Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Shuttle Is Wanted in New York


With millions of people visiting the Intrepid every single year, it stands to reason that this would be one of the most intuitive locations to house a space shuttle in. With the NASA orbiter program scheduled to be retired this September, or early next year, the three spacecraft that fly within it – Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavor – in addition to Enterprise, need to find a new home in US museums and exhibition centers. Many people in New York, and their elected officials, youth organizations and so on, are currently militating to have one of the three iconic symbols of American space exploration in their city.

The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum is a complex located in Manhattan, and consists of the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier itself, a submarine and many airplanes as exhibits. There are numerous airplanes on the grounds, all of which had some historic relevance in the past. In addition to these, the now-grounded aircraft carrier also contains a NASA Aurora 7 capsule replica, and plans are to add a space shuttle to the list of exhibits from the American space agency as well.

“I can think of no better place to showcase the space program and America's innovation to the world than New York. As America's most cosmopolitan city, New York would be the perfect venue to display this iconic spacecraft,” stated New York City-based Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). On March 28, the museum received the visit of US senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who promised to do everything in their power to get one of three orbiters delivered to the Intrepid. In addition to these efforts, museum officials have also launched various campaigns to promote their case.

Online banners and on-site activities are meant to gather more public support for their initiative. Thus far, Space reports, the campaigners have gathered more than 25,000 signatures for this. “Locating a shuttle at the Intrepid has been called a 'no-brainer' – and we couldn't agree more. With millions of American and foreign tourists visiting New York City every year, putting a shuttle at the Intrepid would create an ideal platform to share our national pride in our space program with the entire world, pay tribute to the men and women who have played a role in our greatest technological achievement, and provide an opportunity to educate future generations on the exploration of space,” said in a statement Bill White, who is the president of the Intrepid museum.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Spirit of Pete Conrad Lives on at Innovation Summit


A lunar habitat module, paper that captures sound as energy and a drug delivery system for use in space. What do these inventions have in common? They’re all concepts being developed for commercialization by high school students competing in the Conrad Foundation’s Innovation Summit.

The summit is being held April 8-10, 2010 at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. The "Spirit of Innovation" award is in honor of the late Charles 'Pete' Conrad, a highly decorated naval aviator and astronaut who flew Gemini V, Gemini XI, commanded Apollo XII and was the third person to walk on the moon. Conrad went on to fly Skylab, our first space station. He received a Congressional Space Medal of Honor for his work on Skylab.

Nancy Conrad, wife of the late Pete Conrad, serves as chairman of the Conrad Foundation. She formed the program to provide high school students with an understanding of science and technology and give them an opportunity to solve real world problems through innovation and entrepreneurship.

During the three-day event, 25 teams from all over the U.S. present their ideas to a panel of experts similar to the way start-up entrepreneurs "pitch" to potential investors. The teams create an online portfolio (videos, blog and "company" logo) to present to venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and scientists.

Winning teams receive an opportunity to commercialize the technology and $5,000 in seed money to further develop the product.

"Our goal is to excite students about science, technology and innovation by connecting them with top entrepreneurs, scientists and industry leaders," said Joshua Neubert, executive director for the Conrad Foundation.

Niveditha Jayasekar, a student from Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, Calif., said she became fascinated with nanotechnology as early as the sixth grade. Jayasekar and her four teammates are using a patented nanotechnology developed by NASA scientist Dr. David Loftus to deliver pharmaceuticals in microgravity. The team hopes the product could lead to future breakthroughs in the field of space medicine.

Monta Vista High School teacher Carl Schmidt is the team’s advisor and representative for Future Business Leaders of America. Schmidt said contrary to most science competitions, students in the Conrad Innovation Summit approach projects with an entrepreneurial mindset. "They need to think about who has a problem and will pay to get it solved," Schmidt said. "The goal is to take a technological idea to the commercial market."

Schmidt said the students gain experience working with scientists as well as an understanding of the market. He adds that the competition, which has 30 percent female participation, is a unique way to recruit more females into science and technology fields.

The 25 finalist teams will compete in four categories: aerospace exploration, renewable energy, green schools and space nutrition. Beginning March 29, 2010, the public can visit the Conrad Foundation Web site and vote for their favorite team. Winners for the People’s Choice Awards will be announced on April 10, 2010.

For more information about the Conrad Innovation Summit, visit:

Privatized spaceflight could launch industry, or see U.S. eclipsed by rivals


The final countdown has begun to the end of manned space flights by NASA, leaving some to fret that the nation's dreams of reaching for the stars may be in jeopardy under President Obama's plan to commercialize spaceflight.

Obama on April 15 will make the case for the most radical change of direction in NASA's history, wading into a debate laden with emotion, big bucks and ambitions that united a nation in a race to the moon a half-century ago.

After the space shuttle's aging orbiters are retired over the next year, NASA would exit the business of blasting astronauts into orbit under Obama's fiscal 2011 budget request.

NASA already had planned to book seats on Russia's rockets until the next U.S. space vehicle is ready to launch later this decade. Obama is gambling that Boeing or other nascent aerospace firms will develop the shuttle's replacement quicker and more cheaply than NASA.

If he's right, the president would provide a huge boost to space entrepreneurs, potentially unleashing the greatest new engine for innovation since the Internet, said aerospace analyst Marco Caceres with the Teal Group.

If he's wrong, the U.S. could be left dependent on Russia and China, its Cold War rivals, for spaceflight for much of the decade, critics warn.

That prospect is profoundly disturbing to such Apollo veterans as Gene Cernan, who was the last man to walk on the moon (in 1972).

"If we allow his budget to become the rule of the land, we in this country no longer have a manned space program," Cernan said. "In terms of going on to the moon or Mars, that's a generation away unless there are cooler heads in Congress."

The debate swirling around NASA is about how to get the biggest bang out of the space agency's research at a time of soaring budget deficits. Should NASA pick a target that will galvanize the nation, like landing a man on Mars and its moons, then develop the technology to reach Earth's neighbor through a series of ambitious and costly missions?

Or should the U.S. break with a half-century of tradition, as Obama wants? While China and India pour billions into duplicating America's lunar glories of the 1960s, NASA would dream up new ways to propel humans deep into space, while stepping up research on the international space station to help astronauts survive lengthy journeys to Mars or asteroids.

Quick trips to Mars

"Imagine the trips to Mars that take weeks instead of nearly a year; people fanning out across the inner solar system, exploring the moon, asteroids and Mars nearly simultaneously in a steady stream of 'firsts'; and imagine all of this being done collaboratively with nations around the world," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr. as he unveiled the strategic shift Feb. 1.


Using rockets to blast humans into low-Earth orbit is 50-year-old technology, the administration contends. Rather than tying up NASA resources, such flights should be outsourced to major NASA partners such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin and such upstarts as SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Internet magnate Elon Musk.

"What Obama wants to do is radical," said Caceres. "These companies will serve as the pioneers of many, many industries that we have not fathomed yet."

NASA a "science fair"

Obama would fund private contractors by scrapping NASA's current space- exploration program, Constellation, writing off the $9 billion already spent to return to the moon and eventually land humans on Mars. The president proposed to boost NASA's $19 billion budget by $6 billion over the next five years, with most of the increase used to seed commercial development.

However, critics claim that without an exploration program to keep NASA's goals in focus, the agency's research will devolve into a "science fair" whose funding eventually will be gutted by Congress without fear of political repercussions.

"Everybody who cares about the space program is skeptical about the president's space agenda," said Loren Thompson, a defense and aerospace analyst with the Lexington Institute. "It's not that the agenda is pointless, but it sounds like a pretext for abandoning goals."

Boeing is caught in the middle of the debate, because it is a major contractor for the Constellation program, space station and shuttle, and is angling to develop the orbiter's commercial replacement.

If Constellation is canceled and the shuttle retired, Boeing will lose billions of dollars in revenue and could lay off as many as 1,450 people. It's unclear whether the aerospace manufacturer will be able to offset those losses, Boeing officials said.

Boeing last month landed an $18 million contract from NASA to refine its concept for a commercial crew capsule, although NASA can't guarantee those designs will ultimately be used.

Boeing also plans to compete for the $5.8 billion that NASA intends to award to develop a commercial crew vehicle, although contest details remain sketchy.

"It's unclear what the future direction of NASA will be," said Keith Reiley, Boeing's commercial-crew development-program manager.

NASA had planned to depend on Russia's Soyuz rockets to reach the international space station after President George W. Bush set a 2010 deadline for ending the shuttle program. By mid-decade, Orion, an Apollo-like capsule that would ride atop a new family of rockets known as Ares, would be ready for launch. Later iterations would ferry U.S. astronauts to the moon and onward to deep space.

But Constellation has been badly underfunded, putting it years behind the former president's goal of reaching the moon by 2020, NASA's Bolden told Congress last month.

NASA estimated it would cost an extra $45 billion to $60 billion this decade to land astronauts on the moon five years later than Bush's deadline.

Glenn troubled

No one knows what private-sector vehicle will replace Orion if Constellation is canceled, however, or whether there will be sufficient demand to make space travel profitable. That troubles former U.S. Sen. John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, who thinks NASA should take a gradual path to privatization.

"I'm not certain that we're far enough along yet that the private sector can take up the slack in the whole program. That remains to be seen," Glenn said.

NASA officials are confident of their plan. The first commercial cargo flight to the space station is scheduled for 2011, and NASA thinks contractors could quickly develop simplified "space taxis" to ferry crew members to low-Earth orbit.

It's not clear where Orion fits into NASA's plans, since its vehicle was loaded with extra safety systems and equipment to take humans to the moon, at NASA's request, said John Karas, vice president and general manager of Human Space Flight for Lockheed Martin Space Systems. Orion is on schedule to fly in 2014.

"If the new administration wants to fly sooner and cheaper, there are ways to do it in our vehicle," Karas said.

But for now, Orion is funded only through the end of the fiscal year, and Karas worries its engineers will start to seek jobs elsewhere.

"Heaven help us if this fails. You'll never get people back," he said.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Discovery is go for April launch


Discovery is ready for a 5 April launch on its STS-131 mission to the International Space Station.

"We are ready to fly," declared Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Space Operations, last Friday, following a "thorough review" of the spacecraft and systems.

The shuttle will blast off from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A at 10:21 EDT, carrying the Leonardo multi-purpose logistics module filled with "supplies, a new crew sleeping quarters and science racks that will be transferred to the station's laboratories".

The 13-day mission will feature "three spacewalks to switch out a gyroscope on the station's truss, or backbone, install a spare ammonia storage tank and return a used one, and retrieve a Japanese experiment from the station's exterior".

On board will be commander Alan Poindexter and pilot Jim Dutton (seated right and left), and (l-r) mission specialists Rick Mastracchio, Stephanie Wilson, Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Naoko Yamazaki and NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson:

Anderson and Yamazaki are both twittering away like good 'uns during their pre-launch training, and plan to tweet from orbit, NASA says. The agency has the usual mission page here, mission summary here (pdf) and press kit here (pdf).

Up on the ISS, meanwhile, crew members TJ Creamer, Oleg Kotov and Soichi Noguchi are preparing to welcome additional Expedition 23 flight engineers Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Alexander Skvortsov and Mikhail Kornienko (seen l-r):

The trio will arrive on 4 April aboard the Soyuz TMA-18 spacecraft, due to lift off on 2 April from Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Russia to resume space tourist programme in 2-3 years


Space tourists will be again able to fly on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station in two to three years, Russia's top space official said Friday.

Russia stopped sending tourists to space last year because the International Space Station (ISS) crew has increased from three to six, and all the places on board the spacecraft have been reserved for Russian and foreign astronauts.

"Our capabilities to produce and launch spacecraft have doubled (since 2009), so the possibility (of space tourist flights) could arise again after 2012-2013," said Anatoly Perminov, the head of the Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos.

Russia's RSC Energia corporation recently said it had the capacity to build five Soyuz spacecraft per year instead of four, meaning that at least one Soyuz spacecraft could be used for space tourism purposes in the future.

Space tourists started flying to the ISS in 2001.

Dennis Tito, an American businessman and former NASA scientist, became the first space tourist when he visited the ISS in 2001. He was followed by South African computer millionaire Mark Shuttleworth in 2002, and Gregory Olsen, a US entrepreneur and scientist, in 2005.

In 2006, Anousheh Ansari, a US citizen of Iranian descent, became the first female space tourist.

US games developer Richard Garriott, the son of former NASA astronaut Owen K. Garriott, went into orbit for 11 days in October 2008 on board a Russian Soyuz TMA-13.

US space tourist Charles Simonyi, one of the founders of Microsoft, made two trips to the ISS - in 2005 and 2009.

Guy Laliberte, the Canadian founder of entertainment company Cirque du Soleil, traveLled to the ISS in October last year.

NASA Awards Space Technology Research and Development Contract


NASA has contracted with ERC Inc., of Huntsville, Ala., for space technology research and development activities at the agency's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. The contract has a maximum value of $45 million.

This is a cost-plus, fixed-fee, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract. The base contract lasts one year and has three one-year options.

ERC Inc. will support the Space Technology Division in the Office of the Director of Exploration Technology at Ames. The division develops technologies used to design and fabricate prototype hypervelocity vehicles that could travel in the atmospheres of Earth and other planetary bodies in the solar system. The office also is responsible for conducting research and development in nanotechnology, materials science, sensors and devices.

The company will support work at NASA Ames in the following areas:
- Understanding the chemistry and physics of hypersonic, reacting and radiating flows;
- Analyzing the aerothermodynamics of entry systems, aeronautics and space vehicle trajectories;
- Developing, modifying and applying computational fluid dynamics tools and quantum computing capabilities;
- Engineering ablative, reusable and multi-functional thermal protection materials and conducting materials science research;
- Planning, executing and analyzing experiments and testing the thermodynamics of materials;
- Studying the mechanisms of pre-biotic geochemistry;
- Providing educational outreach and internship employment opportunities to acquaint students with public service, and enhance their educational experience in support of NASA technology research and development program requirements.

The contract with ERC Inc. includes a subcontract with Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies Inc. of Greenbelt, Md.

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Moon's Water Comes in Three Flavors, Scientists Say


Since the surprise discovery last year of trace amounts of water on the moon, scientists have been redefining their concept of Earth's rocky neighbor. Now researchers say the water on the moon comes in three different flavors.

Until recently the moon was thought to be bone dry. But measurements in the last year from the Mini-SAR and Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3 or "M-cubed") instruments on India's Chandrayaan-1 moon probe and from NASA's recent LCROSS mission have proved that wrong.

Mini-SAR found 40 craters, each containing frozen water at least 6.6 feet (2 meters) deep on the lunar surface – which adds up to 600 million tons of lunar ice stuff altogether. LCROSS slammed into the moon on Oct. 9, 2009 and found evidence of water in another crater.

"So far we've found three types of moon water," said Paul Spudis of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas. "We have Mini-SAR's thick lenses of nearly pure crater ice, LCROSS's fluffy mix of ice crystals and dirt, and M-cube's thin layer that comes and goes all across the surface of the moon."

LCROSS struck moon water in a cold, permanently dark crater at the lunar south pole. Since then, the science team has been thoroughly mining the data collected from the intentional moon crash.

"It looks as though at least two different layers of our crater soil contain water, and they represent two different time epochs," said Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS principal investigator. "The first layer, ejected in the first 2 seconds from the crater after impact, contains water and hydroxyl bound up in the minerals, and even tiny pieces of pure ice mixed in. This layer is a thin film and may be relatively 'fresh,' perhaps recently replenished."

This brand of moon water resembles the water M3 discovered last year in scant but widespread amounts, bound to the rocks and dust in the very top millimeters of lunar soil, scientists say. But the second layer is different.

"It contains even more water ice plus a treasure chest of other compounds we weren't even looking for," he says. "So far the tally includes sulfur dioxide (SO2), methanol (CH3OH), and the curious organic molecule diacetylene (H2C4). This layer seems to extend below at least 0.5 meters and is probably older than the ice we're finding on the surface."

The researchers don't yet know why some craters contain loads of pure ice while others are dominated by an ice-soil mixture. It's probably a sign that the moon water comes from more than one source.

"Some of the water may be made right there on the moon," Spudis said. "Protons in the solar wind can make small amounts of water continuously on the lunar surface by interacting with metal oxides in the rocks. But some of the water is probably deposited on the moon from other places in the solar system."

These findings are completely rewriting the book on the moon.

"It's a different world up there," says Spudis, "and we've barely scratched the surface. Who knows what discoveries lie ahead?"

Former astronaut encourages kids to reach for the stars


John Herrington said his life was literally held in the arms of Canada.

In 2002, Herrington was part of the crew of the space shuttle Endeavour that was working on the International Space Station. The American spaceman spent 13 days in orbit and conducted several space walks with the help of the Canadarm.

"It's a remarkable piece of technology," Herrington said Monday, pointing to a photo of the arm in action while giving a presentation to a small crowd in the auditorium of Laura Secord Secondary School. "Thank you, Canada."

If he drifted out into space, he said, it would be nearly impossible for the shuttle crew to leave the space station and get him. He would have run out of air before they could reach him. The Canadarm was his lifeline.

Herrington shared his experiences as an astronaut with District School Board of Niagara students as part of an evening that highlighted the successes of the aboriginal education programs at the board.

Maureen Alderdice, DSBN cultural and linguistic diversity consultant, said the board has put an emphasis on positive role models for First Nation students. Herrington, a member of the Chickasaw Nation in the southeastern United States, was an ideal choice.

"He's an astronaut. You don't get role models better than that," she said.

Herrington, who brought an eagle feather and the Chickasaw Nation's flag with him into space, told the schoolchildren that race and creed are not what will make them a success.

"If you are smart enough, if you work hard enough and want it enough, you can achieve your dreams," he said.

While Herrington talked about his space walks and the joy of being among the select few to see the Earth from orbit, his time with NASA came after he was kicked out of university.

He said he spent most of his time as a freshman rock climbing rather than studying, resulting in a suspension for having such a low grade point average. It wasn't until he got hired as a rock climber with a survey team that he realized science could be a career path.

Shortly after that, he followed in his father's footsteps and became a pilot, got a degree in applied math and eventually signed up as a test pilot with the U.S. Navy.

He applied to be an astronaut twice. The first time, in 1991, NASA turned him down. But, he told the audience, if you want something, you cannot allow setbacks to discourage you. He kept working and improving his skills, and when he applied in 1994, he was accepted.

Herrington, who today works to try to get aboriginal American students interested in science and math, said he knows First Nations children sometimes face social and economic challenges that might discourage them from trying to reach their dreams.

"It might make it difficult for them, but it can be done," he said.

Space remains as exciting today as it was when he was eight and playing in a cardboard box pretending to be part of the moon missions of the 1960s, he said.

"Space is still dangerous. Things are not blowing up as often. If they did, we would not be going into space," he said. "But you risk your life every time you go up there. It's still as exciting and thrilling as always."

The former astronaut said space flight is rapidly changing. Recent budget cuts to NASA mean a next-generation space vehicle to replace the aging space shuttle will not be ready.

"So the immediate future is commercial enterprises," he said, noting there is already one American company ready to start ferrying cargo to the space station. Those firms will need people with high levels of education.

"Ultimately, I think, we should go back to the moon and on to Mars, but that will have to be a government and international effort because it will be so enormous," he said.

Monday, March 22, 2010

NASA IceBridge Mission Prepares for Study of Arctic Glaciers


NASA's Operation IceBridge mission, the largest airborne survey ever flown of Earth's polar ice, kicks off its second year of study when NASA aircraft arrive in Greenland March 22.

The IceBridge mission allows scientists to track changes in the extent and thickness of polar ice, which is important for understanding ice dynamics. IceBridge began in March 2009 as a means to fill the gap in polar observations between the loss of NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite, or ICESat, and the launch of ICESat-2, planned for 2015. Annual missions fly over the Arctic in March and April and over Antarctica in October and November.

"NASA's IceBridge mission is characterizing the changes occurring in the world's polar ice sheets," said Tom Wagner, cryosphere program manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The mission's goal is to collect the most important data for improving predictive models of sea level rise and global climate change."

Researchers plan to resurvey previous flight lines and former ground tracks of ICESat while adding new areas of interest. Scientists also will target some areas that have been undergoing mysterious changes. The major glaciers in southeast Greenland once thinned simultaneously, but some of those glaciers have been thinning at an accelerated rate -- as much as 40 feet per year -- while others have thickened. And glaciers in northwest Greenland, once a stable region, have mostly begun to thin.

In preparation for approximately 200 science flight hours during the spring 2010 campaign, engineers have been outfitting NASA's DC-8 aircraft with an array of science instruments. On March 21-22, the aircraft will travel to Thule, Greenland, where researchers and crew will spend about five weeks making 10 to 12 science flights. The first priority is to survey Arctic sea ice, which reaches its maximum extent each year in March or early April. High- and low-altitude flights also will survey Greenland's ice sheet and outlet glaciers.

In mid-April, the engineers will transfer the science instruments to the smaller, more maneuverable P-3B aircraft. The crew will spend May making another 10 to 12 science flights from Kangerlussuaq and Thule, Greenland.

Both aircraft will carry the Airborne Topographic Mapper, or ATM -- a laser altimeter similar to those on ICESat. ATM measures changes in the surface elevation of the ice by reflecting lasers from the ground back to the aircraft and converting the readings into elevation maps. Another laser altimeter, the Land, Vegetation, and Ice Sensor, operates at higher altitudes and can survey larger areas quickly.

The spring flights are led by project scientists Lora Koenig of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and Michael Studinger of Goddard Earth Science and Technology Center at the University of Maryland. The mission also includes scientists, crew and technicians from Goddard, Wallops, NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif., NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.; The Earth Institute at Columbia University in Palisades, N.Y.; the University of Kansas; and the University of Washington.

The versatility of the planes will allow some new observations not currently possible from satellites. Radar instruments from the University of Kansas and a gravimeter from Columbia University will allow scientists to "see" snow, ice, and bedrock characteristics at depths below the surface. Such information will enhance our understanding of glacier and ice sheet processes and will help scientists predict a glacier's future behavior.

"NASA has a unique capability to look at these things from a bird's-eye perspective, not only from space but also from multiple long-range, high performance aircraft," said John Sonntag, a senior scientist with URS Corporation in Wallops Island, Va., and member of the IceBridge management team. "If not for IceBridge, the global science community and the public would miss out on a great deal of knowledge about Greenland and Antarctica."

For information about the IceBridge mission, visit:

NASA Television will air a video file about the IceBridge mission. For NASA TV downlink, schedule and streaming video information, visit:

Thursday, March 18, 2010

China Accelerates Its Lunar Plans


After announcing recently that it will soon begin working on its own space station, the Chinese space agency is now accelerating its plans to go to the Moon. Plans call for this to be achieved by using orbiters at first, then with automated landers, and later with spacecrafts capable of sample-return missions. The country is also planning setting up its own laboratory to handle the rocks that will be brought back from Earth's natural satellite, so as to prevent the risk of biological cross-contamination.

The NASA Apollo-era Lunar Receiving Laboratory (LRL) facility, located at the Houston, Texas-based Johnson Space Center, is most likely the inspiration for the new Chinese initiative. Experts say that this facility was especially set up to handle the flow of lunar rocks brought back by the Apollo astronauts. According to official NASA documents, more than 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of moon rocks, core samples, pebbles, sand and dust, were brought back from the Moon, between 1969 and 1972. In three years, six missions managed to get to our natural satellite, and harvest the required samples.

“I am aware that there have been inquiries about our curation of lunar samples and I infer that they are interested in our procedures,” says JSC Lunar Curator and senior planetary scientist Gary Lofgren. China announced that it planned to explore the Moon step-by-step, in the sense that it will develop the technology necessary for each individual stage of its exploration program, and then use it when the time is right. In other words, the nation will not attempt to land a human crew on the Moon in 2 years, for example, as that would be unfeasible. However, sending another orbiter is a distinct possibility, as it has already done this before.

The country is currently in the stage where it's constructing its experience level, in the sense that it tries out all types of space missions, including manned spacewalks, in order to test its capabilities. “I anticipate that we will communicate in the future though there are no specific plans at present,” Lofgren says. At this point, China is manifesting its intentions to construct an advanced facility to handle its future samples, but a few years will pass before either the lab or the actual lunar mission take place, Space reports. China Accelerates Its Lunar Plans.

NASA's Latest High-tech Autonomous Robotic Life Forms


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

NASA Awards Civil Design, Engineering and Services Contract


NASA has selected Jones Edmunds & Associates, Inc. of Gainesville, Fla., to provide civil and environmental design, engineering and other professional services. Services will be provided at NASA's Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and overseas emergency space shuttle landing sites. The work will rehabilitate, modernize or provide new facilities and systems at these locations.

This new indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract begins in March 2010 with a five year ordering period. The maximum potential value of this contract is approximately $25 million.

Jones Edmunds & Associates will provide services for the design of sewage treatment facilities, road repair and development, and parking facilities. the company also will be responsible for the design of new and reconfigured structures and facilities, building envelope, interior finishes, and site development. The work includes storm water management and utilities as well as facility equipment designed to process and condition hazardous and industrial waste products. Additional work involved includes HVAC and plumbing, industrial and institutional electrical systems, grounding, lighting, lightning protection, fire alarm and detection systems, and construction management.

For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

NASA Announces Systems Engineering Student Competition


NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate is inviting teams of undergraduate and graduate students throughout the country to participate in the fourth annual Systems Engineering Paper Competition. Participants in the competition will submit a paper on an Exploration Systems mission topic.

The deadline to register for the competition is April 16. Papers are due April 23. The winning teams will be announced in May. Awards include up to $3,500 in cash scholarships and VIP invitations to attend a future space shuttle or rocket launch at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The competition is designed to engage students in the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, disciplines critical to NASA's missions.

For information about the competition and how to apply, visit:

For information about NASA's education programs, visit:

Monday, March 15, 2010

NASA Awards Civil Design, Engineering and Services Contract


NASA has selected Jones Edmunds & Associates, Inc. of Gainesville, Fla., to provide civil and environmental design, engineering and other professional services. Services will be provided at NASA's Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and overseas emergency space shuttle landing sites. The work will rehabilitate, modernize or provide new facilities and systems at these locations.

This new indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract begins in March 2010 with a five year ordering period. The maximum potential value of this contract is approximately $25 million.

Jones Edmunds & Associates will provide services for the design of sewage treatment facilities, road repair and development, and parking facilities. the company also will be responsible for the design of new and reconfigured structures and facilities, building envelope, interior finishes, and site development. The wocess and conditioork includes storm water management and utilities as well as facility equipment designed to prn hazardous and industrial waste products. Additional work involved includes HVAC and plumbing, industrial and institutional electrical systems, grounding, lighting, lightning protection, fire alarm and detection systems, and construction management.

For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

Friday, March 12, 2010

NASA TV Provides Coverage of One Space Station Crew's Return to Earth and Another's Journey There


NASA Television will cover the landing of two current International Space Station crew members and the launch of three upcoming station residents later in March and April. Coverage begins with a broadcast of crew farewells and hatch closure aboard the station March 17, and continues with the arrival, docking and hatch opening of the new Expedition 23 crew members on April 4.

Expedition 22 Commander Jeff Williams and Soyuz Commander Max Suraev are scheduled to land in the Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft March 18 in Kazakhstan, completing almost a half-year aboard the station.

Expedition 23 and Soyuz Commander Alexander Skvortsov, and Flight Engineers Mikhail Kornienko of Russia and Tracy Caldwell Dyson of NASA will launch April 2 on the Soyuz TMA-18 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. They will dock to the station April 4, joining Expedition 23 Commander Oleg Kotov, and Flight Engineers T.J. Creamer of NASA and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, who have been in orbit aboard the orbiting laboratory since December 2009.

Upcoming NASA TV broadcasts of these events and surrounding activities include (all times CDT):

March 17

7:45 a.m. - Expedition 22/23 change of command ceremony
11:30 p.m. - Expedition 22 farewells and hatch closure, scheduled for 12:02 a.m. March 18

March 18

2:45 a.m. - Coverage of Expedition 22 undocking from station, scheduled for 3:03 a.m.
5:15 a.m. - Coverage begins of the deorbit burn, scheduled for 5:34 a.m., and landing, scheduled for 6:24 a.m. in Kazakhstan
7 p.m. - Video file of landing and post-landing activities, including a post-landing interview with Williams.

March 22

11 a.m. - Expedition 23 video file of departure in Star City, Russia, for Baikonur, Kazakhstan

March 31

11 a.m. - Video file of crew activities in Baikonur, including Soyuz rocket mating and rollout

April 1

11 a.m. - Video file feed from Baikonur of the prelaunch news conference and Russian State Commission meeting
9:30 p.m. - Video file from Baikonur of prelaunch activities and arrival at launch pad
10:15 p.m. - Coverage of launch from Baikonur, scheduled for 11:04 p.m., and replays

April 2

1:30 a.m. - Prelaunch activities, launch and post launch interviews from Baikonur

April 4

12 a.m. - Coverage of Soyuz docking to station, scheduled at 12:28 a.m., and post-docking news conference from Korolev, Russia
3 a.m. - Hatch opening, scheduled at 3:30 a.m., and welcoming ceremony
5:30 a.m. - Video file of the docking to the station and hatch opening

For NASA Television streaming video, downlink and schedule information, visit:

For more information about the space station and its crew members, visit:

NASA TV Media Channel Provides Clean Feeds for News Organizations


NASA Television provides a standard digital television channel as a resource for news media. The NASA Television media channel provides feeds of the agency's news, briefings and conferences, daily video files from around the agency, expendable vehicle launches, and the only available feeds of space shuttle mission coverage that contain only mission audio and natural sound.

Media organizations, producers and reporters are reminded the only way to receive a clean feed of shuttle launches, in-flight events and landings, and International Space Station mission coverage is to tune satellite receivers to the NASA Television media channel, program 103.

The NASA TV public channel may include produced programming and should not be relied upon for clean feeds of space shuttle launches, mission coverage and other agency activities.

For NASA TV downlink, schedule and streaming video information, visit:

NASA Offers 'FAST' Opportunities For Zero-G Technology Testing


NASA has announced opportunities to test emerging technologies during flights on an airplane that simulates the weightless conditions of space. The technologies should have potential use in future NASA projects, support future exploration systems, or improve air and space vehicle capabilities.

NASA's Facilitated Access to the Space Environment for Technology, or FAST, program helps emerging technologies mature through testing in a reduced gravity environment. In order to prepare technologies for space applications it is important to demonstrate that they work in a zero-gravity environment.

This unique testing environment is provided by an aircraft flying repeated parabolic, or bowl-shaped, flight paths that create brief periods of zero gravity. The aircraft also can simulate reduced gravity levels similar to those on the surface of the moon or Mars.

Testing opportunities are being offered to U.S. federal, state and local government entities. Private U.S. organizations, including commercial firms, non-profits and academic institutions also are eligible. Through a partnership agreement, NASA will provide free flight time for the tests, while project teams will be responsible for all other expenses.

Proposals are due by Monday, April 19, 2010. Technology demonstration flights will occur in September 2010 from Ellington Field in Houston. NASA expects to select approximately 15 to 20 projects for the test flights.

In September 2009, the FAST program provided reduced-gravity testing opportunities for 19 technology projects conducted by private businesses, government laboratories and universities. Information about those projects and teams is available on the FAST program Web site.

NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington manages the FAST program. The Reduced Gravity Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston provides test management for the flights. NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland is providing technical and administrative assistance to the FAST program.

For more information about FAST including a link to the opportunity announcement, visit:

For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Space station could function until 2028, says consortium

PARIS — The consortium of agencies building the International Space Station (ISS) wants to see if the orbital outpost can manage until 2028, the European Space Agency (ESA) said on Thursday.

There are no recognized technical constraints to continuing ISS operations beyond the present planning horizon of 2015 to at least 2020; it said in a press release after a meeting of ISS partners in Tokyo.

The partnership is currently functioning to certify on-orbit elements through 2028, it said.

The Tokyo meeting assembled space agency heads from the United States, which is shouldering the main burden of building the ISS, from Canada, Japan and Russia and as well as from ESA.

Costing a reputed 100 billion dollars, the ISS has been hit by budget overruns and setbacks, as well as the loss of two of the US space shuttles, used to hoist components into low Earth orbit.

The station is due to be done this year after a 12-year construction effort.

But its future beyond 2015 has just been under cloud because of NASA's budget constraints.

That sparked fears within ESA that years of investment will give in little scientific reward before the station is mothballed.

In his draft spending plans for 2011, President Barack Obama pledged to widen the US commitment to the ISS to 2020 or beyond, NASA said in February.

Obama also confirmed the shuttle fleet's phaseout this year, assured help for commercial manned missions in space and dropped the so-called Constellation program his predecessor George W. Bush announced in 2004 to return Americans to the Moon by 2020.

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Station Crew works with Robotics, setups for Spaceflight Transports

Inside the Japanese Kibo Laboratory, Flight Engineers Soichi Noguchi and T.J. Creamer utilizes the Japanese Kibo laboratory’s 33-foot-long main arm to move a smaller robotic arm, known as the small fine arm, out of Kibo’s airlock and into place for operation. Over the next two days, the two flight engineers will perform a sequence of checkouts and calibrations of the small fine arm, which will be used on the end of the main arm to move small science experiments and pieces of hardware.

Temporarily, Commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineer Maxim Suraev worked on pre-packing activities and the transfer of cargo to the Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft for their departure from the station on March 18.

In preparation for space shuttle Discovery‘s arrival next month, Creamer accomplished a rehearsal photography session. On flight day 3 of the STS-131 mission Creamer and Oleg Kotov, who will by then be Expedition 23 commander; will photograph the shuttle’s heat protect as it performs the rendezvous pitch plan shortly before docking. The photos will be sent down to Earth to be examined by experts at Johnson Space Center.

Creamer moreover worked with the Advanced Plant Experiments on Orbit – Cambium (APEX-Cambium) experiment. APEX-Cambium uses willow plants flown on the International Space Station to better appreciate the fundamental processes by which plants produce cellulose and lignin, the two main structural materials found in plant matter. Understanding the role of severity in wood formation is probable to enable wiser management of forests for carbon sequestration, as well as better utilization of trees for wood products.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Discovery and Crew arrange for STS-131 Mission

Commander Alan Poindexter is position to lead the STS-131 mission to the International Space Station aboard space shuttle Discovery.

Union Poindexter will be Pilot Jim Dutton and Mission Specialists Rick Mastracchio, Clay Anderson, Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson and Naoko Yamazaki of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Discovery will carry a multi-purpose logistics module packed with science racks for the laboratories aboard the station. The mission has three planned spacewalks, with work to comprise replacing an ammonia tank assembly, retrieving a Japanese experiment from the station’s exterior, and switching out a rate gyro assembly on the S0 segment of the station’s truss structure.

STS-131 will survive the 33rd shuttle mission to the station.

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Shuttles can remain flying

The US space shuttle fleet can carry on flying beyond NASA's 30 September deadline if the money is made available to keep it going, a US space agency official told reporters on Tuesday.

I think the actual issue that the agency and the nation has to address is the expense, said Space Shuttle Program Manager John Shannon, noting the shuttle fleet costs the National Aeronautics and Space Administration $200-million per month to maintain it in working condition.

Where that money comes from is the huge question, he added.

Shannon's update was about NASA's 5 April Discovery mission to the orbiting International Space Station (ISS), one of three shuttle flights remaining before the program is shut down at the end of September after 29 years of service.

Several lawmakers have just urged the shuttle program be extended to reduce US dependency on Russia's Soyuz spacecrafts in order to continue building the ISS until the shuttle's successor can take off by 2015 at the earliest.

Taking up her colleagues' concerns, Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison last week presented a bill calling for extending the shuttle program ahead of its termination deadline.

On presenting his 2011 budget plan in January, US President Barack Obama confirmed the shuttle fleet's demise this year, as well as reducing the Constellation program his predecessor George W. Bush announced in 2004 to return Americans to the moon by 2020.

Constellation included the development of the Ares 1 rocket, and its desertion has also put into question the feasibility of the shuttle's successor spacecraft.

Obama also asked NASA to partner with the private sector, using funds from an economic incentive package to develop low-cost, primary services transporting astronauts to the ISS.

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NASA Extends Johnson Safety and Mission Assurance Contract


NASA has exercised a $60 million, one-year extension option for a contract with Science Applications International Corporation of Houston to provide support to safety and mission assurance activities at the agency's Johnson Space Center.

The Safety and Mission Assurance Support Services contract helps ensure safety, reliability, maintainability and quality in the International Space Station, space shuttle and Constellation programs.

The cost-plus-award-fee contract option that has been exercised continues services from May 1, 2010, through April 30, 2011. Work under the contract will be performed at Johnson, NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and NASA's White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico.

Significant subcontractors in the work include Futron Corp. of Bethesda, Md.; GHG of Houston; M.H. Chew of Livermore, Calif.; URS - Washington Division of Princeton, N.J.; Management Technology Associates of Huntsville, Ala.; J&P Technologies and JES Tech, both of Houston; SoHaR Incorporated of Culver City, Calif.; and Texas Southern University of Houston.

For more information about NASA's Johnson Space Center, visit:

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

NASA appeal exposes iPhone app fine print

Apple's iPhone is worse for modernization and competition than the PC ever was, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has published the iPhone developer contract in full.

The deal, which all utilizes of the iPhone SDK must sign, has been roundly criticized for being “one-sided”, giving Apple absolute control over an app's chance of success.

The contract says developers may only sell their apps via Apple's App Store, and that Apple can pull the plug on them at any instant, removing the app from sale and remotely disabling it in user devices.

The contract limit's Apple's liability to a measly $50. If Apple's mobile devices are the future of computing, you can expect that future to be one with more limits on modernization and competition than the PC era that came before, the EFF said.

The contract forbids publication or public debate of itself, so the EFF was forced to file a Freedom of Information Act request against an app-making US agency, in this case NASA, in order to have the deal pierced into the public record.

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NASA: Money key to additional space shuttle flights

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA's space shuttle manager says it wouldn't be tough to add more shuttle flights, the real question is money.

Program manager John Shannon said Tuesday it costs $200 million a month to maintain the fleet flying.

Right now, the space shuttles are believed to retire this fall. Four extra missions are planned. Some in Congress, though, are pushing for more flights.

Last month, President Barack Obama killed NASA's Constellation program, which would have formed a shuttle successor.

Shannon says NASA by now has a fuel tank and set of boosters for one additional flight. He says getting other shuttle parts would not be a trouble.

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NASA Hosts First-Ever Water Sustainability Forum March 16 -18


NASA today announced its founding partnership of Launch, an initiative to identify, showcase and support innovative approaches to sustainability challenges through a series of forums. The first forum, "Launch: Water," will take place at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida from March 16-18.

"NASA is perfectly positioned to host a conversation with experts about potential solutions to the world's most perplexing sustainability problems," said NASA's Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, the host of the forum. "NASA offers a culture of problem-solving, deep technical expertise on sustainable systems such as the International Space Station, and a unique capacity to capture and analyze data about our home planet."

Other founding partners are the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. State Department and Nike. The event will bring together 10 entrepreneurs from around the world who have proposed solutions to water shortages and 40 council members who represent business, policy, engineering, science, communications and sustainability sectors. During the two-and-a-half day forum, the invited innovators and the Launch Council will participate in sessions designed to identify challenges and discuss future opportunities for their innovations.

Media are invited to attend this first Launch forum. U.S. journalists must contact Katherine Trinidad at 202-358-1100 by March 15 to arrange credentials. Credentialed journalists may request interviews with the participants. For those unable to attend the event, it will be broadcast live at:

Launch is a global initiative to identify and support innovative work that will contribute to a sustainable future. Organizers have begun a global search for visionaries, whose innovative world-class ideas, technologies or programs show great promise in making tangible impacts on society. Through a series of forums focused on key challenge areas including water, air, food, energy, mobility and sustainable cities, Launch will give thought leaders a forum to present innovative ideas among peers and join in collaborative, solution-driven discussions.

To learn about the 10 innovators and their proposed solutions, and for a list of the 40 council members, visit:

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Monday, March 8, 2010

Space Shuttle deliberate Goes Ballistic

President Obama vowed to protect his plan to mothball NASA's shuttle fleet as the debate over the spacecraft's future turned partisan.

The White House said Obama would explain to the country why he consider NASA would get more bang for its space buck by scrapping the shuttle and turning rocket launches over to private contractors in an address slated for April 15th.

After years of underinvestment in new technology and impractical budgeting, the President's plan will unveil an ambitious plan for NASA that sets the agency on a reinvigorated path of space exploration, the White House said in a statement, according to Reuters.

The shuttle program is scheduled to end later this year. Obama's proposed $3.8 trillion federal budget request, unconfined last month, also strips funding for the Constellation program, which was to see NASA return astronauts to the moon by 2020.

It also would efficiently outsource the transportation of astronauts to and from the International Space Station to the private sector.

Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, of Texas, last week crashed Obama's agenda, claiming it would cause the U.S. to take a back seat to other countries in terms of space research and exploration.

Bailey also said the shuttle program shouldn't be crumbed until a replacement vehicle is ready.

We must close the gap in U.S. human space flight or face the reality that we will be completely needy on Russia for access to space until the next generation of space vehicle is developed, said Hutchison.

If the space shuttle program is ended, Russia and China will be the only nations in the world with the capability to launch humans into space. This is intolerable, said Hutchison.

Hutchison introduced a bill that would give the shuttle program a reprieve until NASA develops a replacement and expand the life of the International Space Station through 2020. The bill as well calls for the U.S. government to develop a new space vehicle for human flight by 2015.

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Historic Deep Space Network Antenna creates Major Surgery

Like a hard-driving athlete whose joints require help, the giant "Mars antenna" at NASA's Deep Space Network site in Goldstone, Calif has begun major, delicate surgery. The operation on the historic 70-meter-wide (230-foot) antenna, which has established data and sent commands to deep space missions for over 40 years, will replace a portion of the hydrostatic bearing assembly. This assembly allows the antenna to rotate horizontally.

The rigorous engineering plans call for lifting about 4 million kilograms (9 million pounds) of finely adjusted scientific instruments a height of about 5 millimeters (0.2 inches) so workers can replace the steel runner, walls and supporting grout. This is the initial time the runner has been replaced on the Mars antenna.

The process, which will cost about $1.25 million, has a design life of 20 years.

This antenna has been a workhorse for NASA/JPL for above 40 years, said Alaudin Bhanji, Deep Space Network Project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. It has provided a decisive lifeline to dozens of missions, while enabling scientific results that have enriched the hearts and minds of generations.

The repair will be done gradually because of the scale of the task, with an expected completion in early November. During that time, workers will also be replacing the elevation bearings, which allow the antenna to track up and down from the horizon. The network will still be able to give full coverage for deep space missions by maximizing use of the two other 70-meter antennas at Deep Space complexes near Madrid, Spain, and Canberra, Australia, and arraying numerous smaller 34-meter (110-foot) antennas together.

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Friday, March 5, 2010

How to save the Earth through the World Wide Web

Yet, if you are eager on spending a few moments of your day defending the Earth from an imminent solar attack, the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London would like to hear from you.

Its Solar Stormwatch website things to see the danger of radiation bursts from the Sun - and gives users the chance to help scientists spot Sun storms - known as coronal mass ejections - before they cause damage on Earth.

The site was built in partnership among the Science and Technology Facilities Council's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and citizen science site Zooniverse.

When you look up at the Sun clearly it's too bright to look at properly, said Dr Marek Kukula from the Royal Observatory. With special instruments and telescopes you can see there are all sorts of substance going on.

These coronal mass ejections are enormous explosions on the Sun which launch billions of tonnes of material out into space. The burst of radiation from the Sun can knock out telecoms systems, sourcing millions of pounds of damage and even endangering life.

NASA previously monitors the Sun using two spacecraft called 'Stereo'. The craft produce 3D images of the star which can show the route of these explosions. Though, the sheer amount of data means NASA's scientists are unable to analyze the data as closely as they need - which is where the world's internet population comes in.

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Newest NASA weather satellite launches at Cape Canaveral

The $500 million Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-P (GOES-P) lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 6:57 pm on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket which will hold the weather-watching satellite to its orbit around 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface.

GOES-P is on its method into orbit to begin a 10-year mission to keep a watchful eye on our world, NASA said on the satellite’s launch blog, noting that all systems were performing precisely as expected.

Once it arrive at its orbit, GOES-P will collect and send back to Earth data that will be used by scientists to monitor weather, make forecasts and concern warnings about meteorological incidents. Meteorologists say they couldn’t track storms or issue the suitable warnings without them.

The satellite will also perceive ocean and land temperatures, monitor space weather, relay communications and provide search-and-rescue support. GOES-P is the newest in a long line of GOES satellites, the first of which was launched in 1975.

The spacecraft will undertake testing for the next six months and will finally be an orbiting spare in the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite network. The satellites are controlled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

They give vital images of hurricanes and other storms that threaten the United States. The satellite will fall its letter suffix for a number, becoming GOES-15 once it is in space. The launch was passed out by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. This is the 39th winning launch for ULA in 39 months.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

How Chile's quake may possibly have shortened a day?

NASA scientists consider Chile's devastating earthquake may have speeded up the Earth's rotation and shortened the length of a day.

Researcher Richard Gross and his colleagues at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California intended that Saturday's 8.8-magnitude quake could have cut 1.26 microseconds off the length of a day. Not that anyone would observe however - as that's one-millionth of a second.

How an earthquake could shorten a day explained below:

The Earth is not a perfect sphere. It is strained in slightly at the poles and bulges at the equator. As such, it rotates with a wobble just similar to a spinning top. However, changes in the distribution of mass can influence this spin. This is shown in the following figure:

In the same way a skater speeds up a spin by pulling in their limbs, a quake can make the Earth rotate quicker by nudging some of its mass closer to the planet's axis. Movements in atmosphere and oceans can have a related effect. This is shown in the following figure:

NASA calculates the quake in Chile shifted mass to such an extent that it altered the rotation rate to shorten a day by about 1.26 microseconds, or one millionth of a second. This is shown in the following figure:

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