Thursday, October 29, 2009

NASA Announces Global Climate Change Education Awards

NASA has awarded $6.1 million in cooperative agreements to 15 organizations across the United States to enhance learning through the use of NASA's Earth Science resources. The selected organizations include colleges and universities, nonprofit groups, museums, science centers and a school district.

The winning proposals illustrated innovative approaches to using NASA content to support elementary, secondary and undergraduate teaching and learning, and through lifelong learning. There is a particular emphasis on engaging students using NASA Earth observation data and Earth system models.

Each cooperative agreement is expected to leverage NASA's unique contributions in climate and Earth system science. These grants support NASA's goal of engaging students in the critical disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and inspiring the next generation of explorers.

The 15 proposals will fund organizations in 12 states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Dakota, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. Winning proposals were selected through a merit-based, peer-reviewed competition. The awards have up to a three-year period of performance and range in value from about $170,000 to $650,000.

The cooperative agreements are part of a program Congress began in fiscal year 2008. For a list of selected organizations and projects descriptions, click on "Selected Proposals" and look for "Global Climate Change Education" at:

For information about NASA's Education programs, visit:

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

JPL Develops High-Speed Test to Improve Pathogen Decontamination

Chemist Adrian Ponce has devised a new method to quickly validate - from days to minutes - a spacecraft's cleanlinessA chemist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., has developed a technology intended to rapidly assess any presence of microbial life on spacecraft. This new method may also help the military test for disease-causing bacteria, such as a causative agent for anthrax, and may also be useful in the medical, pharmaceutical and other fields.

Adrian Ponce, the deputy manager for JPL's planetary science section, devised the new microscope-based method, which has the potential to quickly validate -- from days to minutes -- a spacecraft's cleanliness.

NASA adheres to international protocols by striving to ensure that spacecraft don't harbor life from Earth that could contaminate other planets or moons and skew science research. Microbes known as bacterial endospores can withstand extreme temperatures, ultraviolet rays and chemical treatments, and have been known to survive in space for six years. This resilience makes them important indicators for cleanliness and biodefense, Ponce said.

"Bacterial endospores are the toughest form of life on Earth," Ponce explained. "Therefore, if one can show that all spores are killed, then less-resistant, disease-causing organisms will also be dead."

The new technology works by looking for dipicolinic acid -- a major component of endospores and evidence of endospore growth -- by first applying terbium to a dime-sized area. Terbium is a chemical element used to generate the color green on television screens. That area is then illuminated under an ultraviolet lamp. Within minutes, one can see through a microscope aided by a digital camera whether live endospores are present. That's because they will literally glow: The terbium will show the endospores as bright green spots.

Ponce co-authored a paper on the new technology, called Germinable Endospore Biodosimetry, along with Pun To Young, a post-doctoral student at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. The research was also highlighted in Microbe, a magazine of the American Society for Microbiology.

The technology has piqued the interest of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The federal agency is funding development of a portable instrument based on Ponce's research that could quickly check for decontamination of pathogens after a biological attack. Ponce is working with the Department of Homeland Security and Advance Space Monitor, a company based in Falls River, Mass., to develop the instrument, which they plan to have ready for use by 2011. JPL and Caltech licensed the technology to Advance Space Monitor.

"As part of the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate's near-term bioassays effort, the technology could enable the rapid assessment of facility sterilization. This could significantly reduce the time and cost of building restoration following a bio-contamination event," said James Anthony, chemical and biological research and development program manager at the Dept. of Homeland Security. A bioassay is an assessment of whether certain biological material is present on a surface being tested.

Anthony added that the technology could also be used in bio-containment facilities that have regularly scheduled decontamination requirements and rapidly reactivate important bio-defense research facilities.

Besides outer space and defense purposes, this new technology might also be applied in hospitals, child-care centers, dentists' offices and nursing homes.

"Given all the problems with hospital-acquired infections, assessing the sterility and hygiene of medical equipment and surfaces is becoming increasingly important," said Ponce.

Funding for Ponce's project was provided by NASA's Astrobiology Science and Instrument Development Program and Mars Technology Program, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Chemical and Biological Research and Development division.

Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

More information on JPL's planetary science department is at .

More information about Ponce and his research is at .

More information about the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is at

More information about Advance Space Monitor is at .

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Limited Edition 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver DollarTo commemorate the United States Mint's release of the 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar and to recognize the critical role that Braille plays in the pursuit of careers in math and science by the blind, NASA's STS-125 mission flew two of the coins aboard during the Hubble Servicing Mission. This commemorative coin, only available until Dec. 11, 2009, is the first U.S. coin to have readable Braille on it and is a testament to the importance of Braille in the lives of the blind people.

Associate Administrator Chris Scolese presented them to Mark Riccobono, executive director of the Jernigan Institute of the National Federation of the Blind during the closing ceremony of the NFB Youth Slam--the largest gathering of blind students and mentors brought together to inspire and engage blind youth in science, technology, engineering and math.

In celebration of the 200th anniversary of Louis Braille's birthday, Congress authorized the minting of the 2009 Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar. The coins are the first to feature tactile, readable Braille, which enables the blind to read and learn, just as Hubble allows people to learn about the universe.

As authorized by Congress, the United States Braille coin will fund efforts by the National Federation of the Blind to reverse the Braille literacy crisis in America. After Dec. 11, any unsold coins are melted down.

NASA Associate Administrator Chris Scolese, left, presented Mark Riccobono, executive director of the Jernigan Institute of the National Federation of the Blind a Braille-inscribed award with two Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollars flown on Atlantis' STS-125 missionDr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: "This is an exciting moment because the general public has the chance to buy a piece of history -- a coin that not only represents knowledge and empowerment for blind people but that also [visited] the Hubble Space Telescope."

NASA astronaut Gregory H. Johnson will speak at the celebratory closing of the National Federation of the Blind's 2009 Youth Slam. At the Youth Slam, 200 blind high school students from across the nation will participate in five days of activities to help encourage the blind youth of America to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

NASA and the National Federation of the Blind have been collaborating for more than five years to inspire and engage blind students to lend their unique talents to disciplines critical to the nation's engineering, scientific and technical missions.

For more information about the National Federation of the Blind, visit:

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Monday, October 26, 2009

NASA Spacecraft Provides First View of Our Place in the Galaxy

NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, spacecraft has made it possible for scientists to construct the first comprehensive sky map of our solar system and its location in the Milky Way galaxy. The new view will change the way researchers view and study the interaction between our galaxy and sun.

The sky map was produced with data that two detectors on the spacecraft collected during six months of observations. The detectors measured and counted particles scientists refer to as energetic neutral atoms.

The energetic neutral atoms are created in an area of our solar system known as the interstellar boundary region. This region is where charged particles from the sun, called the solar wind, flow outward far beyond the orbits of the planets and collide with material between stars. The energetic neutral atoms travel inward toward the sun from interstellar space at velocities ranging from 100,000 mph to more than 2.4 million mph. This interstellar boundary emits no light that can be collected by conventional telescopes.

The new map reveals the region that separates the nearest reaches of our galaxy, called the local interstellar medium, from our heliosphere -- a protective bubble that shields and protects our solar system from most of the dangerous cosmic radiation traveling through space.

"For the first time, we're sticking our heads out of the sun's atmosphere and beginning to really understand our place in the galaxy," said David J. McComas, IBEX principal investigator and assistant vice president of the Space Science and Engineering Division at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "The IBEX results are truly remarkable, with a narrow ribbon of bright details or emissions not resembling any of the current theoretical models of this region."

NASA released the sky map image Oct. 15 in conjunction with publication of the findings in the journal Science. The IBEX data were complemented and extended by information collected using an imaging instrument sensor on NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Cassini has been observing Saturn, its moons and rings since the spacecraft entered the planet's orbit in 2004.

The IBEX sky maps also put observations from NASA's Voyager spacecraft into context. The twin Voyager spacecraft, launched in 1977, traveled to the outer solar system to explore Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. In 2007, Voyager 2 followed Voyager 1 into the interstellar boundary. Both spacecraft are now in the midst of this region where the energetic neutral atoms originate. However, the IBEX results show a ribbon of bright emissions undetected by the two Voyagers.

"The Voyagers are providing ground truth, but they're missing the most exciting region," said Eric Christian, the IBEX deputy mission scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "It's like having two weather stations that miss the big storm that runs between them."

The IBEX spacecraft was launched in October 2008. Its science objective was to discover the nature of the interactions between the solar wind and the interstellar medium at the edge of our solar system. The Southwest Research Institute developed and leads the mission with a team of national and international partners. The spacecraft is the latest in NASA's series of low-cost, rapidly developed Small Explorers Program. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center manages the program for the agency's Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA and the European and Italian Space Agencies. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., provides overall management for Cassini and the Voyagers for the Science Mission Directorate.

Related Links:

› Press Release
› IBEX Briefing Visuals

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Friday, October 23, 2009

NASA Offers Media Satellite Interviews Oct. 21 for Ares I-X Launch

NASA's Ares I-X Deputy Mission Manager Jon Cowart is available for satellite interviews from 6 to 9 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, Oct. 21. He will conduct the interviews from the rocket's launch pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

To interview Cowart, reporters should contact Amber Philman at 321-861-0370 by noon on Oct. 20. NASA Television will broadcast b-roll of the Ares I-X from 5:30 to 6 a.m. at analog satellite AMC-6 at 72 degrees west longitude, transponder 5C, 3800 MHz, vertical polarization, with audio at 6.8 MHz.

The Ares I-X rocket is targeted to launch Tuesday, Oct. 27 on a 28-mile high flight test. The flight test will provide NASA with an early opportunity to test and prove flight characteristics, hardware, facilities and ground operations associated with the Ares I rocket.

In 2007, Cowart became the senior project manager responsible for all modifications to the launch pad, Vehicle Assembly Building, and mobile launcher platform for Ares I-X. In December 2008, he was chosen as the deputy mission manager for Ares I-X. As part of the Mission Management Office, he is responsible for the Ares I-X flight test mission. Cowart graduated from Georgia Tech in 1983 with a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering and an Air Force commission.

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

To follow the Ares I-X flight test on Twitter, go to:

For information about Ares I-X, visit:

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

NASA Announces Commercial RLV Technology Roadmap Project

NASA is partnering with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory to develop a technology roadmap for the commercial reusable launch vehicle, or RLV, industry.

"NASA is committed to stimulating the emerging commercial reusable launch vehicle industry," said Lori Garver, deputy administrator at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "There is a natural evolutionary path from today's emerging commercial suborbital RLV industry to growing and developing the capability to provide low-cost, frequent and reliable access to low Earth orbit. One part of our plan is to partner with other federal agencies to develop a consensus roadmap of the commercial RLV industry's long-range technology needs."

The study will focus on identifying technologies and assessing their potential use to accelerate the development of commercial reusable launch vehicles that have improved reliability, availability, launch turn-time, robustness and significantly lower costs than current launch systems. The study results will provide roadmaps with recommended government technology tasks and milestones for different vehicle categories.

"Low-cost and reliable access to space will deliver significant benefits to all NASA's existing missions, from science to human exploration to aeronautics, as well as to our nation's security and to national economic growth," said Doug Comstock, director of NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program at NASA Headquarters. "Part of our plan is to apply lessons learned from the recent past and also the great successes of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in stimulating the American commercial airplane industry nearly 100 years ago."

This NASA and Air Force study will begin at the Commercial and Government Responsive Access to Space Technology Exchange 2009, held in Dayton, Ohio, Oct. 26-29. NASA and the Air Force Research Lab, with participation from the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation, will meet with representatives from the commercial RLV industry to explore and understand their long-range growth plans and the technology they could use to implement those plans successfully.

NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program is leading the study. For more information about the Innovative Partnerships Program, visit:

For more information about the Commercial RLV Technology Roadmap study, visit:

For more information about the Commercial and Government Responsive Access to Space Technology Exchange 2009, visit:

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

NASA Portable Hyperbaric Chamber Technology Finds Home on Earth

NASA has signed a patent license agreement with a California company to improve the medical community's access to hyperbaric chambers used to treat many medical conditions and emergencies. OxyHeal Medical Systems Inc. of National City, Calif., will develop new products based on technologies NASA originally developed for space.

Hyperbaric chambers create an environment in which the atmospheric pressure of oxygen is increased above normal levels. The high concentrations of oxygen can reduce the size of gas bubbles in the blood and improve blood flow to oxygen-starved tissues.

"These technologies will allow OxyHeal to develop new products capable of providing life-saving treatments and care to patients in remote areas that may not have access to large, fixed-site hyperbaric chamber facilities," said Ted Gurnee, president of OxyHeal. Additionally, the company is working on solutions that involve large portable hyperbaric chambers for possible use in treatment of disaster victims.

The partially exclusive patent license agreement allows the company to use three technologies developed at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston that are associated with inflatable spacecraft modules and portable hyperbaric chambers.

NASA developed the technologies as part of a program to plan for how astronauts in space might be treated for decompression sickness. Decompression sickness, commonly called "the bends," can occur in astronauts as they undergo pressure changes returning from spacewalks and in divers as they return to the water's surface.

In addition to treating decompression sickness, hyperbaric chamber therapy on Earth also commonly provides treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning, crush injuries, healing problem wounds, soft tissue infections, significant blood loss and other ailments.

The NASA inventors of the portable hyperbaric chamber, Dr. James Locke, William Schneider and Horacio de la Fuente, recently were recognized by the Federal Laboratory Consortium with a Notable Technology Development Award.

"NASA has a long history of making space-aged technologies available for commercialization, creating new markets that power the economy," said Michele Brekke, director of the Innovation Partnership Program Office at Johnson. "These commercial products and services, known as 'spinoffs,' allow the taxpayers to benefit from space exploration."

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

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Monday, October 19, 2009

NASA Invites Media to View Historic Ares I-X Move to Launch Pad

Reporters are invited to cover the historic Ares I-X rocket move to Launch Pad 39B on Oct. 19 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The first flight test of NASA's Constellation Program, Ares I-X is targeted to launch on Oct. 27.

First motion for Ares I-X out of Kennedy's Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pad is targeted for 12:01 a.m. EDT on Oct. 19. The 4.2-mile journey is expected to take approximately seven hours. Activities include a first motion photo and interview opportunities with Ares I-X managers. In addition, a sunrise photo opportunity will be available at 7 a.m.

Live coverage with commentary on NASA Television will start at 11:45 p.m. Oct. 18 and again at 7 a.m. Oct. 19. Video highlights of the move will air on NASA TV's Video File.

Reporters must arrive at Kennedy's news center by 10:30 p.m. Oct. 18 for transportation to the viewing area. For the sunrise event, reporters must arrive by 6:30 a.m. Oct. 19.

International media accreditation for these events is closed. U.S. reporters without permanent Kennedy credentials must apply for accreditation online by 4 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 15, at:

Badges will be available for pick up at the badging facility on State Road 3 on Sunday, Oct. 18, from 8 to 10 p.m.

Updates with times for all events will be available by calling 321-867-2525.

All participants must be properly dressed in full-length pants, flat shoes that entirely cover the feet, and shirts with sleeves.

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

To receive Ares I-X updates via Twitter, go to:

For information about Ares I-X, visit:

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Friday, October 16, 2009

NASA Spacecraft Impacts Lunar Crater in Search for Water Ice

NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, created twin impacts on the moon's surface early Friday in a search for water ice. Scientists will analyze data from the spacecraft's instruments to assess whether water ice is present.

The satellite traveled 5.6 million miles during an historic 113-day mission that ended in the Cabeus crater, a permanently shadowed region near the moon's south pole. The spacecraft was launched June 18 as a companion mission to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"The LCROSS science instruments worked exceedingly well and returned a wealth of data that will greatly improve our understanding of our closest celestial neighbor," said Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS principal investigator and project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "The team is excited to dive into data."

In preparation for impact, LCROSS and its spent Centaur upper stage rocket separated about 54,000 miles above the surface of the moon on Thursday at approximately 6:50 p.m. PDT.

Moving at a speed of more than 1.5 miles per second, the Centaur hit the lunar surface shortly after 4:31 a.m. Oct. 9, creating an impact that instruments aboard LCROSS observed for approximately four minutes. LCROSS then impacted the surface at approximately 4:36 a.m.

"This is a great day for science and exploration," said Doug Cooke, associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The LCROSS data should prove to be an impressive addition to the tremendous leaps in knowledge about the moon that have been achieved in recent weeks. I want to congratulate the LCROSS team for their tremendous achievement in development of this low cost spacecraft and for their perseverance through a number of difficult technical and operational challenges."‪

Other observatories reported capturing both impacts. The data will be shared with the LCROSS science team for analysis. The LCROSS team expects it to take several weeks of analysis before it can make a definitive assessment of the presence or absence of water ice.

"I am very proud of the success of this LCROSS mission team," said Daniel Andrews, LCROSS project manager at Ames. "Whenever this team would hit a roadblock, it conceived a clever work-around allowing us to push forward with a successful mission."

The images and video collected by the amateur astronomer community and the public also will be used to enhance our knowledge about the moon.

"One of the early goals of the mission was to get as many people to look at the LCROSS impacts in as many ways possible, and we succeeded," said Jennifer Heldmann, Ames' coordinator of the LCROSS observation campaign. "The amount of corroborated information that can be pulled out of this one event is fascinating."

"It has been an incredible journey since LCROSS was selected in April 2006," said Andrews. "The LCROSS Project faced a very ambitious schedule and an uncommonly small budget for a mission of this size. LCROSS could be a model for how small robotic missions are executed. This is truly big science on a small budget."

For more information about the LCROSS mission, including images and video, visit:

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

NASA to Hold Symposium for Small Businesses

2009 Small Business SymposiumNASA will host its second annual NASA/JPL Small Business Symposium and Awards Ceremony Nov. 16 and 17 at the Marriott Bethesda North Hotel and Conference Center, 5701 Marinelli Rd., Bethesda, Md.

The symposium provides a forum for attendees to learn about NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, located in Pasadena, Calif., and agency plans for future missions in space and Earth science.

Attendees will learn about the skills, resources and technologies needed to participate in the agency's missions, programs and research. Business-to-business networking with NASA, JPL and prime contractors will be the objective throughout the event. Participation in this symposium is open to industry, academia and small businesses. The registration deadline for the symposium is Nov. 9.

The two-day event will culminate with the NASA Small Business Industry and Advocates Awards Ceremony. The NASA Small Business Awards recognize outstanding contributions NASA employees and industry representatives have made in support of the agency's small business program.

The Business Opportunities Office at JPL and NASA's Office of Small Business Programs are hosting the symposium.

To register for the symposium, visit: .

For information about NASA's Office of Small Business Programs, visit: .

For information about JPL's Business Opportunities Office, visit: .

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Black Holes Go 'Mano a Mano'

This image of NGC 6240 contains new X-ray data from Chandra (shown in red, orange, and yellow) that has been combined with an optical image from the Hubble Space Telescope originally released in 2008. In 2002, Chandra data led to the discovery of two merging black holes, which are a mere 3,000 light years apart. They are seen as the bright point-like sources in the middle of the image.

Scientists think these black holes are in such close proximity because they are in the midst of spiraling toward each other -- a process that began about 30 million years ago. It is estimated that they holes will eventually drift together and merge into a larger black hole some tens or hundreds of millions of years from now.

Finding and studying merging black holes has become a very active field of research in astrophysics. Since 2002, there has been intense interest in follow-up observations of NGC 6240, as well as a search for similar systems. Understanding what happens when these exotic objects interact with one another remains an intriguing question for scientists.

The formation of multiple systems of supermassive black holes should be common in the universe, since many galaxies undergo collisions and mergers with other galaxies, most of which contain supermassive black holes. It is thought that pairs of massive black holes can explain some of the unusual behavior seen by rapidly growing supermassive black holes, such as the distortion and bending seen in the powerful jets they produce. Also, pairs of massive black holes in the process of merging are expected to be the most powerful sources of gravitational waves in the Universe.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

NASA Researcher Shares in Nobel Prize

Jack W. SzostakJack W. Szostak, a principal investigator with NASA’s Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology Program and a member of the NASA Astrobiology Insitute, is among a group of three researchers who have been awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. The award was presented by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on October 5th, and was given to the group "for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase."

According to the Royal Swedish Academy, this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to three scientists for solving a major problem in biology: how chromosomes can be copied in a complete way during cell divisions and how they are protected against degradation.

› Learn more about the NASA Astrobiology Institute→

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Squyres Wins Carl Sagan Medal for Public Outreach

Steve Squyres is the Principal Investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover missionFor his work making NASA's Mars Exploration Rover mission a compelling saga for millions of people, Steven W. Squyres, the Goldwin Smith Professor of Astronomy and principal scientific investigator for the mission, has received the 2009 Carl Sagan Medal from the American Astronomical Society.

The Sagan medal recognizes a planetary scientist for excellence in public communication. Squyres will receive the medal during the AAS's Division for Planetary Sciences annual meeting, Oct. 4 to Oct. 9, in Puerto Rico.

Quick to share credit with the entire Mars rover mission team at Cornell and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Squyres said he has always taken seriously the responsibility of giving people -- the taxpayers who have bankrolled the mission -- a clear window into what they are doing on Mars.

"We feel very strongly that the people who pay have a real right to find out in very clear, simple terms what they're getting for their $900 million," Squyres said.

Since January 2004, when the first rover, named Spirit, bounced down on the red planet, the Rover team has maintained a publicly accessible database of images taken by the rovers. Atypical of most NASA missions, the rover mission has allowed people to access data almost immediately. It was a conscious decision by the rover team, Squyres said, to pipeline the data straight to the Web.

"If I'm asleep and you're awake, you can see the pictures from the rover before I do," he said. "And what that has done is it's really enabled people to share in this voyage of exploration."

Squyres hopes these efforts, including a Web site that provides updates of rover activities, has inspired young people to pursue careers in science and engineering.

"NASA does all kinds of wonderful things in space, from cosmology to gamma ray spectroscopy," Squyres said. "But try explaining gamma ray spectroscopy to a third-grader. It's hard. But you know, these are robots looking at rocks. It's not that complicated. What that means is this mission is almost uniquely accessible to people."

As a Cornell graduate student Squyres '78, Ph.D. '81, worked closely with Sagan. "Carl really pioneered, in a very important way, the way in which scientists interact with the media and the public," Squyres said. "To receive an award that's named after him for trying to do the same sort of thing that he did so brilliantly is a real honor."

For more information on the Mars Exploration Rover mission, including links to the raw images, visit the mission Web site at: .

Source: Cornell University

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Space Radar Reveals Topography of Tsunami Site

Shuttle Radar Topography Mission image of the Independent State of Samoa (left) and American Samoa (right)Two color-coded perspective views of the Independent State of Samoa (left) and American Samoa (right), generated with digital elevation data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, illustrate the varying topography of the islands. A tsunami generated by a major undersea earthquake on Sept. 29, 2009, inundated the more heavily populated southern coast of Tutuila, the largest of the islands of American Samoa, with an ocean surge more than 3 meters (10 feet) deep, causing scores of casualties. The tsunami also inundated villages on the southern coast of the Independent State of Samoa with an ocean surge perhaps more than 3 meters (10 feet) deep, and also impacted the more heavily populated northern coasts with a surge measured at nearly 1.5 meters (4 feet) at the capital city of Apia.

Digital topographic data such as those produced by SRTM can be used to aid researchers and planners in predicting which coastal regions are at the most risk from such waves, as well as from the more common storm surges caused by tropical storms and even sea level rise.

› Full image and caption (American Samoa)
› Full image and caption (Independent State of Samoa)

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NASA has awarded a contract to International Trade Bridge Inc. of Dayton, Ohio, to support agency-wide efforts to reduce the environmental impact of NASA activities and improve energy conservation.

International Trade Bridge Inc. will provide engineering, technical and administrative support for activities under the NASA Technology Evaluation for Environmental Risk Mitigation program, the agency's energy program, and international collaborative efforts.

The contract will support NASA energy and water conservation, monitoring studies, interagency working groups on hydrogen and fuel cells, programmatic environmental assurance, green engineering advancement and related administrative tasks.

The fixed-price, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract has a period of performance of five years with a potential value of $30 million.

For more information about NASA's Environmental Management Division and agency activities, visit:

For information about NASA, visit:

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

MESSENGER Spacecraft Prepares for Final Pass by Mercury

NASA's Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging spacecraft known as MESSENGER will fly by Mercury for the third and final time on Sept. 29. The spacecraft will pass less than 142 miles above the planet's rocky surface for a final gravity assist that will enable it to enter Mercury's orbit in 2011.

Determining the composition of Mercury's surface is a major goal of the orbital phase of the mission. The spacecraft already has imaged more than 90 percent of the planet's surface. The spacecraft's team will activate instruments during this flyby to view specific features to uncover more information about the planet.

"This flyby will be our last close look at the equatorial regions of Mercury, and it is our final planetary gravity assist, so it is important for the entire encounter to be executed as planned," said Sean Solomon, principal investigator at the Carnegie Institution in Washington. "As enticing as these flybys have been for discovering some of Mercury's secrets, they are the hors d'oeuvres to the mission's main course -- observing Mercury from orbit for an entire year.

The spacecraft may observe how the planet interacts with conditions in interplanetary space as a result of activity on the sun. During this encounter, high spectral- and high spatial-resolution measurements will be taken again of Mercury's tenuous atmosphere and tail.

"Scans of the planet's comet-like tail will provide important clues regarding the processes that maintain the atmosphere and tail," said Noam Izenberg, the instrument's scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, or APL, in Laurel, Md. "The Mercury Atmospheric and Surface Composition Spectrometer will give us a snapshot of how the distribution of sodium and calcium vary with solar and planetary conditions. In addition, we will target the north and south polar regions for detailed observations and look for several new atmospheric constituents."

As the spacecraft approaches Mercury, cameras will photograph previously unseen terrain. As the spacecraft departs, it will take high-resolution images of the southern hemisphere. Scientists expect the spacecraft's imaging system to take more than 1,500 pictures. Those images will be used to create a mosaic to complement the high resolution, northern-hemisphere mosaic obtained during the second Mercury flyby. The first flyby took the spacecraft over the eastern hemisphere in January 2008, and the second flyby took it over western side in October 2008.

"We are going to collect high resolution, color images of scientifically interesting targets that we identified from the second flyby," said Ralph McNutt, a project scientist at APL. "The spectrometer also will make measurements of those targets at the same time."

Two spacecraft maneuvers will improve the ability of the spacecraft's Neutron Spectrometer to detect low-energy neutrons sensitive to the abundances of iron and titanium on Mercury's surface. These two elements absorb neutrons and are critical to an understanding of how the planet and its crust formed. A combination of day and night measurements will enable scientists to test the influence that planetary surface temperature has on the neutron population. The data are important for interpreting measurements that will be made after the probe is in orbit around Mercury.

An altimeter will make a topographic profile along the instrument ground track of Mercury's surface. The data gathered will provide additional topography of Mercury's surface features for ongoing studies of the form and structure of its craters and large faults. The information also will extend scientists' equatorial view of Mercury's global shape and allow them to confirm the discovery made during the first and second flyby that Mercury's equatorial region is slightly elliptical.

The spacecraft has completed nearly three-quarters of its 4.9-billion-mile journey to enter orbit around Mercury. The trip includes more than 15 trips around the sun. In addition to flying by Mercury, the spacecraft flew past Earth in August 2005 and Venus in October 2006 and June 2007.

The project is the seventh in NASA's Discovery Program of low-cost, scientifically focused space missions. The spacecraft was designed and built by APL. The mission also is managed and operated by APL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about the mission, visit:

› NASA's MESSENGER Mission Page
› Information and briefing materials on MESSENGER's third flyby

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

NASA Ice Satellite Maps Profound Polar Thinning

Satellite data shows fast ice thinning (red) along the coast of West Antarctica.Researchers have used NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) to compose the most comprehensive picture of changing glaciers along the coast of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

The new elevation maps show that all latitudes of the Greenland ice sheet are affected by dynamic thinning -- the loss of ice due to accelerated ice flow to the ocean. The maps also show surprising, extensive thinning in Antarctica, affecting the ice sheet far inland. The study, led by Hamish Pritchard of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, England, was published September 24 in Nature.

ICESat’s precise laser altimetry instrument, launched in 2003, has provided a high-density web of elevation measurements repeated year after year across the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. With the dense coverage, the research team could distinguish which changes were caused by fast-flowing ice and which had other causes, such as melt.

The maps confirm that the profound ice sheet thinning of recent years stems from fast-flowing glaciers that empty into the sea. This was particularly the case in West Antarctica, where the Pine Island Glacier was found to be thinning between 2003 and 2007 by as much as 6 meters per year. In Greenland, fast-flowing glaciers were shown to thin by an average of nearly 0.9 meters per year.

Related Links

› British Antarctic Survey press release
› Extensive Dynamic Thinning on the Margins of Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets

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Monday, October 5, 2009

How to Make a Planet

This artist's conception shows a lump of material in a swirling, planet-forming disk. Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope found evidence that a companion to a star -- either another star or a planet -- could be pushing planetary material together, as illustrated here.

Planets are born out of spinning disks of gas and dust. They can carve out lanes or gaps in the disks as they grow bigger and bigger. Scientists used Spitzer's infrared vision to study the disk around a star called LRLL 31, located about 1,000 light-years away in the IC 348 region of the constellation Perseus. Spitzer's new infrared observations reveal that the disk has both an inner and outer gap.

What's more, the data show that infrared light from the disk is changing over as little time as one week -- a very unusual occurrence. In particular, light of different wavelengths seesawed back and forth, with short-wavelength light going up when long-wavelength light went down, and vice versa.

According to astronomers, this change could be caused by a companion to the star (illustrated as a planet in this picture). As the companion spins around, its gravity would cause the wall of the inner disk to squeeze into a lump. This lump would also spin around the star, shadowing part of the outer disk. When the bright side of the lump is on the far side of the star, and facing Earth, more infrared light at shorter wavelengths should be observed (hotter material closer to the star emits shorter wavelengths of infrared light). In addition, the shadow of the lump should cause longer-wavelength infrared light from the outer disk to decrease. The opposite would be true when the lump is in front of the star and its bright side is hidden (shorter-wavelength light would go down, and longer-wavelength light up). This is precisely what Spitzer observed.

The size of the lump and the planet have been exaggerated to better illustrate the dynamics of the system.

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Astronaut James McDivitt, Others Inducted Into Aerospace Walk of Honor

Retired NASA Apollo program astronaut James McDivitt was inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor in Lancaster City, Calif. on Sept. 19, 2009. McDivitt, who commanded the Gemini IV mission in 1965 and the Apollo 9 mission in 1969, was one of five former test pilots and astronauts honored at the 20th induction ceremonies.

Retired NASA Apollo program astronaut James McDivitt (right) is presented with a medal by Ron Smith, vice-mayor of the City of Lancaster, Calif., at the city’s Aerospace Walk of Honor induction ceremonies Sept. 19McDivitt was joined at the induction ceremony by retired NASA astronaut Gordon Fullerton, Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan, NASA Dryden acting deputy director Gwen Young and Ron Smith, vice-mayor of the City of Lancaster, Calif. Cernan was the featured speaker during the ceremony.

Following the induction ceremony, McDivitt and the group wielded shovels in front of the Lancaster Performing Arts Center to plant a commemorative moon tree. The sycamore sapling is a second-generation descendant of sycamore trees that were germinated from seeds that were flown on the Apollo 14 moon mission in 1971. This moon tree joins dozens of other trees now growing at state capitols, university campuses, and other select locations across the nation.

McDivitt commanded the first American space walk mission during Gemini IV, and later during Apollo 9, he oversaw the first tests of the Lunar Module in orbit around Earth. Joining the Air Force in 1959, he started as a student test pilot. McDivitt quickly climbed through various positions and programs before being selected as an astronaut in 1962.

A graduate of the US Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School and member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, he has been honored with many awards highlighting his accomplishments, including two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, five Air Medals, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, two Air Force Distinguished Service Medals, induction into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and the International Space Hall of Fame. McDivitt now joins the 93 other honorees in the Aerospace Walk of Honor.

Retired NASA astronaut Gordon Fullerton, Vice-Mayor of Lancaster City, CalifEstablished in 1990 by the Lancaster City Council, the Aerospace Walk of Honor runs along Lancaster Boulevard through the city where each inductee is memorialized with a granite pillar that recognizes the important contributions of each individual who 'soared above the rest.'

Lancaster City is near both Edwards Air Force Base and the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center making it a hotbed of aviation activity. Dryden Flight Research Center has been the home of NASA’s high performance aircraft research since it’s founding.

› Learn more about Moon Trees
› Learn more about the Aerospace Walk of Honor →

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Radar Map of Buried Mars Layers Matches Climate Cycles

Shallow Radar instrument on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for mapping underground ice-rich layers of the north polar layered terrain on Mars.
New, three-dimensional imaging of Martian north-polar ice layers by a radar instrument on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is consistent with theoretical models of Martian climate swings during the past few million years.

Alignment of the layering patterns with the modeled climate cycles provides insight about how the layers accumulated. These ice-rich, layered deposits cover an area one-third larger than Texas and form a stack up to 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) thick atop a basal deposit with additional ice.

"Contrast in electrical properties between layers is what provides the reflectivity we observe with the radar," said Nathaniel Putzig of Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colo., a member of the science team for the Shallow Radar instrument on the orbiter. "The pattern of reflectivity tells us about the pattern of material variations within the layers."

Earlier radar observations indicated that the Martian north-polar layered deposits are mostly ice. Radar contrasts between different layers in the deposits are interpreted as differences in the concentration of rock material, in the form of dust, mixed with the ice. These deposits on Mars hold about one-third as much water as Earth's Greenland ice sheet.

Putzig and nine co-authors report findings from 358 radar observations in a paper accepted for publication by the journal Icarus and currently available online.

Their radar results provide a cross-sectional view of the north-polar layered deposits of Mars, showing that high-reflectivity zones, with multiple contrasting layers, alternate with more-homogenous zones of lower reflectivity. Patterns of how these two types of zones alternate can be correlated to models of how changes in Mars' tilt on its axis have produced changes in the planet's climate in the past 4 million years or so, but only if some possibilities for how the layers form are ruled out.

"We're not doing the climate modeling here; we are comparing others' modeling results to what we observe with the radar, and using that comparison to constrain the possible explanations for how the layers form," Putzig said.

The most recent 300,000 years of Martian history are a period of less dramatic swings in the planet's tilt than during the preceding 600,000 years. Since the top zone of the north-polar layered deposits -- the most recently deposited portion -- is strongly radar-reflective, the researchers propose that such sections of high-contrast layering correspond to periods of relatively small swings in the planet's tilt.

They also propose a mechanism for how those contrasting layers would form. The observed pattern does not fit well with an earlier interpretation that the dustier layers in those zones are formed during high-tilt periods when sunshine on the polar region sublimates some of the top layer's ice and concentrates the dust left behind. Rather, it fits an alternative interpretation that the dustier layers are simply deposited during periods when the atmosphere is dustier.

The new radar mapping of the extent and depth of five stacked units in the north-polar layered deposits reveals that the geographical center of ice deposition probably shifted by 400 kilometers (250 miles) or more at least once during the past few million years.

"The radar has been giving us spectacular results," said Jeffrey Plaut of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., a co-author of the paper. "We have mapped continuous underground layers in three dimensions across a vast area."

The Italian Space Agency operates the Shallow Radar instrument, which it provided for NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The orbiter has been studying Mars with six advanced instruments since 2006. It has returned more data from the planet than all other past and current missions to Mars combined. For more information about the mission, visit: .

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is the prime contractor for the project and built the spacecraft.

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