NASA's Voyager Probes to Leave Solar System by 2016

Nasa's Voyager
It may be decades before humanity sets foot on Mars, but we're only five years away from sampling the vast stretches of interstellar space beyond our solar system for the first time, researchers say.

NASA's twin unmanned Voyager spacecraft, which were launched in 1977, are streaking toward the edge of the solar system at around 37,000 mph (60,000 kph). At that rate, they'll probably pop out of our sun's sphere of influence and into interstellar space by 2016 or so, according to mission scientists.

"They are about to break free of the solar system," Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist at Caltech in Pasadena, Calif., said during a media teleconference yesterday (April 28). "We are trying to get outside of our bubble, into interstellar space, to directly measure what is there."

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Lightning Strikes Behind Shuttle Endeavour in Spectacular Photos

Nasa endeavour Lighting
Nasa endeavour Lighting
A barrage of thunderstorms and lightning in Florida created a spectacular backdrop for the space shuttle Endeavour late Thursday in striking photos taken on the eve of the spacecraft's final launch.

The stunning snapshots show Endeavour atop the seaside Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., as bolts of lightning light up the cloud-filled sky above. For those brief instants, the lightning cast an eerie purple glow over the shuttle and launch pad. [Photo of Endeavour and lightning]

NASA photographer Bill Ingalls snapped the photos, which the space agency posted online, during a series of storms that temporarily stalled efforts by shuttle technicians to prepare Endeavour for its planned launch on Friday, April 29, at 3:47 p.m. EDT (1947 GMT).

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NASA Awards Knowledge Sharing and Curriculum Contract

NASA Awards
NASA selected InuTeq, LLC in Greenbelt, Md., for a follow-on contract award for support services for the agency's Office of the Chief Engineer's Academy of Program/Project and Engineering Leadership (APPEL).

InuTeq, LLC is a Small Business Administration 8(a)-certified small disadvantaged business. The company will provide services for developing NASA's technical workforce in systems engineering, engineering, and program and project management.

InuTeq also will provide curriculum development and knowledge sharing services; support for international collaboration; implementation of e-Learning into the APPEL program; and publish the Academy Sharing Knowledge Magazine.

The contract period of performance is five years, including options, with a maximum total value of $35,884,987.

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Did investment in the shuttle program pay off?

After 133 missions, 14 astronauts lost in two tragic accidents and almost four decades of work, NASA's space shuttles will head to museums once this year's final two missions are done.

So what did we get for the $113.7 billion that NASA says was spent on the shuttle?

A century-long dream, the reusable, winged space plane was sold by the space agency as the logical successor to the Apollo missions of the moon-race era in the early 1970s. Budget cuts and compromises such as enlarging the shuttle payload to hold military satellites limited the promise of making space travel cheap, frequent and easy, says historian Roger Launius of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

"The history of the space shuttle is one of biting off more than we can chew," says policy analyst Roger Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado. In a recent Nature journal estimate, Pielke put the true cost of the program at $192 billion from 1971 to 2010 (more than the space agency estimate partly because of adjustments for inflation), or about $1.5 billion per launch. In 1972, NASA estimated each launch could be done for $10.4million.

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Dry ice lake suggests Mars once had a ‘Dust Bowl’

Dry Ice Mars
Mars today has a brutal environment — frigid, arid and, because of its very thin atmosphere, constantly bombarded by lethal radiation. But it was worse 600,000 years ago, according to new research that suggests the planet had a far dustier, stormier atmosphere.

“It was an unpleasant place to hang out,” said lead researcher Roger Phillips of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.
The evidence comes from the discovery of a huge underground reservoir of dry ice, or frozen carbon dioxide, at its south pole — much more than scientists realized. They suspect some of that store of carbon dioxide was once in Mars’ atmosphere, making it denser.

In the recent geologic past, when Mars’ axis tilted, sunlight reached the southern polar cap, melting some of the frozen carbon dioxide. This release would have made the atmosphere thicker and caused more dust to loft into the air, creating severe storms. Other times, carbon dioxide cycled back into the ground as part of a seasonal cycle.

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Transcendence Splashes Down

It is objectively no small feat, slipping the surly bonds of Earth. But somehow, over its 30 years of existence, NASA’s Space Shuttle program has become roughly as thrilling as the Delta Shuttle. Still, there’s something sad about the end of the program, which will officially shut down after Endeavour’s 25th and final mission, on April 29, and one last there-and-back by Space Shuttle Atlantis in June. It’s not so much that the program’s increasingly prosaic missions—they have amounted, in recent years, to something like space carpooling—will be missed. The sadness instead comes from the petering out of space travel’s promised transcendence.

The commonplace marvels of modern technology probably have something to do with this awe deficit—a 400-mile vertical round-trip in a less-than-sleek 1992-model vehicle may not seem as miraculous as it did in a time before one could, if booked on the right airline, stream Parks and Recreation onto an iPad mid-flight. The Shuttle program’s geopolitical moment has passed, too. We’re no longer going to space to prove that our way of life is superior to an evil empire’s; instead, we’re going up there to do some repairs, drop off a magnetic spectrometer, and see the sights. And with deficits suddenly the Greatest Threat Our Nation Has Ever Faced, such errands now stand out as a sore thumb of a line item. The Space Shuttle program has cost nearly $200 billion over its lifetime; at a moment when we’re cutting holes in the social safety net to try to balance the books, Friday’s Shuttle launch will cost what NASA says is nearly half a billion dollars and another estimate puts at $1.2 billion. That the “economic, scientific and technological returns of space exploration have far exceeded the investment,” as former NASA life-sciences director Joan Vernikos has written, makes the accounting look a little more favorable, of course. But simply talking about it that way suggests just how un-wonderful space has become.

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A Rose of Galaxies? NASA Rings In Hubble's 21st Birthday

Nasa rose
If space-based telescopes could tipple, they probably wouldn't need to--not with images like the one above on tap. NASA's celebrating the Hubble Space Telescope's 21st birthday (hey, it's legal!) with an image that almost resembles starry petals on some vast and distant heavenly rose.

You're in fact staring at a shot of two galaxies in an interstellar tete-a-tete, in which one (dubbed UGC 1810) is being persuaded by another (dubbed UGC 1813) to “blossom." The two galaxies exert gravitational forces on each other that warp their shapes, culminating in the rose-like appearance of UGC 1810. There's even a slender “tidal bridge” of matter slung between both galaxies--separated by “tens of thousands” of light years--like an intergalactic zip line.

Call the whole thing “Arp 273,” because NASA does, and it's located in the constellation Andromeda, about 300 million light-years distant from us.

As for the Hubble itself, my first memories when it launched back in April 1990 are probably the same as yours: it couldn't "see" clearly due to a flawed mirror. The servicing mission that eventually fixed it didn't occur until December 1993, incidentally the most complex mission ever undertaken at that point, and one in which astronauts were trained in the use of over 100 instruments to repair and fine tune things.

"Hubble is America's gift to the world," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland in a NASA statement. "Its jaw-dropping images have rewritten the textbooks and inspired generations of schoolchildren to study math and science. It has been documenting the history of our universe for 21 years. Thanks to the daring of our brave astronauts, a successful servicing mission in 2009 gave Hubble new life. I look forward to Hubble's amazing images and inspiring discoveries for years to come."

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NASA clears shuttle Endeavour for April 29 launch

The shuttle Endeavour was cleared for a launch attempt on April 29 to deliver a new class of physics instrument to the International Space Station on NASA's next-to-last shuttle flight, officials said Tuesday.

Liftoff of the 134th shuttle mission is scheduled for 3:47 p.m. EDT from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The all-veteran crew is led by Mark Kelly, husband of Arizona Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who is recovering from a January 8 shooting that killed six people and injured 12 others.

Pending approval from her doctors, Giffords, who has not been seen publicly since the attack outside a Tucson, Arizona, grocery store, plans to attend the launch, Kelly has said.

The primary purpose of the flight is to deliver the $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, or AMS, particle detector, an instrument designed to detect dark matter, antimatter and other exotic phenomena.

"It has the potential of returning really Earth-shattering science," said NASA's Bill Gerstenmaier.

A team of 600 scientists from 16 nations, including China and Taiwan, are partners in the project.

After installing AMS the Endeavour astronauts will turn their attention to four spacewalks and other tasks to help get the space station ready for operations without shuttle support. The station is a $100 billion project of the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada that has been under construction since 1998, 220 miles above Earth.

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NASA awards $270M to spacecraft builders

NASA on Monday awarded almost $270 million to developers of four U.S. spacecraft that are the frontrunners to fly astronauts after the shuttle.

Two capsules, a space plane and a gumdrop-shaped spacecraft were selected under a program seeking to develop commercial vehicles to taxi astronauts to the International Space Station or other destinations by the middle of the decade.

After two more shuttle flights, NASA will rely on Russian spacecraft for rides to the space station until a U.S. commercial service becomes available.

"We're committed to safely transporting U.S. astronauts on American-made spacecraft and ending the outsourcing of this work to foreign governments," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. "These agreements are significant milestones in NASA's plans to take advantage of American ingenuity to get to low-Earth orbit, so we can concentrate our resources on deep space exploration."

NASA hopes privately run crew transportation will cost less than a government-run system, allow the agency to focus on building a giant rocket and capsule for exploration and help spur a market for commercial spaceflight.

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Final Landings for NASA’s Space Shuttles — and some planning thoughts

Space shuttle landing
The news of the decision was made last week. Fierce competition for the three remaining Space Transport System (STS) vehicles — “Space Shuttles” in non NASA speak — which have been in orbit, as well as the engineless Enterprise which flew in Earth’s atmosphere but not designed for orbital missions — was had though the cost to each museum would be high. Estimated costs are around $28 million USD to render each shuttle safe for public display and transport with the added hefty requirement to display the each shuttle indoors.

Here are the locations with some added thoughts:

STS Atlantis will go to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Florida. I am not sure if the existing buildings there will house her, or not. Getting Atlantis to KSC will be easy as she has been routinely flown there in order to accomplish her missions but getting her to the display site will need some attention.

STS Discovery is destined for the National Air & Space Museum Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia near Washington DC. This museum is the current home for STS Enterprise which will be transported to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City, New York. The Udvar-Hazy Center is located in the southeastern corner of Dulles International Airport and the design of the museum reflects that of an extremely large aircraft hangar. Extracting the Enterprise and inserting the Discovery should be a straight forward affair though one that would be interesting to watch. Dulles may experience a unique event, NASA’s shuttle carrying Boeing B-747 landing with one shuttle and taking off with another.

STS Endevour has been slated to retire to the California Science Center in Los Angeles, California. This museum has a Lockheed A-12 “Blackbird” nicknamed individually”Titanium Goose”* on outside display along with a Douglas DC-8 also on outside display. The museum is not on an airfield — getting the Endevour to LAX will be easy enough to accomplish but taking her over 10 miles (16km) of urban roadways will be challenging and a new building will be required.

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Next Generation Space Telescope

Nasa Telescope
NASA engineer Ernie Wright looks on as the first six flight ready James Webb Space Telescope's primary mirror segments are prepped to begin final cryogenic testing at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.

This represents the first six of 18 segments that will form NASA's James Webb Space Telescope’s primary mirror for space observations. Engineers began final round-the-clock cryogenic testing to confirm that the mirrors will respond as expected to the extreme temperatures of space prior to integration into the telescope's permanent housing structure.

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Father of Mission Control honored by NASA

Chris kraft
For more than four decades, building 30 at NASA’s Johnson Space Center has been home to Mission Control. It still is, but on Thursday it took on a new name to honor the “father of Mission Control,” Christopher C. Kraft Jr.

Kraft began his space flight career soon after graduating from Virginia Tech University in 1944 with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, NASA’s predecessor agency.

In 1958 he volunteered for the Space Task Group, the organization charged with creating what is NASA today.

The group created the first flight manuals and developed the procedures for the operation of a never-before concept, a central control center.

New concept

“A control center was a new idea,” former Gemini and Apollo program flight director and Kraft protégée Glynn Lunney said during ceremonies in front of the mission control center. “Whenever there was a picture of a control center, it was ours. And now I don’t think you can go into a building that people don’t have a control center in it. What you see behind us is a pretty big building, but it’s not so much the building, the concrete and the consoles, it’s the idea behind it.

“This represents a pretty profound idea and Chris brought it to us.”

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Budget pessimism may drive JWST launch date to 2018

Struggling to match schedules with bleak funding realities, NASA and contractor officials say launch of the troubled James Webb Space Telescope could be delayed to 2018, four years later than the date NASA publicly pronounced last fall.
Testifying before a U.S. Senate subcommittee Monday, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said the agency is still completing a bottoms-up assessment of the next-generation space observatory before announcing a specific launch readiness date and cost projections.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., asked Bolden how much money is needed to put JWST back on track, saying lawmakers need realistic numbers to incorporate into the federal budget process.

Mikulski is the chair of the commerce, justice and science subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Who Will Get Shuttles? NASA Naming Winners Tuesday

NASA will be announcing where the retiring space shuttles will go on display once the program ends this summer.

Twenty-one museums and centers around the country put in bids for the spaceships. NASA is disclosing the winners Tuesday on the 30th anniversary of the first space shuttle launch in 1981.

The shuttle program is winding down with only two more flights left. Shuttle Discovery ended its flying career last month and it's going to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Up for grabs are shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis and the prototype Enterprise.

Some of the hot contenders are visitor centers at Kennedy Space Center and Johnson Space Center, the Air Force Museum in Ohio and museums in New York City, Seattle and Chicago.

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NASA's Jupiter-Bound Spacecraft Arrives in Florida

NASA's Juno spacecraft has arrived in Florida to begin final preparations for a launch this summer. The spacecraft was shipped from Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, to the Astrotech payload processing facility in Titusville, Fla., on April 8, 2011. The solar-powered Juno spacecraft will orbit Jupiter's poles 33 times to find out more about the gas giant's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.

"The Juno spacecraft and the team have come a long way since this project was first conceived in 2003," said Scott Bolton, Juno's principal investigator, based at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "We're only a few months away from a mission of discovery that could very well rewrite the books on not only how Jupiter was born, but how our solar system came into being."

On April 11, Juno will be removed from its shipping container, the first of the numerous milestones to prepare it for launch. Later that week, the spacecraft will begin functional testing to verify its state of health after the road trip from Colorado. After this, the team will load updated flight software and perform a series of mission readiness tests. These tests involve the entire spacecraft flight system, as well as the associated science instruments and the ground data system.

Juno will be carried into space aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifting off from Launch Complex-41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch period opens Aug. 5, 2011, and extends through Aug. 26. For an Aug. 5 liftoff, the launch window opens at 8:39 a.m. PDT (11:39 am EDT) and remains open through 9:39 a.m. PDT (12:39 p.m. EDT).

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Expedition 27 Resumes Busy Schedule With New Crew Members

The six-member Expedition 27 crew is back to work after docking activities on Wednesday and an off-duty day Thursday. They reviewed roles, responsibilities and emergency procedures and conducted the usual complement of science and maintenance activities. New flight engineers Alexander Samokutyaev and Andrey Borisenko were busy inside the Russian segment of the International Space Station. Samokutyaev worked on a science experiment that measures radiation inside the orbital laboratory. Borisenko unloaded cargo from the newly docked Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft. Flight Engineer Ron Garan, who also joined Expedition 27 on Wednesday night, worked in the American side of the space station. Garan checked out the Water Processing Assembly in the Destiny laboratory and worked on cooling loops in the Columbus laboratory.

NASA spacecraft join in cosmic observation

cosmic observation
NASA says three of its orbiting spacecraft have teamed up to study a puzzling cosmic blast of energy, one that has lasted more than a week.

The Swift Gamma Burst Mission spacecraft, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory have been observing a phenomenon scientists say is brighter, longer-lasting and more variable than anything they've seen before, a NASA release said Thursday.

Astronomers say the unusual blast is likely the result of a star wandering too close to its galaxy's central black hole where intense gravitation tidal are tearing the star apart, and the in-falling gas is streaming toward the hole.

The model suggests the spinning black hole has formed an outflowing jet of X-rays and gamma rays along its rotational axis that is pointed in our direction.

"The best explanation at the moment is that we happen to be looking down the barrel of this jet," said Andrew Levan at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, who led the Chandra observations.

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Russian Soyuz spacecraft docks at International Space Station

Russian Soyuz Commander Alexander Samokutyayev, NASA Flight Engineer Ron Garan and cosmonaut Andrey Borisenko joined three other crew members on the International Space Station.

It was the first time in space for Russians Samokutyayev and Borisenko. The Soyuz launch on April 6 came less than a week before the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's historic flight from the same, once secret Baikonur launch facility to become the first human in orbit.

The successful launch of the Soyuz spacecraft will likely ease concerns over reliance on the single-use Russian spacecraft as NASA mothballs its shuttle fleet later this year.

Lift off had been postponed from March 30 due to a glitch in the upgraded Soyuz's communication system.

The three men will spend six months aboard the station conducting about 40 experiments as part of the 100 billion dollar project.

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NASA delays shuttle

NASA Shuttle
The 25th and final flight of shuttle Endeavour will slip 10 days to April 29, clearing the way for the previously scheduled launch of a robotic Russian space freighter and its arrival at the International Space Station.

The high-profile shuttle mission, commanded by the husband of critically wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, coincidentally will take place the same day as the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

"Somehow I don't think that factored into (shuttle launch date) planning," said Allard Beutel, a spokesman for NASA's Kennedy Space Center. "It is what it is."

Endeavour and six astronauts aim to deliver a $2 billion cosmic ray detector that could shed new light on the origin, evolution and fate of the universe.

There has been a high level of human interest in the mission because Giffords, who was shot in the head during a Jan. 8 assassination attempt, is making a remarkable recovery and hopes to attend the launch.

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Scientists ponder sun's next move from quiet phase

Could a cooler sun, which some solar astronomers now predict, save us from global warming?

The short answer is "no," scientists say.

"That would be convenient and would make a lot of people happy," said Greg Kopp, a physicist with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado.

Kopp notes that the sun has been in a quiet phase during the last decade's rise in global temperatures.

"Human-caused climate effects are far outweighing the solar effects currently," said Kopp, who is an instrument scientist for a NASA satellite that measures the sun's heat output, or total solar irradiance.

Satellites have measured the sun's radiation at the point where it reaches Earth's atmosphere for 32 years. The average difference between energy at the peak and minimum of solar cycles is less than 0.1 percent.

That flux is easily absorbed and balanced by the Earth's oceans, Kopp said, and has a minimal effect on the Earth's temperature.

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Villagers’ son prepares for historic space shuttle launch, shares details in NASA press conference

Two years ago, Village of Duval residents Steve and Beth Feustel stood witness as their son Andrew prepared for his inaugural voyage into space.

Soon, Andrew Feustel will return to space, this time serving as lead spacewalker during Space Shuttle Endeavour’s

STS-134 mission to the International Space Station. According to NASA, the mission’s targeted launch date is April 19 from Kennedy Space Center.

During a Thursday morning press conference held at KSC, Feustel and the rest of Endeavour’s crew shared their thoughts on the upcoming mission, the preparations that are now under way and their activity since arriving at KSC on Tuesday evening.

During the mission, crew members will be delivering the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 to the International Space Station, according to NASA.

Space shuttle Commander Mark Kelly described the AMS as “one of the premier science experiments of the 21st century.”

Information from NASA explains that the AMS searches for “various types of unusual matter by measuring cosmic rays.”

“We are pretty excited with what the results are going to be,” Kelly said, explaining that the AMS “could be teaching us things about the universe that are completely unexpected.”

Feustel is well prepared to tackle the challenge. Upon introducing each of his crew members, Kelly noted Feustel’s previous spacewalks during Space Shuttle Atlantis’

STS-125 mission to make repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope.

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