Thursday, December 31, 2009

Mock and Roll! NASA's Shuttle Endeavour Moves to Launch Pad, Liftoff Dress Rehearsal Set

Journalists are invited to cover space shuttle Endeavour's move from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39A on Jan. 6 and observe the STS-130 crew's mock launch countdown activities from Jan. 19 to Jan. 21 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The first motion of Endeavour on its rollout to the pad is scheduled for 4 a.m. EST. The 3.4-mile journey is expected to take approximately six hours. Activities include a 7 a.m. photo opportunity of the shuttle's move, followed by an 8:30 a.m. interview availability with Endeavour Flow Director Dana Hutcherson. Reporters must arrive at Kennedy's news center by 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday for transportation to the viewing area.

Live coverage of the move will be shown on NASA Television beginning at 6 a.m. Video highlights will air on the NASA TV Video File.

Foreign journalist media accreditation for rollout is closed. U.S. reporters without permanent Kennedy credentials must apply for accreditation by 4 p.m. Monday, Jan. 4.

Endeavour's astronauts and ground crews will participate in a launch dress rehearsal, known as the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, starting Jan. 19. The test provides each shuttle crew with an opportunity to participate in various simulated countdown activities, including equipment familiarization and emergency training. Media events associated with the test and badge pick up information will be announced at a later date.

Journalists must apply for accreditation for the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test by noon on Friday, Jan. 8.

Reporters requesting accreditation must apply online at:
Badges for rollout must be picked up before 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 5, at the Kennedy Space Center Badging Office on State Road 405.

The six astronauts for Endeavour's STS-130 mission will deliver a third connecting module, the Tranquility node, to the International Space Station. Launch is targeted for 4:39 a.m. Feb. 7.

For NASA TV downlink information, schedules and links to streaming video, visit:
For more information about the STS-130 mission and crew, visit:

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Milt Thompson’s Wild Ride

Investigators pore over the site of the nose-first, high-impact JF-104A crash that left this large crater in the desert near Edwards Air Force Base in December 1962. NASA test pilot Milton OOminous black smoke rose over California's high desert on a crisp, cold December morning in 1962, and there was no sign of a parachute. Della Mae Bowling, the pilot's office secretary at NASA's Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base, was crying as fire trucks raced across the vast expanse of Rogers Dry Lake toward the crash scene. But Bowling and others were to learn that what might have been a terrible tragedy turned out instead to be a triumph of piloting skill.

Several years earlier, NASA had acquired a production Lockheed F-104A for use as a research aircraft. On April 13, 1959, Neil Armstrong ferried the supersonic jet from Lockheed's Palmdale, Calif., facility to NASA's Flight Research Center, where it was equipped with special instrumentation and re-designated as a JF-104A. It initially served as a launch platform for parachute test vehicles and experimental sounding rockets. Later, it was used for mission support, pilot proficiency and as a chase plane for other research aircraft. In all, seven NASA pilots flew the airplane 249 times.

On Dec. 20, 1962, NASA research pilot Milton O. Thompson was scheduled to evaluate weather conditions over Mud Lake, Nev., in preparation for the launch of an X-15 rocket plane over that area a few hours later. Weather flights were critical because go/no-go decisions were based on real-time observations made along the planned flight path.

NASA research pilot Milt Thompson poses in front of an F-104 similar to the one from which he ejected on Dec. 20Thompson strapped himself into the JF-104A cockpit, taxied to the runway, took off to the northeast and climbed to cruising altitude. Visibility was clear all along his route. Upon returning to Edwards, Thompson configured the airplane so he could practice simulated X-15 landings on the clay surface of Rogers Dry Lake.

During his first approach he cut throttle, extended speed brakes and began a steep, descending turn toward a runway marked on the lakebed's surface. Decelerating, he lowered the flaps and held 300 knots indicated airspeed as he dove toward the airstrip. The jet lost altitude at a rate of 18,000 feet per minute until he leveled off at 800 feet, lit the afterburner and climbed away.

During his second approach, Thompson noticed the airplane was rolling to the left. He applied full right aileron and rudder but failed to stop the motion. Seeing his airspeed dropping rapidly, he advanced the throttle to full and relit the afterburner. As his speed increased to 300 knots the roll ceased, leaving the airplane in a 90-degree left bank. Thompson increased his speed to 350 knots to gain more control effectiveness and began to troubleshoot the problem.

Guessing that the airplane was experiencing an asymmetric control condition – either flaps or speed brakes – he repeatedly cycled the roll and yaw dampers, flap-selector switch and speed brakes. He verified that both flaps indicated "up" and visually examined the exterior of the aircraft using his rear-view mirrors. The leading-edge flaps appeared to be up and locked but he couldn't see the trailing-edge flaps. Thompson knew he was in serious trouble and wasn't sure he could land safely. It slowly dawned on him that he might have to eject.

In a last-ditch effort, Thompson radioed NASA-1 – the Flight Operations office – and urgently asked for fellow research pilot Joe Walker, who was suiting up for his X-15 mission.

"Trouble?" Walker asked.

"Right, Joe," said Thompson, "I'm running out of right aileron."

After a brief discussion, Walker decided one of the flaps might be locked in the down position and suggested that Thompson cycle the flap lever again. Thompson tried this and immediately knew it was a mistake, as the airplane started to roll rapidly. He soon realized the situation was hopeless.

"She's going, Joe!" he called.

After four complete rolls, Thompson ejected while inverted. He felt a terrible pain in his neck as the seat's rocket motor blasted him free of the airplane. His body was whipped by air blast, and he began to tumble wildly. After rocket burnout, he separated from the seat but soon realized he was still holding onto the ejection handle. His parachute opened promptly as soon as he released his grip.

JF-104A #56-0749 on the ramp at NASA's Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base in 1959 with the Air Launched Sounding Rocket (ALSOR) attached to its underbelly. NASA test pilot Milton OFloating gently down from 18,000 feet, Thompson saw the airplane plummet nose-first into the desert and explode on the Edwards bombing range. He was breathing rapidly and felt lightheaded and slightly breathless. After several failed attempts to activate his bailout oxygen bottle, he unfastened his mask and breathed the thin, but fresh, air. He landed softly, gathered up his parachute, and walked to a nearby road.

At NASA-1, the mood was grim. Thompson hadn't had time to inform anyone that he was ejecting and nobody saw his parachute. Their faces bearing shock and tears, NASA employees stared at the column of thick, black smoke rising in the distance.

NASA Flight Operations chief Joe Vensel hopped in a car and sped across the lakebed toward the crash site, expecting the worst. To his surprise, he found Thompson waiting calmly by the roadside, apparently unharmed.

An investigation revealed that the accident had most likely been the result of an electrical malfunction in the left trailing-edge flap. The investigating board, headed by Donald R. Bellman, gave Thompson high marks for his actions.

"Throughout the emergency," the board's report read, "the pilot showed superior skill and judgment, which contributed materially to his own safety and to the understanding of the causes of the aircraft loss."

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Colliding Auroras Produce an Explosion of Light

This three frame animation of THEMIS/ASI images shows auroras colliding on Feb. 29, 2008A network of cameras deployed around the Arctic in support of NASA's THEMIS mission has made a startling discovery about the Northern Lights. Sometimes, vast curtains of aurora borealis collide, producing spectacular outbursts of light. Movies of the phenomenon were unveiled at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union today in San Francisco.

"Our jaws dropped when we saw the movies for the first time," said space scientist Larry Lyons of the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), a member of the team that made the discovery. "These outbursts are telling us something very fundamental about the nature of auroras."

The collisions occur on such a vast scale that isolated observers on Earth -- with limited fields of view -- had never noticed them before. It took a network of sensitive cameras spread across thousands of miles to get the big picture.

NASA and the Canadian Space Agency created such a network for THEMIS, short for "Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms." THEMIS consists of five identical probes launched in 2006 to solve a long-standing mystery: Why do auroras occasionally erupt in an explosion of light called a substorm?

Twenty all-sky imagers (ASIs) were deployed across the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic to photograph auroras from below while the spacecraft sampled charged particles and electromagnetic fields from above. Together, the on-ground cameras and spacecraft would see the action from both sides and be able to piece together cause and effect-or so researchers hoped. It seems to have worked.

Twenty all-sky imagers (ASIs) were deployed by researchers from the University of California Berkeley, the University of Calgary, and the University of Alaska in support of the THEMIS missionThe breakthrough came earlier this year when UCLA researcher Toshi Nishimura assembled continent-wide movies from the individual ASI cameras. "It can be a little tricky," Nishimura said. "Each camera has its own local weather and lighting conditions, and the auroras are different distances from each camera. I've got to account for these factors for six or more cameras simultaneously to make a coherent, large-scale movie."

The first movie he showed Lyons was a pair of auroras crashing together in Dec. 2007. "It was like nothing I had seen before," Lyons recalled. "Over the next several days, we surveyed more events. Our excitement mounted as we became convinced that the collisions were happening over and over."

The explosions of light, they believe, are a sign of something dramatic happening in the space around Earth-specifically, in Earth's "plasma tail." Millions of kilometers long and pointed away from the sun, the plasma tail is made of charged particles captured mainly from the solar wind. Sometimes called the "plasma sheet," the tail is held together by Earth's magnetic field.

The same magnetic field that holds the tail together also connects it to Earth's polar regions. Because of this connection, watching the dance of Northern Lights can reveal much about what's happening in the plasma tail.

THEMIS project scientist Dave Sibeck of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. said, "By putting together data from ground-based cameras, ground-based radar, and the THEMIS spacecraft, we now have a nearly complete picture of what causes explosive auroral substorms."

Lyons and Nishimura have identified a common sequence of events. It begins with a broad curtain of slow-moving auroras and a smaller knot of fast-moving auroras, initially far apart. The slow curtain quietly hangs in place, almost immobile, when the speedy knot rushes in from the north. The auroras collide and an eruption of light ensues.

The five spacecraft of THEMIS were built to answer fundamental questions about aurorasHow does this sequence connect to events in the plasma tail? Lyons believes the fast-moving knot is associated with a stream of relatively lightweight plasma jetting through the tail. The stream gets started in the outer regions of the plasma tail and moves rapidly inward toward Earth. The fast knot of auroras moves in synch with this stream.

Meanwhile, the broad curtain of auroras is connected to the stationary inner boundary of the plasma tail and fueled by plasma instabilities there. When the lightweight stream reaches the inner boundary of the plasma tail, there is an eruption of plasma waves and instabilities. This collision of plasma is mirrored by a collision of auroras over the poles.

National Science Foundation-funded radars located in Poker Flat, Alaska, and Sondrestrom, Greenland, confirm this basic picture. They have detected echoes of material rushing through Earth's upper atmosphere just before the auroras collide and erupt. The five THEMIS spacecraft also agree. Last winter, they were able to fly through the plasma tail and confirm the existence of lightweight flows rushing toward Earth.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Quiet Sun Means Cooling of Earth's Upper Atmosphere

Data from the TIMED (Thermosphere Ionosphere Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics) mission are being used to understand the climate of the upper atmosphereNew measurements from a NASA satellite show a dramatic cooling in the upper atmosphere that correlates with the declining phase of the current solar cycle. For the first time, researchers can show a timely link between the Sun and the climate of Earth’s thermosphere, the region above 100 km, an essential step in making accurate predictions of climate change in the high atmosphere.

Scientists from NASA's Langley Research Center and Hampton University in Hampton, Va., and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., presented these results at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco from Dec. 14 to 18.

Earth's thermosphere and mesosphere have been the least explored regions of the atmosphere. The NASA Thermosphere-Ionosphere-Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics (TIMED) mission was developed to explore the Earth’s atmosphere above 60 km altitude and was launched in December 2001. One of four instruments on the TIMED mission, the Sounding of the Atmosphere using Broadband Emission Radiometry (SABER) instrument, was specifically designed to measure the energy budget of the mesosphere and lower thermosphere. The SABER dataset now covers eight years of data and has already provided some basic insight into the heat budget of the thermosphere on a variety of timescales.

Energy emitted by the upper atmosphere as infrared (IR) radiation in 2002 (top) and 2008 (bottom) -- In this SABER plot, Nitric Oxide (NO) is the IR emitterThe extent of current solar minimum conditions has created a unique situation for recent SABER datasets, explains Stan Solomon, acting director of the High Altitude Observatory, National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. The end of solar cycle 23 has offered an opportunity to study the radiative cooling in the thermosphere under exceptionally quiescent conditions.

"The Sun is in a very unusual period," said Marty Mlynczak, SABER associate principal investigator and senior research scientist at NASA Langley. "The Earth’s thermosphere is responding remarkably — up to an order of magnitude decrease in infrared emission/radiative cooling by some molecules."

The TIMED measurements show a decrease in the amount of ultraviolet radiation emitted by the Sun. In addition, the amount of infrared radiation emitted from the upper atmosphere by nitric oxide molecules has decreased by nearly a factor of 10 since early 2002. These observations imply that the upper atmosphere has cooled substantially since then. The research team expects the atmosphere to heat up again as solar activity starts to pick up in the next year.

While this warming has no implications for climate change in the troposphere, a fundamental prediction of climate change theory is that the upper atmosphere will cool in response to increasing carbon dioxide. As the atmosphere cools the density will increase, which ultimately may impact satellite operations through increased drag over time.

The SABER dataset is the first global, long-term, and continuous record of the Nitric oxide (NO) and Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the thermosphere.

"We suggest that the dataset of radiative cooling of the thermosphere by NO and CO2 constitutes a first climate data record for the thermosphere," says Mlynczak.

The TIMED data provide a climate record for validation of upper atmosphere climate models, which is an essential step in making accurate predictions of climate change in the high atmosphere. SABER provides the first long-term measurements of natural variability in key terms of the upper atmosphere climate.

"A fundamental prediction of climate change theory is that upper atmosphere will cool in response to greenhouse gases in the troposphere," says Mlynczak. "Scientists need to validate that theory. This climate record of the upper atmosphere is our first chance to have the other side of the equation."

James Russell III, SABER principal investigator and co-director of the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at Hampton University in Hampton, Va., agrees adding, "The atmosphere is a coupled system. If you pick up one end of the stick, you automatically pick up the other – they're intrinsically linked. To be as accurate as possible, scientists have to understand global change throughout the atmosphere."

As the TIMED mission continues, these data derived from SABER will become important in assessing long term atmospheric changes due to the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

TIMED is the first mission in the Solar Terrestrial Probes Program within the Heliophysics Division in NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Related Links:
› TIMED Mission
› SABER Instrument

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

NASA Partners with Saudi Arabia on Moon and Asteroid Research

NASA and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) have signed a joint statement that allows for collaboration in lunar and asteroid science research. The partnership recognizes the Saudi Lunar and Near-Earth Object Science Center as an affiliate partner with the NASA Lunar Science Institute at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

"This collaboration is within the scope of the Memorandum of Understanding on Science and Technology signed between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States of America last year and later ratified by the Council of Ministers," said H.H. Dr. Turki Bin Saud Bin Mohammed Al-Saud, vice president for Research Institutes, KACST. "The international interest in lunar science and, more recently, near Earth objects led to the establishment of the Saudi Lunar and Near Earth Object Science Center as a focal point for lunar science and NEO studies in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, we are looking forward to our expanding collaboration with NASA for the benefit of both countries."

"NASA's Lunar Science Institute exists to conduct cutting-edge lunar science and train the next generation of lunar scientists and explorers," said Greg Schmidt, institute deputy director at Ames. "Our international partnerships are critical for meeting these objectives, and we are very excited by the important science, training and education that our new Saudi colleagues bring to the NASA Lunar Science Institute."

"This is an important advance in our growing program of bilateral science and technology cooperation," said U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Smith. "It will help realize President Obama's goal, expressed in his June 4 speech to the Muslim world, of increasing our cooperation on science and technology, which we believe closely corresponds to King Abdullah's vision."

The Saudi science center's proposal brings technical and engineering expertise to advance the broad goals of lunar science at the institute. Specific areas of lunar study of both scientific and cultural importance include radar and infrared imaging, laser ranging and imaging, and topographical studies. The center's studies in near-Earth object science also offer important contributions to an area of importance to NASA.

"The Saudi Lunar and Near Earth Object Science Center's primary mission is to direct all lunar and near Earth object related research within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," said Dr. Haithem Altwaijry, deputy director of the National Satellite Technology Program at KACST. "It will reach out to students in addition to researchers and present fertile ground for scientific research."

"NASA welcomes international cooperation for mutual benefit with organizations large and small in all regions of the world," said Michael O'Brien, assistant administrator for external relations at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Our continuing discussions with Saudi Arabian officials may lead to future joint scientific collaboration in other areas of mutual interest."

To learn more about the NASA Lunar Science Institute visit:

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Classroom Learning Takes Off with NASA-Funded Education Projects

Next-generation interactive moon mission simulations, social networking curricula centered on missions to Mars, and engineering design challenges are among 13 education projects NASA has selected for funding. Other funded programs focus on equipping teachers to integrate space and science into their classrooms.

NASA awarded a total of $12.1 million in grants to public school districts, state-based education leadership and not-for-profit education organizations in California, Idaho, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia. Winning proposals were selected through a merit-based, peer-reviewed competition. The awards have a two-year period of performance and range in value from $350,000 to approximately $1.2 million.

The selected proposals leverage NASA's unique contributions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to enhance secondary students' academic experiences and improve educators' abilities to engage and stimulate their students. The chosen projects demonstrate innovative approaches to using NASA-themed content to improve teaching and learning, with a particular emphasis on high school education.

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 "FY 2009 NASA K-12 Cooperative Agreements Notice" or solicitation NNG09Z13001, at:
For information about NASA's education programs, visit:

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

NASA's WISE Eye on the Universe Begins All-Sky Survey Mission

WISE launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base
WISE has launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Image credit: United Launch Alliance
NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, lifted off over the Pacific Ocean this morning on its way to map the entire sky in infrared light.

A Delta II rocket carrying the spacecraft launched at 9:09 a.m. EST from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The rocket deposited WISE into a polar orbit 326 miles above Earth.

"WISE thundered overhead, lighting up the pre-dawn skies," said William Irace, the mission's project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "All systems are looking good, and we are on our way to seeing the entire infrared sky better than ever before."

Engineers acquired a signal from the spacecraft via NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System just 10 seconds after the spacecraft separated from the rocket. Approximately three minutes later, WISE re-oriented itself with its solar panels facing the sun to generate its own power. The next major event occurred about 17 minutes later. Valves on the cryostat, a chamber of super-cold hydrogen ice that cools the WISE instrument, opened. Because the instrument sees the infrared, or heat, signatures of objects, it must be kept at chilly temperatures -- its coldest detectors are less than minus 447 degrees Fahrenheit.

"WISE needs to be colder than the objects it's observing," said Ned Wright of UCLA, the mission's principal investigator. "Now we're ready to see the infrared glow from hundreds of thousands of asteroids, and hundreds of millions of stars and galaxies."

With the spacecraft stable, cold and communicating with mission controllers at JPL, a month-long checkout and calibration is underway.

WISE will see the infrared colors of the whole sky with sensitivity and resolution far better than the last infrared sky survey, performed 26 years ago. The space telescope will spend nine months scanning the sky once, then one-half the sky a second time. The primary mission will end when WISE's frozen hydrogen runs out, about 10 months after launch.

Just about everything in the universe glows in infrared, which means the mission will catalog a variety of astronomical targets. Near-Earth asteroids, stars, planet-forming disks and distant galaxies all will be easy for the mission to see. Hundreds of millions of objects will populate the WISE atlas, providing astronomers and other space missions, such as NASA's planned James Webb Space Telescope, with a long-lasting infrared roadmap.

JPL manages the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The mission was competitively selected under the Explorers Program, managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, and the spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. NASA's Launch Services Program at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., managed the payload integration and the launch service.

More information about the WISE mission is available online at:

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Friday, December 18, 2009

NASA Astronaut, Food Scientist Available for Interviews about Holiday Feasts in Space

Irradiated smoked turkey, thermostabilized yams and NASA's own special stuffing recipe can mean only one thing -- holiday season aboard the International Space Station.

NASA food scientist Vickie Kloeris and astronaut Sandy Magnus, who was aboard the orbiting laboratory during the 2008 holiday season, are available the week of Dec. 14-18 to discuss how the traditional holiday feast can be observed in space. To arrange an interview, media representatives should contact the newsroom at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston at 281-483-5111.

Station Commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineer Maxim Suraev are currently the sole residents aboard the complex. They will spend the holidays with three new crew members. NASA astronaut T.J. Creamer, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi are set to arrive on the station Dec. 22 after launching on a Soyuz spacecraft on Dec. 20 from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

Although they may not get the home cooking people on Earth enjoy this season, the station crew can celebrate with a well-stocked, and by all accounts tasty, pantry. The view from their table, speeding 220 miles above Earth at five miles per second, cannot be beat.

Space food has come a long way from the early days of "tubes and cubes." The current station's menu includes more than 250 different food and beverage items provided by the U.S. and Russia. Foods from other partner nations also are available on the station's menu.

Kloeris is the manager of the International Space Station Food System. Magnus served as a flight engineer for the 18th station crew. During the three months she spent in orbit, Magnus kept a journal about her experiences of cooking in space. Her efforts to spice up food aboard the station are detailed at:
For more information about space food, visit:
For the latest information about the space station, visit:

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NASA is supporting the White House's Open Government Directive with a number of Internet-based programs designed to make the agency more accessible and create a dialog with the American people about their space program.

NASA is one of six departments and agencies working to spur innovation by making it easier for high-tech companies to identify collaborative, entrepreneurial opportunities. Government agencies are home to treasure troves of data and information, too much of which is underutilized by the private sector because it is either not easily found or exists in cumbersome formats. NASA and the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration in the Department of Health and Human Services, the Agricultural Research Service in the Department of Agriculture, the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the Department of Commerce and the Department of Energy are working together to increase access to information on publicly-funded technologies that are available for license, opportunities for federal funding and partnerships, and potential private-sector partners.

NASA's Innovative Partnerships Programs Office is working to establish an RSS feed to publicize technologies available for public licensing. By making information from multiple agencies available in RSS and XML feeds on, the government empowers innovators to find the information they need and receive real-time updates, which can fuel entrepreneurial momentum, create new jobs, and strengthen economic growth. NASA's RSS feed will make these opportunities more visible to the commercial and research communities. NASA plans on having the feed operational by Dec. 31.

NASA also has undertaken an extensive effort to use the Internet and social media tools to engage the public on agency activities. NASA's home page on the Internet,, offers information on all of the agency's missions, research and discoveries.

In January 2009, capitalized on the agency's growing social media efforts by rolling out a new "Connect and Collaborate with NASA" page, at This provides the public with quick connections to the agency's pages on Twitter, Facebook, UStream, YouTube, Flickr and MySpace, as well as NASA podcasts and vodcasts on iTunes. The page also provides links to agency chats, Tweetup events, RSS feeds and the agency's official blog.

The agency's social media presence was further expanded in November with the addition of NASA's Twitter feed to the homepage. The website offers links to NASA-related desktop "widgets" and opportunities for the public to collaborate directly with the agency through art contests, engineering challenges and imagery and data analysis.

Another new communication tool is Spacebook, a NASA internal expert networking utility. Spacebook has been used to improve collaboration across NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The Spacebook site allows new and established NASA staff to get to know the agency's diverse community of scientists, engineers, project managers and support personnel.

"Space doesn't explore itself. Science doesn't discover itself. People do that, and to do that they have to talk," said Emma Antunes, the project manager who also manages Goddard's Web site. "They have to trade questions and ideas. They have to connect. And, the more diverse the group, the more likely connections and conversations will lead to new ideas and innovation. Spacebook will enhance NASA's capacity to do just that."

For more information about NASA's use of the Internet and social media to interact with America, visit:

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hometown Heroes 2009: Astronaut & Terrible Towel Return to Pittsburgh

Astronaut Mike Fincke presents the space-flown Terrible Towel to Steelers President Art Rooney II during pre-game activities on Nov. 15Astronaut and U.S. Air Force Colonel Mike Fincke has taken the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers to new heights! During his command of Expedition 18 onboard the International Space Station, Fincke flew the iconic “Terrible Towel” for his favorite team and sent a message to them for their 2009 Super Bowl game.

His unique Terrible Towel wave in zero gravity became an internet sensation and inspired Steelers fans around the world. This November, Fincke attended his first Steelers game when his special team took on the Cincinatti Bengals at Heinz Field on Sunday, Nov. 15. The Hometown Heroes weekend peaked as the Steelers honored Fincke during their second largest crowd in the stadium’s history.

Prior to the game, Fincke met fans to sign autographs and take photos. During the pregame activities, Fincke presented the famous Terrible Towel that was flown in space to Steelers President Art Rooney II. Fans responded with a standing ovation when the video footage from space with the towel was shown on the stadium scoreboard. Rooney then surprised Fincke by presenting NASA with a #18 Steelers jersey in honor of his Expedition.

stronaut Mike Fincke works on space themed activities with patients at the Children’s Hospital of PittsburghHis visit actually began on Friday, Nov. 13, with a series of media interviews and educational appearances. Fincke, an Emsworth, PA native, visited his alma mater, Sewickely Academy, where he attended on scholarship while growing up. He met with more than 400 students, shared his experiences on Expedition 18 and encouraged the students to pursue their dreams.

Later that afternoon, Fincke spoke with more than a thousand students in the Avonworth School District. The students and faculty were thrilled to have Fincke share his inspirational story and information about space exploration.

Astronaut Mike Fincke shared his experiences on Expedition 18 with over 700 students at Avonworth Elementary School, encouraging them to study science, technology, engineering, and math“It’s great for the students to hear someone with real-life experience, especially from the perspective of living and working in space,” said Darlene Tartaglione, Principal of Avonworth Elementary. “It’s very nice to see that what the kids are learning really can be applied to life outside of school.”

Hometown Heroes is an opportunity for astronauts to reach out to their communities. Fincke also spent Saturday morning with patients at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. When he arrived, the staff and children had been working on space activities. Fincke quickly introduced himself and presented the hospital with a photo of Pittsburgh that he took from the space station. It was not too long before he joined the children in their activities, helping with arts and crafts and signing autographs.

Fincke continued his community activities with a presentation at the Carnegie Science Center on Saturday afternoon. He shared his experiences on the space station and took questions from the audience of more than 300 people, some of whom had interacted with him during Expedition 18. David Trombetta, a high school student from the Pittsburgh area was part of a group of students who spoke with Fincke over ham radio during the mission.

Astronaut Mike Fincke visited his alma mater, Sewickely Academy, inspiring the students to follow their dreams“They are trying to advance science to better understand life away from Earth,” Trombetta said, excited to meet an astronaut in person for the first time. When asked if he aspired to travel in space, he said, “No, but I would like to be an engineer.”

Fincke has spent a full year in space throughout the course of his career as a NASA astronaut. As a mission specialist on the upcoming STS-134 space shuttle flight, Fincke will add 12 days to his cumulative time in space. The mission will mark the final flight of the space shuttle Endeavour. It is scheduled to be the second to last flight of the Space Shuttle Program.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Just 5 Questions: Aerosols

Nadine UngerWhile the word "aerosol" may conjure up thoughts of things that come in spray cans, it means something quite different to scientists. And it turns out that aerosols have a far bigger role to play in climate change and global warming than originally thought. JPL's Amber Jenkins spoke to Nadine Unger, a researcher at Columbia University’s Center for Climate Systems Research and NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, to find out more.
Unger studies air pollution, the impact of climate change on air quality, and the effects of ozone and aerosol pollution on Earth's climate. She holds degrees in chemistry and atmospheric chemistry from the University of Leeds in the U.K.
What are aerosols? Aren't they the things that come in spray cans?
Aerosols are tiny particles in the air that can be produced when we burn different types of fossil fuels -- coal, petroleum, wood and biofuels -- in different ways. A significant man-made source of aerosols is pollution from cars and factories. If you live in a big city you're probably pretty familiar with soot, an aerosol that forms black layers on your windowsill. But aerosols can also be produced naturally, for example, through being given off from trees or burning vegetation.
The word "aerosol" is used by scientists to mean "atmospheric particulate". But it was used a lot by the media during the 1980s and 1990s to refer to the spray cans that released chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) into the air, which damage the ozone layer and created the ozone hole. So it's no surprise that there is some confusion over the word!
Is there a link between aerosols and climate change?
Yes. Aerosols have a profound impact on the climate because, just like greenhouse gases, they are able to change the Earth's "radiative", or energy, balance. Aerosols can control how much energy from the sun reaches the planet’s surface by changing the amount that is absorbed in the atmosphere and the amount that is scattered back out to space. It turns out that most aerosols are cooling -- that is to say, they reflect the sun’s energy back out into space. There is only one aerosol -- soot, also known as black carbon -- that actually helps contribute to global warming by boosting the warming effects of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have pumped more and more aerosols into the air, and this in turn has actually counteracted global warming to a significant degree. Using climate models, we estimate that aerosols have masked about 50 percent of the warming that would otherwise have been caused by greenhouse gases trapping heat near the surface of the Earth. Without the presence of these aerosols in the air, the planet would be about 1 degree C (1.8 degrees F) hotter.
So aerosols are a good thing then?
No. It's true that aerosols have limited the warming that we've experienced on Earth since the Industrial Revolution. But they also have very big, detrimental impacts on human health, and have been implicated in health problems such as lung damage. Aerosols also affect other parts of the climate system like rainfall -- reducing rain in areas like India and China where it is desperately needed for food production -- and they alter patterns of wind and atmospheric circulation.
How can we reduce aerosol levels?
In the US, diesel vehicles are the major source of soot, and filters on exhaust pipes can help reduce the amount that they pump into the air. In terms of sulfate aerosols, which are created by sulfur dioxide given off by power plants, the US and Europe have very successfully used sulfur dioxide scrubbers in power plants to reduce these emissions over the past 20 years or so. But we can definitely do more.
By reducing aerosol (soot) emissions, we can buy ourselves some climate time -- about 5 to 10 years -- while we work on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) in parallel. CO2 you see, hangs around in the atmosphere for an extremely long time, from decades to centuries, so even if we implement cuts today, it will take years for them to take effect. Aerosols, on the other hand, have much shorter lifetimes. If we work to reduce soot emissions now, which can enhance the global warming effect of CO2 by 20-50 percent, the climate impacts will be felt more rapidly.
What are you working on right now?
I have a paper in review at the moment that is quite exciting; we're looking at the future total climate impacts of current emissions from different industries, taking into account the effects of both greenhouse gases such as CO2, ozone and methane, and the impacts of aerosols. What we've found is that for the next 40 years, emissions from road vehicles will have the largest global warming impacts of all human activities -- because of the air pollutant effects that enhance greenhouse gas warming. After 2050, however, power sector emissions are by far the largest global warmer because of the build up of CO2 in the atmosphere from that activity.
There are a few other relevant questions coming out of this. In particular, should we be including the effects of aerosols (also known as "non-CO2 effects") in emissions trading schemes? The aviation industry is starting to consider this, but shouldn't we be doing it for all the other industries and sectors as well?

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Hubble's Deepest View of Universe Unveils Never-Before-Seen Galaxies

near-infrared image of Hubble Ultra Deep Field region
Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth (UCO/Lick Observatory and the University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (UCO/Lick Observatory and Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team.
› Larger image

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has made the deepest image of the universe ever taken in near-infrared light. The faintest and reddest objects in the image are galaxies that formed 600 million years after the Big Bang. No galaxies have been seen before at such early times. The new deep view also provides insights into how galaxies grew in their formative years early in the universe's history.

The image was taken in the same region as the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF), which was taken in 2004 and is the deepest visible-light image of the universe. Hubble's newly installed Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) collects light from near-infrared wavelengths and therefore looks even deeper into the universe, because the light from very distant galaxies is stretched out of the ultraviolet and visible regions of the spectrum into near-infrared wavelengths by the expansion of the universe.

This image was taken by the HUDF09 team, that was awarded the time for the observation and made it available for research by astronomers worldwide. In just three months, 12 scientific papers have already been submitted on these new data.

The photo was taken with the new WFC3/IR camera on Hubble in late August 2009 during a total of four days of pointing for 173,000 seconds of total exposure time. Infrared light is invisible and therefore does not have colors that can be perceived by the human eye. The colors in the image are assigned comparatively short, medium, and long, near-IR wavelengths (blue, 1.05 microns; green, 1.25 microns; red, 1.6 microns). The representation is "natural" in that blue objects look blue and red objects look red. The faintest objects are about one billionth as bright as can be seen with the naked eye.

These Hubble observations are trailblazing a path for Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which will look even farther into the universe than Hubble, at infrared wavelengths. The JWST is planned to be launched in 2014.

The HUDF09 team members are Garth Illingworth (University of California Observatories/Lick Observatory and the University of California, Santa Cruz), Rychard Bouwens (University of California Observatories/Lick Observatory and Leiden University), Pascal Oesch and Marcella Carollo (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich (ETH)), Marijn Franx (Leiden University), Ivo Labbe (Carnegie Institute of Washington), Daniel Magee (University of California, Santa Cruz), Massimo Stiavelli (Space Telescope Science Institute), Michele Trenti (University of Colorado, Boulder), and Pieter van Dokkum (Yale University).

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute conducts Hubble science operations. The institute is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, and is an International Year of Astronomy 2009 program partner.

Images and more information are available at:

› HubbleSite
› Space Telescope Science Institute
› NASA Hubble page
› Series of STSI images

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Star trails and a Geminids meteor over Georgia in 1985The Geminids are one of the best meteor showers of the year and never seem to disappoint observers! Join Bill Cooke of the Meteoroid Environment Office, located at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, in a live web chat on Friday, December 11 from 3:00-4:00 EST to learn more about the Geminids meteor shower.

This meteor shower gets the name "Geminids" because it appears to radiate from the constellation Gemini. For the best viewing opportunity, go outside, take a blanket and something hot to drink, lay on your back and look up into the night sky. Best viewing time is between midnight and dawn on December 13-14.

An observer in the Northern hemisphere can start seeing the Geminids meteors as early as December 6, when one meteor every hour or so could be visible. During the next week, rates increase until a peak of 50-80 meteors per hour is attained on the night of December 13-14. The last Geminids are seen on December 18, when an observer might see a rate of one or so every hour.

History of the Geminids

The initial appearance of the Geminids meteor shower came fairly sudden during the 1860s. The first notation of the shower occurred in 1862 at Manchester, England. During the 1870s, observations of the Geminids became more numerous as astronomers realized a new annual shower was active.

The first estimate of the strength of Geminids came in 1877 with an hourly rate given at about 14. Rates increased slightly during the remainder of the 19th century to about 23 an hour. Reported rates continued to increase through most of the 20th century. During the 1900s, rates averaged about 20 per hour. The rates averaged near 50 per hour during the 1930s, 60 per hour during the 1940s and 1950s, 65 per hour during the 1960s and 80 per hour during the 1970s. The rates stayed near 80 per hour during the remainder of that century.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

NASA to Spotlight Shrinking Arctic Sea Ice and Unprecedented Glacier Study at Copenhagen

NASA will take its Earth science research and educational programs before a world-wide audience Dec. 7-18 during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. NASA is one of several U.S. government agencies supporting the first-ever U.S. Center, an outreach initiative housed in Copenhagen’s Bella Conference Center.

Organized by the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Center will host more than 60 events during the conference. The center's meeting room is a 100-seat auditorium where U.S. and international leaders in the fight against climate change will headline presentations on a wide range of critical initiatives, policies, and scientific research. The center's reception room serves as a welcome area where visitors can learn more about U.S. climate actions and programs.

The reception room will feature displays and videos using data from U.S. satellites, including NASA's fleet of Earth-observing research spacecraft. Some of this imagery will be shown on the "Science On a Sphere" projection system, a six-foot, computer-driven globe that displays animated images of the Earth's land, oceans, and atmosphere. NASA scientists also will be on hand to discuss agency research and programs with visitors.

The U.S. Center, which is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time daily, is located in Hall C5 of the Bella Conference Center. NASA is sponsoring the following presentations during the Copenhagen conference:

State of the Science: Earth's Changing Polar Ice Cover
The presentation will feature the latest observations and research findings on shrinking Arctic sea ice and the rapidly changing ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica. Speaker: Waleed Abdalati, University of Colorado (Dec. 7, meeting room).

Climate Change Impacts on Civilizations: Lessons from Space Archaeology
NASA is pioneering the use of satellite observations to read the clues of how ancient civilizations reacted to changes in climate. Speakers: Tom Sever, University of Alabama; Ron Blom, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Dec. 7, meeting room).

"Extreme Ice" Multimedia Presentation
See images from the most wide-ranging glacier study ever conducted using ground-based, real-time photography. Speaker: James Balog, Extreme Ice Survey (Dec. 7, meeting room; Dec. 9 and 16, reception room).

Student Climate Research Campaign
This is a showcase of research projects by secondary school students from around the world conducted through the NASA-sponsored Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program. Speaker: Donna Charlevoix, University of Colorado (Dec. 8, reception room).

International Global Climate Change Observation from Space
NASA plays a leadership role in the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites. The committee’s international member agencies operate and plan missions to measure critical components of climate change. Speakers: Jack Kaye, NASA's Earth Science Division; Makoto Kajii, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Dec. 11, meeting room).

The World's Forests as Carbon Sinks and Sources
This presentation will feature the latest scientific knowledge on how forests absorb and release carbon, and how human activities have changed that balance. Speaker: Jeffery Masek, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (Dec. 11, meeting room).

Many of the meeting room events will be webcast live on the State Department conference Web site. For a complete schedule of events, visit:

Regular updates on events during the conference will be posted at:
For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

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Friday, December 11, 2009

NASA Challenges 350 Rocketeers Nationwide to Aim a Mile High

NASA has invited more than 350 student rocketeers from middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities -- 37 teams nationwide -- to take part in the 2009-2010 NASA Student Launch Projects. Their challenge is to build powerful rockets of their own design, complete with a working science payload, and launch them to an altitude of 1 mile.

These annual rocketeering projects are the Student Launch Initiative for middle school and high school teams and the University Student Launch Initiative for colleges and universities. Both challenges are designed to inspire students to parlay their interests in science, technology, engineering and mathematics into rewarding careers in fields critical to NASA's mission of exploration and scientific discovery.

Beginning in the fall school term, each team will spend approximately eight months designing, building and field-testing their rocket. They address the same physics, propulsion and flight challenges faced by professional rocket engineers. The students also must challenge themselves as scientists, creating a unique, on-board science experiment that can survive the mile-high flight and yield test results after the vehicle parachutes back to Earth.

In addition, teams will create a project Web site, write multiple preliminary and post-launch reports, and develop educational engagement projects for schools and youth organizations in their communities. The goal is to inspire even younger generations of future explorers.

The Student Launch Projects will conclude April 15-18, 2010, when the teams gather at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Marshall manages the projects. NASA engineers will put the students' rockets through a professional design review similar to that undertaken for every NASA launch. The students then will embark on a two-day "launchfest" at Bragg Farms in Toney, Ala., where they are cheered on each year by hundreds of Marshall team members and North Alabama rocket enthusiasts.

"The participants in NASA's Student Launch Projects continue to demonstrate the sky is no limit for enterprising young minds committed to creativity, innovation and teamwork," said Tammy Rowan, manager of the Academic Affairs Office at Marshall, which organizes the event. "As a new rocket-building season gets under way and we head toward another exhilarating launch event next April, many of these industrious young people are headed toward rewarding careers in which they'll lead new journeys of exploration and discovery -- not just to Earth's lower troposphere, but to other worlds."

New Student Launch Initiative teams hail from middle schools and high schools in Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. Returning teams are from Illinois, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Middle school and high school teams taking part in the Student Launch Initiative are eligible to participate in the challenges up to two years. Each new team receives a $3,700 grant and a travel stipend from NASA, and each returning team receives a $2,450 grant.

New University Student Launch Initiative teams represent colleges and universities in Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina and Texas. Returning teams hail from Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota and Tennessee. College and university teams taking part in the University Student Launch Initiative seek funding from their state's Space Grant Consortium, and are not limited to two years of eligibility. The University Student Launch Initiative is a competitive event sponsored by ATK Space Systems of Magna, Utah, which contributes prizes, including a $5,000 check for the first-place winner.

The Student Launch Projects are collaboratively sponsored by NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, Space Operations Mission Directorate and Education Flight Projects. NASA held the first student launch event in 2001. As its popularity grew, NASA created in 2006 the twin challenges of the Student Launch Initiative for middle schools and high schools and the University Student Launch Initiative for colleges and universities. Marshall issues a request for proposals each fall.

For more information about the Student Launch Projects and a list of participating schools, visit:
For more information about other NASA education initiatives, visit:

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

NASA Sets Briefing to Discuss Ares I-X Launch Data

NASA will host a media teleconference with Bob Ess, Ares I-X mission manager, at 1 p.m. CST on Thursday, Dec. 3. Ess will provide reporters with an update on data gathered during the test flight of the rocket, which took place Oct. 28 from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The test flight lasted approximately six minutes, from launch until splashdown of the rocket's booster stage in the Atlantic Ocean nearly 150 miles away. The Ares I-X was wired with more than 700 sensors that gathered data during its flight. The launch gave NASA an opportunity to prove hardware, facilities and ground operations of the test rocket while providing engineers with critical data for future launch vehicles.

Reporters who want to participate in the teleconference should contact Lynnette Madison at 281-483-5111 or by 4:30 p.m., Dec. 2, for dial-in information.

Audio from the teleconference will be streamed on NASA's Web site at:

For more information about the Ares I-X rocket, visit:

For more information about the Constellation Program, visit:

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

NASA Honors Biloxi's Apollo Astronaut Fred Haise with Moon Rock

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will present astronaut Fred Haise, Jr., with NASA's Ambassador of Exploration Award during a ceremony on Wednesday, Dec. 2, at the Gorenflo Elementary School in Biloxi, Miss. Haise will present the award, consisting of a moon rock encased in Lucite for display, to Paul Tisdale, superintendent of the Biloxi Public School System, and Tina Thompson, the school's principal. Haise attended Gorenflo.

NASA is giving the Ambassador of Exploration Award to the first generation of explorers in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs for realizing America's goal of going to the moon. The moon rock is part of the 842 pounds of lunar samples collected during six Apollo expeditions from 1969 to 1972.

Haise was the lunar module pilot on Apollo 13 in 1970 and has logged 142 hours and 54 minutes in space. Apollo 13 was scheduled for a 10-day lunar mission, but the flight plan was modified because of a failure of the service module's cryogenic oxygen system. Haise and fellow crew members, James A. Lovell and John L. Swigert, working closely with NASA ground controllers in Houston, converted their lunar module Aquarius into an effective lifeboat. Their emergency activation and operation of lunar module systems conserved enough electrical power and water to assure their safety and survival in space and for their return to Earth.

Haise also was the backup lunar module pilot for the Apollo 8 and 11 missions, and backup spacecraft commander for the Apollo 16 mission. He was commander of one of two crews that piloted critical approach and landing test flights during the development of the space shuttle.

Haise was born in Biloxi, and received his bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Oklahoma in 1959. For more biographical information about Haise, visit:

NASA's Digital Learning Network, which allows students and teachers to connect with NASA through videoconferences and webcasts, will broadcast the event online Dec. 2 from 1:15 to 2:15 p.m. EST at:

Beginning Dec. 2, NASA Television will air a video file with highlights from Haise's mission. For NASA TV downlink, schedule and streaming video information, visit:

For information about and pictures of the NASA Ambassador of Exploration Award, visit:

To learn more about Biloxi schools, visit:

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

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Monday, December 7, 2009

NASA'S WISE Spacecraft Ready for Launch Dec. 9 from California

The launch of NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, aboard a Delta II rocket is scheduled to occur between 9:09 a.m. and 9:23 a.m. EST on Wednesday, Dec. 9, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. NASA will provide television and Internet coverage of prelaunch activities and launch.

After launch, WISE will scan the entire sky in infrared light with a sensitivity hundreds of times greater than ever before, picking up the glow of hundreds of millions of objects and producing millions of images. The mission will uncover objects never seen before, including the coolest stars, the universe's most luminous galaxies and some of the darkest near-Earth asteroids and comets.

A prelaunch news conference on NASA Television will be held on Dec. 7 at 4 p.m. at the NASA Vandenberg Resident Office. Reporters can ask from participating NASA centers. A WISE mission science briefing will immediately follow the prelaunch news conference. The briefings will be webcast at:

On Dec. 9, NASA TV coverage of the countdown and launch will begin at 7 a.m. A WISE webcast with launch and mission principals is scheduled for noon on Dec. 8. To access WISE features, visit NASA's WISE Web site at:

Audio of the prelaunch news conference and the launch coverage will be available by dialing 321-867-1220/1240/1260. This is a listen-only audio system. Mission audio of countdown activities without NASA launch commentary will be carried on 321-867-7135 beginning at 6 a.m.

Launch coverage of WISE/Delta II countdown activities also will be available on the NASA Web site at:

Live countdown coverage on NASA's launch blog begins at 7 a.m. Coverage features real-time updates of countdown milestones, as well as streaming video clips highlighting launch preparations and liftoff.

Beginning Dec. 3, a WISE mission news center will be operational at the NASA Vandenberg Resident Office. Reporters should call 805-605-3051 for launch information. Recorded status reports also will be available at that time by dialing 805-734-2693.

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NASA's revolutionary planet-hunting Kepler space telescope has been honored with the 2009 Best of What's New Grand Award from Popular Science Magazine and a 2009 Breakthrough Award from Popular Mechanics Magazine.

"The Kepler Space Telescope is a stunning new tool that has a very targeted mission: studying planetary systems," the Popular Mechanics magazine editors wrote in recognizing Kepler. "It is the first instrument able to detect Earth-like planets, potentially capable of hosting life, as they circle distant suns. About 100,000 stars in our region of the Milky Way will be observed."

Popular Science also honored NASA's new moon mapping mission, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the Orion Launch Abort System with Best of What's New awards in the aviation and space category. Popular Science announced the award winners in its December issue. Popular Mechanics made the announcement in its November issue.

"The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, launched in June, will use seven instruments to deliver the most detailed picture of the moon yet," Popular Science magazine editors wrote. "In addition to photographing the lunar surface in high resolution and creating a 3-D topographical map, it will beam back reams of information on surface radiation, surface temperature, soil composition, the presence of water ice and more."

Popular Science editors reviewed thousands of products before selecting 100 new products and technologies in 11 categories to receive Best of What's New awards. Award categories include automotive, aviation and space, computing, engineering, gadgets, green technology, home entertainment, security, home technology, personal health and recreation.

"For 22 years, Popular Science has honored the innovations that surprise and amaze us - those that make a positive impact on our world today and challenge our views of what's possible in the future." said Mark Jannot, editor-in-chief of Popular Science. "The Best of What's New Award is the magazine's top honor, and the 100 winners - chosen from among thousands of entrants - represent the highest level of achievement in their fields."

The Kepler Space Telescope is managed by NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. NASA's Orion Launch Abort System is managed by NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

For information about the Popular Science awards, visit:

For information about the Popular Mechanics awards, visit:

For more information about NASA and its programs, visit:

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Planet 51 Star Brings NASA's Message of Exploration Down to Earth

Actor Dwayne Johnson, usually known for his action and comedic film roles, takes to the stars as an astronaut in a new animated feature that brings important messages about the importance of space exploration and education to those of us here on Earth.

Johnson provides the voice of space explorer Chuck Baker in the new Sony family film "Planet 51" and is featured in a series of new public service announcements dealing with education, diversity and NASA "spinoff" technologies.

Rover with Chuck Baker, voiced by Dwayne Johnson, in Columbia Pictures' animated movie Planet 51In a public service announcement about diversity, Johnson underscores the importance of a global work force: "On this planet promoting diversity is very important. At NASA, astronauts from all nationalities and backgrounds work together aboard the International Space Station to help improve our lives here on Earth. I'm here to tell you that every barrier is meant to be broken, whether it's the sound barrier, the furthest layer of the Earth's atmosphere, the outer limits of our solar system, or the challenges we face here at home."

"Films are such a powerful way to reach out to new audiences and excite them about space exploration," NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said. "Dwayne will enlighten families about the importance of learning science and math and celebrating others' differences. He also informs the public about some NASA technologies which are used right here on Earth."

NASA Television also will air the public service announcements during its programming starting Friday and will make the PSAs available to local television and radio stations. The date coincides with the theatrical release of "Planet 51."

Dwayne Johnson recording the voice of Chuck Baker in Columbia Pictures' animated movie Planet 51"Planet 51" is an animated adventure-comedy revolving around American astronaut who lands on Planet 51 thinking he's the first person to explore this new world. To his surprise, Baker finds little green people inhabiting the planet who are happily living in a white picket fence-world reminiscent of a cheerfully innocent 1950s America.

The agency permitted the use of the NASA Insignia on Chuck's space suit in the family feature. Aside from Johnson, the film also stars Jessica Biel, Justin Long, Gary Oldman, Seann William Scott, and John Cleese. The film is directed by Jorge Blanco, co-directed by Javier Abad and Marcos Martínez, written by Joe Stillman, and produced by Ignacio Pérez Dolset and Guy Collins.

› Watch, Listen, and Download the Public Service Announcements (including HD videos)

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