Space Junk Threatens Astronauts

space junk
Space junk veered dangerously close to the International Space Station, forcing the six astronauts onboard to seek shelter in lifeboats Tuesday.

The unidentified object came within 1,100 feet of the space station--closer than any piece of space junk ever, NASA's space operations chief, Bill Gerstenmaier told the Associated Press.

NASA got only 14 hours' notice of the object's approach, not nearly enough time to maneuver the space station out of harm's way, so Mission Control ordered the astronauts into the two Russian Soyuz capsules parked at the station. After about a half an hour, Mission Control gave the all-clear and the two Americans, three Russians and one Japanese floated back and resumed their work.

The event was harrowing because even a small piece of debris can cause big damage, an event that would have forced the astronauts to undock their space capsules and return to Earth.

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NASA Will Compete Space Launch System (SLS) Boosters

It should come as no surprise that NASA has selected a "shuttle-derived" vehicle with two existing LOX/LH2 stages as its reference design for the new heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) ordered by Congress and to be used for exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit (LEO).

Over the past few years NASA had supported the use of solid rocket boosters (SRBs) as strap-on motors for both the now-cancelled Ares I and Ares V launch systems.

Many experts have opposed the use of SRBs for these applications, because of limited energy efficiency and expensive post-flight refurbishing. NASA has now decided to hold a competition between liquid-propellant and solid-propellant boosters for the SLS in order to satisfy a Congressional mandate.

The use of liquid-propellant boosters is not a new idea. The original proposed Space Shuttle design had included reusable fly-back liquid boosters as far back as the early 1970s.

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NASA to fly low over Baltimore-Washington area

A misguided photo shoot of Air Force One over New York City in 2009 terrified residents, infuriated the president, and cost the director of the White House Military Office his job. Now, NASA is working to prevent a similar panic in Washington D.C.

NASA officials this week announced plans for a new mission to monitor air pollution in the Baltimore-Washington traffic corridor that will include a series of low-altitude flights between the two cities. Trying to prevent a repeat of the chaos raised in New York, they are eager to get the word out to the public.

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NASA to fly low over Baltimore-Washington area


A misguided photo shoot of Air Force One over New York City in 2009 terrified residents, infuriated the president, and cost the director of the White House Military Office his job. Now, NASA is working to prevent a similar panic in Washington D.C.

NASA officials this week announced plans for a new mission to monitor air pollution in the Baltimore-Washington traffic corridor that will include a series of low-altitude flights between the two cities. Trying to prevent a repeat of the chaos raised in New York, they are eager to get the word out to the public.

Michael Finneran, spokesman for the DISCOVER-AQ project, says that NASA is publicizing the flights to generate awareness and to make sure people "won't be surprised." "Public safety is paramount," he said.

NASA plans to use a P-3B, a 117-foot, four-engine turboprop plane, for flights that will be as low as 1,000 feet. The lower of the two aircraft will fly in spirals over several ground measurement stations along the flight path, which includes Interstate 95 and crosses over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

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Living on Martian Time

Living on mars
In 2008, NASA successfully landed a robotic machine called Phoenix in the northern polar region of Mars in an attempt to uncover water and organic material from the frozen environment atop the Red Planet. Overseeing the mission was space engineer Peter Smith, a man who disdains his unofficial title as "world's greatest Martian photographer" ("Don't call me that . . . It diminishes the science," Smith is fond of saying) despite his talent for preserving "little Mars vignettes" for all on Earth to see. Smith is also known for other accomplishments, including the device he spent five years building—an excavator that could scoop up Martian soil samples for analysis on command from its operators 200 million miles away, ultimately proving that there was water on Mars in some form. The other epic achievement was his decision to find a fresh voice to tell the story of searching for life forms on other planets. Smith chose Andrew Kessler, a 32-year-old creative director for Huge, a New York design and marketing firm, who holds a degree in mathematics. Kessler may not be a scientist but he was fascinated and understood outer space well enough to co-produce the documentary Mars: The Quest for Life for the Discovery Channel.

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Astronaut Mark Kelly Announces Retirement from NASA

Mark Kelly
Astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of wounded U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, on Tuesday announced that he will retire from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on October 1 in order to focus on his family.

“We salute Commander Mark Kelly and his contributions to NASA as an extremely accomplished member of the astronaut corps and the final commander of the space shuttle Endeavour,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

Kelly, also a U.S. Navy captain, is a veteran of four space shuttle missions. He announced his retirement in a post on his Facebook account and via his Twitter account as well.

“This was not an easy decision. Public service has been more than a job for me and for my family,” Kelly wrote. “There isn’t a group more dedicated to its mission or more capable than the outstanding men and women of NASA.”

Kelly commanded the STS-134 flight in May and STS-124 in 2008. He served as the pilot on STS-121 in 2006 and STS-108 in 2001. He first joined NASA as an astronaut candidate in 1996.

“We know that Mark will continue to do great things for his country no matter what he chooses to do next. He has helped us build a space program poised to take advantage of the many opportunities in our bright future,” added Bolden.

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Crew arrives at shuttle pad to practice launch

Shuttle pad
The four astronauts who will fly on the last-ever space shuttle mission landed at NASA's Florida spaceport Monday evening to participate in a dress rehearsal for their July 8 launch.

Flying in a pair of NASA's T-38 supersonic jets, the crew touched down at 5:30 p.m. EDT here at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, landing on the same runway the astronauts plan to use when they return to Earth at the end of their upcoming mission.

NASA's final shuttle flight, called STS-135, is a 12-day mission on the shuttle Atlantis that will deliver vital supplies to the International Space Station.

The shuttle will be commanded by Chris Ferguson, who landed his T-38 jet today with crewmate Rex Walheim, an Atlantis mission specialist. Atlantis' pilot Doug Hurley rode in on the second T-38 jet with mission specialist Sandra Magnus.

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NASA Issues Announcement For Solar Electric Propulsion Studies

Solar Electric Propulsion
NASA issued a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) seeking proposals for mission concept studies of a solar electric propulsion system demonstration to test and validate key capabilities and technologies for future exploration missions.

Multiple studies have shown the advantages of using solar electric propulsion to efficiently transport heavy payloads from low Earth orbit to higher orbits. This concept enables the delivery of payloads to low Earth orbit via conventional chemical rockets. The use of solar electric propulsion could then spiral payloads out to higher energy orbits, including Lagrange point one, a potential assembly point in space between Earth and the moon. This approach could facilitate missions to near Earth asteroids and other destinations in deep space.

Science missions could use solar electric propulsion to reach distant regions of the solar system, and commercial missions could use solar electric propulsion tugs to place, service, resupply, reposition and salvage space assets. NASA's strategic roadmaps for exploration, science and advanced technology all consider solar electric propulsion a vital and necessary future capability.

NASA is examining potential mission concepts for a high-power solar electric propulsion system demonstration. Flying a demonstration mission on a representative trajectory through the Van Allen radiation belts and operating in actual space environments could reveal unknown systems-level and operational issues. Mission data will lower the technical and cost risk associated with future solar electric propulsion spacecraft. The flight demonstration mission would test and validate key capabilities and technologies required for future exploration elements such as a 300 kilowatt solar electric transfer vehicle.

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Ice may cover parts of Mercury

The planet closest to the sun appears to have more ice at its poles than does Earth's moon, say scientists analyzing data from the Messenger spacecraft.

Despite their proximity to the sun, portions of the surface of Mercury appear to be covered in ice, scientists said Thursday after analyzing about 20,000 new images of the solar system's smallest planet.

The pictures beamed to Earth by the Messenger spacecraft strongly suggest that frozen water — and perhaps other frozen substances — coat portions of impact craters near the planet's north and south poles. Permanently enshrouded in shadow, these surfaces are typically 300 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

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Giant black holes a window into origins of earliest galaxies

Black Hole
Astronomers have discerned evidence for supermassive black holes at the hearts of some of the earliest galaxies detected to date – budding when the universe was between 700 million and 950 million years old.

The detection, announced Wednesday and appearing in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature, already is hinting at answers to longstanding riddles surrounding the origin of supermassive black holes, which lurk in the cores of all galaxies.

The observations also are helping to tease out the role these black holes in galactic centers might have played in lighting up the universe following an early period known as the "dark ages."

The results mark "the first time we've caught black holes in the act of vigorously growing in the early universe," along with their host galaxies, says Mitchell Begelman, an astrophysicist at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

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Shuttle’s End Leaves NASA a Pension Bill

The nation’s space agency plans to spend about half a billion dollars next year to replenish the pension fund of the contractor that has supplied thousands of workers to the space shuttle program.

The shuttle program accounts for a vast majority of the business of United Space Alliance, originally a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. With the demise of the shuttle program, United Space Alliance will be left without a source of revenue to keep its pension plan afloat. So the company wants to terminate its family of pension plans, covering 11,000 workers and retirees, and continue as a smaller, nimbler concern to compete for other contracts.

Normally, a company that lost a lifeblood contract would have little choice but to declare bankruptcy and ask the federal insurer, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, to take over its pensions. But that insurer limits benefits, meaning not everyone gets as much as they had been promised. United Space Alliance’s plan also allows participants to take their pensions as a single check and includes retiree health benefits, neither of which would be permitted by the pension insurer.

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NASA's Curiosity Continues Mobility Checkouts

Spacecraft specialists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., have been putting the Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, through various tests in preparation for shipment to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida this month.

A new set of images online shows the rover maneuvering its robotic arm and driving in JPL's Spacecraft Assembly Facility, where it was built. The images are available at: .

Assembly and testing work is on track for launch of the Mars Science Laboratory from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., during the period from Nov. 25 to Dec. 18, 2011.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. This mission will land Curiosity on Mars in August 2012.

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Some NASA boosters question need for new rocket

Nasa Boosters
By month’s end, NASA plans to present Congress with a design for a new rocket that one day could take astronauts to the moon or beyond.

Several options are on the table, including one that recycles key parts of the space shuttle, set to retire in July. But as engineers ponder designs, even some NASA boosters are posing a deeper question:

Why even build it?

With Congress struggling to control spending, critics are wondering whether the country needs a new spaceship that lacks both a mission and destination except for occasional trips to the International Space Station.

"I don’t think we need it. I don’t think we can afford to operate it. I think it will be rarely used and expensive to maintain," said Alan Stern, a former NASA associate administrator. "The most likely possibility is that it (the rocket) is unfortunately going to collapse under its own weight in a couple years."

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Centennial-based ULA gives a boost to NASA mission to study ocean salinity

nasa salt study
When NASA's Aquarius satellite lifted off Friday to study ocean salinity, it was aboard a Delta II rocket provided by United Launch Alliance.

The Centennial-based company has six launches planned this year, with four involving Colorado aerospace firms.

"We typically spend two to four years on a given mission, with a lot of the early work occurring at our facility," said Jim Sponnick, ULA's vice president of mission operations. "So it is beneficial they are immediate to the area."

The launch schedule calls for ULA to tap its range of rockets. Destinations and weight decide what rocket and configurations are used, Sponnick said.

On the large side is the Atlas V rocket that will launch the Juno mission on Aug. 5. The 8,000-pound spacecraft was designed and built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. in south Jefferson County. The NASA mission aims to understand Jupiter's origin and evolution.

GRAIL's twin spacecraft, due for launch Sept. 8 on a Delta II, also were designed and built by Lockheed. Weighing 800 pounds together, the spacecraft will study the moon's gravitational field.

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NASA Satellite Snaps 3 Billionth Photo of Earth

A 5-year-old NASA satellite has hit a mindboggling milestone high above Earth: The spacecraft snapped its 3 billionth image of the planet … that's right, 3 billion.

The prolific Earth-observation satellite, called CALIPSO, took the image on June 2 using laser and infrared ranging instruments and has since gone on to take more imagery. A June 3 image from the satellite shows a vertical look at the massive smoke plume from the wildfires in Arizona.

Since its 2006 launch, the CALIPSO satellite has traveled more than 750 million miles (1.2 million kilometers) as it orbits the Earth, NASA officials said in a statement. The amount of data and images it has recorded would fill 10,500 DVDs or 75,000 CDs, they added

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NASA Selects Energid Technologies

Energid Technologies
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have funded Energid Technologies Corporation to develop a proxy digital simulation for lunar and planetary rovers.

To calculate contact among bodies and modeling interactions, the new proxy simulation uses a novel architecture. Algorithm being an especially important component, it allows each type of interaction to use a different algorithm. Two-year funding for this effort follows Energid's demonstration of the viability of simulating a rover and integrating with NASA's tools, during a six-month proof-of-concept effort. Using Energid's existing software, the approach relies on new modeling algorithms.

"There is no universal robotics simulation algorithm," said Chalongrath Pholsiri, principal engineer at Energid Technologies. "A wheel rotating against soft soil or regolith responds differently from a metal body striking a rock. We have many powerful technologies to apply to create the proxy simulation for NASA and we will discover more over the next two years."

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NASA Releases First Pic of Shuttle Docked at Space Station

NASA on Tuesday released the first-ever image of a space shuttle docked at the International Space Station.

The image, which shows the space shuttle Endeavour docked at the ISS, was taken from the Soyuz TMA-20 after it left the station on May 23. Expedition 27 crew member Paolo Nespoli snapped the shot from an altitude of approximately 200 miles as he and Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev and NASA astronaut Cady Coleman headed back to Earth.

They trio landed in Kazakhstan later that day after spending 159 days in space, and their spacecraft was taken to Moscow for routine post-landing analysis. NASA and the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, then processed the imagery, which will be posted on NASA's Web site as it becomes available. For more, see the slideshow below.

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Edge of Solar System Filled with Bubbles, NASA Says

The edge of our solar system is filled with a turbulent sea of magnetic bubbles, according to new NASA research.

Scientists made the discovery by using a new computer model, which is based on data from NASA's twin Voyager probes. The unmanned Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, which launched in 1977, are plying the outer reaches of our solar system, a region known as the heliosheath.

The new discovery suggests that researchers will need to revise their views about the solar system's edge, NASA officials said. A more detailed picture of this region is key to our understanding of how fast-moving particles known as cosmic rays are spawned, and how they reach near-Earth space.

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Ga. Tech to host NASA symposium on shuttle program

Georgia Tech is hosting a symposium this week to explore the agency's space shuttle program, which ends soon.

The event is Monday through Wednesday at the university's Global Learning Center. It will bring together international scientists, engineers, mission designers, policymakers and others to talk about shuttle missions and the future of space exploration.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will open the symposium on Tuesday. Other speakers include astronauts Steve Hawley and Shannon Lucid and NASA deputy chief technologist Michael Gazarik.

Just one flight remains in the U.S. shuttle program with a targeted launch of July 8.

The five shuttles - Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour - have flown more than 130 times and carried more than 360 people into space.

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The sky’s the limit for NASA research

Nasa Research
Business story “Go big, or go to war with the weapons you have” revealed the stunning fact “that between 1995 and 2009, the Pentagon spent more than $32 billion on weapons programs that were eventually canceled.” The programs were all for the Army.

In the same period, NASA was forced to cancel development efforts that had been underway for years to build space telescopes that could detect and study Earth-like planets around the stars closest to the sun. The problem was that these telescopes would cost a few billion dollars apiece, and NASA could not afford them.

Astronomers now know that Earth-like planets are commonplace — alien life is likely to exist in our neighborhood of the galaxy. Perhaps the Pentagon should start protecting us from a possible alien threat by surveillance of nearby habitable planets. If so, NASA (for whom I chair an advisory astrophysics subcommittee) has a few ideas on how to proceed.

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Space shuttle Endeavour not expected to arrive in L.A. until late 2012

The space shuttle Endeavour is expected to arrive at its permanent retirement home in Los Angeles in the latter half of 2012, the president of the California Science Center said Wednesday.

Initially, museum officials had said the shuttle could arrive by the end of this year. But NASA officials said it would take longer to detoxify the space shuttle and prepare it for retirement. Complicating the timeline was the delay in Endeavour's final mission and preparation for the upcoming mission of the shuttle Atlantis in July, which will mark the last voyage of the space shuttle program.

In the meantime, Jeffrey Rudolph, the California Science Center's president, said the museum, in Exposition Park, is making progress raising $28.8 million to pay for Endeavour's cleanup at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and to bring it to Los Angeles.

"We're not there yet. But we're feeling good about it," Rudolph said of the fundraising effort.

Parsons, a global engineering firm based in Pasadena, is donating its services to cover the logistics of transporting the orbiter from LAX to the museum grounds. The orbiter will have to be routed on streets that are not obstructed by freeway overpasses, Rudolph said.

Rudolph said it would have been impractical for NASA to have Endeavour land at Edwards Air Force Base in California, because much of the equipment to detoxify the shuttle is in Florida.

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NASA's Super Cooling Technology

Nasa's cooling Technology
NASA recently formed technical partnerships with the U.S. Air Force and National Renewable Energy Laboratory to address thermal-control concerns in microprocessors. The problem is as old as the days of the integrated circuit which appeared in the 1960's and is the basis for the modern computer age. The more advanced the electronics, the more power it use and the hotter it gets. This can easily lead to overheating which can cause malfunction.

The new EHD thermal control will be demonstrated in June on NASA's Terrier-Improved Orion rocket mission, which is flying the Small Rocket/Spacecraft Technology (SMART) platform. This new microsatellite measures about 16 inches in diameter and was specifically designed to give scientific users less expensive access to space.

According to NASA, the main objective of the EHD demonstration is showing that a prototype pump can withstand the extreme launch loads as the rocket lifts off and hurtles toward space. Should it survive the vibration, the technology will have achieved a major milestone in its development. Another test is set to 2013 when the EHD will be taken into the International Space Station and tested as part of a long-term operation.

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