efforts

Haiti shuttle radar image from 2000

An image of Haiti from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission in 2000 Credit: NASA

NASA is helping provide information to support disaster recovery efforts in Haiti in the wake of Tuesday’s killer earthquake.

According to the space agency, two NASA Earth monitoring satellites — the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer, or ASTER, and NASA’s Earth Observing-1 ,or EO-1 — are beaming down images of areas hardest hit by the quake. Before-and-after pictures will be used to help damage assessment and recovery efforts.

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2 Russian cosmonauts on International Space Station conduct spacewalk

Two Russian cosmonauts conducted a spacewalk on Thursday intended to activate a new segment on the International Space Station so it can dock Russian spacecraft.

The effort was expected to last nearly six hours, and Americans Jeff Williams and Timothy J. Creamer and Soichi Noguchi of Japan were supporting the mission from inside the space station.

Cosmonauts Maxim Suraev and Oleg Kotov ventured into open space at 1:05 p.m. Moscow time (1005 GMT, 5:05 a.m. EST) to activate the new module and make it ready for docking, said Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin.

They will work on the Russian Poisk module to link it to the station’s communications and power systems, and prepare it for future dockings with the Russian spacecraft, Lyndin said. The research module was launched in November.

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NASA IMAX 3D movie features astonishing Hubble repair footage

NASA IMAX movie in 3D clip

Coming to an IMAX theatre near you soon is this astonishing 3D movie film from NASA.

Served up in delicious high definition 3D, the film promises to take viewers on a, “journey through distant galaxies to explore the grandeur and mysteries of our celestial surroundings.”

NASA IMAX 3D movie features astonishing Hubble repair footageEven better, there’s some breathtaking footage capturing plucky astronauts embarking on five long spacewalks to fix the Hubble telescope.

The astronauts were trained to use the washing machine-sized IMAX camera in NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab over the course of eight months

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