Crew Swap Complete


At 11:49 p.m. EDT, Nicole Stott exchanged Soyuz seat liners with space station Flight Engineer Tim Kopra. Stott now is a member of the space station Expedition 20 crew, and Kopra is a member of Discovery’s crew. Kopra spent 44 days as a member of Expedition 20.

Space shuttle Discovery docked with the International Space Station at 8:54 p.m. EDT Saturday delivering more than seven tons of cargo and a new crew member to the International Space Station and its Expedition 20 crew.

The shuttle and station crews opened hatches at 10:33 p.m. and greeted one another beginning a week’s worth of joint operations that includes three spacewalks and transfer of 15,000 pounds of supplies and logistics to sustain the six-person crew on the station.

Astronauts Nicole Stott and Tom Kopra swapped Soyuz seat liners after hatch opening. Stott will handle flight engineer duties aboard the station until her return home aboard Atlantis following the STS-129 mission in November. Kopra is scheduled to return aboard Discovery Sept. 10 after 57 days in space.

Before docking to the station, Commander Rick Sturckow and Pilot Kevin Ford performed a few final corrective jet firings to refine the orbiter’s path for a rendezvous pitch maneuver (RPM). While Sturckow performed the RPM, Expedition 20 Commander Gennady Padalka and Flight Engineer Mike Barratt took photos from the station. Their photos will be reviewed by experts on the ground for evidence of damage to the shuttle tiles.

Hatches Open Between Shuttle and Station

The crews have opened hatches between the two spacecraft and will be conducting the traditional Welcoming Ceremony. About 30 minutes later, Discovery mission specialist Nicole Stott and station Flight Engineer Tim Kopra will exchange Soyuz seat liners and titles, as Stott becomes a station Flight Engineer and Kopra a shuttle mission specialist. NASA Television will air a Mission Status news briefing at midnight to recap today’s rendezvous and docking activities.

Discovery Arrives at International Space Station

Using space shuttle Discovery’s reaction control system jets, Commander Rick Sturckow, steered the shuttle to a soft docking with the International Space Station at 8:54 p.m. EDT. The crews will open hatches between the two spacecraft at 10:59 p.m. and conduct the traditional Welcoming Ceremony. About 30 minutes later, Discovery mission specialist Nicole Stott and station Flight Engineer Tim Kopra will exchange Soyuz seat liners and titles, as Stott becomes a station Flight Engineer and Kopra a shuttle mission specialist.

NASA Television will air a Mission Status news briefing at midnight to recap today’s rendezvous and docking activities.

Discovery Arrives at International Space Station

Space shuttle Discovery finished its chase to the International Space Station with a docking at 8:54 p.m. EDT.

Shuttle Performs Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver

At 8:03 p.m. EDT, space shuttle Discovery’s Commander Rick Sturckow began the planned Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver, guiding the shuttle through a nine-minute back flip while space station crew members Gennady Padalka and Mike Barratt snap digital pictures with 400- and 800-millimeter lenses. Taken from a distance of about 600 feet, these high-resolution images will be downlinked to Mission Control in Houston, where experts will use them to evaluate the condition of Discovery’s heat shield.

Shuttle on Final Path to Station

Space shuttle Discovery began rendezvous operations at 3:29 p.m. EDT and has performed a series of minor maneuvers to close the gap with the International Space Station.

At 6:27 p.m., eight miles away from the station, Discovery used its left orbital maneuvering system engine for an 11-second Terminal Initiation burn, placing the shuttle on the final path for docking at 9:04 p.m. About an hour before docking, while 600 feet directly under the station, Commander Rick Sturckow will guide Discovery through a nine-minute back flip to enable station crew members Gennady Padalka and Mike Barratt to photograph the shuttle heat shield.

Lift Off of Discovery

Countdown Resumes


The countdown for the launch of space shuttle Discovery's STS-128 mission is under way again. The count resumed at 8:34 a.m. EDT at the T-11 hour point with no issues being reported that could affect launch.

The Rotating Service Structure on Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A was rolled away from Discovery this morning at 6:11 a.m.

NASA's Mission Management Team plans to meet at noon to review launch preparations and determine whether teams will continue to march toward a targeted liftoff tonight at 11:59 p.m.

Weather is forecasted to be 60 percent "go" for external tank loading and 60 percent "go" for launch.

As Valve Analysis Moves On, Launch Team Resets

The mission management team opted to give engineers more time to refine their analysis of a fill-and-drain valve inside Discovery rather than push quickly into a new launch cycle, NASA pre-launch mission management team chairman Mike Moses said."We gave the team a day to go and keep working on it," he said.

The decision moved Discovery's liftoff to Friday at 11:59 p.m. EDT to begin the STS-128 mission to the International Space Station.

Engineers are comfortable that the 8-inch diameter valve will work just fine, but the extra time will be used to polish that conclusion and determine a series of possible steps in case another trouble comes up during a future countdown.

STS-128 Launch Director Pete Nickolenko said preparations are already moving ahead toward Friday night's launch, including moving the rotating service structure around Discovery so technicians can replace the Tyvek covers protecting the nose thrusters of the shuttle.

"In essence, we're ready to go," Nickolenko said.

Briefing Now Set for 4:30 p.m.

The launch postponement news conference now will be at 4:30 p.m. EDT. The participants still will be shuttle Launch Integration Manager Mike Moses and STS-128 Launch Director Pete Nickolenko. Managers also decided to reset the launch countdown and hold at the T-11 point. If approved by shuttle management, the count will resume 8:34 a.m. Friday.

Launch is targeted for 11:59 p.m. Friday. The weather forecast calls for a 60 percent chance of acceptable conditions at launch time. The main concerns are for anvil clouds and thunderstorms within 20 miles of the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, launch site for the shuttles.

Teams will begin closing the Rotating Service Structure around space shuttle Discovery at approximately 4:15 p.m. EDT in order to replace Tyvek covers on the shuttle's thrusters. The work is expected to take six to seven hours. When completed, the team again will move the RSS to the park position in preparation for Discovery's targeted launch attempt Friday at 11:59 p.m.

Briefing Upcoming About Launch Postponement

NASA TV will air a news conference about today's shuttle launch postponement at about 4 p.m. EDT. �The participants will be shuttle Launch Integration Manager Mike Moses and STS-128 Launch Director Pete Nickolenko.

NASA managers postponed Friday's 12:22 a.m. EDT launch of space shuttle Discovery to allow engineers more time to develop plans for resolving an issue with a valve in the shuttle's main propulsion system. Launch now is targeted for no earlier than 11:59 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28, from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

During loading of the shuttle's external fuel tank for Wednesday's launch attempt, a liquid hydrogen fill and drain valve located in Discovery's aft compartment failed to provide the proper indication when it was commanded to close. Engineers cycled the valve five times Wednesday evening to collect data on the valve and its associated actuator and position indicator.

NASA managers decided Thursday that more time is needed to analyze the test data and develop alternative procedures for confirming that the valve is closed if the valve fails to provide the proper closed indication during Discovery's next launch attempt.

Shuttle Managers Target Discovery's Liftoff for Friday Night

The Mission Management Team has concluded with the decision to target launch for Friday, Aug. 28 at 11:59 p.m. EDT instead of 12:22 a.m. Friday morning.

The additional time will allow teams to plan in case they see the same reading that happened with the liquid hydrogen fill and drain valve that caused Tuesday afternoon's launch scrub during tanking.

The MMT will meet again on Friday at noon.

A news conference will be held on NASA TV later this afternoon to discuss
the decision.

Shuttle managers target Discovery's liftoff for Friday, Aug. 28 at 11:59 p.m.

The Mission Management Team has concluded with the decision to target launch for Friday, Aug. 28 at 11:59 p.m. EDT instead of 12:22 a.m. Friday morning.

The additional time will allow teams to plan in case they see the same reading that happened with the liquid hydrogen fill and drain valve that caused Tuesday afternoon's launch scrub during tanking.

The MMT will meet again on Friday at noon.

A news conference will be held on NASA TV later this afternoon to discuss the decision.

Discovery's Launch Delayed 24 More Hours

It was announced at today's Mission Management Team meeting that the teams need another 24 hours to review data from yesterday's fill and drain test before pressing forward with launch of space shuttle Discovery on its STS-128 mission. Liftoff now is targeted for 11:59 p.m. EDT.

An MMT meeting is tentatively planned for tomorrow at noon with a tanking weather briefing at 2 p.m. NASA TV coverage of fueling Friday will begin at 2:15 p.m. NASA TV coverage of launch will begin at 6:30 p.m.

Mission Managers to Meet Today at Noon

The testing of the liquid hydrogen fill and drain valve in shuttle Discovery’s main propulsion system is complete. The valve and its position indicator both operated normally during yesterday’s testing. And all leak checks were within specification.

The evaluation of the low-level hydrogen leak detected in a tail service mast on the mobile launcher platform on Launch Pad 39A following Tuesday's launch scrub is complete, and no leaks were detected.

All the test data will be brought to the mission management team for review at the noon EDT meeting. Mission managers also are scheduled to meet at 2:15 p.m. to give the “Go - No Go” for tanking.

If Discovery gets the “Go”, tanking commentary on NASA TV will begin at 2:45 p.m. and fueling operations will start at approximately 3 p.m. Launch commentary will begin tonight at 7 p.m.

Discovery's seven astronauts are sleeping and will wake up for their launch day preps at 1:30 p.m.

Valve Cycle Test Complete, No Issue, Other Testing Continues

Teams at Kennedy Space Center have completed a portion of the testing of a liquid hydrogen fill and drain valve in space shuttle Discovery’s main propulsion system. The valve opened and closed when commanded five different times with no issues. This “cycle testing” of Discovery began at 6:28 p.m. EDT and finished at 6:59 p.m.

Teams are now performing a pressure test of the propulsion system, and recording the leak rate of small amounts of liquid hydrogen. Data from tonight’s tests will be brought to tomorrow’s mission management team for evaluation at the noon meeting.

NASA is targeting Discovery’s next launch attempt for no earlier than Friday, Aug. 28 at 12:22 a.m., depending on the results of the testing and a review of the data by the mission management team.

Discovery’s countdown is expected to resume at the T-11 hour point at 8:57 a.m. tomorrow.

Engineers to Test Valve This Evening

The boil off of the remaining liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen in space shuttle Discovery's external tank was completed at about 1:40 p.m. EDT today. Crews have begun inerting the tank with helium gas to flush out any remaining hydrogen gas. They expect the process to be completed at about 5:30 p.m.

Following inerting, engineers will begin evaluating and testing the liquid hydrogen fill and drain valve in the shuttle's main propulsion system by opening and closing it.

This morning's launch attempt was postponed after an indication that valve failed to perform as expected during fueling of the shuttle's external tank Tuesday afternoon.

NASA is targeting Discovery's next launch attempt for no earlier than Friday, Aug. 28 at 12:22 a.m., depending on the results of the testing. The weather forecast calls for a 70 percent chance of acceptable conditions at launch time.

Friday Morning Forecast: 70 Percent "Go"


The weather outlook for Friday morning's targeted launch of Discovery calls for a 70 percent chance of acceptable conditions at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Liftoff would be at 12:22 a.m. Meteorologists will watch the conditions carefully throughout the countdown, with the greatest expected concern being for anvil clouds and thunderstorms within 20 nautical miles of the Shuttle Landing Facility. The mission management team will evaluate analysis of a fill-and-drain valve problem before Discovery's massive external tank is loaded with propellant. The valve issue developed during Tuesday's countdown and forced a postponement of the launch of the STS-128 mission.

Launch Team Targets Aug. 28 Launch

NASA is targeting space shuttle Discovery for a launch attempt Friday morning at 12:22 a.m., mission management team Chairman Mike Moses said. Engineers will evaluate a liquid hydrogen valve that developed problems during tanking operations Tuesday evening. Detailed test data about the valve will be examined before Discovery’s fuel tank is loaded with propellant ahead of Friday morning’s launch attempt.

Post-Scrub Briefing Moves to 10 p.m.

The post-scrub news briefing has been scheduled for 10 p.m. to discuss the postponement of the launch of space shuttle Discovery on the STS-128 mission. The scrub was prompted earlier today when a problem developed with a valve in the aft compartment of Discovery.

Post-Scrub Briefing Targeted for 9:45 p.m.

The post-scrub briefing now is targeted for 9:45 p.m. EDT and will be shown on NASA TV. The participants are STS-128 Launch Director Pete Nickolenko and Launch Integration Manager and mission management team Chairman Mike Moses. Discovery's launch attempt scheduled for Wednesday morning was scrubbed after a problem developed with a valve inside Discovery's aft compartment.

Scrub Briefing Targets 9:30 start

The post-scrub briefing is targeted for 9:30 p.m. EDT on NASA TV. STS-128 Launch Director Pete Nickolenko and mission management team Chairman Mike Moses are scheduled to address the postponement of the launch of Discovery. The Wednesday morning launch attempt was scrubbed when a problem developed with a fill-and-drain valve inside the shuttle’s aft compartment.

Shuttle Managers to Discuss Valve Problem

Shuttle managers will hold a standard post-scrub meeting at 7:15p.m. EDT regarding the launch attempt of Discovery that was called off earlier today after a problem developed with a liquid hydrogen fill-and-drain valve in the aft compartment of the shuttle. A news briefing will be held after that meeting concludes and will air on NASA TV.

Regarding the valve, when launch controllers commanded it to close, they did not receive the "closed" indication. There is a concern that the valve is either open or partially open, but that needs to be evaluated for confirmation.
A new launch date and time for Discovery's STS-128 mission has not been set at this time.

Valve Problem Scrubs Launch Try

A problem with a fill-and-drain valve inside space shuttle Discovery's aft compartment has scrubbed the Wednesday morning launch attempt for STS-128. The launch team is evaluating the issue and has not set a new launch date and time at this point.

External Tank Loading in Progress

Pumps at Launch Pad 39A are filling space shuttle Discovery’s external tank with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen this afternoon as the launch team works toward a liftoff at 1:10 a.m. EDT Wednesday morning. The orange tank will be loaded with about 500,000 gallons of propellants that will power Discovery’s three main engines during the flight into orbit. The weather outlook calls for a 70 percent chance of acceptable conditions at launch time. Poor weather scrubbed Tuesday morning’s launch try. Discovery is heading to the International Space Station with a cargo module loaded with equipment, experiments and supplies for the crew of the orbiting laboratory.

Discovery Gets the "Go" for Tanking

The "Go" was given to load space shuttle Discovery’s external fuel tank. Discovery’s launch was postponed early Tuesday morning due to lingering thunderstorms in the vicinity of the launch pad.

The current weather forecast is 70 percent favorable conditions for launch. The primary concern is cumulus clouds and showers within 20 nautical miles of the shuttle landing facility at the time of launch.

Tanking commentary on NASA TV will begin at 3:30 p.m. and fueling operations will start at approximately 3:45 p.m. EDT. Launch commentary will begin tonight at 8 p.m.

Weather permitting, launch is scheduled for 1:10 a.m.

Discovery's Launch Delayed Due to Weather

Launch of space shuttle Discovery was postponed early this morning due to lingering thunderstorms in the vicinity of the launch pad. Launch has been rescheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 26 at 1:10 a.m. EDT.

The mission management team will meet at 3 p.m. today to give the “go- no go” for tanking operations. The current STS-128 launch day weather forecast is 70 percent favorable conditions for tanking and launch. The primary concern is cumulus clouds and showers within 20 nautical miles of the shuttle landing facility at the time of launch.

Launch commentary on NASA TV will begin tonight at 8 p.m.

Poor Weather Delayed Tuesday's Launch Attempt


The mission management team will meet at 3 p.m. EDT today to give the “go- no go” for fueling Discovery. Weather for tanking and launch is currently at 70 percent acceptable for a 1:10 a.m. Wednesday morning launch.

Tanking coverage of Discovery will begin at 3:30 p.m. and launch commentary at 8 p.m. on NASA TV.

Poor Weather Scrubs Tuesday Launch Try

The launch attempt for space shuttle Discovery was called off Tuesday morning because of poor weather in the area. The launch team will make another attempt Wednesday morning at 1:10 a.m. EDT.

Countdown Enters Final Built-in Hold

Launch preparations are continuing tonight for the planned liftoff of space shuttle Discovery on the STS-128 mission while meteorologists study current weather trends at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Launch is scheduled for 1:36 a.m. EDT, but the weather conditions are currently not acceptable for launch. Weather teams in Florida and at mission control in Houston are watching the situation for signs of improvement. The countdown is in its last planned hold at the T-9 minute mark. The launch, mission control, and preflight mission management teams will conduct flight readiness polls to clear the shuttle for launch before the countdown resumes. No technical issues have developed during the countdown tonight and this morning.

Hatch Closed as Weather Concerns Grow

Technicians have closed and latched the hatch on space shuttle Discovery this evening in preparation for launch at 1:36 a.m. EDT. The seven astronauts inside the shuttle can get out quickly in the unlikely event of an emergency. While those steps are taken at the pad, the weather forecast has worsened, and meteorologists now predict a 40 percent chance of acceptable conditions at launch time. The weather teams at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and Johnson Space Center will watch conditions carefully during the countdown. There is about two hours left in the countdown for the weather to improve and storms to dissipate in the area.

Astronauts Board Discovery for Launch

The crew of STS-128 is taking their assigned seats inside the shuttle tonight in preparation for launch at 1:36 a.m. EDT. A team of specialists is helping the astronauts as they climb into place. Commander Rick “C.J.” Sturckow was first inside the orbiter, taking the seat in the front of the flight deck in the left-hand seat. Three more astronauts will join him on the flight deck and the three other members of the crew will sit on the lower level of the shuttle, called the middeck.

Crew Heads to Discovery

With the countdown moving backward as planned, the seven astronauts who will fly Discovery to the International Space Station have begun the ride from their quarters at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to Launch Pad 39A. A team of technicians will help them strap into their seats and get ready for launch at 1:36 a.m. EDT.

Launch Pad Preparations Under Way

Technicians are working at different parts of Launch Pad 39A tonight as space shuttle Discovery is readied for launch. The Closeout Crew is getting the cockpit and middeck set for the seven astronauts who will fly Discovery into orbit, and the Final Inspection Team is surveying the outside of the shuttle for signs of debris or ice buildup. Launch remains on schedule for 1:36 a.m. EDT from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Tank Fueled; Countdown in Planned Hold

Discovery’s external tank has been loaded with about 500,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen during a flawless fueling process. The launch of shuttle is on schedule for 1:36 a.m. EDT Tuesday morning. Forecasters predict an 80 percent chance of acceptable conditions at launch time. Discovery is headed to the International Space Station on this mission to add new hardware and experiment racks for the inside of the orbiting laboratory complex.

Hydrogen Tanking at "Stable Replenish'

Space shuttle Discovery’s orange external tank has been loaded with the liquid hydrogen fuel it will need for launch, so the pumps have slowed to what’s called a “stable replenish” mode. More of the fuel will trickle into the tank just fast enough to replace the amount that evaporates during the countdown. The evaporating portion of the fuel is vented out of the tank and away from the launch pad via the gaseous hydrogen vent arm. That seal is tight and controllers have seen no signs of the leakage that scrubbed countdowns for the previous mission, STS-127, last month.

Tanking Proceeding with No Difficulties

Super-cold liquid propellants continue to pump into the massive orange external tank of space shuttle Discovery this evening. The fuel sensors in the tank are recording proper readings and no technical issues have developed in the countdown. The tank is being loaded with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to be used during launch by Discovery's three main engines. The weather forecast continues to call for an 80 percent chance of acceptable conditions. Liftoff remains on schedule for 1:36 a.m. EDT.

Tanking Under Way

Liquid hydrogen is being pumped into the external tank of space shuttle Discovery as it sits at launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The external tank is divided into two separate containers, one for the liquid hydrogen and one for the liquid oxygen. Launch remains on track for 1:36 a.m. EDT.

Discovery Gets "Go" for Tanking

Space shuttle Discovery's orange external tank will be loaded with about 500,000 gallons of super-cold propellants during a three-hour process that will begin at 4:11 p.m. The careful procedure will start with "chilldown" which conditions the pipes for the flow of liquid hydrogen at minus-423 degrees and liquid oxygen at minus-297 degrees. The chemicals power Discovery's three main engines during the 8 1/2-minute launch into orbit. Liftoff remains on schedule for 1:36 a.m. Tuesday, and the chance of acceptable weather conditions is 80 percent.

STS-129 Mission Information


Commander Charlie Hobaugh will lead the STS-129 mission to the International Space Station aboard space shuttle Atlantis. Barry Wilmore will serve as the pilot. Mission Specialists are Robert Satcher, Michael Foreman, Randy Bresnik and Leland Melvin. Wilmore, Satcher and Bresnik will be making their first trips to space.

The mission will return station crew member Nicole Stott to Earth. STS-129 is slated to be the final space shuttle crew rotation flight to or from the space station.

Atlantis will deliver parts to the space station, including a spare gyroscope. The mission will feature three spacewalks.

STS-129 is the 31st shuttle mission to the station.

Space Shuttle Discovery Ready for Lift off


Space shuttle Discovery is in the final stages of preparation before its flight to the International Space Station from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Fueling of Discovery's external tank with 500,000 gallons of super-cold liquid oxygen and hydrogen is scheduled to begin at 4:11 p.m. EDT, depending on weather conditions at the time.

The "topping off" of propellants into the tank will continue until Discovery's liftoff. All systems aboard the shuttle are functioning normally and no issues are being reported.

Weather continues to be 80 percent acceptable for a 1:36 a.m. Tuesday launch.

Coverage of Discovery's liftoff on the STS-128 mission begins Monday at 8:30 p.m. Follow the countdown with NASA's launch blog and live commentary broadcast on NASA TV.

L-2 Update

NASA's mission management team has given the "go" to continue the launch countdown. They determined there are no issues that would prevent an on-time launch of space shuttle Discovery's STS-128 mission to the International Space Station on Tuesday, Aug. 25 at 1:36 a.m. EDT.

NASA's Management Team Chair, Mike Moses gave an update of the maintenance and repair projects performed preparing the shuttle for launch and said the only concern at this point was the possible inclement weather just before the external tank is fueled.

"I'm really pleased to report that launch countdown activities are proceeding nominally and we working no issues," said Launch Director Pete Nickolenko.

Nickolenko reported that there are four launch attempts available within five days from Aug. 25 through Aug. 30 and he was "96 percent certain" of being able to launch in this time frame.

The forecast for launch has improved to 80 percent for favorable weather at time of liftoff according to Shuttle Weather Officer Kathy Winters. There is a possibility that storms could form within 5 miles of Launch Pad 39A just before fueling of the external tank violating constraints but the sea breezes could move them out of the area in time.

Rollback of the rotating service structure that protects the shuttle before launch is planned for 5 a.m. Monday and fueling of the external tank is scheduled to begin at 4:11 p.m.

L-4 Prelaunch Update


During today's update at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Test Director Steve Payne reported that all systems are "go" for launch. Closeouts on space shuttle Discovery are being conducted and testing of the vehicle will continue through Saturday morning.

"Our systems are in good shape, the launch countdown preps are proceeding without much event and we have no new issues to report," Payne said. "The flight crew, vehicle and the launch team are ready to go; we're excited to pick up the launch countdown."

Discovery's launch is on track for 1:36 a.m. EDT Tuesday, and the official countdown for launch begins at 11 tonight.

The STS-128 crew members are on a launch sleep schedule and went to bed at 7 a.m. They'll be awakened at 3 p.m. to start their day and review flight plans. At 9 p.m., Commander Rick Sturckow and Pilot Kevin Ford will climb into NASA's Shuttle Training Aircraft to practice approaches and landings at Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility.

Rollback of the rotating service structure that protects the shuttle before launch is planned for 5 a.m. Monday, and fueling of the external tank is scheduled to begin at 4:11 p.m.

Shuttle Launch Weather Officer Kathy Winters forecasts a 70 percent chance of favorable weather for liftoff and fueling.

Tune in to the Countdown Status Briefing aired on NASA TV on Saturday at 10 a.m. EDT.

Launch Preps Continue

Space shuttle Discovery's launch is on track for 1:36 a.m. EDT Tuesday.

Shuttle Launch Weather Officer Kathy Winters forecasts a 70 percent chance of favorable weather for liftoff and fueling of the external tank.

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the STS-128 crew members are on a launch sleep schedule and went to bed at 7 a.m. They'll be awakened at 3 p.m. to start their day and review flight plans. At 9 p.m. Commander Rick Sturckow and Pilot Kevin Ford will climb into NASA's Shuttle Training Aircraft to practice approaches and landings at Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility.

NASA Television will broadcast a countdown preview briefing with NASA Test Director Steve Payne at 10 a.m. today, which can be found at www.nasa.gov/ntv.

The official countdown for Tuesday’s launch begins at 11 tonight.

NASA And ISRO Satellites Perform In Tandem To Search For Ice On The Moon


On Aug. 20, 2009 NASA and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) will attempt a novel joint experiment that could yield more information on whether ice exists in a permanently shadowed crater near the north pole of the moon. Currently the ISRO’s Chandrayaan-1 and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft are orbiting the moon. While LRO is in its commissioning phase the two spacecraft pass close enough to each other when they are over the lunar north pole to attempt a unique experiment. Both spacecraft are equipped with a NASA Miniature Radio Frequency (RF) instrument that functions as a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), known as Mini-SAR on Chandrayaan-1 and Mini-RF on LRO. The experiment uses both radars to point at Erlanger Crater at the same time.

Normally the Mini-RF Instrument sends radio pulses to the moon and precisely records the radio echoes that bounce straight back from the surface, along with their timing and frequency. From these data scientists can build images of the moon that not only show areas they otherwise couldn’t see, such as the permanently-shadowed areas near the lunar poles, but also contain information on the physical nature of the surface.

For the Bi-Static experiment the Mini-SAR on Chandrayaan-1 performs its normal SAR imaging (transmitting and receiving) while the Mini-RF is set to receive only. The two instruments look at the same location from different angles. Comparing the signal that bounces straight back to Chandrayaan with the signal that bounces at a slight angle to LRO provides unique information about the surface.

Stewart Nozette, Mini-RF principal investigator from the Universities Space Research Association’s Lunar and Planetary Institute, said, “An extraordinary effort was made by the whole NASA team working with ISRO to make this happen”

While this coordination sounds easy, this experiment is extremely challenging because both spacecraft are traveling at about 1.6 km per second and will be looking at an area on the ground about 18 km across. Due to the extreme speeds and the small point of interest, NASA and ISRO need to obtain and share information about the location and pointing of both spacecraft. The Bi-Static experiment requires extensive tracking by ground stations of NASA’s Deep Space Network, the Applied Physics Laboratory, and ISRO.

Even with the considerable planning and coordination between the U.S. and India the two instrument beams may not overlap, or may miss the desired location. Even without hitting the exact location Scientists may still be able to use the Bi-Static information to further knowledge already received from both instruments.

“The international coordination and cooperation between the two agencies for this experiment is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate future cooperation between NASA and ISRO, “says Jason Crusan, program executive for the Mini-RF program, from NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C.

“In the last few years we have seen a renaissance in international interest and cooperation in the study of the moon” says Gordon Johnson, program executive for the LRO, from NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. “As LRO completes its commissioning phase, we look forward to LRO’s contribution to this international effort.”

LRO was launched June 18, 2009. Its objectives are to scout for safe landing sites, locate potential resources, characterize the radiation environment, and demonstrate new technology. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. built and manages the mission for NASA’S Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington. LRO is a NASA mission with international participation from the Institute for Space Research in Moscow. Russia provides the neutron detector aboard the spacecraft.

Instrument principal investigators Stewart Nozette (LRO) and Paul Spudis (Chandrayaan-1) are from the Universities Space Research Association’s Lunar and Planetary Institute. NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, manages the Mini-RF program. NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, manages the LRO.

In addition to Mini-SAR the Chandryaan-1 spacecraft, which was launched in October 2008 from India’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre, also carries NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper for assessing the moon’s mineral resources.

NASA Sets Briefing on New Space Station Science Experiments

NASA will hold a briefing at 1 p.m. EDT, Sunday, Aug. 23, to discuss new science experiments using the International Space Station's unique research environment. The briefing will originate from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and will be broadcast live on NASA Television.

Briefing participants will attempt to answer as many of the submitted questions as possible.

Space shuttle Discovery’s STS-128 mission marks the start of the transition from assembling the space station to using it for continuous scientific research as a national and multinational laboratory. Assembly and maintenance activities have dominated the astronaut work time. But as completion of the orbiting laboratory nears, additional facilities and the crew to operate them will enable an increase in time devoted to research.

The briefing participants include:
- Mark Uhran, assistant associate administrator for space station, NASA Headquarters in Washington
- Julie Robinson, International Space Station program scientist, NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston
- Jeanne Becker, chief science officer, Astrogenetix in Austin, Texas
- Martin Zell, head of the space station utilization department at the European Space Agency

NASA Research Reveals Major Insight Into Evolution of Life on Earth


Humans might not be walking on Earth today if not for the ancient fusing of two microscopic, single-celled organisms called prokaryotes, NASA-funded research has found.

By comparing proteins present in more than 3000 different prokaryotes - a type of single-celled organism without a nucleus -- molecular biologist James A. Lake from the University of California at Los Angeles' Center for Astrobiology showed that two major classes of relatively simple microbes fused together more than 2.5 billion years ago. Lake's research reveals a new pathway for the evolution of life on Earth. These insights are published in the Aug. 20 online edition of the journal Nature.

This endosymbiosis, or merging of two cells, enabled the evolution of a highly stable and successful organism with the capacity to use energy from sunlight via photosynthesis. Further evolution led to photosynthetic organisms producing oxygen as a byproduct. The resulting oxygenation of Earth's atmosphere profoundly affected the evolution of life, leading to more complex organisms that consumed oxygen, which were the ancestors of modern oxygen-breathing creatures including humans.

"Higher life would not have happened without this event," Lake said. "These are very important organisms. At the time these two early prokaryotes were evolving, there was no oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere. Humans could not live. No oxygen-breathing organisms could live."

The genetic machinery and structural organization of these two organisms merged to produce a new class of prokaryotes, called double membrane prokaryotes. As they evolved, members of this double membrane class, called cyanobacteria, became the primary oxygen-producers on the planet, generating enough oxygen to alter the chemical composition of the atmosphere and set the stage for the evolution of more complex organisms such as animals and plants.

"This work is a major advance in our understanding of how a group of organisms came to be that learned to harness the sun and then effected the greatest environmental change Earth has ever seen, in this case with beneficial results," said Carl Pilcher, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., which co-funded the study with the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Va.

Founded in 1998, the NASA Astrobiology Institute is a partnership between NASA, 14 U.S. teams and six international consortia. The institute's goals are to promote, conduct, and lead interdisciplinary astrobiology research; train a new generation of astrobiology researchers; and share the excitement of astrobiology with learners of all ages.

The institute is part of NASA's Astrobiology Program in Washington. The program supports research into the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life on Earth and the potential for life elsewhere.

NASA Researcher Nets First Measure of Africa's Coastal Forests


Impoverished fishermen along the coast of tropical African countries like Mozambique and Madagascar may have only a few more years to eke out a profit from one of their nations’ biggest agricultural exports. Within a few decades, they may no longer have a livelihood at all.

That's because swampy mangrove forests – essential breeding grounds for fish and shellfish in these countries – are being destroyed by worsening pollution, encroaching real estate development, and deforestation necessary to sustain large-scale commercial shrimp farming.

The decline of these forests threatens much of Africa’s coastal food supply and economy. The destruction of mangroves -- one of Earth’s richest natural resources – also has implications for everything from climate change to biodiversity to the quality of life on Earth.

Growing up in Cotonou, Benin, environmental scientist Lola Fatoyinbo of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) passed polluted mangroves daily. Inspired to help save the forests, she began a mission as a graduate student in the United States to gain more insight about African mangroves.

Her studies have brought her back to Africa, where she has journeyed along the coastlines to test a new satellite technique for measuring the area, height, and biomass of mangrove forests. She developed and employed a method that can be used across the continent, overcoming expensive, ad hoc, and inconsistent modes of ground-based measurement. In fact, Fatoyinbo’s approach recently produced what she believes is the first fully plotted assessment of the continent’s mangrove forests.

“We’ve lost more than 50 percent of the world’s mangrove forests in a little over half a century; a third of them have disappeared in the last 20 years alone," said Fatoyinbo, whose earlier study of Mozambique’s coastal forests laid the groundwork for the continent-wide study. "Hopefully this technique will offer scientists and officials a method of estimating change in this special type of forest.”

An Ecosystem Apart

Mangroves are the most common ecosystem in coastal areas of the tropics and sub-tropics. The swampy forests are essential -- especially in densely-populated developing countries -- for rice farming, fishing and other aquaculture (freshwater and saltwater farming), timber, and firewood. Some governments also increasingly depend on them for eco-tourism.

The large, dense root systems are a natural obstacle that helps protect shorelines against debris and erosion. Mangroves are often the first line of defense against severe storms, tempering the impact of strong winds and floods.

These coastal woodlands also have a direct link to climate, sequestering carbon from the atmosphere at a rate of about 100 pounds per acre per day – comparable to the per acre intake by tropical rainforests (though rainforests cover more of Earth’s surface).

“To my knowledge, this study is the first complete mapping of Africa’s mangroves, a comprehensive, historic baseline enabling us to truly begin monitoring the welfare of these forests,” said Assaf Anyamba, a University of Maryland-Baltimore County expert on vegetation mapping, based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Climbing the Right Tree

Fatoyinbo’s research combines multiple satellite observations of tree height and land cover, mathematical formulas, and “ground-truthing” data from the field to measure the full expanse and makeup of the coastal forests.

Her measurements yielded three new kinds of maps of mangroves: continental maps of how much land the mangroves cover; a three-dimensional map of the height of forest canopies across the continent; and biomass maps that allow researchers to assess how much carbon the forests store.

“Beyond density or geographical size of the forests, the measurements get to the heart of the structure, or type, of mangroves," explained Fatoyinbo. "It’s that trait – forest type – that drives which forests land managers target for agriculture, conservation, and habitat suitability for animals and people.”

Fatoyinbo and colleague Marc Simard of JPL used satellite images from the NASA-built Landsat and a complex software-based color classification system to distinguish areas of coastal forests from other types of forests, urban areas or agricultural fields. They also integrated data from NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) to create relief maps of the height of the forest canopy. Finally, they merged the broad radar maps with high-accuracy observations from a light detection and ranging (commonly called lidar) instrument aboard NASA’s Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) to obtain accurate height estimates.

Fatoyinbo double-checked the accuracy of her satellite measurements at the ground level in the only way possible: She went to Africa to measure tree heights and trunk diameters in person. Using a hand-held instrument called a clinometer and a simple trigonometry formula, Fatoyinbo visited Mozambique, measured the trees, and found she indeed had very accurate measurements of the forests.

Preserving the Forest for the Trees

Mangroves are hardy and adaptable forests that can thrive under extreme heat, very high salt levels, and swampy soil. Rampant clearing for agriculture and construction, soil toxicity, and long-term oil and sewage pollution, however, are increasingly threatening their survival and more than 1,300 animal species in ways that nature cannot.

“The United States’ largest mangrove forests, Florida’s Everglades, are largely protected now and recognized as an endangered natural resource,” explained Fatoyinbo. “But in many other places, resource managers lack solid monitoring capabilities to counter mangrove exploitation. Better mangrove monitoring will, I hope, mean better management and preservation.”

Free satellite data can help ease the problems of money, logistics, and political instability that can prevent mangrove preservation. For that reason, Anyamba and Fatoyinbo are working to convince the United Nations Environment Program and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to include the study’s data in their environmental assessments.

The new technique also distinguishes itself, added Anyamba, “as an excellent example of how we can use different remote sensing technologies together to address science questions and global social issues.”

Galaxies Demand a Stellar Recount


For decades, astronomers have gone about their business of studying the cosmos with the assumption that stars of certain sizes form in certain quantities. Like grocery stores selling melons alone, and blueberries in bags of dozens or more, the universe was thought to create stars in specific bundles. In other words, the proportion of small to big stars was thought to be fixed. For every star 20 or more times as massive as the sun, for example, there should be 500 stars with the sun's mass or less.

This belief, based on years of research, has been tipped on its side with new data from NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer. The ultraviolet telescope has found proof that small stars come in even bigger bundles than previously believed; for example, in some places in the cosmos, about 2,000 low-mass stars may form for each massive star. The little stars were there all along but masked by massive, brighter stars.

"What this paper is showing is that some of the standard assumptions that we've had - that the brightest stars tell you about the whole population of stars - this doesn't seem to work, at least not in a constant way," said Gerhardt R. Meurer, principal investigator on the study and a research scientist at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.

Astronomers have long known that many stars are too dim to be seen in the glare of their brighter, more massive counterparts. Though the smaller, lighter stars outnumber the big ones, they are harder to see. Going back to a grocery story analogy, the melons grab your eyes, even though the total weight of the blueberries may be more.

Beginning in the 1950s, astronomers came up with a method for counting all the stars in a region, even the ones they couldn't detect. They devised a sort of stellar budget, an equation called the "stellar initial mass function," to estimate the total number of stars in an area of the sky based on the light from only the brightest and most massive. For every large star formed, a set number of smaller ones were thought to have been created regardless of where the stars sat in the universe.

"We tried to understand properties of galaxies and their mass by looking at the light we can see," Meurer said.

But this common assumption has been leading astronomers astray, said Meurer, especially in galaxies that are intrinsically small and faint.

To understand the problem, imagine trying to estimate the population on Earth by observing light emitted at night. Looking from above toward North America or Europe, the regions where more people live light up like signposts. Los Angeles, for example, is easily visible to a scientist working on the International Space Station. However, if this method were applied to regions where people have limited electricity, populations would be starkly underestimated, for example in some sections of Africa.

The same can be said of galaxies, whose speckles of light in the dark of space can be misleading. Meurer and his team used ultraviolet images from the Galaxy Evolution Explorer and carefully filtered red-light images from telescopes at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile to show that many galaxies do not form a lot of massive stars, yet still have plenty of lower-mass counterparts. The ultraviolet images are sensitive to somewhat small stars three times or more massive than the sun, while the filtered optical images are only sensitive to the largest stars with 20 or more times the mass of the sun.

The effects are particularly important in parts of the universe where stars are spread out over a larger volume -- the rural Africa of the cosmos. There could be about four times as many stars in these regions than previously estimated.

"Especially in these galaxies that seem small and piddling, there can be a lot more mass in lower mass stars than we had previously expected from what we could see from the brightest, youngest stars," Meurer said. "But we can now reduce these errors using satellites like the Galaxy Evolution Explorer."

Chandra's Top 10 Scientific Contributions


NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory is celebrating 10 years of exploring the invisible universe. On Aug. 19, 1999, Chandra captured its first image as an astronomical observatory. This first light image opened a new era for science as Chandra began its mission to open a mysterious universe.

Chandra enables scientists from around the world to obtain unprecedented X-ray images of exotic environments to help understand the evolution of the cosmos. The observatory not only helps to probe these mysteries, but also serves as a unique tool to study detailed physics in a laboratory that cannot be replicated on Earth.

"Chandra has changed the whole understanding of dark matter and increased our knowledge of dark energy, as well as gathered new information on black holes," said Dr. Martin Weisskopf, Chandra project scientist at the Marshall Space Flight Center.

"Chandra has produced 10,000 observations in its 10-year life and the demand for observation time, by scientists, is five- to six-times what is available," said Chandra Program Manager Keith Hefner of the Marshall Center. "It continues to be an engineering marvel that has more than doubled its original five-year mission."

A Chandra "Top 10" reveals some of the most noteworthy discoveries:
  1. Chandra finds a ring around the Crab Nebula. After only two months in space, the observatory reveals a brilliant ring around the heart of the Crab Pulsar in the Crab Nebula -- the remains of a stellar explosion -- providing clues about how the nebula is energized by a pulsing neutron, or collapsed star. (Sept. 28, 1999)
  2. Chandra finds the most distant X-ray cluster. Using the Chandra Observatory, astronomers find the most distant X-ray cluster of galaxies yet. Approximately 10 billion light years from Earth, the cluster 3C294 is 40 percent farther than the next most distant X-ray galaxy cluster. (Feb. 15, 2001)
  3. Chandra makes deepest X-ray exposure. A Chandra image, Deep Field North, captures for 23 days an area of the sky one-fifth the size of the full moon. Even though the faintest sources detected produced only one X-ray photon every four days, Chandra finds more than 600 X-ray sources, most of them super massive black holes in galaxy centers. (June 19, 2003)
  4. Chandra hears a black hole. Using the Chandra observatory, astronomers for the first time detected sound waves from a super massive black hole. Coming from a black hole 250 million light years from Earth, the "note" is the deepest ever detected from an object in the universe. (Sept. 9, 2003)
  5. Chandra opens a new line of investigation on dark energy. Using galaxy-cluster images from Chandra, astronomers apply a powerful, new method for detecting and probing dark energy. The results offer intriguing clues about the nature of dark energy and the fate of the universe. (May 18, 2004)
  6. Chandra finds that Saturn reflects X-rays from the sun. The findings stem from the first observation of an X-ray flare reflected from Saturn's low-latitudes -- the region that correlates to Earth's equator and tropics. (May 25, 2005)
  7. Chandra finds proof of dark matter. In galaxy clusters, the normal matter, like the atoms that make up the stars, planets, and everything on Earth, is primarily in the form of hot gas and stars. The mass of the hot gas between the galaxies is far greater than the mass of the stars in all of the galaxies. This normal matter is bound in the cluster by the gravity of an even greater mass of dark matter. Without dark matter, which is invisible and can only be detected through its gravity, the fast-moving galaxies and the hot gas would quickly fly apart. (Aug. 21, 2006)
  8. Chandra sees brightest supernova ever. The brightest stellar explosion ever recorded may be a long-sought new type of supernova, according to observations by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and ground-based optical telescopes. This discovery indicates that violent explosions of extremely massive stars were relatively common in the early universe, and that a similar explosion may be ready to go off in our own galaxy. (May 7, 2007)
  9. Chandra finds a new way to weigh black holes. By measuring a peak in the temperature of hot gas in the center of the giant elliptical galaxy NGC 4649, scientists have determined the mass of the galaxy's super massive black hole. The method, applied for the first time, gives results that are consistent with a traditional technique. (July 16, 2008)
  10. Long observation from Chandra identified the source of this energy for blobs. The X-ray data show that a significant source of power within these colossal structures is from growing super massive black holes partially obscured by dense layers of dust and gas. The fireworks of star formation in galaxies are also seen to play an important role, thanks to Spitzer Space Telescope and ground-based observations. (June 24, 2009)
The Marshall Center manages the Chandra program for the Science and Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, Washington. Northrop Grumman of Redondo Beach, Calif., formerly TRW Inc., was the prime development contractor for the observatory. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls science and flight operations from the Chandra X-ray Center in Cambridge, Mass.

Aristarchus


Vallis Schröteri, the largest rille on the Moon, originates on the Aristarchus Plateau and is comprised of three key morphologic features (below): the Cobra Head, the primary rille (155 km long), and the inner rille (204 km long). Rilles are believed to have formed as large volumes of very fluid magma erupted and flowed rapidly from the vent. Scientists are not certain how rilles are formed - that's one of many questions that future human lunar explorers will answer. Experts currently think that molten lava may carve a channel into the lunar surface (erosional model), or levees may form at the margins of the flow confining it (constructional model). Some lunar sinuous rilles may have started as collapsed lava tubes and were later modified to their final form. Lunar sinuous rilles do form by volcanic eruptions, but the details of how they get their "river-like" shape are also a mystery. The LROC NAC frame (above) shows a section of the inner rille about halfway down its length where it is about 600 m wide and the primary rille about 4300 m. LROC will provide high resolution stereo images of many lunar rilles to help scientists discriminate between the competing models of formation. The geologic complexity of Aristarchus Plateau and its rich, easily accessible deposits of potential resources make it an exciting landing site for future human exploration missions.

NASA Announces Shuttle Prelaunch Events and Countdown Details

News conferences, events and operating hours for the news center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center are set for the upcoming launch of space shuttle Discovery. The shuttle's STS-128 mission to the International Space Station is scheduled to lift off at 1:36 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, Aug. 25.

On launch day, a blog will update the countdown beginning on Monday, Aug. 24, at 8:30 p.m. 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 spacewalks live. As Discovery's flight wraps up, NASA will offer a blog detailing the spacecraft's return to Earth.

The NASA News Twitter feed will be updated throughout the shuttle launch countdown, mission and landing.

STS-128 Crew Prepares for Launch


Space shuttle Discovery’s seven astronauts flew to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for final prelaunch preparations Wednesday evening.

In the crew quarters of Kennedy's Operations and Checkout Building they will review flight data and check out their launch-and-entry suits today.

Countdown to the launch of the STS-128 mission to the International Space Station begins at 11 p.m. EDT Friday. Liftoff of Discovery is set for 1:36 a.m. Aug. 25.

Crew Arrives, Discovery Set for Aug. 25 Launch

The STS-128 crew arrived Wednesday evening at Kennedy Space Center for their final prelaunch preparation. Pausing for a brief moment to talk with media, Commander Sturckow said, “It’s great to be here for the launch. We’ve been studying and training hard, and we’re ready to go accomplish this mission.”

Earlier in the day, the Flight Readiness Review for space shuttle Discovery's STS-128 mission concluded, setting the launch date for Tuesday, Aug. 25 at 1:36 a.m. EDT.

"I can't say enough about the quality of the review we had over the past day and a half," said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Space Operations, during a post-FRR news conference Wednesday morning. "It was a very effective review; I think we're ready to go fly. It's a real tribute to be here with the team that's done a great job with engineering, the (Kennedy) team that's gotten us this far in processing."

"I think the largest hurdles are behind us," said STS-128 Launch Director Pete Nickolenko. "The teams are in great shape to make this launch attempt on the 25th."

NASA's WISE Mission Arrives at Launch Site


NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, has arrived at its last stop on Earth -- Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

WISE is scheduled to blast into space in December, aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket from NASA's Space Launch Complex 2. Orbiting around Earth, it will scan the entire sky at infrared wavelengths, unveiling hundreds of thousands of asteroids, and hundreds of millions of stars and galaxies.

The spacecraft arrived at Vandenberg along the central California coast today, after a winding journey via truck from Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation in Boulder, Colo. Ball built the mission's spacecraft; its telescope and science instrument were built by Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah.

"WISE has arrived and is almost ready to go," said William Irace, the mission's project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "After we check the spacecraft out and fill the telescope cooling tanks with solid hydrogen, we'll mate it to the rocket and launch."

WISE is an infrared space telescope like two currently orbiting missions, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the Herschel Space Observatory, a European Space Agency mission with important NASA participation. But, unlike these missions, WISE will survey the entire sky. It is designed to cast a wide net to catch all sorts of unseen cosmic treasures. Millions of images from the survey will serve as rough maps for other observatories, such as Spitzer and NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, guiding them to intriguing targets.

"WISE will survey the cosmic landscape in the infrared so that future telescopes can home in on the most interesting 'properties,'" said Edward Wright, the principal investigator for the mission at UCLA.

The infrared surveyor will pick up the heat from a cornucopia of objects, both near and far. It will find hundreds of thousands of new asteroids in our main asteroid belt, and hundreds of near-Earth objects, which are comets and asteroids with orbits that pass relatively close to Earth. The mission will uncover the coldest stars, called brown dwarfs, perhaps even one closer to us than our closest known neighbor, Proxima Centauri, which is 4 light-years away. More distant finds will include nurseries of stars, swirling planet-building disks and the universe's most luminous galaxies billions of light-years away.

The data will help answer fundamental questions about how solar systems and galaxies form, and will provide the astronomical community with mountains of data to mine.

"WISE will create a legacy that endures for decades," said Peter Eisenhardt, the mission's project scientist at JPL. "Today, we still refer to the catalogue of our predecessor, the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, which operated in 1983."

The Infrared Astronomical Satellite was a joint infrared survey mission between NASA, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. WISE's survey, thanks to next-generation technology, will be hundreds of times more sensitive.

The mission will scan the sky from a sun-synchronous orbit, 500 kilometers (about 311 miles) above Earth. After a one-month checkout period, it will map the whole sky over a period of six months. Onboard frozen hydrogen, which will cool the infrared detectors, is expected to last several months longer, allowing WISE to map much of the sky a second time and see what has changed.

JPL manages the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The mission's principal investigator, Edward Wright, is at UCLA. The mission was competitively selected under NASA's Explorers Program managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory, Logan, Utah, and the spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing will take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

NASA’s Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida is responsible for government oversight of the Delta II and launch countdown management.

NASA Ares I First Stage Motor to be Tested August 27



NASA and ATK unveil the completed Ares I first stage five-segment solid rocket booster today in Promontory, Utah. The completed solid rocket booster is now installed horizontally in a test stand that was modified from the space shuttle's four-segment configuration to fit the new five-segment Ares I booster. Instrumentation will be installed over the next month in preparation for the first major ground test of the NASA Constellation program August 27.

NASA's Ares I launch vehicle will launch the future explorers in the Orion spacecraft to the International Space Station, the moon and beyond. The upcoming test will provide valuable thrust, roll-control, acoustics and vibration data as engineers continue to design the Ares I rocket.

"Generating 3.6 million pounds of maximum thrust at liftoff, Ares I first stage provides the backbone of NASA's next-generation rocket," said Alex Priskos, first stage manager for the Ares Projects Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "The planned two-minute test will be an awesome display of smoke and fire, a live testament reflecting the dedication, hard work and achievement of the people on this project. The entire Ares team is looking forward to the first development motor firing next month."

The Ares I first stage has been under development since 2005. Based on the design of the space shuttle's four-segment booster, the first stage differs from its predecessor in a few ways. These include the addition of a fifth segment, changes to the propellant grain, a larger nozzle opening and upgraded insulation and liner.

The propellant and cases remain the same as those used for more than three decades on the Space Shuttle Program. In fact, the cases used in this Ares I first stage ground test have collectively flown on 48 previous shuttle missions, including STS-1, the very first flight.

"Because we are using shuttle boosters in the design of the Ares I first stage, we are able to leverage decades of ground tests and shuttle flight processes," said Mike Kahn, executive vice president, ATK Space Systems. "Our streamlined processes, quality and infrastructure, combined with the knowledge and lessons learned that have been transferred to the Ares I first stage program, go a long way to ensure mission success for the human spaceflight program."

ATK is the prime contractor for the first stage five-segment solid rocket booster.

Flight Readiness Review Continues Today

The Flight Readiness Review, or FRR, for space shuttle Discovery’s STS-128 mission resumed at 7:30 a.m. EDT this morning at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

Yesterday afternoon, the meeting ended following a discussion about the foam insulation loss issue related to space shuttle Discovery’s external fuel tank. Managers heard all different viewpoints and decided the external tank was able to fly "as is" without additional testing.

Managers are expected to set a launch date at the end of today's meeting. If a "go" is given for the targeted Aug. 25, 1:36 a.m. launch, Discovery’s seven astronauts will arrive at Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility at about 7:30 tonight in T-38 aircraft.

Currently, we’re expecting the post FRR news conference on NASA TV to start no earlier than 11 a.m.

Agency Officials Discuss Discovery Launch

NASA's senior managers are meeting today at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a lengthy but standard overview of the upcoming launch of space shuttle Discovery. The meeting is known as the Flight Readiness Review, or FRR, and it will set an official launch date for the STS-128 mission to the International Space Station. A briefing will be broadcast no earlier than 3 p.m. EDT on NASA TV at the end of the FRR.

Meanwhile, the seven Discovery astronauts are scheduled to fly to Kennedy tomorrow for final prelaunch preparations.

The STS-128 mission currently is targeted to liftoff Aug. 24 at 1:58 a.m. EDT.

NASA Managers Set to Meet


NASA officials will conduct a Flight Readiness Review on Aug.18 to discuss the preparations for space shuttle Discovery's STS-128 mission to the International Space Station.

Foam loss during the last two shuttle launches from one particular ice-frost ramp, or IFR, high up on the liquid oxygen tank has led to a detailed examination to determine if it is acceptable to launch Discovery without further work.

On Friday, shuttle managers approved 18 additional plug pull tests on the orbiter side of the external fuel tank to ensure there are no issues with its intertank region. The IFRs protect brackets along the external tank from development of ice when super-cold liquid oxygen and hydrogen are loaded prior to launch.

Meanwhile, the STS-128 crew is heading into quarantine today to prepare for the upcoming mission.

Launch currently is targeted for 1:58 a.m. EDT on Monday, Aug. 24.

The Formation of Stars


Cepheus B, a molecular cloud located in our Milky Galaxy about 2,400 light years from the Earth, provides an excellent model to determine how stars are formed. This composite image of Cepheus B combines data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Spitzer Space Telescope.

A molecular cloud is a region containing cool interstellar gas and dust left over from the formation of the galaxy and mostly contains molecular hydrogen. The Spitzer data, in red, green and blue shows the molecular cloud (in the bottom part of the image) plus young stars in and around Cepheus B, and the Chandra data in violet shows the young stars in the field.

The Chandra observations allowed the astronomers to pick out young stars within and near Cepheus B, identified by their strong X-ray emission. The Spitzer data showed whether the young stars have a so-called "protoplanetary" disk around them. Such disks only exist in very young systems where planets are still forming, so their presence is an indication of the age of a star system.

The new study suggests that star formation in Cepheus B is mainly triggered by radiation from one bright, massive star (HD 217086) outside the molecular cloud. According to the particular model of triggered star formation that was tested -- called the radiation- driven implosion (RDI) model -- radiation from this massive star drives a compression wave into the cloud triggering star formation in the interior, while evaporating the cloud's outer layers.

Model of Lunar Lander


This 1963 model depicts an early Apollo lunar lander concept, called a "bug." Engineers designed several possible vehicle shapes for both manned and unmanned landers. In 1961, Bruce Lundin, former director of NASA's Lewis Research Center (now Glenn), chaired a NASA study group that assessed a variety of ways to accomplish a lunar landing mission.

Final Integrated Launch Sim Today

The space shuttle simulator will get a workout today as the crew of Discovery performs its final integrated launch simulation at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The center, which is the training base for astronauts and the home of mission control, has mock shuttle flight decks that are correct to the last detail. With a lot of help from computers, the astronauts sitting in the simulator “fly” the cockpit arrangement through the launch profile as mission controllers practice their own routines for liftoff. Discovery is targeted to launch for real Aug 24 on a mission to the International Space Station.

NASA Targets Aug. 24 for STS-128 Launch

The Space Shuttle Program is targeting Discovery's STS-128 launch for Aug. 24 at 1:58 a.m., though the official launch date will not be set until the agency-level Flight Readiness Review is conducted Aug. 18. In the meantime, teams will continue to analyze foam loss from the external tanks on the STS-125 and STS-127 missions.

Seven astronauts who will fly to the International Space Station aboard space shuttle Discovery began subtle changes in their daily routine to adjust their body clocks for the mission's schedule. The process is called sleep-shifting and it basically gets the crew members accustomed to being awake when they wouldn't normally be.

Crew Begins Sleep Shifting as Launch Preps Move Ahead

Seven astronauts who will fly to the International Space Station aboard space shuttle Discovery began subtle changes in their daily routine to adjust their body clocks for the mission’s schedule. The process is called sleep-shifting and it basically gets the crew members accustomed to being awake when they wouldn’t normally be. Discovery is targeted to launch on Aug. 25 at 1:36 a.m.

Workers are also performing their own tasks at NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39A to ready Discovery for its flight. While those careful preparations continue, teams will analyze foam loss from the external tanks on the STS-125 and STS-127 missions. Also, with the program-level Flight Readiness Review completed, officials are getting ready for the higher-level FRR Aug. 18.

Flight Readiness Review Meeting Concludes

The Space Shuttle Program concluded its two-day Flight Readiness Review meeting this afternoon for shuttle Discovery’s STS-128 mission. Shuttle Program Manager John Shannon told the teams to continue moving toward the agency-level FRR, which currently is scheduled for Aug. 18. An official launch date would be selected at that meeting, although Discovery currently is targeted to launch Aug. 25. Over the next few days, teams will continue to analyze foam loss from the external fuel tanks on the STS-125 and 127 missions. The shuttle program will make decisions regarding further work and analysis of Discovery’s external tank and the tank for Atlantis’ STS-129 mission.

Program FRR to Conclude Today


Space Shuttle Program managers are expected today to wrap-up the second day of their Flight Readiness Review for Discovery's STS-128 mission. Like yesterday, the session will include discussions and evaluation of engineering-related topics for the upcoming flight. An executive-level FRR is scheduled for Aug. 18 to set Discovery's official launch date. Liftoff is targeted for Aug. 25.

Flight Readiness Review to Continue Wednesday

The Space Shuttle Program’s Flight Readiness Review conducted discussions and analyzed data relating to Discovery’s STS-128 mission during the first day of the session and will continue the evaluation on Wednesday. The meeting in Houston is a preliminary analysis of the shuttle’s condition heading into launch. An executive-level FRR is scheduled for Aug. 18. Discovery is at Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and is being prepared for a launch targeted for Aug. 25.

Preliminary Review Under Way

Space Shuttle Program managers are meeting in Houston today for the first of two days of the Flight Readiness Review for Discovery’s STS-128 mission. The meeting leads to an executive-level review Aug. 18 to set the launch date for the mission. Both sessions cover potential issues in close detail and give managers and engineers an opportunity to carefully evaluate the shuttle’s preparation for its launch and mission. In the case of Discovery, the analysis will include recent data from testing on the external tank’s foam insulation. The areas under consideration are brackets related to the ice frost ramps on the outside of the upper part of the tank. The STS-128 mission is targeted for launch on Aug. 25 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Managers to Gather Tuesday for Review

The Space Shuttle Program will begin its Flight Readiness Review on Tuesday, a standard session to evaluate launch preparations for the STS-128 mission. An executive-level FRR will set the official launch date for Discovery’s flight to the International Space Station. Liftoff is targeted for Aug. 25.

Meteorite Found On Mars Yields Clues About Planet's Past


NASA's Mars Rover Opportunity is investigating a metallic meteorite the size of a large watermelon that is providing researchers more details about the Red Planet's environmental history.

The rock, dubbed "Block Island," is larger than any other known meteorite on Mars. Scientists calculate it is too massive to have hit the ground without disintegrating unless Mars had a much thicker atmosphere than it has now when the rock fell. Atmosphere slows the descent of meteorites. Additional studies also may provide clues about how weathering has affected the rock since it fell.

Two weeks ago, Opportunity had driven approximately 600 feet past the rock in a Mars region called Meridiani Planum. An image the rover had taken a few days earlier and stored was then transmitted back to Earth. The image showed the rock is approximately 2 feet in length, half that in height, and has a bluish tint that distinguishes it from other rocks in the area. The rover team decided to have Opportunity backtrack for a closer look, eventually touching Block Island with its robotic arm.

"There's no question that it is an iron-nickel meteorite," said Ralf Gellert of the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. Gellert is the lead scientist for the rover's alpha particle X-ray spectrometer, an instrument on the arm used for identifying key elements in an object. "We already investigated several spots that showed elemental variations on the surface. This might tell us if and how the metal was altered since it landed on Mars."

The microscopic imager on the arm revealed a distinctive triangular pattern in Block Island's surface texture, matching a pattern common in iron-nickel meteorites found on Earth.

"Normally this pattern is exposed when the meteorite is cut, polished and etched with acid," said Tim McCoy, a rover team member from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. "Sometimes it shows up on the surface of meteorites that have been eroded by windblown sand in deserts, and that appears to be what we see with Block Island."

Opportunity found a smaller iron-nickel meteorite, called "Heat Shield Rock," in late 2004. At about a half ton or more, Block Island is roughly 10 times as massive as Heat Shield Rock and several times too big to have landed intact without more braking than today's Martian atmosphere could provide.

"Consideration of existing model results indicates a meteorite this size requires a thicker atmosphere," said rover team member Matt Golombek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Either Mars has hidden reserves of carbon-dioxide ice that can supply large amounts of carbon-dioxide gas into the atmosphere during warm periods of more recent climate cycles, or Block Island fell billions of years ago."

Spectrometer observations have already identified variations in the composition of Block Island at different points on the rock's surface. The differences could result from interaction of the rock with the Martian environment, where the metal becomes more rusted from weathering with longer exposures to water vapor or liquid.

"We have lots of iron-nickel meteorites on Earth. We're using this meteorite as a way to study Mars," said Albert Yen, a rover team member at JPL. "Before we drive away from Block Island, we intend to examine more targets on this rock where the images show variations in color and texture. We're looking to see how extensively the rock surface has been altered, which helps us understand the history of the Martian climate since it fell."

When the investigation of Block Island concludes, the team plans to resume driving Opportunity on a route from Victoria Crater, which the rover explored for two years, toward the much larger Endeavour Crater. Opportunity has covered about one-fifth of the 12-mile route plotted for safe travel to Endeavour since the rover left Victoria nearly a year ago.

Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit, landed on Mars in January 2004 for missions originally planned to last for three months. Both rovers show signs of aging but are still very able to continue to explore and study Mars.

NASA'S JPL manages the Mars Exploration Rovers Opportunity and Spirit for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Research for the Upcoming


The U.S. Air Force's F-16D Automatic Collision Avoidance Technology (ACAT) aircraft takes off from Edwards Air Force Base on a flight originating from NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center. Dryden and the Air Force Research Laboratory are act as a team to develop collision avoidance technologies that would condense the risk of ground and mid-air collisions.

Practice Countdown Under Way

Practice Countdown Under Way
The seven astronauts who will board Discovery in a few weeks to ride into space are rehearsing launch day today at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. They will run through all the steps including strapping into Discovery’s cockpit and middeck, and radio checks. The practice, known as the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, will conclude just before the engines would ignite during a real countdown. Once the work is complete, the crew will return to Houston this afternoon.

Practice Countdown Highlights Friday Schedule

Friday will feel like launch day for the seven astronauts of Discovery’s STS-128 mission. Almost. The crew will suit up in their orange launch-and-entry ensembles and climb into the Astrovan at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. They’ll get taken out to Launch Pad 39A and technicians will help them into their seats. The countdown clock will roll backward and the astronauts will run through their launch-day protocols of radio checks and liftoff procedures. Then, it’ll all be over. The clock will stop and the crew will practice a few skills they hope to never need: emergency evacuation. Called the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, it’s a routine exercise for shuttle crews. It also caps the astronaut’s visit to Kennedy that began Wednesday. As for Discovery, the “Leonardo” supply module full of supplies and equipment for the International Space Station was being loaded into its payload bay Thursday. With launch targeted for Aug. 25, technicians at Kennedy will spend the next couple of weeks prepping the craft for its real liftoff.

Launch Pad instruction Day for the Astronauts


Discovery’s seven astronauts will spend much of the day at NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A reacquainting themselves with the pad’s myriad systems and emergency procedures. The crew, preparing to fly the STS-128 mission, also spoke with news media representatives in the morning before visiting the launch pad. Later today, Commander Rick Sturckow and Pilot Kevin Ford again will take the controls of the Shuttle Training Aircraft to practice landing the space shuttle. Friday’s schedule includes an all-up practice countdown that will involve the crew and their support team, the launch team at Kennedy and the Mission Control ascent team based at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Crew Due Today for Practice Countdown

The astronauts who will fly Discovery to the International Space Station will fly to NASA's Kennedy Space Center today for several days of training that includes a complete launch rehearsal. Commander Rick "C.J." Sturckow, Pilot Kevin Ford and Mission Specialists Pat Forrester, Jose Hernandez, Danny Olivas, Christer Fuglesang and Nicole Stott are due at Kennedy later this morning in T-38 training jets. Soon after arriving, they are to train in the M113 emergency evacuation vehicles. Later, Sturckow and Ford will fly simulated shuttle landings in the Shuttle Training Aircraft. Discovery is being prepped at Launch Pad 39A for its part during Friday's countdown rehearsal, when the astronauts will be strapped in while they and the launch teams at Kennedy and Mission Control practice the complex choreography of liftoff.

Space shuttle Discovery Reaches The Launch Pad


Space shuttle Discovery reached Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday afternoon following a slow drive on the top of the crawler-transporter from the Vehicle Assembly Building. The move took longer than expected because of weather conditions, including lightning. The crawler also had to pause occasionally so mud could be removed from its treads and bearings. Technicians will quickly ready the shuttle to host the crew’s countdown dress rehearsal known as the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, or TCDT. Discovery’s seven astronauts plan to fly to Kennedy on Wednesday for the training activity which concludes later in the week with a complete practice countdown, minus liftoff, involving the crew and the launch team.