NASA’s RXTE reveals secrets of smallest known black hole

Black Hole
The black hole, which is smaller than any previously discovered, is a mere 16,000 to 65,000 light-years away. Officials said Friday that they have detected the “heartbeat” of the the black hole, noting that if it exists, it would weigh less than three times the mass of the sun, placing it near the theoretical minimum mass required for black holes. NASA officials say the size of the black hole makes it a contender for the title of smallest black hole ever discovered. Science classes at accredited online colleges should also be able to teach you how the first blackholes were born.

The NASA team used the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) satellite to identify a candidate for the smallest-known black hole, saying the latest calculations may place the black hole’s mass below the minimum necessary to sustain a cosmic giant.

“We think that most of these patterns represent cycles of accumulation and ejection in an unstable disk, and we now see seven of them in IGR J17091,” said Tomaso Belloni at Brera Observatory in Merate, Italy. “Identifying these signatures in a second black hole system is very exciting.”

The space agency said the record-sized black hole is named IGR J17091-3624 after the astronomical coordinates of its sky position.


NASA announces 1st private spacecraft flight to ISS

US space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has announced the launch date for the first test flight of a commercial spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). The mission, which will test a vehicle intended to carry cargo and eventually crew to orbit
represents an important step for the burgeoning private space industry, experts say.

SpaceX is going to send its unmanned space capsule Dragon to rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS) on February 7 next year.

This will be the first time that NASA would use a commercial flight to ferry supplies up to the ISS.

Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX, has been approved by NASA to make its first commercial supply run to the ISS. SpaceX has been working on its Dragon "reusable flying aircraft" to get it ready for its first big supply run.

"SpaceX is excited to be the first commercial company in history to berth with the International Space Station," the company's president Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement.

"This mission will mark a historic milestone in the future of spaceflight. We appreciate NASA's continued support and their partnership in this process."

This flight, which is the second for the company under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, will send the Dragon capsule into orbit to rendezvous with the orbiting complex in a single flight, NASA officials said.

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NASA’s Kepler telescope continues to reveal strange and new planets

NASA will reportedly announce the discovery of a number of newly discovered planets on Monday, the latest batch of mysterious worlds to be added to the space agency’s growing list of celestial bodies.

NASA will reveal the latest batch of discoveries made by its planet-hunting Kepler space telescope on Monday, according to a statement released by the space agency. NASA says it will hold a press conference at its Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. The press conference is the first of the inaugural Kepler Science Conference, which will focus on findings made by the Kepler telescope. The conference will run from December 5 to December 9 and will feature more than 110 scientific presentations, officials said.

“The briefing will provide an update on the statistical findings since Kepler’s Feb. 1, 2011, science data release and introduce a new confirmed planetary discovery,” NASA officials said in a statement released Friday The space agency says the this year’s annual announcement will continue a long tradition that it anticipated to accelerate in the coming years as the Kepler Telescope continues to search for earth-like planets. NASA officials say they expect a number of significant discoveries by Kepler this year.

“Sooner or later, Kepler will find a lukewarm planet with a size making it probably Earthlike,” said Geoffrey Marcy of the University of California, Berkeley. “We’re no more than a year away” from such a discovery, he said The announcement comes as NASA announced Friday the discovery of an earth-sized planet that is reportedly hot enough to melt iron.

NASA Will Continue U.S. Space Leadership

I respectfully disagree with Homer Hickam's "The Commercial Space Age Has Begun" ( America has been the world leader in space exploration for 50 years, and under the ambitious plan laid out by President Obama and Congress, we will continue to lead for at least the next half-century The president has challenged NASA to accomplish big things—to rendezvous with an asteroid by 2025 and send humans to Mars in the 2030s. These are specific goals toward which NASA is planning and making investments.

Our vision for the future is clear: hand off low-Earth orbit transportation to the private sector; develop the technology and vehicles needed to explore deep space, eventually landing a human mission on Mars; and help develop quieter and cleaner airplanes, all while inspiring our young people to out-innovate and out-compete the rest of the world.

NASA recently launched the most ambitious mission ever to Mars, the Curiosity rover, to help answer questions about conditions for life beyond Earth. America's love of space exploration and its crucial role in our nation's life and priorities is stronger than ever


Nasa doing research inmany fields

solar panel
Chief technologist, System Engineering Directorate, Nasa Langley Research Center, USA, U N Singh on Sunday said that Nasa was America's leading scientific centre for research and exploration in the fields of space science and technology, environmental studies and worldwide geographical changes.

Delivering the keynote lecture on 'Nasa's Future Earth Science Missions for Global Observations' at the Indian Institute of Business Management (IIBM), Singh said that at Nasa, besides space and satellite technology, research is also going on geo-informatics, laser and optical techniques. Research on Earth-related mission was also going on. It would also lead to understanding the disintegration of ozone layer in the environment, he pointed out. He said that through remote sensing, one can carry out research on atmospheric changes and their effects on the earth.

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NASA's Antarctic 2011 IceBridge Campaign Concludes

NASA's DC-8 airborne science laboratory has completed its 2011 Operation IceBridge science flights over Antarctica, and arrived home at its base in Palmdale, Calif., Nov. 22. The IceBridge flight and science team flew a record 24 science flights during the six-week campaign, recording data from a suite of sophisticated instruments on the thickness and depth of Antarctic ice sheets and glacial movement The aircraft departed its deployment base at Punta Arenas, Chile, Tuesday morning Nov. 22 and after a refueling stop in Santiago, Chile, set course for Los Angeles International Airport for customs clearance. The flying lab continued on to the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, arriving about 8:30 p.m. that evening after almost 15 hours in the air.

A highlight of the IceBridge mission was the discovery during a low-level overflight Oct. 14 of a large crack that had recently begun across the Pine Island Glacier ice shelf, a precursor to the separation of an estimated 310-square-mile iceberg into the ocean in the near future. The growth of the estimated 18-mile-long rift was documented on several subsequent flights The final science flights on Nov. 17 and 19 focused on the middle of the Antarctic Peninsula and the George VI Sound on the peninsula's western side.

Mission manager Chris Miller's report on the former noted that clear weather over the eastern side of the peninsula provided "a rare opportunity to collect data over glaciers that are more regularly shrouded in cloud." The mostly clear weather allowed the science team to collect data at low altitudes of only 1,500 feet above ground for almost seven hours out of the more than 11 hours the team was aloft.

NASA ISS On-Orbit Status 20 November 2011

All ISS systems continue to function nominally, except those noted previously or below. Sunday. Ahead: Week 1 of Increment 30 (thirty) Today 12(twelve) years ago (1998), the 20-ton FGB "Zarya" (Sunrise), the first module of the ISS, was launched at Baikonur/Kazakhstan on a three-stage Proton. The US-financed "Funktsionalnyi-Grusovoi Blok" was built by KhSC (Khrunichev State Research & Production Space Center) from their original Almaz program under subcontract to Boeing.<<<

Crew Wake/Sleep cycle shift: To accommodate Soyuz 27S undock tomorrow evening at 6:00pm EST, crew wake/sleep cycle changes go into effect, featuring a late turn-in today and tomorrow, plus a free day Tuesday:


* Today (11/20) 1:00am 6:00pm
* Tomorrow (Monday, 11/21) 6:30am 1:00am (11/22)
* Tuesday (11/22) Free Day ~4:30pm
* Wednesday (11/23) 1:00am 4:30pm (regular)

After wakeup, FE-4 Volkov performed the routine inspection of the SM (Service Module) PSS Caution & Warning panel as part of regular Daily Morning Inspection.First thing in Postsleep, prior to eating, drinking & brushing teeth, CDR Fossum, FE-3 Burbank & FE-5 Furukawa today conducted the dry saliva sample collections on the INTEGRATED IMMUNE protocol. Later in the day, Mike, Dan & Satoshi also completed the IMMUNE blood sample draws, with Dan assisting Satoshi as Operator and vice versa, plus Satoshi assisting Mike. Following the blood draws, the full blood tubes were temp stowed in the blood collection kit until tomorrow when they will be packed together with the saliva samples on the Soyuz for return to ground. [INTEGRATED IMMUNE (Validating Procedures for Monitoring Crew member Immune Function) samples & analyzes participant's blood, urine, and saliva before, during and after flight for changes related to functions like bone metabolism, oxidative damage and immune function to develop and validate an immune monitoring strategy consistent with operational flight requirements and constraints.

Budget, Technical Woes Hamper Space Ventures

nasa rocket
Launch delays and shrinking federal budgets threaten NASA's plan to rely on private rockets to ferry astronauts and equipment to the international space station, government and industry officials said the first commercial cargo run to the station has now likely slipped from late this year or in January to as late as April—largely because engineers from one company are laboring over spacecraft-guidance software.

Meanwhile, the House as early as Thursday is expected to cut National Aeronautics and Space Administration funding for the development of privately built and operated systems to blast astronauts into orbit the budget woes and technical delays come as the U.S. makes the transition to using commercial operators to transport crews and cargo after retiring its fleet of space shuttles. The first step is for a pair of U.S. companies to come up with private launchers and spacecraft to haul supplies—but not yet people—to the station.

Closely-held Space Exploration Technologies Corp. aims to do the job with its Dragon capsule atop its 19-story-tall rocket, the Falcon 9. After the first launch of that combination in December 2010, the company predicted cargo deliveries would begin within a few months. The Hawthorne, Calif., company, also known as SpaceX, now has internal estimates it could start deliveries at the earliest in February or March, 2012, the government and industry officials said.

Russian, U.S. crew blast off for space station

Three astronauts blasted off on Monday to restore a full crew to the International Space Station (ISS) after the crash of a Russian cargo spaceship disrupted operations and undermined faith in the Russian space programme the launch at 0414 GMT was the first since NASA ended its 30-year shuttle programme in July, heralding a gap of several years when the 16 nations investing in the $100(One Hundred)-billion space station will rely solely on Russia to ferry crews.

Once safely in orbit, the astronaut trio flashed a thumbs-up signal to onboard cameras and applause broke out at the cavernous Mission Control centre in a northern Moscow suburb monday's mission was delayed from September over safety fears after an unmanned Russian Progress craft taking supplies to astronauts broke up in the atmosphere in one of the worst Russian space mishaps in decades.

Any problem in reaching the ISS could leave the space station empty for the first time in more than a decade when the current three-man crew returns to Earth later this monthfor veteran NASA astronaut Daniel Burbank, it is the first voyage on board a Soyuz spacecraft from Russia's Baikonur launchpad in Kazakhstan, while cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Anton Shkaplerov are making their maiden space voyage.

But the crew shrugged off safety concerns before lift off from a snowbound Baikonur "We don't have any black thoughts. We have faith in our equipment," Shkaplerov said, quoted by Russian news agencies after a cramped two-day journey aboard the Soyuz TMA-22 capsule, the crew will dock with the space station on Nov. 16, overlapping briefly with station commander Mike Fossum of NASA, Japan's Satoshi Furukawa and Russia's Sergei Volkov.

NASA's NPP Satellite Acquires First ATMS Measurements

NPP satellite
The Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS) on board NASA's newest Earth-observing satellite, NPP, acquired its first measurements on November eight (8), 2011. The image shows the ATMS channel 18 data, which measures water vapor in the lower atmosphere. Tropical Storm Sean is visible in the data, as the patch of blue, in the Atlantic off the coast of the Southeastern United States. The data were processed at the NOAA Satellite Operations Facility (NSOF) in Suitland, Md the ATMS is one of five instruments on board the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project, or NPP, that launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on October 28. Since then, NPP has successfully completed all spacecraft commissioning activities and powered on all instruments. In the next few weeks, all instruments will be commissioned and NPP will be sending science data from the four remaining instruments by mid-December.

A passive microwave radiometer, the ATMS instrument can collect data even when it is cloudy. Paired with the Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS), also aboard NPP, they will produce global sets of high-resolution temperature and moisture profiles that are used for forecasting and studying weather "NPP is rock solid," stated Ken Schwer, NPP project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "The satellite has performed extremely well during the checkout maneuvers and is in the expert hands of the mission operations team at NSOF."

During the commissioning activities, which were completed November 5, the NPP spacecraft subsystems were successfully tested, including command and control, propulsion and communications. NPP spacecraft and instrument data is sent from the spacecraft to the ground station in Svalbard, Norway and then to the NSOF.

NASA spots a New York City-sized iceberg as it breaks off Antarctic glacier

NASA researchers flying low over Antarctica’s vast, frozen landscape recently stumbled across a rare event in progress: the calving of a massive iceberg from one of Antarctica’s largest and fastest-moving glaciers. The scientists, who were taking part in NASA’s “Operation IceBridge,” were able to fly a follow-up mission above the Pine Island Glacier to gather unprecedented airborne measurements of an ongoing iceberg calving event. Typically, scientists can only learn of such events after they take place.

Since 2009, NASA scientists have been flying research aircraft loaded with sophisticated sensing equipment above Antarctic and Arctic ice, providing crucial data on ice sheet dynamics. This data is of great interest to the climate science community, considering the massive sea level rise that would occur if land-based ice sheets were to rapidly melt in coming decades.

Numerous studies have been published in the past several years that have raised alarms about the accelerating pace of ice loss in West Antarctica and Greenland. Operation IceBridge is meant to fill data gaps caused by a lag between two different ice-tracking satellites, thereby keeping data flowing to inform ongoing studies.

According to NASA, the last significant Pine Island Glacier calving event took place in 2001. It’s estimated that this one, an 18-mile long crack in the ice that was first spotted on Oct. 14 by a NASA DC-8 crew, probably began to form back in early October. Pine Island Glacier terminates in the sea, and has an “ice tongue” that juts out into the water. This makes the ice vulnerable to melting due to both rising air and water temperatures, although this calving event may have been a largely natural occurrence.

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Sun comes alive, blasting massive solar flares

solar flares
The sun shot off a flare Thursday afternoon from a region that scientists are calling a "benevolent monster."

Scientists at the federal Space Weather Prediction Center say that area is the most active part of the sun since 2005. It has dozens of sunspots, including one that is the size of 17 Earths. Sunspots are kinks or knots in the sun's magnetic field.

"It's beautiful," said forecaster Jess Whittington. "It's still growing. The size is what blows me away."

Thursday's flare was not aimed at Earth. This active region, however, is now slowly turning toward Earth, and scientists say it will be directly facing Earth in about five days.

That storm region will affect Earth only if it shoots off flares and they hit the planet, which does not always happen with stormy areas, said prediction center space scientist Joe Kunches.

The region will be facing Earth for about two weeks as it rotates, he said.

Solar flares send out bursts of electromagnetic energy that can occasionally disrupt communications and electrical systems.

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Mission puts Mars in the cross hairs

MARS makes head- lines this month with the long-awaited launch of the Mars Science Laboratory mission scheduled for Nov. 25. A mission several years in the making, the MSL has survived technical delays and budget issues to become the most advanced scientific mission NASA has ever sent to Mars after a nine-month cruise through the inner solar system, the MSL will reach Mars in August 2012 and land its 1-ton Curiosity rover onto the Martian surface using a device similar to a sky crane. After its innovative descent, Curiosity will explore the Martian surface for up to two Earth years with a suite of high-tech scientific instruments meant to determine whether Mars has ever been favorable for life. Astronomy courses at online universities can also teach you about planet Mars and its geology.

This past summer, scientists chose Mars' Gale Crater as Curiosity's landing site. Gale Crater contains diverse geologic materials that will give Curiosity a wealth of information to study. However, Curiosity will not be limited to one location on Mars as it will use its six-wheel drive to travel up to 660 feet per day and over obstacles up to 2 feet tall curiosity will be nuclear powered, unlike the previous Mars Exploration Rovers, which were solar powered. This radioactive energy source will supply the constant, reliable power needed for Curiosity's communications, advanced experiments and mobility during its two-year mission.

Curiosity will carry on its mast two digital color cameras that will capture high-definition images and video of the Martian surface with better resolution than any previous mission. The high-def images will definitely attract news media and public attention during the mission although the nine-month journey to Mars seems like a long time, the MSL will be a mission worth the wait. Keep an eye on the sky for the brightening Mars over the next several months as the MSL draws closer to the Red Planet.

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NASA Considers Tractor Beams for Future Rovers

NASA is exploring ways to use tractor beams in future robotic probe missions. The agency has recently awarded a team of engineers $100,000 to study three experimental techniques for trapping small particles with lasers.

Spacecraft flying by comets and asteroids or rovers landing on Mars could use the methods to continuously sample their target.

While such technology has been used in biological and surgical applications for years, there has been little work on using it for remote sensing in space, said Paul Stysley, a NASA engineer at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who leads the group studying the techniques.

The idea of using tractor beams on space missions caught the attention of members of NASA’s Mars rover project.

“At first they thought we were a little crazy, but luckily that group is supportive of crazy ideas,” said Stysley.

Current rover missions use drills, which can take a long time to get a sample. But a future probe could quickly zap rocks with a laser and then use a tractor beam to collect some of the resulting vapor. A beam pointed at the atmosphere could also monitor how gases change in response to day-night cycles on Mars.

Though the three technologies will require further investigation and may take up to a decade to develop for space-based missions, much of the work is already being done here on Earth.

The first technique, optical tweezers, is already common in biology laboratories. This method uses a pair of lasers with beams that travel in opposite directions. Changing the intensity of one beam heats air around trapped particles and can cause them to travel toward a probe, essentially creating an optical conveyor belt. But this technology can only be used when an atmosphere is present, so while it could work on some planets, it won’t work in the vacuum of space.

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Boeing leasing shuttle hangar to build new capsule

Boeing is taking over one of NASA's old space shuttle hangars to build a new capsule that the company hopes will lift astronauts to orbit in four or five years.

More than 100 Boeing, NASA and state and federal officials gathered in the massive empty hangar -- Orbiting Processing Facility No. 3 -- for the announcement of the first-of-its-kind agreement allowing a private company to take over the government property.

The aerospace company expects to create 550 high-tech jobs at Kennedy Space Center over the next four years, 140 of them by the end of next year. That's less than 10 percent of the approximately 6,000 shuttle jobs lost in Florida over the past several years, but Gov. Rick Scott and other lawmakers at the ceremony said they expect additional hirings by the commercial space industry.

NASA is counting on companies like Boeing, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and others to ferry cargo and astronauts to and from the International Space Station in three to five years. Until then, the space agency will continue to shell out tens of millions of dollars per seat on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

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NASA Seeks Hosts for Space Station Interactive Education Events

nasa_space station
NASA is seeking proposals from educators who are looking for a unique way to inspire the next generation of explorers. Formal and informal education organizations can apply to host live interactive education downlinks with astronauts onboard the International Space Station.

Proposals are being accepted for downlink opportunities during space station missions scheduled for March to September 2012. The deadline to submit comprehensive proposals that target a large number of participants is December 21st.

During Expeditions 31 and 32, NASA crew members Don Pettit, Joseph Acaba and Sunita Williams will participate in the 20-minute downlink opportunities. Participants on Earth see and hear the crew members live from space, while the crew hears the questions but does not see the audience.

U.S. educational organizations such as school districts, museums, science centers, national and regional education organizations and local, state and federal government agencies are eligible to participate. NASA provides this opportunity at no charge to the host institution. NASA personnel will work with the organization to help plan the event.

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Spitzer Snaps a Picture of the Coolest of Companions

Spitzer Space Telescope
NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has captured a picture of a nearby star and its orbiting companion - whose temperature is like a hot summer day in Arizona.

"We have discovered a new record-holder for the coldest companion imaged outside of the solar system, which is nearly as cold as Earth," said Kevin Luhman, an astronomer at The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, and lead author of a pair of papers on the findings in The Astrophysical Journal.

"We believe the object is a brown dwarf, but it could be a gas-giant planet as well."

Based on the infrared light that it emits, the cool object, named WD 0806-661 B, appears to have a temperature in the range of 80 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit (about 27 to 70 degrees Celsius).

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German satellite to fall to Earth this weekend

Germany Falling satellite
Pieces of a retired German satellite hurtling toward the atmosphere may crash to earth this weekend, the German Aerospace Center said Thursday scientists have now honed their initial estimate of when the satellite would hit from a span of four days to either Saturday or Sunday. As it nears, they will eventually be able to estimate impact within a window of about 10 hours.

Parts of the satellite, which is the size of a minivan, will burn up during re-entry but up to 30 fragments weighing a total of 1.87 tons (1.7 metric tons) could crash into the Earth with a speed of up to 280 mph (450 kph).

The satellite orbits the Earth every 90 minutes and scientists can only say that it could hit Earth anywhere along its path, between 53-degrees north and 53-degrees south — a vast swath of territory that includes much of the planet outside the poles.

Scientists are no longer able to communicate with the dead German satellite ROSAT, which was launched in 1990.

ROSAT was used for research on black holes and neutron stars and performed the first all-sky survey of X-ray sources with an imaging telescope.

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Jonathan Kay: Do Gaddafi, bin Laden and Al-Awlaki still think Obama is a wimp?

Obama and Gaddafi
Mitt Romney is described as a GOP “moderate.” Yet when it comes to foreign-policy, he toes the same line as everyone else in the GOP: Barack Obama, he tells us, is undermining American greatness. Obama is ashamed of his country, the story goes. He’s a left-wing weakling, an Ivy League sophisticate steeped in anti-American self-loathing.

In an October 7 speech at The Citadel in Charleston, S.C., Romney told a crowd of cadets that “In Barack Obama’s profoundly mistaken view, there is nothing unique about the United States,” and that “I will never, ever apologize for America.” In implicit contra-distinction to Obama, Romney declared his belief that “God did not create this country to be a nation of followers.” Later, he added: “I will not surrender America’s role in the world. This is very simple. If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your president. You have that president today.”

This piffle has become such a prominent component of the Republican attack on Obama — especially since his widely misconstrued 2009 outreach speech to Muslims in Cairo — that many folks just take the truth of it for granted.

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Comet storm rages in alien star system

Icy comets could be bombarding a nearby alien star system in a storm similar to the one thought to have brought water and other life-forming ingredients to Earth several billion years ago, a new study reveals.

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope studied a nearby bright star called Eta Corvi, which is located approximately 60 light-years away in the northern sky, and found signs that comets could be pelting the alien system.

The infrared telescope spotted a band of dust around Eta Corvi that strongly matches the chemical makeup of an obliterated giant comet, said Carey Lisse, senior research scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., and lead author of the new study.

The Eta Corvi system is approximately 1 billion years old, which would place it in the right time period for such a comet storm, the researchers said.

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Not NASA but German Satellite will plunge to Earth shortly

satellite was the primary publication to break the story with this article and this is an update to that. is in consistent contact with officials on the German ROSAT Satellite.

"Wir wissen nicht, wo sie noch landen wird, ebenso wie NASA hat mit UARS, aber wir aktualisieren die Menschen so viel wie wir k├Ânnen," said officials. "Wir sind mit anderen Agenturen, die auf die Beobachtung und Berechnung der ROSAT Umlaufbahn."

When translated into English for us ...

"We do not know where it will land yet, just as NASA did with UARS, but we will update the people as much as we can," said officials. "We are working with other agencies on observing and calculating the ROSAT orbit."

As stated in the primary article at, TWS predicted it would fall this month, not in November. This prediction at was made simply by looking at the solar wind data and calculating a better drag time.

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U.S. Widens Rocket Field

Rocket Field
Pentagon and NASA officials have reached an agreement intended to help small commercial space ventures compete for lucrative business to launch government satellites into space, while reducing costs and loosening the grip of giants Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. on such contracts.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Air Force and the Defense Department's spy-satellite office on Friday announced criteria for allowing privately built rockets to launch future military and civilian payloads.

By adopting a joint approach to evaluate future risks, the agreement aims to weigh cost and rocket reliability against the potential dangers of launch failures destroying satellites.

The most critical payloads, for example, won't be allowed to blast off on new, privately built rockets until those systems have a proven track record of at least several successful launches. Less critical payloads could sit atop new rockets that haven't yet flown and whose performance still needs to be validated, according to documents released by the Air Force.

The first-of-its-kind agreement "is the best balance of ensuring reliable access to space while encouraging competition and innovation," according to Erin Conaton, the Air Force official overseeing space programs. A NASA spokesman said that opening the door to new launch providers is expected to lower costs.

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NASA crew will train for asteroid in the sea

Nasa crew
Sixty feet beneath the waves off the Florida Keys, NASA will, beginning Monday, take some of its first tentative steps toward sending humans to an asteroid.

In addition to building a spacecraft and a booster rocket, the space agency also needs to develop new tools and methods if it is to successfully land astronauts on a large hunk of rock with virtually no gravity.

To that end, a crew of three "aquanauts" and a scientist will begin a 13-day mission Monday on the sea floor near Key Largo, to begin developing the equipment and operations that would be used for an asteroid mission.

"We're not practicing asteroid exploration," said Steve Squyres, the principal scientist behind the Mars Opportunity and Spirit rovers, who is part of the expedition. "What we're going to be doing is taking the first steps toward learning how to do asteroid exploration with humans."

The crew will spend nearly two weeks living inside the school bus-size Aquarius lab in the Conch Reef of the Florida Keys and working outside.

Although the facility is owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA has used it 14 times during the last decade as a proxy for space exploration.

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NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft Spots Asteroid Mountain 3 Times Everest

Dawn Space Craft
NASA has released a new image from its Dawn spacecraft that shows a mountain three times as high as Mount Everest in the south polar region of the asteroid Vesta.

The photo released Monday shows the peak of Vesta's tallest mountain rising nearly 13 miles (22 kilometers) above the average height of its rough surrounding terrain. It also spreads about 112 miles (180 kilometers) at its base.

Dawn is currently orbiting Vesta.

Vesta is the second largest body in the main asteroid belt that lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It is about 330 miles (529 kilometers) wide. Dawn entered Vesta's orbit in July and will stay there for a year collecting data before moving on to the dwarf planet called Ceres, the largest asteroid in the main belt.

"Vesta is full of surprises, and no more so than in the southern polar region," Paul Schenk, a Dawn participating scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Texas, said during a press briefing.

"We had indications before arrival that the south polar region was going to be interesting," he said, adding that "Hubble pictures show a dimple there, but at [the space telescope's] resolution it's hard to tell what's going on."

The Vesta mountain is more than twice the height of Mauna Loa in Hawaii, which is the tallest volcano on Earth. Mauna Lao rises 6 miles (9 km) from the Pacific Ocean floor, but most of it is under water.

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NASA offers view of KSC's future

Senior NASA officials today will offer an update Kennedy Space Center's post-shuttle future.

Center Director Bob Cabana and other KSC managers will address several hundred community leaders, business executives, educators, community organizers, and state and local government leaders expected to attend the center's annual Community Leaders Breakfast.

This morning's event is hosted at the Visitor Complex's Debus Conference Facility.

At 11 a.m., Cabana will join NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden for a tour of the 355-foot mobile launcher NASA plans to use for launches of a giant heavy-lift rocket for deep space missions.

Built for the cancelled Constellation program's Ares I rocket, the Apollo-style mobile launch platform and tower is expected to be modified to fit the recently announced Space Launch System.

Cabana and Bolden will discuss the system that NASA says will "take astronauts farther into space than ever before, create high-quality jobs here at home, and provide the cornerstone for America's future human space exploration efforts."

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NASA hands over keys to space shuttle Endeavour

NASA officially signed over the ownership of Endeavour, its youngest space shuttle, to the California Science Center in Los Angeles Tuesday, setting the stage for the retired spaceship's delivery to the museum next year.

Space agency officials handed over Endeavour's title during a ceremony at the science center and plan to deliver the space shuttle in the second half of 2012.

"NASA is pleased to share this wonderful orbiter with the California Science Center to help inspire a new generation of explorers," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. "The next chapter in space exploration begins now, and we're standing on the shoulders of the men and women of the shuttle program to reach farther into the solar system."

The California Science Center is one of four institutions across the country selected by Bolden to serve as the permanent home for NASA's space shuttle vehicles. Bolden announced his decision on April 12 of this year, the 30th anniversary of the first space shuttle launch in 1981.

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New View of Vesta Mountain From NASA's Dawn Mission

Dawn Mission
A new image from NASA's Dawn spacecraft shows a mountain three times as high as Mt. Everest, amidst the topography in the south polar region of the giant asteroid Vesta.

The peak of Vesta's south pole mountain, seen in the center of the image, rises about 13 miles (22 kilometers) above the average height of the surrounding terrain. Another impressive structure is a large scarp, a cliff with a steep slope, on the right side of this image. The scarp bounds part of the south polar depression, and the Dawn team's scientists believe features around its base are probably the result of landslides.

The image is online at: . It was created from a shape model of Vesta, and shows an oblique perspective view of the topography of the south polar region. The image resolution is about 300 meters per pixel, and the vertical scale is 1.5 times that of the horizontal scale.

Dawn entered orbit around Vesta in July. Members of the mission team will discuss what the spacecraft has seen so far during a news conference at the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America in Minneapolis. Among other things, they'll share their hypotheses on the origins of Vesta's curious craters.

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Tropical system approaching NASA Space Center should be Tropical Storm

Tropical System
Latest radar image out of Melbourne, Florida shows a defined tropical storm nearing the NASA Kennedy Space Center as we speak. NOAA has not named it.

There are times when you question the judgement of another and this would be the time. Observations show wind gusts nearing 60 mph at the NASA Kennedy Space Center right now and radar clearly shows a defined low level circulation.

There is no doubt in my mind this is a Tropical Storm that may be missed by the National Hurricane Center. Latest radar imagery shows a clear surface low signature just 40 miles southeast of the NASA Kennedy Space Center.

Whether they decide to name it or not, this system will cross Central Florida and produce heavy rainfall, thunderstorms, and strong winds through the night.

NASA Cameras Track Meteors, May Improve Astronaut Safety

Astronaut in space
A growing network of NASA cameras is providing dramatic images of meteors as they streak across the night sky, and may eventually protect astronauts in space.

"If you have an object that's picked up by multiple cameras, you can figure out speed, direction and height," said David Dundee, an astronomer at the Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville, Ga., which houses one of the cameras on its roof. "You can actually plot the orbit of where these things come from."

The Tellus camera is one of four NASA "all sky" cameras already operational in the Southeast. The space agency is completing a network of 15 cameras east of the Mississippi River, with plans to expand nationwide, to help compute the routes of these objects.

By determining the paths of meteoroids (the term for space debris outside the atmosphere), scientists hope to develop enough advance warning to keep astronauts out of harm's way. Engineers also hope to make spacecraft more resistant to strikes from meteoroids as they learn more about the objects' sizes and speeds.

"The major meteor showers, we pretty much know about," Dundee said. "It's the other minor showers and streams we don't know about, and then the sporadic meteors that are not associated with showers. We're trying to get a handle on what the rate is and from where."

Here on Earth, the atmosphere offers excellent protection against the estimated 100 tons of space dust, gravel and rocks that enter it each day. More than 99 percent of this material burns up completely before getting anywhere near the ground.

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NASA Requiring All Space Cadets to Speak Russian

space cadets
In early November, NASA will seek applicants for its next class of astronaut candidates, hoping to bolster its reserves of brave spacemen -- in the face of a National Research Council report that warned the corps was getting too small.

"For scientists, engineers and other professionals who have always dreamed of experiencing spaceflight, this is an exciting time to join the astronaut corps," said Janet Kavandi, director of flight crew operations at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

And rocket scientists aren't the only ones who can apply.

A bachelor's degree in engineering, science or math and three years of relevant professional experience are all that's required in order to be considered. Typically, successful applicants have significant qualifications in engineering or science, or extensive experience flying high-performance jet-aircraft, NASA said.

Don't get too excited just yet, however: The space agency won't be seeking hundreds of new astronauts. There will be room for only around 8 to 12, Duane Ross, manager for astronaut candidate training, told

"The number is one of those things you don't decide on until the very end," Ross cautioned, noting that "the number will be small -- last time we picked nine."

This class of astronauts won't necessarily be training as pilots, either, though some will certainly go through such training. The focus will instead be on long-duration missions aboard the International Space Station.

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NASA Supercomputer Tackles Secrets Of Galaxies

nasa super computer
A NASA supercomputer has provided the most realistic simulation of the evolving universe that scientists have produced to date, giving researchers clues to how the cosmos continues to change and grow, according to the space agency.

NASA's Pleiades supercomputer, which is located at the NASA Ames Research Center, used simulation code called Bolshoi to show the distribution of dark matter across a span of one billion light years. Dark matter--a substance with much gravity that doesn't interact with normal matter and cannot be directly observed--comprises about 25% of the universe, and is the subject of much of NASA's work to study the origins and evolution of the universe.

Researchers hope to use the simulation to explain how galaxies and other aspects of the universe were formed and have evolved since the Big Bang, which occurred 13.7 billion years ago and is considered the origin of the universe, according to NASA.

Custom software tools from NASA's data analysis and visualization team produced images and animations that show the formation and evolution of so-called "dark matter halos," which are the basis for the formation of galaxies. These are allowing scientists to analyze the results of the simulation for further research, according to NASA.

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Gaping hole opened in Arctic ozone layer

Arctic Ozone Layer
A huge Arctic ozone hole opened up over the Northern Hemisphere for the first time this year, an international research team reported Sunday.

The hole covered 2 million square kilometres - about twice the size of Ontario - and allowed high levels of harmful ultraviolet radiation to hit large swaths of northern Canada, Europe and Russia this spring, the 29 scientists say.

The discovery of the "unprecedented" hole comes as the Canadian government is moving to reduce staff in what Environment Minister Peter Kent calls the "streamlining" of its ozone monitoring network.

Environment Canada scientist David Tarasick, whose team played a key role in the report published Sunday in the journal Nature, is not allowed to discuss the discovery with the media.

Environment Canada told Postmedia News that an interview with Tarasick "cannot be granted." Tarasick is one of several Environment Canada ozone scientists who have received letters warning of possible "discontinuance of job function" as part of the downsizing underway in the department.

In Sunday's report Tarasick and his colleagues say the "chemical ozone destruction over the Arctic in early 2011 was - for the first time in the observation record - comparable to that in the Antarctic ozone hole."

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NASA Probe Uncovers Decades-Old Mysteries of Mercury

Nasa Mercury
Mercury, the tiny rocky planet closest to the sun, may have a lot common with earth, but a spacecraft sent to the least-explored planet in the system is providing surprising data that has revolutionized the way scientists think about the innermost planet.

New close-up images and data provided by NASA's MESSENGER -- Mercury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging -- spacecraft have revealed an unforeseen class of landforms on the planet closest to the sun.

MESSENGER spacecraft, the first to achieve orbit around Mercury, has found that the planet has a lot of unfathomable lava flows that envelop its northern polar region with no other earth-type volcanoes in view, the U.S. space agency says.

Mercury's exterior portion have slopes just like the hills and valleys on Earth, but those of the smallest planet in the solar system are described as "hollows" to distinguish them from craters.

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Mercury's close-up shows lava flows and "hollows"

Mercury may have a lot in common with Earth, but close-up images and data captured by NASA'S MESSENGER probe this year show it's still a bit of a planetary weirdo.

Just like Earth, Mercury has lava flows. But these are deep flows that smoothly cover the small planet's northern polar region, with no Earth-type volcanoes in sight.

There are dips in Mercury's surface, just as there are hills and valleys on Earth, and both are rocky planets. But those on Mercury have been dubbed "hollows" to differentiate them from impact craters and other depressions on the small, hot orb closest to the Sun.

It has a magnetic field, just as Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune do, but Mercury's magnetosphere is so small -- about 1 percent the size of Earth's -- that it offers little protection from the charged particles that make up the solar wind blasting off the Sun.

"Mercury is not the planet described in the textbooks," James Head III of Brown University said in a telephone briefing on Thursday. "The innermost planet has had a long and much more exciting life than anyone expected or predicted."

MESSENGER -- which stands for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging spacecraft -- looped around the inner solar system 15 times over six years before beginning its orbits around the planet on March 18.

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NASA Satellite Debris Crashes into the Pacific

NASA satellite
On Saturday, NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) crash landed at approximately 12AM Eastern time. The location, NASA confirmed, is in a general area in the Southern hemisphere away from any major lands. To their knowledge, however, there have been no signs of UARS debris located in the predicted geographic region.

The UARS satellite launched its mission in 1991 from the Space Shuttle Discovery. Since its departure, NASA had been tracking movement of the UARS closely and predicted its fall to be September, but the crash landing site was completely beyond their calculations.

Although there have never been cases of space material injuring people, this raises concerns globally. Most parts of the 6.2 ton satellite are said to have disintegrated upon re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, but it's probable that a remaining 1,200 pounds of material made it through. Since those components are no longer functioning, it's not likely to be of any harm to its surroundings.

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NASA: Satellite fell in south Pacific, not Canada

Nasa Satellite
That dead NASA satellite fell into what might be the ideal spot — part of the southern Pacific Ocean about as far from large land masses as you can get, U.S. space officials said Tuesday.

New U.S. Air Force calculations put the 6-ton satellite's death plunge early Saturday thousands of miles from northwestern North America, where there were reports of sightings. Instead, it plunged into areas where remote islands dot a vast ocean.

NASA says those new calculations show the 20-year-old satellite entered Earth's atmosphere generally above American Samoa. But falling debris as it broke apart didn't start hitting the water for another 300 miles to the northeast, southwest of Christmas Island, just after midnight EDT Saturday.

Experts believe about two dozen metal pieces from the bus-sized satellite fell over a 500-mile span.

"It's a relatively uninhabited portion of the world, very remote," NASA orbital debris scientist Mark Matney said. "This is certainly a good spot in terms of risk."

Scientists who track space junk couldn't be happier with the result.

"That's the way it should be. I think that's perfect," said Bill Ailor, director of the Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies at the Aerospace Corp. "It's just as good as it gets."

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NASA fosters innovation

Nasa Innovation
The recent announcement that NASA would begin work on its new heavy booster rockets was met with a polarized reaction, from enthusiastic support to outcry among the budget conscious. With the phasing out of NASA’s Space Shuttle program, the United States was left with a void in their space exploration capabilities. The end to NASA’s shuttle program was largely met with disappointment in the scientific community, but support from the general public, as people considered it a black hole for public funds.

Yet, American ingenuity throughout the Space Age drove technology in this country, a symbol of American prestige. As an engineer, I look at the announcement of NASA’s new goals with optimism. Our ingenuity cannot fall by the wayside as China, Russia and Brazil strive to develop and innovate in ways that once drove our own nation’s technological growth.

In recent times, NASA has been the scapegoat for a public increasingly wary of spending money on programs that seem to provide no direct benefit. A report by Roger Launius, the Senior Curator at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum, found that in the late 1990s, the public believed NASA to account for anywhere between 6 and 45 percent of the national budget, when in fact, NASA accounted for less than 1 percent. Such misinformation drives the public belief that space exploration is an unnecessary facet of our country.

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NASA Satellite Makes Homecoming; But its Whereabouts May Remain Unknown Forever?

It flew for long 20 years and nine days, and when it made its homecoming, nobody knows its whereabouts. Almost six years after ceasing operation, the decommissioned NASA satellite finally landed somewhere on Earth, but even NASA doesn't know the exact landing location and "may never know."

In a latest statement, NASA said that the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) fell back to Earth between 11:23 p.m. EDT Friday, Sept. 23, and 1:09 a.m. EDT Sept. 24. However, the space agency did state that the accurate re-entry time and location of debris crashes have not been determined yet.

NASA believes that during its fiery dive, UARS broke apart and most probably plunged into the Pacific Ocean far off the U.S. coast. It also stresses the possibility of 26 pieces of the satellite, weighing about 1,200 pounds, which could have survived the fall.

During its entire 20 years on orbit as well as its re-entry this past week, the research satellite was monitored by the Operations Center for JFCC-Space, the Joint Functional Component Command at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

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Old NASA satellite to tumble to Earth on Friday

UARS satellite
While North America appears to be off the hook, scientists are scrambling to pinpoint exactly where and when a dead NASA climate satellite will plummet back to Earth on Friday.

The 6-ton, bus-sized satellite is expected to break into more than a hundred pieces as it plunges through the atmosphere, most of it burning up.

But if you're hoping for a glimpse, the odds are slim. Most sightings occur by chance because the re-entry path can't be predicted early enough to alert people, said Canadian Ted Molczan, who tracks satellites for a hobby.

In all his years of monitoring, Molczan has witnessed only one tumble back to Earth - the 2004 return of a Russian communications satellite.

It "looked like a brilliant star with a long glowing tail," he said in an email.

The best guess so far is that the 20-year-old Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite will hit sometime Friday afternoon or early evening, Eastern time. The latest calculations indicate it will not be over the United States, Canada and Mexico during that time.

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Can NASA Webb Telescope Survive The Economy

Webb Space Telescope
The James Webb SpaceTelescope, which is scheduled to replace the heralded Hubble Telescope is at a point of reckoning as delays and stunning cost overruns strike a dissonant chord between astronomers and policymakers.

In 1996, The JWST was budgeted at approximately $1 billion and was `scheduled for completion in 2008. Now, the project is estimated to cost just under $9 billion and id due to be completed in 2018. Those delays and cost overruns have put the future of JWST in question.

While NASA officials have publicly acknowledged making mistakes they defend the project, and the cost overruns as worthwhile considering the scientific value of the project. The US House of Representatives has voted to stop funding the project while the Senate has drafted legislation to fully fund the project. A compromise solution is hoped for, but the current economic crisis has forced the government to slash funding for many non-essential projects.

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NASA set to fund space taxi systems

Space Taxi System
NASA next year will fund the development of at least two space taxi systems that could return astronauts to orbit aboard U.S. vehicles by late 2016.

The agency this week released draft terms of a contract that aims to complete designs of those systems by 2014, after which one or more would be chosen for a follow-up phase that builds and tests vehicles.

The draft request for proposals proves the agency's commitment "to outsource our space station transportation so NASA can focus its energy and resources on deep space exploration," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.

Potential providers of the outsourced crew flights, which would launch from the Space Coast, have a month to review and comment on the draft before a final version is released late this year.

A SpaceX spokesman said the company was still reviewing the draft language.

SpaceX is one of the four companies that shared nearly $270 million in NASA funding this year to advance designs of spacecraft able to fly people to and from the International Space Station.

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NASA announces plan to ferry astronauts via privately built craft

NASA unveiled on Sept. 19 an outline of its acquisition strategy to procure transportation services from private industry to carry U.S. astronauts to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station. The agency also announced the addition of optional milestones for the Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2) initiative.

"This is a significant step forward in America's amazing story of space exploration," said NASA administrator Charles Bolden. "It's further evidence we are committed to fully implementing our plan — as laid out in the Authorization Act — to outsource our space station transportation so NASA can focus its energy and resources on deep space exploration."

NASA's draft request for proposal (RFP) outlines a contract that will be awarded to multiple companies that provide a complete end-to-end design, including spacecraft, launch vehicles, launch services, ground and mission operations and recovery. The Integrated Design Contract (IDC) of up to $1.61 billion will run from July 2012 through April 2014.

"This IDC effort will bring us through the critical design phase to fully incorporate our human spaceflight safety requirements and NASA's International Space Station mission needs," said NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager Ed Mango. "We look forward to strong U.S. industry response."

Bolden also announced Monday at a speech to the Air Force Association's 2011 Air and Space Conference that NASA will fund optional milestones pre-negotiated as part of some of the original CCDev2 Space Act Agreements (SAA) to help accelerate development.

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NASA satellite expected to crash to Earth in days

Nasa Satellite
The sky is not falling. A 12,500-pound NASA satellite the size of a school bus is, though.

It's the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, and it's tumbling in orbit and succumbing to Earth's gravity. It will crash to the surface Friday.

Or maybe Thursday. Or Saturday.

Out-of-control crashing satellites don't lend themselves to exact estimates even for the precision-minded folks at NASA. The uncertainty about the "when" makes the "where" all the trickier, because a small change in the timing of the re-entry translates into thousands of miles of difference in the crash site.

As of the moment, NASA says the 35-foot-long satellite will crash somewhere between 57 degrees north latitude and 57 degrees south latitude - a projected crash zone that covers most of the planet, and particularly the inhabited parts. In this hemisphere, that includes everyone living between northern Newfoundland and the frigid ocean beyond the last point of land in South America.

Polar bears and Antarctic scientists are safe.

It's the biggest piece of NASA space junk to fall to Earth in more than 30 years. It should create a light show. The satellite will partially burn up during re-entry, and, by NASA's calculation, break into about 100 pieces, creating fireballs that should be visible even in daytime.

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NASA announces new deep space exploration system

NASA on Wednesday announced that it has already selected a design to develop a new Space Launch System (SLS) to transport astronauts to farther areas in space.

After months of comprehensive review of potential designs that focused on developing a rocket that is not only powerful but also evolvable so it can be adapted to different missions as opportunities arise and new technologies are developed, NASA announced that the launch vehicle had been decided.

According to the agency, the SLS is expected to carry human crews beyond low Earth orbit in a capsule named the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. The rocket will use a liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fuel system, for which RS-25D/E engines will provide the core propulsion while the J2X engine is planned for use in the upper stage. In addition, there will be a competition to develop the boosters based on performance requirements.

"Having settled on a new and powerful heavy-lift launch architecture, NASA can now move ahead with building that rocket and the next-generation vehicles and technologies needed for an ambitious program of crewed missions in deep space," said John P. Holdren, assistant to the President for Science and Technology.

"I'm excited about NASA's new path forward and about its promise for continuing American leadership in human space exploration," Holdren added. The heavy-lift rocket's early flights will be capable of lifting 70-100 metric tons before evolving to a lift capacity of 130 metric tons.

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A Setback Could Force NASA to Bid for a Plan B

The announcement on Tuesday by the Russian space agency that it will delay the launching of the next crew to the International Space Station is a concern for NASA, which is relying solely on the Russians for astronaut transportation.

The end of the space shuttle program after the last flight in July was meant to usher in a new era where NASA could move on to more ambitious destinations and nimbler, cheaper private companies would take over the job of ferrying people and supplies to the orbiting research station. But a series of recent rocket malfunctions — including one on Aug. 24 by a Russian ship that was taking supplies to the space station — has made this approach look tenuous.

“It would be better if the space station were not reliant on any one nation,” said Scott Pace, director of the space policy institute at George Washington University.

American companies have contracts with NASA to carry cargo to the space station and hope eventually to win contracts to serve as space taxis for humans. But their success is hardly assured. The Orbital Sciences Corporation of Vienna, Va., one of two companies that are to start taking cargo to the space station next year, suffered a setback in June when an engine caught fire during a ground test.

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NASA launches Web tool to explore the solar system

Want to explore the solar system and follow NASA space missions in real time?

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is giving the public the chance to do just that through a new Internet-based tool called Eyes on the Solar System. The space agency said the tool combines video-game technology and NASA data to create an environment for users to ride along with agency spacecraft as they explore the cosmos.

"You are now free to move about the solar system," Blaine Baggett, a manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge, Calif., said in a statement. "See what NASA’s spacecraft see - and where they are right now - all without leaving your computer."

By using a keyboard and a mouse, online users can zip through space and explore anything that catches their interest. For example, NASA in August launched a probe called Juno that will explore Jupiter.

Users can follow the Juno spacecraft, literally peering over its shoulder to get a bird’s-eye view of what it sees - and even find out what’s ahead on its five-year journey to the solar system’s largest planet.

The technology also allows users to switch their point of view from far away to close up to right on board spacecraft, and also to switch from 2-D or 3-D modes. By putting on 3-D glasses, users can see flat images transform into multidimensional illustrations.

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NASA Sits Tight as Unmanned Space Station Considered

Space Station
The failure of a Russian Soyuz cargo rocket several minutes after launch last month, and Russia's decision to suspend all Soyuz launches while it investigates the cause, has created some problems for International Space Station partners.

NASA officials are discussing the possibility of leaving the station unmanned for the first time in nearly 11 years, as partner countries discuss the readiness to resume Russian Soyuz launches to the station.

Speaking to reporters earlier this week from aboard the space station, NASA astronaut Mike Fossum said the station's six crew members are not yet preparing to leave the orbiting lab unmanned. He said, though, that officials at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Texas are considering their options.

"The teams in Houston are in the preliminary stages of deciding everything from what ventilation we're going to leave running, what lights we are going to leave on, what condition each particular experiment will be on - every tank, every valve, every hatch," said Fossum.

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NASA rovers carried World Trade Center aluminum to Mars

Nasa Rover
The offices of Honeybee Robotics were located less than a mile from the World Trade Center in 2001. In September of that year, the company was building grinding tools for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, the employees of Honeybee struggled to find a way to offer help or a tribute as they were weighed down by the necessarily-firm NASA deadlines required for equipment testing. But eventually Honeybee found the perfect opportunity.

The design of the grinders called for a plain aluminum shield to cover the tool’s control cables. Working with New York City mayor’s office, a metal-working shop in Texas and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, Honeybee decided to fabricate the shields out of aluminum recovered from the World Trade Center towers. With images of American flags attached, both shields now serve as a permanent tribute on Mars. On the photo of Spirit above, the shield is the dull metal piece at top left.

The Spirit rover was launched all the way back in June 2003, with Opportunity launched that July. By January of 2004 they’d both landed safely on Mars. Their primary missions were both completed three months later. The grinders designed by Honeybee were used initially in rock sampling; they allowed both rovers to cut through the crust on Martian rocks to analyze their contents.

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