Thursday, February 25, 2010

Space Shuttle Crew "Endeavours" A Return To Earth Sunday

Space shuttle Endeavour and its six-member crew are expected to return to Earth on Sunday, Feb. 21 after a 14-day mission. NASA managers will evaluate weather conditions at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida before permitting Endeavour to land.

Sunday landing opportunities at Kennedy are at 10:16 p.m. and 11:51 p.m. EST. There are additional opportunities at 1:20 a.m. and 2:55 a.m. EST Monday at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., a backup landing site. For recorded updates about landing, call 321-867-2525.

If Endeavour lands Sunday in Florida as scheduled, NASA officials will hold a briefing to discuss the mission no earlier than midnight. The participants will be:
- Mike Moses, space shuttle launch integration manager
- Mike Leinbach, shuttle launch director

After touchdown, the astronauts will undergo routine physical examinations and meet with their families. Because of the late hour, the crew will not participate in a post-landing news conference, but a crew statement from the runway is expected. The news events will be broadcast live on NASA Television and the agency's Web site.

The Kennedy news center will open for landing activities at 6 p.m. Sunday and remain open through Monday. The STS-130 media badges are in effect through landing. The media accreditation building on State Road 3 will be open Sunday from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. The last bus will depart from the news center for the Shuttle Landing Facility one hour before landing.

If the landing is diverted to Edwards, news media should call the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center public affairs office at 661-276-3449. Dryden has limited facilities available for previously accredited journalists.

The NASA News Twitter feed is updated throughout the shuttle mission and landing. To follow, visit:
For NASA TV downlink information, schedules and links to streaming video, visit:
For the latest information about the STS-130 mission and accomplishments, visit:

For more information about the space station and its crew, visit:

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

NASA Studies Recent Storms to Improve Space Based Global Weather Monitoring

An EF-2 tornado forms over the University of Alabama campus in Huntsville, Ala., on Jan. 21, 2010The evening sky above Huntsville, Ala., held an eerie look on Thursday, Jan. 21, but few knew looming overhead was an EF-2 tornado waiting to descend on a downtown neighborhood. The Huntsville storm system didn't produce an abnormally large amount of lightning, typically a key indicator of severe weather, and the weather community was focused on larger hail-producing thunderstorms moving through southern Tennessee that looked more threatening.
Scientists at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville are studying these recent storms by looking at data from three unique weather monitoring tools to gain a better picture of how storms evolve to produce both heavy rain or large hail, and subsequent strong winds or tornadoes. Researchers are using observations from the Advanced Radar for Meteorological and Operational Research, or ARMOR, radar operated by the University of Alabama Huntsville and NASA Lightning-Mapping Array System and disdrometer data to understand storm precipitation types -- rain, snow or hail -- and how those amounts relate to the amount of lightning produced. This early storm research supports the development of future weather monitoring systems like the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, or GOES-R, that will observe Earth's weather from space.
A better understanding of these storm system could be the difference in a more accurate and timely prediction and would have been useful on Jan. 21. The tornado was later classified as an EF-2 as defined by the Enhanced Fujita Scale, created by Dr. T. Theodore Fujita in 1971, which categorizes each tornado by intensity and area and estimated wind speed associated with the resultant damage. Southern states typically view early spring as tornado season, but they can occur any time of year if the conditions are right. They usually form around violent thunderstorms where there is sufficient instability and wind shear in the lower atmosphere.
This tornado was captured on film south of Dimmitt, Texas on June 2, 1995"In order to predict severe weather you have to understand how a storm works, and to understand how they work you need to make measurements and observations," said Dr. Walt Petersen, a physical scientist at the Marshall Center. "In terms of societal impacts, we need to be able to reliably measure and predict the occurrence of things like rainfall, lightning and tornadoes to offer more timely warnings."
The ARMOR radar helps scientists understand precipitation processes in the storm from the ground to the top. ARMOR remotely takes precipitation measurements since it is not possible to get to the high-altitude core of these monstrous storms. The analysis of the radar data starts by examining particle size information collected by disdrometers at the surface. Using this information, Petersen and his colleagues can calibrate the ARMOR low-elevation scans and then extend the calibration to look higher in the storm. This enables scientists to diagnose the precipitation particle sizes and shapes at the base and higher into the storm.
The internal precipitation properties of the storm are then compared to lightning production. Lightning data is taken from the Lightning Mapping Array system that collects lightning measurements from a set of 10 antennas positioned around northern Alabama. The lightning array senses the radiation emitted by lightning flashes in the very high frequency bands between the 60 to 100 megahertz range. The resultant data provide scientists with a three-dimensional location for each lightning flash within a given thunderstorm and those locations can be compared to ARMOR radar data collected for the same part of the storm.
ARMOR is a dual-polarimetric Doppler radar meaning that it works by transmitting pulses of microwave energy in vertical and horizontal orientations that are then scattered back to the radar in the same orientations. From the echo, or return of the horizontally and vertically oriented radar pulses, scientists can measure specific properties of the precipitation within a given cloud including the particle size, shape and type, as well as the precipitation rate and the relative velocity of the wind that is moving those precipitation particles either toward or away from the radar, or the Doppler-shifted wind. Disdrometer data is also collected to provide information on individual precipitation particle sizes, shapes and numbers -- they connect what is going on at the particle scale to what scientists observe in the beam of the radar.
A waterspout forms over the St. Johns River behind a NASA DC-8 on the tarmac of the Jacksonville Naval Air Station on August 18, 2001"To provide reliable and timely predictions, scientists need to understand the entire storm system by observing and measuring the physics of each process and how they are related," said Petersen. "We are attempting to do this by combining radar, lightning and disdrometer data for analysis. By studying all these data points together we're able to connect the dots between precipitation formation, properties, and movement, and the development of dangerous weather phenomena such as large hail, lightning and tornadoes."
NASA continues to develop advanced satellite platforms that can carry instruments to remotely sense thunderstorms from space. Currently, the joint NASA/Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite launched in 1997 and flying the first and only precipitation radar in space, is able to measure the three-dimensional structure of storms, while NASA’s Aqua satellite provides information on the horizontal structure of precipitation as well as environmental temperature and humidity. However, these satellites get only occasional snapshots of storms rather than the continuous coverage needed.
Scientists need to know what's happening inside the storm systems as they are taking place. NASA is currently working to develop new instruments and techniques to support weather and climate studies for the GOES-R satellite Geostationary Lightning Mapper, a joint effort with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that will launch in 2015, and the NASA/JAXA Global Precipitation Measurement mission that will launch in 2013.
The ARMOR radar and Northern Alabama lightning-mapping array projects represent collaborative efforts between Marshall and team members and partners from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. These efforts are funded in part by the NOAA/NASA GOES-R satellite program, NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission and Global Precipitation Measurement Mission, all managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

President Obama Scheduled to Speak to Orbiting Astronauts

President Obama, congressional leaders and middle school students will speak with the astronaut crews of the International Space Station and the space shuttle Endeavour Wednesday at 5:15 p.m. EST to congratulate them on their successful ongoing mission. The call will take place from the Roosevelt Room of the White House.

Media attendance will be limited to a White House pool spray, but the White House and NASA Television will stream live video of the event online. The online video also can be embedded into sites using the embed code accessible by clicking "share" next to the event video at:
Endeavour's crew members are Commander George Zamka, Pilot Terry Virts and Mission Specialists Kathryn Hire, Stephen Robinson, Nicholas Patrick and Robert Behnken. The Expedition 22 space station crew members are Commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineers Oleg Kotov, Maxim Suraev, T.J. Creamer, and Soichi Noguchi.

Endeavour and its crew launched Feb. 8 on the STS-130 mission to the space station. During the mission, astronauts installed the Tranquility node and a cupola with seven windows that provide a panoramic view of Earth, celestial objects and visiting spacecraft. Tranquility and its cupola are the final major U.S. portions of the station.

Joining the president are 12 students from Birney Middle School of Detroit, Elkhorn Middle School of Omaha, Neb., St. Thomas the Apostle of Miami and Davidson IB Middle School of Davidson, N.C. These students are in Washington as leaders of four of 39 teams participating in the "Future City" engineering competition hosted by National Engineers Week.

Building on the president's "Educate to Innovate" campaign and his emphasis on inspiring young adults to pursue excellence in science, technology, engineering and math, the students are all leaders of teams that are finalists. The competition included 34,000 seventh and eighth graders from across the nation who produced innovative ideas and designs for a city of tomorrow. The Davidson IB Middle School team was the overall winner of the national competition.

For NASA TV downlink, schedule and streaming video information, visit:
For more information about the STS-130 mission and its crew, visit:
For more information about the space station and its crew, visit:

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Monday, February 22, 2010

NASA's Fermi Closes on Source of Cosmic Rays

Fermi's Large Area Telescope resolved GeV gamma rays from supernova remnants of different ages and in different environments. W51C, W44 and IC 443 are middle-aged remnants between 4,000 and 30,000 years oldNew images from NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope show where supernova remnants emit radiation a billion times more energetic than visible light. The images bring astronomers a step closer to understanding the source of some of the universe's most energetic particles -- cosmic rays.
Cosmic rays consist mainly of protons that move through space at nearly the speed of light. In their journey across the galaxy, the particles are deflected by magnetic fields. This scrambles their paths and masks their origins.
"Understanding the sources of cosmic rays is one of Fermi's key goals," said Stefan Funk, an astrophysicist at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC), jointly located at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University, Calif.
Cassiopeia A supernova remnant across the spectrumWhen cosmic rays collide with interstellar gas, they produce gamma rays.
"Fermi now allows us to compare emission from remnants of different ages and in different environments," Funk added. He presented the findings Monday at the American Physical Society meeting in Washington, D.C.
Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT) mapped billion-electron-volt (GeV) gamma-rays from three middle-aged supernova remnants -- known as W51C, W44 and IC 443 -- that were never before resolved at these energies. (The energy of visible light is between 2 and 3 electron volts.) Each remnant is the expanding debris of a massive star that blew up between 4,000 and 30,000 years ago.
In addition, Fermi's LAT also spied GeV gamma rays from Cassiopeia A (Cas A), a supernova remnant only 330 years old. Ground-based observatories, which detect gamma rays thousands of times more energetic than the LAT was designed to see, have previously detected Cas A.
Fermi mapped GeV-gamma-ray emission regions (magenta) in the W44 supernova remnant"Older remnants are extremely bright in GeV gamma rays, but relatively faint at higher energies. Younger remnants show a different behavior," explained Yasunobu Uchiyama, a Panofsky Fellow at SLAC. "Perhaps the highest-energy cosmic rays have left older remnants, and Fermi sees emission from trapped particles at lower energies."
In 1949, the Fermi telescope's namesake, physicist Enrico Fermi, suggested that the highest-energy cosmic rays were accelerated in the magnetic fields of gas clouds. In the decades that followed, astronomers showed that supernova remnants are the galaxy's best candidate sites for this process.
Young supernova remnants seem to possess both stronger magnetic fields and the highest-energy cosmic rays. Stronger fields can keep the highest-energy particles in the remnant's shock wave long enough to speed them to the energies observed.
The Fermi observations show GeV gamma rays coming from places where the remnants are known to be interacting with cold, dense gas clouds.
"We think that protons accelerated in the remnant are colliding with gas atoms, This animation shows the creation of a pion via the collision of a proton and a cosmic ray protoncausing the gamma-ray emission," Funk said. An alternative explanation is that fast-moving electrons emit gamma rays as they fly past the nuclei of gas atoms. "For now, we can't distinguish between these possibilities, but we expect that further observations with Fermi will help us to do so," he added.
Either way, these observations validate the notion that supernova remnants act as enormous accelerators for cosmic particles.
"How fitting it is that Fermi seems to be confirming the bold idea advanced over 60 years ago by the scientist after whom it was named," noted Roger Blandford, director of KIPAC.
Related Links:
› Additional information and resolutions of supernova remnant media› Additional information and resolutions of pion creation media

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Are TGFs Hazardous to Air Travelers?

Instruments scanning outer space for cataclysmic explosions called gamma-ray bursts are detecting intense flashes of gamma-ray energy right here in the friendly skies of Earth. These terrestrial gamma-ray flashes, or TGFs, blast through thunderstorms close to the altitude where commercial airliners fly.
In fact, they could be too close for comfort.
In a recent study,* scientists estimated that airline passengers could be exposed to 400 chest X-rays worth of radiation by being near the origin of a single millisecond blast. Joe Dwyer of the Florida Institute of Technology took part in that research, which used observations from NASA's Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager, or RHESSI, to estimate the danger TGFs pose.
see caption"We believe the risk of encountering a TGF in an airplane is very small," says Dwyer. "I wouldn't hesitate to take a flight. Pilots already avoid thunderstorms because of turbulence, hail, and lightning, and we may just have to add TGFs to the list of reasons to steer clear of those storms."
But, he stresses, "it's worth looking into."
Right: Lightning might not be the only reason to avoid thunderstorms. TGFs sometimes come blasting out of these clouds, too. Image credit: NOAA.
NASA's Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) on the Fermi Gamma-ray Telescope will help evaluate the hazards.
"GBM provides the best TGF data we have so far," says Dwyer. "It gets better measurements of their spectra than any previous instrument, giving us a more accurate idea of just how energetic they are."
Although TGFs are quite brief (1-2 milliseconds), they appear to be the most energetic events on Earth. They belch destructive gamma-rays packing over ten million times the energy of visible light photons – enough punch to penetrate several inches of lead.
"It's amazing," says Jerry Fishman, a co-investigator for the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor. "They come blasting right through the whole Fermi spacecraft and light up all of our detectors. Very few cosmic gamma-ray bursts manage to do this!"
The origin of TGFs is still a mystery, but researchers know this much: TGFs are associated with thunderstorms and lightning. "We think the electric field in a thunderstorm may get so strong that the storm itself turns into a gamma-ray factory," says Dwyer. "But we don't know exactly how or why or where inside the storm this happens."
So no one yet knows how often, if ever, planes end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
see caption
Above: A cartoon sketch of electric and magnetic fields in a thunderstorm and some of the phenomena they produce. TGFs may be just one aspect of thunderstorm activity in addition to elves, sprites, blue jets and ordinary lightning. Credit: Stanford University. [more]
It's possible that lightning bolts trigger TGFs. Or maybe TGFs trigger lightning bolts. Researchers aren't sure which comes first. GBM's excellent timing accuracy – to within 2 microseconds – will help solve this riddle.
"For some of the TGFs, we've pinpointed the associated lightning," says Dwyer. "This information along with the spectrum should help us figure out how deep in the atmosphere a TGF source is and how many gamma-rays it's emitting. Then we can determine the altitude and location they're coming from in the thunderstorm."
Fishman offers some good news: "If TGFs originate near the tops of thunderstorms and propagate upward from there, airline passengers would be safe."
By looking closely at a TGF's life cycle, that is, how quickly it turns on and off, GBM may also help researchers calculate how large and concentrated the gamma-ray source is. If the gamma-rays are emitted over a large region, the radiation dose would be diluted and much less harmful.
see caption"But if the source is compact and the gamma-rays originate close to an aircraft, then that could be a problem," says Fishman.
Right: The radiation dose from an ordinary lightning leader vs. the dose from a TGF. Both phenomena are associated with electron beams. Tighter, more compact beams deliver a greater effective dose. Details of this model may be found in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research (Atmospheres). Look for "Estimation of the fluence of high-energy electron bursts produced by thunderclouds and the resulting radiation doses received in aircraft" by J. Dwyer et al. (in press).
"Of course the smaller the source the lower the odds of a plane ending up close to it," adds Dwyer.
GBM wasn't designed to look for TGFs, but GBM co-investigator Michael Briggs has greatly enhanced its sensitivity to them by writing new software.
"TGFs have really been an afterthought for missions so far," says Dwyer. RHESSI, for example, points at the sun, but the RHESSI team figured out a way to measure TGFs by detecting gamma-rays coming in through the satellite's backside. "All these instruments have been pointing across the universe, while right over our heads these monsters are going off!"
"Now the whole field of TGFs is on fire," says Fishman. "People are jumping on the bandwagon to try to figure them out."

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

NASA Sets Media Credentials Deadlines for Next Space Shuttle Flight

NASA has set media accreditation deadlines for the March space shuttle flight to the International Space Station. Shuttle Discovery and seven crew members are targeted to launch the STS-131 mission on March 18 from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Deadlines for international journalists to apply for the shuttle rollout and Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test are as early as 5 p.m. EST Feb. 11.
During the 13-day flight, the crew will deliver a multipurpose logistics module with science racks to the space station. Among the shuttle crew is Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, a former high school science teacher who is now a fully trained astronaut.
Reporters must apply for credentials to attend the launch or cover the mission from other NASA centers. To be accredited, reporters must work for verifiable news-gathering organizations. No substitutions of credentials are allowed at any NASA facility.
Additional time may be required to process accreditation requests by journalists from certain designated countries. Designated countries include those with which the United States has no diplomatic relations, countries on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, those under U.S. sanction or embargo, and countries associated with proliferation concerns. Please contact the accrediting NASA center for details. Journalists should confirm they have been accredited before they travel.
Reporters applying for credentials at Kennedy should submit requests via the Web at:
Reporters must use work e-mail addresses, not personal accounts, when applying. After accreditation is approved, applicants will receive confirmation via e-mail.
Accredited media representatives with mission badges will have access to Kennedy from launch through the end of the mission. The application deadline for mission badges is March 8 for all reporters requesting credentials.
Discovery's move from the Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, to Launch Pad 39A, planned for Feb. 19, follows its rollover from Orbiter Processing Facility-3 to the VAB, which is targeted for Feb. 12. Launch dress rehearsal activities, known as the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, and related training are scheduled for Feb. 22-24. International journalists must apply by 5 p.m. EST Feb. 11 to allow time for processing, and U.S. media representatives must apply by Feb. 17. Media badges will be valid for both rollout and the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test.
Reporters with special logistic requests for Kennedy, such as space for satellite trucks, trailers, electrical connections or work space, must contact Laurel Lichtenberger by March 11 at:
There is no longer free wireless Internet access provided at Kennedy's news center. Work space in the news center and the news center annex is provided on a first-come basis, limited to one space per organization. To set up temporary telephone, fax, ISDN or network lines, media representatives must make arrangements with BellSouth at 800-213-4988. Reporters must have an assigned seat in the Kennedy newsroom prior to setting up lines. To obtain an assigned seat, contact Patricia Christian at:
Journalists must have a public affairs escort to all other areas of Kennedy except the Launch Complex 39 cafeteria.
Reporters may obtain credentials for NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston by calling the Johnson newsroom at 281-483-5111 or by presenting STS-131 mission credentials from Kennedy. Media representatives planning to cover the mission only from Johnson need to apply for credentials only at Johnson. The application deadline for mission badges is March 9 for all reporters requesting credentials.
Journalists covering the mission from Johnson using Kennedy credentials must contact the Johnson newsroom by March 9 to arrange workspace, phone lines and other logistics. Johnson is responsible for credentialing media if the shuttle lands at NASA's White Sands Space Harbor, N.M. If a landing is imminent at White Sands, Johnson will arrange credentials.
Notice for a space shuttle landing at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base in California could be short. Domestic media outlets should consider accrediting Los Angeles-based personnel who could travel quickly to Dryden. Deadlines for submitting Dryden accreditation requests are Feb. 19 for non-U.S. media, regardless of citizenship, and March 24 for U.S. media who are U.S. citizens or who have permanent residency status.
For Dryden media credentials, U.S. citizens representing domestic media outlets must provide their full name, date of birth, place of birth, media organization, driver's license number with the name of the issuing state, and the last six digits of their social security number.
In addition to the above requirements, foreign media representatives, regardless of citizenship, must provide data including their citizenship, visa or passport number and its expiration date. Foreign nationals representing either domestic or foreign media who have permanent residency status must provide their alien registration number and expiration date.
Journalists should fax requests for credentials on company letterhead to 661-276-3566 or e-mail requests to:
Requests must include a phone number and business e-mail address for follow-up contact. Journalists who previously requested credentials will not need to do so again.
Kennedy Space Center: Allard Beutel, 321-867-2468,
Johnson Space Center: James Hartsfield, 281-483-5111,
Dryden Flight Research Center: Leslie Williams, 661-276-3893,
For information about the STS-131 mission, visit:
Two STS-131 crew members, NASA astronaut Clay Anderson and Naoko Yamazaki of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, are tweeting about preparing for their mission. They can be followed at:
For information about the International Space Station, visit:

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Solar Dynamics Observatory

The SDO and Atlas V rocket.
Image above: A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with its Solar Dynamics Observatory payload is moved to the launch pad Tuesday in preparation for liftoff. › View Larger Image
Solar Dynamics Observatory at Launch Pad
The Solar Dynamics Observatory and its Atlas V rocket rolled out to the launch pad at Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The Tuesday morning move sets the stage for a liftoff Wednesday at 10:26 a.m. EST.
Weather for launch day stands at 40 percent "go" at liftoff time due to wind, cloud thickness and a slight chance of showers. The temperature at launch time is expected to be a chilly 51 degrees.
Live coverage of the launch will begin at 7:15 a.m. Wednesday on NASA TV and NASA's Launch Blog.
SDO's unprecedented mission will study the sun and its dynamic behavior. Onboard telescopes will scrutinize sunspots and solar flares using more pixels and colors than any other observatory in the history of solar physics. And SDO will reveal the sun’s hidden secrets in a prodigious rush of pictures.
Additional Resources› Fact Sheet› Guide› Press Kit› Briefing Materials

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

NASA Administrator to Hold News Briefing at Kennedy Space Center

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will meet with reporters covering the launch of space shuttle Endeavour at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The news briefing will be held at Kennedy's press site at 10 a.m. EST, Saturday, Feb. 6.

Bolden will be available to talk with journalists about the shuttle's STS-130 mission to the International Space Station and other NASA programs. Endeavour is scheduled to lift off at 4:39 a.m. EST on Sunday, Feb. 7.

The news briefing will air live on NASA Television and the agency's Web site. Questions will be taken only from reporters at Kennedy. For NASA TV streaming video, scheduling and downlink information, visit:

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Monday, February 15, 2010

NASA Selects Programmatic and Institutional Learning Services Contractor

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., has selected Zantech IT Services Inc. of McLean, Va., for the Programmatic and Institutional Learning Services contract. The total value of this fixed price, indefinite delivery indefinite quantity contract is $45 million. The effective ordering period is five years.

Zantech IT Services will provide logistical and coordination support services to NASA Headquarters and Goddard for events and will assist in the distribution of administrative, scientific and technical information. Events may include conferences, peer reviews, colloquia, symposia, workshops, tradeshows and various other meeting formats.

Events may be held at various locations including local, national, and international sites. Event attendees may include representatives from other agencies, state governments, private industry, research facilities, and U.S. and foreign higher education institutions.

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Pluto's White, Dark-Orange and Charcoal-Black Terrain Captured by NASA's Hubble

NASA has released the most detailed and dramatic images ever taken of the distant dwarf planet Pluto. The images from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope show an icy, mottled, dark molasses-colored world undergoing seasonal surface color and brightness changes.

Pluto has become significantly redder, while its illuminated northern hemisphere is getting brighter. These changes are most likely consequences of surface ice melting on the sunlit pole and then refreezing on the other pole, as the dwarf planet heads into the next phase of its 248-year-long seasonal cycle. Analysis shows the dramatic change in color took place from 2000 to 2002.

The Hubble pictures confirm Pluto is a dynamic world that undergoes dramatic atmospheric changes not simply a ball of ice and rock. These dynamic seasonal changes are as much propelled by the planet's 248-year elliptical orbit as by its axial tilt. Pluto is unlike Earth, where the planet's tilt alone drives seasons. Pluto's seasons are asymmetric because of its elliptical orbit. Spring transitions to polar summer quickly in the northern hemisphere, because Pluto is moving faster along its orbit when it is closer to the sun.

Ground-based observations, taken in 1988 and 2002 show the mass of the atmosphere doubled during that time. This may be because of warming and melting nitrogen ice. The new Hubble images are giving astronomers essential clues about the seasons on Pluto and the fate of its atmosphere.

When the Hubble pictures taken in 1994 are compared to those of 2002 and 2003, astronomers see evidence that the northern polar region has gotten brighter, while the southern hemisphere darkened. These changes hint at very complex processes affecting the visible surface.

The images will help planetary astronomers interpret more than three decades of Pluto observations from other telescopes.

"The Hubble observations are the key to tying together these other diverse constraints on Pluto and showing how it all makes sense by providing a context based on weather and seasonal changes, which opens other new lines of investigation," says principal investigator Marc Buie of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.

These Hubble images, taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys, will remain the sharpest view of Pluto until NASA's New Horizons probe is within six months of its flyby during 2015. The Hubble images are invaluable for picking the planet's most interesting hemisphere for imaging by the New Horizons probe.

New Horizons will pass by Pluto so quickly that only one hemisphere will be photographed in detail. Particularly noticeable in the Hubble images is a bright spot that has been independently noted to be unusually rich in carbon monoxide frost. It is a prime target for New Horizons. "Everybody is puzzled by this feature," Buie said. New Horizons will get an excellent look at the boundary between this bright feature and a nearby region covered in pitch-black surface material.

"The Hubble images also will help New Horizons scientists better calculate the exposure time for each Pluto snapshot which is important for taking the most detailed pictures possible," Buie said. With no chance for re-exposures, accurate models for the surface of Pluto are essential for properly exposed images.

The Hubble images surface variations a few hundred miles across that are too coarse for understanding surface geology. But in terms of surface color and brightness, Hubble reveals a complex-looking world with white, dark-orange and charcoal-black terrain. The overall color is believed to be a result of ultraviolet radiation from the distant sun breaking up methane present on Pluto's surface, leaving behind a dark and red-carbon-rich residue.

The Hubble images are a few pixels wide. Through a technique called dithering, multiple, slightly offset pictures are combined through computer-image processing to synthesize a higher-resolution view than can be seen in a single exposure.

"This has taken four years and 20 computers operating continuously and simultaneously to accomplish," Buie said. Buie developed the special algorithms to sharpen the Hubble data. He plans to use Hubble's new Wide Field Camera 3 to make additional observations prior to the arrival of New Horizons.

For Hubble information and images, visit:

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

NASA Extends Safety and Mission Assurance Contract at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama

NASA has exercised a second one-year option with Bastion Technologies Inc. of Houston for continued services in support of the Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The extension runs through Jan. 31, 2011.
The contract is a cost plus award fee with award term arrangements. The current potential value of the contract, including this $36 million contract option, is $136 million. Subsequent unexercised options and award terms extend the total period of performance to 2017, with a total potential value of more than $376 million.
Bastion Technologies Inc. continues to provide services, equipment and supplies associated with industrial safety and system safety, reliability and maintainability engineering associated with the design and development engineering and testing performed by Marshall. The contract also provides safety and mission assurance management information, quality assurance and quality engineering, independent assessment services and documentation, project assurance and risk management.
For information about NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, visit:

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

NASA Administrator Names Woodrow Whitlow Associate Administrator for Mission Support

On Wednesday, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden named Dr. Woodrow Whitlow, Jr., the associate administrator for Mission Support at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Whitlow will continue to serve as the director of NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland until a successor is named.
In this new position, Whitlow will be responsible for most NASA management operations, including human capital, budget and systems support as well as a variety of other vital cross agency business, institutional and contract support functions.
"Woodrow is a dedicated and valued member of my senior leadership team, and I am pleased he agreed to accept this new challenge," Bolden said. "As the agency moves forward, we need to streamline the way we do business with a fresh approach and an eye for strategic management and investments. I know the people of Glenn will miss Woodrow, but the entire agency will again have the opportunity to benefit from his insight and experience."
As the Glenn director since Dec. 25, 2005, Whitlow has led a workforce of more than 3,400 civil service and support service contractors. The center is distinguished by its unique blend of aeronautics and spaceflight research and development experience.
Before being named director of Glenn, Whitlow served as the deputy director of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. He assisted the director in determining and implementing center policy and managing and implementing the center's missions and agency program responsibilities. Areas of responsibility included processing, launch, and recovery of launch vehicles, processing of spacecraft and acquisition of launch services.
Prior to his appointment as deputy director at Kennedy, Whitlow was the director of Research and Technology at Glenn.
Whitlow began his NASA career in 1979 as a research scientist at the agency's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. He assumed various positions of increasing responsibility before moving to Glenn in 1998. In 1994, he served as director of the Critical Technologies Division in the Office of Aeronautics at NASA Headquarters.
Whitlow earned his bachelor's degree, master's degree, and doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Suspected Asteroid Collision Leaves Trailing Debris

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has observed a mysterious X-shaped debris pattern and trailing streamers of dust that suggest a head-on collision between two asteroids. Astronomers have long thought the asteroid belt is being ground down through collisions, but such a smashup has never been seen before.
Asteroid collisions are energetic, with an average impact speed of more than 11,000 miles per hour, or five times faster than a rifle bullet. The comet-like object imaged by Hubble, called P/2010 A2, was first discovered by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research, or LINEAR, program sky survey on Jan. 6. New Hubble images taken on Jan. 25 and 29 show a complex X-pattern of filamentary structures near the nucleus.
"This is quite different from the smooth dust envelopes of normal comets," said principal investigator David Jewitt of the University of California at Los Angeles. "The filaments are made of dust and gravel, presumably recently thrown out of the nucleus. Some are swept back by radiation pressure from sunlight to create straight dust streaks. Embedded in the filaments are co-moving blobs of dust that likely originated from tiny unseen parent bodies."
Hubble shows the main nucleus of P/2010 A2 lies outside its own halo of dust. This has never been seen before in a comet-like object. The nucleus is estimated to be 460 feet in diameter.
Normal comets fall into the inner regions of the solar system from icy reservoirs in the Kuiper belt and Oort cloud. As comets near the sun and warm up, ice near the surface vaporizes and ejects material from the solid comet nucleus via jets. But P/2010 A2 may have a different origin. It orbits in the warm, inner regions of the asteroid belt where its nearest neighbors are dry rocky bodies lacking volatile materials.
This leaves open the possibility that the complex debris tail is the result of an impact between two bodies, rather than ice simply melting from a parent body.
"If this interpretation is correct, two small and previously unknown asteroids recently collided, creating a shower of debris that is being swept back into a tail from the collision site by the pressure of sunlight," Jewitt said.
The main nucleus of P/2010 A2 would be the surviving remnant of this so-called hypervelocity collision.
"The filamentary appearance of P/2010 A2 is different from anything seen in Hubble images of normal comets, consistent with the action of a different process," Jewitt said. An impact origin also would be consistent with the absence of gas in spectra recorded using ground-based telescopes.
The asteroid belt contains abundant evidence of ancient collisions that have shattered precursor bodies into fragments. The orbit of P/2010 A2 is consistent with membership in the Flora asteroid family, produced by collisional shattering more than 100 million years ago. One fragment of that ancient smashup may have struck Earth 65 million years ago, triggering a mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs. But, until now, no such asteroid-asteroid collision has been caught "in the act."
At the time of the Hubble observations, the object was approximately 180 million miles from the sun and 90 million miles from Earth. The Hubble images were recorded with the new Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), which is capable of detecting house-sized fragments at the distance of the asteroid belt.
For Hubble images and more information, visit:

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Agency Remembers Fallen Astronauts

The Space Mirror Memorial was dedicated in 1991 to honor those lost in pursuit of the exploration of spaceNASA on Friday marked the passing of those who gave their all in the name of space exploration during a wreath-laying service at the base of the Space Mirror Memorial at Kennedy Space Center's Visitor Complex. The service was part of the agency's Day of Remembrance on Jan. 29.

The national memorial to lost members of the NASA family is etched with the names of 24 people who perished during missions or in training since the American space effort began.

Bob Cabana, NASA Kennedy Space Center director, right, led a memorial service on the agency's Day of Remembrance"
President John F. Kennedy characterized this as the most hazardous, dangerous and the greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked," said Bob Cabana, NASA Kennedy Space Center's director and a former astronaut. "But it's not an adventure without risk. The explorers throughout history have put themselves at risk for the never-ending quest for knowledge that drives us all."

Surrounded by former astronauts,
NASA workers and space enthusiasts, Cabana spoke of the rewards that have come from the sacrifice of those memorialized on the monument.

"We've had our setbacks over the years, but we've always come back stronger, rededicating ourselves to achieving our goal in the safest manner possible," he said.

Astronauts Memorial Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that funds math and science scholarships, built the memorial in 1991. It has since been designated by Congress as a national memorial.

Cabana was joined in the wreath-laying by
Janet Petro, Kennedy's deputy director, and Mark Nappi, United Space Alliance vice president for Launch and Recovery Systems.

crew members who died in the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, the Challenger explosion in 1986 and Columbia's break-up during re-entry in 2003, are included on the memorial. All three accidents occurred during the last week of January or early February of their respective years.

Others memorialized include test pilots for the
X-15 and F-104, as well as four astronauts who were killed while flying T-38s. Another died in a commercial plane crash while on NASA business.

A woman weaves a flower into the gate at the base of the Space Mirror Memorial following a wreath-laying ceremony at the monument on Jan. 29Cabana, who called the astronauts "
some of the finest people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing," said the most fitting tribute to their sacrifice is to continue their goals of space exploration safely.

"So as we pause today to remember the sacrifice of those on this mirror, let's rededicate ourselves to safely achieving our goals as we transition to a new era of space exploration," he said. "This is an exciting time and we honor those who have gone before us by continuing our quest for knowledge in this greatest adventure of all time."

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Friday, February 5, 2010

NASA Announces Innovation Initiatives With Fiscal Year 2011 Budget

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will brief reporters about the agency's fiscal year 2011 budget at 3 p.m. EST on Monday, Feb. 1. The news conference will take place in the James E. Webb Memorial Auditorium at NASA Headquarters, located at 300 E St. S.W., in Washington.

NASA Chief Financial Officer Beth Robinson will join Bolden. The news conference will be broadcast live on NASA Television and the agency's Web site. Questions will be taken from media representatives at headquarters and participating field centers.

To watch the budget news conference online, visit:
NASA budget and supporting information will be available at 12:30 p.m., Feb. 1, at:

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News conferences, events and operating hours for the news center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida are set for the upcoming launch of space shuttle Endeavour.

The shuttle's STS-130 mission to the International Space Station is scheduled to lift off at 4:39 a.m. EST on Sunday, Feb. 7. STS-130 is the final scheduled shuttle night launch.

Detailed countdown milestones, news briefing times and participants, and hours of operation for Kennedy's news center and media credentialing office are available at:
A NASA blog will provide countdown updates beginning at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 6. Originating from Kennedy, the blog is the definitive Internet source for information leading up to launch. During the mission, visitors to NASA's shuttle Web site can read about the crew's progress and watch the mission's three spacewalks live. As Endeavour's flight concludes, the NASA blog will detail the spacecraft's return to Earth. For NASA's launch blog and continuous mission updates, visit:
The NASA News Twitter feed will be updated during the launch countdown, mission and landing. To follow, visit:
STS-130 astronaut Nicholas Patrick will be tweeting about his pre-launch preparations and providing updates to his Twitter account during the shuttle mission. Follow Patrick at:
For NASA TV streaming video, scheduling and downlink information, visit:
Endeavour's flight begins the final year of shuttle operations. Five missions are planned in 2010, with the final flight targeted for launch in September.

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

NASA Gives 'Go' for Feb. 7 as Final Space Shuttle Night Launch

Space shuttle Endeavour is set to begin a 13-day flight to the International Space Station with a Feb. 7 launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Liftoff is planned for 4:39 a.m. EST, making this the final scheduled space shuttle night launch.

Endeavour's launch date was announced Wednesday at the conclusion of a flight readiness review at Kennedy. During the meeting, senior NASA and contractor managers assessed the risks associated with the mission and determined the shuttle's equipment, support systems and procedures are ready.

Endeavour's flight will begin the final year of space shuttle operations. Five shuttle missions are planned in 2010, with the last flight currently targeted for launch in September.

Endeavour's mission will include three spacewalks and the delivery of the Tranquility node, the final module of the U.S. portion of the space station. Tranquility will provide additional room for crew members and many of the space station's life support and environmental control systems. Attached to the node is a cupola, which houses a robotic control station and has seven windows to provide a panoramic view of Earth, celestial objects and visiting spacecraft. After the node and cupola are added, the orbiting laboratory will be about 90 percent complete.

Commander George Zamka and his crew of five astronauts are scheduled to arrive at Kennedy at approximately 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 2, for final launch preparations. Joining Zamka on STS-130 are Pilot Terry Virts and Mission Specialists Kathryn Hire, Stephen Robinson, Nicholas Patrick and Robert Behnken. Virts will be making his first trip to space.

STS-130 will be Endeavour's 24th mission and the 33rd shuttle flight dedicated to station assembly and maintenance. For more information about STS-130, visit:
Patrick, who holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is sending updates about his training to his Twitter account. He plans to tweet from orbit during the mission. He can be followed at:
For more information on the space station, visit:

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

NASA Cues Up University CubeSats for Glory Launch This Fall

NASA will launch small research satellites for several universities as part of the agency's Educational Launch of Nanosatellite, or ELaNA, mission. The satellites are manifested as an auxiliary payload on the Taurus XL launch vehicle for NASA's Glory mission, planned for liftoff in late November.

The satellites, called CubeSats because of their shape, come from Montana State University, the University of Colorado and Kentucky Space, a consortium of state universities. The University of Florida was selected as an alternate in case one of the three primary spacecraft cannot fly.

CubeSats are in a class of small research spacecraft called picosatellites. They have a size of approximately four inches, a volume of about one quart and weigh no more than 2.2 pounds.

To place these satellites into orbit by an agency expendable launch vehicle, NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida is adapting the Poly-Picosatellite Orbital Deployer, or PPOD. This deployment system, designed and manufactured by the California Polytechnic State University in partnership with Stanford University, has flown previously on Department of Defense and commercial launch vehicles.

Montana State designated its satellite as Explorer 1 Prime, or E1P. The name honors the launch and scientific discoveries of the Explorer-1 mission, which detected the Van Allen radiation belts more than 50 years ago. E1P will carry a miniature Geiger tube to measure the intensity and variability of the electrons in the Van Allen belts.

Colorado's satellite is named Hermes. Its mission is to improve CubeSat communications through the on-orbit testing of a high data-rate communication system that will allow the downlink of large quantities of data.

The Kentucky vehicle is called KySat-1. It includes a camera to support a scientific outreach program intended for, but not limited to, Kentucky students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The satellite also has a 2.4-gigahertz industrial, scientific and medical band radio, which will be used to test high-bandwidth communications in the license-free portion of the S-band.

The satellites will hitch a ride to space with the Taurus rocket's primary payload, NASA's Glory spacecraft. The Glory climate mission, developed by NASA's Science Mission Directorate, will extend the nearly 30-year record of precise measurements of the sun's energy output. It also will obtain first-ever, global measurements of the distribution of tiny airborne aerosol particles. Aerosols represent one of the greatest areas of uncertainty in understanding Earth's climate system.

The ELaNA project is managed by NASA's Launch Services Program at Kennedy. For more information about the program, visit:

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Hurricane Season 2010: Tropical Cyclone Olga (Southern Pacific Ocean)

Olga was a tropical cyclone that formed in the southwestern Pacific Ocean on Saturday, January 23, and crept toward Cairns, Australia. Olga made landfall in Queensland and weakened to a low pressure area.

Ogla made landfall on January 24 at Port Douglas as a category 1 storm. Its center came ashore at around 2 p.m. Australia local time near Cape Tribulation bringing gusty winds and rains.
Today, January 25, a Cyclone Watch continues for the southern Gulf of Carpentaria coast and islands from Port McArthur to Burketown. The low pressure area formerly known as Olga is located in the northwestern part of Queensland, Australia. At 10:00 p.m. Australia Darwin Local time (7:30 a.m. ET) Ex-Tropical Cyclone Olga was estimated to be 251 miles (405 kilometers) west of Georgetown and 93 miles (150 kilometers)southwest of Karumba, near 18.3 degrees South 139.7 degrees East.
Olga the low is moving west at 27 mph (44 kilometers/ph) across the base of Cape York Peninsula towards the Northern Territory/Queensland Border. It the low moves into the warm waters of the southern Gulf of Carpenteria it could re-intensify into a tropical cyclone, but the Joint Typhoon Warning Center does not currently expect that to occur. Meanwhile, forecasters will keep an eye on the low as it brings rainfall into the Northern Territory.

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Voyager Makes an Interstellar Discovery

The solar system is passing through an interstellar cloud that physics says should not exist. In the Dec. 24th issue of Nature, a team of scientists reveal how NASA's Voyager spacecraft have solved the mystery.
see caption"Using data from Voyager, we have discovered a strong magnetic field just outside the solar system," explains lead author Merav Opher, a NASA Heliophysics Guest Investigator from George Mason University. "This magnetic field holds the interstellar cloud together and solves the long-standing puzzle of how it can exist at all."
Right: Voyager flies through the outer bounds of the heliosphere en route to interstellar space. A strong magnetic field reported by Opher et al in the Dec. 24, 2009, issue of Nature is delineated in yellow. Image copyright 2009, The American Museum of Natural History. [larger image]
The discovery has implications for the future when the solar system will eventually bump into other, similar clouds in our arm of the Milky Way galaxy.
Astronomers call the cloud we're running into now the Local Interstellar Cloud or "Local Fluff" for short. It's about 30 light years wide and contains a wispy mixture of hydrogen and helium atoms at a temperature of 6000 C. The existential mystery of the Fluff has to do with its surroundings. About 10 million years ago, a cluster of supernovas exploded nearby, creating a giant bubble of million-degree gas. The Fluff is completely surrounded by this high-pressure supernova exhaust and should be crushed or dispersed by it.
"The observed temperature and density of the local cloud do not provide enough pressure to resist the 'crushing action' of the hot gas around it," says Opher.
So how does the Fluff survive? The Voyagers have found an answer.
"Voyager data show that the Fluff is much more strongly magnetized than anyone had previously suspected—between 4 and 5 microgauss*," says Opher. "This magnetic field can provide the extra pressure required to resist destruction."
see caption
Above: An artist's concept of the Local Interstellar Cloud, also known as the "Local Fluff." Credit: Linda Huff (American Scientist) and Priscilla Frisch (University of Chicago) [more]
NASA's two Voyager probes have been racing out of the solar system for more than 30 years. They are now beyond the orbit of Pluto and on the verge of entering interstellar space—but they are not there yet.
"The Voyagers are not actually inside the Local Fluff," says Opher. "But they are getting close and can sense what the cloud is like as they approach it."
The Fluff is held at bay just beyond the edge of the solar system by the sun's magnetic field, which is inflated by solar wind into a magnetic bubble more than 10 billion km wide. Called the "heliosphere," this bubble acts as a shield that helps protect the inner solar system from galactic cosmic rays and interstellar clouds. The two Voyagers are located in the outermost layer of the heliosphere, or "heliosheath," where the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of interstellar gas.
Voyager 1 entered the heliosheath in Dec. 2004; Voyager 2 followed almost 3 years later in Aug. 2007. These crossings were key to Opher et al's discovery.
see captionRight: The anatomy of the heliosphere. Since this illustration was made, Voyager 2 has joined Voyager 1 inside the heliosheath, a thick outer layer where the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of interstellar gas. [larger image]
The size of the heliosphere is determined by a balance of forces: Solar wind inflates the bubble from the inside while the Local Fluff compresses it from the outside. Voyager's crossings into the heliosheath revealed the approximate size of the heliosphere and, thus, how much pressure the Local Fluff exerts. A portion of that pressure is magnetic and corresponds to the ~5 microgauss Opher's team has reported in Nature.
The fact that the Fluff is strongly magnetized means that other clouds in the galactic neighborhood could be, too. Eventually, the solar system will run into some of them, and their strong magnetic fields could compress the heliosphere even more than it is compressed now. Additional compression could allow more cosmic rays to reach the inner solar system, possibly affecting terrestrial climate and the ability of astronauts to travel safely through space. On the other hand, astronauts wouldn't have to travel so far because interstellar space would be closer than ever. These events would play out on time scales of tens to hundreds of thousands of years, which is how long it takes for the solar system to move from one cloud to the next.
"There could be interesting times ahead!" says Opher.

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