NASA Satellites Detect Extensive Drought Impact on Amazon Forests

A new NASA-funded study has revealed widespread reductions in the greenness of the forests in the vast Amazon basin in South America caused by the record-breaking drought of 2010."The greenness levels of Amazonian vegetation - a measure of its health - decreased dramatically over an area more than three and one-half times the size of Texas and did not recover to normal levels, even after the drought ended in late October 2010," said Liang Xu, the study's lead author from Boston University.

The drought sensitivity of Amazon rainforests is a subject of intense study. Scientists are concerned because computer models predict that in a changing climate with warmer temperatures and altered rainfall patterns the ensuing moisture stress could cause some of the rainforests to be replaced by grasslands or woody savannas. This would cause the carbon stored in the rotting wood to be released into the atmosphere, which could accelerate global warming. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that similar droughts could be more frequent in the Amazon region in the future.The comprehensive study was prepared by an international team of scientists using more than a decade's worth of satellite data from NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM).

NASA Extends Contract for Supercomputing Support Services

nasa super computer
NASA will exercise the third one-year option on a contract with Computer Sciences Corp. in Lanham, Md., to provide supercomputing support services at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. The option is valued at approximately $58.6 million.

The option exercised on the cost-plus-award-fee contract begins April 1 and continues until March 31, 2012. The contract consists of a two-year base period, which began Aug. 1, 2007, and eight one-year priced options with a maximum value of approximately $597 million if all options are exercised.

The company will continue to support supercomputing services provided by the agency's primary high performance computing facility operated by the NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division at Ames. The facility serves as the supercomputing pathfinder for the agency and develops and operates some of the largest, most advanced and productive supercomputers in the world.

The contract is structured so the company also may provide supercomputing services to the NASA Center for Computational Sciences facility at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and additional high performance computing support to other agency field centers as needed.

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NASA Dismantling Discovery For Retirement

Piece by piece, workers are removing parts from the space shuttle Discovery to prepare it for its life after spaceflight.

Discovery completed its 39th and final mission this month.

This week, NASA workers are removing the forward reaction control system in preparation for the shuttle's display.

The system's plumbing contains deadly rocket fuel.

When the shuttles are put on display, they will have mocked-up or space engines and will look complete. Only the workers will know what's gone.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden is expected to decide in April where the retired shuttles will be displayed.

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NASA’s Space Shuttle Train Is Basically A Giant, Moving Bomb

NASA’s Space Shuttle Train Is Basically A Giant, Moving Bomb but it’s actually very safe! And yes, NASA has a railroad. It’s been around since 1963, actually—so apologies to space nuts who’ve known about it for a while—but only recently has the agency uploaded an expose to YouTube.

Seriously, though, this train takes huge, volatile rocket booster segments and fuel from Utah to the Kennedy Space centre on specialised railroad cars, and has been doing so since 1963. It’s been upgraded since then, of course, but the goal remains the same: Take those boosters and fuel from where they’re processed, refitted, fixed and manufactured, and get them to the launch pad in Florida.

Sadly, the last rocket load was moved in May 2010, in preparation for the final space shuttle flights (beginning with Discovery earlier this month). That said, the railroad will continue to serve NASA in other ways, officials say in the video, which we hope to mean future manned and un-manned space missions.

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NASA proposes solar power project at Wallops Flight Facility in Va

NASA is proposing to install solar panels at its Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore.

The agency says it is proposing up to 80 acres of solar panels that would be capable of generating 10 gigawatt-hours per year of electricity.

The project would generate renewable electricity to help NASA meet or exceed requirements of the 2005 Federal Energy Policy Act and other executive orders. The project also would be expected to stabilize Wallops' growing utility costs and provide educational outreach regarding renewable energy technologies.

In addition, two 2.4 kilowatt residential-scale wind turbines would be installed around the facility.

NASA says the project in total would generate enough electricity in a year to power 850 average American homes.

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NASA's Successful 'Can Crush' Will Aid Heavy-Lift Rocket Design

In this week, NASA put the squeeze on a large rocket test section. Results from this structural strength test at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., will help future heavy-lift launch vehicles weigh less and reduce development costs.This trailblazing project is examining the safety margins needed in the design of future, large launch vehicle structures. Test results will be used to develop and validate structural analysis models and generate new "shell-buckling knockdown factors" -- complex engineering design standards essential to launch vehicle design.

"This type of research is critical to NASA developing a new heavy-lift vehicle," said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. "The Authorization Act of 2010 gave us direction to take the nation beyond low-Earth orbit, but it is the work of our dedicated team of engineers and researchers that will make future NASA exploration missions a reality."

The aerospace industry's shell buckling knockdown factors date back to Apollo-era studies when current materials, manufacturing processes and high-fidelity computer modeling did not exist. These new analyses will update essential design factors and calculations that are a significant performance and safety driver in designing large structures like the main fuel tank of a future heavy-lift launch vehicle.During the test, a massive 27.5-foot-diameter and 20-foot-tall aluminum-lithium test cylinder received almost one million pounds of force until it failed. More than 800 sensors measured strain and local deformations. In addition, advanced optical measurement techniques were used to monitor tiny deformations over the entire outer surface of the test article.

NASA Opens New Rocket Facility in Virginia

ASA has start a new facility to help ready commercial rockets for launch, and the first work at the new site should begin this month in preparation for a test flight to the International Space Station later this year.

The space agency held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on march 22, attended by bigwigs such as NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. — to christen the new Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at its Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va.

The facility is six stories tall, about 250 feet (76 meters) long and 150 feet (49 m) wide. Medium-class rockets with multiple stages will be assembled at the HIF, then rolled out for launch at a nearby Wallops pad. NASA's first customer for the new rocket facility is Virginia-based Orbital Sciences, which will use the new building to assemble its Taurus 2 rocket — a vehicle that is expected to begin launching supply runs to the space station for NASA in 2012.

NASA wishes Shatner happy 80th

NASA joined the throngs of fans wishing "Star Trek" actor William Shatner a happy 80th birthday Tuesday in the form of an online note to TV's original Capt. James T. Kirk.

"We want to wish happy birthday to @WilliamShatner — someone who continues to boldly go!" NASA told Shatner via Twitter, where the space agency posts updates as @NASA.

Shatner starred as the iconic captain of the starship Enterprise in the original "Star Trek" science fiction series that ran from 1966 to 1969. He reprised the role in seven of the franchise's 11 feature films.

To mark Shatner's birthday, the actor's website teamed up with and ThinkGeek for an online video contest for "International Talk Like William Shatner Day." The winner for best video will receive a gold command-color Star Trek robe.

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Toyota Plaintiffs Challenge NASA Sudden-Acceleration Report

Lawyers representing hundreds of people suing Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) over incidents of sudden acceleration challenged a NASA report that found electronic flaws weren’t the cause of problems that resulted in the recall of thousands of vehicles.

Plaintiffs’ experts will contradict the findings in the NASA report, conducted for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and will prove Toyota’s electronic throttle control system is the cause of sudden acceleration, lawyers said in court papers filed last week in Santa Ana, California, Federal Court.

Toyota, based in Toyota City, Japan, urged U.S. District Judge James V. Selna to take judicial notice of the findings. The NASA conclusions could then be used by Toyota as factually true during trials that are scheduled to begin in 2013.

“Toyota asks this court to take judicial notice of findings and conclusions by NASA and NHTSA that are hotly disputed in this litigation,” Steve Berman, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, wrote. “If this court took judicial notice of the disputed findings and conclusions, plaintiffs would be barred from challenging them in this litigation.”

NASA concluded in the Feb, 8 report that incidents of unintended sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles were rooted in mechanical flaws such as sticking accelerator pedals and floor mats that jammed the pedals or were caused by driver error.

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See Mercury in 3D

Going to the cinemas these days offer us an option – to watch a movie in 3D or not? Well, NASA’s MESSENGER has started to orbit the planet at 01:45 CET, where this little transport that could will carry the necessary scientific instruments required to map Mercury from a distance, analyzing the structure and composition of its surface in the process while creating what some might call a 3D model in the end. Scientists at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) will be the brains that analyze collected data from three of the instruments on the MESSENGER. Being the smallest among the terrestrial planets, Mercury is still a huge mystery since it possesses an unusually high density with an interior that comprises of an iron core surrounded by a thin rocky mantle and crust. You won’t need to wear a dorky pair of 3D glasses to see the planet in 3D glory, that’s for sure.

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NASA Holds Information Technology Summit In August

NASA's second Information Technology Summit will bring together government and industry leaders to provide the latest perspectives on the IT field. The summit will take place August 15-17 at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in San Francisco.

Approximately 2,000 participants from NASA mission directorates and support organizations, private industry, academic institutions, other federal agencies and IT groups are expected to attend. The event will feature more than 100 speakers and panel discussions on topics including best practices, enterprise architecture, innovative social networking, open government, and IT security and privacy.

NASA has partnered with the non-profit National Institute of Aerospace for the event. The institute acts as a liaison among NASA, industry, public partners and academia to secure resources to better promote the agency's vision while enabling an open dialogue among a broad IT community.

NASA Associate Administrator and Chief Information Officer Linda Cureton will host the event. "The Information Technology Summit continues NASA's goal of inspiring a more innovative, collaborative, and informed IT workforce and bringing together America's IT talent to one location through technical workshops and information exchange," Cureton said.

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Nasa's Messenger probe orbits Mercury

Mercury isn't really blue and gold. "In general," says Nasa, "in light visible to the human eye, Mercury's surface shows only very subtle colour variations."

The space agency explains how it extrapolates colourful images such as the one above. When images from all 11 narrow-band colour filters of the Wide Angle Camera in the Mercury Dual Imaging System "are statistically compared and contrasted, these subtle colour variations can be greatly enhanced, resulting in extremely colourful representations of Mercury's surface", Nasa says.

In this (cropped) mosaic of what Nasa calls the "eastern limb" of Mercury, from the flyby in January 2008 (the first of the three by Messenger), the large gold-hued circular area is the Caloris basin, notable for its volcanic plains. The basin is about 960 miles in diameter. Messenger passed by at a distance of around 8,000 miles.

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NASA unpacks humanoid robot in space

nasa gabby
The first humanoid robot ever launched into space is finally free. Astronauts at the International Space Station unpacked Robonaut on Tuesday, about two weeks after its arrival via shuttle Discovery. NASA broadcast the light-hearted unveiling ceremony yesterday.

American Catherine Coleman and Italian Paolo Nespoli pried off the lid of the robot’s packing box, as though they were opening a coffin. TV cameras showed lots of foam inside, but no robot.

“It’s like unearthing a mummy,’’ radioed a payload controller at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

“Well, at least the mummy would be here,’’ Coleman replied. “We just have an empty box where Robonaut is supposed to be.’’

Robonaut — also known as R2 — was spotted a minute later.

Also yesterday, astronaut Scott Kelly and two Russian cosmonauts landed safely in the snowy expanses of central Kazakhstan after spending five months on the station. Kelly returns as his twin brother, Mark, husband of wounded congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, prepares to be the commander of space shuttle Endeavour’s final mission in April. Scott Kelly was shown in a NASA photo wearing a blue wristband with a peace sign, a heart and the name “Gabby.’’

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NASA’s Inglorious Ending

There are two space shuttle flights left before those vehicles are fully retired by NASA - if there's enough money left in the space agency budget.

Yep, that was one of the angles that came out of a Senate hearing yesterday on the space program, as Senators again complained about the future of NASA, and pressed officials for details on how the shuttle will be replaced.

NASA chieftains led by William Gerstenmaier performed yet another bureaucratic dance at the witness table, assuring Senators that they were working on plans for a new heavy lift rocket and crew vehicle, but leaving no discernible footprints on when any of that might actually start flying.

Gerstenmaier also warned Congress against making any budget cuts to NASA the rest of this year, saying it could derail the final shuttle flight, set for June.

"If we got a significant budget cut here in the Continuing Resolution, that could potentially cause some concerns," said Gerstenmaier.

Earlier this month, NASA chief Charlie Bolden was more blunt, saying "all bets would be off" if NASA suffered more budget cuts.

There is some money being chopped out of NASA this week in the 3-week stop gap budget bill that's going through Congress, as it would take $63 million out of the space agency's over $18 billion budget.

That's less than the $300 million cut in the House passed $61 billion cutback plan, which again drew the ire of Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida.

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Google, NASA release satellite images of Japan disaster

Both Google and NASA are releasing satellite images depicting the devastation last week's earthquake and tsunami caused in Japan.

Google teamed up with GeoEye, a satellite imagery company, to make images of the affected area available for people to view in Google Earth or Google Maps.
Ryan Falor, a member of the Google Crisis Response team, noted in a blog post over the weekend that the images are being made available to aid organizations in an attempt to assist their rescue efforts.

"We hope this new updated satellite imagery is valuable for them as well as everyone else following this situation to help illustrate the extent of the damage," wrote Falor.
"You can also follow @earthoutreach on Twitter to stay up to date with our mapping and imagery efforts."

At NASA, scientists used a Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer instrument on the Terra spacecraft to show before-and-after imagery of the havoc wrought by the tsunami. The NASA images show that flooding caused by the tsunami extended more than 2.5 miles inland from the eastern shoreline. The white sand beaches visible in image taken before the tsunami now are covered by water.

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NASA Develops Light Microscope For International Space Station

NASA began testing a new multi-capability microscope this week on the International Space Station. It will help scientists study the effects of the space environment on physics and biology aboard the orbiting laboratory. The microscope is isolated from vibrations on the station, allowing it to obtain clear, high-resolution images. Using high-resolution magnification, scientists can examine microorganisms and individual cells of plants and animals, including humans.

The microscope will allow real-time study of the effects of the space environment without the need to return samples to Earth. Any living specimens returned to Earth must endure the effects of re-entry through the atmosphere. The ability to use the Light Microscopy Module (LMM) on station will enable scientists to study data unaffected by re-entry.

"We really need to maximize life science investigations conducted on the International Space Station," said Jacob Cohen, principal investigator of the technology demonstration and a researcher at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "It's really amazing to be able to remotely manage, optimize and troubleshoot experiments observed with a microscope in space without the need to return the samples back to Earth. This microscope is helping fulfill the vision of a true laboratory in space."

The biological samples for the LMM launched on space shuttle Discovery's STS-133 mission on Feb. 24. They include eight fixed slides containing yeast; bacteria; a leaf; a fly; a butterfly wing; tissue sections and blood; six containers of live C. elegans worms, an organism biologists commonly study; a typed letter "r" and a piece of fluorescent plastic. The wing is from a previous study, Butterflies in Space, involving students from around the country, and flown on STS-129 in 2009. Some of the worms are descendants of those that survived the space shuttle Columbia (STS-107) accident; and others are modified to fluoresce. Scientists commonly attach green, yellow and red florescent proteins to study gene expression.

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Taiwan issues tsunami alert following Japan quake

Taiwan's central weather bureau issued a tsunami advisory for the island's north and east coasts after a major earthquake struck off the north coast of Japan.

It said it expects any waves to arrive after 0930 GMT and advised residents in coastal areas to remain alert to changes in sea conditions. (Taipei bureau and Asia Desk, Singapore +65 6870 3815)

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Saving the Earth: meet NASA's Planetary Protection Officer

Do you know who your Planetary Protection Officer (PPO) is? Do you know what a PPO does? Two weeks ago, I would have answered "no" to both of those questions. Thanks to a session at the recent meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), that mystery has been cleared up. Basically, a PPO has two main jobs: to make sure that missions we send into space looking for extraterrestrial life don't end up contaminating their destinations with earthlings, and to make sure that anything we bring back to Earth doesn't accidentally end all life on Earth or turn out like the Andromeda Strain.

Despite the imposing task, NASA's PPO is a cheerful scientist by the name of Cassie Conley. She was part of a panel at the AAAS meeting on the search for ET, where she explained how NASA does its best to make sure that any signs of life they might detect on Mars or elsewhere didn't actually travel along with the probe. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty requires that signatories that explore space don't contaminate it. In practice, this means taking a tiered approach, with different levels of precautions depending on the mission. If you wanted to land a rover on Mercury or Io, you can basically do what you want since the conditions there are far too harsh for terrestrial life. Missions to Mars, Europa, and Enceladus require much more caution, since there's a much better chance life could exist there.

For missions that just go out into space and don't come back, the most significant precautions are taken for those that involve landing probes. These are assembled in clean rooms and sterilized by baking, but as we're learning more about extremophiles, this might not always be sufficient.

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Indian scientist helps NASA predict solar flare

There was a huge solar flare in 1859. It was so large that it could be seen with the naked eye. In 1989, a solar storm wiped out Canada's northern electric grid. Canada was out of power for almost three days.
Violent magnetic emissions from the sun could one day destroy all electronic equipment on earth.
An Indian scientist from Indian Institute of Science Education and Research has helped NASA predict when such explosions are likely to happen.
"The activity of the sun affects satellites, air traffic on polar routes, telecommunications. So there is a huge industry in trying to develop forecasting capabilities," said Dibyendu Nandi of Indian Institute of Science Education and Research.
For the past 10 years, the sun is worryingly quiet. And even that can severely disrupt earth's climate. Scientists couldn't predict the sun's violent and silent phases. But Doctor Dibyendu Nandi has found a way.
Super hot currents of plasma ripple on the sun's surface and inside it, driven by chemical reactions and magnetic fields. Dibyendu's theories and computer simulations warn when those forces build up unbearably, to trigger an explosion.
Dibyendu is now gearing up for Aditya, India's satellite to study the sun, which will be launched in 2014.
"Aditya will help study the sun," said Dibyendu.

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Rocket Carrying New NASA Climate Satellite Fails to Reach Orbit

A rocket carrying NASA's newest climate satellite failed to reach orbit today (March 4) after its nose cone failed to separate as planned.
The Taurus XL rocket blasted off at about 2:10 a.m. PST (1010 GMT) from a launch pad at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California carrying NASA's $424 million Glory satellite to study Earth's climate.
The mission had been delayed more than a week due to a computer glitch that thwarted a Feb. 23 launch try.
But minutes after liftoff, the Taurus XL rocket's nose cone – a clamshell-like covering around the satellite called a fairing that is designed to separate during the trip into orbit – suffered some sort of failure, NASA spokesperson George Diller said.
"The fairing did not separate from the Taurus and the Glory spacecraft is not able to achieve orbit," Diller said in televised commentary about 15 minutes after liftoff

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