Posts tagged science

NASA’s Shuttle, Satellite, and Space Telescope fleet triumph in 2009

For NASA, 2009 proved to be a stellar year, one filled with five extremely successful Space Shuttle missions (one of which repaired the Hubble Space Telescope), the test flight of the Ares I-X rocket, the launch of the Kepler Space Telescope, the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and companion spacecraft the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), and the launch of the WISE spacecraft earlier this month.

In all, the first half of 2009 proved an extremely challenging and rewarding time for NASA. Form January to June, NASA completed a complicated analysis of the Space Shuttle fleets Flow Control Valves, launched the Kepler Space Telescope to search for extra-solar Earth-like planets, conducted the STS-119 Shuttle mission, performed a dual-pad flow for STS-125 and STS-400 and the subsequent and highly successful STS-125 mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope, and launched LRO/LCROSS.

In a recent interview with NASASpaceFlight.com, Space Shuttle Program Launch Integration Manager Mike Moses talked extensively about the incredible year the Shuttle processing teams had and their ability to accomplish everything they did in 2009.

“It was all about the teams and their ability to create triple and quadruple redundancies in schedules,” Moses said.

“On the surface, it didn’t appear that we had all that challenging of a year. But if you take it month by month you can really see the issues the teams worked through and the amazing jobs those teams did to get us into a launch posture six times this year.”

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Can global warming be conquered with a stratospheric hose? Earth needs saving.

Earth as seen from Apollo 17

Earth as seen from Apollo 17 Credit: NASA Public domain

Myhrvold, is the president and founder of Intellectual Ventures and a former Microsoft Chief Technology Officer, who started his own company in 2000 to provide capital for new patents, innovative ideas, and software.

The former Microsoft engineer entered college at age 14 to study mathematics, space physics, and geophysics at UCLA, where he earned Masters and Bachelor of Science degrees. At age 23, he entered Princeton and completed his PhD in theoretical mathematics and earned a Masters in mathematical economics.

On a recent interview with CNN’s Zareed Zakaria, Myhrvold talked about how venture capital should be available, but in today’s market, it’s not.

“No one funds inventers,” Nathan said, and he wants to change that, because inventers from other countries, who used to come to the United States to get funding for their inventions innovative ideas, are no longer doing so. Without venture capital, Microsoft, Apple, and Intel would not exist today.

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MSNBC +++ Cosmic Log +++ The year in space

The highest highlight of 2009 was clearly the revival of the Hubble Space Telescope, a mission that blended moments of beauty and brute force 350 miles above the earth.

Or was it?

Maybe the top story was the reassessment of NASA’s plans for human spaceflight. After all, tens of billions of dollars could be at stake. Or maybe it was the series of victories in NASA-backed competitions that had gone unwon for years.

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Gas could be the calvalry in global warming fight

An unlikely source of energy has emerged to meet international demands that the United States do more to fight global warming: It’s cleaner than coal, cheaper than oil and a 90-year supply is under our feet.

It’s natural gas, the same fossil fuel that was in such short supply a decade ago that it was deemed unreliable. It’s now being uncovered at such a rapid pace that its price is near a seven-year low. Long used to heat half the nation’s homes, it’s becoming the fuel of choice when building new power plants. Someday, it may win wider acceptance as a replacement for gasoline in our cars and trucks.

Natural gas’ abundance and low price come as governments around the world debate how to curtail carbon dioxide and other pollution that contribute to global warming. The likely outcome is a tax on companies that spew excessive greenhouse gases. Utilities and other companies see natural gas as a way to lower emissions — and their costs. Yet politicians aren’t stumping for it.

In June, President Barack Obama lumped natural gas with oil and coal as energy sources the nation must move away from. He touts alternative sources — solar, wind and biofuels derived from corn and other plants. In Congress, the energy debate has focused on finding cleaner coal and saving thousands of mining jobs from West Virginia to Wyoming.

Utilities in the U.S. aren’t waiting for Washington to jump on the gas bandwagon. Looming climate legislation has altered the calculus that they use to determine the cheapest way to deliver power. Coal may still be cheaper, but natural gas emits half as much carbon when burned to generate the same amount electricity.

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Astronauts geared for yuletide space adventure

Astronauts from the United States, Russia and Japan are poised for their holiday season space mission Monday, when they are to blast off to the International Space Station from Russia’s remote space complex in southern Kazakhstan.

Their Soyuz TMA-17 rocket is primed at the Baikonur launch pad — where Yuri Gagarin made the first human trip into orbit in 1961 — for a mission that will boost the number of crew at the orbital laboratory to five members.

American Timothy J. Creamer of NASA, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov and Soichi Noguchi of Japan are to blast off Monday at 3:52 a.m. local time (4:52 p.m. EST Sunday, 2152 GMT) in the first-ever launch of a Soyuz spaceship on a winter night.

After the liftoff in central Asia, the Soyuz will travel for about two days before docking with the space station 350 kilometers (220 miles) above Earth.

Striking a festive mood, the space station this week beamed a video Christmas greeting to Earth.

On its Web site, NASA has created a series of virtual postcards for members of the public to send to the space station with their holiday greetings.

The three astronauts will be joining Jeff Williams, another American NASA astronaut, and Russia’s Maxim Surayev, who have been alone on the space station since the start of the month.

The first space station crew arrived in 2000, two years after the first part was launched. Until the May launch, no more than three people lived up there at a time. Prior to that, there were as many as six people aboard for several periods when a space tourist would go up with one crew, spend a week or so aboard and come back with another crew.

With the U.S. shuttle fleet set to be grounded soon, NASA and other international partners will have to rely on Russian Soyuz spacecraft alone to ferry their astronauts to the space station and back.

Credit: The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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NASA, Google offer more precise emissions tracking

COPENHAGEN — The question is a potential deal-killer: If nations ever agree to slash greenhouse gas emissions, how will the world know if they live up to their pledges?

The answer is in space, experts say — both outer space and cyberspace.

NASA, the wonder agency of the 1960s, and Google, the go-to company of the early 21st Century, are trying to give the world the ability to monitor both the carbon dioxide pollution and the levels of forest destruction that contribute to global warming.

“Just having the thing flying around there imaging would just about make everybody act differently,” said professor Steve Pacala, director of the Princeton Environmental Institute. “The idea that you could pull a fast one would be different.”

Google, meanwhile, has rolled out a new program call Earth Engine which essentially is a massive storehouse for satellite and other data that forest countries will be able to access for free by the time of the next U.N. climate conference in Mexico next year.

Deforestation is the biggest climate change culprit in much of the developing world, and industrial countries plan to pay billions of dollars to poor countries to stop deforestation. The Google system could help everyone keep track of what forests are saved.

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NASA maps Mercury, plans for 2011 orbit extravaganza

NASA’s Mercury planet exploration team this week said they have created critical tool for the first orbital observations of the planet – a global map of Mercury that will help scientists pinpoint craters, faults, and other features that will be essential for the space agency’s extensive 2011 mission.

That’s when NASA’s satellite MESSENGER (The Mercury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging, or MESSENGER) will become the first spacecraft to actually orbit Mercury — about 730 times — beaming back pictures and never-before-available pictures and information on the planet. To get into its proper orbit, MESSENGER has taken the scenic route through the solar system, including one flyby of Earth, two flybys of Venus, and three flybys of Mercury.

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#NASA Telescope To Spot Nearby Space Neighbors

WISE telescope vision artists conception

This artist’s conception shows the WISE telescope mapping the whole sky in infrared. The mission will unveil hundreds of thousands of asteroids, and hundreds of millions of stars and galaxies. Credit: NASA

NASA is getting ready to launch a new space telescope that will scan the entire sky for the infrared glow of hidden asteroids and stars that are close to Earth but too dim to be easily seen.

Unlike telescopes that look for visible light, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE telescope, will pick up infrared light. All objects that have any heat give off infrared light — and that includes things we normally think of as being cold. WISE will be able to see objects at a wide range of temperatures, from as cold as liquid nitrogen to as hot as molten aluminum, according to NASA.

To make sure WISE isn’t blinded by its own heat, it has to be kept supercold. It will work inside a giant thermos bottle called a cryostat, and hydrogen ice will keep the telescope at -438 degrees Fahrenheit. “We have now 40 pounds of solid hydrogen in our cryostat,” says William Irace, WISE project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California. “Some people think it looks like R2D2 without wheels. It’s kind of a funny-looking thing.”

The funny-looking thing is about the size of a polar bear. A rocket will blast it into orbit around the Earth. NASA is targeting launch for Monday morning.

Once it reaches orbit, WISE will spend about six months taking over 1 million images that will be stitched together to create a panoramic, infrared view of the entire sky.

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Huge ocean ‘once covered much of northern half of Mars’

The large body of water was fed through rivers carrying rainwater, scientists believe.

These created a network of valleys on the surface of the planet more than twice as extensive as previously thought, new research reveals.

The findings come just a week after Nasa, the American space agency, announced that they had found water on the surface of the Red Planet, raising hopes of finding life on Mars.

New maps showing that the valleys cover a larger area than previously appreciated has led scientists to believe there was once a single ocean covering much of planet’s northern half.

The extent of the Martian valleys, and what they mean for the chances of life on the planet, have been hotly debated since they were first discovered by the Mariner 9 Spacecraft in 1971.

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MIT Technology Review: What Should Be the Next U.S. Space Rocket?

NASA’s launch of its Ares test rocket has Buzz Aldrin questioning the vehicle’s design and outlining the need for better rockets.

The launch of NASA’s new rocket, Ares I-X, on October 28 was the first test flight of a new launch vehicle since the Apollo missions. The flight was spectacular and historic, but the famous Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin says it was little more than a half-a-billion dollar political show.

Read the rest of this great article at www.technologyreview.com

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