Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 – A year of triumph and tension for NASA!

0 comments

The year 2009 was a mixed year of triumph and tension for NASA – while the agency triumphed in terms of captivating momentous steps towards exploration beyond the Earth’s orbit and also perking up its International Space Station research; tension for the agency consequence from the winding down of its shuttle program and the uncertainty hovering over the future direction of US human spaceflight.

With 2009 marking important achievements, like the discovery of water on the moon and Mars that would facilitate future of space exploration, and a class of newly-identified ‘Super-Earth’ planets that might some day turn out to be more habitable than Earth, the likely-to-be-stellar-studded coming year would see a growing armada of current, new and revived space telescopes.

Among the other highs for NASA this year was the go ahead by a White House panel to the growth of commercial space taxi services for US astronauts; the launch of five shuttle missions bythe agency ; the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission that was launched in July 16, 1969; the launch of a new generation of space telescopes for unraveling long-standing mysteries of outer space; and the spotting of distant galaxies by the 19-year-old Hubble telescope.

Commenting on the triumphs of 2009, William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for space operations at NASA, said: “This is a tremendous time in spaceflight. We've had a very victorious year, and we need to cherish that.”


View This Site: Auto Transport

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

NASA Chooses Three Finalists for Future Space Science Mission to Venus, an Asteroid or the Moon

0 comments

NASA has preferred three proposals as candidates for the agency's next space venture to another celestial body in our solar system. The final project selected in mid-2011 may afford a better understanding of Earth's formation or perhaps the origin of life on our planet.

The proposed missions would explore the atmosphere and crust of Venus; return a piece of a near-Earth asteroid for analysis; or drop a robotic lander into a basin at the moon's south pole to return lunar rocks back to Earth for study.
NASA will choose one proposal for full development after detailed mission concept studies are completed and reviewed. The studies commence during 2010, and the selected mission must be ready for launch no later than Dec. 30, 2018. Mission cost, apart from the launch vehicle, is limited to $650 million.

"These are projects that enthuse and excite young scientists, engineers and the public," said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.These 3 proposals afford the best science value among eight submitted to NASA this year.

Each proposal team initially will obtain approximately $3.3 million in 2010 to conduct a 12-month mission concept study that focuses on implementation feasibility, cost, management and technical plans. Studies also will consist of plans for educational outreach and small business opportunities.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

NASA crashes helicopter to test new shield for cars

1 comments

Washington: NASA has intentionally crashed a 3,000-pound MD-500 helicopter loaded with dummies to test a new safety shield, which might someday be used to make the cars we drive safer.

According to a report in Discovery News, the small helicopter, contributed by the US Army for NASA's research program, survived a 35-foot plunge to the ground intact, thanks to a lightweight honeycomb structure that bore the brunt of the impact.
The honeycomb shield, made of Kevlar 129 - the same material used to build bulletproof vests - was attached to the underneath of a 3,000-pound MD-500 helicopter at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

The shields can be made of any material, as it is the structure of the honeycomb that affords the strength and flexibility to cushion the impact.
"The beauty of the honeycomb is that it will permit you to customize," said project engineer Sotiris Kellas.

"We like composites because we have more alternatives for tailoring, but they can be made out of any material you want," he added.

For the test, which took place former this month, the craft was suspended in the air with cables. Restraints were released, permitting the helicopter to fall, and just before it hit the ground, explosive devices fired to break the cable.
Four crash dummies, including one with simulated internal organs, were seated inside. The impact was equal to what might be considered a relatively severe crash at about 33 miles per hour.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Government Accountability Office reports International Space Station science might not be used because of launch costs

0 comments

The Government Accountability Office issued a report uttering the retirement of the Space Shuttle could push commercial launch costs up and affect science research on the International Space Station.

The report was completed at the request of U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., chairman of the Senate's Subcommittee on Science and Space.

According to the report: "The primary aim for the ISS through 2010 is construction, so research utilization has not been the priority. Some research has been and is being conducted as time and resources allow while the crew on board performs assembly tasks, but research will is expected to commence in earnest in 2010. NASA projects that it will utilize around 50 percent of the U.S.

ISS research facilities for its own research, including the Human Research Program, opening the left over facilities to U.S. ISS National Laboratory researchers. NASA faces numerous significant challenges that may impede efforts to maximize utilization of all ISS research facilities, including: the impending retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2010 and reduced launch capabilities for transporting ISS research cargo once the shuttle retires; high costs for launches and no dedicated funding to hold research; limited time available for research due to the fixed size of crew and competing demands for the crew's time; and an uncertain future for the ISS beyond 2015. "

Thursday, December 24, 2009

NASA, Int’l Space Station Allicance Shaky

0 comments

Network Word state that, despite NASA’s continued work on the International Space Station (ISS), the relationship between the two is becoming a little more contentious. The decay in relations appears as NASA faces challenges on replacing it’s space shuttle program and NASA and the ISS begin making modifications to the way they are managed. NASA is facing issues which could influence how well it is able to utilize all of the space station’s “research facilities.”

NASA faces a laundry-list of challenges: the Space Shuttle program’s looming end, high costs, limited staff, the uncertain future of the ISS program, and a pending decision from President Obama which would then require Congressional authorization.

At present, the International Space Station program is slated to end in 2015, but it has been proposed that it be extended to 2020. Three of the scenarios projected by President Obama’s investigatory committee include extending the station’s life.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

NASA Astronauts Launch Toward Space Station

0 comments
A Russian Soyuz spacecraft ascended into space Sunday carrying three new residents for the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA astronaut Timothy (T.J.) Creamer, Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov launched on time at 4:52 p.m. EDT on the Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

"Everything's excellent onboard the vehicle," Kotov radioed shortly after the rocket hurtled into the sky. "Everybody feels great, no problems, no issues."

Kotov powered the flight, which should catch up with the orbiting laboratory on Tuesday at 5:58 p.m. EDT. The 3 spaceflyers are due to take up residence at the station as Expedition 22 flight engineers. Then in March 2010, Kotov will seize over the helm as commander of Expedition 23.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

NASA remembers storied past, but looks to uncertain future

0 comments

Cape Canaveral, Florida - As the world marked the 40th anniversary of the first human on the moon this year, the future of the space programme that pioneering astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins helped found looks more uncertain than ever. The Apollo astronauts are old men now. In July, it seemed like they recreated that golden age of space flight when they shook hands with US President Barack Obama, who praised them for their contributions.

But even as NASA announced unprecedented findings from scientific missions to the moon and Mars, the Obama administration conducted a review of its activities that could alter or scrub the space agency's future plans.

NASA is winding down its nearly three-decade-old space shuttle programme and is set to retire the ageing space "trucks" in late 2010. Just five more flights remain, aimed at preparing the orbiting International Space Station (ISS) for life without the shuttle, the only craft large enough to transport major parts to the station More Details..

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Endeavour, Crew Prep for STS-130

0 comments
Endeavour is lowered onto the mobile launcher platform
At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians are completing the shuttle interface and hydraulic leak tests in the Vehicle Assembly Building today.

Space shuttle Endeavour and its solid rocket boosters will be powered down and prepared for their move, or rollout, to Launch Pad 39A scheduled for early January 2010.

The six STS-130 mission astronauts will carry out a variety of administrative duties this morning at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Commander George Zamka and Pilot Terry Virts also will practice shuttle landing techniques in T-38 jets and NASA's Shuttle Training Aircraft.

Lowering Endeavour

0 comments
Space shuttle Endeavour
In High Bay 1 in the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a crane lowers space shuttle Endeavour toward the external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters to which it will be attached.

Preparing to Lift Endeavour

0 comments
Workman with space shuttle Endeavour
In the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a United Space Alliance technician prepares to attach a lifting sling to space shuttle Endeavour.

Bruno Crater

0 comments
Giordano Bruno is one of the youngest large craters on the Moon
Giordano Bruno is one of the youngest large craters (22 km diameter) on the Moon. How old is "youngest"? Written accounts of twelfth century observations of a bright flash on the Moon may record the event that formed Giordano Bruno crater? That idea was proposed after the first high resolution pictures of the crater were analyzed from the Apollo era of lunar exploration. Scientists could see that the crater was very young, and was in the area of the Moon corresponding to the bright flash, so it seemed possible that the flash and crater were related. More recently a team of scientists analyzing high resolution images acquired by the Japanese lunar orbiter Kaguya estimated that the crater formed more than one million years ago. Very young by lunar standards, but certainly not consistent with the 12th century eyewitness reports! The Kaguya team determined the age of Giordano Bruno by counting the number of craters that formed on the crater subsequent to its formation. Were some of the small impacts discovered on the crater actually formed as late stage ejecta from the Giordano impact event itself rained down on the crater? If so the age may be younger than the current estimate. Hopefully, in the near future the true age of Giordano Bruno can be determined by radiometric age dating of impact melt rocks returned by the next generation of lunar explorers.

The very high resolution images being returned by LROC are revealing impact crater features in exquisite detail. Impact melt deposits display a wide range of forms on the floor, terraces, and flanks of Giordano Bruno. Wrinkles seen in upper left indicates the viscous nature of melt as it flowed against the crater wall (far left). Although formed by a different process, impact melts flow in much the same way as lava flows, forming lobes and exhibiting channels and levees. Like lava flows, they cease to move when their source is depleted or the melt cools and freezes into solid rock. The distribution of impact melts in and around impact craters provides important markers of the energy and dynamics of large scale impacts. As LROC collects more images of young craters scientists will be able to more accurately model impact processes and better understand the details of these incredibly energetic events. The scene is about 2200 m across; image resolution is 1.6 meters.

Variation in Light-Toned Deposits in a Martian Trough

0 comments
Variation in light-toned deposits in a Martian trough
This false-color image shows dozens of beds within a light-toned deposit located within a trough in the Noctis Labyrinthus region of Mars. The image comes from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Observations by the same orbiter's Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) suggest a general sulfate mineralogy for the light-toned deposit. However, the beds differ in brightness, color, thickness, and erosional properties, suggesting that many compositions may be present here but are too thin to be resolved. The arrows indicate an upper, dark-toned blocky geological unit that has covered the older, light-toned deposit.

This image covers a swath of ground about 900 meters or yards across at 11.2 degrees south latitude, 261.9 degrees east longitude. It is one product from HiRISE observation PSP_005400_1685, made on Sept. 21, 2007. Other image products from this observation are available at http://hirise.lpl.arizona.edu/PSP_005400_1685.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is the prime contractor for the project and built the spacecraft. The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates the HiRISE camera, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo.

Unexpected Wheel-Test Results

0 comments
Slight Movement by Spirit's Right-Front Wheel, Sol 2113

Diagnostic tests were run on Spirit's right-rear wheel and right-front wheel on Sol 2013 (Dec. 12, 2009). The right-rear wheel, which stalled during a drive two weeks earlier, continued to show no motion in the latest tests and exhibited very high resistance in the motor winding. The right-front wheel, which stopped operating on Sol 779 (March 13, 2006), surprised engineers by indicating normal resistance and turning slightly during a resistance test for that wheel.

Small motion is expected during an electrical resistance test for an operating actuator, but the right-front actuator was expected to be non-operational. The right-front wheel was last checked just after its apparent failure in 2006 and at that time indicated an open circuit. Although no clear theory for failure had been established, the failure was generally regarded as permanent. It is important to remember that the Sol 2013 test of the right-front wheel was only a rotor resistance test, and no conclusions can be drawn at this point without further testing.

The plan for Spirit on Sol 2116 (Dec. 15) is to command a drive. This drive will further investigate functionality of the right-front and right-rear wheels. The results are expected Wednesday.

Hubble's Festive View of a Grand Star-Forming Region

0 comments

Just in time for the holidays: a Hubble Space Telescope picture postcard of hundreds of brilliant blue stars wreathed by warm, glowing clouds. The festive portrait is the most detailed view of the largest stellar nursery in our local galactic neighborhood.

The massive, young stellar grouping, called R136, is only a few million years old and resides in the 30 Doradus Nebula, a turbulent star-birth region in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. There is no known star-forming region in our galaxy as large or as prolific as 30 Doradus.

Many of the diamond-like icy blue stars are among the most massive stars known. Several of them are over 100 times more massive than our Sun. These hefty stars are destined to pop off, like a string of firecrackers, as supernovas in a few million years.

The image, taken in ultraviolet, visible, and red light by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3, spans about 100 light-years. The nebula is close enough to Earth that Hubble can resolve individual stars, giving astronomers important information about the stars' birth and evolution.

The brilliant stars are carving deep cavities in the surrounding material by unleashing a torrent of ultraviolet light, and hurricane-force stellar winds (streams of charged particles), which are etching away the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud in which the stars were born. The image reveals a fantasy landscape of pillars, ridges, and valleys, as well as a dark region in the center that roughly looks like the outline of a holiday tree. Besides sculpting the gaseous terrain, the brilliant stars can also help create a successive generation of offspring. When the winds hit dense walls of gas, they create shocks, which may be generating a new wave of star birth.

The movement of the LMC around the Milky Way may have triggered the massive cluster's formation in several ways. The gravitational tug of the Milky Way and the companion Small Magellanic Cloud may have compressed gas in the LMC. Also, the pressure resulting from the LMC plowing through the Milky Way's halo may have compressed gas in the satellite. The cluster is a rare, nearby example of the many super star clusters that formed in the distant, early universe, when star birth and galaxy interactions were more frequent. Previous Hubble observations have shown astronomers that super star clusters in faraway galaxies are ubiquitous.

The LMC is located 170,000 light-years away and is a member of the Local Group of Galaxies, which also includes the Milky Way.

The Hubble observations were taken Oct. 20-27, 2009. The blue color is light from the hottest, most massive stars; the green from the glow of oxygen; and the red from fluorescing hydrogen.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute conducts Hubble science operations. The institute is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, and is an International Year of Astronomy 2009 program partner.

New Results from a Terra-ific Decade in Orbit

0 comments
thermal image of lava flowing from Bezymianny volcano
December 18, 2009, marks the tenth year since the launch of Terra, one of NASA's "flagship" Earth observing satellites. But the decade is more than just a mechanical milestone. With each additional day and year that the satellite monitors Earth, scientists achieve a lengthened record of Earth's vital signs. It's that record that helps scientists assess the health of Earth's ocean, land, and atmosphere, and determine how these systems are changing.

"Earth system science is a relatively young science," said Marc Imhoff, project scientist for the mission and a researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Terra's sensors have provided the first coordinated set of observations allowing us to link Earth system processes across space and time so we can better understand how they function together and how we interact with them."

Since Terra's five instruments officially saw "first light" on Feb 24, 2000, after a post-launch checkout, the data have continued to advance Earth system science. Here's a sample of the latest developments to be presented by Terra researchers at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

Droughts Slow Earth's Carbon Metabolism

Data from Terra's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) have turned up evidence that climate change may have negative effects for ecosystems earlier than we thought, according to Maosheng Zhao, an ecologist at the University of Montana in Missoula.

For the past several decades, photosynthesis by land plants and trees has absorbed, or acted as a "sink," for about one third of global carbon dioxide emissions, helping to slow the increase of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. But scientists have found that global carbon uptake by land plants is declining.

"This decreasing trend has very important implications for how much and how long humans should count on the carbon sink capacity of terrestrial ecosystems," Zhao said.

To arrive at their finding, Zhao and colleagues analyzed MODIS data from 2000 to 2008. Directly measuring carbon dioxide from space is difficult, so scientists rely on sensors to measure the photosynthetic activity of plants. That activity can then be translated to an estimate of how much carbon dioxide the plants are absorbing. "So far, MODIS is the best sensor we have for monitoring global vegetation dynamics," Zhao said.

A closer look reveals that carbon uptake is still on the rise in middle and high latitudes of the northern hemisphere. But that benefit is outweighed by changes in the tropics and southern hemisphere, where scientists observed less carbon being absorbed.

Zhao thinks that a major cause of the decrease is warming-related droughts, which impact crop yields, timber production, and expanses of natural vegetation.

Some computer models have predicted that by the middle of this century, carbon-climate feedbacks could cause terrestrial ecosystems to shift from being carbon sinks to sources, according to Zhao. "Our result is an early warning that we must take some actions to mitigate human-induced climate change."

Natural Hazards Tracked

There's no escaping the risk to human populations posed by natural hazards. But for almost 10 years, Terra has helped governments and local groups respond to and mitigate the consequences.

Just last month in El Salvador, Hurricane Ida brought heavy rains that triggered flooding and deadly mudslides. In another incident in November, a major algal bloom in Guatemala's Lake Atitlan had residents concerned about the lake's health and the safety of people who swim in and drink the water.

To help monitor these hazards, local governments and data processing groups turn to NASA for images from Terra's Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER ). The instrument's spatial resolutions of about 15 to 90 meters produce detailed maps of land surface characteristics such as temperature, reflectance and elevation, which are key for helping decision-makers determine where and how to respond.

"The request for the mudslide and algal bloom images are typical of the types of requests we receive," said Michael Abrams, ASTER science team leader at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "We also work with the U.S. Forest Service to image active wildfires for logistical support and often for post-fire damage assessment and mitigation."

Instrument operators can point ASTER -- an instrument provided by Japan's Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry -- at specific targets and acquire about 500 images per day. Each day about 3,000 requests are active in the request database, ranging from field work, global maps, and regional monitoring. To decide where to point the instrument, an algorithm was developed to automatically prioritize requests.

For example, immediate threats such as the requests from El Salvador's Civil Protection Agency to monitor the flooding and mudslides and Guatemala's Ministry of Agriculture to monitor the algal bloom, receive higher priority. Lower priority targets include a project to obtain complete global maps of ASTER imagery at least 3-5 times during mission.

As part of its monitoring of natural hazards, ASTER has been keeping a long-term eye on more than 1,000 active volcanoes around the world. The extended archive will be used by researchers to characterize the historical behavior for each volcano.

"To improve prediction, we need to know which signals are important," Abrams said.

Pollution Travels High and Far

The Station wildfire that burned southern California in late August 2009 was the largest fire in the recorded history of Los Angeles County and its Angeles National Forest, with more than 160,577 acres burned. Pollution created by the wildfire traveled even further. Rising more than 4 miles (7 kilometers) above Earth's surface, smoke from the fire was carried over Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, and carbon monoxide from the fire traveled at least as far as Louisiana.

The measurement of smoke height was possible with Terra's Multiangle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR ), which can resolve atmospheric components -- such as, clouds, dust and smoke plumes -- in three dimensions. MISR can also measure horizontal winds.

Scientists have used the instrument to develop a multi-year "climatology" or statistical database of the heights to which wildfires inject smoke into the atmosphere. The database now contains observations from more than 7,000 smoke plumes in North America, Siberia, and Africa.

"We discovered that for about one-fifth of wildfires, the smoke particles escape the low, turbulent part of the atmosphere and rise to a higher altitude, where they can remain concentrated for long periods and also be transported great distances " said David Diner, MISR principal investigator at JPL.

Researchers studying the dispersal of particulates from wildfires, volcanoes, and dust storms also use the data to test theoretical simulations against observed behavior. These simulations will help researchers understand, for example, what the effect of more fires in a warmer climate might have on air quality.

Other scientists are watching pollution that travels even greater distances, across international boundaries. Measurements of carbon monoxide from the Measurements of Pollution in the Troposphere instrument MOPITT -- provided by the Canadian Space Agency -- and of aerosols from the MISR and MODIS instruments allow scientists to observe both the sources and transport of pollution on a global scale.

"The Terra satellite made it possible to track pollution plumes as they are transported across the ocean, allowing us to observe numerous plumes of Asian pollution transported to the United States," said Daniel Jacob, an atmospheric scientist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. "The findings show that air pollution is a global issue, and thus that meeting air quality goals in the United States will increasingly require international cooperation."

Balancing the Energy Budget

As society considers carbon dioxide caps and geoengineering, open questions remain about exactly how, why, and where Earth is warming. Answering those questions requires a clear picture of how the Earth's energy budget is changing.

For a decade, researchers using the Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES) experiment on Terra have been taking stock of how much solar energy is absorbed by the planet's atmosphere and surface, and how much infrared and heat energy is emitted back into space. CERES scientists also study how cloud properties influence the energy exchange from space to the atmosphere to the ground and back again.

"CERES has provided a decade of accurate observations that allow us to explore changes over time, to see how radiation at the top of the atmosphere varies seasonally and annually," said Kevin Trenberth, A CERES investigator from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. "The longer the record, the more valuable it becomes."

The observations have shown that the world is cloudier than we thought, and changes in cloudiness can lead to regional and global fluctuations in the heat budget. For instance, albedo is decreasing in the Arctic as snow and sea ice melt, but there is also evidence of compensation from an increase in cloud cover.

Researchers including Norman Loeb of NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., and principal investigator for the CERES instrument, have found that measurements of the energy budget from space correlate well with what is being observed by heat content observations in the ocean, where most solar heat retained by Earth is stored.

Most strikingly, the CERES science team has updated the numbers in the planetary budget ledger and found a gap between incoming and outgoing radiation. The Earth is estimated to be absorbing at a rate of about 0.9 Watts per square meter more than it is emitting -- large enough to provoke the question: what does it mean for climate change?

"Terra has allowed us to observe cloud heights with MISR; cloud density and coverage, with MODIS, as well as sea ice, glaciers and surface temperatures; and incoming and outgoing radiation with CERES," said Marc Imhoff, project scientist for Terra. "That's a very powerful combo for understanding how the atmosphere, land, and oceans work together in balancing heat."

Solar Storms and Radiation Exposure on Commercial Flights

0 comments
Scientists at NASA’s Langley Research Center are working on a real-time model of radiation exposure risk for air travel that would include data about powerful solar storms
Scientists at NASA’s Langley Research Center have completed a first attempt to accurately calculate the level of damaging radiation flight crews and passengers are exposed to on commercial airline flights. The work is an early step toward developing a model to observe radiation exposure for all commercial flights, particularly for pilots and crews who spend their careers airborne and who are at greater risk of developing certain cancers.

The study considered not only everyday radiation emanating from space, but also the additional energy unleashed during a solar storm, which can be profound. NASA scientists say not including geomagnetic effects on solar radiation in modeling radiation exposure could underestimate the dosage by 30 to 300 percent.

Researchers looked at passengers and crew on typical flights from Chicago to Beijing, Chicago to Stockholm and London to New York, during what is known as the Halloween 2003 Storm. These flights were chosen because of their long flight paths near the North Pole, where the Earth’s natural protection from radiation is weakest. Earth’s magnetic field approaches zero above the poles. The Halloween 2003 event was chosen because it was both a large and a complex storm, making it a good test for the model.

The study found that aircrew and passengers during the Chicago to Beijing flight, for example, would have been exposed to about 12 percent of the annual radiation limit recommended by the International Committee on Radiological Protection. But these exposures were greater than on typical flights at lower latitudes, and confirmed the concerns about commercial flights at high latitudes.

“The upshot is that these international flights were right there at that boundary where many of these events can take place, where radiation exposure can be much higher,” said Chris Mertens, senior research scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center, who is leading the research effort. Mertens will present his latest results at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco on Dec. 16.

Piecing together the radiation exposure on these typical flights is the first step toward developing a real-time system that researchers hope will become a standard component of commercial airline cockpits. Radiation exposure could one day be taken into account in the same way weather conditions are considered before deciding to fly or deciding what exact route to fly and at what altitude.


Flying above and beyond Earth’s natural protection

The number of international flights that skirt the north pole are increasing. Airlines save massive amounts of fuel on flights such as Chicago-to-Shanghai by simply flying “over the top” – it is a far shorter route than following the latitude lines. But while saving fuel, these flight paths take planes and their passengers to the thinner layers of Earth’s magnetosphere, which shields potentially harmful solar and cosmic radiation.

On a typical day, the Sun is quiet and “background radiation,” the cumulative effect of radiation from cosmic sources reaching Earth, is the only other source. But when the Sun is not quiet, violent storms on the star’s surface eject powerful bursts of radiation to the Earth. It is these events that have never been truly accounted for in studies of how much radiation pilots and airline passengers are exposed to.


Pilots Await Results

While the flights studied appear to have not put passengers in danger of exceeding the safe radiation limit in an individual flight, concerns remain, Mertens said. Many workers whose jobs expose them to consistent radiation sources log that exposure to keep a record over one’s career. People who work on commercial airline flights are technically listed as “radiation workers” by the federal government – a classification that includes nuclear plant workers and X-ray technicians. But unlike some others in that category, flight crews do not quantify the radiation they are exposed to.

Mike Holland, an American Airlines captain and vice chairman for radiation and environmental issues with the Allied Pilots Association, said he is following Mertens’ research with interest. The pilots association has written a formal letter in support of the research. Holland cited studies that show pilots face a four-times greater risk of melanoma than the general population. But because pilots and flight crews do not wear radiation-measuring badges like other radiation workers, the only estimates about their career-long exposure come from models.

Up until now, most of those models only attempted to capture the amount of cosmic background radiation that reaches airliners in flight. Holland said he believes including solar radiation, especially during solar storms, is important. He looks forward to having answers for the pilots who contact him with questions about radiation and cancer risk.

“When I talk to epidemiologists, they have two questions for me: What is your exposure? And what is your health for 20 to 30 years after you retire?” Holland said. The second question he and other pilots can answer, in time. But as of now, they can’t measure their exposure.

“We’re excited that Chris is doing this,” Holland said, “and we hope it can answer the epidemiologists first question, which is, ‘What is your exposure?’”

NASA Outlines Recent Greenhouse Gas Research

0 comments
distribution of mid-tropospheric carbon dioxide
Researchers studying carbon dioxide, a leading greenhouse gas and a key driver of global climate change, now have a new tool at their disposal: daily global measurements of carbon dioxide in a key part of our atmosphere. The data are courtesy of the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on NASA's Aqua spacecraft.

Moustafa Chahine, the instrument's science team leader at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., unveiled the new product at a briefing on recent breakthroughs in greenhouse gas, weather and climate research from AIRS at this week's American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. The new data have been extensively validated against both aircraft and ground-based observations. They give users daily and monthly measurements of the concentration and distribution of carbon dioxide in the mid-troposphere--the region of the atmosphere located between 5 and 12 kilometers, or 3 to 7 miles, above Earth's surface, and track its global transport. Users can also access historical AIRS carbon dioxide data spanning the mission's entire seven-plus years in orbit. The product represents the first-ever release of global daily carbon dioxide data that are based solely on observations.

"AIRS provides the highest accuracy and yield of any global carbon dioxide data set available to the research community, now and for the immediate future," said Chahine. "It will help researchers understand how this elusive, long-lived greenhouse gas is distributed and transported, and can be used to develop better models to identify 'sinks,' regions of the Earth system that store carbon dioxide. It's important to study carbon dioxide in all levels of the troposphere."

Chahine said previous AIRS research data have led to some key findings about mid-tropospheric carbon dioxide. For example, the data have shown that, contrary to prior assumptions, carbon dioxide is not well mixed in the troposphere, but is rather "lumpy." Until now, models of carbon dioxide transport have assumed its distribution was uniform.

Carbon dioxide is transported in the mid-troposphere from its sources to its eventual sinks. More carbon dioxide is emitted in the heavily populated northern hemisphere than in its less populated southern counterpart. As a result, the southern hemisphere is a net recipient, or sink, for carbon dioxide from the north. AIRS data have previously shown the complexity of the southern hemisphere's carbon dioxide cycle, revealing a never-before-seen belt of carbon dioxide that circles the globe and is not reflected in transport models.

In another major finding, scientists using AIRS data have removed most of the uncertainty about the role of water vapor in atmospheric models. The data are the strongest observational evidence to date for how water vapor responds to a warming climate.

"AIRS temperature and water vapor observations have corroborated climate model predictions that the warming of our climate produced as carbon dioxide levels rise will be greatly exacerbated -- in fact, more than doubled -- by water vapor," said Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas.

Dessler explained that most of the warming caused by carbon dioxide does not come directly from carbon dioxide, but from effects known as feedbacks. Water vapor is a particularly important feedback. As the climate warms, the atmosphere becomes more humid. Since water is a greenhouse gas, it serves as a powerful positive feedback to the climate system, amplifying the initial warming. AIRS measurements of water vapor reveal that water greatly amplifies warming caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide. Comparisons of AIRS data with models and re-analyses are in excellent agreement.

"The implication of these studies is that, should greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current course of increase, we are virtually certain to see Earth's climate warm by several degrees Celsius in the next century, unless some strong negative feedback mechanism emerges elsewhere in Earth's climate system," Dessler said.

Originally designed to observe atmospheric temperature and water vapor, AIRS data are already responsible for the greatest improvement to five- to six-day weather forecasts than any other single instrument, said Chahine. JPL scientists have shown a major consequence of global warming will be an increase in the frequency and strength of severe storms. Earlier this year, a team of NASA researchers showed how AIRS can significantly improve tropical cyclone forecasting. The researchers studied deadly Typhoon Nargis in Burma in May 2008. They found the uncertainty in the cyclone's landfall position could have been reduced by a factor of six had more sophisticated AIRS temperature data been used in the forecasts.

AIRS observes and records the global daily distribution of temperature, water vapor, clouds and several atmospheric gases including ozone, methane and carbon monoxide. With the addition of the mid-tropospheric carbon dioxide data set this week, a seven-year digital record is now complete for use by the scientific community and the public.

The Dark Side of Carbon

0 comments
Earth
As interest in Earth's changing climate heats up, a tiny dark particle is stepping into the limelight: black carbon. Commonly known as soot, black carbon enters the air when fossil fuels and biofuels, such as coal, wood, and diesel are burned. Black carbon is found worldwide, but its presence and impact are particularly strong in Asia.

Black carbon, a short-lived particle, is in perpetual motion across the globe. The Tibetan Plateau's high levels of black carbon likely impact the region's temperature, clouds and monsoon season.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Preparing for Lift

0 comments
Space shuttle Endeavour inside the Vehicle Assembly Building
At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, workers prepare to attach a lifting sling on space shuttle Endeavour following its arrival in the Vehicle Assembly Building transfer aisle.

Endeavour was towed from the nearby Orbiter Processing Facility in preparation for launch of the STS-130 mission.

Preps for the STS-130 Mission Continue

0 comments
Endeavour is lowered onto the mobile launcher platform
Technicians at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida are testing the electrical connections on space shuttle Endeavour in the Vehicle Assembly Building.

The vehicle and its solid rocket boosters will be powered-up for the shuttle interface test and the twin boosters hydraulic systems will be tested for leaks today.

Meanwhile, at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, the six STS-130 mission astronauts will conduct a deorbit preparation simulation attired in their orange launch-and-landing suits.

Lifting Off to Study the Sky

0 comments
WISE
NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket at 9:09 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base. WISE will scan the entire sky in infrared light, picking up the glow of hundreds of millions of objects and producing millions of images.

NASA Looks for Safer Icing Forecast For Pilots

0 comments
Researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center are trying to improve forecasts of icing potential
Of the many dangers that plague commercial airplanes, icing stands out as one of the most treacherous. The threat of ice build-up on aircraft surfaces has been known and studied for decades, but now NASA is putting new effort into understanding a different kind of ice danger.

A well-known icing problem involves ice forming on wings and other surfaces that can cause drag and power loss on an aircraft. A different threat emerges when airplanes fly into clouds with high ice content found near thunderstorms in very high altitudes. Ice particles, once thought benign because they would simply bounce of airplane surfaces, can accrete deep inside jet engines and shut down the power. This is called “ice particle icing,” to distinguish it from icing caused by super-cooled liquid droplets, which typically occurs at lower altitudes.

There have been more than 240 icing-related incidents in commercial aviation since the 1990s, of which 62 resulted in power-loss likely due to ice particle icing, according to a study authored by Jeanne G. Mason, J. Walter Strapp and Phillip Chow. This condition is difficult for pilots to identify because in many cases the ice is forming only inside the engine, without any visible icing on the wings.

Researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center are taking a closer look at the phenomenon, which is considered a significant threat to commercial airlines. NASA scientists are developing ways to identify the conditions that cause ice particle icing to better warn pilots about where this might occur.

“It’s something that hasn’t been explored much,” said Chris Yost, a NASA contractor and research scientist with Science Systems and Applications Inc. in Hampton, Va. Yost said his research is at a preliminary stage now, focused on pinpointing the types of clouds connected with ice particle icing. He will present his latest results at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco on Dec. 14.

“These are deep convection, thunderstorm-like clouds,” Yost said. “Thin, wispy cirrus stuff is not so much a problem.”

NASA research is aiming to improve weather forecasts that could steer pilots away from trouble. Building on tools developed to detect surface icing conditions, NASA scientists are using cloud observations from two satellites, CALIPSO and CloudSat.

CALIPSO and CloudSat fly only seconds apart on the same orbit. Together they provide never-before-seen 3-D perspectives of how clouds and aerosols form, evolve, and affect weather and climate. In preliminary research, CloudSat and CALIPSO have been used to build on previous methods of identifying the type of moisture particles that lead to ice particle icing problems. CALIPSO’s lidar is used to create a vertical profile of clouds to accurately measure cloud height while CloudSat provides the estimates of ice concentration in those clouds. Together the two instruments provide very detailed information about the vertical structure of clouds, and the ice particles within them.

Yost and other SSAI researchers have been working with Patrick Minnis, at NASA’s Langley Research Center, on incorporating CALIPSO and CloudSat data into forecast models with the goal of identifying potential ice particle icing conditions.

NASA’s research on ice particle icing began in 2005 with the integration of cloud data from the NOAA satellite GOES. This was followed on by a field experiment on NASA’s DC-8 in 2007 to compare ice particle measurements from GOES with actual aircraft measurements. While this data significantly increased researchers understanding of the icing process, the integration of CALIPSO and CloudSat data has vastly enhanced the ability to see what is within the clouds.

Yost is currently comparing satellite records of weather conditions with the coordinates and time and date of specific airplane power-loss incidents in recent years. The research could illuminate more specifically what type of weather leads to ice particle icing and whether ice particle icing was a factor in these accidents. Future plans include flights with NASA’s DC-8 to take on-board measurements as a comparison point for CALIPSO and CloudSat observations.

Minnis described the group’s ongoing work as a first cut, but envisions it leading to better forecasting of potential ice particle icing conditions in the future.

“The ultimate goal of the project is to be integrated into existing forecast models and eventually into the NextGen (Next Generation Air Transportation System) cockpit system,” Minnis said.

Aviation safety organizations around the world are presently working with the ultimate goal of being able to accurately forecast inflight icing conditions in real-time for pilots. The integration of NASA satellite data into forecasting models is bringing them closer than to that goal, step by step.

Global Digital Elevation Model

0 comments
Earth
This Global Digital Elevation Model, or GDEM, is a product of the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER), a joint program of NASA and Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The image was released on June 29, 2009, and was created by processing and stereo-correlating the 1.3 million-scene ASTER archive of optical images, covering Earth's land surface between 83 degrees North and 83 degrees South latitudes. The GDEM is produced with 98-feet postings, and is formatted as 23,000 one-by-one-degree tiles. In this colorized version, low elevations are purple, medium elevations are greens and yellows, and high elevations are orange, red and white.

With its 14 spectral bands from the visible to the thermal infrared wavelength region and its high spatial resolution of 50 to 300 feet, ASTER images Earth to map and monitor the changing surface of our planet. ASTER is one of five Earth-observing instruments launched Dec. 18, 1999, on NASA's Terra satellite.

The broad spectral coverage and high spectral resolution of ASTER provides scientists in numerous disciplines with critical information for surface mapping and monitoring of dynamic conditions and temporal change.

NASA Data Reveal Major Groundwater Loss in California's Heartland

0 comments
groundwater levels, October, 2003 – March, 2009
New space observations reveal that since October 2003, the aquifers for California's primary agricultural region -- the Central Valley -- and its major mountain water source -- the Sierra Nevadas -- have lost nearly enough water combined to fill Lake Mead, America's largest reservoir. The findings, based on data from the NASA/German Aerospace Center Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (Grace), reflect California's extended drought and increased rates of groundwater being pumped for human uses, such as irrigation.

In research being presented this week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, scientists from NASA and the University of California, Irvine, detailed California's groundwater changes and outlined Grace-based research on other global aquifers. The twin Grace satellites monitor tiny month-to-month changes in Earth's gravity field primarily caused by the movement of water in Earth's land, ocean, ice and atmosphere reservoirs. Grace's ability to directly 'weigh' changes in water content provides new insights into how Earth's water cycle may be changing.

Combined, California's Sacramento and San Joaquin drainage basins have shed more than 30 cubic kilometers of water since late 2003, said professor Jay Famiglietti of the University of California, Irvine. A cubic kilometer is about 264.2 billion gallons, enough to fill 400,000 Olympic-size pools. The bulk of the loss occurred in California's agricultural Central Valley. The Central Valley receives its irrigation from a combination of groundwater pumped from wells and surface water diverted from elsewhere.

"Grace data reveal groundwater in these basins is being pumped for irrigation at rates that are not sustainable if current trends continue," Famiglietti said. "This is leading to declining water tables, water shortages, decreasing crop sizes and continued land subsidence. The findings have major implications for the U.S. economy, as California's Central Valley is home to one sixth of all U.S. irrigated land, and the state leads the nation in agricultural production and exports."

"By providing data on large-scale groundwater depletion rates, Grace can help California water managers make informed decisions about allocating water resources," said Grace Project Scientist Michael Watkins of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., which manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Preliminary studies show most of the water loss is coming from the more southerly located San Joaquin basin, which gets less precipitation than the Sacramento River basin farther north. Initial results suggest the Sacramento River basin is losing about 2 cubic kilometers of water a year. Surface water losses account for half of this, while groundwater losses in the northern Central Valley add another 0.6 cubic kilometers annually. The San Joaquin Basin is losing 3.5 cubic kilometers a year. Of this, more than 75 percent is the result of groundwater pumping in the southern Central Valley, primarily to irrigate crops.

Famiglietti said recent California legislation decreasing the allocation of surface waters to the San Joaquin Basin is likely to further increase the region's reliance on groundwater for irrigation. "This suggests the decreasing groundwater storage trends seen by Grace will continue for the foreseeable future," he said.

The California results come just months after a team of hydrologists led by Matt Rodell of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., found groundwater levels in northwest India have declined by 17.7 cubic kilometers per year over the past decade, a loss due almost entirely to pumping and consumption of groundwater by humans.

"California and India are just two of many regions around the world where Grace data are being used to study droughts, which can have devastating impacts on societies and cost the U.S. economy $6 to $8 billion annually," said Rodell. Other regions under study include Australia, the Middle East – North Africa region and the southeastern United States, where Grace clearly captured the evolution of an extended drought that ended this spring. In the Middle East – North Africa region, Rodell is leading an effort to use Grace and other data to systematically map water- and weather-related variables to help assess regional water resources. Rodell added Grace may also help predict droughts, since it can identify pre-existing conditions favorable to the start of a drought, such as a deficit of water deep below the ground.

NASA is working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to incorporate Grace data into NOAA's U.S. and North American Drought Monitors, premier tools used to minimize drought impacts. The tools rely heavily on precipitation observations, but are limited by inadequate large-scale observations of soil moisture and groundwater levels. "Grace is the only satellite system that provides information on these deeper stores of water that are key indicators of long-term drought," Rodell said.

Grace is a partnership of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The University of Texas Center for Space Research, Austin, has overall mission responsibility. JPL developed the satellites. DLR provided the launch, and GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam, Germany, operates the mission. For more on Grace, see http://www.csr.utexas.edu/grace/ and http://grace.jpl.nasa.gov/ . Other media contacts: Margaret Baguio, University of Texas Center for Space Research, 512-471-6922; Jennifer Fitzenberger, University of California, Irvine, 949-824-3969.

New Study Turns Up the Heat on Soot's Role in Himalayan Warming

0 comments
The Dark Side of Carbon
Soot from fire in an unventilated fireplace wafts into a home and settles on the surfaces of floors and furniture. But with a quick fix to the chimney flue and some dusting, it bears no impact on a home’s long-term environment.

A new modeling study from NASA confirms that when tiny air pollution particles we commonly call soot – also known as black carbon – travel along wind currents from densely populated south Asian cities and accumulate over a climate hotspot called the Tibetan Plateau, the result may be anything but inconsequential.

In fact, the new research, by NASA’s William Lau and collaborators, reinforces with detailed numerical analysis what earlier studies suggest: that soot and dust contribute as much (or more) to atmospheric warming in the Himalayas as greenhouse gases. This warming fuels the melting of glaciers and could threaten fresh water resources in a region that is home to more than a billion people.

Lau explored the causes of rapid melting, which occurs primarily in the western Tibetan Plateau, beginning each year in April and extending through early fall. The brisk melting coincides with the time when concentrations of aerosols like soot and dust transported from places like India and Nepal are most dense in the atmosphere.

"Over areas of the Himalayas, the rate of warming is more than five times faster than warming globally," said William Lau, head of atmospheric sciences at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Based on the differences it’s not difficult to conclude that greenhouse gases are not the sole agents of change in this region. There’s a localized phenomenon at play."

Nicknamed the “Third Pole”, the region in fact holds the third largest amount of stored water on the planet beyond the North and South Poles. But since the early 1960s, the acreage covered by Himalayan glaciers has declined by over 20 percent. Some Himalayan glaciers are melting so rapidly, some scientists postulate, that they may vanish by mid-century if trends persist. Climatologists have generally blamed the build-up of greenhouse gases for the retreat, but Lau’s work suggests that may not be the complete story.

He has produced new evidence suggesting that an “elevated heat pump” process is fueling the loss of ice, driven by airborne dust and soot particles absorbing the sun’s heat and warming the local atmosphere and land surface. A related modeling study by Lau and colleagues has been submitted to Environmental Research Letters for publication.

A unique landscape plays supporting actor in the melting drama. The Himalayas, which dominate the plateau region, are the source of meltwater for many of Asia’s most important rivers—the Ganges and Indus in India, the Brahmaputra in Bangladesh, the Salween through China, Thailand and Burma, the Mekong across Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and the Yellow and Yangtze rivers in China. When fossil fuels are burned without enough oxygen to complete combustion, one of the byproducts is black carbon, an aerosol that absorbs solar radiation (Most classes of aerosols typically reflect incoming sunlight, causing a cooling effect). Rising populations in Asia, industrial and agricultural burning, and vehicle exhaust have thickened concentrations of black carbon in the air.

Sooty black carbon travels east along wind currents latched to dust – its agent of transport – and become trapped in the air against Himalayan foothills. The particles’ dark color absorbs solar radiation, creating a layer of warm air from the surface that rises to higher altitudes above the mountain ranges to become a major catalyst of glacier and snow melt.

Building on work by Veerabhardran Ramanathan of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, San Diego, Calif., Lau and colleagues conducted modeling experiments that simulated the movement of air masses in the region from 2000 to 2007. They also made detailed numerical analyses of how soot particles and other aerosols absorb heat from the sun.

"Field campaigns with ground observations are already underway with more planned to test Lau’s modeling results," said Hal Maring who manages the Radiation Sciences program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "But even at this stage we should be compelled to take notice."

“Airborne particles have a much shorter atmospheric lifespan than greenhouse gases,” continued Maring. “So reducing particle emissions can have much more rapid impact on warming.”

"The science suggests that we’ve got to better monitor the flue on our 'rooftop to the world," said Lau. "We need to add another topic to the climate dialogue."

A Unique Geography -- and Soot and Dust -- Conspire Against Himalayan Glaciers

0 comments
Massive rivers of ice spill off  the sides of mountains and grind through creviced valleys in the Himalayas
"So many disparate elements, both natural and man-made, converge in the Himalayas," said William Lau, a climatologist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "There’s no other place in the world that could produce such a powerful atmospheric heat pump," referring to a new hypothesis he’s put forward to explain the rapid retreat of Himalayan glaciers in recent decades.

The Himalayas, home to the tallest mountains on Earth, include more than 110 peaks and stretch 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles). Bounded to the north by the Tibetan Plateau, to the west by deserts, and to the south by a bowl-like basin teeming with people, the mountains hold 10,000 glaciers.

These massive rivers of ice spill off mountain sides and grind down through creviced valleys. In the spring, when the monsoon carries moist air from the Indian Ocean, the glaciers begin to thaw, replenishing lakes, streams, and some of Asia's mightiest rivers, on which more than a billion people depend.

South of the Himalayas -- which forms the east-west edge of the table-like Tibetan Plateau -- the mountains give way to the Indo-Gangetic plain, one of the most fertile and densely populated areas on Earth. The plain has become a megalopolis of cities including Delhi, Dhaka, Kanpur, and Karachi, as well as a hotspot for air pollution, with a steady supply of industrial soot mixing with ash and other particles in the air.

To the west, in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent, the Thar Desert stretches across 200,000 square kilometers (77,000 square miles) of arid, dusty land. During the spring, westerly winds pluck dust and sand from the Thar and blow it toward the Indo-Gangetic plain.

The dust joins a mash of industrial pollutants to create a massive brown cloud visible from space. Underneath the brown cloud, some solar radiation is blocked from reaching the surface, causing the under-lying land surface to cool.

"Surprisingly, these brown aerosol clouds seem to have potent climate consequences that affect the entire region," Lau said.

The thick soot and dust layer absorbs solar radiation, and heats up the air around the Himalayan foothills. The warm, rising air enhances the seasonal northward flow of humid monsoon winds, forcing moisture and hot air up the slopes of the Himalayas.

As the aerosol particles rise on the warm, convecting air, they produce more rain over northern India and the Himalayan foothill, which further warms the atmosphere and fuels a "heat pump" that draws yet more warm air to the region.

"The phenomenon changes the timing and intensity of the monsoon, effectively transferring heat from the low-lying lands over the subcontinent to the atmosphere over the Tibetan Plateau, which in turn warms the high-altitude land surface and hastens glacial retreat," Lau said. His modeling shows that aerosols -- particularly black carbon and dust -- likely cause as much of the glacial retreat in the region as greenhouse gases via this "heat pump" effect.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Endeavour Awaits Move to Pad

0 comments
Endeavour rolls to the VAB
At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, space shuttle Endeavour now is attached to its twin solid rocket boosters and external fuel tank atop the mobile launcher platform.

Rollout from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39A is slated for early January 2010.

The six STS-130 astronauts are practicing with some of the tools they'll be using on their spacewalks in addition to rehearsing thermal protection system repair techniques at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Shuttle Endeavour, with its payload of the Tranquility node and the seven-windowed Cupola module, is targeted to launch Feb. 4, 2010.

NASA's WISE Eye on the Universe Begins All-Sky Survey Mission

0 comments
WISE launch
NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, lifted off over the Pacific Ocean this morning on its way to map the entire sky in infrared light.

A Delta II rocket carrying the spacecraft launched at 6:09 a.m. PST (9:09 a.m. EST) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The rocket deposited WISE into a polar orbit 326 miles above Earth.

"WISE thundered overhead, lighting up the pre-dawn skies," said William Irace, the mission's project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "All systems are looking good, and we are on our way to seeing the entire infrared sky better than ever before."

Engineers acquired a signal from the spacecraft via NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System just 10 seconds after the spacecraft separated from the rocket. Approximately three minutes later, WISE re-oriented itself with its solar panels facing the sun to generate its own power. The next major event occurred about 17 minutes later. Valves on the cryostat, a chamber of super-cold hydrogen ice that cools the WISE instrument, opened. Because the instrument sees the infrared, or heat, signatures of objects, it must be kept at chilly temperatures. Its coldest detectors are less than minus 447 degrees Fahrenheit.

"WISE needs to be colder than the objects it's observing," said Ned Wright of UCLA, the mission's principal investigator. "Now we're ready to see the infrared glow from hundreds of thousands of asteroids, and hundreds of millions of stars and galaxies."

With the spacecraft stable, cold and communicating with mission controllers at JPL, a month-long checkout and calibration is underway.

WISE will see the infrared colors of the whole sky with sensitivity and resolution far better than the last infrared sky survey, performed 26 years ago. The space telescope will spend nine months scanning the sky once, then one-half the sky a second time. The primary mission will end when WISE's frozen hydrogen runs out, about 10 months after launch.

Just about everything in the universe glows in infrared, which means the mission will catalog a variety of astronomical targets. Near-Earth asteroids, stars, planet-forming disks and distant galaxies all will be easy for the mission to see. Hundreds of millions of objects will populate the WISE atlas, providing astronomers and other space missions, such as NASA's planned James Webb Space Telescope, with a long-lasting infrared roadmap.

JPL manages the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The mission was competitively selected under the Explorers Program, managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, and the spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. NASA's Launch Services Program at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., managed the payload integration and the launch service.

More information about the WISE mission is available online at: http://www.nasa.gov/wise, http://wise.astro.ucla.edu and http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/wise.

Now Online: Aeronautics Goes E-Book

0 comments
NASA Information

E-book readers are expected to be among the hottest holiday gifts this year and their growing popularity has stirred NASA to begin reformatting its most popular aviation books to be compatible with the digital devices.

Available on the NASA aeronautics research Web site, the e-books can be downloaded at no charge for use with the Kindle™, SONY® Reader and, eventually, the nook™. Other formats for those without an e-book reader will be available as well.

The first NASA book to be made available is X-15: Extending the Frontiers of Flight by Dennis R. Jenkins. The book tells the story of the pioneering rocketplane that tested the limits of aviation during the 1960s and directly influenced the design and operation of the space shuttle.

"NASA's contributions to aviation affect everyone who has ever stepped foot inside an airplane. Now anyone can read about this historic aeronautical research with the convenience of a hand-held device," said Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate.

Next up on the list of books offered is Apollo of Aeronautics: NASA's Aircraft Energy Efficiency Program, 1973-1987 by Mark D. Bowles. This award-winning publication details the innovative research to improve aircraft and jet engine design in order to reduce fuel consumption by 50 percent.

And even as all archived NASA aeronautics books are being reformatted for use with the various e-book readers, plans are set for all future government-published books covering NASA's aeronautics research to be made available in e-book format.

Freezing WISE's Hydrogen

0 comments
WISE
A scaffolding structure built around NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, allows engineers to freeze its hydrogen coolant. The WISE infrared instrument is kept extremely cold by a bottle-like tank filled with frozen hydrogen, called the cryostat. The cryostat can be seen at the top of the spacecraft.

NASA's WISE Eye on the Universe Begins All-Sky Survey Mission

0 comments
NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, lifted off over the Pacific Ocean this morning on its way to map the entire sky in infrared light.

A Delta II rocket carrying the spacecraft launched at 9:09 a.m. EST from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The rocket deposited WISE into a polar orbit 326 miles above Earth.

"WISE thundered overhead, lighting up the pre-dawn skies," said William Irace, the mission's project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "All systems are looking good, and we are on our way to seeing the entire infrared sky better than ever before."

Engineers acquired a signal from the spacecraft via NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System just 10 seconds after the spacecraft separated from the rocket. Approximately three minutes later, WISE re-oriented itself with its solar panels facing the sun to generate its own power. The next major event occurred about 17 minutes later. Valves on the cryostat, a chamber of super-cold hydrogen ice that cools the WISE instrument, opened. Because the instrument sees the infrared, or heat, signatures of objects, it must be kept at chilly temperatures -- its coldest detectors are less than minus 447 degrees Fahrenheit.

"WISE needs to be colder than the objects it's observing," said Ned Wright of UCLA, the mission's principal investigator. "Now we're ready to see the infrared glow from hundreds of thousands of asteroids, and hundreds of millions of stars and galaxies."

With the spacecraft stable, cold and communicating with mission controllers at JPL, a month-long checkout and calibration is underway.

WISE will see the infrared colors of the whole sky with sensitivity and resolution far better than the last infrared sky survey, performed 26 years ago. The space telescope will spend nine months scanning the sky once, then one-half the sky a second time. The primary mission will end when WISE's frozen hydrogen runs out, about 10 months after launch.

Just about everything in the universe glows in infrared, which means the mission will catalog a variety of astronomical targets. Near-Earth asteroids, stars, planet-forming disks and distant galaxies all will be easy for the mission to see. Hundreds of millions of objects will populate the WISE atlas, providing astronomers and other space missions, such as NASA's planned James Webb Space Telescope, with a long-lasting infrared roadmap.

JPL manages the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The mission was competitively selected under the Explorers Program, managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, and the spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. NASA's Launch Services Program at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., managed the payload integration and the launch service.

More information about the WISE mission is available online at:

http://www.nasa.gov/wise

Challenges of Living and Working Aboard the Space Station: NASA Astronaut Nicole Stott Available for TV Interviews

0 comments
After three months living aboard the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Nicole Stott will be available for satellite interviews from Houston between 6 a.m. and 7:45 a.m. CST on Thursday, Dec. 17.

To arrange an interview via NASA Television, journalists should contact Derek Sollosi at 281-792-7515 or by e-mail to derek.sollosi-1@nasa.gov by 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 16. B-roll of Stott's flight will air from 5:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. Dec. 17.

Stott, of Clearwater, Fla., served as a flight engineer for Expeditions 20 and 21 aboard the station and joined five other crew members living on the orbiting complex. She was the chief robotics operator, responsible for capturing, berthing and later releasing the first Japanese cargo ship flown to the station. In addition to working on multiple scientific studies, she also conducted a 6-and-a-half-hour spacewalk in September to continue station assembly.

Stott was the final station resident to fly to and from the complex on the space shuttle. She launched on space shuttle Discovery in August and returned to Earth aboard shuttle Atlantis in November. Stott spent a total of 91 days in space, 87 of them aboard the station. Stott has been assigned to fly on the STS-133 mission in September 2010, currently the final scheduled flight of the Space Shuttle Program.

The NASA Live Interview Media Outlet channel will be used for the interviews. The channel is a digital satellite C-band downlink by uplink provider Americom. It is on satellite AMC 6, transponder 5C, located at 72 degrees west, downlink frequency 3785.5 Mhz based on a standard C-band 5150 Mhz L.O., vertical polarity, FEC is 3/4, data rate is 6.00 Mhz, symbol rate is 4.3404 Mbaud, transmission DVB, minimum Eb/N0 is 6.0 dB.

The interviews also will be broadcast live on NASA TV. For streaming video, downlink and scheduling information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tropical Cyclone 05B Forms Southeast of Chennai, India

0 comments
Tropical Storm 05B
Tropical Cyclone 05B has formed out of "System 96B" in the Northern Indian Ocean and is forecast to approach southeastern India by Sunday, December 13 and make landfall on Monday.

On Friday, December 11 at 15:00 UTC (10 a.m. ET or 8 p.m. local Asia/ Kolkata time in Chennai, India), Tropical Storm 05B had maximum sustained winds near 40 mph. It was located about 370 nautical miles southeast of Chennai, India, near 9.3 North latitude and 85.1 East longitude. It was moving north-northeast near 7mph, but is expected to gradually turn west and head for landfall.

Today, the Tropical Storm 05B is in an area of low wind shear, so it can continue to intensify. The only thing currently in 05B's path is a strong zonal jet stream over central India, but forecasters expect that to lift north in the next two days, and that means 05B can strengthen. Tropical Storm 05B is projected to turn west in the Bay of Bengal and make landfall in the state of Tamil Nadu by December 14.

The Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite captured Tropical Storm 05B on Dec. 10 southeast of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Infrared imagery shows temperatures and the colder the cloud tops of thunderstorms in a tropical cyclone are the higher they are, and the stronger they are. The imagery from AIRS indicated some strong thunderstorms in Tropical Storm 05B.

Residents along the coast of southeastern India in the Tamil Nadu state should make preparations. Some cities that may be affected by heavy rains and gusty winds include: Chennai, Thanjavur, Mahabalipuram, Chengalpattu, Maraimalai Nagar, Mudichur, Madhurantakam and others in that region.

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center forecasts Tropical Storm 05B to make landfall south of Chennai before 12:00 UTC or 5 p.m. local Asia/Kolkata time on Monday, December 14.

Endeavour on the Move Today

0 comments
STS-130 Mission Specialist Kay Hire and Pilot Terry Virts
Space shuttle Endeavour is ready to leave its hangar and be transported to the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Rollover is a major milestone to get a shuttle ready for its next mission.

Managers are meeting this morning to confirm everything is on track for Endeavour's move from Orbiter Processing Facility-2 to the VAB starting at 1 p.m. EST.

NASA TV will air live video coverage of rollover, which also is available online at www.nasa.gov/ntv.

The team will spend the rest of the afternoon and this weekend attaching Endeavour to its two solid rocket boosters and external fuel tank on the mobile launcher platform.

Training for the STS-130 crew members at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston focuses on practicing robotics techniques in the fixed-based simulator today.