New NASA Sky Mapper heads to launch pad

NASA’s new asteroid-hunting spacecraft will roll out to the pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., Friday in preparation for launch next month.

The spacecraft is due to launch Dec. 9 aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket.

Known as the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), the spacecraft will spend the next 10 months circling the Earth over the poles, scanning the complete sky at infrared wavelengths to uncover hidden cosmic objects, including cool stars, dark asteroids and luminous galaxies.

“You can kind of think of it as the Google Map of the universe,” said Amy Mainzer, NASA’s deputy project scientist for WISE, explaining that the instrument will take repeated exposures of the same swath of sky, creating overlapping images as the telescope progresses through its sky scan. The stars and galaxies will appear fixed on the sky in each exposure, but asteroids will move over short amounts of time.

“WISE is going to be finding about 100,000 new asteroids in the main asteroid belt,” Mainzer said during a Nov. 17 news conference at NASA headquarters here. “And we expect it’s going to find several hundred new asteroids that get close to Earth orbits. These are asteroids and comets whose orbits take them close to Earth’s orbit.”

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Air and Space Museum Moves ‘Beyond Earth’ with Spacewalk gloves

NASA spacewalk gloves

A new exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum asks the big questions: How can human spaceflight become routine? How can a home and workplace be created in the extreme environment of space? What does the future hold for humans in space?

“Moving Beyond Earth” at the Washington D.C. museum features launch-vehicle models representing the quest for space, telescopes brought back from the Hubble, the suit worn by space tourist Dennis Tito and other items from NASA’s space exploration history.

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NASA news: astronauts send their first tweets from outer space

NASA astronauts atlantis sts-129

How cool is it when the Atlantis astronauts can share their mission experiences with us Earthlings, right from space? That’s right. Yup. Who would have believed it possible? NASA astronauts Leland Melvin and Robert Satcher are sending tweets from outer space while on their STS-129 mission. These messages are a great way to keep your kids interested in the on-going mission.

Read the rest and see their Tweets here…

The United States and China play footsie with joint space mission

The United States and China have agreed to step up discussions on cooperative space exploration, as both countries separately pursue ambitious plans to send a manned mission to the Moon by around 2020.

US president Barack Obama and Chinese president Hu Jintaro have agreed during a summit in Beijing this week to formalize joint space talks, beginning with exchange visits of their respective space agency chiefs next year.

“The United States and China look forward to expanding discussions on space science cooperation and starting a dialogue on human space flight and space exploration, based on the principles of transparency, reciprocity and mutual benefit,” a US-China joint statement released Tuesday said. “Both sides welcome reciprocal visits of the NASA Administrator and the appropriate Chinese counterpart in 2010.”

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