Atlantis' Payload is Delivered; Astronauts Return to Kennedy

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the cargo for space shuttle Atlantis' mission to the International Space Station was moved to Launch Pad 39A overnight and will be installed into the shuttle's payload bay.

Technicians will finish testing Atlantis' waste collection system, or toilet, this weekend and ground teams are getting ready for the final part of launch dress rehearsal known as the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, or TCDT.

Today, the STS-129 mission's six astronauts are involved in their final bench review of flight hardware at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and they will conduct contingency abort simulation training in the motion base simulator.

The crew will fly to Kennedy Monday afternoon for the completion of TCDT. During their two-days at Kennedy they will participate in a simulated launch countdown where they practice liftoff procedures inside the shuttle. Before returning to Johnson on Tuesday, crew members will practice emergency pad evacuation.

On Oct. 29, NASA managers announced the official launch date and time of Nov. 16 at 2:28 p.m. EST for Atlantis' flight to the space station. The only deviation to this date would be if the planned Nov. 14 launch of an Atlas V rocket from nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is delayed. Since the Atlas team has reserved the Eastern Range for Nov. 14 and 15, this means the shuttle's liftoff will move to no earlier than 2:02 p.m. on Nov. 17.

Atlantis Launch Officially Set

Space shuttle Atlantis, its crew and payload have been given the green light to launch to the International Space Station on Nov. 16 at 2:28 p.m. EST.

At the post-FRR press briefing held at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Space Operations congratulated the Ares I-X launch team for a successful flight test. He then talked about the extremely thorough review of vast amounts of data that led to announcing that Atlantis is certified to launch.

"We accomplished what we wanted to to get ready to move to the next activity … with just a little bit of open work left to do," said Gerstenmaier.

Mike Moses, space shuttle launch integration manager thanked the teams across the country for their hard work getting Atlantis into good shape for the launch. He highlighted the Kennedy teams, complimenting them for working on preparations for both the Atlantis and Ares I-X launches at the same time.

"I'm really pleased -- this is going to be a challenging 11-day mission with three EVAs; the cargo resupply to the station is going to set them up for the future," said Moses.

Mike Leinbach, space shuttle launch director said Atlantis' payload for the STS-129 mission will be transported to Launch Pad 39A by Friday morning. The pad's rotating service structure, or RSS, which protects the shuttle against inclement weather and also provides access to the vehicle's payload bay, is being rolled away. This will allow techs to lift Atlantis' payload up to the pad for installation into the shuttle's cargo bay.

"It's a standard path flow for us and we have little bit of contingency hidden in the flow, so no problems there, said Leinbach. "We should be able to get to our T-0 on the 16th with no issues at all."

The Nov. 16 target date will depend on the planned Nov. 14 launch of an Atlas V rocket from nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The Atlas has reserved the Eastern Range on Nov. 14 and 15. But if the Atlas launch is delayed to Nov. 15, the shuttle's liftoff will move to no earlier than 2:02 p.m. on Nov. 17.

NASA Managers Give Atlantis "Go" for Launch

NASA managers have concluded today's Flight Readiness Review, or FRR, meeting at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and have set Nov. 16 at 2:28 p.m. EST as the official launch date for space shuttle Atlantis' STS-129 mission to the International Space Station.

A post-FRR news conference will be broadcast on NASA TV which is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. EDT.

Glenn and STS-95 Go to Space

STS-95 crew
The seven crew members in training for the STS-95 mission aboard Discovery pose for photographers prior to participating in a training session at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Pictured, from the left, are Pedro Duque, Curtis Brown, Chiaki Nauto-Mukai, then-U.S. Sen. John H. Glenn Jr. (D.-Ohio), Stephen Robinson, Steven Lindsey and Scott Parazynski.

Sen. Glenn, who served as a payload specialist for the mission, launched with the Discovery crew on Oct. 29, 1998. On Feb. 20, 1962, Glenn piloted the Mercury-Atlas 6 Friendship 7 spacecraft on America's first manned orbital mission.

All for One

The International Space Station's Expedition 1 crew took a break from training in the systems integration facility at the Johnson Space Center to pose for a crew photo in this picture from May 2000. From the left are cosmonaut and flight engineer Sergei Krikalev, mission commander William Shepherd and cosmonaut Yuri Gidzenko, Soyuz commander. Behind them is the full fuselage trainer, one of the full-scale mockups used to prepare the crew for certain phases and contingencies of their shuttle return flight.

Expedition 1 lifted off to become the first crew to live aboard the station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Oct. 31, 2000.

New Celestial Map Gives Directions for GPS

Artist's concept of a quasar in a galaxy
Many of us have been rescued from unfamiliar territory by directions from a Global Positioning System (GPS) navigator. GPS satellites send signals to a receiver in your GPS navigator, which calculates your position based on the location of the satellites and your distance from them. The distance is determined by how long it took the signals from various satellites to reach your receiver.

The system works well, and millions rely on it every day, but what tells the GPS satellites where they are in the first place?

"For GPS to work, the orbital position, or ephemeris, of the satellites has to be known very precisely," said Dr. Chopo Ma of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "In order to know where the satellites are, you have to know the orientation of the Earth very precisely."

This is not as obvious as simply looking at the Earth – space is not conveniently marked with lines to determine our planet's position. Even worse, "everything is always moving," says Ma. Earth wobbles as it rotates due to the gravitational pull (tides) from the moon and the sun. Even apparently minor things like shifts in air and ocean currents and motions in Earth's molten core all influence our planet's orientation.

Just as you can use landmarks to find your place in a strange city, astronomers use landmarks in space to position the Earth. Stars seem the obvious candidate, and they were used throughout history to navigate on Earth. "However, for the extremely precise measurements needed for things like GPS, stars won't work, because they are moving too," says Ma.

What is needed are objects so remote that their motion is not detectable. Only a couple classes of objects fit the bill, because they also need to be bright enough to be seen over incredible distances. Things like quasars, which are typically brighter than a billion suns, can be used. Many scientists believe these objects are powered by giant black holes feeding on nearby gas. Gas trapped in the black hole's powerful gravity is compressed and heated to millions of degrees, giving off intense light and/or radio energy.

Most quasars lurk in the outer reaches of the cosmos, over a billion light years away, and are therefore distant enough to appear stationary to us. For comparison, a light year, the distance light travels in a year, is almost six trillion miles. Our entire galaxy, consisting of hundreds of billions of stars, is about 100,000 light years across.

A collection of remote quasars, whose positions in the sky are precisely known, forms a map of celestial landmarks in which to orient the Earth. The first such map, called the International Celestial Reference Frame (ICRF), was completed in 1995. It was made over four years using painstaking analysis of observations on the positions of about 600 objects.

Ma led a three-year effort to update and improve the precision of the ICRF map by scientists affiliated with the International Very Long Baseline Interferometry Service for Geodesy and Astrometry (IVS) and the International Astronomical Union (IAU). Called ICRF2, it uses observations of approximately 3,000 quasars. It was officially recognized as the fundamental reference system for astronomy by the IAU in August, 2009.

Making such a map is not easy. Despite the brilliance of quasars, their extreme distance makes them too faint to be located accurately with a conventional telescope that uses optical light (the light that we can see). Instead, a special network of radio telescopes is used, called a Very Long Baseline Interferometer (VLBI).

The larger the telescope, the better its ability to see fine detail, called spatial resolution. A VLBI network coordinates its observations to get the resolving power of a telescope as large as the network. VLBI networks have spanned continents and even entire hemispheres of the globe, giving the resolving power of a telescope thousands of miles in diameter. For ICRF2, the analysis of the VLBI observations reduced uncertainties in position to angles as small as 40 microarcseconds, about the thickness of a 0.7 millimeter mechanical pencil lead in Los Angeles when viewed from Washington. This minimum uncertainty is about five times better than the ICRF, according to Ma.

These networks are arranged on a yearly basis as individual radio telescope stations commit time to make coordinated observations. Managing all these coordinated observations is a major effort by the IVS, according to Ma.

Additionally, the exquisite precision of VLBI networks makes them sensitive to many kinds of disturbances, called noise. Differences in atmospheric pressure and humidity caused by weather systems, flexing of the Earth's crust due to tides, and shifting of antenna locations from plate tectonics and earthquakes all affect VLBI measurements. "A significant challenge was modeling all these disturbances in computers to take them into account and reduce the noise, or uncertainty, in our position observations," said Ma.

Another major source of noise is related to changes in the structure of the quasars themselves, which can be seen because of the extraordinary resolution of the VLBI networks, according to Ma.

The ICRF maps are not only useful for navigation on Earth; they also help us find our way in space -- the ICRF grid and some of the objects themselves are used to assist spacecraft navigation for interplanetary missions, according to Ma.

Despite its usefulness for things like GPS, the primary application for the ICRF maps is astronomy. Researchers use the ICRF maps as driving directions for telescopes. Objects are referenced with coordinates derived from the ICRF so that astronomers know where to find them in the sky.

Also, the optical light visible to our eyes is only a small part of the electromagnetic radiation produced by celestial objects, which ranges from less-energetic, low-frequency radiation, like radio and microwaves, through optical light to highly energetic, high-frequency radiation like X-rays and gamma-rays.

Astronomers use special detectors to make images of objects producing radiation our eyes can't see. Even so, since things in space can have extremely different temperatures, objects that generate radiation in one frequency band, say optical, do not necessarily produce radiation in another, perhaps radio. The main scientific use of the ICRF maps is a precise grid for combining observations of objects taken using different frequencies and accurately locating them relative to each other in the sky.

Astronomers also use the frame as a backdrop to record the motion of celestial objects closer to us. Tracing how stars and other objects move provides clues to their origin and evolution.

The next update to the ICRF may be done in space. The European Space Agency plans to launch a satellite called Gaia in 2012 that will observe about a half-million quasars. Gaia uses an optical telescope, but because it is above the atmosphere, the satellite will be able to clearly see these faint objects and precisely locate them in the sky. The mission will use quasars that are optically bright, many of which are too dim in radio to be useful for the VLBI networks. The project expects to have enough observations by 2018 to 2020 to produce the next-generation ICRF.

ICRF2 involved researchers from Australia, Austria, China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Ukraine, and the United States; and was funded by organizations from these countries, including NASA. The analysis efforts are coordinated by the IVS. The IAU officially adopts the ICRF maps and recommends their occasional updates.

Exoplanet House of Horrors

HD 209458’s boiling atmosphere is being ripped from the planet as it orbits its star

Astronomers may be closer than ever to discovering a planet that’s habitable like our own, but along the way they’ve discovered some very scary exoplanets – places where conditions are far too harsh for life as we know it to exist.

We’ve rounded up some of the most frightening, deadly exoplanets, places that make even the scariest haunted house on Earth pale in comparison.

Radiation Bath, Anyone?

The exoplanets PSR B1257+12 b, c and d were among the first discovered, and also happen to be three of the weirdest. The entire system is a graveyard, remnants of what used to be a normal, functional solar system before the star blew apart in a giant explosion known as a supernova.

The massive shockwave from the supernova stripped away any atmosphere or living creatures that might have once lived on these planets, leaving behind ghostly, rocky shells, dead planets orbiting the corpse of an extinct star.

Except that PSR B1257+12 isn’t all dead - the remaining core from the old star has become a zombie star called a pulsar. Literally spinning in its grave, PSR B1257+12 makes a full rotation every 6.22 milliseconds and emits an intense beam of radiation that can be detected from Earth. The star’s unfortunate planets are thus bathed in deadly radiation on a regular basis, making sure that this system remains a cosmic no-man’s land.

A Mighty Wind

The sound of howling wind is a must for any Earth-based haunted house, but weather conditions on HD 189733 b make it a very dangerous place to go trick-or-treating.

At first glance, HD 189733 b looks like the typical “hot Jupiter” – a huge gas planet perched dangerously close to a burning-hot star, with daytime temperatures around a balmy 1,770 degrees Fahrenheit. HD 189733 b is “tidally locked” in its orbit, meaning that the same side of the planet always faces its star.

But when scientists measured the planet’s nighttime temperature, they were shocked to find that it was only 500 degrees cooler. How does the back side of the planet stay so warm?

The answer is wind: insanely fast, dangerous wind that whisks heat from day-side to night-side at a speed of 4,500 mph, nearly six times the speed of sound. In fact, astronomers estimate that wind speeds might top out at 22,000 mph, conditions that make hurricanes on Earth look like a breezy day at the beach.

Needless to say, kite-flying on HD 189733 b is not recommended – unless you’re flying one from the cockpit of a fighter jet.

Boil, Boil, Toil and Trouble

The planet HD 209458 b has a few things in common with Earth: water vapor, methane, and carbon dioxide in its atmosphere, key ingredients for life on our planet. Don’t be fooled, though, because this planet is a roiling cauldron of almost unimaginable heat.

Even the hottest summer days on Earth don’t get as dangerous as the conditions on HD 209458 b, a planet that orbits so close to its host star that its atmosphere is literally boiling off, ripped away from the planet as it whips around on its breakneck 3.5-day orbit. The gas that escapes from HD 209458 b forms a tail about 124,000 miles (200,000 km) long.

Scientists have found many planets like HD 209458 b – huge gas giants that orbit hazardously close to their stars and have hellishly hot, poisonous atmospheres. Sometimes, planets like these can be in danger of being swallowed whole by their host stars, as may be the case for the doomed world WASP-18b.

As far as planets go, WASP-18b is on death’s doorstep. There’s a good chance that it will be torn apart completely within the next million years, when it finally spirals too close to its star. Scientists will know within 10 years whether or not WASP-18b is on a funeral march towards its untimely demise.

All Alone and Very, Very Cold

While most of the exoplanets found so far are hellishly hot, OGLE-2005-BLG-390L b has the distinction of being the coldest exoplanet yet discovered.

The planet takes about 10 Earth years to orbit its tiny dwarf star, and it’s a chilly trip; the average temperature on OGLE-2005-BLG-390L b is 50 Kelvin, or minus 370 degrees Fahrenheit. A good costume for trick-or-treating on this frigid planet would be a toasty self-heating spacesuit, an oxygen supply, ice skates and plenty of hot cocoa.

Of course, don’t expect to find many houses with candy here, because despite the fact that it’s just a few times bigger than Earth, OGLE-2005-BLG-390L b is an uninhabitable ice ball stuck in a perpetual winter freeze. Even the coldest Halloween night in Antarctica is a balmy paradise compared to this frosty world.

Fermi Telescope Caps First Year With Glimpse of Space-Time

During its first year of operations, NASA's Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope mapped the extreme sky with unprecedented resolution and sensitivity.

It captured more than 1,000 discrete sources of gamma rays -- the highest-energy form of light. Capping these achievements was a measurement that provided rare experimental evidence about the very structure of space and time, unified as space-time in Einstein's theories.

"Physicists would like to replace Einstein's vision of gravity -- as expressed in his relativity theories -- with something that handles all fundamental forces," said Peter Michelson, principal investigator of Fermi's Large Area Telescope, or LAT, at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. "There are many ideas, but few ways to test them."

Many approaches to new theories of gravity picture space-time as having a shifting, frothy structure at physical scales trillions of times smaller than an electron. Some models predict that the foamy aspect of space-time will cause higher-energy gamma rays to move slightly more slowly than photons at lower energy.

Such a model would violate Einstein's edict that all electromagnetic radiation -- radio waves, infrared, visible light, X-rays and gamma rays -- travels through a vacuum at the same speed.

On May 10, 2009, Fermi and other satellites detected a so-called short gamma ray burst, designated GRB 090510. Astronomers think this type of explosion happens when neutron stars collide. Ground-based studies show the event took place in a galaxy 7.3 billion light-years away. Of the many gamma ray photons Fermi's LAT detected from the 2.1-second burst, two possessed energies differing by a million times. Yet after traveling some seven billion years, the pair arrived just nine-tenths of a second apart.

"This measurement eliminates any approach to a new theory of gravity that predicts a strong energy dependent change in the speed of light," Michelson said. "To one part in 100 million billion, these two photons traveled at the same speed. Einstein still rules."

Fermi's secondary instrument, the Gamma ray Burst Monitor, has observed low-energy gamma rays from more than 250 bursts. The LAT observed 12 of these bursts at higher energy, revealing three record setting blasts.

GRB 090510 displayed the fastest observed motions, with ejected matter moving at 99.99995 percent of light speed. The highest energy gamma ray yet seen from a burst -- 33.4 billion electron volts or about 13 billion times the energy of visible light -- came from September's GRB 090902B. Last year's GRB 080916C produced the greatest total energy, equivalent to 9,000 typical supernovae.

Scanning the entire sky every three hours, the LAT is giving Fermi scientists an increasingly detailed look at the extreme universe. "We've discovered more than a thousand persistent gamma ray sources -- five times the number previously known," said project scientist Julie McEnery at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "And we've associated nearly half of them with objects known at other wavelengths."

Blazars -- distant galaxies whose massive black holes emit fast-moving jets of matter toward us -- are by far the most prevalent source, now numbering more than 500. In our own galaxy, gamma ray sources include 46 pulsars and two binary systems where a neutron star rapidly orbits a hot, young star.

"The Fermi team did a great job commissioning the spacecraft and starting its science observations," said Jon Morse, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "And now Fermi is more than fulfilling its unique scientific promise for making novel, high-impact discoveries about the extreme universe and the fabric of space-time."‪

NASA's Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope is an astrophysics and particle physics partnership, developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, along with important contributions from academic institutions and partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden and the United States.

NASA Managers at Kennedy for FRR

Mission Specialist Robert L. Satcher Jr
Managers are gathered at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida today for the agency's Flight Readiness Review meeting for space shuttle Atlantis’ STS-129 mission to the International Space Station.

The group will thoroughly discuss how preparations are going for Atlantis' 11-day mission and they are expected to set an official launch date. Currently, Atlantis is targeted to liftoff at 2:28 p.m. EST Nov. 16.

Following the meeting, there will be a news conference broadcast on NASA TV no earlier than 6 p.m. EDT.

At Kennedy's Launch Pad 39A, technicians are continuing to prepare Atlantis for flight and for the mission payload that is expected to be transported to the pad tomorrow. The rotating service structure, which acts as weather protection and provides access to a shuttle, is scheduled to be opened today. This will allow techs to upload Atlantis' space station payload to the pad for installation into its cargo bay.

At NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, the six STS-129 astronauts are in the center's fixed based simulator today conducting an orbital simulation run.

Teamwork Brings About Successful Ares I-X Launch

Ares 1-X flight test
Outstanding teamwork was the theme of the Ares I-X postlaunch news conference as the successful flight test was discussed.

"I can't say enough about this team," said Doug Cooke, associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "They've been together probably a little over three years now, and they went from a concept to flying this vehicle in that period of time, which is the first time this has been done by a human spaceflight team in a long time."

Referring to the weather, which was the only issue of the day, Constellation Program Manager Jeff Hanley said, "We were ready when Mother Nature was ready, and we took our opportunity and what a great outcome. We're very proud of the result."

"It was a spectacular day," said Bob Ess, Ares I-X mission manager. "The vehicle flew even better than we expected."

"It is just a fantastic day," said Launch Director Ed Mango. "The team really excelled. I can't say enough about the folks who worked together to go make this thing happen. It was a great team, and as you can tell, it was a great vehicle."

NASA's Ares I-X test rocket lifted off at 11:30 a.m. EDT Wednesday from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a two-minute powered flight. The flight test lasted about six minutes from its launch from the newly modified Launch Pad 39B until splashdown of the rocket's booster stage nearly 150 miles downrange.

Ares I-X Lifts Off

Ares I-X launches
Mission managers watch as NASA's Ares I-X rocket launches from Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009. The flight test will provide NASA with an early opportunity to test and prove flight characteristics, hardware, facilities and ground operations associated with the Ares I.

DC-8 Returns to Punta Arenas

NASA's DC-8 after its return to Punta Arenas, Chile
NASA’s DC-8 returns to Punta Arenas, Chile, after an eleven-hour flight on Oct. 21, 2009, to study sea ice in the Bellingshausen and Amundsen seas.

Transantarctic Mountain Range

Transantarctic Mountain Range
NASA’s DC-8, on its way to the nearest point to the South Pole during the mission, flew over the Transantarctic Mountain Range on Oct. 25, 2009. Credit: Rose Dominguez/UC Santa Cruz

Antarctic Airborne Science Mission Nears Mid-Point

Sea ice in the Bellingshausen Se3a in West Antarctica
With seven science flights over Antarctica completed in the first 13 days of Operation Ice Bridge's first southern campaign in NASA's DC-8 flying laboratory, the mission is on track to complete its planned flights by mid-November.

The mission has 17 planned flights over different parts of the continent, focusing on the ice sheet, glaciers, and sea ice in West Antarctica. Which flight target is flown on a given day is largely determined by difficult-to-forecast Antarctic weather conditions. Several of the instruments onboard cannot gather data through clouds. Twice so far, however, flights have been scrubbed at the last minute due to snow at the airport in southernmost Chile.

Mission planners use a mix of weather forecasting tools and satellite observations to make their daily decisions about when and where to fly. In addition, updates from meteorologists at the airport provide critical information. "The Antarctic weather is a terrible problem for us," says Ice Bridge project scientist Seelye Martin of the University of Washington, Seattle. "We could not operate without the support we receive from the Chilean meteorologists here."

As of the landing of the Oct. 27 flight, completed targets included: three flights over glaciers, two over sea ice, one over the Getz ice shelf, and one to study the topography of the ice sheet on the mission's closest approach to the South Pole.

The Getz Ice Shelf was the target of the first flight on Oct. 16. Thwaites Glacier was the focus of the flight on Oct. 18, with Pine Island Glacier the target of a high-altitude flight on Oct. 20 and a low-altitude flight on Oct. 27.

"Pine Island Glacier is a major focus for our mission," says Martin. "We have four flights planned for this glacier. One of our hopes with these flights is to understand the detailed topography under the floating ice tongue. That topography controls the rate of melting there."

The mission's first sea ice flight on Oct. 21 over the Bellingshausen and Amundsen seas was a "pioneering flight," according to Martin. "We don't know what the thickness of the sea ice is here. These will be the first direct measurements of sea ice in this area. This area is important because it is the only Antarctic sector where the sea ice is actually retreating."

Martin was excited about the prospect that the combined data from two different instruments would give scientists a new way to make more accurate measurements of sea ice thickness. Thickness of sea ice is estimated from measurements of the depth of the snow and ice visible above the sea surface. But scientists have not been able to distinguish accurately how much of this material above the sea is snow and how much is ice. An accurate measurement of the two is needed to improve their calculation of overall ice thickness.

"With this flight we did something that has not been done successfully before," says Martin. "We flew a snow radar from the University of Kansas that is designed to measure the snow depth on sea ice and the laser Airborne Topographic Mapper from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility to measure the sea surface and the height of the combined snow/ice layer above the sea. If everything worked as planned, this will give us the first combined measurement of the 'layer cake' and the snow layer to an accuracy of about 2 inches."

The second sea ice flight on Oct. 24 flew over the Weddell Sea for low-altitude flights some 1500 feet above the sea under sporadically cloudy conditions.

The farthest flight of the mission took place on Oct. 25. The target was a portion of the circle of latitude at 86 degrees south. This area has been intensely mapped by NASA's ICESat satellite because the spacecraft's orbit only goes as far south as this latitude. By remapping the ICESat data points with another laser-based topographic instrument -- the Land, Vegetation, and Ice Sensor (LVIS) -- scientists hope to improve the accuracy of the ICESat data record and prepare to extend these critical ice surface change observations into the future.

Atlantis Preps Still on Hold for Ares I-X Launch

STS-129 crew
At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Launch Pad 39A was reopened briefly following the Ares I-X launch scrub yesterday. Late last night, the pad and space shuttle Atlantis were secured again and cleared for today's Ares I-X launch opportunity.

The pad again will be reopened after launch, paving the way for technicians to continue their final check of systems in the aft, or back, section of Atlantis and to confirm that the waste collection system works.

The six STS-129 crew members will spend the day reviewing a variety of systems procedures and brushing up on photo and TV techniques at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Tomorrow, NASA managers are traveling to Kennedy for the STS-129 mission's Flight Readiness Review meeting. After a thorough review, an official launch date is expected to be announced.

A post-meeting briefing will be broadcast on NASA TV and can be found at

Space shuttle Atlantis' launch currently is targeted for 2:28 p.m. EST Nov. 16.

Station Crew Works with Experiments, Transfers Cargo

ISS021-E-010363 -- Commander Frank De Winne
The Expedition 21 crew of the International Space Station conducted science experimentation Tuesday and completed transferring cargo to and from the soon-departing unpiloted Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV).

Flight Engineer Robert Thirsk worked with the Binary Colloidal Alloy Test (BCAT-5) experiment that provides data on the performance of colloids. Colloids are a broad class of consumer and engineered products including paint, plastics, food, cosmetics and medicines that change state over time. The data provided may lead to improvement in materials fabrication processes.

Thirsk also spent time working with an experiment that documents changes in the maximum oxygen uptake for crew members aboard the station. The information helps maintain crew health during long-duration space exploration. The data also provides valuable insight into the aerobic capacity of teams in closed environments on Earth, such as arctic bases and submarines.

Commander Frank De Winne conducted an amateur radio session, speaking with students at the Copernicus Science Centre in Warsaw, Poland.

Flight Engineers Roman Romanenko, Jeff Williams and Nicole Stott removed final items and secured trash in the HTV that will be unberthed from the station on Friday. After it is unberthed, the HTV will then re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere for destruction over the Pacific Ocean.

A problem with the Urine Processing Assembly (UPA) has put it out of commission for the time being. Blockage is suspected between the Distillation Assembly and the Fluid Control Pump Assembly. The crew is scheduled to perform maintenance on the UPA Friday, giving engineers on the ground more time to develop troubleshooting procedures.

Mirinae Intensifying While Moving Away from the Northern Marianas

Mirinae now has the developed signature shape of a mature tropical cyclone
Typhoon Mirinae is moving west and away from the Northern Marianas Islands on a track to a landfall in the Philippines by the weekend. As Mirinae has moved west, NASA's infrared and microwave satellite imagery have seen high, strong thunderstorm development, and a developing eye.

Typhoon Mirinae's maximum sustained winds are now up to 98 mph (157 km/hr), and its center is approximately 930 nautical miles (that's 1,070 miles or 1,722 kilometers) east of Manila, Philippines. The coordinates of its center are 16.2 North latitude and 136.9 East longitude. Mirinae is moving west at 17 mph.

Tropical storm-force winds extend out to 100 miles from Mirinae's center, while typhoon/hurricane-force winds extend 20 miles out from its center. Mirinae is stirring up waves up to 22 feet high.

Mirinae is intensifying in part because of "strong radial outflow and warm sea surface temperatures," according to forecasters at the U.S. Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC). JTWC is the organization that forecasts storms in the Western Pacific Ocean. Radial outflow is important in a tropical cyclone development because it spreads ice particles outward from the center of the storm, spreading clouds and precipitation. Basically it helps the storm grow larger.

The Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite captured a microwave and infrared image of Mirinae on October 28 at 12:35 a.m. local Asia/Manila Time.

The infrared imagery revealed that the cloud tops of Mirinae are close to the top of the troposphere. That means they are strong thunderstorms, where temperatures are colder than -63 Fahrenheit.

AIRS data is also coupled with data from the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit (AMSU) that flies with AIRS on Aqua to create microwave images of storms. The AMSU image uses the radiances of the 89 GHz channel, and the cold areas in those images indicate where there is precipitation or ice in the cloud tops.

Mirinae has intensified steadily and will continue to do so until landfall in the Philippines on Saturday. Landfall in Luzon between the cities of Soliven and San Jose is still expected to occur around 0600 UTC (2 a.m. EDT, 2 p.m. Asia/Manila local time) on Halloween.

Crew & Researchers in Front of the DC-8

Crew and researchers gathered in front of the DC-8
Crew and researchers gathered in front of the DC-8 before an early morning flight on Oct. 24, to measure sea ice in the Weddell Sea. The mission was the fifth flight of Operation Ice Bridge since the Antarctic campaign began.

Robot Armada Might Scale New Worlds

Artist concept of orbiter and robots

An armada of robots may one day fly above the mountain tops of Saturn's moon Titan, cross its vast dunes and sail in its liquid lakes.

Wolfgang Fink, visiting associate in physics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena says we are on the brink of a great paradigm shift in planetary exploration, and the next round of robotic explorers will be nothing like what we see today.

"The way we explore tomorrow will be unlike any cup of tea we've ever tasted," said Fink, who was recently appointed as the Edward and Maria Keonjian Distinguished Professor in Microelectronics at the University of Arizona, Tucson. "We are departing from traditional approaches of a single robotic spacecraft with no redundancy that is Earth-commanded to one that allows for having multiple, expendable low-cost robots that can command themselves or other robots at various locations at the same time."

Fink and his team members at Caltech, the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Arizona are developing autonomous software and have built a robotic test bed that can mimic a field geologist or astronaut, capable of working independently and as part of a larger team. This software will allow a robot to think on its own, identify problems and possible hazards, determine areas of interest and prioritize targets for a close-up look.

The way things work now, engineers command a rover or spacecraft to carry out certain tasks and then wait for them to be executed. They have little or no flexibility in changing their game plan as events unfold; for example, to image a landslide or cryovolcanic eruption as it happens, or investigate a methane outgassing event.

"In the future, multiple robots will be in the driver's seat," Fink said. These robots would share information in almost real time. This type of exploration may one day be used on a mission to Titan, Mars and other planetary bodies. Current proposals for Titan would use an orbiter, an air balloon and rovers or lake landers.

In this mission scenario, an orbiter would circle Titan with a global view of the moon, with an air balloon or airship floating overhead to provide a birds-eye view of mountain ranges, lakes and canyons. On the ground, a rover or lake lander would explore the moon's nooks and crannies. The orbiter would "speak" directly to the air balloon and command it to fly over a certain region for a closer look. This aerial balloon would be in contact with several small rovers on the ground and command them to move to areas identified from overhead.

"This type of exploration is referred to as tier-scalable reconnaissance," said Fink. "It's sort of like commanding a small army of robots operating in space, in the air and on the ground simultaneously."

A rover might report that it's seeing smooth rocks in the local vicinity, while the airship or orbiter could confirm that indeed the rover is in a dry riverbed - unlike current missions, which focus only on a global view from far above but can't provide information on a local scale to tell the rover that indeed it is sitting in the middle of dry riverbed.

A current example of this type of exploration can best be seen at Mars with the communications relay between the rovers and orbiting spacecraft like the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. However, that information is just relayed and not shared amongst the spacecraft or used to directly control them.

"We are basically heading toward making robots that command other robots," said Fink, who is director of Caltech's Visual and Autonomous Exploration Systems Research Laboratory, where this work has taken place.

"One day an entire fleet of robots will be autonomously commanded at once. This armada of robots will be our eyes, ears, arms and legs in space, in the air, and on the ground, capable of responding to their environment without us, to explore and embrace the unknown," he added.

Papers describing this new exploration are published in the journal "Computer Methods and Programs in Biomedicine" and in the Proceedings of the SPIE.

NASA Awards Space Radiobiology Research Grants

NASA is funding 12 proposals from nine states to investigate questions about the effects of space radiation on human explorers. The selected proposals from researchers in Alabama, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Washington have a total value of approximately $13.7 million.

The ground-based studies will address the impact of space radiation on astronaut health. Research areas will include risk predictions for cancer and models for potential damage to the central nervous system and the heart.

"The proposals funded this year using systems biology and state-of-the-art cell and molecular biology approaches will lead to improved understanding and identification of approaches to mitigate the risks to astronauts living in space," said Francis A. Cucinotta, chief scientist for the Human Research Program Space Radiation Program Element at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The Human Research Program provides knowledge and technologies to improve human health during space exploration and identifies possible countermeasures for known problems. The program quantifies crew health and performance risks during spaceflight and develops strategies that mission planners and system developers can use to monitor and mitigate health risks.

The 12 projects were selected from proposals that were reviewed by scientific and technical experts from academia and government laboratories.

Still Holding Ares I Rocket

Ares I-X flight test vehicle on the launch pad
The launch team is extending the hold due to weather going "red" because of continuing concerns over upper-level clouds. A new T-0 time will be 11:08 a.m., with the clock starting again at 11:04 a.m.

New Target Launch Time

The launch team has decided to focus in on the best period of predicted weather, and now target a liftoff at 11 a.m. EDT. Weather Officer Kathy Winters' evaluation of the trends, based on weather reconnaissance flights, indicate the troublesome upper-level clouds should clear enough to go "green" during that time, with only a 20 percent chance of violations. That would start the countdown clock at 10:56 a.m.

Atlantis Preps on Hold for Ares Launch

Atlantis and Ares on their launch pads
At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, space shuttle Atlantis was secured last night at Launch Pad 39A in anticipation of the launch of the Constellation Program's Ares I-X flight test. The flight test is lifting off from Launch Pad 39B -- only about a mile north of the shuttle launch pad.

After the Ares I-X launch, technicians will be allowed to return to pad A to continue making final system checks in the aft, or back, section of Atlantis. The waste collection system also will be tested later today.

Meanwhile, STS-129 Commander Charles O. Hobaugh and Pilot Barry E. Wilmore are completing their payload-related tasks at Kennedy, and will fly their T-38 jets to Edwards Air Force Base in California for additional mission training.

The agency's Flight Readiness Review, or FRR, for Atlantis' flight to the International Space Station is set for Oct. 29 at Kennedy. NASA managers will announce an official launch date at a post-meeting briefing, which will be broadcast on NASA TV.

Space shuttle Atlantis' launch currently is targeted for 2:28 p.m. EST Nov. 16.

Visiting Vehicle Operations Keep Station Crew Busy

Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle
A Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) will be unberthed from the International Space Station on Friday then re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere for destruction over the Pacific Ocean. On Monday, the crew reviewed robotics operations and prepared Russian cargo for stowage inside the HTV. Flight Engineers Robert Thirsk and Nicole Stott will be at the robotics work station to grapple, unberth and release the HTV.

Space shuttle Atlantis is planned for a docking at the orbital laboratory in mid-November on the STS-129 mission. Prior to docking, the shuttle performs a back-flip allowing the station crew members to photograph its heat shield for analysis by ground specialists. Stott and Flight Engineer Jeff Williams practiced their photography techniques using cameras with 400 and 800 mm lenses. Stott also restarted scrubbing the metal oxide canisters that remove carbon dioxide from the U.S. spacesuits in advance of the three spacewalks taking place during STS-129’s stay.

Cosmonauts Roman Romanenko and Maxim Suraev were in the Russian segment of the station transferring hardware, performing routine maintenance and working with science experiments.

Commander Frank De Winne, Williams and Thirsk worked on the new COLBERT exercise system performing tests. De Winne also held a weekly conference with European Space Agency officials and helped with the preparation of the HTV unberthing.

JPL's 'Green' Space Flight Building Debuts with Ribbon-Cutting

Charles Elachi and other dignitaries cut the ribbon for JPL's Flight Projects Center
NASA's "greenest" building to date -- an environmentally friendly Flight Projects Center at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. -- is now open for business, following a ribbon-cutting ceremony today attended by lawmakers and local dignitaries.

The building houses missions during their design and development phases. It will enable engineers and scientists from various countries to collaborate more closely during these critical mission phases.

"It seems fitting that the new building, where teams will plan future space missions that use new technologies, also has the latest 'green' technologies to help JPL do its part to improve our environment here on Earth," said JPL Director Charles Elachi, who helped cut the ribbon at today's ceremony.

Also attending today's ceremony were U.S. Rep. David Drier; La Canada-Flintridge Mayor Laura Olhasso; staff representing U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff; and Caltech President Jean-Lou Chameau.

The building has received the "LEED Gold Certification" under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system, set up by the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council. It is the first NASA building to achieve that certification. To qualify, buildings must meet several criteria. For example, they must make efficient use of water, energy and resources, and provide a healthy and comfortable indoor workspace.

The many "green" features of the new building include:
  • A living roof to keep the building cool in summer months and warm in the winter. Desert plants on the roof and other landscaping require 72 percent less water than a typical Southern California landscape design.
  • Outdoor lighting is used for safety purposes only and is directed toward the ground, reducing the amount of light pollution that escapes to the night sky.
  • Low-flow faucets and toilets reduce water use by 40 percent compared with typical fixtures.
  • Improved wall insulation, efficient chillers and boilers and window shading devices.
  • The paints and other surface materials have low levels of toxic fumes.
  • The heating and cooling system is "smart" -- it knows whether people are in a room and adjusts the temperature and ventilation accordingly.
  • The janitorial staff uses green cleaning products and practices.
More than 75 percent of the waste generated during construction of the new building was diverted from a landfill to a local recycling facility. Wood was acquired from Forest Stewardship Council-certified suppliers, ensuring sustainable harvesting of trees.

By Last Light

Ares I-X rocket on Launch Pad 39B at sunset
Sunset at Launch Pad 39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida finds the Ares I-X rocket awaiting the approaching liftoff of its flight test.

This is the first time since the Apollo Program's Saturn rockets were retired that a vehicle other than the space shuttle has occupied the pad.

Ares I-X at the Launch Pad

Ares I-X at the Launch Pad
NASA's Ares I-X rocket is seen on Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Monday, Oct. 26, 2009. The flight test of Ares I-X, scheduled for today, Oct. 27, 2009, will provide NASA with an early opportunity to test and prove flight characteristics, hardware, facilities and ground operations associated with the Ares I.

NASA's Fermi Telescope Celebrates First Year of Gamma-Ray Science

NASA will hold a news teleconference at 2 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, Oct. 28, to discuss the first-year science results from the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. This event replaces the originally scheduled Oct. 29 media conference at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Fermi studies gamma rays, the highest-energy form of light. Findings discussed will include measurements relevant to the search for new theories of gravity.

The panelists are:
- Jon Morse, director, Astrophysics Division, NASA Headquarters
- Julie McEnery, Fermi project scientist, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
- Peter Michelson, Fermi Large Area Telescope principal investigator, Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.
- Robert Kirshner, professor of astronomy, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass.
- Mario Livio, astrophysicist, Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore

New Target Time: 11:24 a.m. EDT

The launch team is now planning to come out of the current T-4 minute hold at 11:20 a.m. EDT, aiming for a liftoff at 11:24 a.m. The vehicle and its system are all still "go." The main issue remains the weather, and Weather Officer Kathy Winters continues to update the team on conditions at and near the launch pad.

Tattooed Mars

Dust Devil Trails on Mars
This high-resolution picture from the HiRISE camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows twisting dark trails criss-crossing light-colored terrain on the Martian surface. Newly formed trails like these had presented researchers with a tantalizing mystery but are now known to be the work of miniature wind vortices known to occur on the red planet, in other words Martian dust devils. Such spinning columns of rising air heated by the warm surface are also common in dry and desert areas on planet Earth. Typically lasting only a few minutes, dust devils become visible as they pick up loose red-colored dust leaving the darker and heavier sand beneath intact. Ironically, dust devils have been credited with unexpectedly cleaning the solar panels of the Mars rovers.

Atlantis Gets Final Checks; Commander and Pilot at Kennedy

Mission Specialist Mike Foreman in NBL
At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians at Launch Pad 39A will begin final system checks in the aft, or back, section of space shuttle Atlantis today.

Also, a retest of Atlantis' main propulsion pressure valve system, or engine piping, will take place today. This "closeout" work will be in progress all week.

Meanwhile, the STS-129 astronauts will be practicing for the mission's third spacewalk in the massive swimming pool, called the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, near NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

This afternoon, STS-129 Commander Charlie Hobaugh and Pilot Barry Wilmore will fly their T-38 jets to Kennedy for training associated with the mission's space station payload.

NASA Selects Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Mission Lithium-Ion Battery Contractor

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., has selected ABSL Space Products in Longmont, Colo. to provide the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Lithium-Ion Battery. The total value of this fixed price contract is $6,200,034 including options.

The contractor shall provide the design, development, fabrication, testing and delivery of the GPM Lithium-Ion Battery assembly. The contract has an option for additional spare flight batteries. The period of performance of this contract is 18 months and the work will be performed at the Contractor’s facility.

The GPM mission is a joint mission between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The GPM observatory is scheduled to launch in 2013 from Tanegashima Space Center, Japan, by a JAXA H-IIA expendable launch vehicle.

Icebergs in Pine Island Bay

Break away ice adrift in Pine Island Bay
After breaking away from Pine Island Glacier, ice is set adrift in Pine Island Bay. The icebergs were visible from the DC-8 during the Operation Ice Bridge science flight on Oct. 20, 2009, to map the glacier.

Two at the Pad

The Ares I-X flight test vehicle and space shuttle Atlantis sit on adjoining launch pads
At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, processing of the Ares I-X rocket nears completion on Launch Pad 39B, in the foreground, as space shuttle Atlantis, seen in the distance on Launch Pad 39A, awaits liftoff on mission STS-129 to the International Space Station.

Weather Remains the Question for Ares I-X Launch Tomorrow

During this morning's Ares I-X status briefing, the launch team reported that the vehicle is ready to go, even if the weather may not be. Weather Officer Kathy Winters reported that there remains a 60 percent "no-go" tomorrow, but an improving 40 percent "no-go" during Wednesday's window.

Launch preparations continue on schedule, heading toward an 8 a.m. EDT liftoff tomorrow. Overnight at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39B, technicians installed the flight door on the fifth segment simulator. This morning, the sound suppression water system tank at the pad was filled with 300,000 gallons of water.

Launch preparations also are under way a few miles from the pad in the Launch Control Center's Young-Crippen Firing Room. In addition, at NASA's Hangar AE on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the Mission Director’s Center, the Launch Vehicle Data Center and the telemetry lab are being configured for launch.

The launch team's "call to stations" will come at 12:30 a.m. tomorrow, with the seven-hour countdown beginning at 1 a.m.

Astronauts to Fly Amelia Earhart Watch, Scarf

jsc2009e224715 -- Shannon Walker and Joan Kerwin
Along with the obvious thrill of launching into space, astronaut Shannon Walker's flight to the space station next year will hold a sentimental and historical significance. Flying alongside Walker will be the watch of Amelia Earhart, the legendary aviator who was the first woman to fly as a passenger across the Atlantic Ocean. Earhart later became the first woman to pilot a plane across that same ocean in a solo flight.

Earhart was one of the first female pilots best known for her two trans Atlantic flights. She was also a charter member and the first president of The Ninety-Nines, an international organization of licensed women pilots from 35 countries that has more than 5,500 members worldwide. While there are other female pilot organizations in various states and countries, nearly all women of achievement in aviation are past or current members of The Ninety-Nines. Walker is among those women.

Earhart wore the watch during her two trans Atlantic flights, “one as a passenger and one as a solo flight,” said Joan Kerwin, director of The Ninety-Nines and member for 39 years.

When asked how she feels about the watch flying into space, Kerwin described it as “kind of scary in a way and Amelia is such an icon with women in aviation and now with women in space. We are thrilled that Shannon is a Ninety-Nine and will be taking Amelia into space with her.”

Kerwin presented the watch to Walker at Ellington Field in Houston on Oct. 22.

H. Gordon Selfridge, Jr. gave Earhart a watch in one of his shops in America. In return, she gave him the watch she wore on her two trans Atlantic flights.

“Shortly after Amelia disappeared the watch was given (by H. Gordon Selfridge, Jr.) to Fay Gillis Wells, a charter member of The Ninety-Nines, and she kept it in her Washington, D.C., apartment until she founded the Forest of Friendship to honor other individuals in aviation. She needed funds for the Forest of Friendship in Amelia’s hometown of Atchison, Kan., so the watch was auctioned off,” said Kerwin, who bought the watch at the auction.

“She is a fascinating lady,” Walker said in regard to Earhart.

A licensed pilot since 1995, Walker learned to fly in a Cessna 150. Her grandmother served as an air traffic controller at William P. Hobby airport in Houston and had a private pilot’s license. Walker’s mother was also a pilot.

“One thing I really like about flying is that it is an activity that my mother and I can do together,” Walker said. “There is something quite special about getting into a plane with my mother and going somewhere.”

Walker said “it was something that I had wanted to do for a long time,” regarding her inspiration to become a pilot.

At age 30 Walker flew her first solo flight which was “the required short flight as part of pilot training.” Earhart was 24 years old when she flew her first solo flight in 1921.

Recognizing the significance of Earhart’s watch going into space with her, Walker says she is “very excited and honored to fly the watch” and hopes “that by flying the watch people will become interested in the continuing story of women in aviation, and perhaps draw some new pilots to the field.”

Walker shares some words of inspiration for women in aviation: “If you work hard, the things to which you aspire can happen. Flying gives me a tremendous sense of freedom and I hope that anyone who wishes to learn has the opportunity to do so.”

Along with the watch, another personal belonging of Earhart’s will soon fly into space. Astronaut Randy Bresnik, grandson of Earhart’s only authorized photographer, will take a scarf of Amelia’s with him aboard space shuttle Atlantis as part of STS-129, scheduled to launch in November 2009.

Once the watch comes back to Earth from being in orbit with Walker next year it will be put on display in The Ninety-Nines Museum of Women Pilots in Oklahoma City.

NASA App Now Available from App Store

The NASA App for the iPhone and iPod touch is now available free of charge on the Apple App Store. The NASA App delivers a wealth of NASA's mission information, videos, images and news updates to people's fingertips.

"Making NASA more accessible to the public is a high priority for the agency," said Gale Allen, director of Strategic Integration and Management for NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington. "Tools like this allow us to provide users easy access to NASA information and progress at a fast pace."

The NASA App collects, customizes and delivers an extensive selection of dynamically updated information, images and videos from various online NASA sources. Users can access NASA countdown clocks, the NASA Image of the Day, Astronomy Image of the Day, online videos, NASA's many Twitter feeds and other information in a convenient mobile package. It delivers NASA content in a clear and intuitive way by making full use of the iPhone and iPod touch features, including the Multi-Touch user interface. The New Media Team at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., developed the application.

The NASA App also allows users to track the current positions of the International Space Station and other spacecraft currently orbiting Earth in three views: a map with borders and labels, visible satellite imagery, or satellite overlaid with country borders and labels.

"We're excited to deliver a wide range of up-to-the-minute NASA content to iPhone and iPod touch users," said Gary Martin, director of the New Ventures and Communications Directorate at Ames. "The NASA App provides an easy and interesting way for the public to experience space exploration."

Expedition 21 Busy With Science and Exercise Activities

Commander Frank De Winne
Numerous science activities were underway Friday including setting up and photographing experiments. The station residents also exercised throughout the day on the treadmill and advanced resistive exercise device.

Cosmonauts Maxim Suraev and Roman Romanenko worked together on the Russian experiment PILOT-M, which tests piloting skills in conjunction with the stress factors of long duration spaceflight. Romanenko wore an electrode cap during the experiment while Suraev assisted him and photographed activities.

An ultrasound analyzer was used to measure the background environment of the treadmill vibration isolation system (TVIS). The TVIS was powered up with Romanenko exercising on it for the measurement.

Canadian astronaut and Flight Engineer Robert Thirsk replaced a rope on the advanced resistive exercise device (ARED). The ARED provides strength training and a countermeasure to the long-term effects of spaceflight.

Flight Engineers Nicole Stott and Jeff Williams worked with the U. S. spacesuits preparing tools then terminating the scrubbing process which cleans carbon dioxide from the suits. Three spacewalks are planned from the U.S. Quest airlock when space shuttle Atlantis arrives at the station in November.

Commander Frank De Winne set up equipment then participated in a ham radio session with students in Nova Scotia, Canada. From inside the Columbus module, the commander also spoke to the International Conference on Human Space Exploration in Prague, Czech Republic.

Undergrad Proposal Deadline Nears for NASA Reduced Gravity Flights

The deadline is fast-approaching for undergraduate students to submit their team proposals to NASA's Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program. Proposals must be received by 11:59 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, Oct. 28.

NASA's Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program gives aspiring explorers a chance to propose, design and fabricate a reduced gravity experiment. Selected teams will get to test and evaluate their experiment aboard a modified Boeing 727 jetliner provided by the Zero-Gravity Corporation of Las Vegas. Zero-Gravity Corporation will conduct the flights in cooperation with the Reduced Gravity Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The aircraft will fly approximately 30 roller-coaster-like climbs and dips during experiment flights to produce periods of weightlessness and hyper-gravity ranging from 0 g to 2 g.

"Today's students will be conducting tomorrow's space exploration," said Douglas Goforth, the program manager at Johnson. "Conducting a hands-on research and engineering project in a truly reduced gravity laboratory gives students a head start in preparing for those future ventures."

All applicants must be full-time students, U.S. citizens and at least 18 years old. NASA will announce selected teams Dec. 9. Teams will fly in the summer of 2010. Selected teams also may invite a full-time, accredited journalist to fly with them and document the team's experiment and experiences.

Through this program, NASA continues its tradition of investing in the nation's education programs. It is directly tied to the agency's education goal of strengthening NASA and the nation's future workforce. Through this and other college and university programs, NASA will identify and develop the critical science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills and capabilities needed to carry out its space exploration mission.

NASA Sets Ares I-X Prelaunch Events and Countdown Details

News conferences, events and operating hours for the news center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida are set for the upcoming Ares I-X flight test. The rocket is targeted to lift off at 8 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, Oct. 27. The launch will be carried live on NASA Television and streamed on the agency's Web site.

A launch day blog will update the countdown beginning at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 27. Originating from Kennedy, the blog is the definitive Internet source for information leading up to launch.


L-4 Days - Friday, Oct. 23
5 p.m. (time approximate): Flight Test Readiness Review news conference

L-2 Days - Sunday, Oct. 25
10 a.m. - Launch Status Briefing
- Jeff Spaulding, NASA test director, Kennedy
- Kathy Winters, weather officer
12 p.m. - Media Briefing (not televised)
- Bob Ess, Ares I-X mission manager
- Ed Mango, Ares I-X launch director
1 p.m. - Ares I-X 101 Briefing (not televised)
- Steve Davis, Ares I-X deputy mission manager

L-1 Day - Monday, Oct. 26
10 a.m. (approximately) - Ares I-X Launch Readiness news conference
- Jeff Hanley, Constellation Program manager
- Bob Ess, Ares I-X mission manager
- Ed Mango, Ares I-X launch director
- Kathy Winters, weather officer
9 p.m. - Ares I-X rocket photo opportunity (not televised)

Launch Day - Tuesday, Oct. 27
1 a.m. - Launch countdown officially begins (not televised)
5 a.m. - Live launch commentary begins on NASA TV
8 a.m. - Launch

Launch + 2 hours - Post-launch news conference
- Doug Cooke, associate administrator, Exploration Systems Mission Directorate
- Jeff Hanley, Constellation Program manager
- Bob Ess, Ares I-X mission manager
- Ed Mango, Ares I-X launch director

Countdown Highlights
T-7 hours
- First weather balloon is launched to collect atmospheric thermal properties
T-4 hours, 30 minutes
- Technicians remove the external environmental control systems that provide cool airflow to the vehicle
- Onboard navigation unit begins system alignment
- Additional subsystems complete testing and remain powered on
First stage avionics module access platform is retracted
T-3 hours, 30 minutes
- Six additional weather balloons begin to launch to evaluate if the conditions are suitable for flight
T-3 hours
- Fault tolerant inertial navigation unit completes alignment and begins navigation testing
T-2 hours, 30 minutes
- C-band beacon transponder is powered up and tested with the range
- Range safety system verification walk down is completed
- Auxiliary power unit is verified for system health
T-2 hours
- Vehicle stabilization system is retracted and secured
- Ground control station system begins monitoring for commands from the Launch Control Center
- Sound suppression water control is transferred to the ground control station
- Video, operational flight instrumentation and developmental flight instrumentation are checked
T-1 hour, 45 minutes
- Safety personnel begin the process of securing launch pad
T-1 hour, 15 minutes
- Ground command, control and communication initiates launch commit criteria monitoring
- Developmental flight instrumentation covers are removed
- Fault tolerant inertial navigation unit executes final alignment after the vehicle stabilization system is retracted
T-1 hour
- All personnel depart Launch Pad 39B for the safe haven
- Range verifies all "go/no-go" interfaces
T-43 minutes
- Flight termination system is activated and set to safe
T-30 minutes
- Developmental flight instrumentation, with the exception of cameras, are powered on and recording
T-4 minutes, built-in hold
- Enter 10-minute built-in hold (vehicle can remain in this hold status for up to four hours)
- Six video cameras and low power transmitters are powered up
- Telemetry is verified, and readiness for launch is established
- Range safety issues cleared for launch
- Countdown clock initiates automated count
T-3 minutes, 55 seconds and counting
- Sound suppression system is verified for pressure, water tank level and power
- Flight termination system and solid rocket motor ignition are set to arm
- Power to avionics cooling fans is terminated
- Onboard data recorder begins taking data
T-1 minute, 40 seconds
- Flight control system is enabled and prepared for flight
- Inertial measurement subsystem executes final alignment
T-1 minute, 20 seconds
- Flight control system receives the start count
- Signal is sent to the operational flight instrumentation and developmental flight instrumentation data streams to synchronize
T-35 seconds
- Flight control system transfers from alignment to navigation mode
- Inertial and navigation data are verified for accuracy
- Auxiliary power unit start sequence is initiated
T-21 seconds
- Reusable solid rocket motor thrust vector control gimbal test performed by rocking and tilting each axis approximately 1.5 degrees
T-16 seconds
- Ground control station issues commands for sound suppression, opening the valves to flood the mobile launch platform with water (At its peak, water will flow at a rate of 900,000 gallons per minute.)
T-0, liftoff
- Reusable solid rocket motors ignite, and hold-down bolts fire

Kennedy News Center office hours for Ares I-X
Times may be adjusted depending on events
Friday, Oct. 23 --- (Launch minus 4 days) --- 8 a.m. until one hour after Flight Test Readiness Review news conference
Saturday, Oct. 24 --- (Launch minus 3 days) --- closed
Sunday, Oct. 25 --- (Launch minus 2 days) --- 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Monday, Oct. 26 --- (Launch minus 1 day) --- 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 27 --- (Launch) --- 4 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Media Badging Schedule
News media representatives may obtain Ares I-X flight test credentials from the Kennedy Space Center Pass and Identification Office on State Road 3. Office hours of operation are:
Friday, Oct. 23 --- 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 24 --- closed
Sunday, Oct. 25 --- 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Monday, Oct. 26 --- 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 27 --- 3:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m.

Journalists are required to be under NASA Public Affairs escort at all times while at Kennedy Space Center, except when at the news center or the Complex 39 cafeteria. No photography is allowed anywhere other than the press site unless prior permission is granted by NASA Public Affairs.

Journalists are allowed at the press site only when Public Affairs personnel are on duty and the NASA news center is open.

Official Launch Date Selected for the launch of Ares I-X

Following today's Ares I-X Flight Test Readiness Review at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, managers announced Oct. 27 at 8 a.m. as the launch date for the new rocket's flight test.

Doug Cooke, associate administrator for NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, said the group was unanimous in their assessment that with no technical issues, they are ready to go.

During a news conference following the review meeting, Bob Ess, Ares I-X mission manager, described today as the culmination of their review cycle and said, "We're good to fly next week."

"It's great to be part of a team that put a rocket together in the time it took," said Ed Mango, Ares I-X launch director. "The team is ready to go fly; the vehicle is ready to go fly."

A few miles away at Launch Pad 39B, technicians have been conducting a second day of integrated systems tests. Today's checkouts involve the launch pad and ground systems, and ground support equipment.

On Thursday, the rocket was fully tested, including a successful "hot fire" of the auxiliary power units. The rotating service structure was opened in the afternoon and will be moved back into place after an evening test of the Xenon lights is completed tonight.

A countdown simulation with full launch team support is set for Saturday, with vehicle closeouts scheduled for Sunday. Launch countdown preparations will begin on Monday, with the countdown starting at L-7 hours at 1 a.m. on Tuesday. At this point, launch weather is 40 percent "go" for Tuesday.

Shuttle Preps Continue; Crew Review Spacewalk Techniques

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians at Launch Pad 39A are progressing with hypergolic loading of various systems in space shuttle Atlantis. They finished filling storage tanks in the orbital maneuvering system, which are the steering jets on the shuttle and the reaction control system. Today, loading of the auxiliary power units will take place.

During the weekend, pad techs will perform hypergolic load cleaning before starting final checks of Atlantis' aft, or back, section planned for next week.

Today, the six STS-129 crew members will review spacewalking procedures and timelines at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The agency's Flight Readiness Review, or FRR, for the STS-129 mission is set for Oct. 29 at Kennedy. Afterward, NASA will announce an official launch date and broadcast a post-meeting briefing on NASA TV.

NASA Sponsors Women in Astronomy and Space Science 2009 Conference

Group of five women attended the 2009 Women in Astronomy conference
Space science research institutions have traditionally been populated by a strong male workforce, but this structure is rapidly changing. Today’s workforce is much more diverse with individuals from various cultures and backgrounds, a higher percentage of women, and in many cases, up to six generations in the same workplace.

Both management and employees are in need of tools to help them understand where they are headed and how to get there successfully together. To help meet these challenges, the "Women in Astronomy and Space Science 2009: Meeting the Challenges of an Increasingly Diverse Workforce," conference is being held on Oct. 21-23, 2009, at the Inn and Conference Center, University of Maryland University College, Adelphi, Md.

"NASA has a high concentration of dedicated scientists," stated Anne Kinney, Director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "The goal of this conference is to foster diversity and help build a stronger workforce in science, engineering and technology which will open doors for everyone."

This three-day conference highlights the diversity of today’s scientific professions by establishing the statistics of the current workforce and defining the roles of institutions and professional societies in preparing future scientists to succeed in their chosen fields. Discussions will provide strategies for fostering a successful work environment, allowing both managers and employees to explore pertinent topics including management best practices, early career needs, work/life balance, and managing future expectations.

Professional societies, institutions and organized groups have always played an important part in improving the status of women and minorities in the scientific workforce. Topics presented include best practices for recruiting, promoting, mentoring, and retaining women and minorities in majority-dominated fields. Speakers will share their personal route to careers in areas such as international development, science management, non-profit organizations, and aerospace administration and answer questions.

Opening day remarks will be presented by Anne Kinney, Director of the Solar Exploration Division at NASA Goddard, and the keynote welcome by Ed Weiler, NASA Associate Administrator, Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, Washington.

The keynote address will be presented on the final day of the conference by Congresswoman Donna Edwards, and a panel discussion, "What It Takes to Become a Principal Investigator, Project Scientist, or Instrument Scientist," will be chaired by Nobel laureate and NASA Senior Astrophysicist John Mather of NASA Goddard.

A tour of the White House will cap off this exciting conference with a discussion with Tina Tchen, Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls. The discussion will focus on women in science, engineering, technology and math and where they are headed in future.

In conjunction with the Women in Astronomy (WIA) and Space Science 2009 Conference, a professional skills development COACH workshop was held on Tuesday, October 20. The participants learned negotiation skills through interactive means including case studies, personal assessments, and role-playing.

Pine Island Bay

The DC-8 makes a turn over Pine Island Bay
The DC-8 makes a turn over Pine Island Bay on Oct. 20, 2009, as it heads back up the glacier for another mapping run during Operation Ice Bridge's third science flight. Credit: NASA/Jane Peterson, NSERC

Icebergs in Pine Island Bay

Break away ice adrift in Pine Island Bay
After breaking away from Pine Island Glacier, ice is set adrift in Pine Island Bay. The icebergs were visible from the DC-8 during the Operation Ice Bridge science flight on Oct. 20, 2009, to map the glacier.

Enigmatic Titan

Target 3 of Cassini Scientist for a Day shows a portion of Titan and its atmosphere
Titan’s golden, smog-like atmosphere and complex layered hazes appear to Cassini as a luminous ring around the planet-sized moon. The world beneath that haze has become slightly less mysterious under the gaze of Cassini and its Huygens probe, but many new discoveries await.

This mosaic view of Titan represents "Target 3" in the fall 2009 edition of the Cassini Scientist for a Day contest. The contest is designed to give students a taste of life as a scientist by challenging them to write an essay describing the value of one target choice among three for Cassini to image.

Images taken using red, blue and green spectral filters were combined to create this color view. Six images – two sets of three colors – were combined to create the mosaic. The images were acquired with the Cassini wide-angle camera on Oct. 12, 2009 at a distance of 145,000 kilometers (90,000 miles) from Titan.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.