Friday, February 26, 2010

Final ground check on shuttle rocket completes: NASA

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A Utah Company that makes powerful booster rockets for space travel has conducted its final ground test for the nation's vanishing space shuttle program.

The firing, with the 38.4-metre rocket attached horizontally to the ground, ignited more than 450,000 Kg of propellant in a split second and took about two minutes to burn off, according to Alliant Techsystems and NASA.

About 5,000 people came to northern Utah's cape near the Great Salt Lake to watch it fire, a company spokeswoman said.

Anytime you test a rocket out here, it's cute impressive, said Trina Patterson.

NASA officials said the test went easily but that data collected from hundreds of sensors have not yet been fully analysed.

The solid motor is the same type that will help lift the space shuttle in its last four scheduled missions.

The space shuttle test - the 52nd since testing started in 1977 - was planned to ensure safe liftoff for the upcoming shuttle flights.

These solid rocket motors have verified themselves to be the safest and most reliable human-rated launch system, Charlie Precourt, an ATK vice president and shuttle astronaut said in a report.

The test symbols a turn for the company and the nation's space program.


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Thursday, February 25, 2010

NASA preparing GOES-P for March 2 launch

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NASA is all ready to launch the NOAA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-P (GOES-P) aboard a Delta IV rocket which will be launched by United Launch Alliance for Boeing Launch Services.

According to NASA, the spacecraft will be commences from Space Launch Complex 37 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The launch is embattled for March 2, during a launch window from 6:19 to 7:19 p.m. EST (3rd March, 04:49 to 05:49 a.m IST).

GOES-P represents the latest generation of environmental satellites built by Boeing for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the technical guidance and project management of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

GOES are the backbone of NOAA's severe weather forecasts, examining fast-changing conditions in the atmosphere that spawn hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and other hazards, said Steve Kirkner, GOES program manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, according to the report.

The GOES satellites present observations of more than 50% of the Earth as well as environmental information and severe weather warnings.

GOES-P is the third and last spacecraft to be launched in the GOES N Series of geostationary environmental weather satellites. Other than forecasting weather on Earth GOES-P with the help of the Solar X-Ray Imager (SXI) will constantly monitor solar conditions.

GOES-P once in orbit will be designated as GOES-15 and will thus provide timely ecological information to meteorologists and the public, as per the report.



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New NASA Web Page discards Light on Science of Warming World

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PASADENA, Calif. -- Will 2010 be the warmest year on testimony? How do the latest U.S. "Snowmageddon" winter storms and record low temperatures in Europe fit into the bigger picture of long-term global warming? NASA has launched a new Web page to assist people better understand the causes and effects of Earth's changing climate.

The new "A Warming World" page hosts a series of new articles, videos, data visualizations, space-based imagery and interactive visuals that presents unique NASA perspectives on this topic of global importance.

The page includes aspect articles that explore the recent Arctic winter weather that has gripped the United States, Europe and Asia, and how El Nino and other longer-term ocean-atmosphere phenomena may influence global temperatures this year and in the future. A new video, piecing mutually the Temperature Puzzle, illustrates how NASA satellites monitor climate change and help scientists better appreciate how our complex planet works.


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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

NASA’s Cassini locates plethora of plumes and hotspots at Enceladus

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Newly released images from last November’s swoop over Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have exposed a forest of new jets spraying from prominent fractures crossing the south polar region and yield the most full temperature map to date of one fracture.

The new images from the imaging science subsystem and the complex infrared spectrometer teams also comprise the best 3-D image ever obtained of a “tiger stripe,” a fissure that sprays icy particles, water vapor and organic compounds.

There are also views of regions not well-mapped formerly on Enceladus, including a southern area with crudely circular tectonic patterns.

Enceladus persists to astound, said Bob Pappalardo, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

With each Cassini flyby, we learn more about its great activity and what makes this weird moon tick, he added.

Scientists intended to use this flyby to look for new or smaller jets not visible in previous images. In one mosaic, scientists count more than 30 individual geysers, with more than 20 that had not been seen before.

A latest map that combines heat data with visible-light images shows a 40-kilometer (25-mile) segment of the longest tiger stripe, known as Baghdad Sulcus.

The map show the correlation, at the highest resolution yet seen, among the geologically youthful surface fractures and the anomalously warm temperatures that have been recorded in the South Polar Region.


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For NASA no easy reply for next space destination

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For the record in decades, NASA has no particular space destination for its next stop, although it has lots of places it wants to go. Future space flight, NASA officials say, now depends on new rocket science and where it can acquire us.

That ambiguity may not sit well with Congress, which will be grilling NASA chief Charles Bolden on Wednesday and Thursday in the first hearings since the George W. Bush moon mission was shelved.

There are only little places in space where humans can go in the next couple of decades. NASA desires to go to all of them, with the ultimate destination, as always, being Mars.

The suite of destinations has not altered over time, NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver said in an interview. The moon, asteroids, Mars - if you're going to go anyplace - is where we are going.

But with any route there is a first stop, so what is that?

Check back in a pair of years. That's when new technology should be developed sufficient to answer that question, Garver said. President Barack Obama plans to divert billions of dollars from the Bush moon plan to developing better rocketry.

The best mode to get anywhere ... is in fact invest in technologies that will reduce the cost, reduce the time, reduce the risk and so forth, Garver said.


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NASA | Piecing Together the Temperature Puzzle

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Station Crew have the benefit of Off-Duty Time

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(NASA) – In the wake of problems Sunday with the International Space Station’s Command and Control computers, the crew had a typically off-duty day Monday, taking time for an emergency egress drill that is conducted occasionally to maintain crew proficiency.

Space shuttle Endeavour is home behind two weeks in space, having delivered the final U.S. module and a “room with a view” to the station. STS-130 Commander George Zamka showed Endeavour to a landing at the Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility at 10:20 p.m. EST Sunday, to cover up a 5.7-million-mile mission.

Meanwhile, flight controllers in Houston’s Mission Control Center secluded the issue that caused the three Command and Control computers to switch their roles as primary, backup and standby units.

Station Spacecraft Communicator Stan Love told Expedition 22 Commander Jeff Williams that the glitches were based by S-band telemetry software that takes Columbus laboratory data puts it into packets and sends it to the ground. For now, that particular piece of code will be avoided and flight controllers will command the remaining systems back to their normal configurations, including Ku-band communications.


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NASA Sets Coverage For Goes-P Weather Satellite Launch March 2

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The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-P, or GOES-P, is scheduled for launch aboard a Delta IV rocket on Tuesday, March 2, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The one-hour launch window extends from 6:19 to 7:19 p.m. EST.

GOES-P will provide expanded capability for space and solar environment-monitoring instruments. The satellite will enhance forecasts and warnings for solar disturbances. GOES-P data will help protect billions of dollars in investments by the government and private sector for assets on the ground and in space.

GOES-P will feature a highly stable pointing platform that will improve the performance of its Imager and Sounder, instruments used for creating daily weather-prediction models and hurricane forecasting. Data from GOES-P will be valuable for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Ocean Service, which provides oceanographic circulation models and forecasts for U.S. coastal communities.

As with all of NOAA's geostationary and polar-orbiting weather satellites, GOES-P will be able to relay distress signals detected from emergency locator beacons on the ground and at sea in support of the international search and rescue system. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., was responsible for designing and developing the spacecraft and its instruments for NOAA.

GOES-P is the last of three in the series of geostationary weather and environmental satellites built for NASA by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems. The spacecraft will be checked out by Goddard and Boeing before being turned over to NOAA for operational use.

NASA will provide television, Internet and photo coverage of the launch starting with a prelaunch news conference at 4 p.m. on Monday, March 1, at NASA's Kennedy Space Centers Press Site.

Participating in the March 1 prelaunch news conference will be:
- Steve Kirkner, NOAA GOES Program manager, NOAA Satellite and Information Service
- Kris Walsh, Commercial Programs manager, United Launch Alliance
- Hieu Lam, Delta Commercial Program manager, Boeing Launch Services
- Andre Dress, GOES Deputy Project manager, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
- Charlie Maloney, GOES N-P Program manager, Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems
- Bart Hagemeyer, meteorologist in charge, NOAA National Weather Service forecast office, Melbourne, Fla.
- Joel Tumbiolo, Delta IV launch weather officer, 45th Weather Squadron, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

NASA Television will carry the prelaunch news conference and launch day coverage live. On March 2 NASA TV countdown coverage will begin at 4 p.m., and will conclude 30 minutes after liftoff. For NASA TV downlink information, schedules and links to streaming video, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

Audio only of the prelaunch news conference and the launch coverage will be carried on the NASA "V" circuits which may be accessed by dialing 321-867-1220, - 1240, -1260 and -7135. On launch day, "Mission Audio," the launch conductor's countdown activities without NASA TV launch commentary, will be carried on 321-867-7135 starting at noon. Launch also will be available on local amateur VHF radio frequency 146.940 MHz heard within Brevard County.

Live countdown coverage on NASA's launch blog begins at 4 p.m. on March 2. Coverage features real-time updates of countdown milestones, as well as streaming video and a podcast of launch. To access these features, visit NASA's GOES-P mission Web site at:

http://www.nasa.gov/goes-p

Reporters attending the NASA prelaunch media briefing who also plan to cover launch may request accreditation by going to:

https://media.ksc.nasa.gov

The Kennedy Space Center Badging Office on SR-405 is open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. For those needing credentials, more information about accreditation is available by contacting Laurel Lichtenberger at 321-867-4036.

For more information about the GOES-P launch, contact the NASA News Center at Kennedy at 321-867-2468 or visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/kennedy


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Monday, February 22, 2010

Shuttle program’s final launch - ATK, NASA to blaze last rocket motor

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Alliant Techsystems and NASA will perform their last rocket test for the Space Shuttle program Thursday, marking the closure of a program that has spanned more than three decades.

The event is scheduled for 11:55 a.m.; a public performance area on Highway 83 about 20 miles west of Corinne will open at 9:30 a.m.

Spectators will obtain to see the horizontal firing of a solid rocket motor — a method that will allow engineers to look at 43 design objectives measured through 258 instruments. The ground test will be conducted to make sure the safe fly-out of the residual four missions of the space shuttle, which is being phased out this year.

A huge group of NASA officials and members of the national media are traveling to ATK’s Promontory location for the historic final test, said ATK spokeswoman Trina Patterson. She added that a number of employees at the aerospace company have worked on the shuttle for their whole careers.

To date, ATK has completed 52 tests for the shuttle. With the shuttle entering retirement, the prospect of America’s human space flight program is up in the air.

President Barack Obama cut funding for the effort in his planned budget for the next fiscal year, though some members of Congress support continuing the allocation.

As a result of the slow-down in contracts, ATK has let go of 970 employees in Utah since October, including 420 in late January. Another few hundred are predictable to be laid off later this year.

The company has been effective on Ares, the replacement for the shuttle, which would be shelved if Obama’s budget plan is adopted, though Patterson said engineers are continuing with the project for now. We’re on schedule and inside budget and we’ll continue to march forward and look forward to the future, she said.


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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Friday, February 19, 2010

Endeavour foliage space station

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The crews of the linked space shuttle and space station embraced and said farewell Friday as they equipped for Endeavour to begin its two-day trip home after a mission of Olympic proportions.

There were hugs and handshakes all roughly as the six Endeavour astronauts floated one by one out of the International Space Station, where they installed a stunning seven-window observation deck that gives astronauts supreme views of Earth. The hatches between the craft were then conserved in preparation for Friday night's undocking.

We are actually going to enjoy the view. I wish you guys could stay a little longer to participate in that view, the space station's skipper, Jeffrey Williams, told his shuttle friends. Yeah, it's hard to turn away from that window, shuttle commander George Zamka said of the atrium's domed centrepiece, the largest window ever launched into space.

Each of the astronauts spent a few moments alone in the dome late Thursday, taking in what they described as remarkable and stunning views of Earth. Arguably, mankind has been after this view for centuries, this viewpoint, this view of the world, and we finally have it, Zamka said. It culminates just about the meeting complete of the space station, Williams added.

The 11 space flyers teamed up over the past week to fit the dome and a new room, called Tranquility, marking the last of the major space station building blocks. They finished some last-minute packing, and then gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the eve of Endeavour's undocking.

Zamka offered a plaque to hang in the dome that contained four chips of moon rock and a stone retrieved from the top of Mt. Everest. A former astronaut agreed the moon fragments to the top of Everest last spring.

The lunar chips were composed from the Sea of Tranquility during man's first moon landing in 1969. The chamber was named after that important achievement. Zamka said the rocks will serve as a reminder of man's reach and man's grit as they go out and discover.


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NASA astronomers loosen secret of the supernova

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Supernovas have long been used as “cosmic mile markers” to measure the growth of the universe, but NASA scientists now claim that they have finally exposed what actually sparks the massive stellar explosions.

A team of astronomers led by Marat Gilfanov used NASA’s Chandra X-Ray laboratory to study supernovas in five near elliptical galaxies and the central region of the Andromeda galaxy — a spiral galaxy nearby to our own, the Milky Way.

They found that most Type 1a supernovas are sparked by the merging of two white dwarf stars, or the collapsed remains of old stars. The stars become uneven when they exceed their weight limit which causes a stellar explosion, the Telegraph reported.

It was a major discomfiture that we did not know how they (supernovas) worked. Now we are beginning to appreciate what lights the fuse of these explosions, said Gilfanov, an astronomer from the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Germany.

Previously it was consideration that Type 1a supernovas were also caused by accretion — when the gravity of a star draws in enough material from a sun-like companion and becomes unstable.
Though, Akos Bogdan of the Max Planck Institute said: If the supernovas were formed by accretion, the galaxies would be roughly 50 times brighter in x-rays than actually observed.

It is not clear whether merging is also the primary source of supernovas in spiral galaxies, and further study is required, he said. Pairs of white dwarfs are tremendously difficult to find. Once the white dwarfs spiral into expanses when they are about to merge, it takes just a few tenths of a second for them to explode.

The study is available in the latest edition of the journal Nature.


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Thursday, February 18, 2010

NASA fetches the Dark Side of the Sun to Your iPhone

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As the sun reawakens from an anomalously calm period, keep track of solar flares, sunspots and coronal mass ejections with a new iPhone app that puts the real-time status of the sun in your hand. This is over cool, Dick Fisher, director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division, said in a press release. For the first time ever, we can observe the sun as a living, breathing 3-dimensional sphere.

With the free 3D Sun app, you can set your phone to attentive you when a new solar flare erupts; watch video of a solar prominence or a comet heading into the sun. You can influence an image of the sun in three-dimensions with your finger.

The data is streamed to Earth by NASA’s twin STEREO spacecraft which monitor the sun from two different spots, one ahead of Earth in its orbit and one after, giving stereoscopic images to give a sort of three-dimensional view, comparable to the way our two eyes do.

The pair covers 87 percent of the sun’s surface, efficiently giving us a view of the “dark side” of the sun. This means anyone can see on their phone parts of the sun that even the most influential telescopes on Earth can’t see.

The STEREO spacecraft watch the tremendous ultraviolet portion of the electromagnetic spectrum because the most exciting solar phenomena show up best at these wavelengths. That’s why the 3D sun seems false-color green, said STEREO program scientist Lika Guhathakurta in a press release. These are not white-light imagery.

The team plans to release 3D Sun 2.0 which will have higher-res images and data from other wavelengths.

This is the second free iPhone app NASA has unconfined recently. NASA’s first app fetch you load of space photos from the Hubble Space Telescope and other NASA missions, videos from NASA TV of science updates, mission activity, rocket launches and other events, mission status updates and live countdowns clocks and you can track the International Space Station as well.


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Foremost images from Nasa's Wise infrared sky probe

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NASA has published the foremost images from its Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or Wise, which has been scanning the skies since January. Wise has worked beautifully, said the agency's Ed Weiler in Washington DC.

The images include a comet, a "star factory" 20,000 light years away in our Milky Way galaxy and our adjacent large neighbour, the Andromeda spiral galaxy. Wise will search on until October when its provisions of frozen coolant for chilling instruments will run out.

It's hoped it will find many more comets and, from them, give information about the birth of our Solar System. It's also appearing for asteroids and cool stars called brown dwarfs.

By the time the mission ends the explorer should have scanned the sky one-and-a-half-times with its "infrared goggles", enlightening objects not visible to the naked eye.

All these pictures tell a story concerning our dusty origins and destiny, said Peter Eisenhardt, Wise project director at Nasa in California.

Wise sees dirty comets and rocky asteroids tracing the configuration and evolution of our solar system. We can map thousands of forming and dying solar systems diagonally our entire galaxy.
We can see patterns of star formation across other galaxies, and waves of star-bursting galaxies in clusters millions of light years left, he explained.


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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Patrick, Behnken comprehensive Final STS-130 Spacewalk

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Mission Specialists Nicholas Patrick and Robert Behnken begin the third and final spacewalk of the STS-130 mission at 9:15 p.m. EST Tuesday and finished at 3:03 a.m Wednesday.

Behnken opened the second of two ammonia loops to allow coolant to flow during Tranquility and disconnected temporary power cables. Patrick installed heater and data cables from the new node to Pressurized Mating Adapter 3, now situated on Tranquility’s outboard docking port.

Next the two spacewalkers removed the lagging from the cupola’s seven windows, and Patrick unconfined launch locks from the windows so Pilot Terry Virts could open the window shutters from inside the module for the first time.

Other tasks for the spacewalk integrated installation of handrails and other spacewalk support equipment on Tranquility, routing video signal converter cables from the S0 Truss to the Zarya module to maintain future Canadarm2 operations from a base on the Russian segment of the station, and removal of clamps and a flex hose rotary coupler on the P1 Truss.

During the spacewalk, station Commander Jeff Williams and other crew members sustained outfitting the Tranquility and cupola modules and performed closeout operations on components of the regenerative environmental control system prior to the last four racks of that system are relocated into Node 3 on Flight Day 11. Early Wednesday morning, Flight Engineer Oleg Kotov replaced a futile vacuum valve in the Russian carbon dioxide removal unit.

The STS-130 mission included three spacewalks and the release of a connecting module that increases the station’s interior space. Node 3, known as Tranquility, provides extra room for crew members and many of the station's life support and environmental control systems. Attached to the node is a cupola, which is a robotic control station with six windows about its sides and another in the center that will provide a panoramic view of Earth, celestial objects and visiting spacecraft. The space station is at present about 90 percent complete.



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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Stars above the Coast astronomy column Feb. 14-20: the twin planets of Mardi Gras

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PLANETS TO WATCH: If you have a clear view to the western horizon tonight through Wednesday, you should be able to see a conspicuous pairing of Venus and Jupiter, near the horizon in fading twilight.

Mars, still very bright, will be almost straight overhead about 11:15 p.m., while Saturn will be in the east at midnight. Mercury is lost to view for at present.

The best vision of the Venus-Jupiter pairing will be on Tuesday just as it gets dark. You'll need an open view to the west if you're downtown for the parades however.

THE MOON waxes from a tiny semi-circular at sunset tonight to nearly first quarter by the weekend. Evening stargazing should be usually good on clear nights.

THIS WEEK: If you're in the country and gone from light, you should have a good view of the Milky Way this week. About 8 p.m., you can outline it from southeast to northwest, and almost directly overhead.

Some of the brighter constellations in the galaxy's main trail comprise Canis Minor, Gemini, Auriga and Cassiopeia.

Under dark skies, a sweep of the Milky Way with binoculars is forever a striking experience.

DID YOU KNOW? Romantic sounding Venus is really a hostile place, with an acid atmosphere and temperatures of up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit.


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Monday, February 15, 2010

Bay Window View fitted on Space Station

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A multi-window cupola was effectively moved Monday from the new Tranquility module's outboard port to an Earth-facing hatch where the observation deck will provide bay-window views.

After resolving problems with stuck bolts and sticky latches, Astronauts Kay Hire and Terry Virts - operating the space station's robot arm - moved the cupola into position for add-on at Tranquility's nadir port.

The cupola features six canted windows and a middle overhead pane. While it will give station crews panoramic views of Earth, the primary objective is to give robot arm operators direct views of approaching unmanned cargo ships.

Initial attempts to isolate the cupola from Tranquility's outboard port ran into a snag late Sunday, reports CBS News Space Analyst Bill Harwood, when at least two motorized bolts in the docking mechanism failed to unfasten. The frequent berthing mechanism features four sets of motorized bolts.

We had some early challenges with unbolting the cupola from the port side and that was essentially due to higher than expected running torques on the bolts, said shuttle Flight Director Kwatsi Alibaruho. The cupola was bolted to the port side of node 3 on the ground so we just had to apply somewhat higher torque than what we had expected, just by a few newton-meters.

The control software, in its evasion mode, was limited to applying a maximum torque of about 22 foot-pounds. When that didn't work, flight controllers sent information to increase the torque and the bolts released at about 27 foot-pounds. So not a problem at all, just a slight adjustment we had to make, Alibaruho said.

After the common berthing mechanism detached, astronauts Kay Hire and Terry Virts, operating the space station's robot arm, stimulated the cupola into position for attachment at Tranquility's nadir port.

Motorized bolts drove home in two stages, carrying out the attachment procedure at 1:31 a.m. The astronauts planned to work on outfitting the foyer between harmony and the cupola later this morning, but they do not plan to open the emerge and go inside until overnight Monday.

Launch locks and defensive window covers will be released during a spacewalk overnight Tuesday. Computer displays and apparatus for controlling the station's robot arm will be moved into the cupola overnight Wednesday.


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Friday, February 12, 2010

NASA launched sun watching satellite

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NASA has effectively launched the Solar Dynamics Observatory, a satellite that will take ultra-high-resolution pictures of the sun and help forecast solar storms.

The investigate was launched aboard an Altas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida Thursday at 10:23 a.m. An effort to launch the satellite Wednesday had to be scrubbed because of high winds.

Once in synchronous orbit over its ground station in New Mexico, the SDO will beam back pictures of the sun at an exceptional resolution of 4,096 by 4,096 pixels, 10 times better resolution than HDTV. The SDO will take one picture at eight different wavelengths each 10 seconds.

Other instruments on the satellite will measure the sun's brightness in the tremendous ultraviolet light spectrum, map the sun's magnetic fields and watch sound waves passing over its surface to probe its inner workings. The 290-kilogram satellite has no on-board storage and will beam down 1.5 terabytes of data — adequate to fill about 60 Blu-ray discs — every day, more than any other NASA mission. Two 18-metre dishes at the New Mexico base will obtain the transmissions.

With its solar panels extensive, the SDO satellite is more than six meters wide and 4.5 meters long. Its five-year mission is to examine the sun's magnetic field and how it generates solar wind, solar flares and other phenomena, recognized as space weather. Our sun affects our lives more and more as we depend progressively on technology, said NASA project scientist William Dean Pesnell.

Space weather can influence communications, power grids, GPS satellites and other technological systems on Earth. The $856-million US instrument is the first mission of NASA's Living with a Star program, which has a goal of studying how the performance of the sun affects life on Earth.


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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Keeping an eye on sun through solar observatory

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A first-of-its-kind solar observatory, set to launch Wednesday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, is intended at providing a better understanding of the sun and its role in space weather such as solar flares, which can wreak havoc on Earth, officials said. The Solar Dynamics Observatory and its Atlas V rocket rolled out Tuesday to the initiate pad.

Because of high winds at the launch place, forecasters put odds of acceptable conditions for launch at 30 percent, NASA said on its Web site. The observatory is planned to deliver solar images with resolution 10 times better than high-definition television, according to NASA.

The five-year mission "will establish how the sun's magnetic field is generated, structured and transformed into violent solar events like turbulent solar wind, solar flares and Coronal Mass Ejections," according to the agency.

The solar wind, a stream of electrically charged particles fluid out from the sun, fills the entire solar system with charged particles and magnetic fields, according to NASA.

Solar flares are real explosions in the sun's atmosphere, the largest of them equal to billions of one-megaton nuclear bombs. And Coronal Mass Ejections, or CMEs, are eruptions that launch solar material into space at a high speed.

Such events can place astronauts at risk, in addition to aircraft flying over Earth's North or South Poles, and can also disrupt satellite communications, navigational systems and power grids, NASA said. In 1969, for example, a solar current knocked a power grid serving Quebec, Canada, off-line for nine hours. That's a direct crash on life and society, said Richard Fisher, director of NASA's Heliophysics Division and he is in charge of Wednesday's launch.

In addition, changes in magnetic energy such as those around sunspots can alter Global Positioning System signals, making them less accurate. If you're landing a great big jet airliner in a low-visibility state and you have one of these events that causes a misunderstanding of location by 150 to 200 yards, that's big substance when you're trying to hit a runway with these instruments, Fisher said.

There's no way to forecast space weather. Officials expect the Solar Dynamics Observatory can provide information to help change that.

The observatory contains three major instruments that scientists consider will send data back to Earth for at least five years. The Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager and the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly will permit scientists to see the sun in high resolution.


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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Astronauts examine shuttle on way to space station

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Endeavour's astronauts inspected their ship early Tuesday for any launch damage as they raced toward a meeting with the International Space Station.

Scarcely a day after blasting into orbit, the space shuttle crew used a 15-metre, laser-tipped boom held by the Canadarm to check the thermal shielding on the wings and nose.

A few pieces of foam insulation broke off the exterior fuel tank during Monday morning's launch, as well as a narrow 30-centimetre strip. But there was no indication anything strike the shuttle.
A foam strike brought down Columbia in 2003, and orbiting astronauts have carried out thorough inspections ever since. Commander George Zamka and his crew performed the custom survey to ensure the launch cameras did not miss something.

The long, arduous process got underway late Monday and prolonged into Tuesday morning. The astronauts were in the home extend — surveying Endeavour's left wing — when the screens rapidly went black. Mission Control worked with pilot Terry Virts to get all back in order. The disruption lasted just a half-hour.

Flight director Kwatsi Alibaruho said nothing of concern was jumping out in the survey, but strained that the data needed to be analyzed by experts.

Endeavour will catch up with the space station early Wednesday, performing a slow-motion spin for the cameras before docking. The close-up pictures of the shuttle's belly — impossible to see any other way in such detail — will provide even more information concerning Endeavour's health.

The shuttle is delivering a new room to the space station, as well as the largest window ever launched, part of a fancy vaulted compartment. Collectively, the additions are worth more than $400 million US.



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Monday, February 8, 2010

Solar Dynamics Observatory Set intended for Launch

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The Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, is set to commence on Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 10:26 a.m. EST as of Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The Launch willingness Review was conducted Monday morning and the "go" was given to proceed, with no technical issues reported.

Weather for launch day stands at 60 percent "no go" at liftoff time due to storm, cloud width and a slight chance of showers. Launch-time temperature ought to be a chilly 51 degrees.

A prelaunch news meeting will be held at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, followed by the mission science briefing. Both will be conceded live on NASA TV. Live reporting of the launch will begin at 7:15 a.m. Wednesday on NASA TV and the launch blog.

SDO's unparalleled mission will study the sun and its dynamic performance. On-board telescopes will inspect sunspots and solar flares with more pixels and colors than any other observatory in the history of solar physics. And SDO will expose the sun’s hidden secrets in an abnormal rush of pictures.


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Endeavour launches towards space station

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Space shuttle Endeavour is rocketing toward the space station on one of the shuttle program's final scheduled missions.

Endeavour and its crew of 6 blasted off early Monday at 4:14 a.m. ET.

The pre-dawn launch was the final one in darkness if the rest of the shuttle schedule holds. Only four more shuttle flights are left over.

Endeavour is carrying a latest room for the International Space Station and an observation deck. These are the last major pieces for the orbiting complex.

The shuttle is scheduled to attain the Space Station Wednesday. Its flight was delayed a day by cloudy weather.

The Obama administration has yet to offer specifics on what happens after the last mission this fall. NASA's back-to-the-moon Constellation program is a casualty under the president's latest budget plan.


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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

NASA Extends Security and Operation guarantee agreement at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama

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NASA has exercised a second one-year option with Bastion Technologies Inc. of Houston for continued services in support of the Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The extension runs through Jan. 31, 2011.

The contract is a cost plus award fee with award term arrangements. The current potential value of the contract, including this $36 million contract option, is $136 million. Subsequent unexercised options and award terms extend the total period of performance to 2017, with a total potential value of more than $376 million.

Bastion Technologies Inc. continues to provide services, equipment and supplies associated with industrial safety and system safety, reliability and maintainability engineering associated with the design and development engineering and testing performed by Marshall. The contract also provides safety and mission assurance management information, quality assurance and quality engineering, independent assessment services and documentation, project assurance and risk management.

For information about NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/marshall


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Tuesday, February 2, 2010