Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Nasa dominates as rivals play catch-up

Engineers opened the hatch of the Mars 500 space capsule this week and six "cosmonauts" emerged from a simulated three-month interplanetary flight. Next year, the Russian and European space agencies will send another crew on a longer simulated mission to Mars and back, lasting a year and a half.

The cosmonauts - four from Russia and two from western Europe - live in isolation in a mock spacecraft outside Moscow, experiencing conditions as close as possible to a real flight. There is, for instance, a communication delay of up to 20 minutes each way, to reflect the time taken for radio signals to travel between Mars and Earth.

But the very fact that the two agencies are spending millions to assess the psychological and medical effects of interplanetary travel is a statement of long-term intent.

dreaming of mars
dreaming of mars

"I hope that the scientific data we have provided over the last two months will help to make a mission to Mars possible," said Oliver Knickel, a German army engineer, after emerging from the Mars 500 capsule.

No one is likely to go to Mars before the 2030s - and space agencies have little idea what type of spacecraft will be used or what type of international collaboration might support the mission.

The European Space Agency made a more immediate statement of intent this summer when it unveiled six new recruits to its astronaut corps - chosen from 8,400 valid applicants.

"These young men and women are the next generation of European space explorers," said Simonetta Di Pippo, Esa director of human spaceflight. "They have a fantastic career ahead, which will put them right at top of one of the ultimate challenges of our time: going back to the Moon and beyond as part of the global exploration efforts."

Even the Moon will have to wait, though. For the next few years the only destination for astronauts from Europe, or anywhere else, is the $100bn (Euro71bn, Pfund61bn) International Space Station, in orbit 340km (213miles) above the Earth. After its scheduled completion next year, the US will retire the Shuttle fleet and the world will depend on Russia's ever-reliable Soyuz craft for all travel to the ISS.

The space station has a crew of six, changed every three to six months. This summer, for the first time since its construction started in 1998, the staffing has been truly international, with two Russians, an American, a Japanese, a Canadian and a Belgian on board.

While Nasa plans to reintroduce a manned space system, based on Ares rockets and Orion crew vessels, soon after 2015, the prospect of Esa developing its own crew-carrying spacecraft remains uncertain. (Ariane, Europe's workhorse rocket, is proving an excellent launcher for commercial satellites and scientific probes.)

Esa recently signed a study contract with EADS Astrium to design an Advanced Re-entry Vehicle that would convey first goods and later astronauts to and from the ISS but the agency's 18 member states are not committed to building the ARV.

Asian ambitions

Asia, however, has the world's fastest-moving space programmes - with China racing ahead of its regional neighbours. In 2003 China became the third country after the US and Russia to have an independent manned space system and last year it sent three taikonauts - based on the Chinese word taikong, meaning space - into orbit.

Although official Chinese pronouncements about the country's space ambitions can be opaque, observers say it is aiming both to have its own orbiting space laboratory - a miniature version of the ISS - and to land taikonauts on the moon by 2020. An unmanned lunar rover could be launched as soon as 2012.

India has an enviable record for launching satellites, particularly for "remote sensing" of the environment on Earth. Last October the first Indian Moon mission put Chandrayaan-1 into lunar orbit, where it remains today, making scientific observations. India, too, has ambitions to develop a manned programme, though it has made no commitments about timing.

Japan outspends its Asian neighbours on space. But its homegrown rockets have proved surprisingly unreliable over the years and the country shows little sign of wanting to build its own manned spacecraft. Instead, it has concentrated on scientific missions and on contributing to the ISS.

The current Shuttle mission, launched on Wednesday night, aims to finish assembling the bus-sized Japanese Kibo research complex by installing a 4,000kg "porch" to be used for experiments needing exposure to space. Kibo is the largest single laboratory within the ISS.

However, the fact remains that, 40 years after the triumph of Apollo 11, Nasa still has more financial and technological resources than the rest of the world's space agencies put together.

Building block of life found on comet

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The amino acid glycine, a fundamental building block of proteins, has been found in a comet for the first time, bolstering the theory that raw ingredients of life arrived on Earth from outer space, scientists said on Monday.

Microscopic traces of glycine were discovered in a sample of particles retrieved from the tail of comet Wild 2 by the NASA spacecraft Stardust deep in the solar system some 242 million miles (390 million km) from Earth, in January 2004.

Samples of gas and dust collected on a small dish lined with a super-fluffy material called aerogel were returned to Earth two years later in a canister that detached from the spacecraft and landed by parachute in the Utah desert.

Comets like Wild 2, named for astronomer Paul Wild (pronounced Vild), are believed to contain well-preserved grains of material dating from the dawn of the solar system billions of years ago, and thus clues to the formation of the sun and planets.

The initial detection of glycine, the most common of 20 amino acids in proteins on Earth, was reported last year, but it took time for scientists to confirm that the compound in question was extraterrestrial in origin.

"We couldn't be sure it wasn't from the manufacturing or the handling of the spacecraft," said astrobiologist Jamie Elsila of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the principal author of the latest research.

She presented the findings, accepted for publication in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science, to a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C., this week.

"We've seen amino acids in meteorites before, but this is the first time it's been detected in a comet," she said.

Chains of amino acids are strung together to form protein molecules in everything from hair to the enzymes that regulate chemical reactions inside living organisms. But scientists have long puzzled over whether these complex organic compounds originated on Earth or in space.

The latest findings add credence to the notion that extraterrestrial objects such as meteorites and comets may have seeded ancient Earth, and other planets, with the raw materials of life that formed elsewhere in the cosmos.

"The discovery of glycine in a comet supports the idea that the fundamental building blocks of life are prevalent in space, and strengthens the argument that life in the universe may be common rather than rare," said Carl Pilcher, the director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute in California, which co-funded the research.

Glycine and other amino acids have been found in a number of meteorites before, most notably one that landed near the town of Murchison, Australia in 1969, Elsila said.

(Editing by Anthony Boadle)

Groundwater Levels In North India Declining Alarmingly – NASA

A NASA study has found that data have found that groundwater levels in northern India have been declining at an alarming rate, by as much as one foot per year over the last decade.

Beneath northern India’s irrigated fields of wheat, rice, and barley ... beneath its densely populated cities of Jaiphur and New Delhi, the groundwater has been disappearing, said the US space agency in a statement.

Where is northern India’s underground water supply going? According to Matt Rodell and colleagues, it is being pumped and consumed by human activities -- principally to irrigate cropland -- faster than the aquifers can be replenished by natural processes. They based their conclusions -- published in the August 20 issue of Nature -- on observations from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE).

The GRACE is a satellite system launched in 2002 by NASA and the German Aerospace Center and allows scientists to estimate changes in groundwater storage by measuring tiny variations in the Earth's gravitational pull.

"We don’t know the absolute volume of water in the Northern Indian aquifers, but GRACE provides strong evidence that current rates of water extraction are not sustainable," said Rodell. "The region has become dependent on irrigation to maximize agricultural productivity, so we could be looking at more than a water crisis."

The loss is particularly alarming because it occurred when there were no unusual trends in rainfall. In fact, rainfall was slightly above normal for the period.

The researchers examined data and models of soil moisture, lake and reservoir storage, vegetation and glaciers in the nearby Himalayas, in order to confirm that the apparent groundwater trend was real. Nothing unusual showed up in the natural environment.

The only influence they couldn’t rule out was human.

"If measures are not taken to ensure sustainable groundwater usage, consequences for the 114 million residents of the region may include a collapse of agricultural output and severe shortages of potable water," said Rodell, who is based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Groundwater comes from the natural percolation of precipitation and other surface waters down through Earth’s soil and rock, accumulating in aquifers -- cavities and layers of porous rock, gravel, sand, or clay. In some of these subterranean reservoirs, the water may be thousands to millions of years old; in others, water levels decline and rise again naturally each year.

Groundwater levels do not respond to changes in weather as rapidly as lakes, streams, and rivers do. So when groundwater is pumped for irrigation or other uses, recharge to the original levels can take months or years.
With previous research in the United States having proven the accuracy of GRACE in detecting groundwater, Rodell and colleagues Isabella Velicogna, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of California-Irvine, and James Famiglietti, of UC-Irvine, were looking for a region where they could apply the new technique.

"Using GRACE satellite observations, we can observe and monitor water changes in critical areas of the world, from one month to the next, without leaving our desks," said Velicogna. "These satellites provide a window to underground water storage changes."

The northern Indian states of Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana have all of the ingredients for groundwater depletion: staggering population growth, rapid economic development and water-hungry farms, which account for about 95 percent of groundwater use in the region.

Data provided by India's Ministry of Water Resources suggested groundwater use was exceeding natural replenishment, but the regional rate of depletion was unknown. Rodell and colleagues had their case study. The team analyzed six years of monthly GRACE gravity data for northern India to produce a time series of water storage changes beneath the region’s land surface.

They found that groundwater levels have been declining by an average of one meter every three years (one foot per year). More than 109 cubic km (26 cubic miles) of groundwater disappeared between 2002 and 2008 -- double the capacity of India's largest surface water reservoir, the Upper Wainganga, and triple that of Lake Mead, the largest man-made reservoir in the United States.

"At its core, this dilemma is an age-old cycle of human need and activity -- particularly the need for irrigation to produce food," said Bridget Scanlon, a hydrologist at the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas in Austin. "That cycle is now overwhelming fresh water reserves all over the world. Even one region’s water problem has implications beyond its borders."

"For the first time, we can observe water use on land with no additional ground-based data collection," Famiglietti said. "This is critical because in many developing countries, where hydrological data are both sparse and hard to access, space-based methods provide perhaps the only opportunity to assess changes in fresh water availability across large regions."

Another recent study based on GRACE data, using results from a 1,200-mile swath across eastern Pakistan, northern India and into Bangladesh, showed about 1.9 million cubic feet of groundwater lost per year.

"This is probably the largest rate of groundwater loss in any comparable-sized region on Earth," that study said.

Groundwater vanishing in North India, says NASA

Staff Reporter

BANGALORE: Groundwater levels in Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi are falling dramatically — by one foot a year — a trend that could lead to “extensive socio-economic stresses” for the region’s 114 million residents, says a scientific paper based on the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s satellite imagery.

A staggering 109 cubic km of groundwater has been lost in just six years (2002-08) — a figure twice the capacity of India’s largest surface reservoir Upper Wainganga and “much more” than the government’s estimation, says the paper published in the latest issue of international journal Nature.

The depletion is caused entirely by human activity such as irrigation, and not natural climatic variability, concludes the study co-authored by Matthew Rodell, a hydrologist with NASA. Groundwater is being pumped out faster than it is being replenished.

The finding is based on images from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), a pair of satellites that sense changes in Earth’s gravity field and associated mass distribution, including water masses stored above or below the Earth’s surface.

Between August 2002 and October 2008, the region lost 109 cubic km of groundwater, almost triple the capacity of the largest man-made reservoir in the U.S., Lake Mead. If measures are not taken to ensure sustainable groundwater use, consequences may include collapse of agricultural output and severe shortages of potable water, said Professor Rodell.

Depletion is likely to continue until effective measures are taken to curb groundwater demand which could propel severe shortages of potable water, reduced agricultural productivity, conflict and suffering, the research paper added. Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and Delhi are semi-arid or arid. The region has benefited from the Green Revolution “fuelled largely by increased production of groundwater for irrigation.”

Saturday, August 8, 2009

nasa latest images 2

nasa today images 1

Mockup of NASA Orion spacecraft coming to Tallahassee

A full-scale mockup of NASA’s Orion crew exploration vehicle is coming to the Challenger Learning Center on Monday as it travels from the Kennedy Space Center to the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The Orion is part of NASA’s Constellation Program, which is developing America’s next-generation human spacecraft, said Jessie Riley Eason, a spokeswoman for the Challenger Center.

It will be at the Challenger Center bus ramp at College Avenue and Duval Street noon-3 p.m.

The mockup is used in tests to study the environment for astronauts and recovery crews after splashdown.

NASA system warns of turbulence ahead

A new $2 million warning system funded by NASA could help pilots avert rough patches, easing passenger jitters and dodging the type of hard knocks that hit a Boeing 767 jet Monday and injured 28 people.

Such "clear-air" turbulence lurks without clouds, any warning or a storm in sight. It can cause upheavals in flight attendants with the strongest of intestinal fortitudes and rattle even the grittiest of pilots, not to mention passengers.

Flight instructor Scott Haun knows those knocks well.

"Even a drop of 15 to 20 feet is substantial if you're not belted in," said Haun, owner and chief flight instructor for Voyager Aviation at Merritt Island Airport. "It's sort of like going off-roading in your car without a seatbelt."

In two years, pilots will have new tools, aided by artificial intelligence, to allow them to better tell when the ride is about to get bumpy.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research is developing a prototype system to provide pilots with real-time updates about severe storms and turbulence in remote ocean regions. The prototype system spots turbulence in clear air as well as within storms and is on track for testing next year.

It will guide pilots away from severe weather, such as the thunderstorms suspected of bringing down Air France Flight 447 into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1 and the turbulence Monday that shook the Continental flight north of the Dominican Republic.

All 216 passengers and 12 crewmembers died when the Air France Airbus went down.

Passengers' heads slammed into the 767's luggage bins Monday when the Continental flight hit severe turbulence halfway between Puerto Rico and Grand Turk island. The flight was en route to Houston from Brazil, a hotbed corridor for tropical summer turbulence.
Turbulence maps

Both incidences might have been averted through the NCAR system, which is being developed with $2 million from NASA.

"This has certainly lit a fire under us to take a closer look at turbulence in that area," said John Williams, project scientist at NCAR in Boulder, Colo.

The system could be made available to pilots through private weather vendors, or airlines could use it directly, he said.

It combines satellite data and computer weather models with artificial intelligence methods to identify and predict rapidly changing storms and other potential turbulence.

When finalized in about two years, the system could provide pilots and ground-based controllers with text-based maps and graphical displays that show regions of likely turbulence and storms. They'll provide up-to-the-minute maps of turbulence.

During the summer season, the tropics are among the worst turbulence areas in the world, as thunderstorms form and move quickly, rendering pilot briefings and weather updates useless.
Tracking air

Pilots say they have little to go by when it comes to clear-air turbulence.

They alert each other. But typically, weather satellites are the only source of turbulence information to guide them over remote regions of the Atlantic. Satellites usually provide images less frequently over water than land, making it tough to capture fast-changing conditions.

Clear-air turbulence "is like a sideways tornado," said Joe Hurston of Titusville, who has flown on humanitarian missions through the same area that the Continental jet did. "It is probably the most deadly of all because there's no indication."

Pilots of transoceanic flights get preflight briefings and in-flight weather updates every four hours during strong storms. They have onboard radar. But that only reflects off dust and water droplets, not moving air. And there's less dust at high altitudes.

Turbulence also is often far from the most intense rain.

The NCAR system uses an artificial intelligence technique, known as "random forests," to provide short-term turbulence forecasts. The technique, used to forecast thunderstorms over land, employs "decision trees." Each tree casts a yes or no "vote" on crucial storm elements at future points in time and space, allowing scientists to forecast storm strength and movement over the next few hours.
Scary times

Better turbulence warnings might ease those foreboding thoughts among frequent fliers whose stomachs sink as fast as the plane's altitude.

Jody Pollard's did about five years ago, when the 37-year-old Rockledge woman was flying from Orlando to Atlanta. Midway through the flight, the plane hit heavy turbulence.

"I just remember clutching the armrest, but it only lasted maybe a minute," Pollard said.

Henry Barnes, 69, of Melbourne flew about once a month during his 20-year career as a furniture salesman. He endured some turbulent times, but he had little choice but to continue flying because of his work schedule.

"There were quite a few times I was nervous up there, but we were always fine in the end," he said.

FLORIDA TODAY staff writer Michelle Spitzer contributed to this report.

Contact Waymer at 242-3663 or jwaymer@floridatoday.com.

In Quest for Efficiency and Conservation,

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., has sent spacecraft to the farthest reaches of the solar system. Its latest mission is a bit closer to home: helping Los Angeles save water and energy while cutting the sprawling metropolis’s greenhouse gas emissions.

As part of a partnership with the city of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the propulsion lab will repurpose technology developed to explore the cosmos and monitor Earth’s environment.

“We have people trying to understand what challenges the Los Angeles basin is facing and how some of these technologies and missions being developed by NASA can be relevant,” said Charles Elachi, the director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in an interview Tuesday.

Foremost among those challenges is water.

The Los Angeles basin is essentially a desert and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s 3.8 million customers depend on water piped in from the Sierra Nevada, the Owens Valley and the Colorado River. Mr. Elachi said the propulsion lab is investigating the development of satellite imaging technology that could be deployed to predict the depth of the Sierra snowpack up to a year in advance.

“Instead of people walking around and measuring the snowpack with sticks as they do now, if you could measure it from space and know ahead of time you have limited water resources you could better manage that resource,” Mr. Elachi said. The technology could also be used to monitor water levels in aquifers, he said.

To control dust storms on Owens Lake, left dry by Los Angeles’s diversion of water from the Owens River in 1913, the city is building a system to flood 14 square miles of the lake bed with a shallow sheet of water. That will consume significant amounts of water. so the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is exploring the use of remote sensing technology to determine the moisture content of the lakebed, as a way of avoiding wasted water.

The Los Angeles Department of Power and Water depends on out-of-state coal-fired power plants for half of its electricity. The city has pledged to wean itself from coal by 2020, in part, by dramatically increasing its supply of renewable energy.

The Jet Propulsion Lab could use its satellite-imaging technology to identify rooftops suitable for solar panels and to calculate Los Angeles’s capacity for generating photovoltaic energy, according to Mr. Elachi.

“The whole idea is that a lot of technology has been developed for space and airborne activity, he said, “and now we’re looking at how do we bring that technology to energy, water and natural hazards and incorporate it into the city’s decision making.”

Los Angeles isn’t the only beneficiary of NASA’s earthbound focus: Mr. Elachi said Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists have been meeting with state officials about using sensor technology to keep tabs on the Sacramento Delta’s weakening levees.

“We think from space or from aircraft we can measure displacement down to a fraction of an inch,” Mr. Elachi said, “to see which areas are actually moving slowly over a period of years.”

Nasa telescope passes planet test

The planet orbits very close to its parent star

A Nasa space observatory launched in March this year has observed a planet circling another star.

In a test of its capability, the orbiting Kepler telescope detected the planet's atmosphere.

Kepler will survey our region of the Milky Way for Earth-sized planets which might be capable of supporting life.

The telescopes first findings are based on 10 days of data collected before the start of official science operations.

The results have been published in the journal Science.

The observations are of a planet called HAT-P-7, known to transit a star located about 1,000 light-years from Earth.

This distant world orbits its star in just 2.2 days and is 26 times closer than Earth is to the Sun.

The light curve from the planet reveals that its atmosphere has a day-side temperature of about 2,377C (4,310F).

"This early result shows the Kepler detection system is performing right on the mark," said David Koch, deputy principal investigator of Nasa's Ames Research Center in California.

NASA Narrows Options for Post-Shuttle Future

WASHINGTON — Where to in space? A blue-ribbon panel charged by the Obama administration to review the United States’ human spaceflight program has narrowed the options to seven.

In three meetings last week, subcommittees of the panel presented possibilities for space flight after NASA retires its space shuttles, coming up with 864 permutations, said Edward F. Crawley, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a panel member.

“All we have to do is get it down to three by next week,” Dr. Crawley said Wednesday, drawing laughter at a meeting at the Carnegie Institution.

“That’s not a joke,” he added.

Three of the options under consideration will stay within the reduced budgets the administration is proposing for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration over the next decade. One essentially continues the current program of returning astronauts to the Moon — developed by the Bush administration after the loss of the shuttle Columbia in 2003 — but gives up on the goal of getting there by 2020.

A second extends the International Space Station beyond its planned demise in 2015 to at least 2020, but pushes lunar exploration even further into the future. The third makes a priority of sending astronauts out of low-Earth orbit for the first time since the Apollo program ended more than three decades ago.

This last option would dispose of the space station as scheduled in 2015 and eliminate the Ares I rocket that NASA has been designing to take astronauts into orbit. Instead, the agency’s limited money would be diverted toward developing a larger Ares V rocket, powerful enough to travel to the Moon. But to save money, landing there would be pushed off into the unspecified future.

The other four options are not constrained by budget limits, but Norman R. Augustine, the former chief executive of Lockheed Martin who leads the panel, said he did not want to present any options to the administration that would be “dead on arrival” because of an exorbitant price tag.

One of the four expands the “dash out of low-Earth orbit” option to a wider exploration of deep space, to a near-Earth asteroid and perhaps the moons of Mars, while still forgoing landings. Another continues the current program but replaces a permanent lunar outpost with stays at different parts of the Moon.

A third eliminates the Ares I and Ares V for a rocket more directly adapted from the current shuttles, replacing the orbiter with a disposable cargo container. With this option, it might be economically feasible to postpone the planned retirement of the shuttles in 2010 and narrow the gap when the space agency has no means of its own to send astronauts into space.

The final option is for NASA to aim directly for Mars and develop technology specifically toward that goal. The agency might still make a visit to an asteroid or the Moon to test the Mars hardware, but those destinations would otherwise be bypassed.

The panel will put together estimates of cost and a schedule for each option by its final meeting on Wednesday. The panel of 10, which includes former astronauts, academics and industry executives, is to produce its final report at the end of the month.

In presentations to the panel Wednesday, John Marburger, President George W. Bush’s science adviser, said he favored developing the underlying technologies for space exploration without specific target dates for reaching the Moon or Mars, to allow flexibility in managing fluctuating budgets and priorities.

Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society, which supports exploration of Mars, argued that NASA had been successful only when it was given a specific target and deadline. Without a specific goal, Mr. Zubrin said, the agency’s programs have become a less effective hodgepodge.

NASA Eyes Category 4 Hurricane Felicia And A Stubborn Enrique

Felicia is the storm that rules the Eastern Pacific Ocean this week, but Enrique refuses to give up. Felicia is a major hurricane with sustained winds near 140 mph, and Enrique is still hanging onto tropical storm status with 50 mph sustained winds. Both cyclones are close to each other and two NASA satellites captured them together.

On August 6 at 5 a.m. EDT, powerful Felicia is still a category four hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale. She's far out to sea, about 1,480 miles west-southwest of the southern tip of Baja California near 15.5 north and 131.2 west. She's moving west-northwest near 10 mph, and is expected to speed up and start to weaken in the next couple of days because of colder waters in her path. Felicia's minimum central pressure is 937 millibars.

Boys can be stubborn, and Enrique is proving that, even though he's a tropical storm with a boy's name. Despite Enrique's close proximity to Felicia, he's maintaining sustained winds near 50 mph. At 5 a.m. EDT, Enrique's center was 345 miles behind Felicia's, near 20.7 north and 125.9 west. He's speeding northwest near 17 mph into cooler waters which is going to weaken him over the next day or two. Enrique's minimum central pressure is 1,000 millibars, much higher than Felicia's indicating a much weaker storm. The higher the atmospheric pressure the weaker the tropical cyclone.

NASA's Terra satellite flew over Felicia and Enrique and using the Moderate Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument captured them side-by-side on August 5 at 3 p.m. EDT. The satellite image clearly showed an eye in powerful Hurricane Felicia, while Tropical Storm Enrique's eye was not clear.

Terra wasn't the only satellite to capture Felicia and Enrique battling it out for territory in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. NASA's Aqua satellite also flew overhead and its Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument captured the frigid cloud temperatures in both storms. Felicia's clouds are colder and higher than Enrique's clouds, because stronger hurricanes have higher (and more powerful) thunderstorms.

Using AIRS and other infrared imagery to determine cloud temperature, the National Hurricane Center noted in their discussion on August 6, that Felicia's "eye has been warming and has become more well-defined over the past few hours but at the same time the cold cloud tops around the eye have also been warming." That's an indication that Felicia will start waning in strength.

Building Design and Construction

NASA's sustainability base building at Ames Research Center in Sunnyvale, Calif.

NASA is set to break ground on what the agency expects to be the highest performing building in the federal government's portfolio. Named Sustainability Base, the new building at Ames Research Center in Sunnyvale, Calif., will be a showplace for sustainable technologies, featuring "NASA Inside" through the incorporation of some of the agency’s most advanced recycling and intelligent controls technologies originally developed to support NASA’s human and robotic space exploration missions. In this 40th anniversary year of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon and humanity’s first historic steps onto the surface of another world, NASA has chosen the name Sustainability Base as an homage to the original "Tranquility Base" and the brave astronauts and other men and women of NASA who accomplished what is generally regarded to be the defining event of the 20th century.

Sustainability Base is a NASA Ames project to create a supportive and nurturing workspace for employees. The project includes a high-performance building that will be a proof-of-concept of what can be accomplished today, as well as a living experimental platform, designed to incorporate new, energy-efficient technologies as they evolve.

The building will be highly intelligent, even intuitive, and will be designed to anticipate and react to changes in sunlight, temperature, wind, and usage and will be able to optimize its performance automatically, in real time, in response to internal and external change.

Goals for the project include:

Zero net energy consumption for the building
Rreduce potable water consumption by more than 90% when compared to an equivalent size building of conventional design
Significantly reduce building maintenance costs when compared to an equivalent size building of conventional design.

More information on the project and a video about the project can be found here.

NASA steps closer to nuclear power for moon base

NASA has made a series of critical strides in developing new nuclear reactors the size of a trash can that could power a human outpost on the moon or Mars.

Three recent tests at different NASA centers and a national lab have successfully demonstrated key technologies required for compact fission-based nuclear power plants for human settlements on other worlds.

“This recent string of technology development successes confirms that the fission surface power project is on the right path,” said Don Palac, NASA's fission surface power project manager at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, in a statement.

NASA's current plan for human space exploration is to return astronauts to the moon by 2020 on sortie missions that could lead to a permanent outpost for exploring the lunar surface and testing technologies that could aid a manned mission to Mars.

The space agency has been studying the feasibility of using nuclear fission power plants to support future moon bases. Engineers performed tests in recent weeks as part of a joint effort by NASA and the Department of Energy.

Nuclear fission power plants work by splitting the nuclei of atoms in a sustainable, controllable reaction that releases heat, which can then be funneled through a power converter to transfer that energy into usable electricity.

A small fission-based nuclear reactor coupled with a Sterling engine could provide up to 40 kilowatts of usable energy, enough to support a moon base or Mars outpost, project scientists said. That's about the same amount of power needed to supply eight houses on Earth, NASA officials have said.

In one of the recent tests, Palac's team subjected a lightweight radiator panel prototype to the vacuum conditions it would experience in space, as well as extreme cold (minus 125 degrees Celsius, or about minus 193 degrees Fahrenheit). The radiator is about 6 feet wide and 9 feet long, and one of 20 that would be required to keep a lunar fission reactor cool, project officials said.

For comparison, the four giant solar arrays on the International Space Station can generate up to 120 kilowatts of usable power - about the equivalent to support 42 average-sized homes. They extend from a main truss as long as football field and make the space station easily visible at night on Earth to the unaided human eye.

A second fission power milestone included pumping molten liquid metal through a Sterling engine, an engine driven by heat, to simulate how heat from a nuclear reactor could be shunted to a converter to generate power. The test was carried out at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The third test bombarded a Stirling engine alternator with radiation, up to 20 times the cumulative dose allowed for today's fission power plants on Earth, to see how it would hold up. It passed with flying colors, NASA officials said. Engineers performed the 26-hour endurance test at the Sandia National Laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M.

“The pace of progress exhibited by these three achievements in the same time period is exciting,” said Lee Mason, NASA's principal investigator for fission surface power at the Glenn Research Center. “It has built the team's confidence and prepared them for challenges that lay ahead.”

The next step for NASA's fission power project is to combine its radiator, engine and alternator successes into a single non-nuclear power plant demonstration. That test is slated to begin in 2012, NASA officials said.

(Source: SPACE.CO)

Jury takes up NASA ethics case

WASHINGTON — The case of a former top NASA official, accused of enriching himself and helping a consulting client get $9.6 million in grants, was headed to the jury Thursday.

Courtney Stadd, NASA's former chief of staff and White House liaison, "owed the public and taxpayers his undivided loyalty, but he betrayed that loyalty to line his and his client's pockets," said prosecutor Matthew Solomon in closing arguments.

Defense attorney Dorrance Dickens said Stadd was following his boss' orders on where to send the grant money.

The federal court jury was to began afternoon deliberations in the case of Stadd, accused of breaking ethics laws and lying about it.

Stadd had left NASA in 2003 and started a consulting business, but he returned in 2005 as the agency's interim No. 3 official.

He declined an offer from Mike Griffin, who had just taken over as NASA administrator, to be considered for a permanent position as his deputy. Stadd said he had two daughters to put through college, so he wanted to continue the more lucrative consulting work. But he worked for Griffin for two months to help bring new leadership to the agency, which at the time was still reeling over the Columbia space shuttle disaster and trying to implement President George W. Bush's new space agenda.

Stadd steered $12 million in agency funds for earth science research to the state of Mississippi, and most ended up with one of his clients, Mississippi State University.

Dickens said Stadd directed the money toward Mississippi because Griffin told him to, and that regardless, the state itself wasn't his client. "MSU and Mississippi aren't the same thing," Dickens said. "He didn't think he had a conflict."

Stadd, who lives in Bethesda, Md., faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

Monday, August 3, 2009

space search in new plant

mew plant images

STS-127 Crew Celebrates Smooth Landing Aboard Endeavour

Sat, 01 Aug 2009 01:12:43 AM GMT+0530

Space shuttle Endeavour and a crew of seven astronauts touched down at 10:48 a.m. EDT at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, bringing an end to a complex mission to install the final section of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kibo laboratory on the International Space Station. All of the STS-127 crew members are doing well after today's landing.

"The folks that have worked this mission really deserve a lot of praise for what they got accomplished during the time that we were docked to the International Space Station," STS-127 Commander Mark Polansky said during an afternoon news conference Friday. "In addition to that, it's a tremendous pleasure and honor to bring back a great astronaut from Japan, Koichi Wakata."

Wakata returned from the station as a member of the STS-127 crew after serving as the outpost's flight engineer since March. Replacing him aboard the station is Flight Engineer Tim Kopra. When asked how he is handling the return to Earth, Wakata replied, "When the hatch opened, I smelled the grass from the ground and was glad to be back home. Still feeling a little shaky when I walk, but I'm feeling very good."

The 16-day mission showcased the international partnerships involved in the space station effort. Astronauts from five space agencies were on board the orbiting complex.

"It was truly an impressive demonstration of international collaboration all throughout this mission," said Canadian Space Agency Director General of Operations Benoit Marcotte.

The astronauts' return to Houston's Ellington Field is tentatively set for about 5 p.m. Saturday.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

NASA latest news - Water in Mars

NASA finds more evidence about water in Mars. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recently has sent back data showing fractures in the surface that are called water's footprints. It has spied hundreds of small fractures on the surface of the Red Planet. Scientists believe that billions of years ago, those fractures directed water flows through underground sandstone. Scientist believe that this is one more piece of evidence that water used to flow across the surface of our neighboring planet years back.

"These structures are important sites for future exploration and investigations into the geological history of water and water-related processes on Mars," said Chris Okubo, a planetary scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Ariz. "Groundwater often flows along fractures such as these, and knowing that these are deformation bands helps us understand how the underground plumbing may have worked within these layered deposits."

In July, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory reported that its scientists had concluded that Mars was once awash in water. The orbiter sent back information showing that water was on Mars as far back as 4.6 billion to 3.8 billion years ago. NASA has the Reconnaissance Orbiter, two ground rovers and the Mars Lander all searching the planet for elements on Mars that could support life. The JPL noted that the period corresponds to the earliest years of the solar system. And the wet conditions were evident for thousands to millions of years after the waters formed clay, which later was buried by volcanic lavas.

NASA said in July that the scientists also found evidence of a system of river channels that flowed into a crater lake slightly larger than Lake Tahoe in California. This latest evidence of water shows not only surface erosion, but also groundwater effects that are widely distributed across the planet, according to NASA. "Groundwater movement has important implications for how the temperature and chemistry of the crust have changed over time, which in turn affects the potential for habitats for past life," said Suzanne Smrekar, deputy project scientist for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, in a statement.

Ave Kludze: Ghana's rocket man

(CNN) -- He was not able to fulfill his childhood dream of being a pilot, but Ghanaian scientist Dr. Ave Kludze has arguably gone one better: developing and flying spacecrafts for NASA.
The moon, Mars and beyond: All are in the sights of Dr. Ave Kludze.

The moon, Mars and beyond: All are in the sights of Dr. Ave Kludze.

The 43-year-old didn't enter orbit when controlling a NASA rocket to launch the Calipso environmental satellite in 2006, instead piloting it from the control center on the ground.

Nevertheless from growing up in Ghana to being an astronautical engineer and strategist for NASA, he has had a similarly stratospheric rise to the top.

Growing up in Accra, Kludze was fascinated by science and how things worked.

"I was a very curious kid and I always questioned lots of things, and most of my friends I grew up with, they knew that. And my parents, they were a little bit concerned because sometimes I would take apart a lot of things they would not want me to touch," he told CNN.
Show times
Watch the show on CNN on Saturday, August 8, 12.30, 21.30 GMT and Sunday, August 9, 18.00 GMT.

When he realized he could not become a pilot because of his eyesight he channeled his energies into studying engineering, moving to the U.S. to complete a course in electrical engineering at Rutgers University. On graduating Kludze initially planned to return to Ghana to develop solar technologies, but then NASA came calling in 1995.

"I never did dream of working for NASA. I admired what they did, but it never did cross my mind. I did not see how a kid like me could work for NASA," he said.

He commanded his first spacecraft from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and has gone on to develop an extra-vehicular infra-red camera as well as other projects for the space agency.

While he didn't return to Ghana as he originally planned, he still believes that his work -- and NASA's -- has had some benefits to his native country and more down-to-earth lives.
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"Well, NASA has done a lot for Africans. Maybe Africans they no know that. They have cell phones, glasses, anti-scratch and all those things. We have portable water system that NASA has developed for Africa. They're using it," he said.

"And one thing people often forget, NASA doesn't only develop space technology, we also develop aeronautical technology. So when the planes they fly and other flying objects, NASA's technology has been involved in that."

Kludze is also keen to pass on the message that for young Africans, the sky is the limit in terms of what they do with their lives.

"I've learned that being given the freedom to think and think openly helps bring in new ideas. So in community, like in an African communities, I think younger generations and both the old and the young should freely share ideas and break those old barriers.

"So I believe that with some determination and some hard work most of the younger generation can get whatever they want to. They can even go into space, they can do anything."

UK: Pentagon hacker should serve any jail time in Britain

LONDON, England (CNN) -- The British government will push for a computer hacker who broke into Pentagon and NASA computers to serve his jail time in the United Kingdom if a United States court sentences him to jail, a top politician said Sunday.
Briton Gary McKinnon is accused of carrying out the biggest ever U.S. military hacking operation.

Briton Gary McKinnon is accused of carrying out the biggest ever U.S. military hacking operation.

"We'll seek for him to serve any prison sentence, if he is sentenced to prison, back in this country," said Harriet Harman, the deputy leader of Britain's governing Labour Party.

Hacker Gary McKinnon, a British citizen, has admitted breaking the law and intentionally gaining unauthorized access to U.S. government computers.

The U.S. wants him extradited to face trial there, while he has been fighting to be tried in Britain.

He bases his case partly on the fact that he has Asperger syndrome, a type of autism.

He lost an appeal at the High Court on Friday, bringing him a step closer to extradition.

The case has sparked widespread anger in Britain from people who think he should not be sent abroad for trial.

But Harman said Sunday the legal system was working as it should.

"The director of public prosecutions says because the witness are in America, because the damage that was alleged to have been done was in America, because the evidence is in America, that is the appropriate place to put him on trial," she said on the BBC's "Andrew Marr Show."
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She said Washington had promised the British government McKinnon would be properly cared for.

"There certainly have been assurances sought and given that ... if and when he is taken over to America, his health needs will be attended to," Harman said.

She said it was right that the government not intervene.

"It shouldn't be politicians who make judgments about the criminal justice system," said Harman, a former human-rights lawyer. "We don't find people guilty or not guilty. That's not the job of ministers."

McKinnon's mother, Janis Sharp, promised to appeal Friday's decision to Britain's new Supreme Court, which will come into existence in the fall.

The U.S. government says McKinnon carried out the biggest military computer hacking of all time, accessing 97 computers from his home in London for a year starting in March 2001, and costing the government about $1 million.

McKinnon, currently free on bail in England, has said he was simply doing research to find out whether the U.S. government was covering up the existence of UFOs.

McKinnon's lawyer, Karen Todner, complained that her client would be extradited according to a treaty intended for terrorists.

"Why aren't they stopping the extradition of a man who is clearly vulnerable and who on the accepted evidence suffers from Asperger's?" she said in a statement. "Gary is clearly someone who is not equipped to deal with the American penal system and there is clear evidence that he will suffer a severe mental breakdown if extradited."

U.S. federal prosecutors accuse McKinnon of breaking into military, NASA and civilian networks, and accessing computers at the Pentagon; Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Meade, Maryland; the Earle Naval Weapons Station in Colts Neck, New Jersey; and the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, among others.

In one instance, McKinnon allegedly crashed computers belonging to the Military District of Washington.

McKinnon is thought to have acted alone, with no known connection to any terrorist organization, said Paul McNulty, the former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

A U.S. federal grand jury indicted McKinnon on seven counts of computer fraud and related activity. If convicted, he would face a maximum of 10 years in prison on each count and a $250,000 fine.

McKinnon has previously said it was easy for him to access the secret files.

"I did occasionally leave messages in system administrators' machines saying, 'This is ridiculous,'" McKinnon has said. "(I left) some political diatribes as well, but also a pointer to say, you know, this is ridiculous."

Former NASA controller supports mission to Mars

On July 20, Americans marked the 40th anniversary of the first manned landing on the moon — this country's triumph in the space race launched by President John F. Kennedy in 1961.
However, the Apollo 11 crew that executed that historic mission — Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, who walked on the moon, and Michael Collins — spent more time talking about the future than past glories in an appearance July 19 at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington.
They called for a mission to Mars to revive interest in the U.S. space program, to the point of placing a colony on the red planet.
Bob Carlton, one of the men behind that successful moon landing in 1969, agrees with that goal, but is pessimistic about whether it can be achieved.
"It would be worthwhile to go to Mars, but it probably won't be us that does it because we're no longer motivated," said Carlton, who grew up in Rainbow City and served as flight controller in charge of guidance, navigation and control systems for the Lunar Module Eagle during its descent to the moon.
Carlton, who lives in La Porte, Texas, said public interest in the space program has ebbed.
"The only ones who would be interested now (in going to Mars) are the scientists," he said.
President George W. Bush in 2004 proposed sending Americans back to the moon. NASA currently is working on a scenario to put a new manned spacecraft into earth orbit by 2015, scrapping the space shuttle program, with a target date of 2020 for a lunar landing.
The last Apollo mission to the moon, Apollo 17, took place in 1972.
Carlton, however, opposes another lunar landing program.
"Why? To get more science data? It would only be a detour," Carlton said.
"If we go back there, we'll never go anywhere else. It will be a dead end."
That's a 180-degree change from Carlton's opinion in 1972. Three additional Apollo moon missions were scheduled, but were canceled by NASA because of declining public interest and pressure in Congress and from President Richard Nixon's administration to direct money toward other national priorities.
"When Congress pulled the plug, I was utterly frustrated," Carlton said.
"We had the hardware at the cape (Canaveral) for more missions. The teams were in place, the spacecraft were bought and ready to go and at the time I couldn't understand it. Now I think we did the right thing.
"When you stop and think about it, all the great accomplishments in history, people remember who did it first," he said.
"The people who climbed Mount Everest, Admiral Byrd (Richard, first man to fly over the North Pole and South Pole). The U.S. was the first to land on the moon, and we're still first every time they replay it. We could have done 100 more moon missions, but the public had lost interest."
So had the scientists.
Carlton noted that equipment had been left on the moon by Apollo astronauts that continued sending data for several years, but it eventually was turned off.
A mission to Mars would be another "first," which was the point Carlton made in a letter he's written to President Barack Obama and members of Congress, challenging them to take on that goal.
He listed three major, but not insurmountable, obstacles to a Mars mission:
1. Working around the problem of men being able to stay healthy in the long period of radiation exposure and zero gravity travel that would be required.
2. Designing space systems that would have to reliably operate for a number of years.
3. Figuring out a way to launch a craft from the surface of Mars into orbit to rendezvous with a mother ship for the trip back to Earth.
In the letter, Carlton expresses the fear that another nation, most notably China, might achieve that "first" ahead of the U.S., especially if NASA expends its resources on a "pointless sidetrack" lunar landing program.
"I have no doubt that if our president and our Congress (have) the vision and the guts to challenge our nation toward that great goal," he wrote, "then Americans will once again make history."
NEXT: The Apollo 11 moon landing: Eighteen seconds from "abort."

Space undies make their mark

Posted 33 minutes ago
Updated 9 minutes ago
No complaints here... Koichi Wakata wore the moisture-absorbent, odour-eating and bacteria-killing proto-type underwear for a month.

No complaints here... Koichi Wakata wore the moisture-absorbent, odour-eating and bacteria-killing proto-type underwear for a month. (Reuters: NASA)

A Japanese astronaut has boldly gone where no-one has ever gone before - and so have his underpants.

Koichi Wakata wore moisture-absorbent, odour-eating and bacteria-killing proto-type underwear for a month as he worked in the orbiting International Space Station (ISS).

Seeing the results may not be for the faint-hearted but this month-long undies experiment was all in the name of science.

In a video link-up only a few days before landing back on Earth, Mr Wakata said he had come clean with his fellow crew members about his space undies.

His understanding crew members did not even complain after Mr Wakata chowed down several space curries but, as they say, in space no-one can hear you scream.

"I wore [the underwear] for about a month and my space and crew members never complained ... so I think the experiment went fine," he said.

"I am returning and we will see the results after landing."

When the shuttle Endeavour brought the astronaut back to Earth, having orbited the planet more than 2,000 times, Mr Wakata - who spent a total 138 days in space - bequeathed his unique underwear to science.

NASA has already stressed the importance of testing any new product which will improve an astronaut's quality of life.

Right now residents of the ISS simply stuff their dirty laundry into Russian cargo modules and jettison them towards the Earth where they burn up in the atmosphere.

Britain Science Museum curator Doug Millard says cutting back on underwear saves money.

"Every kilogram of mass we put into space costs many, many dollars so if you can cut down on the number of undies you have to take up into space, you are saving money," he said.

nasa plant searches ...

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NASA announces green aircraft challenge

Washington, August 2 (ANI): The NASA Innovative Partnerships Program and the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation have announced the Green Flight Challenge, which is a flight efficiency competition for aircraft that can average at least 100 mph on a 200-mile flight while achieving greater than 200 passenger miles per gallon.

The prize for the aircraft with the best performance is 1.5 million dollars.

The competition is scheduled for July 2011 at the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, California.

A variety of innovative experimental aircraft using electrical, solar, bio-fuel or hybrid propulsion are expected to enter.

Several major universities and aircraft builders have expressed their intention to enter teams in the challenge.

To win, teams must use cutting-edge technologies in mechanical and electrical engineering, structures, aerodynamics and thermodynamics.

As a national showcase of “green” technology, the challenge is expected to help advance all three of the major climate mitigation initiatives: efficiency, conservation and zero-carbon energy sources.

These technologies will support advances in aviation and may have broader applications in transportation and energy storage.

The Green Flight Challenge is administered for NASA by CAFE.

Founded in 1981, CAFE is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the understanding of personal aircraft technologies through research, analysis and education.

NASA is providing the prize money as part of the Centennial Challenges program. (ANI)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

This week in space history: Vikings explore, photograph Mars

Viking 2 entered Mars orbit on Aug. 7, 1976, and set about separating fact from fiction surrounding the red planet.

In 1906, "Mars and its Mystery" (Little, Brown and Co.) theorized that a "large, irregular, dark region" contained "bodies of waters, or seas. Š From remote times it has been taken for granted by the best of minds that other worlds besides ours sustain life."

Wernher von Braun, the German scientist who developed the Saturn V that launched Americans to the moon, and Willy Ley discussed long-held theories in "The Exploration of Mars," (The Viking Press/1956). They wrote: "This was the picture of Mars at mid-century: a small planet of which three-quarters is cold desert, with the rest covered with a sort of plant life that our biological knowledge cannot quite encompass."

In the mid-1890s, astronomer Percival Lowell was lecturing on Martian features he called canals, Mark Littman stated in "Planets Beyond" (Wiley Science Editions/1988).

"Lowell's theory begins with the demonstration that the primary requisites for human life exist on the planet water, heat and atmosphere," the New York Times said in Lowell's obituary (published Nov. 14, 1916, reprinted on the Web site nytimes.com). "His positive proof of the existence of human life on Mars is the network of lines which mark certain areas of the planet's face, indicating the digging of artificial canals, which would require an intelligence and engineering skill as great or greater than that possessed
by the inhabitants of this earth."

Littman attributed such speculation to a translation error. He wrote that Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli "first described thin, straight, crisscrossing features on the surface of the red planet" in 1877. "He named them canali, meaning 'channels.' Channels could be natural or artificial features. The English-language press, however, translated canali as 'canals,' implying that they were built by intelligent beings."

Growing scientific knowledge at the turn of the 20th century began to overcome superstition. The planet long known as "the symbol of the god of war," wrote von Braun and Ley, captured the public's factual fascination in February 1901 when Mars' orbit came close to Earth. Lowell described expectation of the event, known as a "close opposition," in "Mars (Houghton Mifflin/1895.) "Once in about every 15 years, a startling visitant makes his appearance upon our midnight skies a great red spot that rises at sunset through the haze above the eastern horizon. Š Startling for its size, the stranger looks the more fateful for being a fiery red. Small wonder that by man folk it is taken for a portent."

Von Braun and Ley documented that "newspapers and magazines" heralded the opposition. "Teachers pointed out the red planet to their pupils; fathers took their sons out into the open or up on the roof of the house late at night to look at it. And almost for the first time in history people looked up to see the red planet without fear."

NASA launched Viking 1 on Aug. 10, 1975, and Viking 2 on Sept. 9. Each had an orbiter to photograph the planet and a lander to "conduct a detailed scientific examination of the planet, including a search for life," said NASA release "Vikings Converge on Mars" (summer 1976). NASA hoped Viking 1's lander would touch down on the United States' bicentennial, July 4, 1976, but it did not land until July 20. Landing sites were chosen "several years" beforehand. In orbit, though, Viking 2 photographed new locations because the Viking 1 site had been found "unsafe," said "Viking: Mars Expedition 1976" (Martin Marietta Corporation/1978).

Viking 2's lander touched down on Sept. 3, the Web site jsc.nasa.gov said, upon Utopia Planitia. "Viking: Mars Expedition 1976" described the area as "a large, broad plain Š 4,500 miles on the opposite side of the planet from the Viking 1 Š a low area, judged by scientists to have high concentrations of water vapor." The book said that just "seven minutes after separating from the Viking 2 orbiter, contact with the lander was virtually lost. Š For nearly 24 hours the only indication of a successful landing was the increase in the rate of information from the lander on the low-rate channel which is automatic with touchdown on the surface."

The first pictures showed "soil and scattered rocks," said "Mars: The Viking Discoveries" (NASA/October 1977). "As the cameras looked out to the horizon, they photographed a gently rolling red landscape that could almost have been a desert scene in the American Southwest. The reddish gray soil was dotted with rocks of all sizes."

In early 1977, NASA put Viking 2 into hibernation because winter's daytime temperatures alone were minus-180 to minus-160 degrees Fahrenheit. The lander recorded data, but delayed transmission. On Sept. 13, 1977, the lander photographed frost on Martian rocks.

By October, the Viking 2 orbiter had taken 8,124 photographs, and the Viking 1 orbiter 7,966 photos.

"Mars: The Viking Discoveries" documented how the landers "took on new tasks that had not been planned before the landing. After digging up samples of exposed soil, (each) lander's sampling arm was used to push large rocks aside to collect soil samples of the protected soil beneath them."

On Aug. 7, 1996, 20 years after Viking 2 entered orbit, President Bill Clinton "announced that a meteorite found in Antarctica contains evidence suggesting the existence of ancient life on Mars," wrote Donald Goldsmith in "The Hunt For Life On Mars" (Dutton/1997).

"On Mars, where the environment for life is neither as harsh as the moon's nor as generous as the Earth's we might find, still preserved, the answers to how life came into being. We might even find life itself," said "Mars: The Viking Discoveries."

Von Braun and Ley hoped man, not landers, would explore. In 1956, they declared, "We, the genus homo of earth, will set foot on Mars within a matter of decades."

Astronauts return to Earth as space shuttle Endeavour lands safely

Astronaut Koichi Wakata (R) of the Japanese space agency JAXA, and other crew members take part in a news conference after they returned to Earth aboard the space shuttle Endeavour at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida July 31, 2009. From right are Wakata, David Wolf, Thomas Marshburn, Julie Payette of the Canadian Space Agency, Christopher Cassidy, Pilot Douglas Hurley and Mission Commander Mark Polansky.(Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

It's time for NASA to get back on track

The Review of the U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee is expected to publish its report at the end of the month. It is charged with the thankless task of reaffirming or redirecting NASA's vision for space exploration. What should the agency be doing with its existing hardware and its plans for the future? The real catch is the part of their charter that reads, “fitting within the current budget profile for NASA exploration activities.”

Money isn't NASA's only problem, but it has been its biggest problem for decades. NASA is one of the most successful agencies in history, providing the best return on investment of any government agency in my lifetime.

My main concerns with NASA's plans going forward include the decision to ground the space shuttle, the woefully inadequate funding for the last several decades and the absence of a space program that will restore the sense of wonder and adventure to space exploration that we knew in the 1960s.

The continuing debate for several years over the Constellation program and alternatives to the Orion/Ares architecture needs to be resolved. There is a general feeling that NASA's 2007 trade-off study of those alternatives, updated last year, is tainted and protective of the status quo. NASA officials are best qualified to make that evaluation if they can find it within themselves to be objective.

The international space station is one of the great engineering marvels of history and is now funded only through 2015. The political decision to make Russia a full partner in the ISS condemned it to a 51.6-degree orbit. That orbit has pretty well compromised its utilization for anything but a laboratory in space. There are many highly qualified scientists prepared to exploit the ISS beyond 2015. We should fund it and operate it for as long as it is viable.

NASA's current plans call for grounding the shuttle in 2010, launching an Orion/Ares mission in 2015, returning to the moon by 2020 and flying a mission to Mars “sometime after 2030.” The 2015 date could easily slip to 2016 or beyond, and is only crucial in limiting “the gap” created by the arbitrary and self-imposed grounding of the shuttle and the first flight of our next-generation manned spacecraft. The 2020 date is only significant if we choose to compete with the Russians or the Chinese who, conceivably, could land a man on the moon in that time frame. If NASA meets either or both of these deadlines, it contributes nothing to maintaining America's preeminence in space, which should be our principal focus.

I believe strongly that we should continue to fly the shuttle while we develop our next generation of spacecraft in an orderly fashion. Continuing shuttle operations will automatically minimize any gap, eliminate pressure on the first manned Orion/Ares mission date, allow time to update trade-off studies of Ares, shuttle-C, Jupiter 120, Delta IV and any other candidate, and allow NASA to retain its trained work force. Continuing to fly the space shuttle is the only practical way to shorten “the gap” and remove our vulnerability to future Russian political pressure. The only price we would pay is a delay in the non-time-critical deployment of the next-generation spacecraft.

Safety has always been a high priority with NASA, but back in the 1960s, it was kept in perspective with other objectives. Today, NASA is a reflection of America's risk-averse culture. Following the loss of Columbia in 2003, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board pushed NASA further in that direction. Safety has now become a convenient whipping boy to sell termination of the shuttle to the public in order to divert the $3 billion annual operating costs to the Constellation program.

Our shuttle orbiters are less than 25 years old, while some of our most sophisticated military weapons systems have been in operation for more than 50 years. While each orbiter was designed for a service life of 100 missions, they average less than 30 missions flown. Shuttle orbiters are subjected to a critical rebuilding after each mission, and they undergo regularly scheduled overhauls and upgrades. The shuttle orbiters are the safest manned vehicles we have ever built and are safer today than the day we began flying them.

The fact that the 2020 date would also slip is academic. While there is good political, military and economic justification for the Russians or Chinese to go to the moon, we have no reason to race them back to a place we visited 50 years before.

Yes, the shuttle orbiters are expensive to operate. So has been every vehicle since Mercury and Gemini, and so, too, will be our next-generation manned vehicle — more so than we now project. Constellation is the third program in a row with an announced goal to reduce the cost of putting a pound in orbit by a factor of 10. Going into space will always be expensive. It is time for Congress and the American people to decide whether or not they want to remain the preeminent spacefaring nation of the world. If so, they need to be willing to pay for it. The money we invested in the 1960s powered our economic engine for the next 30 years. We can do an encore if we make the right decisions today.

Part of NASA's funding problem is its symbiotic relationship with Congress. For years NASA has provided low-ball costs and optimistic schedules to Congress in order to get budgets approved that quickly proved to be inadequate. Instead of quietly struggling to achieve national goals with inadequate funding, NASA should fight for adequate, multiyear funding. When it comes to space-related issues, NASA needs to be the leader, not a follower. In recent weeks we have witnessed the bizarre spectacle of Congress cutting $500 million from NASA's next budget — an investment for future returns, while approving $800 billion of stimulus funding — essentially all expenditures with no return.

The so-called benefits of establishing an outpost on the moon are ephemeral and will be quite costly. Outposts on the moon are what I call “Mars Lite” — going beyond earth orbit, while avoiding commitment to the next real milestone of human exploration — Mars. Claims of mining Helium 3, prospecting for water, and rehearsing for Mars are not compelling reasons for returning to the moon. A lunar outpost diversion will cost at least $150 billion and carry with it the potential of becoming a financial swamp that could delay our exploration of Mars indefinitely.

NASA should embrace a goal that exceeds our grasp, a program with bold vision and great risk that requires dedication, courage and teamwork to accomplish. The near-term focus should be on visits to asteroids or the moons of Mars — missions that lead directly to establishing human presence on Mars.

In the 1960s, Gus Grissom encouraged funding with the line, “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.” Times have changed. Today, it will take a Buck Rogers mission to get the bucks and public support.

NASA: Despite run of tough luck, shuttle lands safely

Computerworld - After a grueling and technically intensive 16-day mission in space, the seven-person crew of the space shuttle Endeavour safely touched down at Kennedy Space Center in Florida this morning.

The shuttle landed as scheduled at 10:48 a.m. ET. It was a picture-perfect landing for a shuttle that had a tough time getting off the ground due to a gaseous hydrogen leak that scuttled two scheduled launches and bad weather that derailed three other attempts.

The shuttle finally blasted off on July 15 - its sixth launch attempt.

Yesterday, mission control specialists found that one of Endeavour's forward thrusters, which control altitude and speed upon re-entry, failed during a test of control systems. As shown today, NASA had reported that the shuttle could land safely without the thruster.

Returning from orbit, the shuttle and its crew left behind a new porch for the Japanese laboratory on the International Space Station, new batteries installed to store power collected from the station's solar arrays and several replacement parts to keep on hand. This morning, the shuttle also released what NASA described as two pairs of small research satellites.

The satellites, which had been stored in canisters in the shuttle's payload bay, were both designed and built by students at the University of Texas, Austin, and Texas A&M University. One pair is designed to use GPS data to monitor the rendezvous of orbiting spacecraft. The other pair is designed to measure the density and composition of the rarified atmosphere 200 miles above the Earth's surface, according to NASA.

This was the 127th shuttle mission for NASA and the 23rd for Endeavour, NASA reported today. It also was the 29th shuttle mission to the space station.

The next shuttle mission is scheduled to launch on Aug. 18, when the Discovery is expected to deliver 33,000 pounds of supplies and equipment to the space station.

To boldly go where no undies have gone before

Many people doubt the value of America’s manned space program and the billions of dollars spent on it annually.

These naysayers simply don’t see what good comes from going to space.

The value of human exploration of space is lost on them. They get no thrill from knowing men and women have left this mortal coil for the blackness of space, that men have walked on the moon and littered the rocky orb’s surface like inconsiderate campers.

The fact is, the U.S. space program has spawned dozens of products, from enhanced baby formula to advanced means of breast cancer detection.

NASA research has helped give us scratch-resistant lenses, more aerodynamic golf balls, voice-controlled wheelchairs, improved aircraft engines and advanced lubricants.

But the latest innovation to come through the space research and development pipeline may just be the most significant — semi-permanent underwear.

Astronaut Koichi Wakata spent the past four and one-half months aboard the International Space Station. He only had four pairs of underwear. And he didn’t wash them, not even in the sink. He wore the same pair of bionic BVDs for a month.

The space-age, Japanese-designed skivvies are made of cotton and polyester, are silver-coated and seamless. The high-tech drawers are kind of a cross between briefs and boxers — call them broxers.

According to Wakata, who returned to earth last week with the crew of the space shuttle Endeavour, he says he received no complaints from crew mates on the space station about his long-term long johns. Of course in space no one can hear you say “What is that smell?”

Also, the toilets on the ISS always are malfunctioning, so perhaps Wakata’s uncommon union suit was merely a minor contributor to the station’s ambiance. However, after the shuttle left the station, one of the major air-purifying systems failed. There is no word whether Wakata’s interplanetary panties were a contributing factor.

But maybe they really work. The out-of-this-world underclothes, dubbed J-Wear, are anti-bacterial, water-absorbent, odor-eliminating, anti-static and flame retardant. J-Wear also comes in socks, shirts and pants.

Underwear that doesn’t require frequent washing would be a must on long-term space missions like an eventual trip to Mars or beyond. There are no laundromats on other planets, and, even if there were, who would want to spend their whole trip watching a dryer spin?

Beyond the space program, if J-Wear passes the smell test, so to speak, it could be a boon to humanity that could rank right up there with the greatest inventions of all time, like the wheel, penicillin and pizza.

Think of the advantages for young men leaving home for the first time, bachelors or busy mothers. No more once a week trips to the laundry room, those could be reduced to monthly visits instead. Or perhaps could be reduced to zero. J-Wear is disposable.

During my college days I didn’t wash clothes until the laundry bag was full and/or the drawers in the battered old dorm dresser were empty. I would stuff as many clothes as I could in one washer, plug in a couple of quarters and leave. When I returned my undies were not only clean, but often had taken on lovely pastel hues.

Moms, do you feel like your entire life is spent shuttling kids around, cooking or doing laundry? J-Wear won’t help you with the first two problems, but your wash-day chores could be lessened considerably. This could be seen as one small step for a man, one giant leap for Mom-kind.

Can you imagine being able to wear the same clothes for a month before they needed to be washed? Not that you’d wear the same outfit every day, but instead of putting your clothes in the hamper every night, you’d just hang them up and wear them again — rather like I do now anyway.

I will wear clothes day after day until my wife gets wind of me and tosses them in the laundry basket. Sometimes the cats will give me away when they begin pawing the ground next to me like they are trying to bury something foul in their litter box.

The success of J-Wear would be detrimental to the makers of washers and dryers, as well as companies marketing laundry detergent. Sales of deodorant, perfume, cologne and body wash, however, likely would skyrocket.

For the record, Wakata brought his dirty drawers home with him in his suitcase, much like a college student returning home on break. If the NASA technicians opening the astronaut’s suitcase don’t gag, faint or run screaming from the room, the experiment will be a success. Either that or they are mothers of teen-agers and are immune to such olfactory shocks.

Misleading clucks

A Penn State study of climate change, conducted for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, attempts to predict the 21st century impact of global warming on the Keystone State.

While a noble attempt to give citizens a heads-up on possible future climate conditions, it contains numerous scientific flaws and unsubstantiated assumptions that render the predictions useless.

Key to the report is its assumption that global warming will raise global and statewide temperatures by 3 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit (2 to 4 degrees Celsius) during the 21st century.

Investigators at Penn State's Environment and Natural Resources Institute reached this conclusion by simply accepting the projections of United Nations computer models -- models that have failed miserably to predict current climate conditions.

For example, in 2001 U.N. computer models predicted 0.2 to 0.4 degrees Celsius of global warming during the ensuing decade. We have nearly completed that decade and yet NASA satellite instruments show temperatures have been steadily declining.

Rather than warming by 0.2 to 0.4 degrees Celsius, temperatures through June 2009 have cooled by 0.4 degrees Celsius since January 2002.

The significant cooling since the U.N. issued its 2001 warming projections is merely the latest data that show no global warming crisis.

During the allegedly "unprecedented" warming of the 20th century, global temperatures rose merely 0.6 degrees Celsius. That's far less than the 2 to 4 degree Celsius warming predicted by the U.N. and unquestioningly accepted by Penn State and the DEP.

Most of that warming occurred before 1945, at a time when humans were emitting relatively few greenhouse gases. Moreover, NASA satellite instruments show current temperatures are no warmer than temperatures in 1980, the year after the NASA satellites were first launched.

Global temperature increases have decelerated -- and lately reversed course -- rather than accelerating, as the proponents of global warming "cap-and-trade" legislation would lead us to believe.

The U.N. computer models give no reason why carbon dioxide emissions should suddenly cause rapid temperature increases in the 21st century when they have caused, at worst, very minimal temperature increases during the 20th century and no temperature increase during the past 30 years.

The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) historical weather database tells a similar story regarding Pennsylvania. According to NCDC data, temperatures in the commonwealth show absolutely no trend over the past 114 years, since reliable temperature data first became available.

Pennsylvania temperatures today are no warmer than they were in the 1800s.

The report asserts that global warming will lead to declining soil moisture and more frequent summer droughts. However, NCDC data show that annual precipitation in Pennsylvania has increased by roughly 25 percent since 1895, with the summer and fall drought seasons showing the largest increase in precipitation.

As global temperatures have risen, Pennsylvania droughts have become less frequent.

This trend in Pennsylvania is consistent with global drought studies. Scientists report in a study of Northern Hemisphere soil moisture reported in the July 2004 issue of International Journal of Climatology:

"The terrestrial surface is both warmer and effectively wetter. ... A good analogy to describe the changes in these places is that the terrestrial surface is literally becoming more like a gardener's greenhouse."

Similarly, scientists report in the May 25, 2006, issue of Geophysical Research Letters:

"An increasing trend is apparent in both model soil moisture and runoff over much of the U.S. ... This wetting trend is consistent with the general increase in precipitation in the latter half of the 20th century. Droughts have, for the most part, become shorter, less frequent, and cover a smaller portion of the country over the last century."

Still further, scientists recently reported in the Journal of Hydrology:

"Evidence indicates that summer soil moisture content has increased during the last several decades at almost all sites having long-term records in the Global Soil Moisture Data Bank."

When computer models, programmed by people who already have a dog in the global warming fight, produce projections that are strongly and consistently contradicted by real-world climate, a prudent observer takes such projections with a grain of salt.

By failing to follow this commonsense advice, Penn State and DEP have issued very suspect predictions of future climate in Pennsylvania.

James M. Taylor is senior fellow of environmental policy at The Heartland Institute.

ALABAMA: Next moon visit: 2028?

More than 30 people in 4 states accused of bilking $16 million with phony claims

From Tribune news services
July 30, 2009

Next moon visit: 2028?
NASA's goal of putting astronauts back on the moon by 2020 is all but impossible to achieve, a presidential panel was told Wednesday.

An independent analysis concluded there is little hope NASA could replicate any time soon what Apollo 11 accomplished 40 years ago.

And sources said an undisclosed part of the study showed it may take until 2028 -- nearly 60 years after America's first moon landing -- to get back.

The grim assessment, delivered on the second day of hearings this week on NASA's human spaceflight program, is the latest blow to the Constellation program, a 4-year-old effort to design new rockets and a crew capsule to take astronauts to the moon and eventually Mars.

Payette Returns from Space

Astronaut Julie Payette insists Canada's role in the latest shuttle mission is hard to ignore.

Payette and the crew of Endeavour returned to Earth Friday morning after a 16-day mission to the International Space Station.

Payette calls the mission extraordinary, adding Canada figured significantly on the mission.

She noted two Canadian astronauts were involved in the mission and crucial Canadian robotics were part of the work.

Payette operated all three robotic arms during the mission: The station's Canadarm2, the Shuttle's Canadarm and the Japanese arm.

It was Payette's second mission to the International Space Station.

She says it has changed immensely since 1999, adding "my first mission 10 years ago was to a very small space station that only had two modules, nobody on board and yet a lot of work to be done on it."