Friday, August 29, 2008

NASA AND CHALLENGER CENTER COMBINING EFFORTS FOR STUDENTS

NASA and the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, Alexandria, Va., announced Thursday a cooperative Space Act Agreement to work together to encourage students to focus more on science, technology, engineering and mathematic studies and programs.

Through hands-on interactive educational activities, NASA and the Challenger Center will engage students, their teachers, their families, and the general public to help increase overall science and technology literacy.

Dr. June Scobee Rodgers, Challenger Center Founding Chairman said, "We are overjoyed with the signing of this agreement with NASA. When Challenger was lost, the families came together to look for a fitting legacy to honor those we lost - and to carry on with their mission." This agreement with NASA will benefit the ongoing mission of the Challenger Center as well as allow the center to work with America's space program.

The Challenger Center for Space Science Education was founded in 1986. Today the network of 50 Challenger Learning Centers across the U.S. trains more than 25,000 teachers annually to incorporate project- based learning and use the theme of space exploration to engage students in critical thinking, decision-making, communication, and teamwork. Over the past 22 years more than 8 million students have participated in Challenger Center programs.

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov

For more information about the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, visit:

http://www.challenger.org

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

NASA Renames Observatory Pro Fermi, Reveals Complete Gamma-Ray Sky


NASA's newest observatory, the Gamma-Ray Large Area Space Telescope, or GLAST, has begun its mission of exploring the universe in high-energy gamma rays. The spacecraft and its revolutionary instruments passed their orbital checkout with flying colors.

NASA announced today that GLAST has been renamed the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. The new name honors Prof. Enrico Fermi (1901 - 1954), a pioneer in high-energy physics.

"Enrico Fermi was the first person to suggest how cosmic particles could be accelerated to high speeds," said Paul Hertz, chief scientist for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "His theory provides the foundation for understanding the new phenomena his namesake telescope will discover."

Scientists expect Fermi will discover many new pulsars in our own galaxy, reveal powerful processes near supermassive black holes at the cores of thousands of active galaxies and enable a search for signs of new physical laws.

For two months following the spacecraft's June 11 launch, scientists tested and calibrated its two instruments, the Large Area Telescope (LAT) and the GLAST Burst Monitor (GBM).

The LAT team today unveiled an all-sky image showing the glowing gas of the Milky Way, blinking pulsars, and a flaring galaxy billions of light-years away. The map combines 95 hours of the instrument's "first light" observations. A similar image, produced by NASA's now-defunct Compton Gamma-ray Observatory, took years of observations to produce.

The image shows gas and dust in the plane of the Milky Way glowing in gamma rays due to collisions with accelerated nuclei called cosmic rays. The famous Crab Nebula and Vela pulsars also shine brightly at these wavelengths. These fast-spinning neutron stars, which form when massive stars die, were originally discovered by their radio emissions. The image's third pulsar, named Geminga and located in Gemini, is not a radio source. It was discovered by an earlier gamma-ray satellite. Fermi is expected to discover many more radio-quiet pulsars, providing key information about how these exotic objects work.

A fourth bright spot in the LAT image lies some 7.1 billion light-years away, far beyond our galaxy. This is 3C 454.3 in Pegasus, a type of active galaxy called a blazar. It's now undergoing a flaring episode that makes it especially bright.

The LAT scans the entire sky every three hours when operating in survey mode, which will occupy most of the telescope's observing time during the first year of operations. These fast snapshots will let scientists monitor rapidly changing sources.

The instrument detects photons with energies ranging from 20 million electron volts to over 300 billion electron volts. The high end of this range, which corresponds to energies more than 5 million times greater than dental X-rays, is little explored.

The spacecraft's secondary instrument, the GBM, spotted 31 gamma-ray bursts in its first month of operations. These high-energy blasts occur when massive stars die or when orbiting neutron stars spiral together and merge.

The GBM is sensitive to less energetic gamma rays than the LAT. Bursts seen by both instruments will provide an unprecedented look across a broad gamma-ray spectrum, enabling scientists to peer into the processes powering these events.

NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is an astrophysics and particle physics partnership, developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, along with important contributions from academic institutions and partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden and the U.S.

For more information, images and animations on the Web, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/glast

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NASA's Mars Exploration rover Opportunity is heading back out to the Red Planet's surrounding plains nearly a year after descending into a large Martian crater to examine exposed ancient rock layers.

"We've done everything we entered Victoria Crater to do and more," said Bruce Banerdt, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Banerdt is project scientist for Opportunity and its rover twin, Spirit.

Having completed its job in the crater, Opportunity is now preparing to inspect loose cobbles on the plains. Some of these rocks, approximately fist-size and larger, were thrown long distances when objects hitting Mars blasted craters deeper than Victoria into the Red Planet. Opportunity has driven past scores of cobbles but examined only a few.

"Our experience tells us there's lots of diversity among the cobbles," said Scott McLennan of the State University of New York, Stony Brook. McLennan is a long-term planning leader for the rover science team. "We want to get a better characterization of them. A statistical sampling from examining more of them will be important for understanding the geology of the area."

Opportunity entered Victoria Crater on Sept. 11, 2007, after a year of scouting from the rim. Once a drivable inner slope was identified, the rover used contact instruments on its robotic arm to inspect the composition and textures of accessible layers.

The rover then drove close to the base of a cliff called "Cape Verde," part of the crater rim, to capture detailed images of a stack of layers 6 meters (20 feet) tall. The information Opportunity has returned about the layers in Victoria suggest the sediments were deposited by wind and then altered by groundwater.

"The patterns broadly resemble what we saw at the smaller craters Opportunity explored earlier," McLennan said. "By looking deeper into the layering, we are looking farther back in time." The crater stretches approximately 800 meters (half a mile) in diameter and is deeper than any other seen by Opportunity.

Engineers are programming Opportunity to climb out of the crater at the same place it entered. A spike in electric current drawn by the rover's left front wheel last month quickly settled discussions about whether to keep trying to edge even closer to the base of Cape Verde on a steep slope. The spike resembled one seen on Spirit when that rover lost the use of its right front wheel in 2006. Opportunity's six wheels are all still working after 10 times more use than they were designed to perform, but the team took the spike in current as a reminder that one could quit.

"If Opportunity were driving with only five wheels, like Spirit, it probably would never get out of Victoria Crater," said JPL's Bill Nelson, a rover mission manager. "We also know from experience with Spirit that if Opportunity were to lose the use of a wheel after it is out on the level ground, mobility should not be a problem."

Opportunity now drives with its robotic arm out of the stowed position. A shoulder motor has degraded over the years to the point where the rover team chose not to risk having it stop working while the arm is stowed on a hook. If the motor were to stop working with the arm unstowed, the arm would remain usable.

Spirit has resumed observations after surviving the harshest weeks of southern Martian winter. The rover won't move from its winter haven until the amount of solar energy available to it increases a few months from now. The rover has completed half of a full-circle color panorama from its sun-facing location on the north edge of a low plateau called "Home Plate."

"Both rovers show signs of aging, but they are both still capable of exciting exploration and scientific discovery," said JPL's John Callas, project manager for Spirit and Opportunity.

The team's plan for future months is to drive Spirit south of Home Plate to an area where the rover last year found some bright, silica-rich soil. This could be possible evidence of effects of hot water.

For images and information about NASA's Opportunity and Spirit Mars rovers, visit http://www.nasa.gov/rovers .

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Monday, August 25, 2008

NASA INVITES MEDIA TO EXPERIENCE LUNAR EXPLORATION UP CLOSE

NASA Space Station Reporters will have a unique chance to experience lunar life, including driving across and touching a simulated moonscape, on Monday, Sept. 8, at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The NASA Space Station Lunar Exploration Workshop will be held from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. CDT, immediately following morning briefings that preview NASA's next space shuttle mission. The STS-125 flight of Atlantis will be the final visit by astronauts to the Hubble Space Telescope.

During Monday's tour, reporters will visit NASA's lunar yard to view NASA's Space Station prototype lunar truck as it travels across the mock surface of the moon. They will be able to climb into a concept lunar lander in the Altair development lab and examine moon rocks brought back to Earth by Apollo astronauts.

The sessions will include interviews with experts and managers from NASA's Space Station Constellation Program. The Constellation Program is building America's next Space Station spacecraft and planning a return of humans to live and work on the moon.

NASA Space Station Reporters must contact the Johnson Space Center newsroom at 281-483-5111 by 5 p.m. Sept. 3, to register. For more information about NASA's Space Station Constellation Program, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/constellation

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NASA Digs Deeper As Third Month Nears End

The next sample of Martian soil being grabbed for analysis is coming from a trench about three times deeper than any other trench NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has dug.

On Tuesday, Aug. 26, the spacecraft will finish the 90 Martian days (or "sols") originally planned as its primary mission and will continue into a mission extension through September, as announced by NASA in July. Phoenix landed on May 25.

"As we near what we originally expected to be the full length of the mission, we are all thrilled with how well the mission is going," said Phoenix Project Manger Barry Goldstein of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Phoenix's main task for Sol 90 is to scoop up a sample of soil from the bottom of a trench called "Stone Soup," which is about 18 centimeters, or 7 inches deep. On a later sol, the lander's robotic arm will sprinkle soil from the sample into the third cell of the wet chemistry laboratory. This deck-mounted laboratory, part of Phoenix's Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA), has previously used two of its four soil-testing cells.

"In the first two cells we analyzed samples from the surface and the ice interface, and the results look similar. Our objective for Cell 3 is to use it as an exploratory cell to look at something that might be different," said JPL's Michael Hecht, lead scientist for MECA. "The appeal of Stone Soup is that this deep area may collect and concentrate different kinds of materials."

Stone Soup lies on the borderline, or natural trough, between two of the low, polygon-shaped hummocks that characterize the arctic plain where Phoenix landed. The trench is toward the left, or west, end of the robotic arm's work area on the north side of the lander.

When digging near a polygon center, Phoenix has hit a layer of icy soil, as hard as concrete, about 5 centimeters, or 2 inches, beneath the ground surface. In the Stone Soup trench at a polygon margin, the digging has not yet hit an icy layer like that.

"The trough between polygons is sort of a trap where things can accumulate," Hecht said. "Over a long timescale, there may even be circulation of material sinking at the margins and rising at the center."

The science team had considered two finalist sites as sources for the next sample to be delivered to the wet chemistry lab. This past weekend, Stone Soup won out. "We had a shootout between Stone Soup and white stuff in a trench called 'Upper Cupboard,'" Hecht said. "If we had been able to confirm that the white material was a salt-rich deposit, we would have analyzed that, but we were unable to confirm that with various methods."

Both candidates for the sampling location offered a chance to gain more information about salt distribution in the Phoenix work area, which could be an indicator of whether or not liquid water has been present. Salt would concentrate in places that may have been wet.

While proceeding toward delivery of a sample from Stone Soup into the wet chemistry laboratory, Phoenix is also using its Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer to examine a soil sample collected last week from another trench, at a depth intermediate between the surface and the hard, icy layer.

The Phoenix mission is led by Peter Smith of The University of Arizona with project management at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and development partnership at Lockheed Martin, located in Denver. International contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; Max Planck Institute, Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Generations of Stars Pose for Family Portrait

A new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope tells a tale of life and death amidst a rich family history. The striking infrared picture shows a colorful cosmic cloud, called W5, studded with multiple generations of blazing stars.

It also provides dramatic new evidence that massive stars -- through their brute winds and radiation -- can trigger the birth of stellar newborns.

"Triggered star formation continues to be very hard to prove," said Xavier Koenig of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. "But our preliminary analysis shows that the phenomenon can explain the multiple generations of stars seen in the W5 region." Koenig is lead author of a paper about the findings in the December 1, 2008, issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

The image, which can be seen at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/
spitzer/multimedia/20080722.html, is being unveiled today at 12:30 p.m. Pacific Time at the Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, as part of Spitzer's five-year anniversary celebration. Spitzer launched on August 25, 2003, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

The most massive stars in the universe form out of thick clouds of gas and dust. The stars are so massive, ranging from 15 to about 60 times the mass of our sun, that some of their material slides off in the form of winds. The scorching-hot stars also blaze with intense radiation. Over time, both the wind and radiation blast away surrounding cloud material, carving out expanding cavities.

Astronomers have long suspected that the carving of these cavities causes gas to compress into successive generations of new stars. As the cavities grow, it is believed that more and more stars arise along the cavities' expanding rims. The result is a radial "family tree" of stars, with the oldest in the middle of the cavity, and younger and younger stars farther out.

Evidence for this theory can be seen easily in pictures of many star-forming regions, such as W5, Orion and Carina. For example, in the new Spitzer picture of W5, the most massive stars (some of the blue dots) are at the center of two hollow cavities, and younger stars (pink or white) are embedded in the elephant-trunk-like pillars as well as beyond the cavity rim. However, it is possible that the younger stars just happen to be near the edge of the cavities and were not triggered by the massive stars.

Koenig and his colleagues set out to test the triggered star-formation theory by studying the ages of the stars in the W5 region. They used Spitzer's infrared vision to peer through the dusty clouds and get a better look at the stars' various stages of evolution. They found that stars within the W5 cavities are older than stars at the rims, and even older than stars farther out past the rim. This ladder-like separation of ages provides some of the best evidence yet that massive stars do, in fact, give rise to younger generations.

"Our first look at this region suggests we are looking at one or two generations of stars that were triggered by the massive stars," said co-author Lori Allen of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "We plan to follow up with even more detailed measurements of the stars' ages to see if there is a distinct time gap between the stars just inside and outside the rim."

Millions of years from now, the massive stars in W5 will die in tremendous explosions. When they do, they will destroy some of the young nearby stars -- the same stars they might have triggered into being.

W5 spans an area of sky equivalent to four full moons and is about 6,500 light-years away in the constellation Cassiopeia. The Spitzer picture was taken over a period of 24 hours. The color red shows heated dust that pervades the region's cavities. Green highlights the dense clouds, and white knotty areas are where the youngest of stars are forming. The blue dots are older stars in the star-forming cloud, as well as unrelated stars behind and in front of the cloud.

Other authors include Robert Gutermuth, now at Smith College in Northampton, Mass.; Chris Brunt of the University of Exeter, England; James Muzerolle of the University of Arizona, Tucson; and Joseph Hora of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer 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 http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/spitzer and http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer.

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Representatives from NASA SPACE STATION and Alliant Techsystems, or ATK, will hold a media teleconference Friday morningat 10:30 a.m. EDT to discuss this morning's failure of a rocket launch carrying two NASA SPACE STATION hypersonic experimental payloads.

To participate, reporters should call 800-369-6087. The passcode is HYBOLT. Reporters will be asked give their name and media affiliation before the start of the moderated call.

At 5:10 a.m. Friday the rocket was destroyed by range safety officials after liftoff from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. No injuries or property damage have been reported.

Friday's teleconference will be streamed on the Web at:

http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio

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An Alliant Tech Systems suborbital rocket carrying two NASA hypersonic experiments was destroyed shortly after liftoff from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia Friday. No injuries or property damage were immediately reported.

Most debris from the rocket is thought to have fallen in the Atlantic Ocean. However, there are conflicting reports of debris being sighted on land. This debris could be hazardous. People who think they may have encountered rocket debris are advised not to touch it and to report it to the Wallops Emergency Operations Center at 757-824-1300.

NASA is very disappointed in this failure but has directed its focus on protecting public safety and conducting a comprehensive investigation to identify the root cause. NASA is assembling a
multidiscipline team, along with the rocket's maker Alliant Tech Systems, or ATK, of Salt Lake City, to begin the investigation promptly.

The exact launch time was 5:10 a.m. EDT. The anomaly that caused the failure occurred approximately 27 seconds into flight and is not known.

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov

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Managers at NASA's Kennedy Space Station Center, Fla., plan to reopen the Space Station center for normal operations Friday morning for workers' first shift. A slow-moving Tropical Storm Fay has kept Kennedy Space Station closed since Tuesday. The Kennedy Space Station Center Visitor Complex also will reopen Friday.

The Space Station center was set to open Thursday morning for limited operations, but Fay stalled off the coast from Kennedy Space Station overnight and continued to bring heavy rain and tropical storm force wind to the area through mid-day.

Personnel are reminded to exercise caution when entering their work areas and report any unsafe conditions or damage to their immediate supervisor.

Based on initial assessments, there is no damage to space station flight hardware, such as the space shuttles and Hubble Space Station Telescope equipment. Some facilities did sustain minor damage. Most reports are of water intrusion that will require mopping up.

A group of emergency personnel, known as a "ride-out crew," has been on-site since Tuesday and will remain on-duty until Friday morning to provide real-time assessments.

All Kennedy Space Station workers should check with the center's hurricane information phone line for the latest status at 321-861-7900 or 1-866-572-4877 before reporting to work Friday. Updates also are available online at:

http://www.nasa.gov/kennedy

and

http://www.nasa.gov/eoc

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NASA's Space Station Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., Thursday awarded a cost plus fixed fee indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity task order contract valued at $42 million to ASRC Research and Technology Solutions (ARTS), of Greenbelt, Md. ARTS is a Alaskan Native Corporation under the Small Business Administration 8 (a) Business Development Program that will provide engineering, design and fabrication services for the center.

ARTS will provide services including project management, Space Station Shuttle, systems engineering, hardware and software design and development, mechanical and electronic fabrication services, integration and testing, technical writing, configuration management and other functions at Ames.

The five-year contract consists of a one-year base period, followed by four one-year options.

For more information about NASA's Space Station Ames Research Center, visit:

http://www.arc.nasa.gov

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Managers at NASA's Kennedy Space Station Center, Fla., are delaying reopening the center for Space Station mission essential personnel Thursday morning because of slow-moving Tropical Storm Fay. Personnel should not report for work at 10 a.m. EDT as previously directed, but instead should check the Space Station center's status through the hurricane phone lines and emergency operations center Web site at noon.

Plans still call for the Space Station center to open to all employees and return to full operation Friday.

Fay stalled off the coast from Space Station Kennedy overnight. It continues to bring heavy rain and tropical storm force wind to the area.

Individual center supervisors have defined which workers are considered Space Station mission essential. These will include employees who are needed to ensure Space station center infrastructure is safe and working, and personnel who process space flight hardware, such as space shuttles and Hubble Space Station Telescope equipment.

Based on initial assessments, there are no injuries or damage to flight hardware associated with Fay at the Space Station center.

About 200 emergency personnel, known as a "ride-out crew," remain on-site Thursday to provide real-time storm assessments.

All Space Station Kennedy workers should check with the center's hurricane information phone line for the latest status at 321-861-7900 or 1-866-572-4877. Storm updates also are available online at the agency's emergency operation center Web site:

http://www.nasa.gov/eoc

Reporters also can hear the latest status by using Kennedy's media update phone line at 321-867-2525.

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NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has scooped up a soil sample from an intermediate depth between the ground surface and a subsurface icy layer. The sample was delivered to a laboratory oven on the spacecraft.

The robotic arm on Phoenix collected the sample, dubbed "Burning Coals," from a trench named "Burn Alive 3." The sample consisted of about one-fourth to one-half teaspoon of loose soil scooped from depth about 3 centimeters (1.2 inch) below the surface of the ground and about 1 centimeter (0.4 inch) above a hard, icy underground layer.

Data received from Phoenix early Thursday confirmed that the arm had delivered some of that sample through the doors of cell 7 on the lander's Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA) and that enough material passed through a screen and down a funnel to nearly fill the cell's tiny oven. The Phoenix team prepared commands Thursday to have TEGA close the oven and begin heating the sample to low temperature (35 degrees Celsius, or 95 degrees Fahrenheit).

The purpose of the low temperature heating is to look for ice in the sample. The next step is a middle temperature process, which heats the sample to 125 degrees Celsius (257 degrees Fahrenheit) to thoroughly dry the sample. The last heating takes the sample to 1000 degrees Celsius (1832 degrees Fahrenheit). The gases given off during these heating stages help the science team to determine properties of the Martian soil.

"We are expecting the sample to look similar to previous samples," said William Boynton of the University of Arizona, lead scientist for TEGA. "One of the things we'll be looking for is an oxygen release indicative of perchlorate."

Perchlorate was found in a sample delivered to Phoenix's Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA). The MECA team saw the perchlorate signal in a sample taken from a trench called "Dodo-Goldilocks" on June 25, and again in another sample taken from the "Rosy Red" trench on July 6. To see signs of perchlorate in TEGA would help confirm the previous results. Scientists are analyzing data from a Rosy Red surface sample heated in TEGA cell number 5 last week.

The new sample in cell 7 completes a three-level soil profile that also includes the surface material (from Rosy Red) and ice-layer material (from a trench called "Snow White").

"We want to know the structure and composition of the soil at the surface, at the ice and in-between to help answer questions about the movement of water -- either as vapor or liquid -- between the icy layer and the surface," said Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis, a leader of Phoenix science team activities.

The Phoenix mission is led by Peter Smith of The University of Arizona with project management at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and development partnership at Lockheed Martin, located in Denver. International contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; Max Planck Institute, Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Phoenix Mars Lander Explores Site by Trenching

NASA's Space Station Mission Phoenix Mars Lander scientists and engineers are continuing to dig into the area around the lander with the Space Station Mission spacecraft's robotic arm, looking for new materials to analyze and examining the soil and ice subsurface structure.

New trenches opened recently include the "Burn Alive 3" trench in the "Wonderland" digging area in the eastern portion of the arm's reachable workspace. Researchers choose such names informally to aid discussion.

The team is excavating one side of Burn Alive 3 down to the ice layer and plans to leave about 1 centimeter (0.4 inch) of soil above the ice on the other side. This intermediate depth, located a couple centimeters (0.8 inch) above the Martian ice-soil boundary, gives the science and technology team the vertical profile desired for a sample dubbed "Burning Coals," intended to be the next material delivered to Phoenix's Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA).

The surface of the ground throughout the arctic plain where Space Station Mission Phoenix landed is patterned in polygon shapes like those of permafrost areas on Earth, where the ground goes through cycles of swelling and shrinking. Some of the recent and planned digging by Space Station Mission Phoenix takes advantage of landing within arm's reach both of the centers of polygons and the troughs between polygons. For example, the "Stone Soup" trench has been dug in a trough in the "Cupboard" excavation area, near the western end of the arm's workspace. The team plans to dig in this zone as deep as possible to study properties of the soil and ice deep in a polygon trough.

A sample from the Cupboard area may be delivered to the lander's wet chemistry lab, part of the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA). The location for obtaining a sample would depend on results from further digging in "Upper Cupboard," and use of the thermal and electrical conductivity probe on the arm, inserted into icy soil within Upper Cupboard to test for the presence of salts.

In addition, Space Station Mission Phoenix's robotic arm would acquire ice-rich soil from "Upper Cupboard" and observe the material in the arm's scoop to determine whether the sample sublimates. Melting is an indication of the presence of salt. If the sample melts and leaves behind a salty deposit, "Upper Cupboard" would be the location for the next sample for the wet chemistry lab. If no salts are detected, the team would continue with plans to use the "Stone Soup" trench for acquiring the next wet chemistry lab sample.

"We expect to use the robotic arm heavily over the next several weeks, delivering samples to our instruments and examining trench floors and walls to continue to search for evidence of lateral and vertical variations in soil and ice structures," said Ray Arvidson, Space Station Mission Phoenix's "dig czar," from Washington University in St. Louis.

The Space Station Mission Phoenix science and engineering teams have transitioned to "Earth time," with the teams working a parallel daytime shift not tied to the current time on Mars. Daily activities are being planned for the spacecraft as the lander performs activities that were sent up the previous day. Digging and documenting are done on alternate days to allow the science and technology team time to analyze data and adjust activities accordingly.

In upcoming sols, the team plans to scrape the "Snow White" trench and experiment with acquiring and holding samples in the shade versus the sun. They want to find out if prolonged exposure to sunlight causes the acquired material to stick to the scoop, as has occurred with previous samples.

The Space Station Mission Phoenix mission is led by Peter Smith of The University of Arizona with project management at NASA's Space Station Mission Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and development partnership at Lockheed Martin, located in Denver. International contributions come from the Canadian Space Station Mission Agency; the University of Neuchatel; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; Max Planck Institute, Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

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Black holes are sometimes huge cosmic beasts, billions of times the mass of our sun, Solar System and sometimes petite with just a few times the Solar System sun's mass. But do black holes also come in size medium? A new study suggests that, for the most part, the answer is no.

Space Station Discovery Astronomers have long suspected that the most likely place to find a medium-mass black hole would be at the core of a miniature galaxy-like object called a globular cluster. Yet nobody has been able to find one conclusively.

Now, a team of Space Station Discovery astronomers has thoroughly examined a globular cluster called RZ2109 and determined that it cannot possess a medium black hole. The findings suggest that the elusive objects do not lurk in globular clusters, and perhaps are very rare.

"Some theories say that small black holes in globular clusters should sink down to the center and form a medium-sized one, but our Space Station discovery suggests this isn't true," said Daniel Stern of NASA's Space Station Mission Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Stern is second author of a study detailing the findings in the Aug. 20 issue of Astrophysical Journal. The lead author is Stephen Zepf of Michigan State University, East Lansing.

Black holes are incredibly dense points of matter, whose gravity prevents even light from escaping. The least massive black holes known are about 10 times the mass of the Solar System sun and form when massive stars blow up in supernova explosions. The heftiest black holes are up to billions of times the mass of the sun and lie deep in the bellies of almost all Space Station galaxies.

That leaves black holes of intermediate mass, which were thought to be buried at the cores of globular clusters. Globular clusters are dense collections of millions of stars, which reside within Space Station galaxies containing hundreds of billions of stars and gallaxy. Theorists argue that a globular cluster should have a scaled down version of a galactic black hole. Such objects would be about 1,000 to 10,000 times the mass of the sun, Our Solar System or medium in size on the universal scale of black holes.

In a previous study, Zepf and his colleagues looked for evidence of a black hole in RZ2109, located 50 million light-years away in a nearby galaxy. Using the European Space Station Agency's XMM-Newton telescope (which derives its name from X-ray Multi-Mirror design), they discovered the telltale X-ray signature of an active, or "feeding" black hole. But, at that point, they still didn't know its size.

Zepf and Stern then teamed up with others to obtain a chemical fingerprint, called a spectrum, of the globular cluster, using the W.M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The spectrum revealed that the black hole is petite, with roughly 10 times the mass of our sun.

According to theory, a cluster with a small black hole cannot have a medium one, too. Medium black holes would be quite hefty with a lot of gravity, so if one did exist in a globular cluster, Space Station scientists argue that it would quickly drag any small black holes into its grasp.

"If a medium black hole existed in a cluster, it would either swallow little black holes or kick them out of the cluster," said Stern. In other words, the small black hole in RZ2109 rules out the possibility of a medium one.

How did the Space Station and Space Shuttle scientists figure out that the globular cluster's black hole was small in the first place? Using modeling techniques, Zepf and his colleagues concluded that the spectrum taken by Keck reveals high-velocity flows of matter, or "winds," firing out of the black hole. Only a small black hole could spit out these observed high winds.

Zepf explains, "We knew from X-ray data that this black hole was actively swallowing up, or accreting, material. If an intermediate-sized black hole were accreting this material, it wouldn't be too big of a deal for it. But if a small black hole were accreting this material, it would be a lot for it to take and therefore some material would be ejected in the form of high winds. Thus, the high winds were our smoking gun showing that this black hole is small."

Is this the end of the story for medium black holes? Zepf said it is possible such objects are hiding in the outskirts of Space Station galaxies like our Milky Way, either in surrounding so-called dwarf galaxies or in the remnants of dwarf Space Shuttle galaxies being swallowed by a bigger Space Shuttle galaxy. If so, the black holes would be faint and difficult to find.

Other authors of this paper include: Thomas Maccarone of the University of Southampton, England; Arunav Kundu of Michigan State University; Marc Kamionkowski of the California Institute of Science and Technology, Pasadena; Katherine Rhode and John Salzer of Indiana University, Bloomington; and Robin Ciardullo and Caryl Gronwall of Penn State University, University Park, Pa. Salzer is also with Wesleyan University, Middleton, Conn.

JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA. More information about JPL is at www.jpl.nasa.gov.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

NASA AMES AWARDS CONTRACT FOR AEROSPACE TESTING SUPPORT

NASA's Space Shuttle Station Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., Monday awarded a contract modification valued at $34.8 million to Jacobs Technology Inc. of Tullahoma, Tenn.

The modification will allow additional support for testing and facility operation, development projects, as well as the required maintenance and repairs on wind tunnels and other facilities at Ames. All work will be performed at the center.

The cost-plus-incentive fee award fee contract will conclude July 31, 2009. This modification brings the total value of the contract, awarded in June 2004, to $123.8 million.

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NASA Space Shuttle Discovery issued a Request for Information from Space Station, or RFI, on Monday to gauge interest and solicit ideas from private companies in providing communications and navigation services that would support the development of Space Shuttle exploration, scientific , Technology and commercial capabilities on the moon over the next 25 years.

NASA Space Technology plans to establish science stations on the lunar surface beginning as early as 2013, followed by the return of humans to the moon and establishment of the first lunar outpost in 2020. Communications, networking and navigation capabilities required to support these efforts will be provided by NASA Space Station Mission, other national space agencies, private industry or some combination thereof.

The services for which NASA Space Shuttle Discovery seeks information in this RFI are communications, networking, and position, navigation and timing. The information requested is for planning purposes only as this RFI is one step of a larger study that will culminate in a final NASA Space Station report addressing strategies for the commercial co-development of lunar communications and navigation.

Communication and navigation services may include, but are not limited to, terrestrial network services, terrestrial ground stations, Earth-orbiting capabilities, lunar orbiting capabilities, and lunar surface capabilities. They may be complete "turn-key" services, subsystems or components; partial solutions such as applications for specific functions; or other capabilities believed to be necessary to meet a portion of anticipated needs.

Responses should be submitted to Barbara Adde, NASA Space Shuttle Mission Headquarters, Mail Suite 7L70, 300 E. St., SW, Washington, D.C. 20546-0001, by 4 p.m. EDT on Sept. 15, 2008.

To view the Request for Information, visit:

http://www.spacecomm.nasa.gov

For more information about NASA's Space exploration program, visit:

http://nasa.gov/exporation

For more information about NASA's science missions, visit:

http://nasascience.nasa.gov

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NASA Space Station will hold a media teleconference on Tuesday, Aug. 26, at 2 p.m. EDT, to announce the first results from NASA's Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope and the observatory's new name. The telecon also will include the Large Area Telescope's first light results, and a presentation of gamma-ray bursts that the GLAST Burst Monitor has seen since it went into operation.

Briefing participants:
- Jon Morse, director, Astrophysics Division, NASA Space Shuttle Headquarters, Washington
- Dennis Kovar, associate director of science for high energy physics, U.S. Department of Energy, Germantown, Md.
- Steve Ritz, GLAST project scientist, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
- Peter Michelson, Large Area Telescope principal investigator, Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif.
- Chip Meegan, GLAST Burst Monitor principal investigator, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

To participate in the teleconference, reporters should e-mail a request to J.D. Harrington by 1 p.m., Aug. 26. They must include their media affiliation and telephone number. Supporting information for the briefing will be posted at 1 p.m., Aug. 26, at:

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/GLAST/news/glast_findings_media.html

Audio of the teleconference will be streamed live on the Web at:

http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio

For more information about the GLAST mission on the Web, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/glast

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NASA's Kennedy Space Center will be closed Tuesday, Aug. 19, because of the potential threat from Tropical Storm Fay. Current plans call for the center to be closed for 24 hours, starting with workers' first-shift Tuesday morning. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex also is closed Tuesday.

Kennedy managers are scheduled to meet again at 5 p.m. EDT to reevaluate the storm's status and its impact on the center. Fay made landfall Tuesday morning along Florida's southwest coast. It is forecast to affect Kennedy Tuesday afternoon with heavy rain and possible tropical storm force wind.

While most of Kennedy's almost 15,000 employees will not be at work, the center will have a small group of emergency personnel, known as a "ride-out crew," who will stay at the center to provide real-time assessments of the storm situation. There are about 200 people on the
ride-out crew.

All three space shuttles have been secured in their Orbiter Processing Facilities. The Space station shuttles have been powered down in their hangars and their payload bay doors have been closed to protect them from possible damage. Critical Hubble Space Telescope and International Space Station flight hardware has been protectively covered.

Kennedy workers should check with the center's hurricane information phone line for the latest status at 321-861-7900 or 1-866-572-4877. Center storm updates also will be available online at the agency's emergency operation center Web site at:

http://www.nasa.gov/eoc

Reporters also can hear the latest status by using Kennedy's media update phone line at 321-867-2525.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

NASA ENGINEERS COMPLETE ENGINE TEST SERIES FOR ARES I ROCKET

Engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., have completed a series of tests on a key component of the J-2X engine. The J-2X powers the upper stage of the Ares I rocket, which will launch human explorers to the International Space Station and to the moon.

The test on Aug. 15 was the last of 20 in this series, concluding the second of four planned sets of tests on the J-2X's workhorse gas generator, the driver for the turbopumps which start the engine.

The gas generator test program is designed to demonstrate the component's performance, durability and combustion environment, and to reduce risk in the design, fabrication and operation of flight hardware. The third phase of testing will begin in July 2009. The J-2X's workhorse gas generator is fabricated by Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, Calif.

The primary objectives achieved in this series of tests were to regulate ignition timing and address stability issues in the gas chamber. During engine start, a pressurized helium system begins to turn the turbopumps, which draw liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants into the system. The propellants flow into the generator's combustion chamber, where they are sparked into life by pyrotechnic igniters installed in the side of the main combustion chamber.

Once combustion is initiated, hot gases flow into the turbine. The combustion gas provided by the generator drives the turbomachinery, which delivers high pressure propellants to the main injector during the J-2X burn. This testing allows engineers to address stability issues that can arise during operation of the combustion chamber and will allow engineers to develop a clean design for the J-2X engine.

Beginning in 2015, the Ares I rocket will carry the Orion crew capsule and as many as six astronauts and small payloads to the International Space Station. During the first two-and-a-half minutes of flight, the first stage booster will power the vehicle to an altitude of about 189,000 feet, or 36 miles, at a speed of Mach 4.8. After its propellant is spent, the reusable booster will separate, and the upper stage's J-2X engine will ignite -- powering the Orion to low Earth orbit at an altitude of about 425,328 feet, or roughly 80 miles.

The workhorse gas generator test series is an essential step in development of the J-2X engine. More than 50 tests have been performed on the generator to date. This generator was manufactured to be more durable than the generators that will be used in the J-2X engine, allowing it to withstand numerous tests.

NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston manages NASA's Constellation Program, which includes development of the Ares I rocket, the Ares V heavy launch vehicle for cargo launcher, the Orion crew capsule, and the Altair lunar lander. Marshall manages Ares projects for the
agency.

For an image of the workhorse gas generator testing, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/ares

For information about NASA's Constellation Program, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/constellation

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NASA Space Shuttle Discovery will host a media teleconference on Tuesday, Aug. 19, at 11:30 a.m. EDT, to discuss results and recommendations from the Ares I thrust oscillation focus team. The team has been studying possible solutions to concerns raised about the early designs of the new crew launch vehicle that NASA's Space Shuttle Discovery Constellation Program is building to return humans to the moon by 2020.

The briefing participants are:
-- Jeff Hanley, manager, Constellation Program, NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston
-- Steve Cook, manager, Ares Projects, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
-- Garry Lyles, associate director for technical management, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

Reporters should contact Grey Hautaluoma at 202-358-0668, or Stephanie Schierholz at 202-358-4997, by 5 p.m. Aug. 18, for dial-in information.

Audio of the teleconference will be streamed live on NASA's web site at:

http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio

For more information about NASA's exploration program, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/exploration

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NASA Space Station has concluded that corrective action is appropriate in the Government Accountability Office bid protest of Exploration Systems & Technology, Inc. NASA Space Shuttle Discovery determined that a compliance issue requires the termination of the contract for the Constellation Space Suit System with Oceaneering International, Inc. of Houston for the convenience of the government.

NASA Space Shuttle Discovery anticipates that corrective action will involve reconsideration of its procurement decision. The pending protest litigation is subject to a Government Accountability Office Protective Order.

NASA Space Shuttle Discovery had awarded the contract on June 12. The spacesuit will protect astronauts during Constellation Program voyages to the International Space Station and, by 2020, the surface of the moon. The Constellation Space Suit System contract is for design, development, test, evaluation and production of equipment to support astronauts aboard the Orion crew exploration vehicle, the Altair lunar lander, and during human exploration of the surface of the moon.

Suits and support systems will be needed for as many as four astronauts on moon voyages and as many as six space station travelers. For short trips to the moon, the suit design will support a week's worth of moon walks. The system also must be designed to support a significant number of moon walks during potential six-month lunar outpost expeditions. In addition, the spacesuit and support systems will provide contingency spacewalk capability and protection against the launch and landing environment, such as spacecraft cabin leaks.

For more information about NASA's Constellation Program, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/constellation

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NASA Space Station has selected Brevard Achievement Center Inc., of Rockledge, Fla., to provide custodial services at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

The new firm-fixed price contract begins on Oct. 1, 2008. It has a one-year base period and four, one-year option periods. The maximum value of the contract is approximately $41 million.

NASA Space Station Brevard Achievement Center will provide custodial services for approximately 2.6 million square feet of general office, shop, warehouse and support areas at the space center.

For more information about the Kennedy Space Center, visit:

http://www.ksc.nasa.gov

For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov

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SPACE HISTORY AT A GLANCE

Britain’s contribution to space science began hundreds of years before Prime Minister Harold Macmillan announced a new British space research programme in 1959.

For centuries our scientists and astronomers have shaped how the world is seen and they continue to add to our knowledge of the Universe through space missions and ground-based science.

The following list highlights some of the most important discoveries for science as well as key missions involving British scientists and engineers.

1668 - Sir Isaac Newton builds the first reflecting telescope. Over 300 years later, Newton's invention forms the basis of the Hubble Space Telescope.

1675 - John Flamsteed becomes the first Astronomer Royal at The Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

1687 - Newton publishes Principia Mathematica, possibly the most important book in the history of science. It contains his theory of universal gravitation, marking the beginning of modern astronomy.

1705 - Edmund Halley correctly predicts that a comet seen in 1682 would reappear in 1758. The comet, now named after Halley, is visible from Earth every 7576 years. It featured in the famous Bayeux Tapestry, was last seen from Earth in 1986 and observed in close-up by ESA’s Giotto spacecraft. The comet will return in 2061.

1781 - William Herschel, a German musician who spent his whole life in England, discovers the planet Uranus with a mirror telescope of his own creation.

1798 - Henry Cavendish, an English chemist and physicist, first measures the force of gravity between two objects.

1846 - Calculations made by English mathematician John Couch Adams enable Johann Galle to see Neptune for the first time.

1856 - Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell proves that Saturn's rings are not solid, liquid or gaseous but are actually made up of different independent particles.

1897 - JJ Thompson, a leading English mathematician and physicist of the late 19th century, discovers the electron.

1919 - During an expedition to view a solar eclipse in Africa, English astrophysicist Arthur Eddington proves Einstein's prediction that gravity bends light.

1932 - English physicist James Chadwick proves the existence of neutrons.

1957 - Launch of first British Skylark sounding rocket.

1957 - The UK’s massive Jodrell Bank radio telescope becomes operational.

1957 - Sputnik becomes the first manmade object to enter orbit.

1957 - Russian dog Laika becomes the first creature to be launched into space.

1959 - In September Soviets crash land a probe on the Moon. A few weeks later Lunik 3 sends back the first pictures of the far side of the Moon.

1959 - First meeting of the British National Committee on Space. This is the first committee to advise the government on space issues. Later in the year, Harold Macmillan announces a new British space research programme.

1961 - Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man to orbit the Earth and returns a hero.

1962 - The first international satellite, Ariel 1, is launched. Built by NASA, it contained six instruments developed by British scientists.

1963 - Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova becomes the first woman in space.

1963 - The British Government establishes the Space Research Management Unit, a forerunner of the BNSC.

1965 - Cosmonaut Alexi Leonov is the first person to ‘walk’ in space.

1967 - The first all British satellite, Ariel 3, is launched.

1969 - On 21 July, Neil Armstrong becomes the first man to set foot on the surface of the Moon.

1971 - British Prospero satellite launched on British Black Arrow launch vehicle.

1975 - The European Space Agency (ESA) is established with the UK, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland as founder members.

1976 - America's Viking I spacecraft lands on Mars and sends back the first photographs of the planet’s surface.

1979 - The first European-built rocket, Ariane 1, successfully completes its maiden flight.

1980 - The Voyager 1 space probe sends back vivid images of Saturn.

1985 - The British Government sets up the BNSC.

1986 - Space station Mir is launched by the Soviet Union.

1988 - Professor Stephen Hawking publishes A Brief History of Time, the most influential book about space written in the last 100 years.

1990 - The Hubble Space Telescope is launched.

1991 - Helen Sharman from Sheffield becomes the first Briton in space when she joins the crew for Project Juno. This was a Soviet mission, partly funded by British companies.

1992 - Michael Foale becomes the first British-born man in space, as part of the crew for the Space Shuttle mission STS45.

1995 - The joint NASA/ESA Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) is launched.

1997 - The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, a joint mission between NASA, ESA and the Italian Space Agency, is launched to Saturn.

1997 - The Pathfinder robot begins its exploration of Mars.

2001 - The Aurora project begins, with the first launch due in 2011.

2002 - Piers Sellers joins the crew of the STS112 mission and becomes the third British-born astronaut in space.

2002 - The first satellite for the Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC) is launched. All five satellites in the group have been built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.

2003 - The launch of Mars Express.

2003 - Europe’s first mission to the Moon, Smart1, is launched.

2003 - China succeeds in sending its first manned spacecraft into orbit.

2003 - Mars Express arrives in orbit. It releases the Beagle 2 probe but the signal from the lander is lost.

2004 - ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft launched on its way to a rendezvous with Comet 67P/ChuryumovGerasimenko.

2004 - The Mercury Messenger mission is launched to the Sun’s closest planet.

2005 - The Huygens probe begins its descent through Titan’s atmosphere. The first part of the probe to land on Titan was built in Britain.

2005 - The European Venus Express mission is launched and Mars Express sends back images of the Red Planet.

2005 - The world’s largest and most sophisticated civilian telecommunications satellite, UK-built Inmarsat4 f1, goes into orbit.

2005 - Launch of GioveA, the first satellite in the Galileo global positioning system.

2006 - NASA’s New Horizons mission heads for the outer reaches of our Solar System towards Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

2006 - Venus Express reaches its final orbit and begins to send back data.

2006 - Solar B, later renamed Hinode, is launched. This three year mission to study the Sun involves ESA and the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

2006 - After a highly successful mission, Smart1 undergoes a controlled ‘crash’ into the Moon.

2007 - Japan launches Kaguya (formerly SELENE) for a global survey of the Moon.

2008 - India’s first mission to the Moon, Chandrayaan-1, is due for launch.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

PRIZES AWARDED AT NASA'S GENERAL AVIATION TECHNOLOGY CHALLENGE

NASA awarded a total of $97,000 in prizes at the 2008 General Aviation Technology Challenge. The challenge asked competitors to demonstrate innovations that would lead to aircraft that are safer, more affordable, easier to fly and also have less of a negative impact on the environment and on the communities that surround airports.

The challenge was managed by the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency, or CAFE, Foundation at the Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, Calif., from Aug. 4 through Aug. 10. All competitors had experimental licenses, as required by the Federal Aviation Administration, since aircraft were modified with new innovations for this competition.

The largest prize awarded was $50,000 for the aircraft with the overall best safety features which went to Vance Turner's team from El Dorado Hills, Calif., flying a modified Pipistrel Virus. The Pipistrel team also won prizes for the shortest takeoff distance and best angle of climb. Turner's team shared the lowest cabin noise prize with a team led by John Dunham of Carson City, Nev.

Dunham's team used a customized Lambada aircraft to win $20,000 for the community noise prize. Pilot Bob Basham, flying a Flight Design-CT, won a prize of $3,750 for best glide ratio at 100 mph.

A $50,000 Green Aviation Prize purse was offered, but no team was able to exceed the minimum requirement of 30 miles per gallon, although all the competitors came close. The prize money not won this year will roll over to next year's competition, which will have over $600,000 in prize money.

The General Aviation Technology Challenge is one of seven NASA technology prize competitions. The prize program began in 2005 and is known as Centennial Challenges, in recognition of the centennial of powered flight. In keeping with the spirit of the Wright Brothers and other American innovators, the Centennial Challenge prizes are offered to independent inventors who work without government support, including small businesses, student groups and individuals.

The prize competitions are targeted at a range of technical challenges that support NASA's missions in aeronautics and space. The goal is to encourage novel solutions from non-traditional sources. For the program, NASA provides the prize money while each of the competitions is managed by an independent allied organization at no cost to NASA. NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program Office manages the Centennial Challenges program.

For more information on the program, visit:

http://centennialchallenges.nasa.gov

For more information about NASA's Innovative Partnership Program, visit:

http://ipp.nasa.gov

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Flying 220 miles above the Earth aboard the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff is ready to take your questions.

The public can now submit inquiries to Chamitoff and get answers direct from space on NASA's Web site. To submit a question, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/ask

Mission Control will transmit the questions to Chamitoff weekly. He will answer as many as his schedule will allow. Check back periodically to the link above for the transcript and audio clips of
the astronaut's answers.

Chamitoff is a flight engineer for the Expedition 17 mission. He flew to the station aboard the space shuttle Discovery in June and will return to Earth aboard shuttle Endeavour in November.

For more on Chamitoff's mission and the International Space Station, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/station

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Nasa Space Station Astronaut Greg Chamitoff, aboard the International Space Station 220 miles above Earth, is ready to take your questions. Here's your chance to hear direct from space station. Chamitoff's schedule will not allow him to answer many questions, but he will attempt to answer a few each week. To submit your question, post it as a comment below. Please include your name, age and location. Questions will be transmitted to Greg from Mission Control each week and his answers to a few of them will be available here.

Many past Space shuttle and Space station crews have answered questions from the web. You can take a look at those archives at http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/feedback/expert/index.html.

From those past missions and crews, here are a few hints that may make it more likely that your question is one that is answered:
  • Try to avoid asking a question that has been answered often on previous missions.
  • Normally the questions most often answered are those more specific to the current crew and mission.
  • Do your homework and review information about the station and current activities when you compose your question.

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Nasa Space Station Swimmers from around the world are setting world and Olympic records in Beijing this month and most are doing it wearing a swimsuit made of fabric tested at NASA.

Among the Olympic gold medalists wearing Speedo's LZR Racer are Americans Michael Phelps and Natalie Coughlin.

Both had a hand in developing the skintight body suit.

So did aerospace engineer Steve Wilkinson from NASA's Space Station Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

Wilkinson, who says he's not much of a swimmer himself, is watching this summer's Olympics with enthusiasm.

"I'm paying very close attention to the swimmers' times," said Wilkinson. "I'm amazed that so many athletes are wearing a fabric I tested in a laboratory in Hampton, Virginia."

Researcher Wilkinson has tested dozens of swimsuit fabrics in NASA Space Station Langley's 7- by 11-Inch Low Speed Wind Tunnel.

"This is a fundamental research facility," said Wilkinson. "What we look at are concepts for reducing drag on otherwise smooth surfaces. This is more directed toward fundamental physics … the interactions between the flow AND THE SURFACE."

The fabric that made it through Wilkinson's wind tunnel analysis has already caused a big splash since the LZR Racer swimsuit was introduced in February. Even before the Olympics swimmers wearing the skin-tight body suit set 48 world records.

But how did NASA Space Station get involved in what is probably the most talked-about swimsuit since the bikini? Warnaco Inc., the U.S. licensee of the Speedo swimwear brand, approached NASA Langley to test fabric samples, since NASA Langley has researched drag reduction for aircraft and even boats for decades.

"We evaluated the surface roughness effects of nearly 60 fabrics or patterns in one of our small low speed wind tunnels," said Wilkinson. "We were assessing which fabrics and weaves had the lowest drag. The tests have generally shown the smoother the fabric, the lower the drag."

Just like reducing drag helps planes fly more efficiently, reducing drag helps swimmers go faster. Studies indicate viscous drag or skin friction is almost one-third of the total restraining force on a swimmer. Wind tunnel tests measure the drag on the surface of the fabrics.

"The fabric comes in the form of fabric tubes, a small diameter fabric tube," Wilkinson added. "We pull that over our smooth flat model, which is an aluminum plate underneath. We prepare the edges so they're straight and square with no protruding corners or edges to interfere with the drag on the surface."

The plate goes into the small wind tunnel test section. With a flip of a switch, air flows over it. Wilkinson runs the tunnel through a number of wind speeds and, with the help of sensors, measures drag on the surface. He records the data and then sends it on to Speedo researchers.

Speedo's research and development team, Aqualab, takes the results and uses them to help create advanced "space-age" swimsuit designs.

Wilkinson says he never expected that he would test swimsuit fabric when he started at NASA space station 30 years ago. He adds he gets a lot of chuckles from his colleagues. As he's watching the Olympics, knowing that he played a small part in swimming history, Wilkinson may be having the last laugh.

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The HYBOLT, Hitching a Ride

Two NASA Space Station aeronautics experiments will hitch a ride on a developmental Alliant Techsystems, or ATK, suborbital rocket scheduled to launch from the Eastern Shore of Virginia this summer.

One experiment, designed at NASA's Space Station Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., will gather data on air flow conditions and heating on vehicles flying at hypersonic speeds at least eight times the speed of sound, or 5,280 miles per hour. The other experiment will evaluate a possible shape for a space Shuttle capsule that could travel to Mars and gather data on atmospheric conditions encountered by the reentering probes. Both experiments are funded by NASA's Space Station Aeronautics Research Space Shuttle Mission Directorate in Washington.

The Hypersonic Boundary Layer Transition, or HYBOLT, experiment, will sit atop ATK's ALV X-1 launch vehicle when it launches from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA's Space Shuttle Discovery Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island, Va., in August.

HYBOLT resembles the blade of a flat-head screwdriver and is designed to pierce the atmosphere to assess the boundary layer, a very thin layer of air that flows over the surface of a vehicle in flight.

"We should be able to conquer some of the challenges of hypersonic flight if we can get a better handle on air flow," said chief engineer Mark Croom. "At hypersonic speeds the temperature of the flow around the aircraft or spacecraft is so great that it affects just about everything. That includes the shape of the vehicle, the material it's made of and even the chemistry of the molecules in the air."

Instruments embedded in HYBOLT will send temperature and pressure information back to the ground as the rocket accelerates to Mach 8 and faster. The information will be used to improve design tools for future aircraft and spacecraft.

After gathering its data the experiment payload will separate from the rocket and fall into the Atlantic Ocean, exposing the second payload package, the Sub-Orbital Aerodynamic Re-entry Experiments, or SOAREX. SOAREX will capture data and send it electronically back to researchers before it, too, falls into the Atlantic Ocean along with the rocket.

SOAREX consists of three separate probes. Two comprise NASA's Space Station experiment and the third belongs to the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington. The NASA Space Shuttle Discovery experiments, designed at NASA's Space Station Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., will characterize a new self-orienting reentry vehicle shape. The largest of the probes, called the Slotted Compression Ramp, or SCRAMP, resembles a blunt-nosed cylinder mounted on a ring.

"The SCRAMP design offers a super-stable re-entry system -- sort of like a big hypersonic badminton birdie that rights itself nose-forward after tumbling," said principal investigator Marc Murbach. "The slot between the cylinder and the circular heat shield also enhances drag and stability."

SCRAMP represents a significant change in atmospheric entry probe design from the traditional blunt body space capsule shape that has been used since the 1960s. By using the blunt-nosed shape NASA Space Station may be able to embark on new planetary missions with probes that can carry more instruments and fly with more stability and less drag. SCRAMP is accompanied by an instrument that will measure atmospheric conditions at the point of release.

The third small probe in the SOAREX package will test an automatic identification system, or AIS, receiver and transmitter designed for ocean recovery. It is nicknamed "Melonsat" because of its shape. The foam-filled sphere will float and its beacon is designed to transmit its Global Positioning Space System satellite coordinates for about seven days until it is recovered.

The ALV X-1 rocket stands more than 53 feet tall. The two-stage suborbital launch vehicle uses solid-fuel motors for propulsion. During its voyage the rocket is expected to reach an altitude of more than 200 nautical miles and stay aloft about 10 minutes.

The Space Shuttle mission is a partnership between ATK of Salt Lake City and the Fundamental Aeronautics Program in NASA's Space Station Discovery Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. ATK provides the launch vehicle and launch services and NASA Space Station provides the range services.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

AEROSPACE SAFETY ADVISORY PANEL RELEASES ANNUAL REPORT

The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, or ASAP, has released its 2007 Annual Report. The report examines NASA's Space Shuttle safety performance and advises the agency on ways to better that performance.

"While there are still opportunities for improvement, the panel's finding concluded that NASA Space Station is making significant progress in improving safety issues during the past year," said ASAP Chairman Joseph W. Dyer. "The ASAP commends the Constellation Program for endorsing the recommendation of the ASAP and continuing to employ early hazard and risk analysis."

The panel did express concerns relating to the adequacy of funding for the Constellation Program. They noted that schedule pressures are introducing concurrency in both requirements development and program implementation decisions, and highlighted the slow pace at which some NASA Space Station Headquarters decisions are implemented across the ten NASA centers.

The ASAP based its advice on direct observation of NASA Space Technology operations and decision-making. In the aftermath of the space shuttle Columbia accident, Congress required that the ASAP submit an annual report to the NASA administrator and to Congress. The annual report analyzes NASA's compliance with the recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, as well as NASA's management and culture related to safety.

In addition to safety culture, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin has specifically requested advice from the ASAP on technical authority, workforce and risk management.

For more information about the ASAP and to view the 2007 report, visit:

http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/oer/asap/index.html

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In the coming weeks, high school and college students across the country will soon be heading back to school. A fortunate few will share some unique experiences. They will tell how they were at NASA Space Station for two months conducting cutting-edge research and working to send American astronauts to the moon and beyond.

This summer, more than 150 students from 23 states and Puerto Rico took part in a new NASA education project called "INSPIRE" -- the Interdisciplinary National Science Technology Project Incorporating Research and Education Experience. The internships are located at each of NASA's 10 field centers.

"INSPIRE gives students, parents and teachers a mechanism for interacting with one another," said Steve Chance, INSPIRE project manager. "They ask questions, share knowledge and build 'a community of practice' that NASA hopes will lead them to pursue careers in fields critical to NASA and the nation."

The INSPIRE project is open to students in grades 9-12, including high school graduates preparing for their first year of college who are U.S. citizens and have at least an overall 2.5 grade point average or better on a 4.0 scale.

Interested students should first apply for entry into the INSPIRE online community, NASA's education resource for students, parents and teachers. Once selected for INSPIRE, they may compete for internships and other unique summer opportunities.

To participate in the summer opportunities, students must achieve a minimum 3.0 grade point average, submit an essay about their interest in NASA Space Station and the space program, and include two letters of recommendation from teachers or adult mentors with their application. NASA Space Stastion education officials assess all submissions, seeking candidates who demonstrate teamwork, leadership potential and career aspirations in fields related to math, science and engineering.

Through the INSPIRE online community, NASA provides resources and activities that help parents champion their students' goals. NASA also contributes to classrooms, providing teaching modules and resources designed to capture students' imaginations and enhance their technical and problem-solving skills.

For information about INSPIRE and how to participate in the program, visit:

www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/postsecondary/programs/INSPIRE_Project.html

For more information about NASA education programs, visit:

www.nasa.gov/education

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In a news conference Monday, NASA Space Station Shuttle managers discussed how the agency will be adjusting the budget, schedule and technical performance milestones for its Constellation Program to ensure the first crewed flight of the Ares I rocket and Orion crew capsule in March 2015.

The Space Shuttle Constellation Program is developing the Station spacecraft and systems, including the Ares I and Ares V rockets, the Orion crew exploration vehicle, and the Altair lunar lander, that will take astronauts to the International Space Station after the retirement of the International space shuttle, and eventually return humans to the moon.

"Since the program's inception, NASA Space Station has been working an aggressive plan to achieve flight capability before our March 2015 target," said Rick Gilbrech, associate administrator for the Exploration Space Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "We are still confident the Constellation Program will make its first flight to the International Space Station on or before that date. Our new path forward better aligns our project schedules with our existing funds to ensure we can address the unplanned challenges that always arise when developing a complex flight system."

NASA will retire the space shuttles in 2010 and had established a goal of achieving flight capability for the Constellation Program before 2015 to narrow the gap in America's human spaceflight capability. As such, NASA aligned Constellation contracts and internal milestones
against a date much earlier than March 2015 to incentivize an earlier flight capability.

As part of an annual budget process that evaluates the program's budget, schedule and technical performance milestones, NASA Space Discovery will be working with its contractors to discuss how program plans and internal milestones should be adjusted -- a process that will take several months and require contract modifications and associated milestone realignments. Such adjustments are not unusual for a complex development program as work matures and schedules and resources are aligned.

For more information about the Constellation Program, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/constellation

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