Tuesday, September 30, 2008

NASA TO PREVIEW SECOND MERCURY FLYBY

NASA will host a media teleconference at 1 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, Oct. 1, to preview the Oct. 6 flyby of Mercury by the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging, or MESSENGER, spacecraft.

This second of three planned flybys will photograph most of the planet's remaining unseen surface. The spacecraft will pass 125 miles above Mercury's cratered surface, taking more than 1,200 pictures and collecting a variety of data. The flyby also will provide a critical gravity assist needed for the probe to become, in March 2011, the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury.

Briefing participants are:
- Marilyn M. Lindstrom, program scientist, NASA Headquarters in Washington
- Daniel J. O'Shaughnessy, lead for guidance and control subsystem, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.
- Scott L. Murchie, co-investigator, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
- Sean C. Solomon, principal investigator, Carnegie Institution of Washington

To participate in the teleconference, reporters in the United States should call 1-888-398-6118 and use the pass code Mercury. International reporters should call 1-312-470-7417.

Audio of the teleconference will be streamed live at:

http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio

Related images for the briefing will be available at:

http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/news_room/index.html

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NASA will host a media teleconference at 6 p.m. EDT today to discuss a significant Hubble Space Telescope anomaly that occurred this weekend affecting the storage and transmittal of science data to Earth. Fixing the problem will delay next month's space shuttle Atlantis' Hubble servicing mission.

The briefing participants are:
- Ed Weiler, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington
- John Shannon, Shuttle Program manager at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston
- Preston Burch, Hubble manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

To participate in the teleconference, reporters in the U.S. should call 1-800-369-6087 and use the pass code Hubble. International reporters should call 1-773-756-0843.

As a result of the launch delay, NASA has postponed the planned Oct. 3 Flight Readiness Review and subsequent news conference. The review will occur at a later date.

The malfunctioning system is Hubble's Control Unit/Science Data Formatter - Side A. Shortly after 8 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 27, the telescope's spacecraft computer issued commands to safe the payload computer and science instruments when errors were detected within the Science Data Formatter. An attempt to reset the formatter and obtain a dump of the payload computer's memory was unsuccessful.

Additional testing demonstrates Side A no longer supports the transfer of science data to the ground. A transition to the redundant Side B should restore full functionality to the science instruments and operations.

The transition to Side B operations is complex. It requires that five other modules used in managing data also be switched to their B-side systems. The B-sides of these modules last were activated during ground tests in the late 1980's and/or early 1990, prior to launch. The Hubble operations team has begun work on the Side B transition and believes it will be ready to reconfigure Hubble later this week. The transition will happen after the team completes a readiness review.

Hubble could return to science operations in the immediate future if the reconfiguration is successful. Even so, the agency is investigating the possibility of flying a back-up replacement system, which could be installed during the servicing mission.

Audio of the teleconference will be streamed live at:

http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio

Related images for the briefing will be available at:

http://www.nasa.gov/hubble

For more information about the Space Shuttle Program, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle

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NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has detected snow falling from Martian clouds. Spacecraft soil tests experiments also have provided evidence of past interaction between minerals and liquid water, processes that occur on Earth.

A laser instrument designed to gather knowledge of how the atmosphere and surface interact on Mars, detected snow from clouds about 2.5 miles above the spacecraft's landing site. Data show the snow vaporizing before reaching the ground.

"Nothing like this view has ever been seen on Mars," said Jim Whiteway, of York University, Toronto, lead scientist for the Canadian-supplied Meteorological Station on Phoenix. "We'll be looking for signs that the snow may even reach the ground." Phoenix experiments also yielded clues pointing to calcium carbonate, the main composition of chalk, and particles that could be clay. Most carbonates and clays on Earth form only in the presence of liquid water.

"We are still collecting data and have lots of analysis ahead, but we are making good progress on the big questions we set out for ourselves," said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson.

Since landing on May 25, Phoenix already has confirmed that a hard subsurface layer at its far-northern site contains water-ice. Determining whether that ice ever thaws would help answer whether the environment there has been favorable for life, a key aim of the mission.

The evidence for calcium carbonate in soil samples from trenches dug by the Phoenix robotic arm comes from two laboratory instruments called the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer, or TEGA, and the wet chemistry laboratory of the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer, or MECA.

"We have found carbonate," said William Boynton of the University of Arizona, lead scientist for the TEGA. "This points toward episodes of interaction with water in the past."

The TEGA evidence for calcium carbonate came from a high-temperature release of carbon dioxide from soil samples. The temperature of the release matches a temperature known to decompose calcium carbonate and release carbon dioxide gas, which was identified by the
instrument's mass spectrometer.

The MECA evidence came from a buffering effect characteristic of calcium carbonate assessed in wet chemistry analysis of the soil. The measured concentration of calcium was exactly what would be expected for a solution buffered by calcium carbonate.

Both TEGA, and the microscopy part of MECA have turned up hints of a clay-like substance. "We are seeing smooth-surfaced, platy particles with the atomic-force microscope, not inconsistent with the appearance of clay particles," said Michael Hecht, MECA lead scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The Phoenix mission, originally planned for three months on Mars, now is in its fifth month. However, it faces a decline in solar energy that is expected to curtail and then end the lander's activities before the end of the year. Before power ceases, the Phoenix team will attempt to activate a microphone on the lander to possibly capture sounds on Mars.

"For nearly three months after landing, the sun never went below the horizon at our landing site." said Barry Goldstein, JPL Phoenix project manager. "Now it is gone for more than four hours each night, and the output from our solar panels is dropping each week. Before the end of October, there won't be enough energy to keep using the robotic arm."

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

For more about Phoenix, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/phoenix

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NASA UPDATES AVIATION SAFETY DATA WEB SITE

NASA will update its National Aviation Operations Monitoring Service, or NAOMS, Web site Tuesday to add more information from pilot survey responses.

The data files are essentially the same files posted to the Web site in late 2007 and early 2008. However, the files are packaged differently and contain fewer redactions than the original postings. Therefore, they provide more information from the NAOMS aviation safety surveys. The surveys were conducted from 2001 through 2004.

This release, in Microsoft Excel format, fulfills NASA's commitment to provide as much information as possible without compromising the anonymity and confidentiality promised to survey participants or the commercial confidentiality of the airlines and organizations involved. It also ensures that aviation safety researchers and the public have access to additional information that may be used to develop future models for safety systems to monitor the National Airspace System. NASA has no plans to post any additional NAOMS information after Sept. 30.

Additional information and the survey responses from the NAOMS project are available at:

http://www.nasa.gov/news/reports/NAOMS.html

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Monday, September 29, 2008

NASA AMES AWARDS CONTRACT FOR INTELLIGENT SYSTEMS SUPPORT

NASA's Ames Research Center Friday awarded a contract with a maximum value of $300 million to Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies Inc. (SGT Inc.), of Greenbelt, Md., for intelligent systems research and development support.

Under the terms of the contract, SGT Inc. will provide support to the Intelligent Systems Division at Ames. The division conducts scientific research, develops technologies, builds applications and deploys advanced information systems technology into NASA missions and other federal government projects. Project areas include autonomous systems and robotics, collaborative and assistant systems, discovery and systems health, robust software engineering, and software systems engineering and software project management. Work will be performed at Ames.

The contract is a cost plus fixed-fee indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity, single award task order with a two-year base performance period, followed by three one-year options.

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

http://www.nasa.gov/ames

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov

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It will be Earth vs. space in a unique chess match, and you can help Earth win. NASA and the U.S. Chess Federation (USCF) are teaming up to host the first public chess match between International Space Station astronaut Greg Chamitoff and the inhabitants of the Earth, beginning Monday, Sept. 29.

Key players in the game will be the kindergarten through third grade U.S. Chess Championship Team and its chess club teammates from Stevenson Elementary School in Bellevue, Wash. The K-3 champions will select up to four possible moves on Earth's turn. The public then will vote on the move transmitted to orbit. The USCF will facilitate the match on its Web site at:

http://www.uschess.org/nasa2008

"For the past 10 years, the International Space Station has been an important platform to learn about living in space. We're excited to have the opportunity to engage not only young students, but the public at large in this unique chess match," said Heather Rarick, lead flight director for the current space station mission at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"We hope the excitement and interest this game generates will inspire students to become interested in chess," said USCF Executive Director Bill Hall. "Chess is a valuable tool to lead students to become interested in math and to develop critical thinking skills, objectives we focus on in our work with schools nationwide."

Chamitoff, a space station flight engineer speeding about 210 miles above the Earth at five miles a second, is a chess aficionado. He brought a chess set with him when he arrived at the complex on the STS-124 space shuttle mission in June. Chamitoff has added Velcro to the chess pieces to keep them from floating away in weightlessness. He has been playing long-distance chess during his mission in his off time with station control centers around the world. So far, he is undefeated.

The game against the public will move at a pace of one move per day on weekdays only. Play may be slower, however, because Chamitoff only makes moves when his workload permits.

For more information about the USCF, visit:

http://www.uschess.org

For more about Chamitoff and the space station, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/station

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

NASA TO DISCUSS PHOENIX MARS MISSION SCIENCE DATA


NASA will hold a media briefing Monday, Sept. 29, at 2 p.m. EDT, to discuss the latest developments, findings and upcoming science opportunities of the Phoenix Mars Lander. The briefing will take place in the NASA Headquarters' James E. Webb Auditorium, 300 E St., S.W., Washington. It will be carried live on NASA Television and on the Web.

Phoenix landed on Mars May 25, and officially ended its prime mission Aug. 26. Now in extended operations, the lander is continuing to study a northern arctic site and investigating if the environment there has ever been favorable for microbial life.

Participants will be:
- Doug McCuistion, director of Mars Exploration Program, NASA Headquarters, Washington
- Barry Goldstein, Phoenix project manager, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. - William Boynton, lead scientist, Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, University of Arizona, Tucson
- Michael Hecht, lead scientist, Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer, JPL
- Leslie Tamppari, Phoenix project scientist, JPL
- Jim Whiteway, lead scientist, Phoenix Meteorological Station, York University, Toronto
- Peter Smith, Phoenix principal investigator, University of Arizona

Journalists may ask questions from participating NASA centers. Reporters also may listen or ask questions via phone. To reserve phone lines contact Steve Cole on 202-358-0918.

For more information about NASA TV, streaming video, and downlink and schedule information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

For more information about the Phoenix mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/phoenix

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Members of the public can send their names around Earth on NASA's Glory satellite, the first mission dedicated to understanding the effects of particles in the atmosphere and the sun's variability on our climate.

The "Send Your Name Around the Earth" Web site enables everyone to take part in the science mission and place their names in orbit for years to come. The Web site, where participants can submit their information, is located at:

http://polls.nasa.gov/utilities/sendtospace/jsp/sendName.jsp

Participants will receive a printable certificate from NASA and have their name recorded on a microchip that will become part of the spacecraft. The deadline for submitting names is Nov. 1, 2008.

The Glory satellite will allow scientists to measure airborne particles more accurately from space than ever before. The particles, known as "aerosols," are tiny bits of material found in Earth's atmosphere, like dust and smog.

"Undoubtedly, greenhouse gases cause the biggest climatic effect," said Michael Mishchenko, the Glory project scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. "But the uncertainty in the aerosol effect is the biggest uncertainty in climate at the present."

Glory will carry two scientific instruments, the Aerosol Polarimetry Sensor, or APS, and the Total Irradiance Monitor, or TIM, and two cameras for cloud identification. The APS instrument will help quantify the role of aerosols as natural and human-produced agents of climate change more accurately than existing measurement tools. The TIM instrument will continue 30 years of measuring total solar irradiance, the amount of energy radiating from the sun to Earth, with improved accuracy and stability. Understanding the sun's energy is an important key to understanding climate change on Earth.

Glory is scheduled for launch in June 2009 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Glory will orbit as part of the Afternoon Constellation, or "A-Train," a series of Earth-observing satellites. The A-Train spacecraft follow each other in close formation, crossing the equator a few minutes apart shortly after 1:30 p.m. local time each day. The A-Train orbits Earth once every 100 minutes.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., is responsible for Glory project management. Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, Va., is responsible for development, integration and operations of the spacecraft. Raytheon in El Segundo, Calif., is responsible for development of the APS. The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, Colo., is responsible for the development of the TIM. Glory's cloud cameras were built by Ball Aerospace and Technologies of Boulder.

For more information on Glory, visit:

http://glory.gsfc.nasa.gov

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Conversations between astronauts aboard the International Space Station and flight controllers on the ground now are available for the public to hear live, 24 hours a day, seven days a week on NASA's Web site, www.nasa.gov .

The streaming audio of space-to-ground communications includes NASA commentary during specific station mission events and regularly scheduled space station commentary on NASA Television Monday through Friday at 10 a.m. Central time. NASA already provides this space-to-ground communication with commentary during space shuttle missions.

The streaming station and shuttle mission audio is available on the following NASA sites:

- Under the NASA TV (Live) tab at:

http://www.nasa.gov

- Under the left navigation at:

http://www.nasa.gov/station and http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle

- In the list of channels at:

http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

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NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed hundreds of small fractures exposed on the Martian surface that billions of years ago directed flows of water through underground Martian sandstone.

Researchers used images from the spacecraft's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, camera. Images of layered rock deposits at equatorial Martian sites show the clusters of fractures to be a type called deformation bands, caused by stresses below the surface in granular or porous bedrock.

"Groundwater often flows along fractures such as these, and knowing that these are deformation bands helps us understand how the underground plumbing may have worked within these layered deposits," said Chris Okubo of the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Visible effects of water on the color and texture of rock along the fractures provide evidence that groundwater flowed extensively along the fractures.

"These structures are important sites for future exploration and investigations into the geological history of water and water-related processes on Mars," Okubo and co-authors state in a report published online this month in the Geological Society of America Bulletin.

Deformation band clusters in Utah sandstones, as on Mars, are a few yards wide and up to a few miles long. They form from either compression or stretching of underground layers, and can be
precursors to faults. The ones visible at the surface have become exposed as overlying layers erode away. Deformation bands and faults can strongly influence the movement of groundwater on Earth and appear to have been similarly important on Mars, according to this study.

"This study provides a picture of not just surface water erosion but true groundwater effects widely distributed over the planet," said Suzanne Smrekar, deputy project scientist for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Ground water movement has important implications for how the temperature and chemistry of the crust have changed over time, which in turn affects the potential for habitats for past life."

The recent study focuses on layered deposits in Mars' Capen crater, approximately 43 miles in diameter and 7 degrees north of the equator. This formerly unnamed crater became notable due to this discovery of deformation bands within it and was recently assigned a formal name. The crater was named for the late Charles Capen, who studied Mars and other objects as an astronomer at JPL's Table Mountain Observatory in southern California and at Lowell
Observatory, Flagstaff, Ariz.

The HiRISE camera is one of six science instruments on the orbiter. It can reveal smaller details on the surface than any previous camera to orbit Mars. The orbiter reached Mars in March 2006 and has returned more data than all other current and past missions to Mars combined.

The mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver built the spacecraft. The University of Arizona operates the HiRISE camera, built by Ball Aerospace and Technology Corp. of Boulder, Colo.

Images of the deformation band clusters and additional information about the mission are on the Internet at:

http://www.nasa.gov/mro

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov

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NASA managers briefed industry representatives, members of academia and reporters Thursday about the agency's initial plans for the Ares V heavy-lift rocket and Altair lunar lander. The Ares V and Altair are part of a fleet of vehicles NASA is developing for a new space transportation system designed to travel beyond low Earth orbit and return humans to the moon by 2020.

Interested participants from throughout the aerospace community attended the forum to discuss the outcomes of a nine-month lunar transportation capabilities study, conceptual designs for the rocket and lunar lander, and near-term business opportunities. NASA is planning to release a Request for Proposals for Altair and Ares V in early 2009, and make awards in spring 2009.

Participants from NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate included Doug Cooke, deputy associate administrator for the directorate, Jeff Hanley, manager of NASA's Constellation Program, and Geoff Yoder, director of the Constellation Systems Division.

Briefing charts from the event are available online at:

http://www.nasa.gov/directorates/esmd/home/lunar_id.html

NASA Television will rebroadcast the forum on its public channel Thursday at 4 and 9 p.m. EDT. For NASA TV downlink, schedule and streaming video information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

NASA's Constellation fleet also includes the Orion crew exploration vehicle and the Ares I launch vehicle. NASA plans to establish a human outpost on the moon through a successive series of lunar missions. For more information about NASA's Constellation Program, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/constellation

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

NASA ANNOUNCES NEW TARGET LAUNCH DATES, STATUS NEWS CONFERENCE

The target launch date for space shuttle Atlantis' STS-125 mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope has been reset to Oct. 14 at 10:19 p.m. EDT. A news conference is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 3, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to announce an official launch date.

With the delay of Atlantis' launch from Oct. 10 to Oct. 14, shuttle Endeavour's STS-126 supply mission to the International Space Station, also will move from Nov. 12 to Nov. 16 at 7:07 p.m. EST. The target launch date adjustments were made Wednesday during the Space Shuttle Program's Flight Readiness Review, which concludes Thursday.

Detailed assessments were presented Wednesday by Mission Operations, Flight Crew Operations, and training divisions affected by the closure of the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, as a result of Hurricane Ike. While vehicle processing at Kennedy continues on schedule, the lost week of training and mission preparation due to the impacts of the storm led to the decision to slip the dates.

The Oct. 3 news conference will follow the Flight Readiness Review, a meeting to assess preparations for the STS-125 mission to Hubble, and will begin no earlier than 4 p.m. EDT.

The briefing participants are:
- Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier
- Deputy Associate Administrator for Programs, Science Mission Directorate Mike Luther
- Space Shuttle Program Manager John Shannon
- STS-125 Launch Director Ed Mango

NASA Television and the agency's Web site will broadcast the briefing live. Media may ask questions from participating NASA locations. Reporters should contact their preferred NASA center to confirm its participation.

For NASA TV streaming video, downlink and scheduling information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

For more about the two remaining shuttle missions of 2008, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle

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NASA and the Levine School of Music in Washington will host astronaut Leland Melvin, legendary music producer Quincy Jones and musician-producer Pharrell Williams on Thursday, Sept. 25, at 10 a.m. EDT. The school's address is 1901 Mississippi Ave. SE.

More than 300 students from area schools will hear a presentation from Melvin as he discusses being an astronaut and the importance of education. Melvin is a former pro football star who was injured early in his career, but refocused his life as a scientist and became a NASA astronaut.

During Melvin's last mission in space, he took a CD by one of his favorite musicians, Quincy Jones. He will present the flown CD to Jones during the event. Pharrell Williams also will address the students about the importance of music and education.

Since 1976, the Levine School of Music has dedicated itself to bringing the highest quality music education to everyone in the Washington region - regardless of age or ability. Jones and Williams
are models of success in general and music education, as well as role models for the students Levine hopes to reach.

The Town Hall Education Arts and Recreation Campus, also known as THEARC, opened in 2005 and represents a partnership of nine community organizations, including the Levine School of Music, Children's National Medical Center, and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington.

Levine teaches more than 200 students at THEARC each year. Nearly all receive scholarship and outreach support. Overall, the Levine School serves more than 900 students though scholarship and outreach programs.

For more information about NASA, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov

For information about the Levine School of Music, visit:

http://www.levineschool.org

For information about THEARC Center, visit:

http://thearcdc.org

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Data from the Ulysses spacecraft, a joint NASA-European Space Agency mission, show the sun has reduced its output of solar wind to the lowest levels since accurate readings became available. The sun's current state could reduce the natural shielding that envelops our solar system.

"The sun's million mile-per-hour solar wind inflates a protective bubble, or heliosphere, around the solar system. It influences how things work here on Earth and even out at the boundary of our solar system where it meets the galaxy," said Dave McComas, Ulysses' solar wind instrument principal investigator and senior executive director at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "Ulysses data indicate the solar wind's global pressure is the lowest we have seen since the beginning of the space age."

The sun's solar wind plasma is a stream of charged particles ejected from the sun's upper atmosphere. The solar wind interacts with every planet in our solar system. It also defines the border between our solar system and interstellar space. This border, called the heliopause, surrounds our solar system where the solar wind's strength is no longer great enough to push back the wind of other stars. The region around the heliopause also acts as a shield for our solar system, warding off a significant portion of the cosmic rays outside the galaxy.

"Galactic cosmic rays carry with them radiation from other parts of our galaxy," said Ed Smith, NASA's Ulysses project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "With the solar wind at an all-time low, there is an excellent chance the heliosphere will diminish in size and strength. If that occurs, more galactic cosmic rays will make it into the inner part of our solar system."

Galactic cosmic rays are of great interest to NASA. Cosmic rays are linked to engineering decisions for unmanned interplanetary spacecraft and exposure limits for astronauts traveling beyond low-Earth orbit.

In 2007, Ulysses made its third rapid scan of the solar wind and magnetic field from the sun's south to north pole. When the results were compared with observations from the previous solar cycle, the strength of the solar wind pressure and the magnetic field embedded in the solar wind were found to have decreased by 20 percent. The field strength near the spacecraft has decreased by 36 percent. "The sun cycles between periods of great activity and lesser activity," Smith said. "Right now, we are in a period of minimal activity that has stretched on longer than anyone anticipated."

Ulysses was the first mission to survey the space environment over the sun's poles. Data Ulysses has returned have forever changed the way scientists view our star and its effects. The venerable spacecraft has lasted more than 18 years, or almost four times its expected mission lifetime. The Ulysses solar wind findings were published in a recent edition of Geophysical Research Letters.

The Ulysses spacecraft was carried into Earth orbit aboard space shuttle Discovery on Oct. 6, 1990. From Earth orbit it was propelled toward Jupiter, passing the planet on Feb. 8, 1992. Jupiter's immense gravity bent the spacecraft's flight path downward and away from the plane of the planets' orbits. This placed Ulysses into a final orbit around the sun that would take it over its north and south poles.

The Ulysses spacecraft was provided by ESA, having been built by Astrium GmbH (formerly Dornier Systems) of Friedrichshafen, Germany. NASA provided the launch vehicle and the upper stage boosters. The U.S. Department of Energy supplied a radioisotope thermoelectric generator to power the spacecraft. Science instruments were provided by U.S. and European investigators. The spacecraft is operated from JPL by a joint NASA-ESA team.

More information about the Ulysses mission is available on the Web at:

http://ulysses.jpl.nasa.gov

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NASA Television and www.nasa.gov will broadcast a gala event commemorating the agency's Golden Anniversary on Wednesday, Sept. 24, at 8 p.m. EDT.

The invitation-only celebration, organized by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), is being held at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.

The program honors NASA's 50th Anniversary and celebrates the power of innovation and discovery, and recognizes the agency's challenges and achievements over the past five decades. Award-winning journalist and WJLA-TV news anchor Leon Harris will serve as master of ceremonies. Event participants include:

- George Muellner, AIAA president
- U.S. Sen. John Glenn, former Mercury and space shuttle astronaut
- Neil Armstrong, former Gemini and Apollo astronaut
- Michael Griffin, NASA administrator

The event also will feature a video presentation hosted by Gemini and Apollo veteran Jim Lovell and a message from the Expedition 17 crew aboard the International Space Station. The televised program will end with a special performance of "Fly Me to the Moon," directed by
music impresario Quincy Jones and the Space Philharmonic, and performed by Frank Sinatra, Jr.

NASA TV will serve as the video distributor and pool source for the media and general public. For technical information about NASA TV streaming video, downlink and scheduling information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

For more information about the 50th anniversary gala and the AIAA, visit:

http://www.aiaa.org/nasa50

For more information on NASA's Golden Anniversary, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/50th

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NASA TO PREVIEW NEXT SPACE STATION EXPEDITION

The work of the next International Space Station residents will be previewed in a briefing broadcast on NASA Television at 1 p.m. CDT Thursday, Sept. 25, from NASA's Johnson Space Center. Reporters at participating NASA centers may ask questions.

Expedition 18 Commander Mike Fincke, Flight Engineer and Soyuz Commander Yuri Lonchakov and U.S. spaceflight participant Richard Garriott are scheduled to launch in a Soyuz spacecraft Oct. 12 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. They will arrive at the station Oct. 14. Garriott will return home with the two Russian members of the Expedition 17 crew on Oct. 24. Fincke and Lonchakov will join NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff, who has been on board the orbiting complex since June.

The briefers who will preview Expedition 18 are:

-- Michael Suffredini, International Space Station Program manager
-- Susan Brand, Expedition 18 increment manager
-- Ron Spencer, Expedition 18 lead flight director
-- Julie Robinson, International Space Station Program scientist

For NASA TV downlink information, schedules and links to streaming video, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

For more information about the International Space Station and its crews, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/station

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

NASA's Phoenix Lander Might Peek Under a Rock

If the robotic arm on NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander can nudge a rock aside today, scientists on the Phoenix team would like to see what's underneath.

Engineers who develop commands for the robotic arm have prepared a plan to try displacing a rock on the north side of the lander. This rock, roughly the size and shape of a VHS videotape, is informally named "Headless."

"We don't know whether we can do this until we try," said Ashitey Trebi Ollennu, a robotics engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "The idea is to move the rock with minimum disturbance to the surface beneath it. You have to get under it enough to lift it as you push it and it doesn't just slip off the scoop."

The lander receives commands for the whole day in the morning, so there's no way to adjust in mid-move if the rock starts slipping. Phoenix took stereo-pair images of Headless to provide a detailed three-dimensional map of it for planning the arm's motions. On Saturday, Sept. 20, the arm enlarged a trench close to Headless. Commands sent to Phoenix Sunday evening, Sept. 21, included a sequence of arm motions for today, intended to slide the rock into the trench.

Moving rocks is not among the many tasks Phoenix's robotic arm was designed to do. If the technique works, the move would expose enough area for digging into the soil that had been beneath Headless.

"The appeal of studying what's underneath is so strong we have to give this a try," said Michael Mellon, a Phoenix science team member at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

The scientific motive is related to a hard, icy layer found beneath the surface in trenches that the robotic arm has dug near the lander. Excavating down to that hard layer underneath a rock might provide clues about processes affecting the ice.

"The rocks are darker than the material around them, and they hold heat," Mellon said. "In theory, the ice table should deflect downward under each rock. If we checked and saw this deflection, that would be evidence the ice is probably in equilibrium with the water vapor in the atmosphere."

An alternative possibility, if the icy layer were found closer to the surface under a rock, could be the rock collecting moisture from the atmosphere, with the moisture becoming part of the icy layer.

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

For more about Phoenix, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/phoenix or http://phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Taback: Godfather to Viking and a Fair Number of Engineers

Project scientist Gerry Soffen called Israel Taback the "father of the Mars Viking Lander," parentage that Taback rejected with his usual wry wit.

"He thought I was because I was responsible for most of the atmosphere surrounding the lander," Taback said. "Remember, there were over 150 Martin (Marietta) people and over 150 Langley people involved -- all talented, outstanding people. It didn't need a father.

"More of a godfather."

That was a role Taback – who passed away on August 30 -- could play naturally and did, from days when Langley was the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics laboratory and he helped shepherd the X-15's instrumentation through its supersonic flights.

He carried the role through the transition into NASA, when he was chief engineer of one of the first of the new agency's projects, the Lunar Orbiter, which still ranks among NASA's most successful missions. Five Lunar Orbiters circled the moon, three taking pictures of places where Apollo could land, two mapping 99 percent of the lunar surface.

Then Taback went on to become deputy project manager for Mars Viking, in charge of building the lander that provided information that has been used for more than 30 years and will be used when NASA sends astronauts there, scheduled 22 years hence.

"I had the extraordinary opportunity to work under Iz's leadership for more than a decade," said Tom Young, who eventually became director at Goddard Space Flight Center before becoming an aerospace industry executive. "It's hard to imagine what a special thing it is for a young engineer to have that opportunity. Iz is clearly the best systems engineer I've ever known."

Said Fil Cuddihy, who assisted Taback on the technical side of Mars Viking: "I think Iz was just a wise mentor to everybody who had the privilege of working with him. He taught us all."

Small and slight of stature, Taback could teach so well because he had a natural curiosity and the kind of amazing intellect that made him challenge himself by doing things like working out the value of "pi" to 19 decimal places – in his head. For the curious, it's 3.1415926535897932385.

"I never spent a day in eight years without learning something after talking to Iz," said Gus Guastaferro, who worked on the business side of Mars Viking before leaving Langley for private business. "It was like going to school.

"He would ask the question I wouldn't ask. He would say, 'Fundamentally, that doesn't make sense to me. Explain it to me again,' and I would say, 'I'm glad he asked that because I didn't have the courage to ask it.' I wouldn't want my group to think I didn't know."

As much as anything, it was Taback issuing a Socratic challenge.

"He knew the answer," Guastaferro said. "He wanted to see what you were made of. He was testing you, not in a cruel sense and not in an aggressive sense, but in a way of letting you pass muster so he could gain confidence in what you were trying to sell him."

If it was "no sale," well, Taback had ways of dealing with that, too.

"I hadn't been working with NASA long and we had an outside contractor come in and make a presentation to Iz," Cuddihy said. "Iz gently poked and probed, and the guy didn't pay any attention. He had an agenda that he was going to sell.

"Finally, Iz said, 'well, you may be right,' and the guy went on with his presentation. What he didn't know was 'well, you may be right' was Iz saying, 'I'm done with you.' "

No sale.

Norm Crabill, who worked with Taback on Lunar Orbiter and Mars Viking, talked of a Taback technique that disarmed some.

"When you had a product and you gave it to an engineer and they went off and did all of these big computer programs, Iz would say, 'let's see if this is right,' " Crabill remembered. "He would go to a blackboard, even without a slide rule, and he would get an approximate answer. 'Yeah, that's right,' he would say, because the engineer's answer agrees with his approximate answer."

Young remembers sessions with Taback and a blackboard.

"Iz taught us that when you have a difficult technical problem, you don't solve it with meetings," Young said. "You don't solve it with consultants. You solve it by going back to basic principles. When Iz Taback would pick up a piece of chalk and go to a blackboard and say, 'let's go back to basic principles,' it was like watching a great master at work."

What the engineers came to realize was that Taback could do some of the quick calculations because he had already queried them about their methods. It was part of his management style.

"It was 'management by walking around,' " Guastaferro said. "He would walk around the Viking office and say, 'what are you doing?' He'd look at your in-basket and see it piling up because that was the days before e-mail. He would grab it and throw it in the garbage. He would say, 'you don't need that. Get around and talk to the people.' "

The young engineers would, of course, retrieve the contents of their in-basket, but then they would walk over to somebody else, to talk through problems.

There was some question as to whether Taback ever became comfortable with a computer. A chalkboard or a pencil and paper was more to his liking.

When Taback passed away, he was working on a car rack for his new adult tricycle. Two pages of penciled notes, sketches and engineering formulas were worked out, an 88-year-old man seeming to punctuate a 66-year career of engineering with one more design.

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NASA's Mars Rover to Head Toward Bigger Crater

NASA's Mars Rover Opportunity is setting its sights on a crater more than 20 times larger than its home for the past two years.

To reach the crater the rover team calls Endeavour, Opportunity would need to drive approximately 12 kilometers (7 miles) to the southeast, matching the total distance it has traveled since landing on Mars in early 2004. The rover climbed out of Victoria Crater earlier this month.

"We may not get there, but it is scientifically the right direction to go anyway," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, principal investigator for the science instruments on Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit. "This crater is staggeringly large compared to anything we've seen before."

Getting there would yield a look inside a bowl 22 kilometers (13.7 miles) across. Scientists expect to see a much deeper stack of rock layers than those examined by Opportunity in Victoria Crater.

"I would love to see that view from the rim," Squyres said. "But even if we never get there, as we move southward we expect to be getting to younger and younger layers of rock on the surface. Also, there are large craters to the south that we think are sources of cobbles that we want to examine out on the plain. Some of the cobbles are samples of layers deeper than Opportunity will ever see, and we expect to find more cobbles as we head toward the south."

Opportunity will have to pick up the pace to get there. The rover team estimates Opportunity may be able to travel about 110 yards each day it is driven toward the Endeavour crater. Even at that pace, the journey could take two years.

"This is a bolder, more aggressive objective than we have had before," said John Callas, the project manager for both Mars rovers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "It's tremendously exciting. It's new science. It's the next great challenge for these robotic explorers."

Opportunity, like Spirit, is well past its expected lifetime on Mars, and might not keep working long enough to reach the crater. However, two new resources not available during the 4-mile drive toward Victoria Crater in 2005 and 2006 are expected to aid in this new trek.

One is imaging from orbit of details smaller than the rover itself, using the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which arrived at the Red Planet in 2006.

"HiRISE allows us to identify drive paths and potential hazards on the scale of the rover along the route," Callas said. "This is a great example of how different parts of NASA's Mars Exploration Program reinforce each other."

Other advantages come from a new version of flight software uplinked to Opportunity and Spirit in 2006, boosting their ability to autonomously choose routes and avoid hazards such as sand dunes.

During its first year on Mars, Opportunity found geological evidence that the area where it landed had surface and underground water in the distant past. The rover's explorations since have added information about how that environment changed over time. Finding rock layers above or below the layers already examined adds windows into later or earlier periods of time.

NASA's JPL built and manage the rovers and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

For images and information about Spirit and Opportunity, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/rovers

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NASA and the United States Air Force are looking for university and industry partners as they work to advance hypersonic research.

NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate in Washington and the Air Force Research Laboratory's Office of Science Research at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, have released a broad agency announcement describing their intent to establish three national hypersonic science centers. Hypersonic speed is defined as Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, and faster.

NASA's Fundamental Aeronautics Program and the Air Force Office of Science Research plan to set aside as much as $30 million to fund the centers over five years. The maximum grant will be approximately $2 million a year. The jointly funded program will support university-level basic science or engineering research that provides improved understanding of hypersonic flight.

"We have identified three critical research areas: air-breathing propulsion, materials and structures, and boundary layer control," said James Pittman, principal investigator for NASA's Fundamental Aeronautics Program's Hypersonics Project at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. "These three areas are the biggest hurdles to successful hypersonic flight and low-cost space access using an air-breathing engine."

Details about the announcement and the process for submitting proposals are available at:

http://www.grants.gov

For more information about NASA's aeronautics research, visit:

http://aeronautics.nasa.gov

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

NASA'S KENNEDY SPACE CENTER HOLDS UNIQUE MEDIA EVENT, TCDT

For the first time since July 2001, two space shuttles are on the launch pads at the same time at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

On Saturday, Sept. 20, media are invited to capture a unique opportunity with both shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour on their respective pads with the rotating service structures rolled back from the vehicles. The structures provide protection from the element and access to the shuttles.

A photo opportunity will be available from 8 to 9:30 a.m. EDT, allowing media to take imagery from several locations near Atlantis on Launch Pad 39A and Endeavour on Launch Pad 39B.

A live static shot of the two shuttles will be available on NASA Television from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. Video b-roll of the shuttles, including aerial shots, will be available on the NASA TV Video File.

For NASA TV downlink information, schedules and links to streaming video, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

Still images, including aerial shots, will be posted online in Kennedy's media gallery at:

http://mediaarchive.ksc.nasa.gov/index.cfm

New media accreditation is closed for this event. Reporters with Kennedy credentials planning to attend should arrive at Kennedy's news center by 7 a.m. All participants must dress in full-length pants, flat shoes that entirely cover the feet and shirts with sleeves.

The next major milestone for Atlantis' upcoming STS-125 mission will begin when the crew arrives at Kennedy on Sunday, Sept. 21. A full launch dress rehearsal, known as the terminal countdown demonstration test, or TCDT, is scheduled to take place from Sept. 22 to 24.

The seven astronauts and ground crews will participate in various simulated countdown activities, including equipment familiarization and emergency training for the fifth and final shuttle flight to service NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.

The following media events are associated with the test. All times are Eastern.

- Sept. 21 -- STS-125 crew arrival: The astronauts are expected arrive between 5:45 and 7 p.m. at the Shuttle Landing Facility and will make a brief statement. The arrival will be broadcast live on NASA TV.

- Sept. 23 -- STS-125 crew availability: The crew will take news media questions at Launch Pad 39A at 9:40 a.m. The event will be carried live on NASA TV.

- Sept. 24 -- STS-125 crew walkout photo opportunity: The astronauts will depart from the Operations and Checkout Building at 7:45 a.m. wearing their launch and entry suits in preparation for the countdown demonstration test at the launch pad. The walkout will not be
broadcast live, but will be included in the NASA TV Video File.

Dates and times of events are subject to change. Schedule updates are available at 321-867-2525.

For information about covering these events, including proper attire and meeting locations, credentialed media should visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/news/media.html

Media accreditation for TCDT is closed.

Video b-roll of the TCDT activities will be available on the NASA TV Video File.

For information about the STS-125 mission and crew, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle

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NASA's Swift satellite has found the most distant gamma-ray burst ever detected. The blast, designated GRB 080913, arose from an exploding star 12.8 billion light-years away.

"This is the most amazing burst Swift has seen," said the mission's lead scientist Neil Gehrels at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "It's coming to us from near the edge of the visible universe."

Because light moves at finite speed, looking farther into the universe means looking back in time. GRB 080913's "lookback time" reveals that the burst occurred less than 825 million years after the universe began.

The star that caused this "shot seen across the cosmos" died when the universe was less than one-seventh its present age. "This burst accompanies the death of a star from one of the universe's early generations," says Patricia Schady of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at University College London, who is organizing Swift observations of the event.

Gamma rays from the far-off explosion triggered Swift's Burst Alert Telescope at 1:47 a.m. EDT on Sept. 13. The spacecraft established the event's location in the constellation Eridanus and quickly turned to examine the spot. Less than two minutes after the alert, Swift's X-Ray Telescope began observing the position. There, it found a fading, previously unknown X-ray source.

Astronomers on the ground followed up as well. Using a 2.2-meter telescope at the European Southern Observatory in La Silla, Chile, a group led by Jochen Greiner at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, captured the bursts fading afterglow.

The telescope's software listens for alerts from Swift and automatically slewed to the burst position. Then, the team's Gamma-Ray Burst Optical/Near-Infrared Detector, or GROND,
simultaneously captured the waning light in seven wavelengths. "Our first exposure began just one minute after the X-Ray Telescope started observing," Greiner says.

In certain colors, the brightness of a distant object shows a characteristic drop caused by intervening gas clouds. The farther away the object is, the longer the wavelength where this fade-out begins. GROND exploits this effect and gives astronomers a quick estimate of an explosion's shift toward the less energetic red end of the electromagnetic spectrum, or "redshift," which suggests its record-setting distance.

An hour and a half later, as part of Greiner's research, the Very Large Telescope at Paranal, Chile, targeted the afterglow. Analysis of the spectrum with Johan Fynbo of the University of Copenhagen established the blasts redshift at 6.7 -- among the most distant objects known.

Gamma-ray bursts are the universe's most luminous explosions. Most occur when massive stars run out of nuclear fuel. As their cores collapse into a black hole or neutron star, gas jets -- driven by processes not fully understood -- punch through the star and blast into space. There, they strike gas previously shed by the star and heat it, which generates bright afterglows.

The previous record holder was a burst with a redshift of 6.29, which placed it 70 million light-years closer than GRB 080913.

Swift, launched in November 2004, has had a banner year. In March, the satellite detected the brightest gamma-ray burst, which was visible to the human eye despite occurring billions of light-years away. And in January, the spacecraft's instruments caught the first X-rays from a new supernova days before optical astronomers saw the exploding star.

Swift is managed by Goddard. It was built and is being operated in collaboration with Penn State University, University Park, Pa., the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, and General Dynamics of Gilbert, Ariz., in the U.S. International collaborators include the University of Leicester and Mullard Space Sciences Laboratory in the United Kingdom, Brera Observatory and the Italian Space Agency in Italy, and additional partners in Germany and Japan.

For related images to this release, please visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/swift/bursts/farthest_grb.html

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For the first time since July 2001, two shuttles are on the launch pads at the same time at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Space shuttle Endeavour completed a 4.2-mile journey to
Launch Pad 39B on Friday, Sept. 19, at 6:59 a.m. EDT.

Endeavour left Kennedy's Vehicle Assembly Building at 11:15 p.m. Thursday, traveling at less than 1 mph atop a massive crawler-transporter.

Endeavour will stand by at pad B in the unlikely event that a rescue mission is necessary during space shuttle Atlantis' upcoming mission to repair NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, targeted to launch Oct. 10. After Endeavour is cleared from its duty as a rescue spacecraft, it will be moved to Launch Pad 39A for the STS-126 mission to the International Space Station. That flight is targeted for launch Nov. 12.

Video file of rollout will be available on NASA Television. For NASA TV downlink information, schedules and links to streaming video, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

For information about the upcoming shuttle missions, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

NASA ANNOUNCES INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY CONTRACT EXTENSION

NASA has extended the Unified NASA Information Technology Services, or UNITeS, contract with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) of San Diego. This extension allows for the completion of an information technology infrastructure realignment and implementation through competition of various NASA agency-wide contracts.

The $214,470,324 contract extension provides NASA with agency-wide information services, information technology services to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and support for Marshall's Integrated Enterprise Management Program, which combines agency financial resources and travel office information.

The modification provides additional support from Jan. 1, 2009, through Nov. 30, 2009. With this extension, the value of the contract, including options, is approximately $1.1 billion. The UNITeS contact was awarded to SAIC in January 2004.

Marshall's responsibilities for information technology include managing software applications, Web/computer server systems, audiovisual information, telecommunications, information technology security, information technology procurement, documentation storage and protection hardware maintenance. Support under the UNITeS contract includes NASA-wide information technology security, encryption security systems, computer networking and digital imaging.


For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov

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NASA will hold a media teleconference Tuesday, Sept. 23, at 12:30 p.m. EDT, to discuss data from the joint NASA and European Space Agency Ulysses mission that reveals the sun's solar wind is at a 50-year low. The sun's current state could result in changing conditions in the solar system.

Ulysses was the first mission to survey the space environment above and below the poles of the sun. The reams of data Ulysses returned have changed forever the way scientists view our star and its effects. The venerable spacecraft has lasted more than 17 years - almost four times its expected mission lifetime.

The panelists are:
-- Ed Smith, NASA Ulysses project scientist and magnetic field instrument investigator, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
-- Dave McComas, Ulysses solar wind instrument principal investigator, Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio
-- Karine Issautier, Ulysses radio wave lead investigator, Observatoire de Paris, Meudon, France
-- Nancy Crooker, Research Professor, Boston University, Boston, Mass.

Reporters should call 866-617-1526 and use the pass code "sun" to participate in the teleconference. International media should call 1-210-795-0624.

To access visuals that will the accompany presentations, go to:

http://www.nasa.gov/topics/solarsystem/features/ulysses-20080923.html

Audio of the teleconference will be streamed live at:

http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio

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NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston is scheduled to reopen Monday, Sept. 22, ending its closure related to Hurricane Ike. Johnson shut down Sept. 11 as Ike approached the Texas coast.

International Space Station flight control is scheduled to resume from Mission Control in Houston during the morning of Friday, Sept. 19. Station flight control was transferred to a backup facility near Austin, Texas, and later, to another facility at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The Mission Control Center and other key Johnson facilities are largely unscathed, partly because of extensive preparations and the work of a hurricane rideout team of more than 60 people. However, some center buildings suffered roof, window and facade damage. Several light poles were downed, as were a number of trees. The damage assessment and cleanup continues.

Johnson employees should check the center's Employee Information Line for status updates at 281-483-3351, and are encouraged to contact their supervisors if they have not already done so. NASA has a public Web site to distribute important information for NASA employees and
contractors impacted by Hurricane Ike at:

http://www.nasa.gov/eoc

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A new NASA-French space agency oceanography satellite launched today from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on a globe-circling voyage to continue charting sea level, a vital indicator of global climate change. The mission will return a vast amount of new data that will improve weather, climate and ocean forecasts.

With a thunderous roar and fiery glow, the Ocean Surface Topography Mission/Jason 2 satellite arced through the blackness of an early central coastal California morning at 12:46 a.m. PDT, climbing into space atop a Delta II rocket. Fifty-five minutes later, OSTM/Jason 2 separated from the rocket's second stage, and then unfurled its twin sets of solar arrays. Ground controllers successfully acquired the spacecraft's signals. Initial telemetry reports show it to be in excellent health.

"Sea-level measurements from space have come of age," said Michael Freilich, director of the Earth Science Division in NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. "Precision measurements from this mission will improve our knowledge of global and regional sea-level changes and enable more accurate weather, ocean and climate forecasts."

Measurements of sea-surface height, or ocean surface topography, reveal the speed and direction of ocean currents and tell scientists how much of the sun's energy is stored by the ocean. Combining ocean current and heat storage data is key to understanding global climate variations. OSTM/Jason 2's expected lifetime of at least three years will extend into the next decade the continuous record of these data started in 1992 by NASA and the French space agency Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales, or CNES, with the TOPEX/Poseidon mission. The data collection was continued by the two agencies on Jason 1 in 2001.

The mission culminates more than three decades of research by NASA and CNES in this field. This expertise will be passed on to the world's weather and environmental forecasting agencies, which will be responsible for collecting the data. The involvement of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) as mission partners on OSTM/Jason 2 helps establish this proven research capability as a valuable tool for use in everyday applications.

OSTM/Jason 2's five primary instruments are improved versions of those flying on Jason 1. These technological advances will allow scientists to monitor conditions in ocean coastal regions -- home to about half of Earth's population. Compared with Jason 1 measurements, OSTM/Jason 2 will have substantially increased accuracy and provide data to within 25 kilometers (15 miles) of coastlines, nearly 50 percent closer to shore than in the past. Such improvements will be welcome news for all those making their living on the sea, from sailors and fishermen to workers in offshore industries. NOAA will use the improved data to better predict hurricane intensity, which is directly affected by the amount of heat stored in the upper ocean.

OSTM/Jason 2 entered orbit about 10 to 15 kilometers (6 to 9 miles) below Jason 1. The new spacecraft will gradually use its thrusters to raise itself into the same 1,336-kilometer (830-mile) orbital altitude as Jason 1 and position itself to follow Jason 1's ground track, orbiting about 60 seconds behind Jason 1. The two spacecraft will fly in formation, making nearly simultaneous measurements for about six months to allow scientists to precisely calibrate OSTM/Jason 2's instruments.

Once cross-calibration is complete, Jason 1 will alter course, adjusting its orbit so that its ground tracks fall midway between those of OSTM/Jason 2. Together, the two spacecraft will double global data coverage. This tandem mission will improve our knowledge of tides in coastal and shallow seas and internal tides in the open ocean, while improving our understanding of ocean currents and eddies.

CNES is providing the OSTM/Jason 2 spacecraft. NASA and CNES jointly are providing the primary payload instruments. NASA's Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida was responsible for launch management and countdown operations for the Delta II. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

To learn more about OSTM/Jason 2, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/ostm .

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NASA ECLIPS: A NEW APPROACH TO LEARNING

NASA is making available a free Web-based educational product to learners of all ages across the country. NASA eClips consists of more than 55 short, 5-10 minute video segments, which are available on-demand via the Internet for the 2008 -2009 school year.

NASA eClips features many of the agency's missions and engages students in the excitement of science and engineering. From the deepest regions of space to hurricanes here on Earth, the goal of NASA eClips is to inspire students to learn more about science and math concepts.

"This new product was designed to respond to the needs of today's educators, and highlights NASA's commitment to providing science, math, technology and engineering resources in a way that is relevant to tomorrow's explorers," said Joyce Winterton, NASA's assistant administrator for education.

Additionally, the NASA eClips program is separated into grade-appropriate topics and designed as a resource for classroom teachers. Accompanying the collection of NASA eClips will be educator guides to provide teachers with examples of how to effectively use the products as instructional tools.

Students, teachers and the general public can look forward to new video and educational content highlighting current research and innovations each week throughout the school year. The number of video clips is expected to grow to more than 220 by next year. The clips are available at:

http://www.nasa.gov/education/nasaeclips

and

http://www.youtube.com/nasaeclips

Partnering with the National Institute of Aerospace in Hampton, Va., CaptionMax of Minneapolis, Internet Archive of San Francisco and YouTube in San Bruno, Calif., allows for the widest distribution of eClips at the lowest cost.

NASA eClips will be featured during Thursday's Future Forum at Boston's Museum of Science. NASA leadership, including astronauts, scientists, and engineers, will discuss the role of space exploration in advancing science, engineering, technology, education and the economy.

For more information on NASA's 50th Anniversary Future Forums, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/50th/future_forums

For more information on the National Institute of Aerospace, visit:

http://www.NIAnet.org

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