Wednesday, July 30, 2008


NASA's Constellation Program has selected 11 companies and one university to independently develop concepts that contribute to how astronauts will live and work on the moon.

Each organization will conduct a 180-day study focused on a topic relevant to lunar surface systems. Selected organizations and topics are:

--Alternative Packaging Options: Oceaneering Space Systems of Houston
--Avionics: Honeywell International, Inc. of Glendale, Ariz,
--Energy Storage: ATK Space Systems Group of Brigham City, Utah,
Battelle Memorial Institute of Columbus, Ohio, and Hamilton
Sundstrand of Canoga Park, Calif.
--Minimum Habitation Functions: The Boeing Company of Huntington
Beach, Calif., ILC Dover of Frederica, Del., and University of
Maryland, College Park
--Regolith Moving Methods: Astrobotic Technology Inc. of Pittsburgh
and Honeybee Robotics of New York
--Software: The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc. of Cambridge,
Mass., and United Space Alliance of Houston

The awards total approximately $2 million, with a maximum individual award of $250,000.

"These studies provide new ideas to help the Constellation Program develop innovative, reliable requirements for the systems that will be used when outposts are established on the moon," said Jeff Hanley, the Constellation Program manager at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The recommendations from the studies will help determine packaging options, identify basic functions for lunar habitats, and conceptualize innovative avionics, computer software, energy storage ideas and equipment and techniques that could help preparation for the lunar outpost site.

The Constellation Program is building NASA's next generation fleet of spacecraft -- including the Ares I and Ares V rockets, the Orion crew capsule, the Altair lunar lander and lunar surface systems -- to send humans beyond low Earth orbit and back to the moon. NASA plans to establish a human outpost on the moon through a successive series of lunar missions beginning in 2020. Lunar surface systems may include habitats, pressurized and un-pressurized rovers, communication and navigation elements, electrical power control, and natural resource use.

For more information about NASA's Constellation Program, visit:


NASA hosted a meeting of space agencies from nine countries last week to discuss the next steps in the ongoing scientific exploration of the moon. The meeting laid the groundwork for a new generation of lunar science.

Discussions, led by NASA Headquarters officials, were held at NASA's Lunar Science Institute, located at the Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. Representatives from space agencies in Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States attended the meeting. During the meeting, attendees discussed cooperation on an international activity called the International Lunar Network (ILN). The network is designed to gradually place 6-8 fixed or mobile science stations on the lunar surface. The stations will form a second-generation robotic science network to replace hardware left by the Apollo Program to study the moon's surface and interior.

NASA plans to place its first two ILN landers on the surface of the moon in 2013-14. The landers are being developed under the Lunar Precursor Robotic Program at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Huntsville, Ala.

The ILN is supported by NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington. It was created in response to a 2007 report released by the National Research Council, which affirmed that the moon offers "profound scientific value" and "lunar activities apply to broad scientific and exploration concerns."

Representatives from space agencies considering participation in the ILN agreed on a statement of intent as a first step in planning. The statement marked an expression of interest by the agencies to study options for participating in a series of international lunar missions. The goal is to form a network of missions that will benefit scientists worldwide.

"We are tremendously excited by the enthusiasm shown for the ILN and lunar science more broadly," said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters. "This international activity will greatly extend scientific knowledge of the moon in a number of important areas."

The statement of intent does not completely define the ILN concept. The document leaves open the possibility for near and long-term evolution and implementation. Initially, participants intend to establish potential landing sites, interoperable spectrum and communications standards, and a set of scientifically equivalent core instrumentation to carry out specific measurements.

"We are in a new era of lunar exploration," said Jim Adams, deputy director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters. "Scientific coordination of the international armada of missions being sent to the moon in the next decade will greatly leverage our scientific capabilities, and perhaps even more importantly, develop the next generation of lunar scientists."

International participation in specific ILN activities will be established by appropriate international agreements. Additional participants may join in the future when they are programmatically and financially ready. Participation in the ILN could include the contribution of landers, orbiters, instrumentation, or other significant infrastructure, such as ground segment elements or power supplies for surviving the lunar night.

For more information on NASA lunar activities, visit:

NASA's Close-Up Images of 'Snow Queen' Show Changes

A distinctive hard-surface feature called "Snow Queen" beneath NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander visibly changed sometime between mid-June and mid-July, close-up images from the Robotic Arm Camera show.

Cracks as long as 10 centimeters, or about four inches, have appeared. A seven-millimeter (less than one-third inch) pebble or clod not seen there before has popped up on the surface. And some smooth texture on Snow Queen has subtly roughened. Phoenix's Robotic Arm Camera, or RAC, took its first close-up image of Snow Queen on May 31, 2008, the sixth Martian day, or sol, after the May 25 landing. Thruster exhaust blew away surface soil covering Snow Queen as Phoenix landed, exposing a hard layer comprising several smooth, rounded cavities.

"Images taken since landing showed these fractures didn't form in the first 20 sols of the mission," Phoenix co-investigator Mike Mellon of the University of Colorado, Boulder, said. "We might expect to see additional changes in the next 20 sols."

Mellon, who has spent most of his career studying permafrost, said long-term monitoring of Snow Queen and other icy soil cleared by Phoenix landing and trenching operations is unprecedented for science. It's the first chance to see visible changes in Martian ice at a place where temperatures are cold enough that the ice doesn't immediately sublimate, or vaporize, away. Phoenix scientists discovered that centimeter-sized chunks of ice scraped up in the Dodo-Goldilocks trench lasted several days before vanishing.

The Phoenix team has been watching ice in the Dodo-Goldilocks and Snow White trenches in views from the lander's Surface Stereo Imager as well as RAC, but only RAC can view Snow Queen near a strut under the lander.

The fact that RAC is attached to the robotic arm is both an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage is that RAC can take close-ups of Snow Queen, while the Surface Stereo Imager can't see Snow Queen at all from the topside of the spacecraft. The disadvantage is that the robotic arm has so many tasks to perform that RAC can't be used for monitoring trench ice at some opportune times. Also, RAC hasn't been used to take up-close images of other icy places under the spacecraft cleared on landing because it would require the robotic arm to make a difficult and complex series of moves.

"I've made a list of hypotheses about what could be forming cracks in Snow Queen, and there are difficulties with all of them," Mellon said.

One possibility is that temperature changes over many sols, or Martian days, have expanded and contracted the surface enough to create stress cracks. It would take a fairly rapid temperature change to form fractures like this in ice, Mellon said.

Another possibility is the exposed layer has undergone a phase change that has caused it to shrink. An example of a phase change could be a hydrated salt losing its water after days of surface exposure, causing the hard layer to shrink and crack. "I don't think that's the best explanation because dehydration of salt would first form a thin rind and finer cracks," Mellon said.

"Another possibility is that these fractures were already there, and they appeared because ice sublimed off the surface and revealed them," he said.

As for the small pebble that popped up on Snow Queen after 21 sols -- it might be a piece that broke free from the original surface or it might be a piece that fell down from somewhere else. "We have to study the shadows a little more to understand what's happening," Mellon said.

The Phoenix mission is led by Peter Smith of The University of Arizona with project management at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and development partnership at Lockheed Martin, located in Denver. International contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; Max Planck Institute, Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

Monday, July 28, 2008


NASA and the University of Arizona, Tucson, will hold a media briefing Thursday, July 31, at 11 a.m. PDT, in the mission's Science Operations Center at the university. Briefing participants
will discuss the latest progress by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander in exploring a site in the Martian arctic. Following its May 25 landing, Phoenix has been studying whether Mars' environment ever has been favorable for microbial life.

The briefing participants are: - Michael Meyer, chief scientist, Mars Exploration Program, NASA
Headquarters, Washington - Peter Smith, Phoenix principal investigator, University of Arizona,
Tucson - Victoria Hipkin, mission scientist for Phoenix Meteorological Station, Canadian Space Agency, Saint-Hubert, Quebec - Mark Lemmon, lead scientist for Phoenix Surface Stereo Imager, Texas A&M University, College Station

News media may participate by telephone during the question and answer portion of the briefing. Reporters should call NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory media office at 818-354-5011 before the briefing for instructions and the dial-in number.

The briefing will be carried live by NASA TV and on the Internet at:

For more information on the Phoenix mission, visit:


The 2008 General Aviation Technology Challenge will be held Aug. 4-10 at the Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, Calif. Competitors will demonstrate innovations resulting in aircraft that
are safer, less expensive and easier to operate, while having fewer negative impacts on the environment and communities surrounding airports.

This year's competition will feature the first Green Prize for aviation. The highlight of the week-long event will occur Saturday, Aug. 9, with the CAFE 400 - a 400-mile, cross-country air race that requires speed and efficiency.

The Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation based in Santa Rosa manages this challenge for NASA. The total purse for 2008 is $300,000, which will be divided among the following prizes:
- The Community Noise Prize
- The Green Prize (for the highest miles per gallon)
- The CAFE Safety Prize (for handling and electronic safety features)
- The CAFE 400 Prize
- The Quietest Light Sport Aircraft Prize

The General Aviation Technology Challenge is one of seven current NASA technology prize competitions. The prize program, which began in 2005, is known as Centennial Challenges in recognition of the centennial of powered flight. In keeping with the spirit of the Wright Brothers and other American innovators, Centennial Challenge prizes are offered to independent inventors who work without government support, including small businesses, student groups and individuals.

The prize competitions are targeted at a range of technical challenges that support NASA's missions in aeronautics and space. The goal is to encourage novel solutions from non-traditional sources. In the Centennial Challenge program, NASA provides the prize money, and each
of the competitions is managed by an independent organization. NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program Office manages the Centennial Challenges program. For more information on the Centennial Challenges, visit:

For information about NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program, visit:


A NASA concept for lifting and manipulating materials on the lunar surface will be demonstrated for reporters at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., on Friday, Aug. 1.

NASA's Lunar Surface Manipulation System recently completed a successful June field test on the lunar-like landscape of Moses Lake, Wash. The system is a lifting and precision positioning device that will be used on items ranging from large airlocks and habitats to delicate scientific payloads. The robotic manipulator incorporates features that could help astronauts during early lunar outpost construction and follow-on operations. The principles behind the device also are directly applicable to future operations on the Martian surface.

The system reporters will be able to view is full-scale and sized for unloading a lunar lander. Designed by NASA engineers and controlled by a remote computer, the manipulator resembles a lightweight crane, but has more capabilities. It can be operated autonomously, remotely
or manually in a backup mode, and can be configured to perform a multitude of tasks.

Media interested in attending the presentation and briefing should phone Keith Henry by noon EDT, July 31, at 757-864-6120 or 757-344-7211. Reporters should arrive at the Langley front gate parking lot by 9:30 a.m. for escort to the briefing and lab demonstrations.

For more information and images, visit:

For more information about NASA's Constellation Program, visit:


NASA will hold a series of news media briefings Sept. 8 - 9 to preview the space shuttle's fifth and final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA Television and the agency's Web site will provide live coverage of the briefings from the Johnson Space Center and the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Questions also will be taken from other participating NASA locations.

Shuttle Atlantis' 11-day flight, designated STS-125, is targeted for launch Oct. 8 and will include five spacewalks to refurbish and upgrade the telescope with state-of-the-art science instruments. Replacing failed hardware on Hubble will extend the telescope's life into the next decade.

U.S. news media planning to attend the briefings at Johnson must contact the newsroom there at 281-483-5111 by Sept. 2 to arrange for credentials. All reporters who are foreign nationals must contact the newsroom by Aug. 8.

On Sept. 9, Atlantis' seven astronauts will be available for round-robin interviews at Johnson. Reporters planning to participate in-person or by phone must contact Gayle Frere at 281-483-8645 by Sept. 2 to reserve an interview opportunity.

Scott Altman will command Atlantis' crew, which includes Pilot Gregory C. Johnson, and Mission Specialists Andrew Feustel, Michael Good, John Grunsfeld, Megan McArthur and Mike Massimino. The spacewalkers are Good, Grunsfeld, Feustel and Massimino. McArthur is the flight engineer and lead for robotic arm operations.

Along with the briefings to preview the Hubble servicing mission at Johnson, media will have an opportunity during the afternoon of Sept. 8 to review new equipment being developed for NASA's Constellation Program. Constellation is building America's next human spacecraft,
which will fly astronauts to low Earth orbit, the moon and beyond. During the review, media will see items that include concepts of a new spacesuit, a pressurized rover vehicle for astronauts, and a mockup of the Orion crew capsule.

The schedule (all times are CDT) includes:

Monday, Sept. 8
7 a.m. - Video B-Roll Feed
8 a.m. - NASA Overview Briefing (from Goddard)
9 a.m. - Shuttle Program Overview Briefing (from Johnson)
10 a.m. - HST/SM 4 Program Overview (from Goddard)
11:30 a.m. - NASA TV Video File
Noon - HST/SM4 Science Overview (from Goddard)
1:30 p.m. - HST Program and Science Round-Robins (from Goddard; not on
1:30 p.m. - Constellation Program Preview (from Johnson, not on NASA

Tuesday, Sept. 9
8 a.m. - Video B-Roll Feed
9 a.m. - STS-125 Mission Overview (from Johnson)
10:30 a.m. - STS-125 Spacewalk Overview (from Johnson)
Noon - NASA TV Video File
1 p.m. - STS-125 Crew News Conference (from Johnson)
2 - 6 p.m. - STS-125 Crew Round-Robins (from Johnson; not on NASA TV)

For NASA TV streaming video, schedules and downlink information,

For the latest information about the STS-125 mission and its crew,

NASA's Lander Collects Icy Soil But Needs to Work on Delivery

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander's robotic arm collected a more than adequate amount of icy soil for baking in one of the lander's ovens but will need to adjust how it delivers samples.

Engineers determined the rasping and scraping activity collected a total of 3 cubic centimeters of icy soil, more than enough to fill the tiny oven cell of the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or TEGA. However, images returned from the lander Saturday morning show that much of the soil remained lodged in the robotic arm's scoop after the attempt to deliver the sample to the TEGA.

"Very little of the icy sample made it into the oven," said Barry Goldstein, Phoenix project manager from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "We believe that the material that was intended for the targeted cell is the material that adhered to the back of the scoop."

Once the sample had been collected, the robotic arm tilted its scoop and ran the rasp motor several times in an attempt to sprinkle the sample into the oven whose doors were wide open. The final step was inverting the scoop directly over the doors. A screened opening over the oven measures about 10 centimeters (4 inches) long by 3 centimeters (1.5 inches) wide. The oven itself is roughly the size of an ink cartridge in a ballpoint pen.

The delivery sequence also included vibrating the screen several times, which would have aided delivery. TEGA detected that not enough sample was recorded as being in its oven, so the oven doors did not close.

The TEGA activities did not cause any short circuits with the equipment.

"The good news here is TEGA is functioning nominally, and we will adjust our sample drop-off strategy to run this again," Goldstein said.

Prior to the sample delivery, Phoenix's robotic arm made 16 holes in the hard ground with its motorized rasp tool and the scoop collected the rasped material and shavings left on the surface from the rasping action.

The lander conducted these activities overnight Friday to Saturday, Pacific Time, during Martian morning hours of the mission's 60th Martian day, or sol. The Phoenix team planned Saturday to send the spacecraft commands to take images on Sunday, the mission's Sol 61, of areas around and under the TEGA instrument. The images by the Robotic Arm Camera would be a way to check for additional material that might have been released by the scoop on Sol 60.

The Phoenix mission is led by Peter Smith of the University of Arizona with project management at JPL and development partnership at Lockheed Martin, Denver. International contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; Max Planck Institute, Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute. For more about Phoenix, visit: and

Friday, July 25, 2008

'Impressionist' Spacecraft to View Solar System's Invisible Frontier

At the edge of our solar system in December 2004, the Voyager 1 spacecraft encountered something never before experienced during its then 26-year cruise through the solar system — an invisible shock formed as the solar wind piles up against the gas in interstellar space. This boundary, called the termination shock, marks the beginning of our solar system's final frontier, a vast expanse of turbulent gas and twisting magnetic fields.

A NASA-sponsored team is developing a way to view this chaotic but unseen realm for the first time. Just as an impressionist artist makes an image from countless tiny strokes of paint, NASA’s new Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft will build up an image of the termination shock and areas beyond by using hits from high-speed atoms that are radiating out of this region.

"IBEX will let us make the first global observations of the region beyond the termination shock at the very edges of our solar system. This region is critical because it shields out the vast majority of the deadly cosmic rays that would otherwise permeate the space around the Earth and other planets," says Dr. David J. McComas, IBEX principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Texas. "IBEX will let us visualize our home in the galaxy for the first time and explore how it may have evolved over the history of the solar system. Ultimately, by making the first images of the interstellar boundaries neighboring our solar system, IBEX will provide a first step toward exploring the galactic frontier."

Space is not empty. The sun exhales a thin, hot wind of electrically conducting gas, called plasma, into space at about a million miles per hour. This solar wind forms a large plasma bubble, called the heliosphere, in space around the Sun. Beyond the orbit of Pluto, the solar wind gradually slows as it interacts with inflowing neutral gases from interstellar space, and then abruptly drops in speed at a thin, invisible boundary around our solar system called the termination shock.

A simple kitchen demonstration illustrates how this shock forms. When water runs at high speed from a kitchen faucet down to the bottom surface of the sink, the water hitting this surface first flows quickly and smoothly away from the impact point, but then runs into a circular boundary with slower, more turbulent flow beyond this boundary.

In the kitchen sink demonstration, the circular boundary is the termination shock. The turbulent region beyond the shock boundary corresponds to a layer in the outer heliosphere of turbulent plasma flows and magnetic fields called the heliosheath. The boundary of this turbulent layer with the interstellar plasma environment, not so easily seen in the kitchen sink experiment because of the turbulence, is called the heliopause. The heliopause is the end of our solar system’s frontier. Beyond that is interstellar space.

IBEX will make pictures of the heliosheath region and determine the termination shock’s strength. It will also discover what happens when the solar wind clashes with interstellar space by observing how the solar wind is flowing in the heliosheath and how the interstellar gas interacts with the heliopause. IBEX will determine how high-speed atoms are accelerated within the termination shock and heliosheath.

A cosmic game of tag allows IBEX to make its pictures. First, some background on the players: an atom needs to be electrically charged to feel magnetic force and be influenced by the magnetic fields in space. Normally, the positive electric charges in the central part of the atom, called the nucleus, are balanced by an equal number of negatively charged electrons swirling around it. In this case, the atom is electrically neutral overall and does not respond to magnetic fields. However, sometimes an atom gains or loses an electron. The electric charges are no longer in balance; gaining an electron gives the atom an extra negative charge, while losing an electron leaves the atom with a positive charge. The charged atom, called an ion, can now be deflected or accelerated by magnetic fields.

Most of the ions in interstellar space are deflected around our solar system by the magnetic field carried by the solar wind. Energetic neutral atoms (ENAs) are created when low-energy neutral atoms floating in from the interstellar medium "tag" energetic protons that are gyrating around the magnetic field lines in the solar wind. They charge exchange (since opposite charges attract, an electron jumps from the neutral atom to the positively charged proton if the two pass each other very closely). The proton now has an electron to balance its charge, and it becomes an Energetic Neutral Atom. The ENAs that happen to be pointing in the direction of Earth at the moment of charge-exchange will then propagate back in toward the Earth where IBEX can detect them.

Since the ENAs no longer feel magnetic force, they travel in a nearly straight line, only slightly deflected by the sun's gravity. Their straightforward path allows ENAs that hit IBEX's two sensors to be traced back to their origin near the termination shock. This lets the IBEX team gradually build up a picture of the termination shock using the incoming neutral atoms, since the majority of Earthward-directed ENAs are believed to result from heating of the solar wind as it crosses the termination shock. Six months into the mission, IBEX will have observed the entire sky, and will reveal the global structure of the heliosheath and termination shock for the first time.

IBEX is scheduled to be launched on a Pegasus rocket on October 5, 2008. It needs to go beyond the region of space controlled by Earth's magnetic field, called the magnetosphere, because this region generates radiation and the same high-speed atoms (ENAs) that IBEX will use to make its pictures. To avoid contamination from local ENAs produced in the magnetosphere, IBEX's orbit will take it up to 200,000 miles from Earth.

"The solar system's frontier is billions of miles away, so it's difficult for us to go there, but interesting things happen at boundaries, and with IBEX, we will see them for the first time," said Dr. Robert MacDowall, IBEX Mission Scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The IBEX mission is funded by NASA's Small Explorer program. It is a PI-led mission being run by SwRI, which is responsible for all aspects of the mission. Orbital Science Corporation in Dulles, Virginia, is SwRI’s sub-contractor for the IBEX spacecraft and also provides the Pegasus launch. The Explorer Project Office at NASA Goddard oversees all Small Explorer missions, including IBEX.

> IBEX News and Multimedia

Phoenix Scoop Ready for Sampling

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander's robotic arm scoop is primed and ready to collect a soil sample from the northern region of Mars to analyze for the presence of water and other possible ingredients.

Scientists and engineers on the mission Friday prepared plans to send Phoenix later in the day that would command the robotic arm to rasp the hard soil in the trench informally named "Snow White," collect the shavings and deliver them to an oven for analysis.

Images received on Earth Friday morning confirmed that the scoop had been cleared of anything collected during previous days' testing. The scoop went through a sequence of moves to dump any remaining material. At the same time, the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA) was successfully prepared for the sample by purging it of any volatile materials.

"The successful completion of these preparatory activities clears the way for our next critical event, delivering the icy soil sample to TEGA," said Doug Ming, of NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, the team's science lead for today's planning.

The Phoenix mission is led by Peter Smith of the University of Arizona with project management at JPL and development partnership at Lockheed Martin, Denver. International contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; Max Planck Institute, Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute. For more about Phoenix, visit: and

Hubble Instruments Slated for On-Orbit 'Surgery'

When astronauts visit the Hubble Space Telescope in October 2008 for its final servicing mission, they will be facing a task that has no precedence – performing on-orbit 'surgery' on two ailing science instruments that reside inside the telescope – the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) and the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS).

Hubble was designed with servicing in mind, so its instrument bay doors are lined with handrails and, with custom tools, are relatively easy to open for the astronauts. The same cannot be said for the instruments themselves.

"The repair of STIS and of ACS in particular, involves techniques that the astronauts have never performed on Hubble, possibly never before anywhere," explained HST senior scientist Dave Leckrone at Goddard. "That is, to open up an instrument that was not designed to be opened up and actually pull out electronic printed circuit boards and replace them with new boards."

To accommodate these groundbreaking repairs, Hubble engineers and astronauts worked diligently to design special tools and procedures. Like doctors performing surgeries, preparation is imperative for success.

The Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph

Astronauts installed STIS in Hubble in 1997 during Servicing Mission 2. Its main function is spectroscopy -- the separation of light into its component colors, or wavelengths, to reveal information about the chemical content, temperature, and motion of stars and gas. Among its many accomplishments, STIS confirmed the existence of super-massive black holes and was the first instrument ever to detect and analyze the atmosphere of a planet orbiting another star.

Although spectrographs like STIS generally do not produce the beautiful images that Hubble is famous for, the data they provide are absolutely essential to understanding the physical properties of the universe. It could be said that they put the "physics" in astrophysics.

After a long life of scientific discovery, STIS experienced a power supply failure in August 2004, causing it to suspend operations. NASA engineers were able to pinpoint exactly where and how the failure occurred by examining data from STIS and determined that the inoperable power supply resides on a printed circuit board housed within the instrument.

The Advanced Camera for Surveys

Installed during Servicing Mission 3B in 2002, ACS quickly became Hubble’s workhorse imaging camera. Designed to survey large areas of the sky at visible and red wavelengths, it had twice the field-of-view and a finer resolution than its predecessor, the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. It quickly became Hubble’s most heavily used instrument and was responsible for many of the telescope’s most popular and dramatic images.

It took three failures to put ACS out of commission -- the first two were recovered by operating the instrument in different ways. To protect against failures, all Hubble instruments have some degree of "redundancy," meaning that there are duplicate parts that can perform the same function. If one part fails, another can be activated to restore the function.

When the first two failures occurred in 2006, the ground operations team was able to keep the entire instrument fully operational by using a redundant power supply. The final failure came in January 2007 when the backup power supply failed.

With less than two years until the final servicing mission, there would have been little time to develop procedures and tools needed to repair ACS had the team not already been preparing for a very similar task involving the repair of STIS. Designing a repair process for ACS became very workable by adapting the processes already under development for STIS repair.

Tool and Procedure Development

The repair of STIS and ACS presented a multitude of challenges during the development process. Engineers needed to work around three major issues: (1) safely getting access to the failed boards; (2) figuring a way to pull them out wearing the pressurized gloves; and (3) closing out the worksite when repairs are complete.

Knowing exactly what needs to be fixed is not enough to make repairs a piece of cake. To access the failed circuit boards on these two instruments, astronauts will have to remove 111 screws from the cover of STIS, and 32 screws from ACS, a time-consuming process in an environment where time is a scarce commodity.

To confront this challenge, Goddard engineers developed a high-speed power screwdriver with low torque, or twisting force. This combination of operational abilities means that the drill will speed up the removal process without breaking the screws and fasteners.

The sheer number of screws to be removed is not the only issue with gaining access to the circuit boards. Despite its mammoth size and giant status in space discovery, Hubble’s instruments are extremely delicate. Floating debris pose the threat of contaminating exposed electronics, so as astronauts open Hubble’s outer shell to make their repairs they must exercise extreme caution. Even tiny metal shavings resulting from the removal of one screw could be kryptonite to this super telescope.

To avoid the debris issue, NASA engineers designed a fastener capture plate. Using the custom drill, astronauts will first remove four screws to install the transparent “capture plate” over the electronic access panel. Tiny, labeled holes in the plate will allow them to then insert the drill bit and remove screws as the capture plate contains them. When all of the screws have been removed, the entire capture plate can be released as one unit, safely taking the access panel and all debris with it.

The astronauts' second challenge is grasping the failed circuit boards once the access panel has been removed. The boards are thin and the astronaut’s suits, including their gloves, are bulky and pressurized to protect them from the space environment. If you were to put on a pair of thick, wool mittens and try to grab a single piece of paper from the middle of a stack, you might have some idea of how difficult and time-consuming the task is for astronauts. NASA engineers got around this issue by developing a special card extraction tool which will allow the astronauts to easily grab and remove the circuit boards using large handles made specifically for their gloves.

The last major challenge of the repair process involves closing the instruments back up after repairs are complete. To conserve time, engineers designed a simplified version of the access panels. Two lever-like latches will be all it takes for the astronauts to securely lock the new STIS cover into place. A new panel is not required for ACS because the new electronic cards have all been built into one box that easily slides into place and covers the open side of the instrument.

Appreciating a Complement

Because NASA will be installing similar instruments into Hubble during SM4, you may wonder what purpose it serves to fix STIS and ACS. The answer lies in their differing, but complementary, capabilities.

While the new Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) will expand Hubble’s high resolution and provide a wide field-of-view into the near ultra-violet and near infra-red regions of the spectrum, the ACS has a slightly higher discovery potential in the visible wavelengths of light. STIS is a two-dimensional spectrograph while the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) is a point-source ultra-violet spectrograph. These two spectrographs working in tandem would give astronomers a full, spectroscopic suite of instruments.

The improvements will add years of science to Indexing Card Extraction Tool (ICET) and provide a full 'toolkit' to astronomers around the world. "Personally, I think that's where the more exciting results will come from after this servicing mission," explained Leckrone, “the new ideas that astronomers have about how to use these wonderful instruments now that they’re all together in a set that is internally complementary.”

Making History Again

Hubble has been arguably the most well-known and successful telescope in NASA history, but it is not solely a pathfinder for the science it has yielded over the years. The processes and procedures carried out during servicing missions have also always been innovative.

Before Hubble, nothing launched into space had even been built to be serviced and upgraded on orbit. The telescope is close to making history again with the first on-orbit repairs of existing instruments. Should these repair tasks be successful, Hubble is expected to be 90 times more powerful than ever before.

"At the end of SM4, when the astronauts leave Hubble for the last time, we have a very good prospect that Hubble will be at the apex of its capabilities. It will be better than it's ever been before, which is quite awesome when you realize that it will be over eighteen years old as an observatory," Leckrone said.

Related link:

> Read the other stories in the "Next Stop: Hubble" series

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Trench on Mars Ready for Next Sampling by NASA Lander

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has groomed the bottom of a shallow trench to prepare for collecting a sample to be analyzed from a hard subsurface layer where the soil may contain frozen water.

Images received Thursday morning confirmed that the lander's robotic arm had scraped the top of the hard layer clean during activities of Phoenix's 58th Martian day, or sol, corresponding to overnight Wednesday to Thursday.

The Phoenix team developed commands for sending to the spacecraft Thursday to complete two remaining preparations necessary before collecting a sample and delivering it to the lander's Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA). One part of the plan for Sol 59 (overnight Thursday to Friday) would assure that the scoop is empty of any soil collected earlier. Another would complete a final cleaning of any volatile materials from the oven that will receive the sample.

In the past two weeks, the team has refined techniques for using a powered rasp on the back of the arm's scoop to cut and collect shavings of material from the bottom of the trench. The trench, informally named "Snow White," is 4 to 5 centimeters deep (about 2 inches), about 23 centimeters wide (9 inches), and about 60 centimeters long (24 inches) long.

"The rasped material ends up in the back of the scoop, and we have to transfer it to the front through a pathway. That takes a series of arm moves to be sure the material gets through the pathway," said Robert Bonitz of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manager for the robotic arm. "The reason we're doing it today is we want to be sure the pathway is free of any material collected previously before we collect the next sample for delivery to TEGA."

The planned activity would repeat the series of pathway-clearing moves twice, and check visually to be sure the front of the scoop is empty. It is also important to get the background counts as low as possible in TEGA's evolved-gas analyzer, which receives vapors emitted from the oven. The instrument was heated repeatedly before launch and during the flight to Mars to drive off any volatile material in it, such as water and carbon-dioxide gases that tend to stick on surfaces. It got another heating on Sol 58.

"The baking last night was to remove background volatiles stuck on the walls of the instrument," said William Boynton of the University of Arizona, Tucson, lead scientist for TEGA. "What we're planning today is pumping out any gas we might have released with the baking."

Other activities in the plan for the sol beginning today include weather monitoring and photography of several areas. Some planned use of the Surface Stereo Imager would record the same view consecutively through 15 different filters. Each filter lets through only a limited band of wavelengths of visible or infrared light. Using just red, green and blue filters allows the team to make full-color images. Using the additional filters provides more information useful for interpreting geological or atmospheric qualities of the image target.

The Phoenix mission is led by Peter Smith of the University of Arizona with project management at JPL and development partnership at Lockheed Martin, Denver. International contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; Max Planck Institute, Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute. For more about Phoenix, visit: and



NASA and industry engineers have successfully completed the first drop test of a drogue parachute for the Ares I rocket. The drogue parachute is designed to slow the rapid descent of the spent first-stage motor, cast off by the Ares I rocket during its climb to space.

The successful test is a key early milestone in development and production of the Ares I rocket, the first launch vehicle for NASA's Constellation Program that will send explorers to the International Space Station, the moon and beyond in coming decades. The drogue parachute is a vital element of the Ares I deceleration system and will permit recovery of the reusable first-stage motor for use on future Ares I flights.

Engineers from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., managed the team that conducted the first Ares I drogue chute test on July 24 at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground near Yuma, Ariz. This is the sixth in an ongoing series of tests supporting development of the Ares I parachute recovery system, which includes a pilot chute, drogue and three main parachutes. The next drogue parachute test is scheduled for October, and testing will continue through 2010. The drogue parachute also will be used during NASA's first test flight for the Ares rocket, the Ares I-X, scheduled to take place in 2009.

Researchers dropped the 68-foot-diameter drogue parachute and its 36,000-pound load -- simulating the first-stage motor -- from a U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft flying at an altitude of 25,000 feet. The parachute and all test hardware functioned properly and landed safely.

The parachutes that serve as the Ares I recovery system are similar to the four-segment space shuttle boosters, but they have been redesigned to accommodate new requirements of the Ares I first stage. Dramatically larger and more powerful than the shuttle's boosters, the Ares I will have a five-segment solid rocket booster -- causing it to fall faster from a much higher altitude after separation from the launch vehicle.

During launch, the Ares I first-stage booster will separate from the upper stage at an elevation of 189,000 feet, approximately 126 seconds into flight. After freefalling to approximately 15,740 feet, the booster's nose cap will be jettisoned, releasing the pilot parachute, which in turn releases the drogue, slowing the stage's descent from 402 mph to 210 mph and maneuvering the booster into a vertical position. Finally, a cluster of three main parachutes, each 150 feet in diameter, will be deployed. The main parachutes continue to slow the booster to splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

Beginning in 2015, the Ares I rocket will launch the Orion crew capsule and six astronauts, and small pressurized cargo payloads, to the International Space Station. The Ares I rocket, an in-line, two-stage rocket configuration, will be powered by the first stage solid rocket motor for the first two minutes of launch.

ATK Launch Systems near Promontory, Utah, is the prime contractor for the first stage booster. ATK's subcontractor, United Space Alliance of Houston, is responsible for design, development and testing of the parachutes at its facilities at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston manages the Constellation Program, which includes the Ares I rocket, the Ares V heavy-lift launch vehicle, the Orion crew capsule, the Altair lunar lander. Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Ares Projects. The U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground provides the test range, support facilities and equipment to NASA for parachute testing.

Video of the drogue test will be available Monday, July 28, on NASA Television's Video File. For NASA TV downlink, schedule and streaming video information, visit:

For information about NASA's Constellation Program, visit:


Researchers using a fleet of five NASA satellites have discovered that explosions of magnetic energy a third of the way to the moon power substorms that cause sudden brightenings and rapid movements of the aurora borealis, called the Northern Lights.

The culprit turns out to be magnetic reconnection, a common process that occurs throughout the universe when stressed magnetic field lines suddenly snap to a new shape, like a rubber band that's been stretched too far.

"We discovered what makes the Northern Lights dance," said Dr. Vassilis Angelopoulos of the University of California, Los Angeles. Angelopoulos is the principal investigator for the Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms mission, or THEMIS.

Substorms produce dynamic changes in the auroral displays seen near Earth's northern and southern magnetic poles, causing a burst of light and movement in the Northern and Southern Lights.

Substorms often accompany intense space storms that can disrupt radio communications and global positioning system signals and cause power outages. Solving the mystery of where, when, and how substorms occur will allow scientists to construct more realistic substorm models and
better predict a magnetic storm's intensity and effects.

"As they capture and store energy from the solar wind, the Earth's magnetic field lines stretch far out into space. Magnetic reconnection releases the energy stored within these stretched
magnetic field lines, flinging charged particles back toward the Earth's atmosphere," said David Sibeck, THEMIS project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "They create halos of shimmering aurora circling the northern and southern poles."

Scientists directly observe the beginning of substorms using five THEMIS satellites and a network of 20 ground observatories located throughout Canada and Alaska. Launched in February 2007, the five identical satellites line up once every four days along the equator
and take observations synchronized with the ground observatories. Each ground station uses a magnetometer and a camera pointed upward to determine where and when an auroral substorm will begin. Instruments measure the auroral light from particles flowing along Earth's magnetic field and the electrical currents these particles generate.

During each alignment, the satellites capture data that allow scientists to precisely pinpoint where, when, and how substorms measured on the ground develop in space. On Feb. 26, 2008, during one such THEMIS lineup, the satellites observed an isolated substorm begin in space, while the ground-based observatories recorded the intense auroral brightening and space currents over North America.

These observations confirm for the first time that magnetic reconnection triggers the onset of substorms. The discovery supports the reconnection model of substorms, which asserts a substorm starting to occur follows a particular pattern. This pattern consists of a period of reconnection, followed by rapid auroral brightening and rapid expansion of the aurora toward the poles. This culminates in a redistribution of the electrical currents flowing in space around Earth.

THEMIS is the fifth medium-class mission under NASA's Explorer Program. The program, managed by the Explorers Program Office at Goddard provides frequent flight opportunities for world-class space investigations in heliophysics and astrophysics. The University of California, Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., managed the project development and is currently operating the THEMIS mission. ATK Space (formerly Swales Aerospace) of Beltsville, Md., built the THEMIS satellites.

The THEMIS team's findings will appear online July 24 in Science Express and Aug. 14 in the journal science. For more information about the THEMIS mission, visit:


NASA and Internet Archive, a non-profit digital library based in San Francisco, made available the most comprehensive compilation ever of NASA's vast collection of photographs, historic film and video Thursday. Located at, the Internet site combines for the first time 21 major NASA imagery collections into a single, searchable online resource. A link to the Web site will appear on the home page.

The Web site launch is the first step in a five-year partnership that will add millions of images and thousands of hours of video and audio content, with enhanced search and viewing capabilities, and new user features on a continuing basis. Over time, integration of with will become more seamless and comprehensive.

"This partnership with Internet Archive enables NASA to provide the American public with access to its vast collection of imagery from one searchable source, unlocking a new treasure trove of discoveries for students, historians, enthusiasts and researchers," said NASA
Deputy Administrator Shana Dale. "This new resource also will enable the agency to digitize and preserve historical content now not available on the Internet for future generations."

Through a competitive process, NASA selected Internet Archive to manage the NASA Images Web site under a non-exclusive Space Act agreement, signed in July 2007. The five-year project is at no cost to the taxpayer and the images are free to the public.

"NASA's media is an incredibly important and valuable national asset. It is a tremendous honor for the Internet Archive to be NASA's partner in this project," says Brewster Kahle, founder of Internet Archive. "We are excited to mark this first step in a long-term collaboration to create a rich and growing public resource."

The content of the Web site covers all the diverse activities of America's space program, including imagery from the Apollo moon missions, Hubble Space Telescope views of the universe and experimental aircraft past and present. Keyword searching is available with easy-to-use resources for teachers and students.

Internet Archive is developing the NASA Images project using software donated by Luna Imaging Inc. of Los Angeles and with the generous support of the Kahle-Austin Foundation of San Francisco.

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

For more information about Internet Archive, visit:

International Astronautical Congress 2008 Glasgow


29 September 2008 - 03 October 2008

The 59th International Astronautical Congress will be held in Glasgow between 29 September and 3 October 2008

IAC 2008 will provide an international focus for the global space industry, academic researchers and students worldwide through the presentation of the latest ideas, current activities and future ambitions across a diverse range of space-related topics together with a public exhibition.

Ian Pearson, Science and Innovation Minister, offers a message of support. To hear what he says, click on the podcast below.
Ian Pearson Podcast

The venue for this event is Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre and the Crowne Plaza Hotel, situated on the banks of the River Clyde.

For further information, please visit the IAC 2008 website.

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander Prepares for Next Sample Analysis

The latest activities of NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander have moved the mission closer to analyzing a sample of material, possibly icy soil, from a hard layer at the bottom of a shallow trench beside the lander.

Overnight Tuesday to Wednesday, during Phoenix's 57th Martian day, or sol, since landing, Phoenix used its robotic arm to scrape the top of the hard layer in the trench informally named "Snow White."

The Phoenix team prepared commands to send to the spacecraft Wednesday telling it to take color stereo images minutes after each of five more rounds of scraping during Sol 58.

"We are monitoring changes between the scrapes," said Doug Ming of NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, the team's science lead for Sol 58 plans. "It appears that there is fairly rapid sublimation of some of the ice after scraping exposes fresh material, leaving a thin layer of soil particles that had been mixed with the ice. There's a color change from darker to bluer to redder. We want to characterize that on Sol 58 to know what to expect when we scrape just before collecting the next sample."

Within a few sols, the team plans to collect a sample from the hard layer of Snow White for delivery to one of the eight ovens of Phoenix's Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA). Doors to the oven have been opened to receive the sample.

The TEGA completed one checkout during Sol 57. Another preparation step by the instrument, a heater characterization, is planned for Sol 58, to verify that pressure sensors can be warmed enough to operate properly early in the Mars morning.

"For the next sample, we will be operating the instrument earlier in the morning than we have before," said William Boynton of the University of Arizona, lead scientist for TEGA. "It will be almost the coldest part of the day, because we want to collect the sample cold and deliver it cold."

On the day when Phoenix will deliver the next sample to TEGA, the team plans to have lander activities begin about three hours earlier than the usual start time of about 9 a.m. local solar time.

One set of imaging commands developed for use on Sol 58 or soon afterwards will check a northwestern portion of the horizon repeatedly during early afternoon to see whether any dust devils can be seen. This will be the first systematic check by Phoenix for dust devils. Similar imaging sequences have observed dust devils near NASA's Mars Rover Spirit, south of Mars' equator.

Students from Boulder Creek High School, Anthem, Ariz., worked with Phoenix team members to plan the first monitoring for dust devils by the lander's Surface Stereo Imager. They and students from SciTech High School, San Diego, are interns at the Phoenix mission's Science Operations Center in Tucson this week, part of a series of internship visits from 12 schools this summer by schools in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Texas.

The Phoenix mission is led by Peter Smith of the University of Arizona with project management at JPL and development partnership at Lockheed Martin, Denver. International contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; Max Planck Institute, Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute. For more about Phoenix, visit: and

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

NASA Phoenix Lander Completes Longest Work Shift

Phoenix early Tuesday finished its longest work shift of the mission. The lander stayed awake for 33 hours, completing tasks that included rasping and scraping by the robotic arm, in addition to atmosphere observations in coordination with simultaneous observations by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

"Our rasping test yesterday gave us enough confidence that we're now planning for the next use of the rasp to be for acquiring a sample to be delivered to TEGA," said Phoenix project manager Barry Goldstein of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. TEGA is Phoenix's Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, an instrument that heats samples in small ovens and uses a mass spectrometer to study the vapors driven off by the heating.

As preparation for that sample delivery in coming days, the Phoenix team developed plans to command the lander Tuesday evening to conduct 80 scrapings of the bottom of a trench informally named "Snow White." The scraping is designed to freshly expose frozen material and ready the surface for using the rasp.

The Phoenix mission is led by Peter Smith of the University of Arizona with project management at JPL and development partnership at Lockheed Martin, Denver. International contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; Max Planck Institute, Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute. For more about Phoenix, visit: and

Hurricane Season 2008: Tropical Storm Dolly (Gulf of Mexico)


Hurricane Dolly Already Making Landfall; Tornado Reported in South Texas

Tropical Storm Dolly strengthened into a Category One Hurricane with 85 mph maximum sustained winds and may get even stronger before her eye makes landfall this morning (July 23, 2008). Dolly's center will be along the coast near the Texas/Mexico border around midday today, according to the National Hurricane Center, but she's already generated one tornado in south Texas this morning.

At 7:00 a.m. EDT, tropical storm force winds were already affecting coastal Texas and northeastern Mexico. The center of hurricane Dolly was located near latitude 25.8 north and longitude 96.6 west or about 55 miles (90 km) east of Brownsville, Texas.

Dolly is moving toward the northwest near 8 mph (13 km/hr) and northwestward to west-northwestward motion with a slight decrease in forward speed is expected today. Minimum central pressure is 972 millibars.

Where are the Warnings and Watches?

A hurricane warning remains in effect for the coast of Texas from Brownsville to Corpus Christi and for the northeastern coast of Mexico from Rio San Fernando northward to the border between Mexico and the U.S. Tropical Storm Warnings are posted for areas north and south of the hurricane warning area.

What Weather Conditions Are Expected?

At 8:00 a.m. EDT, the city of Brownsville, Texas was under a Flood Watch, Hurricane Wind Warning, Tornado Watch, and already a Tornado Warning.

At 7:04 a.m. CDT, The National Weather Service doppler radar indicated a tornado 7 miles north of Harlingen Valley Airport and moving southwest at 46 mph.

In the warning areas, Dolly is expected to produce total rainfall accumulations of 6 to 10 inches, with isolated amounts of 15 inches over portions of south Texas and northeastern Mexico over the next few days. These rains will likely cause widespread flooding across portions of south Texas and northeast Mexico.

Coastal flooding is another problem. Dolly's storm surge along the coasts will range from 4 to 6 feet above normal tide levels. There will also be large and dangerous battering waves near and north of the center's landfall point.

As with any land-falling hurricane, isolated tornadoes are also possible. Portions of south Texas and northern Mexico may experience isolated tornadoes today and tonight.

For Current Radar out of Brownsville, Texas, visit:

What Does This NASA Satellite Image Show?

This infrared image of Dolly was created by data from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS), an instrument that flies aboard NASA's Aqua satellite. The image was created on July 22 at 19:05 UTC (3:05 p.m. EDT) and Dolly was located in the Gulf of Mexico headed toward the Texas/Mexico border. Dolly is seen to the left side of this image.

The AIRS images show the temperature of the cloud tops or the surface of the Earth in cloud-free regions. The lowest temperatures (in purple) are associated with high, cold cloud tops that make up the top of Dolly. The AIRS data creates an accurate 3-D map of atmospheric temperature, water vapor and clouds, all of which are helpful to forecasters.

The infrared signal of the AIRS instrument does not penetrate through clouds. Where there are no clouds the AIRS instrument reads the infrared signal from the surface of the ocean waters, revealing warmer temperatures in orange and red.

Dolly Poised to Hit South Texas, Northern Mexico as Hurricane

The 2008 Atlantic hurricane season has become a lot more active recently, first with the formation of Tropical Storm Cristobal off of the Carolina coast and now with Tropical Storm Dolly in the Gulf of Mexico poised to strike near the border between Texas and Mexico. Dolly, which became a tropical storm in the western Caribbean on the morning (local time) of 20 July 2008, originated from an African easterly wave that had emerged off of the coast of Africa back on the 12th of July before propagating westward across the tropical Atlantic and into the Caribbean. After forming in the western Caribbean, Tropical Storm Dolly maintained a generally west-northwestward track, which took the center across the very northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula early on the morning (local time) of July 21st. Despite passing over land and being somewhat disorganized, Dolly maintained moderate tropical storm intensity with sustained winds estimated at 45 knots (52 mph) by the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Dolly re-emerged over the warm open waters of the western Gulf of Mexico later on the morning of the 21st. Combined with low atmospheric wind shear, conditions were favorable for intensification. The only real inhibiting factor was the sprawling nature of the storm itself. Without a well-organized core, storms take longer to respond to favorable conditions. None-the-less, Dolly began to slowly strengthen as is took aim at the Texas-Mexico border.

The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite (also known as TRMM) has been in service for over 10 years now and continues to provide valuable images and information on tropical cyclones around the Tropics using a combination of passive microwave and active radar sensors, including the first precipitation radar in space. These unique images were captured by TRMM at 12:44 UTC (7:44 am CDT) 22 July 2008 while Dolly was in the western Gulf of Mexico. The first image shows the horizontal pattern of rain intensity within the storm. Rain rates in the center swath are based on the TRMM Precipitation Radar (PR), and those in the outer swath on the TRMM Microwave Imager (TMI). The rain rates are overlaid on infrared (IR) data from the TRMM Visible Infrared Scanner (VIRS). TRMM reveals that Dolly has a rather large wavy eye with most of the moderate to heavy rain (green and red areas, respectively) wrapping around the southern side of the storm.

The second image was collected at the same time and shows a 3D perspective of the storm via the TRMM PR. The eye is clearly visible by the deep center (in blue), which is completely surrounded by a ring of moderately high precipitation areas (green). A few somewhat taller towers are visible in red within the eastern eyewall. At the time of these images, Dolly was a moderate tropical storm with maximum sustained winds reported at 55 knots (63 mph) by NHC. Dolly is expected to continue off to the west-northwest and make landfall in the vicinity of Brownsville, TX as a minimal hurricane before turning more westward over central northern Mexico.

TRMM is a joint mission between NASA and the Japanese space agency JAXA.

Dolly Eyeing Landfall Wednesday at Texas/Mexico Border as a Hurricane

Tropical Storm Dolly is strengthening in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and is expected to become a hurricane by Wednesday, July 23. The National Hurricane Center is forecasting landfall that day near Brownsville, Texas, which is on the border between Texas and Mexico.

Where is Dolly Now?
At 5:00 a.m. EDT (4:00 a.m. CDT) on Tuesday, July 22, the center of Tropical Storm Dolly was located near latitude 23.3 north and longitude 93.8 west or about 295 miles (475 km) southeast of Brownsville, Texas. Dolly's maximum sustained winds are near 60 mph (95 km/hr) with higher gusts. Additional strengthening is forecast, and Dolly is expected to become a hurricane prior to landfall.

Dolly is moving toward the west near 15 mph (24 km/hr). Later today, July 22, she's expected to turn to the west-northwest is expected later today, then veer northwest on the 23rd. Minimum central pressure is 997 millibars.

Where Are The Warnings Posted?
A hurricane warning is in effect for the coast of Texas from Brownsville to Port O'Connor. There's a warning also for the northeast coast of Mexico from Rio San Fernando, northward to the border between Mexico and the U.S. A hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected within the warning area within the next 24 hours.

A tropical storm warning is in effect from north of Port O'Connor to San Luis Pass. A tropical storm warning means that tropical storm conditions (winds between 39-73 mph) are expected within the warning area within the next 24 hours.

What Will Dolly Bring to Texas and Mexico?
Like the Dolly Parton song "Wild Texas Wind" from her "Something Special" album of 1995, Texas and Mexico will likely be experiencing hurricane force winds over the next few days.

The National Hurricane Center expects Dolly to produce total rain accumulations of 4 to 8 inches with isolated amounts of up to 15 inches over much of south Texas and northeastern Mexico over the next few days. Dolly is expected to produce additional amounts of 1 to 3 inches over the Northern Yucatan Peninsula.

Dangerous coastal conditions are expected as Dolly approaches the coast. Coastal storm surge flooding of 4 to 6 feet above normal tide levels along with large and dangerous battering waves can be expected near and to the north of where the center makes landfall.

What Does This NASA Satellite Image Show?
This infrared image of Dolly was created by data from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS), an instrument that flies aboard NASA's Aqua satellite. The image was created on July 22 at 8:05 UTC (4:05 a.m. EDT) and Dolly is located in the Gulf of Mexico, some 275 miles southeast of Brownsville, Texas (at the southern-most tip of the state).

The AIRS images show the temperature of the cloud tops or the surface of the Earth in cloud-free regions. The lowest temperatures (in purple) are associated with high, cold cloud tops that make up the top of Dolly. The AIRS data creates an accurate 3-D map of atmospheric temperature, water vapor and clouds, all of which are helpful to forecasters.

The infrared signal of the AIRS instrument does not penetrate through clouds. Where there are no clouds the AIRS instrument reads the infrared signal from the surface of the ocean waters, revealing warmer temperatures in orange and red.

Tropical Storm Dolly, Here You Come Again…

Like the number one song by Dolly Parton, "Here You Come Again," six years ago, there was a tropical storm Dolly, now the name has returned on the official six year name hurricane list. Dolly is the name of the Atlantic Hurricane Season's fourth named storm and she means business in the Gulf of Mexico.

Dolly started out as a tropical depression on Sunday, July 20th and by 11:45 a.m. EDT that day, she strengthened into a tropical storm and got her name.

By 8:00 a.m. EDT on Monday, July 21, 2008, Dolly had moved off the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, and is located between there and Cuba. She's now poised to enter the Gulf of Mexico's warm waters and could become a hurricane by Tuesday, July 22.

At 8:00 a.m. EDT on July 21, Dolly's center was located near 21.6 degrees north latitude and 88.7 degrees west longitude, or 65 miles (105 km) east-northeast of Progreso, Mexico. Dolly is moving toward the west-northwest near 16 mph (26 km/hour), and a west-northwest motion is expected over the next couple of days. She's also expected to slow down in forward speed.

Dolly's maximum sustained winds are near 50 mph (85 km/hour) with higher gusts, and the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico will strengthen her into a hurricane over the next day. Her estimated minimum central pressure is 1005 millibars.

She's expected to produce a good amount of rainfall across the northern Yucatan and western Cuba, between 4 and 6 inches. There will also be areas that could receive as much as 10 inches of rain.

This infrared image of Dolly was created by data from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS), an instrument that flies aboard NASA's Aqua satellite. The image was created on July 21 at 7:23 UTC (3:23 a.m. EDT) and Dolly is located between the Yucatan and Cuba poised to enter the Gulf of Mexico.

The AIRS images show the temperature of the cloud tops or the surface of the Earth in cloud-free regions. The lowest temperatures (in purple) are associated with high, cold cloud tops that make up the top of Dolly. The AIRS data creates an accurate 3-D map of atmospheric temperature, water vapor and clouds, all of which are helpful to forecasters.

The infrared signal of the AIRS instrument does not penetrate through clouds. Where there are no clouds the AIRS instrument reads the infrared signal from the surface of the ocean waters, revealing warmer temperatures in orange and red.