Atlantis Astros Feted Today; Endeavour Crew Rehearse for STS-130

STS-129 astronauts after landing at KSC
After a flawless mission to resupply the International Space Station, the STS-129 crew members now are back at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. They will be honored with a homecoming ceremony at nearby Ellington Field today.

Meanwhile, preparations for space shuttle Endeavour and its crew are ramping up for the STS-130 mission targeted to launch Feb. 4, 2010.

Endeavour is scheduled to roll over from the orbiter processing facility to the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in late December. There, it will be lifted and attached to the waiting external tank and twin solid rocket boosters.

The STS-130 crew members, Commander George Zamka, Pilot Terry Virts Jr., Mission Specialists Nicholas Patrick, Robert Behnken, Stephen Robinson and Kathryn Hire, are rehearsing deorbit procedures today at Johnson.

Endeavour will deliver a third connecting module, the Tranquility node, to the station in addition to the seven-windowed Cupola module, which will be used as a control room for robotics.

Homecoming for Atlantis

STS-129
The drag chute unfurled as space shuttle Atlantis landed on Runway 33 at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida after 11 days in space, completing the 4.5-million mile STS-129 mission on orbit 171. Main gear touchdown was at 9:44:23 a.m. EDT. Nose gear touchdown was at 9:44:36 a.m., and wheels stop was at 9:45:05 a.m. On STS-129, the crew delivered 14 tons of cargo to the orbiting laboratory, including two ExPRESS Logistics Carriers containing spare parts to sustain station operations after the shuttles are retired next year.

Crew Transport Vehicle in Place


Following purge and cooling system connections, the crew transport vehicle, or CTV, moved into position alongside the orbiter access hatch on Atlantis' port side.

With the crew hatch opened, the astronauts left the orbiter to enter the CTV.

The CTV contains beds and comfortable seats so that the astronauts can receive a brief medical checkup before stepping onto the tarmac.

Going Through the Safety Checklist

Work to safely shut down Atlantis' systems continues. It's been a little more than 30 minutes since the shuttle and its crew touched down at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A landing convoy is gathering around the vehicle to work on "safing" procedures.

Following purge and cooling system connections, the crew transport vehicle, or CTV, will be moved into position alongside the orbiter access hatch on Atlantis' port side.

Atlantis Lands in Florida

Space shuttle Atlantis and its crew of seven astronauts ended an 11-day journey with a 9:44 a.m. EST landing at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Atlantis flew 171 orbits around Earth and traveled 4,490,138 miles since its Nov. 16 launch.

The STS-129 mission included three spacewalks and the installation of two platforms to the International Space Station’s truss, or backbone. The platforms hold large spare parts to sustain station operations after the shuttles are retired. The shuttle crew delivered about 30,000 pounds of replacement parts for systems that provide power to the station, keep it from overheating, and maintain a proper orientation in space. The shuttle left the space station 86 percent complete, weighing 759,222 pounds.

Astronaut Nicole Stott returned to Earth after 91 days in space. She had spent 87 days aboard the space station and 80 days as an Expedition 20/21 flight engineer. She is the last astronaut who will be transported to or from the space station by the space shuttle.

Atlantis’ main gear touched down at 9:44:23 a.m., followed by the nose gear at 9:44:36 and wheel stop at 9:45:05 a.m.

STS-129 was the 129th space shuttle mission, the 31st for Atlantis and the 31st shuttle mission to the International Space Station. It was the fifth and final flight of 2009.

Atlantis Completes Deorbit Burn

At 8:37 a.m. EST, space shuttle Atlantis performed the deorbit burn, setting it on a course to return to Kennedy Space Center, Fla. The maneuver occurred while Atlantis was about 220 miles above Indonesia. Entry interface, the point at which Atlantis begins entering the Earth’s atmosphere, will occur at 9:12 a.m. The first roll reversal to slow the spacecraft will take place at 9:28 a.m. and Merritt Island radar tracking systems will acquire the shuttle at 9:31 a.m.

Atlantis will cross the Florida coast south of Bonita Springs and pass north of Lake Okeechobee, triggering dual sonic booms at about 9:40 a.m. as it slows to subsonic speeds. Commander Charlie Hobaugh will line up Atlantis with Kennedy’s southeast to northwest runway 33. Touchdown is expected at 9:44 a.m.

Atlantis Given "Go" for Deorbit Burn

Mission Control Capcom Chris Ferguson radioed a “go for deorbit burn” to space shuttle Atlantis Commander Charlie Hobaugh at 8:14 a.m. EST. The three minute, seven second maneuver scheduled for 8:37 a.m. will slow Atlantis by more than 200 miles per hour and lead to a landing at 9:44 a.m. at Kennedy Space Caenter, Fla.

Crew Given "Go" for Payload Bay Door Closing

At 5:52 a.m. EST, STS-129 entry Flight Director Bryan Lunney and his entry team of flight controllers gave space shuttle Atlantis Commander Charles Hobaugh a "go" to close the payload bay doors. Shortly, Atlantis will transition to the entry software program. The crew members will begin suiting up in their launch and entry suits at 7:14 a.m. and strap into their seats at 7:37 a.m. A "go-no go" call for the 8:37 a.m. deorbit burn is expected at 8:17 a.m.

Weather conditions at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility are observed "go" and forecast "go" for the predicted landing time of 9:44 a.m. EST. NASA Flight Crew Operations Director Brent Jett is flying weather reconnaissance flights at Kennedy and reports the conditions are as predicted. Capcom Chris Ferguson told Hobaugh, "Really good conditions down here."

Landing Day Begins

The seven-astronaut STS-129 crew was awakened at 1:28 a.m. EST with the song "Home Sweet Home" by Motley Crue. Landing is scheduled for 9:44 a.m. at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Atlantis Ready for Landing Friday

The STS-129 crew spent its final full day in space Thursday. The crew tested Atlantis’ flight control system, the flaps and rudders that will guide it through the atmosphere, and test fired the thruster jets that control its orientation in space and during early re-entry.

All crew members spent time stowing items in the shuttle’s cabin in preparation for the return to Earth. Landing is scheduled for 9:44 a.m. EST at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Fermi Telescope Peers Deep into Microquasar


NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has made the first unambiguous detection of high-energy gamma-rays from an enigmatic binary system known as Cygnus X-3. The system pairs a hot, massive star with a compact object -- either a neutron star or a black hole -- that blasts twin radio-emitting jets of matter into space at more than half the speed of light.

Astronomers call these systems microquasars. Their properties -- strong emission across a broad range of wavelengths, rapid brightness changes, and radio jets -- resemble miniature versions of distant galaxies (called quasars and blazars) whose emissions are thought to be powered by enormous black holes.

"Cygnus X-3 is a genuine microquasar and it's the first for which we can prove high-energy gamma-ray emission," said Stéphane Corbel at Paris Diderot University in France.

The system, first detected in 1966 as among the sky's strongest X-ray sources, was also one of the earliest claimed gamma-ray sources. Efforts to confirm those observations helped spur the development of improved gamma-ray detectors, a legacy culminating in the Large Area Telescope (LAT) aboard Fermi.

At the center of Cygnus X-3 lies a massive Wolf-Rayet star. With a surface temperature of 180,000 degrees F, or about 17 times hotter than the sun, the star is so hot that its mass bleeds into space in the form of a powerful outflow called a stellar wind. "In just 100,000 years, this fast, dense wind removes as much mass from the Wolf-Rayet star as our sun contains," said Robin Corbet at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Every 4.8 hours, a compact companion embedded in a disk of hot gas wheels around the star. "This object is most likely a black hole, but we can't yet rule out a neutron star," Corbet noted.

Fermi's LAT detects changes in Cygnus X-3's gamma-ray output related to the companion's 4.8-hour orbital motion. The brightest gamma-ray emission occurs when the disk is on the far side of its orbit. "This suggests that the gamma rays arise from interactions between rapidly moving electrons above and below the disk and the star's ultraviolet light," Corbel explained.

When ultraviolet photons strike particles moving at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light, the photons gain energy and become gamma rays. "The process works best when an energetic electron already heading toward Earth suffers a head-on collision with an ultraviolet photon," added Guillaume Dubus at the Laboratory for Astrophysics in Grenoble, France. "And this occurs most often when the disk is on the far side of its orbit."

Through processes not fully understood, some of the gas falling toward Cygnus X-3's compact object instead rushes outward in a pair of narrow, oppositely directed jets. Radio observations clock gas motion within these jets at more than half the speed of light.

Between Oct. 11 and Dec. 20, 2008, and again between June 8 and Aug. 2, 2009, Cygnus X-3 was unusually active. The team found that outbursts in the system's gamma-ray emission preceded flaring in the radio jet by roughly five days, strongly suggesting a relationship between the two.

The findings, published today in the electronic edition of Science, will provide new insight into how high-energy particles become accelerated and how they move through the jets.
NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has made the first unambiguous detection of high-energy gamma-rays from an enigmatic binary system known as Cygnus X-3. The system pairs a hot, massive star with a compact object -- either a neutron star or a black hole -- that blasts twin radio-emitting jets of matter into space at more than half the speed of light.

Astronomers call these systems microquasars. Their properties -- strong emission across a broad range of wavelengths, rapid brightness changes, and radio jets -- resemble miniature versions of distant galaxies (called quasars and blazars) whose emissions are thought to be powered by enormous black holes.

"Cygnus X-3 is a genuine microquasar and it's the first for which we can prove high-energy gamma-ray emission," said Stéphane Corbel at Paris Diderot University in France.

The system, first detected in 1966 as among the sky's strongest X-ray sources, was also one of the earliest claimed gamma-ray sources. Efforts to confirm those observations helped spur the development of improved gamma-ray detectors, a legacy culminating in the Large Area Telescope (LAT) aboard Fermi.

At the center of Cygnus X-3 lies a massive Wolf-Rayet star. With a surface temperature of 180,000 degrees F, or about 17 times hotter than the sun, the star is so hot that its mass bleeds into space in the form of a powerful outflow called a stellar wind. "In just 100,000 years, this fast, dense wind removes as much mass from the Wolf-Rayet star as our sun contains," said Robin Corbet at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Every 4.8 hours, a compact companion embedded in a disk of hot gas wheels around the star. "This object is most likely a black hole, but we can't yet rule out a neutron star," Corbet noted.

Fermi's LAT detects changes in Cygnus X-3's gamma-ray output related to the companion's 4.8-hour orbital motion. The brightest gamma-ray emission occurs when the disk is on the far side of its orbit. "This suggests that the gamma rays arise from interactions between rapidly moving electrons above and below the disk and the star's ultraviolet light," Corbel explained.

When ultraviolet photons strike particles moving at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light, the photons gain energy and become gamma rays. "The process works best when an energetic electron already heading toward Earth suffers a head-on collision with an ultraviolet photon," added Guillaume Dubus at the Laboratory for Astrophysics in Grenoble, France. "And this occurs most often when the disk is on the far side of its orbit."

Through processes not fully understood, some of the gas falling toward Cygnus X-3's compact object instead rushes outward in a pair of narrow, oppositely directed jets. Radio observations clock gas motion within these jets at more than half the speed of light.

Between Oct. 11 and Dec. 20, 2008, and again between June 8 and Aug. 2, 2009, Cygnus X-3 was unusually active. The team found that outbursts in the system's gamma-ray emission preceded flaring in the radio jet by roughly five days, strongly suggesting a relationship between the two.

The findings, published today in the electronic edition of Science, will provide new insight into how high-energy particles become accelerated and how they move through the jets.

Crew Packing and Performing Landing Checks

The STS-129 Crew
The seven-member crew of Atlantis is packing the orbiter and preparing to return home, wrapping up the 31st shuttle flight to the International Space Station. Atlantis is scheduled to land at 9:44 a.m. EST Friday at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Commander Charlie Hobaugh and Pilot Barry Wilmore, with help from Mission Specialist Randy Bresnik, will check out Atlantis' flight control surfaces, including the rudder and the wing flaps. Those surfaces will guide Atlantis’ unpowered flight through the atmosphere to a landing. The astronauts also will test fire reaction control system thrusters. The thrusters will control the shuttle’s orientation as it descends and begins its re-entry through the atmosphere.

A recumbent seat for Mission Specialist Nicole Stott will be setup on the shuttle's mid-deck. Stott is returning after 90 days in space, 80 as a station crewmember.

Tuesday at 10 a.m., European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne handed over command of the station to NASA astronaut Jeff Williams. De Winne and Expedition 21 Flight Engineers Roman Romanenko and Robert Thirsk are scheduled to leave the station for return to Earth in a Soyuz capsule on Nov. 30.

Crew Performs Flight Control System Checkout

The Atlantis crew has performed the Flight Control System checkout and the Reaction Control System hot-fire test. Landing is scheduled for Friday at 9:44 a.m. EDT at Kennedy Space Center.

STS-129 Crew Preparing to Return Home

Commander Charlie Hobaugh, Pilot Barry Wilmore and Mission Specialists Randy Bresnik, Mike Foreman, Leland Melvin, Robert Satcher Jr. and Nicole Stott were awakened at 1:28 a.m. EST with the song “Fly Me to the Moon” by Frank Sinatra. It was played for Stott.

The seven-member crew of Atlantis are packing the orbiter and preparing to return home, wrapping up the 31st shuttle flight to the International Space Station.

Flight Controllers Develop Workaround to Bypass Suspect Filter

A routine disposal overboard of waste water and urine collected aboard Atlantis was terminated early. It is not necessary to dump the now half-full collection tank before landing Friday. Flight controllers have a workaround available for the crew to bypass a suspected clogged filter and dump the liquid, if landing is delayed.

The STS-129 astronauts began their sleep shift at 5:28 p.m. EST and will awaken at 1:28 a.m. Thursday. Atlantis’ first landing opportunity is Friday at 9:44 a.m. at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Streamer-channels and Shadow

Saturn and its moon Prometheus
Saturn's moon Prometheus, orbiting near the streamer-channels it has created in the thin F ring, casts a shadow on the A ring in this image taken a little more than a week after the planet's August 2009 equinox.

Potato-shaped Prometheus (86 kilometers, or 53 miles across) periodically creates streamer-channels in the F ring, and the moon's handiwork can be seen on the left of the image.

The novel illumination geometry that accompanies equinox lowers the sun's angle to the ringplane, significantly darkens the rings, and causes out-of-plane structures to look anomalously bright and cast shadows across the rings. These scenes are possible only during the few months before and after Saturn's equinox, which occurs only once in about 15 Earth years. Before and after equinox, Cassini's cameras have spotted not only the predictable shadows of some of Saturn's moons, but also the shadows of newly revealed vertical structures in the rings themselves.

This view looks toward the northern, sunlit side of the rings from about 8 degrees above the ringplane.

The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Aug. 21, 2009. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 2.2 million kilometers (1.4 million miles) from Saturn. Image scale is 13 kilometers (8 miles) per pixel.

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.

New Report Provides Update on Recent Climate Changes

View of the Earth as seen by the Apollo 17 crew
A new global scientific synthesis report prepared by 26 of the world's top climate scientists, including JPL research scientist Eric Rignot and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center researcher Robert Bindschadler, concludes that several important aspects of climate change are occurring at the high end of, or even beyond the expectations of just a few years ago. The report, "The Copenhagen Diagnosis: Updating the World on the Latest Climate Science," documents key findings in climate change science since December 2005. That was the cutoff for scientific inputs used to prepare the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report, released in 2007.

Waste Water Dump Nozzle Not Concern for Friday Landing

Space shuttle Atlantis flies around the International Space Station
Shuttle astronauts used the camera on the Orbiter Boom Sensor System to survey the condition of Atlantis’ waste water dump nozzle. Capcom Megan McArthur told Commander Charles Hobaugh that it appears there is a slight discoloration that could be frost, but no ice. It is likely that there is a blockage in the line, which will not be a concern for a planned Friday landing.

Waste Water Dump Flow Reduction Not Expected to be Issue

During a purge of the space shuttle waste water tank Wednesday morning, Mission Control noticed a reduction in the flow from the nozzle that vents the waste water into space. This has occurred on past shuttle missions and is not expected to be an issue. Capsule Communicator Stan Love told Atlantis Commander Charles Hobaugh it is likely no further waste dumps will be necessary before Friday’s planned landing.

As a precaution, to determine if there is ice on the outside of the nozzle, a robotic arm camera may be used to view the nozzle during a planned pause in the “late inspection” survey. There are heaters at the waste water dump nozzle to prevent water from freezing and flight controllers believe ice formation is unlikely, due to the nozzle temperatures they are measuring.

The waste water system stores waste from the crew cabin humidity separator and from the crew. The tank is located below the crew compartment middeck floor, and the dump nozzle is on the left side of the shuttle.

Orbiter Boom Sensor System Uncradled

Space shuttle Atlantis' crew uncradled the 50-foot-long Orbiter Boom Sensor System, or OBSS, from the payload bay at 8:37 a.m. EST. The OBSS is being used to conduct the standard "late inspection," a high fidelity, three-dimensional scan of Atlantis' thermal protection system. Managers and engineers in Mission Control will compare the results with data from a scan conducted earlier in the flight to validate the heat shield's integrity. The areas of the shuttle that experience the highest heating during entry - the wing leading edges and nose cap - will be inspected. The process will take several hours, concluding at about 1:30 p.m.

NASA Television will air a Mission Status Briefing at 11:30 a.m. and a post-Mission Management Team meeting briefing at 3:30 p.m.

Atlantis Separates from International Space Station

After completing a full circle around the International Space Station, space shuttle Atlantis fired its thrusters twice, at 6:04 a.m. EST and 6:32 a.m., to depart the station’s vicinity. Atlantis is heading away from the station at about 1.5 feet per second, or about 4.5 miles per orbit.

Shuttle astronauts recorded video of the fly around and will play it back on NASA Television at about 6:50 a.m.

Atlantis Undocks from International Space Station

While flying 216 miles above the Pacific Ocean northeast of New Guinea, space shuttle Atlantis undocked from the International Space Station at 4:53 a.m. EST, six days, 17 hours and two minutes after docking on Nov. 18. Shuttle pilot Barry E. Wilmore will grab the stick and perform a fly around of the station, enabling his crewmates to conduct a photo survey of the 759,222 pound complex. The station now is 86 percent complete.

Atlantis’ newest crew member Nicole Stott spent 87 days aboard the space station and 80 days as an Expedition 20/21 Flight Engineer following her shuttle Discovery launch on Aug. 28. If Atlantis lands as planned Friday, she will have spent 91 days in space.

The deorbit burn is planned for 8:37 a.m. Friday, leading to a landing at 9:44 a.m. at Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility, runway 33.

Atlantis Ends Stay at Station

Space shuttle Atlantis and its seven-member crew has left the International Space Station. Undocking occurred at 4:53 a.m. EST. Atlantis' newest crew member, Mission Specialist Nicole Stott, and her six crew mates will return home to Kennedy Space Center with a landing on Friday at 9:44 a.m.

Shuttle Set to Undock From Station Wednesday

The space shuttle Atlantis and International Space Station crews began their sleep shift at 5:28 p.m. EST. The STS-129 astronauts are scheduled to wake up at 1:28 a.m. Wednesday and undock Atlantis from the station at 4:53 a.m.

Thin Blue Line

Earth's horizon
The thin line of Earth's atmosphere and the setting sun are featured in this image photographed by the crew of the International Space Station while space shuttle Atlantis on the STS-129 mission was docked with the station.

Flight Day 8

A partial view of the space shuttle Atlantis docked to the International Space Station
A partial view of space shuttle Atlantis docked to the International Space Station, along with the station's Canadarm2, the Columbus laboratory and Harmony node are featured in this image photographed by a space-walking astronaut during the mission's third and final spacewalk.

Craters on the dark side of the moon

A field littered with craters
When people envision a "moonscape" it probably looks something like this -- craters, craters everywhere.

There are two types of impact craters on the Moon: primary and secondary. Primary craters form as the result of an asteroid or comet (or spacecraft) impacting the Moon. Secondary impact craters formed from the impact of ejecta expelled during primary crater formation. Secondary impact craters dominate this scene, possibly from the relatively recent impact that created nearby Jackson crater (43.5 miles across), located 42 miles to the west.

Geologists use small secondary craters to help unravel the stratigraphy of the lunar surface. These secondary craters reside on the floor of a 8.7 mile wilde crater. What is the age of this host crater? If these secondary craters originated from the Jackson event, then it is a fair bet the Jackson impact was more recent. If you look at the bottom of this NAC frame in the LROC Image Gallery at ASU, you can see that this crater also has a very subdued rim, in contrast to Jackson's well-defined rim, providing more evidence of it's age.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission Status Report

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter over the martian landscape
The team operating NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter plans to uplink protective files to the spacecraft next week as one step toward resuming the orbiter's research and relay activities.

Since the orbiter spontaneously rebooted its computer on Aug. 26, flight team engineers have been examining possible root causes and repercussions of that incident and three similar events this year on Feb. 23, June 3 and Aug. 6. Meanwhile, the team has kept the spacecraft in a precautionary, minimally active status called "safe mode."

The four reboots involved a device, called the "computer module interface controller," that controls which of two redundant main computers on the spacecraft is active. Still undetermined is whether trouble lies with that controller itself or with a voltage glitch elsewhere on the spacecraft. The Aug. 6 reboot, though not the other three, prompted a switch from one computer to its backup twin. More than 100 factors are under consideration as possible root causes.

Engineers' analysis of the reboots has identified a possible, though unlikely, scenario that, should it occur, could jeopardize the spacecraft. This scenario would require two computer reboots, each worse than any so far, occurring within about a minute of each other in a certain pattern. The effect would be that neither of the redundant computers would remember that the spacecraft is in orbit around Mars instead of awaiting launch. The team has developed and tested a preventive-care measure to eliminate this possibility.

The preventive care requires amending some data files in the computers' non-volatile, or "flash" memories where the computers check for default settings when they reboot. However, overwriting information in those files can entail risk, especially if the spacecraft were to experience another reboot with the process only partially completed. A process developed and tested in recent weeks to minimize that risk will take several days to implement. The team will uplink, install and verify the changes in a careful sequence.

"We plan to begin uplinking protective files next week," said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project Manager Jim Erickson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "This process is to bulletproof the spacecraft against a remote vulnerability that our team identified. Meanwhile, analysis of possible root causes for the four reboots this year continues as another important part of our path toward resuming science operations."

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter uses six instruments to examine Mars in detail, from subsurface layers to the top of the atmosphere. It began its investigations in 2006, has provided more data about Mars than all other missions combined, and last year completed its primary science phase. Continuing science observations are planned when the spacecraft is brought out of safe mode, but no specific date for that has been set.

"The precautionary steps we are taking are not driven by the calendar, but by our commitment to care for this valuable national resource," Erickson said. "We are all eager to have science observations resume as soon as a properly cautious process allows."

Northern Aurora in Motion

Cassini Captures Ghostly Dance of Saturn's Northern Lights

An aurora, shining high above the northern part of Saturn, moves from the night side to the day side of the planet in this movie recorded by Cassini.

These observations, taken over four days, represent the first visible-light video of Saturn's auroras. They show tall auroral curtains, rapidly changing over time when viewed at the limb, or edge, of the planet's northern hemisphere. The sequence of images also reveals that Saturn's auroral curtains, the sheet-like formations of light-emitting atmospheric molecules, stretch up along Saturn's magnetic field and reach heights of more than 1,200 kilometers (746 miles) above the planet's limb. These are the tallest known “northern lights” in the solar system.

These auroral displays are created by charged particles from the magnetosphere that plunge into the planet's upper atmosphere and cause it to glow. The magnetosphere is the region of electrically charged particles that are trapped in the magnetic field of the planet. The auroral curtains shown in the movie reveal the paths that these charged particles take as they flow along lines of the magnetic field between the planet's magnetosphere and ionosphere.

The day side of Saturn scatters light toward Cassini, creating the overexposed triangle at the center of the left of the frame. Stars can be seen above the limb of the planet, trailing across the field of view.

The images were captured in black and white, but the aurora in this movie is shown in a false orange color to distinguish it from background noise in the images. The images were processed to remove cosmic ray hits, bad pixels and lens flare. On Earth, auroras often appear green, but scientists do not yet know the color of auroras on Saturn. Auroras on Saturn, like those on Earth, appear mostly in the high latitudes near the planet's poles. In the annotated version of the movie, latitude lines have been drawn on the planet at 70 and 78 degrees north latitude. The auroras can be seen moving with the planet's rotation along the curved path of about 74 degrees north latitude. They change shape and brightness in a manner similar to terrestrial auroras. The aurora curtains become particularly bright when they are projected edge-on to Cassini as they pass over the limb from the near (dark) side to the far (bright) side of Saturn. Near the end of the movie, a snake-shaped aurora footprint brightens abruptly and fades over about five frames.

The movie consists of 472 images taken during an 81-hour period. Each image was obtained with a two- or three-minute exposure.

These images were taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft's narrow-angle camera on Oct. 5 to 8, 2009. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 2.8 million kilometers (1.7 million miles) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 111 degrees. Image scale is 32 kilometers (20 miles) per pixel.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL manages the mission for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

Twin Brown Dwarfs Wrapped in a Blanket

Twin brown dwarfs
This image shows two young brown dwarfs, objects that fall somewhere between planets and stars in terms of their temperature and mass. Brown dwarfs are cooler and less massive than stars, never igniting the nuclear fires that power their larger cousins, yet they are more massive (and normally warmer) than planets. When brown dwarfs are born, they heat the nearby gas and dust, which enables powerful infrared telescopes like NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to detect their presence.

Here we see a long sought-after view of these very young objects, labeled as A and B, which appear as closely-spaced purple-blue and orange-white dots at the very center of this image. The surrounding envelope of cool dust surrounding this nursery can be seen in purple. These "twins," which were found in the region of the Taurus-Auriga star-formation complex, are the youngest of their kind ever detected. They are also helping astronomers solve a long-standing riddle about how brown dwarfs are formed - more like stars or more like planets? Based on these findings, the researchers think they have found the answer: Brown dwarfs form like stars.

This image combined data from three different telescopes on the ground and in space. Near-infrared observations collected at the Calar Alto Observatory in Spain cover wavelengths of 1.3 and 2.2 microns (rendered as blue). Spitzer's infrared array camera contributed the 4.5-micron (green) and 8.0-micron (yellow) observations, and its multiband imaging photometer added the 24-micron (red) component. The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory in Hawaii made the far-infrared observations at 350 microns (purple).

These observations were made before Spitzer ran out its coolant in May of 2009, officially beginning its "warm" mission.

The Crab Nebula: A Cosmic Icon

Crab Nebula 2009
A star's spectacular death in the constellation Taurus was observed on Earth as the supernova of 1054 A.D. Now, almost a thousand years later, a super dense object -- called a neutron star -- left behind by the explosion is seen spewing out a blizzard of high-energy particles into the expanding debris field known as the Crab Nebula. X-ray data from Chandra provide significant clues to the workings of this mighty cosmic "generator," which is producing energy at the rate of 100,000 suns.

This composite image uses data from three of NASA's Great Observatories. The Chandra X-ray image is shown in blue, the Hubble Space Telescope optical images are in yellow and red, and the Spitzer Space Telescope's infrared image is in purple. The X-ray image is smaller than the others because extremely energetic electrons emitting X-rays radiate away their energy more quickly than the lower-energy electrons emitting optical and infrared light. Along with many other telescopes, Chandra has repeatedly observed the Crab Nebula over the course of the mission’s lifetime. The Crab Nebula is one of the most studied objects in the sky, truly making it a cosmic icon.

Wise a Bit Closer to the Sky

Wise is seen here being hoisted to the top of its United Launch Alliance Detla II rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif

NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or Wise, is now perched atop its rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base, north of Santa Barbara, Calif. The mission, which will scan the whole sky in infrared light, is scheduled to blast off on Dec. 9. It was hoisted to the top of its United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket on Friday, Nov. 20.

JPL manages the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. 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 take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

The Big Thaw? NASA Satellites Detect Unexpected Ice Loss in East Antarctica

Gravity measurement data from GRACE
Using gravity measurement data from the NASA/German Aerospace Center's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (Grace) mission, a team of scientists from the University of Texas at Austin has found that the East Antarctic ice sheet-home to about 90 percent of Earth's solid fresh water and previously considered stable-may have begun to lose ice.

The team used Grace data to estimate Antarctica's ice mass between 2002 and 2009. Their results, published Nov. 22 in the journal Nature Geoscience, found that the East Antarctic ice sheet is losing mass, mostly in coastal regions, at an estimated rate of 57 gigatonnes a year. A gigatonne is one billion metric tons, or more than 2.2 trillion pounds. The ice loss there may have begun as early as 2006. The study also confirmed previous results showing that West Antarctica is losing about 132 gigatonnes of ice per year.

"While we are seeing a trend of accelerating ice loss in Antarctica, we had considered East Antarctica to be inviolate," said lead author and Senior Research Scientist Jianli Chen of the university's Center for Space Research. "But if it is losing mass, as our data indicate, it may be an indication the state of East Antarctica has changed. Since it's the biggest ice sheet on Earth, ice loss there can have a large impact on global sea level rise in the future."

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., developed the twin Grace satellites. The University of Texas Center for Space Research in Austin has overall Grace mission responsibility. Grace was launched in 2002.

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

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

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

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

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

Haise was born in Biloxi, and received his bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Oklahoma in 1959.

NASA TV to Broadcast Space Station Crew Soyuz Landing Events

NASA Television will air the events surrounding the landing of three International Space Station crew members who will return to Earth Dec. 1. The space travelers have lived and worked aboard the space station for the past six months. NASA TV coverage will include the broadcast of farewells aboard the orbiting laboratory, hatch closure and undocking on Nov. 30, and the deorbit burn and landing on Dec. 1.

Frank De Winne of the European Space Agency, Russian cosmonaut and Soyuz Commander Roman Romanenko and Flight Engineer Bob Thirsk of the Canadian Space Agency will undock their Soyuz spacecraft from the station at 9:53 p.m. CST Nov. 30. They will land in Kazakhstan at about 1:16 a.m. (1:16 p.m. Kazakhstan time) on Dec. 1. The three men spent 188 days in space, including 186 days aboard the station, following their Soyuz launch on May 27 from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

NASA's Jeff Williams took over command of the station on Nov. 24 from De Winne, who served as the first European Space Agency commander of the complex. Williams also will lead the new Expedition 22 crew along with Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev. Expedition 22 begins with the undocking of the Soyuz Monday evening. It will be the first time the station has been tended by only two crew members since July 2006. Oleg Kotov of the Russian Federal Space Agency, NASA's Timothy J. Creamer and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Space Agency, are set to launch in another Soyuz vehicle from Kazakhstan on Dec. 21 and join Expedition 22 on the station on Dec. 23.

Upcoming NASA TV Soyuz landing programming events (all times CST):

Monday, Nov. 30:
-- 6:30 p.m. Farewells and Hatch Closure (hatch closure scheduled at 6:53 p.m.)
-- 9:30 p.m. Undocking (undocking scheduled at 9:53 p.m.)

Tuesday, Dec. 1:
-- 12 a.m. Deorbit burn and landing (deorbit burn scheduled at 12:25 a.m.; landing scheduled at 1:16 a.m.)
For NASA TV streaming video, downlink and schedule information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

Station Command Changes Hands

The STS-129 and Expedition 21 crew members
The STS-129 crew joined Expedition 21 Commander Frank De Winne and his crew when he handed over his command of Expedition 21 to NASA astronaut Jeff Williams. Williams also will command Expedition 22.

Today's Mission Status Briefing is scheduled for 11 a.m. EST. The briefing will air live on NASA Television.

False Alarm on Station, Third During Shuttle MIssion

Around 7 a.m. EST a smoke and fire alarm was generated by the Japanese Kibo laboratory, part of the International Space Station complex. A rapid investigation proved the alarm was false, the third false station alarm during the STS-129 mission. The two previous alarms originated in the new Russian Poisk mini research module.

Transfer operations underway aboard the complex might have stirred up dust particles that triggered the sensitive station alarm sensors. Operations are returning to normal.

Last Day Together for Shuttle and Station Crews

Today’s wake up music was “The Marine Corps Hymn” played by the Marine Corp Band at 1:58 a.m. EST for Commander Charles Hobaugh.

This is the last day the space shuttle Atlantis and International Space Station astronauts will share each other’s company. The hatches between the spacecraft will be closed early this afternoon, following a change in command of the station from European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne to American astronaut Jeff Williams. Early in the morning all 12 crew members will gather for a joint crew news conference with reporters from around the world.

Third STS-129 Spacewalk Complete

Spacewalkers Robert Satcher Jr. and Randy Bresnik completed a five hour, 42 minute spacewalk Monday at 2:06 p.m. EST. The pair completed all the primary jobs they were assigned and all the “get ahead” work that was added to their timeline.

This was the final STS-129 spacewalk, the 230th conducted by U.S. astronauts, and the second for both Satcher and Bresnik. It was the 136th in support of International Space Station assembly and maintenance, totaling 849 hours, 18 minutes. It was the 108th spacewalk out of the space station, totaling 662 hours, 3 minutes.

The three STS-129 spacewalks totaled 18 hours, 27 minutes. Mike Foreman now has completed five spacewalks between STS-123 and STS-129 totaling 32 hours, 19 minutes and placing him 28th on the all-time list. Satcher’s two spacewalks totaled 12 hours, 19 minutes. Bresnik’s two spacewalks totaled 11 hours, 50 minutes.

The Crab Nebula: A Cosmic Icon

Crab Nebula 2009
A star's spectacular death in the constellation Taurus was observed on Earth as the supernova of 1054 A.D. Now, almost a thousand years later, a super dense object -- called a neutron star -- left behind by the explosion is seen spewing out a blizzard of high-energy particles into the expanding debris field known as the Crab Nebula. X-ray data from Chandra provide significant clues to the workings of this mighty cosmic "generator," which is producing energy at the rate of 100,000 suns.

This composite image uses data from three of NASA's Great Observatories. The Chandra X-ray image is shown in blue, the Hubble Space Telescope optical images are in yellow and red, and the Spitzer Space Telescope's infrared image is in purple. The X-ray image is smaller than the others because extremely energetic electrons emitting X-rays radiate away their energy more quickly than the lower-energy electrons emitting optical and infrared light. Along with many other telescopes, Chandra has repeatedly observed the Crab Nebula over the course of the mission’s lifetime. The Crab Nebula is one of the most studied objects in the sky, truly making it a cosmic icon.

Wise a Bit Closer to the Sky

Wise is seen here being hoisted to the top of its United Launch Alliance Detla II rocket

NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or Wise, is now perched atop its rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base, north of Santa Barbara, Calif. The mission, which will scan the whole sky in infrared light, is scheduled to blast off on Dec. 9. It was hoisted to the top of its United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket on Friday, Nov. 20.

JPL manages the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. 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 take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

NASA Assessing New Roles for Ailing QuikScat Satellite

Artist's concept of QuickSCAT
NASA mission managers are assessing options for future operations of the venerable QuikScat satellite following the age-related failure of a mechanism that spins the scatterometer antenna. This spinning antenna had been providing near-real-time ocean- surface wind speed and direction data over 90 percent of the global ocean every day.

In recent months, the QuikScat project team has been monitoring a pattern of increasing friction in the bearings that allow the antenna to spin, leading to increased resistance and strain on the motor that turns QuikScat's rotating antenna. This degradation was fully expected, as the spin mechanism was designed to last about 5 years.

After experiencing further difficulties over the weekend, the antenna stopped spinning early today, Nov. 23. The QuikScat spacecraft and scatterometer instrument themselves remain in otherwise good health. Should engineers be unable to restart the antenna, QuikScat will be unable to continue its primary science mission, as the antenna spin is necessary to estimate wind speed and direction and form the wide data swath necessary to obtain nearly global sampling.

Over the coming days, NASA managers will review contingency plans for restarting the antenna and assess options for using the mission in its present degraded state to advance Earth system science in the event the antenna cannot be restarted. For example, degraded scatterometer measurements from QuikScat can still be useful for cross-calibrating the mission's climate data record with measurements from other scatterometers, including the operational EUMETSAT ASCAT instrument, India's recently launched Oceansat-2 and a planned Chinese scatterometer. Specific operational forecasting applications such as polar ice measurements and limited hurricane observations may also be supportable.

By any measure of success, the 10-year-old QuikScat mission is a unique national resource that has achieved and far surpassed its science objectives. Designed for a two-year lifetime, QuikScat has been used around the globe by the world's operational meteorological agencies to improve weather forecasts and identify the location, size and strength of hurricanes and other storms in the open ocean. The mission has also provided critical information for monitoring, modeling, forecasting and researching our atmosphere, ocean and climate.

Inventors Answer Call for New Glove Designs

Inventor Peter Homer, left, participates in the dexterity and flexibility test
Two independent inventors answered NASA's call for innovative new designs for the next generation of astronaut gloves. Today's spacewalkers have to contend with bulky gloves that stiffen when pressurized, making it tough to grip and flex while completing tasks in the vacuum of space.

Peter Homer and Ted Southern put their prototypes to the test during NASA's 2009 Astronaut Glove Challenge, held Nov. 19 at the Astronaut Hall of Fame in Titusville, Fla., near NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

Homer, an engineer from Southwest Harbor, Maine, was awarded $250,000 after placing first. Southern, a sculpture major at New York's Pratt Institute, earned second place and $100,000.

The ultimate goal of the Astronaut Glove Challenge is to improve the current design, resulting in a stronger and more flexible glove that will reduce the hand fatigue experienced by astronauts working in space.

For the first Astronaut Glove Challenge held in 2007, competitors supplied only the inner pressure-restraining layer. The outer layer, which provides protection against extreme temperatures and micrometeoroids, was an added requirement this year. Representatives from NASA and the agency's spacesuit contractor, ILC Dover, observed and noted the gloves' performances in a series of three tests.

The competitor inserted his gloved arm and hand into a depressurized glove box for the dexterity and flexibility test, completing cycles of movements and tasks, such as gripping a handle, using tools, flexing the hand and wrist, and touching the tip of the thumb to the tip of each finger.

In the joint force test, test operators from ILC Dover sealed and pressurized each glove to 4.3 pounds per square inch (psi) of internal pressure, then tugged it through its full range of motion while measuring the amount of force each movement required.

Finally, the gloves' strength capabilities were measured in the burst test. The room quieted as test operators sealed the glove and filled it with water, slowly increasing the pressure. Competitors, judges and other spectators leaned forward, watching the glove for signs of weakness or rupture.

The event was sponsored by Secor Strategies LLC of Titusville, Fla., and non-profit Volanz Aerospace of Owings, Md., managed the event for NASA.

"Both of you did better than the (current) Phase VI glove, and you both get a round of applause for that," said Alan Hayes, Volanz Aerospace chairman. "The test results were incredibly close."

Both Homer and Southern began working on the project in spring 2006 and competed in the first Astronaut Glove Challenge. Homer took home $200,000 after winning that event. After the 2007 challenge, Southern teamed up with former competitor Nikolay Moiseev.

Prior to the challenge, competitors were in the dark about who else would participate or what their designs might be.

"You're sort of developing in the vacuum of your own little world," Homer said. "You're hoping that you're going far enough with your design. And then there's the aspect of, 'Who am I going to be going up against?' I didn't know Ted was competing until we walked in and saw each other."

The Astronaut Glove Challenge is one of six Centennial Challenges prize competitions managed by NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program.

MISSE 7 Experiment Installation Complete

Final STS-129 spacewalk
Spacewalker Randy Bresnik completed installation of the MISSE 7 experiment on Express Logistics Carrier 2. This is the latest in a series of experiments that expose materials and composite samples to space for several months before they are returned for experts to analyze. This could lead to stronger spacecraft materials and applications on Earth. This MISSE experiment actually is plugged into the space station’s power supply.

Meanwhile, Mission Specialist Robert Satcher Jr. is preparing the Quest airlock for the installation of the high pressure gas tank, which is being moved to Quest by the station robotic arm.

Spacewalkers Working Ahead of Schedule

Spacewalkers Robert Satcher Jr. and Randy Bresnik have prepared the high pressure gas tank for removal from the Express Logistics Carrier (ELC) 2 on the Starboard 3 truss segment. Space station robotic arm operators Leland Melvin and Barry Wilmore are grabbing it and will move it to the Quest airlock.

Bresnik already has moved the two MISSE 7 experiment “suitcases” from Atlantis’ payload bay and soon will install them on ELC 2.

At an elapsed time of an hour and 12 minutes, the spacewalk is about 20 minutes ahead of schedule.

Spacewalkers Work Ahead of Timeline

Even though today’s spacewalk started about an hour late, Mission Control has decided to end it at its original time, around 2 p.m. EST. The “contingency” time listed in the original plan will be removed and the spacewalk is predicted to last about five hours and 30 minutes.

Sixteen minutes into the spacewalk, Robert L. Satcher and Randy Bresnik already were 15 minutes ahead of the timeline.

Astronauts Performing Third and Final Spacewalk

At 8:24 a.m. EST, STS-129 spacewalkers Robert Satcher and Randy Bresnik switched their suits to battery power, signaling the start of the mission’s third and final outing. Atlantis Mission Specialist Mike Foreman will be inside the International Space Station serving as the choreographer and relaying communications from Mission Control in Houston.

Satcher and Bresnik are scheduled for a six and a half hour spacewalk, although 30-45 minutes of it are set aside as “contingency” time for any tasks that require longer to complete than estimated. Because the mission’s first two spacewalks accomplished more than was planned, this third excursion has taken on several new chores that originally were listed as mission “get ahead” tasks.

The first item on Satcher’s agenda is to transfer an oxygen-filled high pressure gas tank (HPGT) from the External Logistics Carrier (ELC) 2 to the Quest airlock. Space station robotic arm operators Leland Melvin and Barry Wilmore will assist with the move of the large, “doghouse” shaped HPGT. While Satcher works with the HPGT, Bresnik will retrieve the Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE 7) from Atlantis’ payload bay and install it on ELC 2. The pair will work together to remove Quest airlock debris shields and activate the HPGT. The tank will be used to replenish airlock air that’s lost when spacewalkers exit and enter Quest..The HPGT installation is expected to take about three hours.

Next, while Satcher loosens a bolt on a starboard truss Ammonia Tank Assembly, Bresnik will install fluid jumpers on the Port1/Port 3 and Starboard 1/Starboard 3 truss segments. Finally, while Bresnik relocates an articulating portable foot restraint, Satcher will install two camera covers and an insulating sleeve on the station’s Mobile Base System.

This is the 230th spacewalk conducted by U.S. astronauts, the 136th in support of space station assembly and maintenance, the 100th out of space station airlocks, and the second for both Satcher and Bresnik. Satcher is wearing an all white spacesuit and his helmet cam displays number 16. Bresnik is wearing a spacesuit with broken red stripes and his helmet cam displays number 18.

Astronauts Performing Third and Final Spacewalk

Mission Specialists Randy Bresnik and Robert Satcher Jr. began the third and final STS-129 spacewalk at 8:24 a.m. EST. The spacewalkers started just over an hour later than planned due to Satcher reinserting a valve that became detached in his spacesuit drink bag.

Valve Successfully Reinserted in Drink Bag

Spacewalker Robert Satcher Jr. successfully reinserted the bite valve into his drink bag and reported a good seal with no leaks. Crew members in the Quest airlock now will resume configuring Satcher’s suit for today’s spacewalk.

This activity is expected to delay the start of today’s spacewalk by about an hour to 8:18 a.m. EST.

Spacewalk Delayed About an Hour

While spacewalkers prepared for today’s excursion, a valve on Robert Satcher’s spacesuit drink bag became detached. The bag is contained in the spacesuit and allows spacewalkers to sip water throughout their activity. The valve will be reinserted. If it does not seal tightly, then the entire drink bag will replaced.

This activity is expected to delay the start of today’s spacewalk by about an hour to 8:18 a.m. EST.

Astronauts Prepare for Third and Final Spacewalk

Today’s wake up music was “Space Rise,” written and performed by Larry Whitehair and played at 2:28 a.m. EST for Atlantis Mission Specialist Mike Foreman.

Astronauts Robert Satcher Jr. and Randy Bresnik are ready to begin the third and final spacewalk of the STS-129 mission. They camped out in the Quest Airlock overnight to prepare for the task. The spacewalkers are scheduled to start an hour late at about 8:18 a.m. EST. Spacewalk veteran Foreman will be the intravehicular crew member and will help direct today’s activities and coordinate communications between the spacewalkers and Mission Control in Houston.

Spacewalkers "Camping Out" to Prepare for Final Excursion

STS-129 Mission Specialists Randy Bresnik and Robert Satcher Jr., set to perform the third and final spacewalk of the mission Monday, are spending the night in the Quest airlock as part of the overnight “campout” procedure that helps purge nitrogen from their bloodstreams, preventing decompression sickness once they move out into the vacuum of space.

The International Space Station crew began its sleep shift at 5:58 p.m. EST, and the shuttle crew headed to bed a half hour later. Both crews are set to wake up Monday at 2:28 a.m. The spacewalk is slated to begin at 7:18 a.m.

Crew Television Celebrates Birth of Abigail Mae Bresnik

At 5:45 p.m. EST, NASA Television will replay “crew choice” television that was sent down from space late Sunday afternoon, showing Atlantis and International Space Station crew members joining Mission Specialist Randy Bresnik in celebrating the Saturday night birth of Abigail Mae Bresnik.

Updated Info on Birth of Astronaut Bresnik's Daughter

NASA flight surgeons have provided more details on the birth of STS-129 Mission Specialist Randy Bresnik and his wife Rebecca’s daughter.

Abigail Mae Bresnik was born Saturday, Nov. 21 at 11:04 p.m. CST, weighs six pounds, 13 ounces and is approximately 20 inches in length.

Bresnik was connected through a phone patch from Mission Control and the hospital to Atlantis after he woke up Sunday morning. During his wife’s labor Saturday night, he also had been connected to STS-129 Flight Surgeon Dr. Smith Johnston through the International Space Station’s IP Phone until he had to go to bed. A video conference is planned today so Bresnik can see his daughter for the first time. Photos and some video of the baby also will be uplinked to him.

No other information will be available until after Bresnik returns to Earth. Rebecca and Randy Bresnik offered this final word, “We are sending a big thank you to all of the people who have supported NASA and us for this mission and our special occasion.”

Water!

Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator
Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator, shares the preliminary results from the Oct. 9 LCROSS impacts at a press conference on Nov. 13 at NASA's Ames Research Center.

Supersonic Testing

Ray Castner
Supersonic aircraft create a substantial sonic boom, meaning that they can't fly over populated areas without creating an intense noise disruption. NASA has been investigating ways to decrease this noise, which could revolutionize the way we fly.

Ray Castner, an aerospace engineer in the Inlet and Nozzle Branch at NASA's Glenn Research Center, has been testing nozzle concepts with the goal of dramatically reducing noise produced by supersonic aircraft. Castner and his team tested a small scale exhaust nozzle in the 1-by 1-Foot Supersonic Wind Tunnel at Glenn. Pressurized air was supplied to the nozzle, which was tested at simulated flight conditions of Mach 2. Early results are promising, and suggest that changes in pressure in the nozzle affect the sonic boom signature.

Express Logistics Carrier Grappled

STS-129 Pilot Barry Wilmore and Commander Charlie Hobaugh
Just after 7 a.m. EST, space shuttle Atlantis Commander Charles Hobaugh and Mission Specialist Leland Melvin used the shuttle robotic arm to grasp the Express Logistics Carrier (ELC) 2, located in Atlantis’ payload bay. The task originally had been planned for this afternoon but the crew opted to do it early. The nearly 14,000-pound ELC will be lifted away from Atlantis on Saturday, handed off to the space station robotic arm, and installed on the station’s Starboard 3 truss upper outboard Payload Attach System. The carrier contains spare parts that will help sustain space station operations into the future.

Robotics Work and Spacewalk Preps for Shuttle Crew

Today's wake-up music was "We Are Family" by Sister Sledge, played at 4:28 a.m. EST for Atlantis Mission Specialist Leland Melvin.

Atlantis' astronauts will grab the nearly 14,000-pound Express Logistics Carrier 2 with the shuttle robotic arm this afternoon. Tomorrow, they will lift the carrier from Atlantis' payload bay, hand it off to the space station robotic arm and install it on the outside of the station. The combined crews of the shuttle and station also will speak to seven different media outlets today. And at the end of the day, Mike Foreman and Randy Bresnik will "campout" in the station's Quest Airlock to prepare for Saturday's second spacewalk.

False Alarm Awakens Crew

An alarm woke the crews aboard space shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station at 8:36 p.m. EST Thursday. Flight controllers in Houston, Europe and Russia quickly concluded the alarm was false. An erroneous indication of a rapid depressurization led to the automatic shutdown of ventilation fans throughout the station, which stirred up dust and led to a false smoke detection alarm in the European Space Agency’s Columbus laboratory.

It took about an hour to reactivate the ventilation fans and stabilize the station atmosphere following the incident. The crews have been warned to watch out for pockets where carbon dioxide has accumulated.

The initial cause for the false depressurization indication is under evaluation. Mission control Capcom Frank Lien told station Commander Frank De Winne it might have originated with the Poisk mini-research module that docked to the station earlier this month.

The space station crew will wait until ventilation is restored before going back to sleep. The shuttle crew has already been given the “go” from teams on the ground to go back to sleep. To make up for the sleep they lost reacting to the alarm, the sleep period has been extended by 30 minutes. The new wake up time will be 4:28 a.m. EST.

First STS-129 Spacewalk Complete

Spacewalkers Mike Foreman and Robert Satcher completed a 6-hour, 37-minute spacewalk at 4:01 p.m. EST.

After finishing all their scheduled chores with two hours to spare, Foreman and Satcher were assigned a task that had been planned for the second spacewalk. They deployed the outboard Payload Attach System on the Earth-facing side of the Starboard 3 truss, after overcoming some initial difficulties.

This was the first of three STS-129 spacewalks, the 228th conducted by U.S. astronauts, the fourth for Foreman and the first for Satcher. It was the 134th in support of International Space Station assembly and maintenance, totaling 837 hours, 28 minutes. It was the 106th spacewalk out of the space station, totaling 650 hours, 13 minutes.

Spacewalkers Working with Payload Attach System

Spacewalkers Mike Foreman and Robert L. Satcher Jr. have been working to deploy the outboard Payload Attach System, or PAS, on the Earth-facing side of the Starboard 3 truss. The crew has had difficulty loosening a bolt and removing a diagonal brace on the PAS. They have used a pistol grip tool and a hammer without success. Spacewalk planners hope that cooler temperatures during an upcoming night pass will contract the brace and enable it to be removed. The planned 6.5-hour spacewalk is now five hours, 16 minutes old.

"Get Ahead" Task Added to Spacewalk

Spacewalk planners have decided to add a “get ahead” task to today’s excursion, since the crew has completed its planned work and is nearly two hours ahead of schedule. Robert Satcher lubricated the Kibo robotic arm snares while Michael Foreman routed a LAN cable on Zarya and mated power cables on a patch panel at the S0 truss.

Now the spacewalkers will deploy the outboard Payload Attach System (PAS) on the Earth-facing side of the Starboard 3 truss. The PAS will allow future missions to store spare parts to the station’s truss segment for future use.

Space Shuttle Atlantis

STS-129
This view of the aft portion of the space shuttle Atlantis, including the three main engines, was provided by the Expedition 21 crew during a survey of the approaching vehicle prior to docking with the International Space Station. As part of the survey and every mission's activities, Atlantis performed a back-flip for the rendezvous pitch maneuver. The image was photographed with a digital still camera, using a 400mm lens at a distance of about 600 feet (180 meters).

Flight Day 3

STS-129 and Expedition 21 crew members greet one another after docking on Flight Day 3
STS-129 and Expedition 21 crew members are pictured shortly after the hatches were opened between space shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station, which docked in space Nov. 18, 2009.

Pictured are NASA astronauts Jeffrey Williams (foreground), Expedition 21 flight engineer; Robert L. Satcher Jr. (left), STS-129 mission specialists; and Nicole Stott, Expedition 21 flight engineer. On the right are Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk, both Expedition 21 flight engineers; along with European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne, Expedition 21 commander. NASA astronaut Leland Melvin (partially obscured), STS-129 mission specialist, is visible in the background.

Cassini's Big Sky: The View from the Center of Our Solar System


  • NASA's Cassini spacecraft is helping to rewrite our understanding of the shape of our solar system as it moves through the local Milky Way galaxy.
  • Previous models pictured our solar system as having a comet-like appearance. The new results suggest a picture more like a bubble.
  • Cassini scientists created an image from this exotic region of space by detecting particles known as energetic neutral atoms.
  • It complements data collected by NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer.
When NASA's Cassini spacecraft began orbiting Saturn five years ago, a dozen highly-tuned science instruments set to work surveying, sniffing, analyzing and scrutinizing the Saturnian system.

But Cassini recently revealed new data that appeared to overturn the decades-old belief that our solar system resembled a comet in shape as it moves through the interstellar medium (the matter between stars in our corner of the Milky Way galaxy).

Instead, the new results suggest our heliosphere more closely resembles a bubble - or a rat - being eaten by a boa constrictor: as the solar system passes through the "belly" of the snake, the ribs, which mimic the local interstellar magnetic field, expand and contract as the rat passes. An animation is available here http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA12310.

"At first I was incredulous," said Tom Krimigis, principal investigator of the Magnetospheric Imaging Instrument (MIMI) at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. "The first thing I thought was, 'What's wrong with our data?'"

Krimigis and his colleagues on the instrument team published the Cassini findings in the Nov. 13 issue of the journal Science, which featured complementary results from NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX). Together, the results create the first map of the heliosphere and its thick outer layer known as the heliosheath, where solar wind streaming out from the sun gets heated and slowed as it interacts with the interstellar medium.

The Cassini data also provide a much more direct indication of the thickness of the heliosheath, whereas scientists previously had to rely on calculations from models. The new results from Cassini show that the heliosheath is about 40 to 50 astronomical units (3.7 billion to 4.7 billion miles) thick and that NASA's twin Voyager spacecraft, which are traveling through the heliosheath now, will cross into true interstellar space well before the year 2020. Estimates as far out as 2030 had been suggested.

"These new data from Cassini really redefine our sense of our home in the galaxy, and we can now do better studies of whether our solar system resembles those elsewhere," Krimigis said.

The Voyagers have sent back rich data on the heliosphere and heliosheath, but just at two locations. Scientists want more context. One way to learn about the region is to track energetic neutral atoms streaming back toward the sun from the heliosheath.

Energetic neutral atoms form when cold, neutral gas collides with electrically-charged particles in a cloud of plasma, which is a gas-like state of matter so hot that the atoms split into an ion and an electron. The positively-charged ions in plasma can't reclaim their own electrons, which are moving too fast, but they can steal an electron from the cold gas atoms. Since the resulting particles are neutrally charged, they are able to escape magnetic fields and zoom off into space. The emission of these particles often occurs in the magnetic fields surrounding planets, but also happens when the solar wind mingles with the interstellar medium.

How did Cassini, with 22,000 wire connections and 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) of cabling specifically tweaked to get the most out of its investigation of the solar system's second largest gas bag, recently end up helping to redefine how we look at our entire solar system?

Krimigis and his Cassini colleagues working with MIMI weren't sure their instrument could pick up emissions from far-out, exotic locations, such as from the boundary of our heliosphere, the region of our sun's influence.

Last year, after spending four years focused on the energetic electrons and ions trapped in the magnetic field that surrounds Saturn, as well as the offspring of these particles known as energetic neutral atoms, the team started combing through the data from the instrument's Ion and Neutral Camera, looking for particles arriving from far beyond Saturn.

"We thought we could get some hits from energetic neutral atoms from the heliosheath because Cassini has really been in an excellent position to detect these particles," said Don Mitchell, MIMI instrument scientist and a researcher at the Applied Physics Laboratory.

Cassini was farther away from the sun than previous spacecraft trying to image the heliosphere and even swung very far away from Saturn on some of its orbits, Mitchell said. The data would likely be free of much of the interference that hampered other efforts.

Mitchell, Krimigis and their team were able to stitch together data from late 2003 to the summer of 2009. They created a color-coded map of the intensity of the energetic neutral atoms and discovered a belt of hot, high-pressure particles where the interstellar wind flowed by our heliosheath bubble.

The data matched up nicely with the IBEX images of lower-energy particles and connected that data set to the Voyager data on higher-energy particles.

"I was initially skeptical because the instrument was designed for Saturn's magnetosphere," Mitchell said, "But our camera had long exposures of months to years, so we could accumulate and map each particle that streamed through the tiny aperture from the far reaches of the heliosphere. It was luck, but also a lot of hard work."

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C.

Before Darkness Falls: Cassini to Scan Enceladus on Winter's Cusp

Artist's concept of Cassini's Nov. 21, 2009

NASA's Cassini spacecraft will fly by Saturn's moon Enceladus this weekend for a last peek at the intriguing "tiger stripes" before winter darkness blankets the area for several years.

Scientists are particularly interested in the tiger stripes, which are fissures in the south polar region, because they spew jets of water vapor and other particles hundreds of kilometers, or miles, from the surface.

The flyby, which is sometimes called "E8" because it is the eighth targeted flyby of Enceladus, is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 21 UTC, which is the evening of Friday, Nov. 20 in U.S. time zones. Cassini team members expect to fly the spacecraft to within about 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) of the moon's surface, at around 82 degrees south latitude. This will be a more distant flyby than the one on Nov. 2, when Cassini flew about 100 kilometers (60 miles) above the surface.

During this flyby, scientists will focus on a tiger stripe called Baghdad Sulcus and create a contiguous thermal map of the feature. The spacecraft will also be snapping high-resolution images of the southern part of the Saturn-facing hemisphere.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Partial View

STS-129
Backdropped by the blackness of space, a partial view of Space Shuttle Atlantis' payload bay, vertical stabilizer, orbital maneuvering system pods and docking mechanism are featured in this image photographed by the STS-129 crew from an aft flight deck window.

S-band Antenna Structural Assembly Installed

Spacewalkers exit airlock
With a spare S-band antenna structural assembly (SASA) in his hands, Robert L. Satcher, Jr. rode the station's robotic arm from Atlantis' payload bay to the station's Earth-facing Z1 truss segment. There, he and Mike Foreman connected two cables and bolted the SASA in place. The spacewalkers are about an hour and 20 minutes ahead of schedule and will split up to tackle a variety of maintenance tasks. The spacewalk started at 9:24 a.m. EST and is expected to last 6.5 hours.

Foreman and Satcher Performing First STS-129 Spacewalk

At 9:24 a.m. EST, STS-129 spacewalkers Mike Foreman and Robert L. Satcher, Jr. switched their suits to battery power, signifying the start of today’s 6.5-hour excursion. Atlantis Mission Specialist Randy Bresnik will be inside the International Space Station, choreographing the activities and coordinating communications between the spacewalkers and Mission Control in Houston.

This is the 228th spacewalk conducted by U.S. astronauts, the 134th in support of space station assembly and maintenance, the fourth for Foreman and the first for Satcher. Foreman is the lead spacewalker and wears a suit with solid red stripes. His helmet cam displays number 16. Satcher is wearing an all-white spacesuit and his helmet cam displays number 18.

Once they get outside, Foreman and Satcher will install a spare S-band antenna structural assembly to the Z1 segment of the station’s truss, or backbone. To get there, Satcher will ride the station’s robotic arm, driven by Atlantis crew mates Charles Hobaugh, Leland Melvin and Barry Wilmore.

Foreman and Satcher also will install a set of cables for a future space-to-ground antenna on the Destiny laboratory. They will replace a handrail on the Unity node with a new bracket used to route an ammonia cable that will be needed for the Tranquility node when it is delivered next year. The two spacewalkers also will reposition a cable connector on Unity, troubleshoot S0 truss cable connections, and lubricate latching snares on the Kibo robotic arm and the station’s mobile base system.

While the spacewalk is underway, station Commander Frank De Winne and Flight Engineer Jeff Williams will work inside the station to prepare for the arrival of Tranquility, rewiring data, power and cooling lines and air flow connections at the port hatch of Harmony, where Tranquility will connect.

Meanwhile, Nicole Stott is celebrating her 47th birthday in space.