NASA's Mars rover Curiosity sends back spectacular snap shots

After its first day on Mars, NASA's rover Monday sent back to Earth stunning images of its crater landing site and the mountain it aims to climb in the hunt for signs of life.

The landing of the $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory and nuclear-powered robot Curiosity late Sunday opened a new chapter in the history of interplanetary exploration by touching down on the Red Planet.

Mars rover Curiosity

The one-ton mobile lab is the largest rover ever sent to Mars, and its high-speed landing was the most daring to date, using a rocket-powered sky crane to lower the six-wheeled vehicle gently to the Martian surface.

Numerous images of the car-sized rover and its alien surroundings have come back to NASA since the landing occurred at 10:32 pm Sunday on the US West Coast (0532 GMT Monday).

New images of the rover's descent, taken from the vehicle itself, were shown on NASA television, strung together in a video that depicted the spacecraft's heat shield deploying and dust kicked up before the rover landed wheels down.

Other black and white images show the rover's shadow and Mount Sharp in the distance, a mountain it aims to conquer as part of its two-year mission to explore Mars and analyze sediment layers that are up to a billion years old.

The images so far tend to be small, but high-resolution images are expected in the next couple of weeks.

"The spacecraft is oriented northwest-southeast, pointing forward toward Mount Sharp," said project scientist John Grotzinger. "This couldn't have been a better position to land in."

However, Grotzinger said it may be a year before the rover arrives at the mountain in the center of the planet's Gale Crater, as scientists first take a close look at soil and rock samples inside the crater.

"We would never want to just drive across the dunes as the shortest way to go there," he said.

According to NASA chief engineer Miguel San Martin, the rover touched down inside the planned landing ellipse that spanned 12 by four miles (20 by six kilometers) at the foot of the mountain.

Further data in the coming days will give scientists a better idea of exactly where the rover landed.

Initial checks on the instruments on board have also come back positive, NASA said.

When the landing was announced after a tense, seven-minute entry, descent and landing, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory filled with jubilation as the mission team cheered and exchanged Mars chocolate bars.

President Barack Obama described the landing as "an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future."

Success had been anything but certain. NASA's more recent rover drop-offs involved smaller craft that were cushioned with the help of airbags.


NASA's VA Hypersonic Inflatable Heat Shield Launch July 23

NASA has scheduled the launch of an inflatable heat shield technology demonstration flight from the agency's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., for Monday, July 23, 2012.

The Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3) is to be launched on a Black Brant XI sounding rocket and is projected to splashdown approximately 100 miles east of Cape Hatteras, NC.

NASA's VA Hypersonic Inflatable Heat Shield

The launch window on Monday for all rockets, including several to test tracking systems and gather atmospheric data, is 5 to 8 a.m. The launch window for the IRVE-3 is 7 to 7:40 a.m.
The rocket will be visible to residents in the Wallops and southern Chesapeake Bay region.
The NASA Visitor Center at Wallops will open at 4:30 a.m. on launch day for viewing the launch

Due to bad weather and rough seas off the coast of North Carolina, NASA has postponed the July 21 launch attempt.
NASA Space Technology Program researchers will attempt to launch and deploy a large inflatable heat shield aboard a rocket traveling at hypersonic speeds during a technology demonstration test from the agency's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va.

NASA has four consecutive days of launch opportunities for the agency's Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3), starting July 21, with the liftoff window from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. EDT each day.

The test is designed to demonstrate lightweight, yet strong, inflatable structures that could become practical tools for exploration of other worlds or as a way to return items safely to Earth from the International Space Station. During this technology demonstration test flight, NASA's IRVE-3 payload will try to re-enter Earth's atmosphere at hypersonic speeds -- Mach 5, or 3,800 mph to 7,600 mph.

"As we investigate new ways to bring cargo back to Earth from the International Space Station and innovative ways to land larger payloads safely on Mars, it's clear we need to invest in new technologies that will enable these goals," said Michael Gazarik, director of NASA's Space Technology Program. "IRVE-3 is precisely the sort of cross-cutting technology NASA's Space Technology Program should mature to make these future NASA and commercial space endeavors possible."

The IRVE-3 experiment will fly aboard a three-stage Black Brant XI launch vehicle for its suborbital flight. The payload and the heat shield, which looks like a large, uninflated cone of inner tubes, will be packed inside the rocket's 22-inch-diameter nose cone. About six minutes after launch, the rocket will climb to an altitude of about 280 miles over the Atlantic Ocean.

At that point, the 680-pound IRVE-3 will separate from the rocket. An inflation system similar to air tanks used by scuba divers will pump nitrogen gas into the IRVE-3 aeroshell until it becomes almost 10 feet in diameter. Instruments on board, including pressure sensors and heat flux gauges, as well as cameras, will provide data to engineers on the ground of how well the inflated heat shield performs during the force and heat of entry into Earth's atmosphere.

After its flight, IRVE-3 will fall into the Atlantic Ocean about 350 miles down range from Wallops. From launch to splash down, the flight is expected to take approximately 20 minutes.

"We originally came up with this concept because we'd like to be able to land more mass and access higher altitudes on Mars," said Neil Cheatwood, IRVE-3 principal investigator at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. "To do so you need more drag. We're seeking to maximize the drag area of the entry system. We want to make it as big as we can. The limitation with current technology has been the launch vehicle diameter."

Cheatwood and a team of NASA engineers and technicians have spent the last three years addressing the technical challenges of materials withstanding the heat created by atmospheric entry and preparing for the IRVE-3 flight. The team has studied designs, assessed materials in laboratories and wind tunnels, and subjected hardware to thermal and pressure loads beyond what the inflatable spacecraft technology should face during flight.

This test is a follow on to the successful IRVE-2, which showed an inflatable heat shield could survive intact after coming through Earth's atmosphere. IRVE-3 is the same size as IRVE-2, but has a heavier payload and will be subjected to a much higher reentry heat.

IRVE-3 is part of the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) Project within the Game Changing Development Program, part of NASA's Space Technology Program. Langley developed and manages the IRVE-3 and HIAD projects.


Pass through of Venus trembles astronomy enthusiasts

For astronomy enthusiasts as well as laymen, Wednesday's celestial spectacle was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Transit of Venus, between the Earth and the sun right from the day-break was witnessed by many. The very appearance of Venus, as a dot on the sun, thrilled viewers.

As the day broke, it appeared on the sun emerging from the Bay of Bengal in an effulgent orange. Even as the sun turned yellow and then white in all brightness, the dot was visible.

Transit of Venus thrills astronomy

Protective gear

People used special protective gear to witness it. Not heeding the advice of experts, some viewed them through old X-ray films.

At Jalaripeta, where fishermen live, there is always hectic activity in the morning as fishermen prepare themselves to head out into the sea. Seeing the enthusiasm of those who had gathered there to witness the event, they enquired as to what was happening in the sky. At Ramakrishna Beach, the local chapter of Jana Vignana Vedika explained the importance of the rare astronomical phenomena to people and supplied them protective glasses to view it.

Social networking

For photography aficionados, it's a rare opportunity. Using it, a dentist, Suresh Gorantla, and a businessman, Sanjay Singh, shot the pictures and put them on social networking platforms to help their friends see it.

Several companies court NASA for contracts

A privately built space capsule that's zipping its way to the International Space Station has also launched something else: A new for-profit space race.

The capsule called Dragon was due to arrive near the space station for tests early today and dock Friday with its load of supplies. Space Exploration Technologies Corp. — run by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk — was hired by NASA to deliver cargo and eventually astronauts to the orbital outpost.

And the space agency is hiring others, too.

SpaceX Launch

Several firms think they can make money in space and are close enough to Musk's company to practically surf in his spaceship's rocket-fueled wake. There are now more companies looking to make money in orbit — at least eight — than major U.S. airlines still flying.

Private space companies have talked for years about ferrying goods and astronauts for NASA, but this is the first time one is actually in orbit and about to make a delivery for the space agency.

"Dragon is not the only entrant in commercial cargo," said Jeff Greason, president of XCOR Aerospace, which specializes in the also-busy suborbital marketplace. "They have competitors nipping at their heels."

Still, Dragon's launch is "the spark that will ignite a flourishing commercial spaceflight marketplace," said Michael Lopez-Alegria, the president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and a former astronaut.

Hiring Musk's SpaceX and other private companies is a key part of NASA's plan to shift focus. Instead of routine flights to the space station with the retired space shuttles, NASA is aiming further out to places such as asteroids and Mars. After this test flight, SpaceX has a contract with NASA for a dozen delivery runs.

The idea is to "let private industry do what it does best and let NASA tackle the challenging task of pushing the boundary further," NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said last week.

NASA has given seed money and contracts to several companies to push them on their way. But eventually, space missions could launch, dock to a private space station or hotel, and return to Earth and not have anything to do with NASA or any other country's space agency.

Earlier this month, the Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX signed an agreement with Bigelow Aerospace of Nevada, which is designing inflatable space stations for research and maybe even tourists. SpaceX and other companies will provide the transportation — like airlines — and Bigelow the place to stay. There are already eight different licensed spaceports in the U.S. where companies can launch from and most of them have no connection to NASA.


NASA plans multi-rocket science launch

NASA says a science mission this week will briefly create a milky white cloud that may be visible along a large portion of the U.S. East Coast.

Five sounding rockets will be launched in quick succession Tuesday from the Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va., and each will release a chemical tracer at different altitudes to create clouds allowing scientists and the public to "see" the winds in space, the space agency said Monday.

multi-rocket science launch

The Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment mission -- to gather information needed to improve understanding of the high-altitude jet stream located 60 to 65 miles above the surface of Earth -- is set to launch between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. EST Tuesday.

The launch will need clear skies not only at Wallops Island but also in North Carolina and New Jersey, where camera sites will record the results of the experiment, NASA said.

The latest weather forecasts appear to be favorable, with clear weather forecast along the Atlantic Seaboard, but possible gusty winds could ground the rockets for another night.

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NASA delays rocket launch to study jet stream

NASA has late its organized launch of five rockets targeted at studying more about the jet stream's present at the side of space.

Nasa rocket
NASA at first said it would deliver up five rockets in five moments from seaside Va beginning Exclusive. But it therefore declared Exclusive the discharge was clean due to a payload problem. The next effort will be no previously than Exclusive evening.

The rockets are to launch a chemical type pathway to monitor gusts of wind circling World at up to 300 mph, about 65 kilometers above the exterior.

Officials had said long, milky bright atmosphere could be noticeable for about 20 moments from Myrtle Seaside, S.C., to the southeast part of New Hampshire, and as far western as Morgantown, W.Va. - climate allowing. That area contains California, Baltimore, Chicago, New You are able to and Birkenstock boston.

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Saudi academic to be first Arab member of NASA research team

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), an American space agency, has accorded its relationship to a Saudi academic Dr. Majdah Aburass, making her the first Arab woman to join its research squad of scientists. Dr. Aburas holds a doctorate degree from the University of Surrey in environmental studies and biotechnology, concentrate in oil pollutions.

Arab Member of NASA

Aburas, who is currently a faculty member at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah and researcher in environmental sciences, ecology, sustainable development ─ where she lectures on different disciplines such as microbiological pollution, physiology of microorganisms, industrial microbiology and ecological pollution ─ will join the team at NASA to support and create a series of projects for the development of the Gulf region. She was also appointed as a member of the science division at NASA’s regional office.

Muhammad Ibrahim al-Rashid, president of NASA affiliate the Gulf American Foundation for Space, Technology and Environment, told Arab News that Aburas was appointed as a member of the regional research team over her national initiatives to protect the environment. “It was the result of her continuous work for the environment to solve its problems,” he said.

Aburas told Al Arabiya that she is proud of this appointment and credits her achievements to King Abdullah. She says “King Abdullah’s reign is considered as the golden era for women in Saudi; he is a true leader and a visionary. His latest verdict to allow women to participate in the Shoura Council and the municipal polls was historical and ensures equitable and effective representation of women in decision-making structures,” she added.

As for her new role, she said her appointment came as a result of a collaboration with NASA on a project that she hopes will be implemented in the near future. She said she will be based at NASA headquarters for a month in The United States. where she will have the chance to work closely with other NASA researchers.


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NASA's SDO spacecraft captures solar eclipse in space

solar eclipse
A NASA spacecraft has detained footage of Tuesday's partial solar eclipse. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) captured images of the new Moon crossing part of the Sun's face in a incomplete eclipse that was visible only from space. For more information about solar eclipses, check out an online high school to find science classes that can teach you how solar eclipses happen and its significance to sun-earth interactions. reports that SDO snapped a video and photos of the solar eclipse which made the Sun look like a "huge celestial Pac-Man," from a position 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above the Earth. According to SDO , "The video shows today's Lunar Eclipse in a variety of wavelengths the AIA instrument observes. Each wavelength shows us a different temperature and layer of the Sun, allowing us to study the Sun and its activities."

SDO officials tweeted a message on the mission's mascot Twitter account, @Camilla_SDO: "It's a PacMan sun! The moon is transiting between @NASA_SDO and the sun today!"
The incident, according to SDO officials, caused a dip in EVE (extreme ultraviolet) output and gave scientists opportunity to calibrate the energy emitted by the active sunspot region AR1422 that has been emitting strong ultraviolet radiation into space. The AR1422 region was blocked in the Moon's passage across the face of the Sun.

An eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and the Sun. A total eclipse occurs when there is an exact alignment between the Moon and the Sun as viewed from the Earth. When the alignment is not exact, we have a partial eclipse. reports a total eclipse will take place on November 13, but will be visible only from parts of northern Australia and the South Pacific. A partial eclipse will occur on May 20 and will be visible in much of Asia, the Pacific and western North America, says NASA.


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How NASA Makes Those Incredible High-Res Images of Earth

How were these highly thorough imagery created? The satellite flies 512 miles on top of the Earth, but the images appear as if they were taken from a much higher perspective: an altitude of 1,242 for the first image and 7,918 miles for the second. This little trick was accomplished by stitching together data from several orbits, creating an image that appears to be “pulled back.”

NASA launched the 4,600-pound Suomi in October to remotely sense variations in the Earth’s oceans, continents, and atmosphere and get a better understanding of climate change. It passes directly from pole to pole 14 times a day, imaging 1,865-mile swaths of our planet with each trip.

On board Suomi, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument takes pictures in red, green, and blue wavelengths. For the whole-Earth images, those wavelengths were combined to create a natural color photograph. It is not an exact representation of what an observer sitting in space would see, because particles in the atmosphere scatter short wavelengths of light, and our planet would actually appear more blue-tinged. The photos more accurately portray how the oceans and continents appear from the ground.

Oceanographer Norman Kuring, who compiled the two pictures, said the original image, showing North and Central America, was made as a favor to project scientist James Gleason who was looking for an ocean color image to show in a presentation. Word got out of the striking picture and NASA officials released it on Jan. 25, resulting in 3 million people viewing it in one week.

NASA Says No to Probe Crash Theory Test - Roscosmos

NASA has reject to contribute in an experiment designed to show if U.S. radars could have had an impact on Russia’s troubled Phobos-Grunt Mars probe, the deputy head of the country’s space agency, Roscosmos, Anatoly Shylov said on Thursday.

Roscosmos filed an official request to the U.S. side to participate in the investigation, but they refused,” Shylov said.

The official also said that the government commission inquiry into the cause of the probe’s crash had issued a final report with the results of the investigation. It is expected to be published next week.

Among the possible causes of the Phobos-Grunt probe’s crash, investigators said interference from the U.S. radar installed on the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean could have had an impact. Scientists however dismissed the idea, saying that the U.S. radar theory is cover up to hide some people’s mistakes.


2011 Was Ninth Warmest Year On Record

NASA make public a temperature analysis for 2011, which shows that previous year was among the ten (10) warmest years since 1880, when the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York began keeping record of global temperatures.

Nine(9)of the warmest years were recorded in the 21st century; 1998 is the only 20th century entry in the ranking. NASA said that the average temperature around the globe in 2011 was 0.92 degrees F (0.51 C) warmer than the mid-20th century baseline. The difference between 2011 and 2010, the warmest year on GISS record, was 0.22 degrees F (0.12 C).

"We know the planet is absorbing more energy than it is emitting," said GISS Director James Hansen in a prepared statement. "So we are continuing to see a trend toward higher temperatures. Even with the cooling effects of a strong La Niña influence and low solar activity for the past several years, 2011 was one of the 10 warmest years on record."

The increasing level of greenhouse gases is blamed for the an ongoing temperature increases, which NASA says may vary from year to year, but will continue to climb in the future on average. To learn more information about greenhouse gases, check out online colleges to find biology classes that can teach you more about the types of greenhouse gases. GISS noted that the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was about 285 parts per million in 1880, about 315 parts per million in 1960 and is above 390 parts per million today. Hansen said he expects record-breaking global average temperature in the next two to three years because of increasing solar activity and the "next El Niño will increase tropical Pacific temperatures".


NASA picks Mont. students' names for moon probes: Ebb, Flow

moon probes
Fourth-graders in Montana have won the NASA grail by naming the previously nameless twin spacecraft orbiting the moon "Ebb" and "Flow."

NASA's rocket scientists were too busy creating the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (yes, GRAIL) probes to give them proper names and had simply called them "A" and "B." So, back in October, a month after the unmanned craft were launched, the space agency launched the naming contest.

More than 11,000 students in nearly 900 classrooms in 45 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico participated. The winning entry came from the 28 students in Nina DiMauro's class at the Emily Dickinson Elementary School in Bozeman, Mont., NASA said.

"They noted the fact that GRAIL is going to be studying gravity on the moon, and that the effect of gravity on the Earth is seen every day in terms of tides," principal investigator Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology told AFP. "So they chose Ebb and Flow because it was the daily example of how the moon's gravity is working on the Earth."

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NASA Rover Takes 'Winter Vacation' to Power Solar Panel

mars rover
NASA has sent its Mars Rover, Opportunity, on its first winter working vacation since the solar-powered vehicle began exploring the red planet’s surface several years ago.

Similar to humans who travel to sunny locations during the winter, the robotic rover will spend the next several months literally soaking up sunlight. The U.S. space agency, NASA, says it positioned Opportunity with its solar panel angled toward the Sun to make sure the rover will have enough power to last for the duration of the long Martian winter.

Mission scientists say it was not necessary for Opportunity to be kept in a Sun-facing position the previous four Martian winters because its landing site just south of the planet's equator gets relatively strong sunlight year-round. They decided to use the maneuver this year because the rover’s solar panels were caked with an unusually thick coating of dust.

NASA says Opportunity is sitting on the slope of a rocky outcrop that lies along the rim of Mars’ 22-kilometer-wide Endeavour Crater. Scientists say they have identified a variety of interesting features for the rover to investigate with its robotic arm while its solar panels store up energy from the Sun. NASA says it does not plan to move the golf cart-sized vehicle more than a meter or two until June or July when Opportunity will resume its current mission exploring Endeavour Crater.

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