Friday, April 30, 2010

NASA Schedules News Conference about Next Space Shuttle Launch

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NASA managers will hold a news conference on Wednesday, May 5, at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to discuss the status of the next space shuttle launch. The briefing will begin after the Flight Readiness Review, a meeting to assess preparations for shuttle Atlantis' STS-132 mission to the International Space Station.

Live status updates, including the start time for the news conference, will be provided during the meeting via the NASA News Twitter feed. To access the feed, go to the nasa.gov homepage or visit:

http://www.twitter.com/nasa

The review is expected to include the selection of an official launch date. Atlantis and six NASA astronauts are targeted to lift off at 2:20 p.m. EDT on Friday, May 14.

The briefing participants are:
- Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Space Operations
- John Shannon, Space Shuttle Program manager
- Mike Leinbach, space shuttle launch director

NASA Television and the agency's website will broadcast the briefing live. Reporters may ask questions from participating NASA locations, and should contact their preferred NASA center to confirm participation. For NASA TV streaming video, downlink and scheduling information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

For STS-132 crew and mission information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

NASA Television To Broadcast Arrival Of Space Station Cargo Ship

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The residents of the International Space Station will receive a new shipment of food, fuel and supplies on Saturday, May 1, and NASA Television will broadcast the arrival live.

Expedition 23 Commander Oleg Kotov and Flight Engineers Alexander Skvortsov, Mikhail Kornienko, T.J. Creamer, Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Soichi Noguchi will watch as the unpiloted Russian ISS Progress 37 craft automatically attaches to the Pirs Docking Compartment at 1:34 p.m. CDT. NASA TV coverage of the Progress arrival will begin at 1 p.m. with commentary.

The cargo ship is carrying more than 2.5 tons of supplies for the six crew members. It will be launched at 12:15 p.m. on Wednesday, April 28, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. There will be no NASA TV coverage of the launch.

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

http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

For more information about the International Space Station and its crew, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/station

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov

Monday, April 26, 2010

NASA plan will assist UH research

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President Barack Obama’s recent proposal for the space program not only effects NASA, but also UH researchers.

“The proposal that President Barack Obama has put on the table to emphasize developing deep space exploration technologies, with a goal of going to Mars, is right up our alley,” physics and electrical and computer engineering professor Edgar Bering said. “This is potentially a real benefit to our project.”

Bering and the UH Space Physics Group are attempting to build the world’s first commercial high-powered deep space motor. Their goal is to create a deep space motor that uses a different scheme than chemical rockets. The motor would be used for shipping bulk cargo, such as steel and water, to outer space.

“For space flight beyond low Earth orbit, particularly if you are going to the moon, chemical rockets are the way to get there fast,” Bering said. “If speed is not a problem, like for shipping cargo, then you really want to use a different scheme. For deep space beyond Earth orbit altogether, you will definitely need to use a different scheme.”

NASA stopped funding this project in 2006 when NASA Administrator Mike Griffin cut off all funding for electric propulsion in 2005. His plan was to have the Mars mission in 2035 and start funding the research again in 2020. It’s currently funded by the Ad Astra Rocket Company, with resources provided by private investors.

“He needed the money for constellation … (which) was the eggplant that ate Chicago. It was eating every other resource,” Bering said. “Franklin Chang-Diaz had already privatized the project at that point. It became a private company, the Ad Astra Rocket Co. in 2005. It has been funding my research ever since.”

Obama’s space plan makes deep space exploration a priority, but does not include taking man back to the moon.

“One of the applications of our engine would be a commercially built lunar transport tug to take cargo from the Earth orbit to the moon,” Bering said. “That particular business plan may suffer from Obama’s plan to not go back to the moon, because there would be a whole lot less need to take cargo to the moon.”

Obama’s plan also encourages private exploration of space and to get as much as possible done by the commercial private sector.

With all the attention on deep space, there are discussions of NASA funding the project again underway.

“It’s exciting right now because what we have done for years has become the top priority,” Bering said. “There is a lot of interest in what we’re doing, and all of a sudden, we’re getting a lot of focus.”

The Ad Astra Company and the UH Space Physics Group are scheduled to fly a test version of their engine on the International Space Station in 2013.

“At that point, we will actually be in a position to sell our engine,” Bering said.

“I’m not going to comment on the president’s decision, because there is a lot of emotion in that area and a lot of people who are very angry and upset in this community. But at the same time a lot of us can see that there is a lot to be said in favor of the president’s decision, and our project is going to benefit.”

Friday, April 23, 2010

NASA, NSBRI Select Proposals To Support Health On Space Missions

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NASA's Human Research Program and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, or NSBRI, of Houston will fund 11 proposals to help investigate questions about astronaut health and performance on future space exploration missions. The selected proposals, representing 10 institutions in eight states, will receive a total of almost $10 million over a three- to four-year period.

The Human Research Program provides knowledge and technologies to improve human health and performance during space exploration. The program also develops possible countermeasures for problems experienced during space travel.

Goals include the successful completion of exploration missions and preservation of astronauts' health throughout their lives. The program quantifies crew health and performance risks during spaceflight and develops strategies that mission planners can use to monitor and mitigate health and performance risks.

The 11 projects were selected from 50 proposals received in response to a research announcement titled "Research and Technology Development to Support Crew Health and Performance in Space Exploration Missions."

The proposals were reviewed by scientific and technical experts from academia, industry and government. Seven of the projects will be assigned to the Human Research Program's team of principal investigators, while four will join NSBRI's team-based research program.

NSBRI is a NASA-funded consortium of institutions studying health risks related to long-duration spaceflight. The institute's science, technology and education projects take place at more than 60 institutions across the United States.

A complete list of the selected principal investigators, organizations and proposals is available on the Web at:

http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/acd/hrp_nsbri_awards_2010.html

For information about NASA's Human Research Program, visit:

http://humanresearch.jsc.nasa.gov

For information about NSBRI's science, technology and education programs, visit:

http://www.nsbri.org

For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov

Thursday, April 22, 2010

NASA offers live interviews with Hubble experts for 20th anniversary

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On the eve of the Hubble Space Telescope's 20th anniversary, NASA will offer live satellite interviews with two of the telescope's premier scientists: Ed Weiler, oassociate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, and former astronaut John Grunsfeld. Interviews are available from 6 to 9 a.m. EDT on Friday, April 23.

To participate, reporters should contact Al Feinberg at 202-358-1058 by noon on Thursday.

Weiler has worked on the Hubble project since the mid-1970s, while Grunsfeld, who is now deputy director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, participated in three spaceflights to service the observatory.

Hubble was launched April 24, 1990, as the world's first space-based optical telescope. Weiler and Grunsfeld will discuss the challenges and successes during its two decades in orbit. Hubble's observations have provided the deepest views of the cosmos ever and captured the minds and imaginations of people around the world.

Friday's interviews will be conducted on the NASA TV Live Interactive Media Outlet Channel and carried live on the NASA TV Public and Media Channels. For NASA TV coordinates and downlink information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

For more information about the Hubble Space Telescope, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/hubble


or

http://www.hubblesite.org

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

NASA And NSTA Send Teachers Flying For Science In Microgravity

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NASA and the National Science Teachers Association, or NSTA, have selected high school teachers from Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Missouri, New York, North Carolina and Washington to fly an experiment in microgravity.

This flight opportunity will allow high school teachers and students to propose, design, fabricate, and evaluate an experiment the teachers will fly in a reduced gravity environment. The overall experience will include scientific research, hands-on design and test operations aboard a modified Boeing 727 jetliner. Zero-Gravity Corp. of Las Vegas will conduct the flights the week of July 29 to Aug. 7 in cooperation with the Reduced Gravity Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"This is another innovative NASA project for students and educators to work on actual flight projects that use the unique environment of space while applying their academic knowledge in science, technology, engineering and mathematics," said Joyce Winterton, associate administrator for Education at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The teams selected to participate in the program are: Delaware Agriscience Teachers, Middletown High School, Middletown, Del.

--Dover High School/Capital School District in Dover, Del.
--A team of Einstein Fellows, who are teachers spending a year in Washington at a congressional office or a federal agency
--Fairport High School/Fairport Central School District in Fairport, N.Y.
--Fulton High School in Fulton, Mo.
--Greensboro Day School in Greensboro, N.C.
--Jackson High School in Jackson, Mo.
--Jefferson County Public Schools and Trussville City Schools/Hewitt Trussville High School in Homewood, Ala., and the University of Alabama, Birmingham
--Muscogee County School District in Columbus, Ga.
--New Deal High School/New Deal Independent School District in New Deal, Texas
--Northbrook High School/Spring Branch Independent School District in Houston
--Van Alstyne High School/Van Alstyne Independent School District in Van Alstyne, Texas

"For years NSTA and NASA have enjoyed a strong partnership that has benefited thousands of classroom science teachers," NSTA Executive Director Francis Eberle said. "We are excited we can bring the experience of 'weightless science' to scores of teachers and students nationwide with this program."

Teachers and students will share their experiences and research in a series of interactive Web seminars after the flight week. The seminars are held by NSTA and NASA's Teaching From Space office and Reduced Gravity Flight Opportunities Program. Teaching From Space manages NASA's Education Flight Projects, a national program for educators and students in kindergarten through 12th grade that facilitates and promotes learning opportunities using unique NASA content, facilities and flight platforms.

"This is a unique way to engage students and teachers in hands-on science, as well as give them a ride of a lifetime," said Susan White, director of Education at Johnson Space Center. "Our goal is for that excitement to be carried into the classroom."
The opportunity is one of NASA's many educational outreach programs to improve teaching and learning in science, technology, engineering and math disciplines critical to future space exploration missions.

For more information about the Reduced Gravity Education Flight Week Program, visit:

http://microgravityuniversity.jsc.nasa.gov

For more information about Teaching From Space, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/education/tfs


For more information about the National Science Teachers Association, visit:

http://www.nsta.org

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

13 Things That Saved Apollo 13, Part 8: The Command Module Wasn't Severed

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When the Apollo 13 crew jettisoned the crippled Service Module as they approached Earth, they saw the extent of the damage from the explosion of an oxygen tank. "There's one whole side of that spacecraft missing!" Jim Lovell radioed to Mission Control, his voice reflecting his incredulousness at seeing the damage of a 13-ft panel blown off the spacecraft. However, the situation could have been more dire. The heat shield on the Command Module could have been damaged. What's more, NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill said that instead of the panel blowing out, the explosion could have — and maybe should have –severed the Command Module from the Service Module.

Photos taken by the Apollo 13 crew after the service module was jettisoned in preparation for the command module’s reentry via the heat shield revealed that not only was the panel missing from the side of the spacecraft — blown into the vastness of space by the exploding pressure of the detonating oxygen – there was also damage to the Hi Gain Antenna, at the right of the vehicle drawing above, indicating the panel had catapulted into space, striking the antenna. What the images couldn't show, and what the Apollo 13 crew couldn't see was if there was any damage to the Command Module's heat shield.

"The structural design of the interior of the Service Module is that is has a long open tunnel-like volume in the center of the module, about 30 inches by 13 feet," said Woodfill. "The tunnel is much like a chimney such that gases, liquids, or particles could readily move through it toward the main engine bell at the right and the heat shield at the left. The tunnel is not sealed so that the explosive force of the burning oxygen from the exploded O2 tank 2 could escape into and around the tunnel in the direction of both the heat shield and main engine."

Woodfill said concern was voiced in Mission Control that shrapnel from the exploding tank had entered the tunnel, and perhaps ultimately caused damage to both the heat shield and main engine. The main engine wasn't the biggest issue, as the crew was able to use the lunar lander’s descent engine. (see our previous article , "Using the LM for Propulsion.") But there was only one heat shield, and it had to work to enable the capsule and the crew to survive the fiery reentry through Earth's atmosphere.

Thankfully, as it turned out ,the heat shield wasn't damaged.

But almost miraculously, Woodfill said, the command module and service module remained connected following the explosion, while the internal pressure of the explosion rocketed the exterior panel into space.

"The attachment strength of the Service Module panel to the structure required a considerable internal pressure of 24 pounds per square inch for severing it from the service module," Woodfill said. "A much lower pressure was required to separate the Command Module with its heat shield from the Service Module, only 10 pound per square inch. One can only speculate on why the panel blew and the crew capsule/service module attachment remained intact."

Since there is no air pressure in space, Woodfill explained, the force which held the vehicles together was the strength of their mechanical attachments.

"Two pressures were at work," he said. "Each attempted to overcome respective attachment forces: the force which attached the Service Module to the Command capsule and the force which attached the Service Module panel to the Service Module. Because the explosive pressure force of the oxygen was immediately applied in great strength to the panel, this overwhelming force would be expected to blast that panel apart from the vehicle, exceeding the 24 pound per square inch attachment strength. However, venting of residual explosive oxygen into the framework of the Service Module could well be expected to overcome the attachment strength between the two vehicles, separating them."

Yet, it did not. Why?

"Apparently, the presence of 'tankage' and other structure acted to mitigate and dissipate the sudden pressure spike before it reached the interface between the vehicles," Woodfill said. "However, if a shard from the exploded O2 tank 2 had punctured any of the adjacent tanks, likely a secondary explosion of any of them would have propagated both the explosion and build up of pressure. In that event, certainly, the vehicles would have experienced either a fatal separation or fatal damage to the heat shield.

A piece of shrapnel did fracture the plumbing between the oxygen tanks that allowed the oxygen to leak out of Tank 1, causing the complete loss of power in the Command Module, as without oxygen the fuel cells couldn’t work.

Some may say that having the Service Module attached to the Command Module wasn't important – it was just dead weight anyway. However, other problems could have developed without the Service Module attached, according the Apollo 13 Failure Report. Having the heat shield exposed to low temperatures for a long period could have damaged it, and internal Command Module thermal problems could arise if the Service Module was jettisoned too early. Additionally, flight control problems were anticipated if the Command Module wasn't attached.

Of course, since the Service Module was jettisoned before the crew re-entered (and the SM itself later burned up in the Earth's atmosphere) no one could do any "forensic analysis" or an engineering "autopsy" on that part of the spacecraft.

"To me, it is amazing that, one, the heat shield wasn't damaged from the explosion, and two, the connection that could withstand higher pressure ended up blowing, while the weaker connection stayed together," said Woodfill.

But those were among the many things that saved Apollo 13.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

NASA's satellite images show Icelandic volcanic ash moving into Germany

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Images taken by NASA’s scientific research satellite have revealed that Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano ash clouds are now moving into Germany.

NASA’s Terra satellite flew over the volcano on Friday and the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS instrument aboard Terra captured a visible image of Eyjafjallajokull’s ash plume over England and the Netherlands, stretching into Germany.

Meanwhile, the ban on flights in British airspace has been extended until at least 7pm due to the threat posed by the volcanic ash.

Restrictions have also been reapplied to Manchester, Liverpool and Blackpool airports, having briefly been lifted.

A Texas University researcher, who has explored Icelandic volcanoes for the past 25 years, said that if history is any indication, the erupting volcano and its immense ash plume could intensify.

Jay Miller, a research scientist in the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program who has made numerous trips to the region and studied there, said the ash produced from Icelandic volcanoes can be a real killer.

“What happens is that the magma from the volcano is around 1,200 degrees and it hits the water there, which is near freezing. What is produced is a fine ash that actually has small pieces of glass in it, and it can very easily clog up a jet engine. If you were to inhale that ash, it would literally tear up your lungs,” Miller said.

Friday, April 16, 2010

NASA Announces Conference on the American Space Program for the 21st Century

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NASA will hold a conference following President Obama's remarks about the bold new course the administration is charting for NASA and the future of U.S. leadership in human spaceflight on Thursday, April 15, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

A diverse group of senior officials, space leaders, academic experts, industry leaders and others who have specific expertise or interests related to the topics of discussion will attend the conference and participate in four concurrent sessions on different aspects of the President's new direction for NASA.

Following the President's remarks, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will host a conference overview, beginning at 3:45 p.m. EDT, with Norm Augustine, chair, Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee and John Holdren, assistant to the President for science and technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The conference overview and the four concurrent conference sessions, beginning at 4:25 p.m., will take place in both the Operations and Checkout Building and in the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will host a conference wrap-up with the four panel moderators at 5:40 p.m. in the visitor complex's Astronaut Encounter Theater.

Conference Session Topics:

* Increasing Access to and Utilization of the International Space Station
* Jumpstarting the New Technologies to Take Us Beyond
* Expanding our Reach into the Solar System
* Harnessing Space to Expand Economic Opportunity

The President's remarks and all four conference sessions will be streamed live on the agency's Web site at:

http://www.nasa.gov

The conference overview and wrap-up are open to pre-credentialed media and also will be available on the agency's Web site.

Pre-credentialed media wishing to pre-position live trucks at the Visitor Complex should contact Andrea Farmer at 321-449-4318.

White House Defends NASA Plans

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The first is the development of a new "heavy lift rocket" that will be used to lift future deep-space craft and is supposed to "push the boundaries" of U.S. exploration in space with the ultimate goal of sending American astronauts to Mars.

The second is the re-structuring of the Orion crew capsule, with a simpler design focused on crew emergency escape from the international space station. Administration officials say this renovation will lay "the foundation for future exploration spacecraft."

The administration insists that this plan is actually going to create 2,500 more jobs in the Florida Space Coast by 2012 and 10,000 over the next decade. The new jobs will come from the development of the commercial space industry and a plan to modernize the Kennedy Space Center.

In addition, the administration says it will launch a $40 million multi-agency initiative to help the Space Coast transform its economy.

White House officials say the bulk of the job losses have been triggered by the decision by the previous Bush administration to cancel the shuttle program in 2004, and that the new jobs created will not replace all those lost shuttle jobs.

However, they say the new program will put the space program on a better trajectory, with more money for NASA, more jobs for the country, more innovation, more astronaut time in space, more rockets launching sooner and a fundamentally more ambitious and sustainable space program.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A look at Nasa's unmanned aircraft

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Nasa has successfully started flying unmanned aircraft to carry out environmental research.

The space agency has acquired three Global Hawk drones from the United States Air Force.

They're designed to fly at very high altitudes for extended periods of time.

Peter Bowes has been to see one the planes, in its hangar at Nasa's Dryden Flight Research Centre in California's Mojave Desert.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

President Obama Visits Kennedy Space Center on April 15

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A few details have finally emerged about Presidents Obama’s short visit to the Kennedy Space Center on April 15 to discuss his new plans for NASA as part of his 2011 NASA Budget Request to Congress. Obama’s visit to KSC will begin at 1:30 PM and end at 3:45 PM, when he departs for a longer visit to a political fundraiser. Check this story from the Miami Herald about the fundraiser.

In February 2010 President Obama announced the complete termination of Project Constellation including the Ares 1 and Ares 5 booster rockets and the Orion Manned Capsule. Project Constellation was proposed by President Bush in 2004 with a new vision to return humans to the moon by 2020 and then Mars thereafter.

Instead, Obama proposes to rely on commercial providers to develop ‘space taxis’ to ferry US astronauts to low earth orbit and the International Space Station. No one can say with any certainty when these vehicles will be available.

President Obama has not announced any specific plans, targets, destinations or timelines for NASA to replace those cancelled as part of Constellation. There are no current plans to develop a Heavy Lift booster. there are only funds for technology development.

There has been harsh criticism of the Presidents new plans for NASA from both Democrats and Republicans who see a loss of US Leadership in Space. Even Sen. Bill Nelson (D) of Florida says “President Obama made a mistake [cancelling Constellation]. Because that is the perception. That he killed the space program."

This visit was initially dubbed a “Space Summit” by the White House, but will now span barely 2 hours in length (including travel time between KSC venues) and apparently not involve significant interaction with or questions from the many thousands of space workers who are about to lose their jobs.

The format of the visit has also been changed from a sort of town hall meeting to a formal address by President Obama to a selected audience of about 200. His remarks will be followed by brief breakout sessions on a few space topics to implement the new directives given to NASA by the White House.

Here is a portion of the Statement from the White House dealing with the President’s Remarks:

THE WHITE HOUSE April 12, 2010

Office of Media Affairs MEDIA ADVISORY: M10-054

PRESIDENT OBAMA TO DELIVER REMARKS AT KENNEDY SPACE CENTER

WASHINGTON – On the afternoon of Thursday, April 15 President Barack Obama will visit Cape Canaveral, Florida and deliver remarks on the bold new course the Administration is charting for NASA and the future of U.S. leadership in human space flight.

Both the arrival and departure of Air Force One at the Shuttle Landing Facility and his remarks at the NASA Operations and Checkout Building are open to the media.

Air Force One Scheduled Arrival: 1:30 PM
Air Force One Scheduled Departure: 3:45 PM

President Obama Remarks at Kennedy Space Center
NASA Operations and Checkout Building

The opening session, including the President's remarks, and the closing session of the conference are open to pre-credentialed media. The breakout sessions in between will be closed press and streamed at http://www.nasa.gov/ntv.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Girl power aboard the International Space Station

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Though many of us did not notice, April 9, 2010 was a historic day for humankind.

When the shuttle Discovery docked with the International Space Station, three women, Naoko Yamazaki, Stephanie Wilson, and Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, were part of that seven person crew. Waiting onboard the ISS was Tracy Caldwell Dyson, who had launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 2. Out of the 13 people currently aboard the ISS, the four history-making women are a former schoolteacher, a chemist who once worked as an electrician, and two aerospace engineers. Three are from the United States and one from Japan. Collectively, they represent the largest number of women in orbit at one time in human spaceflight history.

All of this points out the undeniable fact that there are women who indeed excel in math and science, regardless of stereotypes. If they are encouraged to do so, one day they might make even more history.

Since Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova’s June 1963 flight aboard Vostok 6 gave her the distinction of becoming the first woman in space, there have been 54 women from the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and Great Britain that have followed in her footsteps.

Others followed to make history in their own right, like cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya did. She was not only the second woman launched into space in 1982, she was the first woman launched into space twice. On July 17, 1984 she became the first woman to perform a space walk.

In June 1983, Dr. Sally Ride became the first American woman launched into space. Dr. Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman in space in September 1992. She was quickly followed by Dr. Ellen Ochoa, the first Latina astronaut in space on April 1993.

Eileen Collins holds the distinction of not only being the first woman to pilot a space shuttle in February 1995 – in July 1999, she became the first woman to command a space shuttle mission.

Sadly, four American spacefaring women have died, their sacrifices performed right alongside the men.

S. Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space, and Judith Resnik perished in the January 1986 Challenger explosion shortly after its ill fated liftoff.

Dr. Kalpana Chawla and Dr. Laurel Clark died when the shuttle Columbia broke up over Texas during reentry on February 1, 2003

Even though the US space program faces an uncertain future with the end of the shuttle program, other nations, such as Japan, Russia and China, are gearing up their space exploration efforts. The ambitious Chinese space exploration plans include launching a female taikonaut into space.

With the increasingly long list of feminine spacefaring role models to look up to and the increasing importance of space exploration to humankind’s future, we can only hope that there will be more women from around the world reaching for the stars. We need them to. Our daughters in particular do.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Newfound Asteroid Will Fly Close by Earth Thursday

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A newly discovered asteroid will zip close by Earth Thursday, but poses no threat of crashing into our planet even though it is passing within the orbit of the moon.

The asteroid, called 2010 GA6, is a relatively small space rock about 71 feet (22 meters) wide and was discovered by astronomers with the Catalina Sky Survey in Tucson, Az. The space rock will fly within the orbit of the moon when it passes Earth Thursday at 7:06 p.m. EDT (2306 GMT), but NASA astronomers said not to worry...the planet is safe.

"Fly bys of near-Earth objects within the moon's orbit occur every few weeks," said Don Yeomans of NASA's Near-Earth Object Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in a statement.

At the time of its closest pass, asteroid 2010 GA6 will be about 223,000 miles (359,000 km) from the Earth. That's about nine-tenths the distance between Earth and the moon [more asteroid photos].

The space rock is not the first asteroid to swing close by Earth this year.

In January, the small asteroid 2010 AL30 passed within 80,000 miles (130,000 km) when it zipped by. Other space rocks have flown past Earth at more comfortable distances greater than several hundred thousand miles.

NASA routinely tracks asteroids and comets that may fly near the Earth with a network of telescopes on the ground and in space. The agency's Near-Earth Object Observations program, more commonly known as Spaceguard, is responsible for finding potentially dangerous asteroids and studying their orbits to determine if they pose a risk of hitting the Earth.NASA's latest space telescope, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) launched in December, has been given the task of hunting new asteroids that were previously undetectable because they shine only in the infrared range of the light spectrum.

So far, the WISE telescope has been discovering dozens of previously unknown asteroids every day. Some of those space rocks have been tagged for closer analysis since they may be potentially hazardous to Earth, WISE mission scientists have said.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

NASA Discovery Shuttle Docked At Space Station

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NASA's space shuttle Discovery has been successfully docked at the International Space Station early on Wednesday. However, the astronauts overcame a minor problem when an antenna broke down disconnecting the radar tracking.

Shuttle commander Alan Poindexter and his crew approached the orbiting outpost by relying on other navigation devices.

"You guys are looking beautiful," Japanese space station resident Soichi Noguchi spoke on the radio as the shuttle drew within 660 feet.

The two spacecrafts reached the target station on time.

This was for the second time in 10 years that the space shuttle had to dock with the space station without any radar.

The antenna breakdown incident will soon be analysed by the experts at the ground control station at Houston. Meanwhile, the shuttle crew was also going to use the station's equipment to send down the wing and nose images that were collected on Tuesday.

NASA will also scrutinize the detailed data in Discovery spacecraft in order to ensure no problem happens during its re-entry on April 18.

It is also said that the failure of Discovery's dish antenna prevented it in getting useful information during their first two days in orbit. The life of seven astronauts will also be in stake if necessary measures are not taken.

The orbiting crowd comprises of four women, three of whom arrived on Discovery. There are eight Americans, three Russians and two Japanese at the ISS.

On Thursday, the astronauts will unload the several tons of supplies, spare parts and science experiments to the main station. Then on Friday, there will be the first of the three spacewalks.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Space Shuttle Mission: STS-131

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Shuttle Crew Busy with Heat Shield Inspections and Docking Preps

Space shuttle Discovery’s seven-member crew will spend their first full day in space today conducting normal scans of their spacecraft, preparing spacesuits for use later in the mission and readying the shuttle to dock to the International Space Station early on Wednesday.

The day will focus on using the robotic arm and the Orbiter Boom Sensor System extension to inspect Discovery's thermal protection system tiles and reinforced carbon-carbon heat shielding on the shuttle’s wings and nose cap. Discovery's Ku-Band communications system, used to transmit and receive high data rate communications such as television, is not operating. As a result, video of the inspection will be recorded aboard Discovery and transmitted to the ground after the shuttle docks with the station. Typically the inspection video is simultaneously transmitted live to the ground and recorded aboard the shuttle for later review.

Taking turns maneuvering the robotic arm from Discovery’s aft flight deck for the inspections will be Commander Alan G. Poindexter, Pilot James P. Dutton Jr. and Mission Specialists Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Naoko Yamazaki.

Dutton and Metcalf-Lindenburger will be at the controls of the shuttle robotic arm tonight to unberth the Orbiter Boom Sensor System from the starboard sill. The inspection uses cameras and lasers at the end of the boom to provide 3-D views of the orbiter. The data will be reviewed by experts on the ground to ensure the heat protection system is in good condition.

While the inspection takes place from Discovery's flight deck, Mission Specialists Rick Mastracchio and Clayton Anderson will be on the shuttle's middeck to prepare the spacesuits they will wear for their three planned spacewalks.

The rest of the day will include a check of the rendezvous tools the crew will use during Wednesday’s approach to the station.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Discovery Rockets Toward Space Station

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The space shuttle Discovery is on its way to the International Space Station following a successful liftoff early Monday from Florida's Kennedy Space Center.

Discovery and its seven-member crew launched from Kennedy at 6:21 a.m. and are now in orbit above the Earth, NASA said.

The astronauts have a busy schedule in the days ahead. The 13-day mission, officially known as STS-131, will see the crew perform three spacewalks.

They'll also dock with the ISS to deliver the Leonardo multi-purpose logistics module containing science racks for use in the various labs throughout the station.

The module also contains new sleeping quarters and other supplies.

The astronauts will also collect a Japanese science experiment and switch out a gyro assembly on part of the station's truss structure, according to the space agency.

Discovery is commanded by U.S. Navy Captain Alan Poindexter, 48, of Rockville, MD. Three of the crewmembers—pilot Jim Dutton, mission specialist Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, and mission specialist Naoko Yamakazi of the Japanese Space Agency—are making their first flights into space.

Only three more shuttle flights remain before the vehicles are retired at the end of this year. Under a plan put forth by the Obama Administration, NASA will effectively outsource transportation of crew and supplies to the ISS to private launch contractors.

President Obama also called for the cancellation of the Constellation program, which would have seen astronauts return to the moon by 2020 in a new space vehicle made up of the Orion crew capsule and Ares rocket.

Critics, including senators in states where NASA is a major employer, have said Obama's plan will leave the U.S. trailing other countries in the space race.

Friday, April 2, 2010

NASA: Shuttle Discovery launch countdown begins

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The official countdown has begun for Monday's scheduled launch of NASA's space shuttle Discovery.

The shuttle craft is set to liftoff Monday at 6:21 a.m. EDT on from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. During its 13 days in space, Discovery's seven-member crew, including three women, will deliver some 17,000 pounds of supplies and equipment to the International Space Station.

"We're eager to get Discovery flying on Monday morning," NASA Test Director Steve Payne said today, adding that launch preparations are so far going as planned.

The shuttle is carrying new crew sleeping quarters for the space station's crew and science racks for the the its various laboratories.

Shuttle crew members are also slated to make three spacewalks, during which they will replace a gyroscope on the station's backbone, install a spare ammonia storage tank and retrieve a Japanese experiment from the station's exterior, according to NASA.

After this mission, NASA has scheduled three more shuttle flights before the shuttle fleet is retired.

NASA shuttle missions are now likely to continue through the first or second 2011 quarter, well beyond the initial September shutdown date, according to a report issued last week by NASA's Inspector General.

The Inspector General's report did add, though, that the agency is still working to meet the initial shutdown date.

Russian, US astronauts blast off to space station

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Two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut blasted off Friday for a resupply and restaffing mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Soyuz rocket lifted off on schedule from Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in the Kazakh steppe at 0404 GMT carrying US astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Mikhail Korniyenko.

A biting wind whipped in off the plains as the rocket rumbled into life, spitting out a massive plume of fire and smoke before lurching upwards and disappearing into a cloudless sky.

Friends and family members of the astronauts cheered as the announcement came over the loudspeakers that the rocket had successfully reached orbit at 0414 GMT.

"Just a wonderful launch. Great preparation by the ground team to get the rocket ready. Just a super way to start the mission," William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for space operations, told AFP after the launch.

The Soyuz crew's two Russian members, Skvortsov and Korniyenko, are taking their first trip to space after waiting more than 12 years to be picked. Korniyenko is set to turn 50 while on the ISS.

Caldwell Dyson is the crew's most experienced member. She flew to the ISS in 2007 on the US Space Shuttle Endeavour and spent 12 days in space.

The mission is one of the last launches by a Soyuz rocket to the ISS before the US space shuttle program is mothballed later this year, after which responsibility for travel to the station falls entirely on the Russian rockets.

The first shuttle launch in 1981, timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's historic first trip into space, is now seen as a defining moment of the Cold War space race.

Despite losing the shuttles Columbia and Challenger in a pair of disasters the programme was considered a resounding success and soon took on the lion's share of responsibility for transporting US astronauts.

A successor to the space shuttle is scheduled to take off no earlier than 2015.

Caldwell Dyson had called the upcoming trip "bitter-sweet" due to the imminent loss of the shuttle, but the mood early Friday morning ahead of the launch was one of excited anticipation.

Caldwell Dyson, who sings in a band with fellow NASA astronauts as a hobby, sang "The Road" by country crooner Garth Brooks from behind a thick pane of glass that protected the astronauts from air-borne germs.

The song, which moved several listeners to tears, was an appropriate choice, said Pamela Leora Spratlen, deputy head of mission for the United States embassy in Astana.

"It's about chasing your dreams, and not letting anything stop you," she told AFP as the astronauts departed the building just as dawn broke in a pale orange glow over Baikonur.

A throng of well-wishers shouting "Good luck!" in Russian surrounded the bus to the rocket as the astronauts climbed onboard, to which Skvortsov responded by pumping his fists high over his head in triumph.