Thursday, March 31, 2011

Celestial Mountains

The Tien Shan mountain range is one of the largest continuous mountain ranges in the world, extending approximately 1,550 miles (2,500 kilometers) roughly east-west across Central Asia. This image taken by the Expedition 27 crew aboard the International Space Station provides a view of the central Tien Shan, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) east of where the borders of China, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan meet.

The uplift of the Tien Shan, which means celestial mountains in Chinese, like the Himalayas to the south, results from the ongoing collision between the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates. The rugged topography of the range is the result of subsequent erosion by water, wind and, in the highest parts of the range, active glaciers.

Two high peaks of the central Tien Shan are identifiable in the image. Xuelian Feng has a summit of 21,414 feet (6,527 meters) above sea level. To the east, the aptly-named Peak 6231 has a summit 6,231 meters, or 20,443 feet, above sea level.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

NASA's TRMM Satellite Sees Deadly Rainfall Over Thailand

Data from NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission or TRMM satellite was used to create a rainfall map of the severe rains that fell in Thailand recently. More than 20 people have been killed in southern Thailand over the past week due to flooding and mudslides caused by extremely heavy rainfall.

TRMM is a satellite managed by both NASA and the Japanese Space Agency, JAXA. It is a unique satellite because its advanced technology enables it to measure rainfall from space.

A Multi-satellite Precipitation Analysis (TMPA) analysis was made using data that were calibrated with TRMM precipitation data. These data are calculated and stored at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. and are available within a few hours after being received by satellites. The analysis showed that rainfall for the past week over the Malay Peninsula was particularly extreme with totals of almost 1200 mm (~47 inches).

TRMM satellite data revealed that rainfall in that area was frequently falling at a rate of over 50 mm/hr (~2 inches). According to reports from CNN, since March 26 the southern province of Surat Thani received 855 mm (34 inches) of rain. Normally, the province receives about 2 inches of rainfall over the entire month of March.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

NASA Announces 2011 Carl Sagan Fellows

NASA has selected five potential discoverers as the recipients of the 2011 Carl Sagan Postdoctoral Fellowships, named after the late astronomer. The Carl Sagan Fellowship takes a theme-based approach, in which fellows will focus on compelling scientific questions, such as "Are there Earth-like planets orbiting other stars?"

Sagan once said, "Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known," which is in line with the Sagan Fellowship's primary goal: to discover and characterize planetary systems and Earth-like planets around other stars. Planets outside of our solar system are called exoplanets. The fellowship also aims to support outstanding recent postdoctoral scientists in conducting independent research broadly related to the science goals of NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program.

Previous Sagan Fellows have contributed significant discoveries in exoplanet exploration. including: the first characterizations of a super-Earth's atmosphere using a ground-based telescope; and the discovery of a massive disk of dust and gas encircling a giant young star, which could potentially answer the long-standing question of how massive stars are born.

"The Sagan Fellowship program seeks to identify the most highly qualified young researchers in the field of exoplanets. Nowhere is the dynamism of this young branch of astronomy demonstrated more dramatically than by the intellectual quality and enthusiasm of these five new Sagan Fellows," said Charles Beichman, executive director of the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "These scientists are certain to be leaders of this exciting and rapidly growing field for many years to come."

The program, created in 2008, awards selected postdoctoral scientists with annual stipends of approximately $64,500 for up to three years, plus an annual research budget of up to $16,000. Topics range from techniques for detecting the glow of a dim planet in the blinding glare of its host star, to searching for the crucial ingredients of life in other planetary systems.

The 2011 Sagan Fellows are:

-- David Kipping, who will work at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, to combine theory and observation to conduct a search for the moons of exoplanets.

-- Bryce Croll, who will work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., to characterize the atmospheres of both large and small exoplanets using a variety of telescopes.

-- Wladimir Lyra, who will work at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., to study planet-forming disks and exoplanet formation.

-- Katie Morzinski, who will work at the University of Arizona, Tucson, to commission and employ high-contrast adaptive optics systems that will directly image Jupiter-like exoplanets.

-- Sloane Wiktorowicz, who will work at the University of California, Santa Cruz to use a technique called optical polarimetry to directly detect exoplanets.

NASA has two other astrophysics theme-based fellowship programs: the Einstein Fellowship Program, which supports research into the physics of the cosmos, and the Hubble Fellowship Program, which supports research into cosmic origins. The Sagan Fellowship Program is administered by the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute as part of NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program at JPL in Pasadena, Calif. The California Institute of Technology manages JPL for NASA.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Chicken Fat Biofuel: Eco-friendly Jet Fuel Alternative?

In an RV nicknamed after an urban assault vehicle, scientists from NASA's Langley Research Center traveled cross-country this month for an experiment with eco-friendly jet fuel.

The Langley team drove 2,600 miles (4,184 km) from Hampton, Va., to meet up with other researchers at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California.

Researchers are testing the biofuel on a NASA DC-8 to measure its performance and emissions as part of the Alternative Aviation Fuel Experiment II, or AAFEX II. The fuel is called Hydrotreated Renewable Jet Fuel.

"It's made out of chicken fat, actually," said Langley's Bruce Anderson, AAFEX II project scientist. "The Air Force bought many thousands of gallons of this to burn in some of their jets and provided about 8,000 gallons (30,283 liters) to NASA for this experiment."

Anderson and his team will test a 50-50 mix of biofuel and regular jet fuel, biofuel only, and jet fuel only. The jet fuel is Jet Propellant 8, or JP-8, a kerosene-like mix of hydrocarbons.

Two of the team members headed west in a specially equipped 32-foot (9.75 m) van on loan from Langley's Aviation Safety Program. It's dubbed "EM-50" by researchers after the urban assault vehicle used in the 1981 comedy "Stripes" with Bill Murray.

Collaborative Effort

Three more researchers from Langley flew to the experiment, and researchers from Dryden and NASA's Glenn Research Center in Ohio have key roles as well. The effort includes investigators and consultants from private industry, other federal organizations, and academia. In all, 17 organizations are participating in AAFEX II.

"This is going to be a lot of hard work," said Anderson.

Glenn researchers shipped instruments that will be used to measure particulate and gaseous emissions.

"AAFEX II will provide essential gaseous and particulate emissions data as well as engine and aircraft systems performance data from operation of the DC-8 on a fuel produced from a renewable resource," said Glenn's Dan Bulzan, who leads clean energy and emissions research in NASA's Subsonic Fixed Wing Project.

"NASA Dryden is excited to continue contributing to the study of alternative fuels for aviation use," said Frank Cutler, NASA's DC-8 flying laboratory project manager. "These tests will assess exhaust emissions generated by modern turbine aircraft engines using man-made fuels."

In 2009, researchers in the AAFEX I project tested two synthetic fuels derived from petroleum-based coal and natural gas.

Testing is being done at a time when the U.S. military has set a goal of eventually flying its aircraft using 50 percent biofuel. The Air Force is currently engaged in certifying its fleet to operate on a 50-percent blend of the same fuel being tested in AAFEX II. Some military cargo and fighter planes already use alternative fuels.

"The use of alternative fuels, including biofuels, in aircraft is a key element for substantially reducing the impact of aviation on the environment and for reducing the dependency on foreign petroleum," said Glenn's Ruben Del Rosario, manager of NASA's Subsonic Fixed Wing Project, which is conducting the tests.

The tests are funded and managed by the Fundamental Aeronautics Program of NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate in Washington.

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

NASA's Successful 'Can Crush' Will Aid Heavy-Lift Rocket Design

On March 23, NASA put the squeeze on a large rocket test section. Results from this structural strength test at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., will help future heavy-lift launch vehicles weigh less and reduce development costs.

This trailblazing project is examining the safety margins needed in the design of future, large launch vehicle structures. Test results will be used to develop and validate structural analysis models and generate new "shell-buckling knockdown factors" -- complex engineering design standards essential to launch vehicle design.

"This type of research is critical to NASA developing a new heavy-lift vehicle," said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. "The Authorization Act of 2010 gave us direction to take the nation beyond low-Earth orbit, but it is the work of our dedicated team of engineers and researchers that will make future NASA exploration missions a reality."

The aerospace industry's shell buckling knockdown factors date back to Apollo-era studies when current materials, manufacturing processes and high-fidelity computer modeling did not exist. These new analyses will update essential design factors and calculations that are a significant performance and safety driver in designing large structures like the main fuel tank of a future heavy-lift launch vehicle.

During the test, a massive 27.5-foot-diameter and 20-foot-tall aluminum-lithium test cylinder received almost one million pounds of force until it failed. More than 800 sensors measured strain and local deformations. In addition, advanced optical measurement techniques were used to monitor tiny deformations over the entire outer surface of the test article.

The Shell Buckling Knockdown Factor Project is led by engineers at NASA's Engineering and Safety Center (NESC), and NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. NASA's heavy-lift space launch system will be developed and managed at Marshall.

"Launch vehicles are thin walled, cylindrical structures and buckling is one of the primary failure modes," said Mark Hilburger, a senior research engineer in the Structural Mechanics and Concepts Branch at Langley and the principal investigator of the NESC's Shell Buckling Knockdown Factor project. "Only by studying the fundamental physics of buckling through careful testing and analysis can we confidently apply the new knowledge to updated design factors. The outcome will be safer, lighter, more efficient launch vehicles."

Leading up to this full-scale test, the shell buckling team tested four, 8-foot-diameter aluminum-lithium cylinders. Current research suggests applying the new design factors and incorporating new technology could reduce the weight of large heavy-lift launch vehicles by as much as 20 percent.

"Marshall's Structural and Dynamics Engineering Test laboratory is uniquely suited for shell buckling testing," said Mike Roberts, an engineer in Marshall's structural strength test branch and the center lead for this activity. "Originally built to test Saturn rocket stages, the capabilities found here were essential to developing the lightweight space shuttle external tank flying today and for testing International Space Station modules."

For this test, Marshall led all test operations including the engineering, test equipment design and safety assurance. Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company fabricated the test article at Marshall's Advance Weld Process Development Facility using state-of-the-art welding and inspection techniques. Langley engineers led the design and analysis of the test articles, defined the test requirements, and developed new optical displacement measurement standards that enabled highly accurate assessment of the large-scale test article response during the test.

In the future, the shell buckling team will test carbon-fiber composite structures that are 20-30 percent lighter than aluminum and widely used in the automotive and aerospace industries.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Suzaku Shows Clearest Picture Yet of Perseus Galaxy Cluster

X-ray observations made by the Suzaku observatory provide the clearest picture to date of the size, mass and chemical content of a nearby cluster of galaxies. The study also provides the first direct evidence that million-degree gas clouds are tightly gathered in the cluster's outskirts.

Suzaku is sponsored by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) with contributions from NASA and participation by the international scientific community. The findings will appear in the March 25 issue of the journal Science.

Galaxy clusters are millions of light-years across, and most of their normal matter comes in the form of hot X-ray-emitting gas that fills the space between the galaxies.

"Understanding the content of normal matter in galaxy clusters is a key element for using these objects to study the evolution of the universe," explained Adam Mantz, a co-author of the paper at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Clusters provide independent checks on cosmological values established by other means, such as galaxy surveys, exploding stars and the cosmic microwave background, which is the remnant glow of the Big Bang. The cluster data and the other values didn't agree.

NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) explored the cosmic microwave background and established that baryons -- what physicists call normal matter -- make up only about 4.6 percent of the universe. Yet previous studies showed that galaxy clusters seemed to hold even fewer baryons than this amount.

Suzaku images of faint gas at the fringes of a nearby galaxy cluster have allowed astronomers to resolve this discrepancy for the first time.

The satellite's ideal target for this study was the Perseus Galaxy Cluster, which is located about 250 million light-years away and named for the constellation in which it resides. It is the brightest extended X-ray source beyond our own galaxy, and also the brightest and closest cluster in which Suzaku has attempted to map outlying gas.

"Before Suzaku, our knowledge of the properties of this gas was limited to the innermost parts of clusters, where the X-ray emission is brightest, but this left a huge volume essentially unexplored," said Aurora Simionescu, the study's lead researcher at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) at Stanford University.

In late 2009, Suzaku's X-ray telescopes repeatedly observed the cluster by progressively imaging areas farther east and northwest of the center. Each set of images probed sky regions two degrees across -- equivalent to four times the apparent width of the full moon or about 9 million light-years at the cluster's distance. Staring at the cluster for about three days, the satellite mapped X-rays with energies hundreds of times greater than that of visible light.

From the data, researchers measured the density and temperature of the faint X-ray gas, which let them infer many other important quantities. One is the so-called virial radius, which essentially marks the edge of the cluster. Based on this measurement, the cluster is 11.6 million light-years across and contains more than 660 trillion times the mass of the sun. That's nearly a thousand times the mass of our Milky Way galaxy.

The researchers also determined the ratio of the cluster's gas mass to its total mass, including dark matter -- the mysterious substance that makes up about 23 percent of the universe, according to WMAP. By virtue of their enormous size, galaxy clusters should contain a representative sample of cosmic matter, with normal-to-dark-matter ratios similar to WMAP's. Yet the outer parts of the Perseus cluster seemed to contain too many baryons, the opposite of earlier studies, but still in conflict with WMAP.

To solve the problem, researchers had to understand the distribution of hot gas in the cluster, the researchers say. In the central regions, the gas is repeatedly whipped up and smoothed out by passing galaxies. But computer simulations show that fresh infalling gas at the cluster edge tends to form irregular clumps.

Not accounting for the clumping overestimates the density of the gas. This is what led to the apparent disagreement with the fraction of normal matter found in the cosmic microwave background.

"The distribution of these clumps and the fact that they are not immediately destroyed as they enter the cluster are important clues in understanding the physical processes that take place in these previously unexplored regions," said Steve Allen at KIPAC, the principal investigator of the Suzaku observations.

Goddard supplied Suzaku's X-ray telescopes and data-processing software, and it continues to operate a facility that supports U.S. astronomers who use the spacecraft.

Suzaku ( Japanese for "red bird of the south") is the fifth Japanese X-ray astronomy satellite. It was launched as Astro-E2 on July 10, 2005, and renamed in orbit. The observatory was developed at JAXA's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science in collaboration with NASA and other Japanese and U.S. institutions.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Stinky Origins to Life? New Analysis Yields Clues

A new NASA-funded study demonstrates how a chemical that smells like rotten eggs -- hydrogen sulfide -- may have played a role in the formation of life on Earth. The study authors, including Andrew Aubrey of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, re-examined old test tubes from classic experiments performed in the 1950s by Stanley Miller, who was a graduate student at the University of Chicago.

The team analyzed samples from another variant of the experiment performed in 1958 in which Miller used carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide gas in the mixture. It was "lost" for decades because, for unknown reasons, Miller never reported his analysis of the results. "Stanley mentioned to several of us that he hated working with hydrogen sulfide because it smelled so bad and tended to make him sick," said Jeffrey Bada of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego, who was a graduate student of Miller's and is the corresponding author on the new study.

"Given that some of the compounds he made in the experiment smell pretty bad, this experiment may be the basis for his reluctance to deal with hydrogen sulfide in experiments," he said.

The team discovered that the experiment created amino acids containing sulfur, the first such synthesis from a simulated prebiotic environment, according to team members, and the one that produced them in the greatest diversity and highest abundance.

The results provide clues about the roles that volcanic plumes -- which are a natural source of hydrogen sulfide -- may have played in producing the Earth's first organic compounds.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Disappearing Act

This swirling landscape of stars is known as the North America Nebula. In visible light, the region resembles North America, but in this new infrared view from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, the continent disappears.

Where did the continent go? The reason you don't see it in Spitzer's view is due, in part, to the fact that infrared light can penetrate dust whereas visible light cannot. Dusty, dark clouds in the visible image become transparent in Spitzer's view. In addition, Spitzer's infrared detectors pick up the glow of dusty cocoons enveloping baby stars.

Clusters of young stars (about one million years old) can be found throughout the image. Slightly older but still very young stars (about 3-5 million years) are also liberally scattered across the complex. Some areas of this nebula are still very thick with dust and appear dark even in Spitzer's view and are likely to be the youngest stars in the complex (less than a million years old).

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Fires in the U.S. Southeast

The Moderate Resolution Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument that flies on NASA's Aqua satellite acquired this image of fires burning in the U.S. southeast on March 18 at 1900 UTC (3 p.m. EDT). Fires are indicated by red dots and can be seen burning in northern Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and extreme southeastern Tennessee. On-line Athens (Georgia) news and Associated Press reported on March 19 that firefighters in two counties battled grass and yard fires this weekend. Those fires were burning in Barrow and Jackson counties. According to the article, Georgia has less than 7,000 wildfires annually and peak fire season in the state runs from February through May. So far 22 square miles in the Southern Georgia grasslands, forest and swamplands have burned this year in 1,627 fires.

MODIS data from NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites are acquired from each satellite twice daily. These four daily MODIS fire observations serve operational fire management needs while also advancing global monitoring of the fire process and its effects on ecosystems, the atmosphere, and climate.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

AFRL-NASA ACAT Team Wins Av Week Laureate Award

The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory's Automatic Collision Avoidance Technology Fighter Risk Reduction Program (ACAT/FRRP) team, which includes NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, has won an Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine Laureate Award for its successful development and flight test of an Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System.

The award was announced March 8 during the magazine's 54th Annual Laureate Awards ceremony in Washington, DC.

NASA Dryden led the project's integrated test team, which was responsible for the technical content of the project's test and evaluation, maintenance of the Air Force's F-16D test aircraft, project management and engineering services, and provision of the project's chief pilot.

"It is a tremendous honor to be recognized by Aviation Week this way," said Dryden's Mark Skoog, the team's project manager. "Speaking for the NASA and Air Force Flight Test Center team, we were proud to contribute to this team effort by ironing out the system requirements with Air Combat Command, bringing improved digital data to the system, acquiring and preparing the test jet, as well as conducting and evaluating the thrilling flight test effort," Skoog said.

The Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System, or Auto GCAS, is a lifesaving aircraft technology that incorporates onboard digital terrain mapping data, a robust terrain scan pattern, and "time to avoid impact" algorithms to predict impending ground collisions and, at the last moment, execute avoidance maneuvers. The result is a system that automatically prevents controlled flight into terrain, the leading cause of all fighter aircraft mishaps.

By flight-testing the Auto GCAS system across the entire F-16 flight envelope and in all terrain conditions, including such extremes as flying only 100 feet above ground level in canyons and over mountainous terrain, the ACAT/FRRP team successfully proved the maturity of this technology, its ability to be nuisance-free and ready for transition to operational fighter aircraft.

As a direct result of the ACAT/FRRP team efforts and success, Auto GCAS is now transitioning to operational use in the Air Force's F-16 and F-22 aircraft, as well as in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Auto GCAS offers unprecedented payoffs in terms of operator safety and aircraft retention, according to Air Force Research Laboratory officials. They believe the 20-year projected payoff from implementation of Auto GCAS will result in savings of tens of billions of dollars and hundreds of lives and fighter aircraft.

The ACAT/FRRP team is composed of AFRL, Lockheed Martin, NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, the Air Force Flight Test Center, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense Personnel and Readiness.

The annual Aviation Week Laureate Awards recognize extraordinary individuals and teams for their exploration, innovation and vision in the aerospace and defense industry.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Kennedy Employees Form Human Shuttle

Thousands of NASA Kennedy Space Center employees stand side-by-side to form a full-scale outline of a space shuttle orbiter outside the Vehicle Assembly Building. The unique photo opportunity was designed to honor the Space Shuttle Program's 30-year legacy and the people who contribute to safely processing, launching and landing the vehicle.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Madrid Event Marks Spain's Role in Next Mars Mission

Spain is providing a key science instrument and the high-gain antenna communication subsystem for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, on track for launch this year.

At a small ceremony held March 17, 2011, in Madrid, representatives of the United States and Spain signed an agreement for cooperation on the mission. Signers included Alan D. Solomont, U.S. ambassador to Spain; Arturo Azcorra, director general of Spain's Center for the Development of Industrial Technology; and Jaime Denis, director general of Spain's National Institute for Aerospace Technology. Spain's Minister of Defense Carme Chacon Piqueras and Minister of Science and Innovation Cristina Garmendia Mendizabal were also present.

The Mars Science Laboratory instrument provided by Spain is the Remote Environmental Monitoring Station, which will measure daily and seasonal changes in weather using sensors on the mast, on the deck and inside the mission's rover. The rover's high-gain antenna will send and receive communications directly between the rover and Earth, using X-band radio transmissions.

The mission's rover, named Curiosity, is currently in vacuum-chamber testing at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., where it is being built and tested. This is part of preparation for launch during the period Nov. 25 to Dec. 18, 2011, and landing on Mars in August 2012. Its 10 science investigations will assess the modern environment of the landing area and clues about environments billions of years ago.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory mission for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

NASA Picks a Festive Clover of Ireland Images

March 17 marks St. Patrick's Day —a day when shamrocks, Ireland and "wearing of the green" are especially en vogue. To celebrate this festive occasion, NASA's Aqua satellite has picked a clover of different views of the Emerald Isle, Ireland.

The collection of images acquired by Aqua's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on March 3, 2011, includes near-infrared/visible, infrared and microwave light views of the land where St. Patrick's Day originated.

The AIRS instrument measures temperatures of land, sea and air to provide a better understanding of what is happening in those environments.

The clover of AIRS images reveal temperatures near Earth's surface that were near normal for this time of year. The visible image showed a mostly cloud-free country blanketed by an approaching cold front. The infrared image showed low western clouds associated with a cold front moving east. The microwave brightness temperature data are a bit colder than the infrared temperature data, 273 Kelvin, which is just at the freezing point of water (0 degrees Celsius, or 32 degrees Fahrenheit).

AIRS observes and records the global daily distribution of temperature, water vapor, clouds and several atmospheric gases, including ozone, methane and carbon monoxide.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Chasma Boreale, Mars

Chasma Boreale, a long, flat-floored valley, cuts deep into Mars' north polar icecap. Its walls rise about 4,600 feet, or 1,400 meters, above the floor. Where the edge of the ice cap has retreated, sheets of sand are emerging that accumulated during earlier ice-free climatic cycles. Winds blowing off the ice have pushed loose sand into dunes and driven them down-canyon in a westward direction.

This scene combines images taken during the period from December 2002 to February 2005 by the Thermal Emission Imaging System instrument on NASA's Mars Odyssey was part of a special series of images marking the orbiter as the longest-working Mars spacecraft in history.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Legendary Fire Trainer Retires After 42 Years

George Hoggard had an extraordinary career by most standards, so it wasn't easy for him to say goodbye to the fire department at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

"People who don't know anything about the space program cannot imagine how exciting it is to work out here," Hoggard said. "The very idea of it lasting 30 years never dawned on me and I never did have any retirement plans because working out here is so much fun. Quite frankly, I'm thinking, 'Why would I want to leave this?'"

As the chief of fire training, Hoggard and his crew worked closely with astronauts to teach them how to handle emergencies on the launch pad or on the ground following a problem. He showed them where to go once they left the shuttle cockpit, such as when to take the elevator and when to go straight to the slidewire basket. He and then-astronaut Charlie Bolden took a ride in one of the baskets in the late 1980s to prove they were safe.

It might look like it would be a thrill ride, sitting inside a basket riding a cable from 195 feet above the launch pad, but Hoggard said it was a very straightforward event.

"Back in those days," Hoggard said, "if you went to Disney World you had to pay a little bit more money for the e-tickets because they were the more exciting rides and when they asked me how the basket ride was, I said, 'If I went to Disney World with my granddaughter and took that ride and had to use an e-ticket, I'd ask for my money back because it wasn't that exciting, it was kind of dull."

Bolden, returning as NASA administrator, gave Hoggard a commemorative medallion during his retirement party the day before space shuttle Discovery lifted off on its final flight, the STS-133 mission.

Hoggard's skill and dedication came across to the astronauts very easily and made the firefighter a true legend at Kennedy, Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach said.

"The astronauts know they can trust him with their lives, and that says an enormous amount about his experience, heart and wisdom," Leinbach said.

It's a far different existence than Hoggard thought he would have. After getting out of the Marines, Hoggard thought he'd go into the family business: law enforcement. His father and brother were both policemen, and Hoggard joined the force. He was assigned to the vice squad and during the next year had some close calls, including getting stabbed and shot at.

"At the end of the year I told my dad, 'Hey, I know you wanted me to be a cop, but I've got to go find a safer job, I don't like being a cop,'" Hoggard said. "Luckily for me he was friends with a fire chief and got me a job on a really good department and he said, 'This is the safest job I can get you,' and I've been a fireman ever since."

Working as a firefighter in southeastern Virginia, Hoggard's career turned again after a friend of his told him about the construction under way on NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

"Quite frankly, I had been on the department up there for eight or nine years and I was tired of freezing on the tail board of a fire engine on Chesapeake Bay in the winter time with the sleet blowing in my face," Hoggard said. "I said, 'If I'm going to continue in this job, I'm going to a warmer climate.'"

Hoggard's firefighting career at Kennedy began with a level of excitement that would become the norm.

"I was really new out here and got to go out to the fire training area and they said three astronauts were going to show up and I didn't know who they were," Hoggard said. "They did everything we asked them to do with extinguishers and the hose and the masks and stuff, part of the training. And they left and I had no idea who they were and six months later they stepped on the moon . . . it was the Apollo 11 crew."

"When the shuttle started up we kind of had to sort of reinvent everything because there wasn't going to be just three astronauts, there were going to be as many as seven astronauts in there," Hoggard said. "It was going to be a completely different ball game so the preparation and planning and training for that was real exciting."

Hoggard and his team taught the astronauts before each launch how to drive the yellow M113 armored personnel carriers. The lessons would be critical if there was an emergency and the crew had to drive out of harm's way.

"I tell the astronauts the shuttle cockpit's got over 2,000 switches, this one's only got two, on and off, and it's easy as it can be," Hoggard said. "If you can drive a tractor and plow a field, you can drive an M113."

Hoggard still has a rule, though: "They said is there a pass/fail to this driving test and I said, 'Yeah, if you hurt the old guy, you're going to fail the test, that's the bottom line, don't hurt the old guy.' "

That approach also was on display when Hoggard was training Leinbach years ago when he and other NASA test directors were learning about rescue procedures.

"One day we went out to their fire training area for rappelling training," Leinbach said. "During my first rappel, George was on the belay line. About halfway down the side of the 50-foot building he cinched up on the rope and I slammed into the concrete wall and hung there until he let up on the rope. I’ll never forget it. I was hanging there and he was on the ground laughing. After what seemed like an eternity, he let me down and we just laughed and laughed until we almost cried."

Hoggard saw different perspectives of NASA when he conducted training classes at the agency's other field centers.

"They ask, 'Have you seen a launch?' And I'm like, 'Yeah, I don't close my eyes,'" he said. "Then they asked, 'Well, what's that like?' Then it dawned on me, there are thousands of people who work for NASA and NASA contractors who have never seen a launch and I've seen many of them and that's just kind of amazing. It's a shame that everybody can't be in the position that I am here at Kennedy."

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

NASA Images Tsunami's Effects on Northeastern Japan

The extent of inundation from the destructive and deadly tsunami triggered by the March 11, 2011, magnitude 8.9 earthquake centered off Japan's northeastern coast about 130 kilometers (82 miles) east of the city of Sendai is revealed in this before-and-after image pair from the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument on NASA's Terra spacecraft.

The image comparison is online at . For optimum viewing, click the link to open the full-resolution TIFF image.

The new image, shown on the right, was acquired at 10:30 a.m. local time (01:30 UTC) on March 12, 2011. For comparison, shown on the left is a MISR image from about 10 years ago, on March 16, 2001, acquired under nearly identical illumination conditions. Flooding extending more than 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) inland from the eastern shoreline is visible in the post-earthquake image. The white sand beaches visible in the pre-earthquake view are now covered by water and can no longer be seen. Among the locations where severe flooding is visible is the area around Matsukawa-ura Bay, located just north and east of the image center.

From top to bottom, each image extends from just north of the Abukuma River (about 21 kilometers, or 13 miles, south of Sendai) to south of the town of Minamisoma (population 71,000, located in Japan's Fukushima Prefecture about 70 kilometers, or 44 miles, south of Sendai). The images cover an area of 78 kilometers (48 miles) by 104 kilometers (65 miles).

These unique images enhance the presence of water in two ways. First, their near-infrared observations cause vegetated areas to appear red, which contrasts strongly with the blue shades of the water. Second, by combining nadir (vertical-viewing) imagery with observations acquired at a view angle of 26 degrees, reflected sunglint enhances the brightness of water, which is shown in shades of blue. This use of different view-angle observations causes a stereoscopic effect, where elevated clouds have a yellow tinge at their top edges and blue tinge at their bottom edges.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

MESSENGER Poised for Mercury Orbit Insertion

After more than a dozen laps through the inner solar system, NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft will move into orbit around Mercury on March 17, 2011. The durable spacecraft--carrying seven science instruments and fortified against the blistering environs near the sun--will be the first to orbit the innermost planet.

At 8:45 p.m. EDT, MESSENGER--having pointed its largest thruster very close to the direction of travel--will fire that thruster for nearly 14 minutes, with other thrusters firing for an additional minute, slowing the spacecraft by 862 meters per second (1,929 mph) and consuming 31 percent of the propellant that the spacecraft carried at launch. Less than 9.5 percent of the usable propellant at the start of the mission will remain after completing the orbit insertion maneuver, but the spacecraft will still have plenty of propellant for future orbit correction maneuvers.

The orbit insertion will place the spacecraft into a 12-hour orbit about Mercury with a 200 kilometer (124 mile) minimum altitude. At the time of orbit insertion, MESSENGER will be 46.14 million kilometers (28.67 million miles) from the sun and 155.06 million kilometers (96.35 million miles) from Earth.

MESSENGER has been on a six-year mission to become the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury. The spacecraft followed a path through the inner solar system, including one flyby of Earth, two flybys of Venus, and three flybys of Mercury. This impressive journey is returning the first new spacecraft data from Mercury since the Mariner 10 mission over 30 years ago.

On March 7, antennas from each of the three Deep Space Network (DSN) ground stations began continuous monitoring, allowing flight control engineers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory to observe MESSENGER on its final approach to Mercury. The spacecraft also began executing the last cruise command sequence of the mission, when the command sequence containing the orbit-insertion burn will start.

"This is a milestone event for our small, but highly experienced, operations team, marking the end of six and one half years of successfully shepherding the spacecraft through six planetary flybys, five major propulsive maneuvers, and sixteen trajectory-correction maneuvers, all while simultaneously preparing for orbit injection and primary mission operations," said MESSENGER Systems Engineer Eric Finnegan. "Whatever the future holds, this team of highly dedicated engineers ( has done a phenomenal job methodically generating, testing, and verifying commands to the spacecraft, getting MESSENGER where it is today."

"The cruise phase of the MESSENGER mission has reached the end game," adds MESSENGER Principal investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. "Orbit insertion is the last hurdle to a new game level, operation of the first spacecraft in orbit about the solar system's innermost planet. The MESSENGER team is ready and eager for orbital operations to begin."

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Color View from Orbit Shows Mars Rover Beside Crater

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has nearly completed its three-month examination of a crater informally named "Santa Maria," but before the rover resumes its overland trek, an orbiting camera has provided a color image of Opportunity beside Santa Maria.

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter acquired the image on March 1, while Opportunity was extending its robotic arm to take close-up photos of a rock called "Ruiz Garcia." From orbit, the tracks Opportunity made as it approached the crater from the west are clearly visible. Santa Maria crater is about 90 meters (295 feet) in diameter.

Opportunity completed its three-month prime mission on Mars in April 2004 and has been working in bonus extended missions since then. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which arrived at Mars on March 10, 2006, has also completed its prime mission and is operating in an extended mission.

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment is operated by the University of Arizona, Tucson. The instrument was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Mars Exploration Rover projects for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, and built Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is NASA's industry partner for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter project and built that spacecraft.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

James Webb Space Telescope's "Chassis" Gets Taken Out for a Spin at NASA

The Integrated Science Instrument Module, or ISIM, is the structural heart of the James Webb Space Telescope, what engineers call the main payload. It will house the four main scientific instruments of the telescope. The ISIM is like a chassis in a car providing support for the engine and other components.

Webb will undergo significant shaking when it is launched on the large Ariane V rocket. To be sure the telescope's "chassis" is ready for this "bumpy road," the ISIM is subjected to some extreme testing. During the testing process, the ISIM is spun and shaken while many measurements are taken. Afterwards, engineers compare the measurements with their models of the ISIM. If there are discrepancies, then the engineers track down why, and make corrections.

Webb will be the first next-generation large space observatory and will serve thousands of astronomers worldwide. Designed to detect light from as far away as approximately 14 billion light years, Webb will study every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of planetary systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System. The Webb telescope is a joint mission of NASA, the European Space Agency and Canadian Space Agency.

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Monday, March 7, 2011

NASA Creates Glory Satellite Mishap Investigation Board

NASA's Glory mission ended Friday after the spacecraft failed to reach orbit following its launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

NASA has begun the process of creating a Mishap Investigation Board to evaluate the cause of the failure. Telemetry indicated the fairing, a protective shell atop the satellite's Taurus XL rocket, did not separate as expected.

The launch proceeded as planned from its liftoff at 5:09 a.m. EST through the ignition of the Taurus XL's second stage. However, the fairing failure occurred during the second stage engine burn. It is likely the spacecraft fell into the South Pacific, although the exact location is not yet known.

NASA's previous launch attempt of an Earth science spacecraft, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory onboard a Taurus XL on Feb. 24, 2009, also failed to reach orbit when the fairing did not separate.

NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory Mishap Investigation Board reviewed launch data and the fairing separation system design, and developed a corrective action plan. The plan was implemented by Taurus XL manufacturer Orbital Sciences Corporation. In October 2010, NASA's Flight Planning Board confirmed the successful closure of the corrective actions.

The Glory Earth-observing satellite was intended to improve our understanding of how the sun and tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols affect Earth's climate.

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Sunday, March 6, 2011


Anchored to a Canadarm2 mobile foot restraint, NASA astronaut Steve Bowen participates in the STS-133 mission's second spacewalk as construction and maintenance continue on the International Space Station. During the six-hour, 14-minute spacewalk, Bowen and fellow astronaut Alvin Drew tackled a variety of tasks, including venting into space some remaining ammonia from a failed pump module they moved during the mission's first spacewalk.

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Friday, March 4, 2011

NASA Develops Light Microscope For International Space Station

NASA began testing a new multi-capability microscope this week on the International Space Station. It will help scientists study the effects of the space environment on physics and biology aboard the orbiting laboratory. The microscope is isolated from vibrations on the station, allowing it to obtain clear, high-resolution images. Using high-resolution magnification, scientists can examine microorganisms and individual cells of plants and animals, including humans.

The microscope will allow real-time study of the effects of the space environment without the need to return samples to Earth. Any living specimens returned to Earth must endure the effects of re-entry through the atmosphere. The ability to use the Light Microscopy Module (LMM) on station will enable scientists to study data unaffected by re-entry.

"We really need to maximize life science investigations conducted on the International Space Station," said Jacob Cohen, principal investigator of the technology demonstration and a researcher at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "It's really amazing to be able to remotely manage, optimize and troubleshoot experiments observed with a microscope in space without the need to return the samples back to Earth. This microscope is helping fulfill the vision of a true laboratory in space."

The biological samples for the LMM launched on space shuttle Discovery's STS-133 mission on Feb. 24. They include eight fixed slides containing yeast; bacteria; a leaf; a fly; a butterfly wing; tissue sections and blood; six containers of live C. elegans worms, an organism biologists commonly study; a typed letter "r" and a piece of fluorescent plastic. The wing is from a previous study, Butterflies in Space, involving students from around the country, and flown on STS-129 in 2009. Some of the worms are descendants of those that survived the space shuttle Columbia (STS-107) accident; and others are modified to fluoresce. Scientists commonly attach green, yellow and red florescent proteins to study gene expression.

"Operating the LMM on the space station has been a goal of NASA's Life and Physical Sciences Program for many years," said Ron Sicker, LMM project manager at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. "Scientists and engineers at Glenn modified the commercial microscope in the LMM with 23 micro motors and cameras to allow remote control operations."

Cohen and Sicker expect the LMM to perform the same as a microscope on Earth. In the future, the microscope could be used to assist in maintenance of station crew health, advance our knowledge of the effects of space on biology and contribute to the development of applications for space exploration and on Earth. This technology demonstration was developed by Ames and Glenn, which developed and manages the LMM. The Advanced Capabilities Division in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, funds the project.

"This is a facility to support research in both physical and life sciences by NASA-funded and National Laboratory users," said Julie Robinson, International Space Station Program scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "It gives us a capability not available before that allows more types of research to be done."

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

National Inventors Hall of Fame Taps Former JPL Engineer

The National Inventors Hall of Fame is inducting former JPL physicist and engineer Eric Fossum, who led a team that invented a semiconductor active pixel image sensor that is widely used in cell phone cameras, webcams, digital still cameras, medical imaging and other applications. Fossum is now an engineering professor at Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H.

The image sensor chip was created at JPL in the early 1990s. Fossum and his team discovered it while researching ways to drastically reduce the size of cameras on interplanetary spacecraft while maintaining the scientific image quality.

The result was the invention of the CMOS active-pixel sensor (CMOS-APS), which consolidates various functions of the prevalent image sensor of the time, but with one-hundredth of the power of its predecessors and with the ability to make its own conversion from analog to digital for output on computer monitors. Fossum soon realized that the CMOS-APS technology would be useful not only for space exploration, but here on Earth as well.

In 1995, Fossum and a group of JPL engineers founded Photobit, in Pasadena. Photobit exclusively licensed the CMOS-APS technology from JPL, becoming the first company to commercialize CMOS image sensors.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is managed by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

NASA Nanosatellite Celebrates 100 Days In Space Studying Life

More than one hundred days ago, on Nov. 19, 2010, NASA sent a small satellite about the size of a loaf of bread on an important mission to answer astrobiology’s fundamental questions about the origin, evolution and distribution of life in the universe.

Since then, the nanosatellite, known as Organism/Organic Exposure to Orbital Stresses (O/OREOS) continues on its quest, which has taken it just about everywhere between the Arctic and Antarctic Circles more than 400 miles above Earth's surface.

O/OREOS weighs approximately 12 pounds and is NASA’s first CubeSat to demonstrate the capability to have two distinct, completely independent science experiments on a single autonomous satellite. O/OREOS is using NASA’s first propellant-less mechanism on a scientific satellite to ensure it de-orbits and burns up as it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere, less than 25 years after completing its mission. It's also the first nanosatellite to not only operate, but also conduct autonomous biological and chemical measurements, in the region of space known as the exosphere.

"The fact that we're getting consistently good science data in such a challenging environment tells us that secondary payload nanosatellites like O/OREOS can be made rugged enough to enhance our opportunities to conduct research in low Earth orbit," said Antonio Ricco, instrument scientist for O/OREOS and a researcher at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "This is enabling us to study organics, microorganisms, and astrobiology in the space environment in real time."

O/OREOS was a secondary payload aboard a U.S. Air Force four-stage Minotaur IV rocket launched from the Alaska Aerospace Corporation’s Kodiak Launch Complex on Kodiak Island, Alaska. After O/OREOS separated from the rocket and successfully entered low Earth orbit, it activated and began transmitting radio signals to ground control stations and spacecraft operators in the mission control center at Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, Calif. Nearly daily two-way communications with the spacecraft provided valuable information about its health, status and science data, and have given scientists the ability to fine tune the science payloads’ operating parameters.

On Dec. 3, 2010, two weeks after O/OREOS deployed, the first of three biological experiments began operating automatically within the Space Environment Survivability of Living Organisms (SESLO) payload; and was successfully completed just 24 hours later. On Feb. 18, 2011, the second part of the SESLO biological experiment began and also was successfully finished in one day. The experiment is designed to characterize the growth, activity, health and ability of microorganisms commonly found in soil and salt ponds in a dried and dormant state - Bacillus subtilis and Halorubrum chaoviatoris – to adapt to the stresses of outer space by rehydrating, or “feeding,” and growing them using dyed liquid nutrients. Scientists will compare the microbes' population density and change in color at three different times during the mission to determine how and if their behavior changes with longer exposure to radiation and weightless conditions in space.

"Days before the second part of the SESLO experiment began, a large solar flare sent radiation, including energetic protons and X-rays, hurtling towards O/OREOS and Earth, yet O/OREOS still successfully completed the experiment and got some promising results that we're now evaluating," said Ricco.

Hours after reaching orbit, O/OREOS activated its other science experiment payload, called the Space Environment Viability of Organics (SEVO), which monitors the stability and changes in four classes of biologically important organic molecules as they are exposed to space conditions, most notably sunlight completely unfiltered by Earth’s atmosphere. For the SEVO experiment, scientists selected organic molecules distributed throughout our galaxy, as well as organic “biomarkers” of life as we know it on Earth. O/OREOS houses the organic samples in “micro-environments” relevant to space and planetary conditions. The experiment exposes the organic compounds to solar ultraviolet (UV) light, visible light, trapped-particle and cosmic radiation. Scientists will determine the stability of the molecules by studying changes in UV, visible, and near-infrared light absorption.

"Using the sun as its light source, O/OREOS has made nearly 500 periodic spectral measurements of the organic materials, and 200 of those have been transmitted to us so far," said Pascale Ehrenfreund, O/OREOS project scientist at George Washington University, Washington, D.C. "We are excited to see the payload's miniature spectrometer and sample positioning systems working so well and are grateful to our operations team at Santa Clara University."

The Small Spacecraft Division at Ames manages the O/OREOS payload and mission operations with the professional support of staff and students from Santa Clara University.

As with NASA's previous small satellite missions, such as the GeneSat-1 and PharmaSat, Santa Clara University invites amateur radio operators around the world to tune in to the satellite's broadcast. To date, more than 70,000 beacon data packets have been collected and provided via the Internet to the O/OREOS mission operations team by HAM operators in 19 nations.

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NASA has announced program office assignments at three NASA field centers to align the president's fiscal year 2012 budget request and the NASA Authorization Act of 2010. The agency also has released three Space Technology Program solicitations.
NASA will create new program offices to manage human spaceflight activities associated with the development of the Space Launch System, the heavy-lift rocket that will carry humans beyond low Earth orbit; the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the next human exploration spacecraft; and commercial spaceflight vehicles.

"NASA is moving forward to aggressively implement the bi-partisan direction the President and Congress have given us, and these program offices will help us carry out this important mission," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "The United States continues its leadership role in human spaceflight and these moves will ensure this continues for many years to come."

NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston will host a program office responsible for developing the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. Johnson also will continue to lead the way in human research to enable exploration beyond low Earth orbit. This research heavily leverages the International Space Station. In addition, the center will be critical to efforts to facilitate commercial access to low Earth orbit.

NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida will lead the way in enabling commercial human spaceflight capabilities and host a program office dedicated to that work. Kennedy will continue to provide launch services to both science missions and commercial crew providers.
The Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., will lead NASA's efforts on a heavy- lift rocket that will carry humans beyond low Earth orbit. The center will house the program office for the Space Launch System and continue to support station operations.

NASA also released three Space Technology Program solicitations Tuesday as part of the agency's efforts to develop innovative solutions to enable future exploration and science missions and lower the cost of other government and commercial space activities.

"These solicitations for innovative research and technology development, from their earliest stages through maturation and testing in flight, will provide new knowledge and capabilities for our future missions," NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said. "Technological leadership is how the United States is going to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world."

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program seeks transformative ideas to enable new aeronautics and space systems capabilities. NASA's Game Changing Development Program is soliciting proposals for research and technology development for revolutionary improvements in America's space capabilities. NASA also is seeking Technology Demonstration Mission proposals in four areas: high-bandwidth deep space communication, navigation and timing; orbital debris mitigation or removal systems; advanced in-space propulsion systems; and autonomous rendezvous, docking, close proximity operations and formation flying.

The programs are managed by NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist consistent with provisions of the Authorization Act of 2010. NASA seeks proposals for all three solicitations that align with the agency's Space Technology Roadmaps and NASA's Grand Challenges. Awards are contingent on availability of fiscal year 2011 appropriations.

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