Shuttle astronauts hold pre-spacewalk "campout"

Discovery astronauts Steve Bowen and Alvin Drew are scheduled for a six-hour spacewalk outside the international space station Monday.
The team prepared by holding a 14-hour "campout" in the station's Quest airlock.
"The airlock's atmospheric pressure will be lowered to help purge nitrogen from Bowen and Drew's bloodstreams, protecting them from 'the bends' when they leave the airlock for the vacuum of space," a statement on NASA's website said.
They will install a power extension cable, move a failed ammonia pump and perform other operations outside the shuttle during the spacewalk.
Discovery started its 39th and final flight with a launch late Thursday afternoon from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Originally scheduled for November, the shuttle's launch had been delayed to make repairs to the external tank's support beams.
Astronauts spent Sunday moving items brought up on Discovery over to the space station.
On Tuesday, day six of the mission, astronauts will work to attach a permanent module -- known as Leonardo -- to the station. The module will be home for experiments in fluid physics, materials science, biology, biotechnology and other subjects.
The Discovery crew is headed by Steve Lindsey. Bowen, a late addition, became the first ever astronaut to fly consecutive missions after he was assigned to take the place of Tim Kopra when Kopra was injured last month in a bicycle accident, according to NASA.
Prior to Thursday's launch, Discovery had spent 352 days in orbit, circling the Earth 5,628 times. It has also carried 246 crew members, more than any space vehicle in history.

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Last blast for the Discovery shuttle

The shuttle Discovery blasted off yesterday on its final odyssey into orbit, marking the beginning of the end for what has been a central mission of the U.S. space program for three decades.
NASA's most travelled shuttle launched at 4: 53 p.m. on an 11-day trip to the International Space Station (ISS). When it returns next month it will be the first of the threemember fleet to retire.
The shuttle will bring a spare closet module and the first humanoid robot to the ISS. The mission will also include two spacewalks.
The end of the shuttle program will create a gaping hole in the U.S. space program during a period of belttightening and budget freezes, and will leave Russia's space capsules as the sole transit option to the ISS.
"Bittersweet" was the word of the day at Kennedy Space Center as astronauts, engineers and space fans crowded in to get a glimpse of history by watching Discovery's final launch 27 years after it first flew into space.
"There is no doubt the space shuttle is an engineering marvel. People have dedicated their lives for decades to build and operate the space shuttle - these are some of the greatest engineers and scientists that our nation has," said NASA chief technologist Bob Braun. "But it is an older vehicle, it is 30 years old, it was designed probably a decade before that."
"I think we all recognize we need to go to the next chapter. But any time you go to that next chapter, it is bittersweet."
When Discovery wraps up this tour, the oldest surviving shuttle will have flown more missions than any of its cohorts and toted 180 people into space, including the first female shuttle commander and the first African-American spacewalker. The other two shuttles are scheduled for their final flights later this year.

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Discovery shuttle poised for final launch

nasa shuttle
Discovery, NASA's oldest and most journeyed space shuttle, is poised to launch on its final mission on Thursday, wrapping up a near three-decade legacy of orbital travel.
When the storied spacecraft lifts off at 4:50 pm (2150 GMT), it will mark the beginning of the end of the US space shuttle program, with Discovery, the first of the remaining three shuttles headed for retirement this year.
The closure of the US shuttle program will forge a gaping hole in the American space mission, and leaves astronauts to rely on the Russian Soyuz space capsule for transport to the orbiting International Space Station.
But concerns for the future were brushed aside as excitement mounted at Kennedy Space Center for Discovery's mission, with technical checks moving along smoothly and no hint of the fuel tank woes that delayed the launch in November.

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Top NASA administrator visits VAFB

NASA’s number two administrator made a whirlwind visit to Vandenberg Air Force Base on Tuesday as part of a whistle-stop tour of the space agency’s California centers.
After landing at Vandenberg shortly after 3 p.m., NASA Deputy Administrator Lori B. Garver met with local reporters and later NASA employees.
The visit was part of her California tour to meet with NASA employees after the recent unveiling of an $18.7 billion budget for 2012 and a new vision statement: To reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind.
The space agency’s Earth Science Division — responsible for many of the NASA missions from Vandenberg — “continues to be a key cornerstone of what NASA does to improve humanity,” she said.
At $1.8 billion, the funding for the Earth Science missions remains essentially the same as the current year.
“These are hard choices to make, but I still believe that with the leadership of Mike Freilich and his team we are going to be able to continue to deliver cutting-edge Earth Science research to the public,” she said, referring to the Earth Science Division director.
NASA’s budget accounts for just half of 1 percent of the total federal budget, she noted.
The space agency’s budget, including its research and development projects, pays off in valuable discoveries, much like the return on the investment eventually seen with a child’s college education fund, she said.
“We would not have the benefit if we did not today have the benefit of the investment in NASA and other R&D agencies for the past 50 years,” Garver said. “We would not have the advanced technologies we have on orbit and on the ground that have been developed through this. In addition, it is that inspiration of where we go next ... It truly is that next frontier.”
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Discovery counts down toward launch

NASA is counting down to the planned launch Thursday of shuttle Discovery and six astronauts on the orbiter's final flight into space.
Grounded for four months by dangerous external tank defects, Discovery and its crew are slated to blast off from Kennedy Space Center at 4:50 p.m. Thursday.
The orbiter's 39th flight will cap a career that has included missions to the International Space Station, the Hubble Space Telescope, Russia's space station Mir and the first flights after the 1986 Challenger disaster and the 2003 Columbia accident.
John Glenn flew aboard Discovery on his 1998 return to space at age 77.
"She's taken us on many amazing journeys throughout the years, and we don't expect this flight to be any different than those," NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding said Monday.
"She still has a few more miles to go before she
sleeps, though," Spaulding said.
A three-day launch countdown picked up Monday as NASA geared up for one of only three shuttle missions remaining before fleet retirement.
Mission commander Steve Lindsey and his crew aim to deliver a modified Italian cargo carrier to the International Space Station, where it will serve as a badly needed permanent storage unit.
The crew arrived at KSC Sunday and includes pilot Eric Boe and four mission specialists: Michael Barratt, Stephen Bowen, Al Drew and Nicole Stott.
Now poised for launch at pad 39A, Discovery has been upright on its mobile launcher platform a near-record 168 days. Only Columbia's 183-day stand on its platform before a 1990 astronomy mission was longer.

Alien life boost after Nasa finds one in two Suns has Earth like planets

The chances of finding alien life have been given a boost after it was revealed that one in two stars in the universe have Earth like planets orbiting around them.

The news came from NASA scientists studying the results from the Kepler telescope which in its first two years in space has found evidence of more than 1,200 planets in orbit around far distant stars.

The early findings suggests that there are triple the number of known planets outside our own solar system - 54 of them are Earth size and in the habitable zones from their suns.

Only two potentially habitable planets have previously been found outside earth's solar system, so Kepler scientists are very excited at finding so many possible candidate planets.

Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Kepler chief scientist William Borucki said: "I am really delighted that we are seeing so many candidate planets and that means there is a rich ocean of planets out there to explore.

"For every two stars we are seeing a candidate planet."

The next step is to send out new telescopes to see if the atmospheres of the planets, that are between 30 and 100 light years away, have friendly atmospheres on which life could survive.

It is another big step to prove that a confirmed planet has some of the basic conditions needed to support life, such as the proper size, composition, temperature and distance from its star.

More advanced aspects of habitability such as specific atmospheric conditions and the presence of water and carbon require telescopes that are not built yet.

KSC's Cabana sees no huge programs

With a dramatically smaller work force, Kennedy Space Center in 2012 will begin preparing for life after the shuttle under the president's proposed $18.7 billion NASA budget.
Center Director Bob Cabana said Monday he expects a combined contractor and civil service work force of about 8,500 next year, down from about 13,000 now and 15,000 two years ago.
After three more shuttle missions planned this year, Cabana said KSC would begin to lay the groundwork for a future that should be less dependent on a single program like the shuttle or Apollo.
"Are we going to build up to some huge program again?" he said. "I don't see that happening. I think our challenge is to provide diversity in the work that comes here to the Kennedy Space Center."
While the shuttle stops flying this year, NASA still plans to spend $665 million for shuttle-related operations in 2012.
The bulk of that, $548 million, would support pension payments for former employees of lead shuttle contractor United Space Alliance.
Another $117 million funds a process called "transition and retirement," which will deliver shuttle orbiters to museums and ready facilities for use by new programs, if needed.
When that work is done, the center's contractor work force, which is absorbing all the layoffs, could drop by another 1,000.
Meanwhile, the center in 2012 would begin a long-term effort to modernize its launch infrastructure for new rockets and spacecraft, but with much less money than hoped.
A program to transform KSC into a "21st Century launch complex" would spend $128 million in 2012 and about $470 million over five years. That's down from the $500 million in 2012 and $1.9 billion overall that President Barack Obama recommended last year.

US space shuttle unharmed after tool accident

Inspectors found no damage to the Space Shuttle Discovery or to its external reserve tanks after a thin multi-piece measuring tool fell during repair work, NASA said Thursday.
The accident has not compromised Discovery's February 24 mission to the International Space Station (ISS), said Allard Beutel, spokesman at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
A feeler gauge -- a 13-part metal tool about as thick as a piece of paper held together by a retainer screw -- came apart late Wednesday and fell from the launch pad, Beutel told AFP.
The accident took place as technicians changed a seal at the ground umbilical carrier plate, or GUCP, on the shuttle's external fuel tank.
"Engineers have identified minor foam damage to the backside of the external tank, which will not need repair. All components from the gauge have been located," NASA said in a statement.
The mission will get a green light and a launch time after NASA officials meet on February 18.
The shuttle was initially set to launch on November 5 but the attempt was scrubbed after hydrogen leaks were detected.
Discovery's 11-day mission with its all-American crew of six is to deliver a pressurized logistics module called "Leonardo" to the International Space Station, which will be permanently attached to the space station to provide more storage space.
The three US shuttles -- the other two are Atlantis and Endeavour -- are due to become museum pieces once the final shuttle mission takes place.

NASA facing new budget cuts?

The House Appropriations Committee wants to cut NASA's budget by hundreds of millions dollars for the rest of the year.
A new list outlines the proposed cuts, including NASA.
A $379 million budget cut was proposed for the space agency for the last half of the current fiscal year.

The first thing to remember is that Congress never passed a budget for the current fiscal year. All federal agencies are working on last year's funding levels, including NASA.
But the House Appropriations Committee is developing the official budget to take them through October, and on Wednesday, the chairman released what he called "a partial list" of 70 spending cuts that will be included in the upcoming bill that has to be passed before early March.
The cuts total $74 billion.
NASA's cuts are not from current funding levels. It is a cut from the Obama administration's proposed budget for this year. But it still will be a cut.
News 13 has talked to Congressman Bill Posey's office, but they really haven't had a chance to figure out what it means yet. The news is just out and Posey is involved in meeting after meeting Wednesday.
We got a similar response from Congresswoman Sandy Adams' office. They are waiting to see the actual language in the budget resolution, and can't really comment yet.

Aerojet, NASA test Orbital engine

NASA, Aerojet and Orbital Sciences Corp. tested the second AJ26 flight engine that will power the first stage of Orbital’s Taurus II launch vehicle.
The Taurus II medium-class system is being developed to launch payloads of up to 10,000 pounds into orbit for civilian and military customers.
The test Monday at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi follows two previous successful tests at the end of last year.
The vehicle is powered by Aerojet’s AJ26 engine, which is a staged-combustion LO2/Kerosene engine that achieves high power in a small, light package.
The test, conducted yesterday afternoon at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, follows the successful acceptance tests conducted on Engine 1 in November and December 2010. Following the test, Engines 1 and 2 will be delivered to the Wallops Flight Facility launch site in Virginia for integration into the Taurus II first-stage core, as a main engine assembly.

NASA snaps Sun in super STEREO

The above snap shows the far side of the Sun captured on 2 February, when the two spacecraft weren't quite separated by 180 degrees, hence the small gap in the data.
Yesterday, though, STEREO-A and B achieved full opposition, and NASA assures the gap "will completely close over the next several days".
NASA explains: "Each STEREO probe photographs half of the star and beams the images to Earth. Researchers combine the two views to create a sphere. These aren't just regular pictures, however. STEREO's telescopes are tuned to four wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet radiation selected to trace key aspects of solar activity such as flares, tsunamis and magnetic filaments. Nothing escapes their attention."
The agency adds that STEREO's continuous coverage of the entire star will "enable significant advances in space weather forecasting for Earth, and improve planning for future robotic or crewed spacecraft missions throughout the solar system".
It will also ensure we never get caught off guard by "farside" events which could, as the Sun rotates, impact on Earth with "spitting flares and clouds of plasma".
"Not any more," promised Bill Murtagh, a senior forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado. "Farside active regions can no longer take us by surprise. Thanks to STEREO, we know they're coming."

NASA Satellite Captures U.S. 'Big Chill'

The current winter storm system blasting much of the United States is depicted in this new NASA satellite image from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite.
The image, a composite of AIRS data swaths taken on Feb. 1, 2011, highlights the preponderance of cold air blanketing Canada and the northern U.S. The coldest air is depicted in purples, blues and greens.
AIRS was built and is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
The AIRS data create an accurate 3-D map of atmospheric temperature, water vapor and clouds, data that are useful to forecasters. The image shows the temperature of the storm's cloud tops or the surface of Earth in cloud-free regions. The coldest cloud-top temperatures appear in purple, indicating towering cold clouds and heavy precipitation. The infrared signal of AIRS does not penetrate through clouds. Where there are no clouds, AIRS reads the infrared signal from the surface of the ocean waters, revealing warmer temperatures in orange and red.
AIRS observes and records the global daily distribution of temperature, water vapor, clouds and several atmospheric gases including ozone, methane and carbon monoxide.

NASA hails 'amazing' exoplanetary system

NASA's Kepler space observatory has spotted an "amazing" exoplanetary system - six planets orbiting a sun-like star some 2,000 light-years from Earth.
Kepler-11 represents "the fullest, most compact planetary system yet discovered beyond our own", and only the second multi-planet system, after Kepler-9, to be identified by the "transit-time variation method", specifically by "tracking the dimming of a star’s light when planets pass between the star and the telescope".
NASA explains: "All of the planets orbiting Kepler-11, a yellow dwarf star, are larger than Earth, with the largest ones being comparable in size to Uranus and Neptune. The innermost planet, Kepler-11b, is 10 times closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun.
"Moving outwards, the other planets are Kepler-11c, Kepler-11d, Kepler-11e, Kepler-11f, and the outermost planet, Kepler-11g, which is twice as close to its star than Earth is to the Sun."

NASA Finds Earth-Size Planet Candidates in Habitable Zone, Six Planet System

NASA's Kepler mission has discovered its first Earth-size planet candidates and its first candidates in the habitable zone, a region where liquid water could exist on a planet's surface. Five of the potential planets are near Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of smaller, cooler stars than our sun.

Candidates require follow-up observations to verify they are actual planets. Kepler also found six confirmed planets orbiting a sun-like star, Kepler-11. This is the largest group of transiting planets orbiting a single star yet discovered outside our solar system.

"In one generation we have gone from extraterrestrial planets being a mainstay of science fiction, to the present, where Kepler has helped turn science fiction into today's reality," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "These discoveries underscore the importance of NASA's science missions, which consistently increase understanding of our place in the cosmos."

The discoveries are part of several hundred new planet candidates identified in new Kepler mission science data, released on Tuesday, Feb. 1. The findings increase the number of planet candidates identified by Kepler to-date to 1,235. Of these, 68 are approximately Earth-size; 288 are super-Earth-size; 662 are Neptune-size; 165 are the size of Jupiter and 19 are larger than Jupiter.

Of the 54 new planet candidates found in the habitable zone, five are near Earth-sized. The remaining 49 habitable zone candidates range from super-Earth size -- up to twice the size of Earth -- to larger than Jupiter.

The findings are based on the results of observations conducted May 12 to Sept. 17, 2009, of more than 156,000 stars in Kepler's field of view, which covers approximately 1/400 of the sky.

"The fact that we've found so many planet candidates in such a tiny fraction of the sky suggests there are countless planets orbiting sun-like stars in our galaxy," said William Borucki of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., the mission's science principal investigator. "We went from zero to 68 Earth-sized planet candidates and zero to 54 candidates in the habitable zone, some of which could have moons with liquid water."

Among the stars with planetary candidates, 170 show evidence of multiple planetary candidates. Kepler-11, located approximately 2,000 light years from Earth, is the most tightly packed planetary system yet discovered. All six of its confirmed planets have orbits smaller than Venus, and five of the six have orbits smaller than Mercury's. The only other star with more than one confirmed transiting planet is Kepler-9, which has three. The Kepler-11 findings will be published in the Feb. 3 issue of the journal Nature.

NASA To Announce New Planetary Discoveries

NASA will host a news briefing at 1 p.m. EST, Wednesday, Feb. 2, to announce the Kepler mission’s latest findings about planets outside our solar system. The briefing will be held in the NASA Headquarters auditorium at 300 E St S.W. in Washington and carried live on NASA Television and the agency’s website at
Kepler is the first NASA mission capable of finding Earth-size planets in or near the “habitable zone,” the region in a planetary system where liquid water can exist on the surface of the orbiting planet. Although additional observations will be needed over time to achieve that milestone, Kepler is detecting planets and planet candidates with a wide range of sizes and orbital distances to help us better understand our place in the galaxy.
The news conference will follow the scheduled release of Kepler mission science data on Feb. 1. The data release will update the number of planet candidates and is based on observations conducted between May 2 and Sept. 17, 2009.
Participants are:
– Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist, NASA Headquarters, Washington
– William Borucki, Kepler Science principal investigator, NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
– Jack Lissauer, Kepler co-investigator and planetary scientist, Ames
– Debra Fischer, professor of Astronomy, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.
Reporters also may ask questions from participating NASA field centers or by phone. To obtain dial-in information, journalists must send their name, affiliation and telephone number to Steve Cole by e-mail at by noon EST on Feb. 1.