Shuttle Astronauts Serenaded by Song Contest Winners

The astronauts on the space shuttle Endeavour woke up this evening to a song that was written specially for the crew who are flying the orbiter on its final mission.

A NASA contest sought original song entries to awaken the astronauts during Endeavour's STS-134 flight. The competition received 1,350 submissions, and NASA selected 10 songs as finalists before opening it up to six weeks of public voting. [The Astronaut's Playlist: Groovy Songs for Space Travelers]

"More than 1.5 million votes were cast to determine the first and second place songs," NASA officials said.

The second place winner, "Dreams You Give" by Brian Plunkett from Halfway, Mo., earned 612,959 votes, or 38.8 percent. Plunkett's song was played at 6:57 p.m. EDT (2257 GMT) tonight (May 30) to wake up Endeavour's six-astronaut crew.

"We're looking forward to another busy day and hopefully getting home tomorrow," Endeavour's commander Mark Kelly said after being woken with the tune. "That song was the second place winner in the wakeup music contest. Congratulations to Brian Plunkett from Halfway, Mo."

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How NASA's OSIRIS-REx probe got its name

If Osiris, ancient Egyptian god of the underworld, and Tyrannosaurus rex, king of the dinosaurs, somehow had a baby, and that baby was an asteroid-bound spacecraft, it would be named OSIRIS-REx.

Yes, OSIRIS-REx is the acronym for the vessel that, NASA just announced, will launch in 2016, travel four years to an asteroid, chip off some rock samples and bring them back to Earth. The combination robot-spacecraft is the brainchild of researchers at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Lab. And so is its funky name.

The deputy principal investigator of the OSIRIS-REx team, Dante Lauretta, is a mythology buff. "Why he has this interest I have no idea," principal investigator Michael Drake told Life's Little Mysteries, "but he was doodling on a pad and trying to capture the principal themes of what we are trying to do with this mission — study life origins, identify resources, planetary security in the form of asteroid deflection — and he realized he got the name of Osiris out of that, an ancient god of Egypt who may have been one of the first pharaohs."

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U of A and NASA looking at asteroid headed for Earth

The University of Arizona won an $800 million contract from NASA to go to an asteroid.

The OSIRIS-REx project will take a sample from Asteroid 1999RQ36 which scientists hope unlocks the origins of life on Earth, but that's not all.

"It actually has the highest probability of any object to hit the Earth in the year 2182," OSIRIS-REx Principal Investigator Michael Drake explained.

It's clearly not an eminent threat and not the main focus of the mission, but it's something NASA and U of A scientists are looking for from OSIRIS-REx.

Drake told KOLD News 13, "To understand how we'd actually mitigate against a dinosaur type ending impact. We don't want to go the way of the dinosaurs."

So to avoid that scenario, NASA and the U of A will send OSIRIS-REx to the asteroid and collect samples to get us some much needed asteroid answers.

"In spite of Bruce Willis, we do not know how to deflect these things. We will learn scientifically the properties we need to decide how to deflect them," Drake said.

While they try to figure out how to send the asteroid in another direction, scientists believe this mission is just the beginning.

Peter Smith, a scientist on the mission said, "It's the precursor to human missions to an asteroid and how exciting would that be. Can you imagine being tethered to your spacecraft and floating over to the asteroid and picking up samples."

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NASA to launch asteroid mission in 2016

asteroid mission
Earlier this week, NASA announced plans to use the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle as the basis for a new spacecraft designed for deep space travel called the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV). The MPCV is expected to be the primary spacecraft for NASA’s manned mission to a nearby asteroid in 2020, as set forth by President Obama last year. To prepare for that mission, NASA plans to launch a new science mission to an asteroid in 2016. The mission will be called Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx.

It will take OSIRIS-REx four years to travel to 1999 RQ36, a near-Earth asteroid. Once within three miles of the asteroid, the spacecraft will perform a comprehensive surface mapping over a period of six months. That mapping will allow for a location to be selected which OSIRIS-REx will approach to put the site within range of the spacecraft’s robotic arm which will be extended to collect two ounces of material. That material will be stored in a capsule, similar to the one used by the Stardust spacecraft to collect comet particles. The asteroid material will be returned to Earth and is expected to arrive in 2023 at which time it will be analyzed for the presence of organic molecules, key ingredients in creating life, which have been found in previous meteorite and comet samples.

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Kepler's Insight to Physical Nature of Planetary Systems

nasa kepler
It’s been 808 days since the launch of one of NASA’s most prolific space observatories: the Kepler exoplanet-hunting space telescope. Kepler team members met in Boston this week at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) to give a status report on their progress toward answering one of the most timeless questions in astronomy: how abundant are Earth-sized planets in the Galaxy?

They are methodically closing in on the answer, but certainly not there yet.

For the past two years, the spacecraft has kept a steady gaze on 165,000 stars in the summer constellation Cygnus. To date, Kepler has tallied 1235 candidate exoplanets with orbits inclined such that they can be seen passing in front of their stars. This trawl has required a staggering 5.5 billion separate brightness measurements.

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Space Station Returns 3 Crew Members to Earth

The International Space Station will release two astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut, returning them to earth tonight after more than five months living and working in orbit.

Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev, Expedition 27 commander, and astronauts Catherine (Cady) Coleman of NASA and Paolo Nespoli of Italy will be landing their Russian-built Soyuz space capsule somewhere in Central Asia, probably on the steppes of Kazakhstan.

Kondratyev, Coleman and Nespoli will depart from the space station while the space shuttle Endeavour and its six-astronaut crew are docked at the orbiting laboratory. Endeavour is being retired following this, its last mission. The shuttle's team is half way through a 16-day mission to aid in the space station's day-to-day following the end of NASA's space shuttle program.

"I think we've done a lot of great science, and certainly I think the space station is in a really good state for the future," Coleman said, according to

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Longtime NASA tradition tied to North Texas

Few men order more flowers than Mark Shelton.

"I need to send some roses to Mission Control, please," he told a florist over the phone.

At 54, Shelton has never worked for NASA, but he is responsible for one of its longest traditions. Every time NASA launches a shuttle, Shelton sends roses to Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Each rose represents every astronaut in space at the time. Shelton said he orders an extra white flower to represent the astronauts who have perished over the years.

He has sent a bouquet for every mission since 1987, the one following Challenger. It makes a total of 108 flower shipments in all.

"They don't get much attention in the media when things are going well," Shelton said of NASA. "But it's every bit as dangerous... every single [flight]. We wanted a way to give them a low-key reminder that the public cares."

NASA cares, too.

The space agency has invited Shelton to launches over the years, sent autographs from astronauts, Christmas cards from flight directors, and even a get well card when he had a heart attack.

"I don't know how they knew I was in the hospital then," he said.

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NASA to Train Future Spacewalkers in Asteroid Landscape on Ocean Floor

NASA to Train Future Spacewalkers
Before humans explore an asteroid in space, a group of NASA astronauts and scientists will test concepts and techniques for the future expeditions on a mock space rock on the ocean floor.

This week, engineers are laying the foundations for the 15th expedition of NASA's Extreme Environment Mission Operations, or NEEMO 15 for short, which is scheduled to begin on Oct. 17. To prepare for that fall undersea mission, diving crews are setting up the tools and rocky environment needed to simulate an asteroid landscape. [Photos: Asteroids in Deep Space]

NEEMO expeditions take place at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Aquarius Underwater Laboratory, which rests more than 62 feet (19 meters) below the ocean's surface, off the coast of Key Largo in the Florida Keys.

This year's NEEMO 15 expedition will simulate a trip to an asteroid, and the so-called "aquanauts" will investigate how best to anchor to the surface of a space rock and how to move around, said NASA spokesperson Brandi Dean.

To prepare for the 10-day October mission, various engineering tests will be conducted from May 9 to May 13 at the Aquarius laboratory. The NEEMO support team will perform surface dives to lay out the test site, including configuring a rock wall, NASA officials said.

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NASA to test untethered lander

Test Lander
A squat, insectlike contraption is set to fly untethered for the first time soon in a NASA test of technologies designed to take humans to the moon, Mars or beyond.

The unmanned Morpheus lander, named after the Greek god of dreams, was built at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston using cutting-edge technologies that the agency hopes will one day enable manned missions to another planet or even an asteroid. The vehicle, about the size of an SUV, could carry about 1,100 pounds of cargo to the moon.

Not only are the technologies onboard innovative, but NASA's process of building the lander is, too.

"Part of what this project set out to do was to question the way we've done things," Project Morpheus manager Matt Ondler told "We purposefully set out to see if we could do things faster and cheaper, leveraging off the work that was already done."

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Nasa postpones Endeavour launch until 16 May

Endeavour launch
This is the latest in a series of delays since the shuttle's launch on 29 April was scrapped due to problems with its hydraulic systems. After the initial postponement, the agency targeted May 2, then May 8, and now mid-May at the earliest. Nasa managers have got to be worried that each subsequent delay is threatening the space shuttle programme's last ever launch, that of Atlantis, which is currently slated for 28 June.

"Kennedy [Space Center] technicians are continuing work to resolve an issue in a heater circuit associated with Endeavour's hydraulic system that resulted in the [April 29] launch postponement," Nasa said in a release on Friday. "Technicians determined the failure was inside an aft load control assembly, which is a switchbox in the shuttle's aft compartment, and possibly its associated electrical wiring."

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NASA Selects Summer of Innovation Projects

Nasa Summer Project
NASA announced partnerships with nine organizations that will help the agency implement its 2011 Summer of Innovation (SoI) education program.

SoI uses NASA's out-of-this-world missions and technology programs to boost summer learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, particularly for underrepresented and underperforming students.

The SoI 2011 partners are:

Chester County Intermediate School District-Unit 24, Downingtown, Pa.
Albany State University, Albany, Ga.
Nebraska Department of Education, Lincoln
Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, Houston
University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho
Puerto Rico Institute of Robotics, Inc., San Juan, Puerto Rico
Rio Grande Valley Science Association, Edinburgh, Texas
Indiana Association of United Ways, Inc., Indianapolis
South Dakota Discovery Center and Aquarium, Pierre

"I am delighted that we have such a broad and diverse group of partner organizations ready to implement this year's Summer of Innovation program," said Leland Melvin, NASA associate administrator for education. "We look forward to building on the momentum that began last year, so we can engage and inspire even more middle school students to reach higher and pursue STEM career opportunities."

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NASA Spacecraft Closing in On Huge Asteroid Vesta

Nasa Space Craft
A NASA spacecraft has reached a new phase of its mission to Vesta, the second-largest asteroid in the solar system, and is on track to arrive at the huge space rock in July.

The probe, NASA's Dawn spacecraft, is now using cameras for the first time to aid its approach to Vesta, a massive asteroid that many astronomers classify as a protoplanet. If all goes well, the ion-propelled probe should enter orbit around Vesta on July 16 to begin a year-long study of the mysterious space rock.

"We feel a little like Columbus approaching the shores of the New World," said Christopher Russell, Dawn principal investigator at UCLA, in a statement. "The Dawn team can't wait to start mapping this terra incognita."

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Shuttle will launch no earlier than May 10

Space Shuttle Endeavour
Shuttle Endeavour won't set sail on its final flight before next Tuesday, May 10, at the earliest as Kennedy Space Center teams work to repair an electrical problem that scrubbed last Friday's launch attempt.

NASA had hoped a second attempt might be possible as soon as Sunday, but determined it would take about two more days than originally thought to ready the shuttle for another countdown.

"It became apparent Monday that more time was required," said Allard Beutel, a KSC spokesman.

Friday's launch scrubbed when heaters on a fuel line feeding part of the shuttle's hydraulic power system failed to turn on, a problem that could have led to a fire during flight.

Watch this week: We’ll see meteors from Halley’s Comet

Halley Comet
There’s a show happening later this week you won’t want to miss.

NASA recently reminded us that the Earth will pass through a stream of debris from Halley’s comet on May 6th. The result? A “mild but beautiful meteor shower” called the eta Aquarids.

If you want to witness the show, NASA’s advice is to be awake in the early morning hours this Friday. You’ll also want to get as far away from city lights as you can.

“Each eta Aquarid meteoroid is a piece of Halley’s Comet doing a kamikaze death dive into the atmosphere,” said NASA astronomer Bill Cooke. “Many people have never seen this famous comet, but on the morning of May 6th they can watch bits of it leave fiery trails across the sky.”

Halley’s Comet,which orbits the sun every 76 years, leaves behind a trail of vaporized debris when it swings by the sun. That means twice a year, the Earth gets a meteor shower. (In May, that’s the eta Aquarids. In October, it’s the Orionids.)

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