Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Herschel Opens Its Infrared Eyes

Glowing light from clouds of dust and gas around and between the stars is visible clearly.The Herschel Space Observatory has snapped its first picture since blasting into space on May 14, 2009. The mission, led by the European Space Agency with important participation from NASA, will use infrared light to explore our cosmic roots, addressing questions of how stars and galaxies are born.

The new "sneak preview" image was taken in an early attempt to demonstrate that Herschel works, and, in particular, that its telescope is focused and correctly aligned with the science instruments, and to whet our appetites for what's yet to come. It shows the Whirlpool galaxy, which lies relatively nearby, about 35 million light-years away, in the constellation Canes Venatici.

The galaxy was first observed by Charles Messier in 1773, who gave the beauty its official name of Messier 51. Back then, astronomers, including William Herschel, the observatory's namesake, catalogued objects like these as fuzzy nebulae without knowing their true nature. Later, Messier 51 became one of the first of these fuzzy objects observed to have a spiral structure, a finding that eventually led to the revelation that galaxies full of stars exist far from our own.

The image is a composite of infrared light captured with Herschel's Photoconductor Array Camera and Spectrometer at three wavelengths: 70, 100 and 160 microns. Herschel's full wavelength range spans 55 to 672 microns. The blue and white areas show where stars are actively forming, while the brown regions contain cold dust. The brightest blue dot at top left is a smaller, companion galaxy.

Longer-wavelength light inherently does not produce pictures with resolution as high as those obtained at shorter wavelengths, such as visible light. However, because Herschel's mirror is the largest infrared astronomy mirror ever launched in space (3.5 meters, or about 11.5 feet across), it can take the sharpest pictures to date at the particular wavelengths it observes.

During its prime mission phase, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, also a space-based infrared telescope, could see shorter-wavelength light, with wavelengths ranging from 3.6 to 160 microns. Because the two telescopes are able to see, for the most part, different wavelengths of light, their results complement each other, highlighting the multifaceted features of cosmic objects. Spitzer's shorter-wavelength infrared view of the Whirlpool galaxy, in comparison to a visible-light view, can be seen at http://gallery.spitzer.caltech.edu/Imagegallery/image.php?image_name=ssc2004-19a .

Herschel is in the final stretches of its journey to the second Lagrange point of the Earth-sun system. The observatory will spend its lifetime, estimated to be at least three-and-a-half-years, orbiting this point, which is about 1.5 million kilometers (930,000 miles) from Earth on the opposite side of our planet from the sun. After a cover protecting the telescope's instruments was popped open on June 14, engineers and scientists commanded the telescope to take its first test picture. The telescope is still being commissioned, with science observations expected to begin later this year.

Herschel is a European Space Agency cornerstone mission, with science instruments provided by a consortia of European institutes and with important participation by NASA. NASA's Herschel Project Office is based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. JPL contributed mission-enabling technology for two of Herschel's three science instruments. The NASA Herschel Science Center, part of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, supports the United States astronomical community. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. More information is online at http://www.herschel.caltech.edu .

The NASA Herschel Science Center is part of the consortium that developed the Photoconductor Array Camera and Spectrometer.

Monday, June 29, 2009

New JPL Building Goes Green for the Gold

A rooftop, drought-resistant garden is among the When residents of the top floors of JPL's new Flight Projects Center look out their windows down to the roof of the building's auditorium, they won't see black tar. Instead, they'll witness what looks more like Joshua Tree, Calif. -- desert, drought-resistant plants dotting sandy ground.

The plants do more than enhance the view; they are part of the building's many "green" features. In fact, the building is so green that JPL is going for the gold -- a gold certification, that is, under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system, set up by the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council.

The six-story Flight Projects Center will house missions in the busy design and development phases, when engineers and scientists from all around the world must work together closely. The first tenants are expected to move in this September.

To achieve a gold-level certification, the building must meet certain criteria. In general, it must consume water, energy and resources efficiently; treat the environment in friendly ways; and create a healthy and comfortable indoor workspace. Some of the building's green assets are listed here:

• A green, living roof will keep the building cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The green roof will also help minimize storm water runoff into the Arroyo Seco, a dry riverbed near JPL.

• Outdoor lights will be used solely for safety purposes. The lights are directed toward the ground, reducing the amount of light pollution that escapes to the night sky.

• Desert plants on the roof and the rest of the landscape will require 72 percent less water than a typical landscape design in Southern California.

• Low-flow faucets and toilets will reduce water use by 40 percent compared with typical fixtures. The building will save an estimated 500,000 gallons of water every year.

• Improved wall insulation, efficient chillers and boilers, window shading devices and the green roof will greatly reduce energy needs.

• More than 75 percent of the waste generated during construction was diverted from a landfill to a local recycling facility. Wood was acquired from Forest Stewardship Council certified suppliers, ensuring sustainable harvesting of trees.

• The paints and other surface materials have low levels of undesirable, toxic fumes.

• The heating and cooling system is "smart" -- it knows whether people are in a room and adjusts the temperature and ventilation accordingly.

• The janitorial staff will use green cleaning products and practices.

• Showers and bike racks will encourage people to leave their cars at home, and bike or walk to work.

More information about the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system and the U.S. Green Building Council is online at http://www.usgbc.org .

Sunday, June 28, 2009

NASA Scientists Bring Light to Moon's Permanently Dark Craters

This color image is the highest resolution topography map to date of the moon's south pole.A new lunar topography map with the highest resolution of the moon's rugged south polar region provides new information on some of our natural satellite's darkest inhabitants - permanently shadowed craters.

The map was created by scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., who collected the data using the Deep Space Network's Goldstone Solar System Radar located in California's Mojave Desert. The map will help Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission planners as they target for an encounter with a permanently dark crater near the lunar South Pole.

"Since the beginning of time, these lunar craters have been invisible to humanity," said Barbara Wilson, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and manager of the study. "Now we can see detailed topography inside these craters down to 40 meters [132 feet] per pixel, with height accuracy of better than 5 meters [16 feet]."

The terrain map of the moon's south pole is online at: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/moonmars/features/moon-20090618.html .

Scientists targeted the moon's south polar region using Goldstone's 70-meter (230-foot) radar dish. The antenna, three-quarters the size of a football field, sent a 500-kilowatt-strong, 90-minute-long radar stream 373,046 kilometers (231,800 miles) to the moon. Signals were reflected back from the rough-hewn lunar terrain and detected by two of Goldstone's 34-meter (112-foot) antennas on Earth. The roundtrip time, from the antenna to the moon and back, was about two-and-a-half seconds.

The scientists compared their data with laser altimeter data recently released by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kaguya mission to position and orient the radar images and maps. The new map provides contiguous topographic detail over a region approximately 500 kilometers (311 miles) by 400 kilometers (249 miles).

Funding for the program was provided by NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. JPL manages the Goldstone Solar System Radar and the Deep Space Network for NASA. JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

More information about the Goldstone Solar System Radar and Deep Space Network is at http://deepspace.jpl.nasa.gov/dsn . More information about NASA's exploration program to return humans to the moon is at http://www.nasa.gov/exploration .

Friday, June 26, 2009

NASA Lunar Mission Successfully Enters Moon Orbit

After a four and a half day journey from the Earth, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, has successfully entered orbit around the moon. Engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., confirmed the spacecraft's lunar orbit insertion at 6:27 a.m. EDT Tuesday.

During transit to the moon, engineers performed a mid-course correction to get the spacecraft in the proper position to reach its lunar destination. Since the moon is always moving, the spacecraft shot for a target point ahead of the moon. When close to the moon, LRO used its rocket motor to slow down until the gravity of the moon caught the spacecraft in lunar orbit.

"Lunar orbit insertion is a crucial milestone for the mission," said Cathy Peddie, LRO deputy project manager at Goddard. "The LRO mission cannot begin until the moon captures us. Once we enter the moon's orbit, we can begin to buildup the dataset needed to understand in greater detail the lunar topography, features and resources. We are so proud to be a part of this exciting mission and NASA's planned return to the moon."

A series of four engine burns over the next four days will put the satellite into its commissioning phase orbit. During the commissioning phase each of its seven instruments is checked out and brought online. The commissioning phase will end approximately 60 days after launch, when LRO will use its engines to transition to its primary mission orbit.

For its primary mission, LRO will orbit above the moon at about 31 miles, or 50 kilometers, for one year. The spacecraft's instruments will help scientists compile high resolution, three-dimensional maps of the lunar surface and also survey it at many spectral wavelengths.

The satellite will explore the moon's deepest craters, examining permanently sunlit and shadowed regions, and provide understanding of the effects of lunar radiation on humans. LRO will return more data about the moon than any previous mission.

For more information about the LRO mission, visit:


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

NASA Reschedules Test of Max Launch Abort System for June 25

Because of delays completing preliminary tests at the launch site, NASA has rescheduled the test launch of the Max Launch Abort System, or MLAS, to no earlier than June 25 at the agency's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va. The launch window will extend from approximately 5:45 a.m. to 10 a.m. EDT.

Because of the possibility of further schedule changes, news media representatives should contact Rebecca Powell at 757-824-1139 or Ashley Edwards at 202-358-1756 to confirm the exact date and time of the launch.

The unpiloted test is part of an effort to design a system for safely propelling future spacecraft and crews away from hazards on the launch pad or during the climb to orbit. This system was developed as an alternative concept to the launch abort system chosen for NASA's Orion crew capsule.

The 33-foot-high MLAS vehicle will be launched to an altitude of approximately one mile to simulate an emergency on the launch pad. A full-scale mockup of the crew capsule will separate from the launch vehicle and parachute into the Atlantic Ocean.

For more information about MLAS, visit:


For more information about the Constellation Program, visit:


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Jet Streams Suspected of Triggering Sunspots

A helioseismic map of the solar interiorThe sun is in the pits of a century-class solar minimum, and sunspots have been puzzlingly scarce for more than two years. Now, for the first time, solar physicists might understand why.

At an American Astronomical Society press conference this week in Boulder, Colorado, researchers announced that a jet stream deep inside the sun is migrating slower than usual through the star's interior, giving rise to the current lack of sunspots.

Rachel Howe and Frank Hill of the National Solar Observatory (NSO) in Tucson, Arizona, used a technique called helioseismology to detect and track the jet stream down to depths of 7,000 km below the surface of the sun. The sun generates new jet streams near its poles every 11 years, they explained to a room full of reporters and fellow scientists. The streams migrate slowly from the poles to the equator and when a jet stream reaches the critical latitude of 22 degrees, new-cycle sunspots begin to appear.

Howe and Hill found that the stream associated with the next solar cycle has moved sluggishly, taking three years to cover a 10 degree range in latitude compared to only two years for the previous solar cycle.

The jet stream is now, finally, reaching the critical latitude, heralding a return of solar activity in the months and years ahead.

An artist's concept of the Solar Dynamics Observatory. "It is exciting to see", says Hill, "that just as this sluggish stream reaches the usual active latitude of 22 degrees, a year late, we finally begin to see new groups of sunspots emerging."

The current solar minimum has been so long and deep, it prompted some scientists to speculate that the sun might enter a long period with no sunspot activity at all, akin to the Maunder Minimum of the 17th century. This new result dispells those concerns. The sun's internal magnetic dynamo is still operating, and the sunspot cycle is not "broken."

Because it flows beneath the surface of the sun, the jet stream is not directly visible. Hill and Howe tracked its hidden motions via helioseismology. Shifting masses inside the sun send pressure waves rippling through the stellar interior. So-called "p modes" (p for pressure) bounce around the interior and cause the sun to ring like an enormous bell. By studying the vibrations of the sun's surface, it is possible to figure out what is happening inside. Similar techniques are used by geologists to map the interior of our planet.

In this case, researchers combined data from GONG and SOHO. GONG, short for "Global Oscillation Network Group," is an NSO-led network of telescopes that measures solar vibrations from various locations around Earth. SOHO, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, makes similar measurements from space.

"This is an important discovery," says Dean Pesnell of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "It shows how flows inside the sun are tied to the creation of sunspots and how jet streams can affect the timing of the solar cycle."

There is, however, much more to learn.

"We still don't understand exactly how jet streams trigger sunspot production," says Pesnell. "Nor do we fully understand how the jet streams themselves are generated."

To solve these mysteries, and others, NASA plans to launch the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) later this year. SDO is equipped with sophisticated helioseismology sensors that will allow it to probe the solar interior better than ever before.

"The Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) on SDO will improve our understanding of these jet streams and other internal flows by providing full disk images at ever-increasing depths in the sun," says Pesnell.

Continued tracking and study of solar jet streams could help researchers do something unprecedented--accurately predict the unfolding of future solar cycles. Stay tuned for that!

Related Links:

> Sonograms of Sun Explain Missing Sunspots (American Astronomical Society/Solar Physics Division)
> Solar Dynamics Observatory (Goddard Space Flight Center)

Monday, June 22, 2009

LRO/LCROSS Launch Date Set

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite are set to lift off together aboard an Atlas V rocket on Thursday, June 18, at 5:12 p.m. EDT. Two additional launch opportunities are available at 5:22 p.m. and 5:32 p.m.

In preparation for liftoff, the Atlas V launch vehicle is scheduled to roll out to the pad Wednesday at 10 a.m.

Countdown milestones can be found on NASA's Launch Blog beginning at 2 p.m. EDT.

Atlas V Rolls to Launch Pad
In the left background is space shuttle Endeavour on pad 39A, on the right foreground is the Atlas V with LRO and LCROSS spacecrafts on top at their launch pad.
Mission Overview

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Spacecraft will fly to the moon atop the same Atlas V rocket, although they will use vastly different methods to study the lunar environment. LRO will go into orbit around the moon, turning its suite of instruments towards the moon for thorough studies. The spacecraft also will be looking for potential landing sites for astronauts.

LCROSS, on the other hand, will guide an empty upper stage on a collision course with a permanently shaded crater in an effort to kick up evidence of water at the moon's poles. LCROSS itself will also impact the lunar surface during its course of study.

Liftoff currently is scheduled for June 18 at 5:12 p.m. EDT. There are two more launch opportunities that day at 5:22 p.m. and 5:32 p.m.

Additional Resources
› LRO Fact Sheet
› LRO/LCROSS Press Kit
› LRO/LCROSS Launch Coverage Events

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Scientists Search for a Pulse in Skies Above Earthquake Country

UAVSAR image of the San Andreas fault in the San Francisco Bay area just west of San Mateo and Foster City.NASA Gives California's San Andreas, Other Faults a 3-D Close-up

Story Highlights
• New NASA 3-D airborne radar to study California's earthquake faults.
• Radar sees below the surface to measure buildup and release of strain along faults.
• Data can be used to guide rescue and damage assessment efforts after a quake.
• LA basin, San Francisco Bay among areas to be studied.

When a swarm of hundreds of small to moderate earthquakes erupted beneath California's Salton Sea in March, sending spasms rumbling across the desert floor, it set off more than just seismometers. It also raised the eyebrows of quite a few concerned scientists. The reason: lurking underground, just a few kilometers to the northeast, lays a sleeping giant: the 160-kilometer-(100-mile) long southern segment of the notorious 1,300-kilometer- (800-mile) long San Andreas fault. Scientists were concerned that the recent earthquake swarm at the Salton Sea's Bombay Beach could perhaps be the straw that broke the camel's back, triggering "the big one," a huge earthquake that could devastate Southern California.

The southern end of the San Andreas has remained silent, at least for now. But the earthquake swarm and more recent, widely felt earthquakes in the Los Angeles area have stirred renewed interest in earthquake research. A multi-year project currently under way at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., is seeking to improve our understanding of these mysterious and sometimes deadly natural hazards by using a groundbreaking, JPL-developed airborne radar to study earthquake processes along the San Andreas and other California faults.

The 'Mother of California Faults'

Formed 15 to 20 million years ago, the San Andreas has defined California's seismic history and dramatically altered its landscape. It serves as the boundary between the two massive tectonic plates upon which the Golden State rides: the Pacific and North American plates.

Grinding horizontally past each other in a roughly north-south direction at up to 3.5 centimeters (1.4 inches) a year, the fault is a battle zone of pulverized rock, extending to depths of at least 16 kilometers (10 miles). In some places, the plates "creep" quietly past each other, producing small to moderate earthquakes, in a process known as aseismic creep.

But other parts of the fault get "stuck." They lock in place for sometimes hundreds of years before eventually releasing their pent-up frustrations in epic lunges, such as those responsible for the large magnitude 7.9 earthquakes that struck a then sparsely populated Southern California near Fort Tejon in 1857, and San Francisco in 1906.

From San Luis Obispo south to the Cajon Pass near San Bernardino, the San Andreas forms a largely unbroken line that is often clearly visible from the ground and air. South of Cajon Pass, however, the fault zone becomes more complex. Here, several different faults share the "burden" of moving the tectonic plates, including the San Andreas and the parallel and intersecting San Jacinto and southern San Andreas faults, among others. North of San Luis Obispo, the fault zone similarly splits into nearly parallel faults, with the Hayward and Calaveras faults sharing the plate motion with the San Andreas in the San Francisco Bay area.

Paleoseismological studies dating back 1,500 years have shown that large earthquakes occur on the southern San Andreas about every 250 to 300 years, on average. Yet the extreme southern segment of the fault hasn't budged for about 320 years. It is apparently overdue, primed for another large event.

Last year, the United States Geological Survey estimated that such a large earthquake, originating near the Salton Sea and rupturing the ground northward to near Lake Hughes in Los Angeles County, could devastate an eight-county region, killing up to 1,800, injuring 50,000, displacing a quarter million people, significantly damaging 300,000 buildings and causing an estimated $213 billion in damage.

Searching for Clues From Above and Below

Like doctors assessing the health of a patient, scientists use a broad array of tools to "listen" to the San Andreas and other faults, looking for clues about their past, present and future behavior. They dig trenches across faults, and place instruments, such as seismographs, creep meters and stress meters, into the ground to try to detect any changes that might be occurring above or below Earth's surface.

Increasingly, they also rely on space-based technologies, such as those being developed at JPL. Space-based instruments can image minute Earth movements to within a few centimeters (fractions of an inch), measuring the slow buildup of deformation along faults and mapping ground deformation after earthquakes occur. Among these tools are the Global Positioning System and interferometric synthetic aperture radar, or InSAR.

Until recently, the only InSAR data available for the San Andreas and other California faults have come from European Space Agency, Canadian and Japanese radar satellites. But those satellites aren't dedicated to or optimized for studying earthquakes, and the availability of their data is limited.

A New 3-D Radar Tool

Now, JPL scientists have added a new airborne radar tool to their arsenal. Called the Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar, or UAVSAR, this L-band wavelength radar flies aboard a modified NASA Gulfstream III aircraft from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif. The compact, reconfigurable radar, housed in a pod under the aircraft's fuselage, uses pulses of microwave energy to detect and measure very subtle deformations in Earth's surface, such as those caused by earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides and glacier movements.

UAVSAR works like this: flying at a nominal altitude of 13,800 meters (45,000 feet), the radar collects data over a selected region. It then flies over the same region again, minutes to months later, using the aircraft's advanced navigation system to precisely fly over the same path to an accuracy of within 4.6 meters (15 feet). By comparing these camera-like images, called interferograms, over time, scientists can measure the slow surface deformations involved with the buildup and release of strain along earthquake faults.

(UAVSAR is currently wrapping up a two-month expedition in Greenland and Iceland to study the flow of glaciers and ice streams. See http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2009-075 and http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/features.cfm?feature=2156 ).

'Mowing the Lawn'

Last November, JPL scientists began conducting a series of UAVSAR flights over regions of Northern and Southern California that are actively deforming and are marked by frequent earthquakes. About every six months for the next several years, the scientists will precisely repeat the same flight paths to produce interferograms. From these data, 3-D maps will be created for regions of interest, including the mighty San Andreas and other California faults, extending from the Mexican border to Santa Rosa in the northern San Francisco Bay. Last month, the scientists completed their first full map of the San Andreas. Some regions, such as Parkfield on the central San Andreas, and the Hayward fault, have already had more than one flyover.

"We'll be 'mowing the lawn,' so to speak, mapping the San Andreas and adjacent faults, segment by segment, and then periodically repeating the same radar observations," said Andrea Donnellan, one of three JPL principal investigators on the UAVSAR fault mapping project, and program area lead for Natural Disasters in NASA Headquarters' Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

"By comparing these repeat-pass radar observations, we hope to measure any crustal deformations that may occur between observations, allowing us to 'see' the amount of strain building up in the San Andreas and adjoining faults,” Donnellan said. “This will give us a much clearer picture of which faults are active and at what rates they're moving, both before earthquakes and after them."

Donnellan said the UAVSAR fault mapping data will substantially improve our knowledge of regional earthquake hazards in California. "The 3-D UAVSAR data will allow scientists to bring entire faults into focus, allowing them to see the faults not just at their surfaces, but also at depth," she said. "When integrated into computer models, the data should give scientists a much clearer picture of California's complex fault systems, such as those in the Los Angeles basin and in the area around the Salton Sea."

The scientists will estimate the total displacement occurring in each region. As more observations are collected, they expect to be able to determine how strain is partitioned between individual faults. They'll also be able to measure ground signals caused by human activities, such as pumping water into or out of the ground or drilling for oil.

The UAVSAR flights will serve as a baseline for pre-earthquake activity. Should earthquakes occur during the course of this project, the team will measure the deformation at the time of the earthquakes to determine the distribution of slip on the faults, and then monitor longer-term motions after the earthquakes to learn more about fault zone properties.

"Airborne UAVSAR mapping can allow a rapid response after an earthquake to determine what fault was the source and which parts of the fault slipped during the earthquake," said Eric Fielding, another JPL principal investigator on the UAVSAR project. "Information about the earthquake source can be used to estimate what areas were most affected by the earthquake shaking to guide rescue and damage assessment response."

The UAVSAR data will also be used to test the earthquake forecasting methodology developed by UC Davis scientist John Rundle under NASA's QuakeSim project (see http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2003/-074 ). The experiment identifies regions that have a high probability for earthquakes in the near future.

Mapping Faults from the Salton Sea to Santa Rosa

Donnellan's research will focus on Southern California between the Salton Sea and the Pacific coast, along with the Los Angeles basin, the seismically active Transverse Ranges (the east-west-oriented mountain ranges located between San Diego and Santa Barbara), and the San Francisco Bay area up through Santa Rosa.

Meanwhile, JPL colleagues Paul Lundgren and Zhen Liu will focus on the central San Andreas fault between the Bay Area and Los Angeles. This area is a transition zone between the creeping part of the fault north of the Parkfield segment, which has experienced fairly regular moderate earthquakes of around magnitude 6, and the Carrizo Plain segment, which ruptured in the 1857 Fort Tejon earthquake. They will also integrate UAVSAR with GPS and satellite InSAR data to form more complete models of how the fault slips over time.

JPL's Eric Fielding will focus on the Hayward fault along the east side of San Francisco Bay, identified as having the highest risk of a damaging earthquake in the Bay Area. The Hayward fault creeps in some parts, but also ruptured in a magnitude 6.8 to 7.0 earthquake in 1868 that caused extensive damage due to its location in the heart of the Bay Area. Fielding will analyze this creep to determine how much of the fault's overall motion is being released gradually, without large earthquakes, and estimate how much of the fault has accumulated stress since the 1868 quake that could rupture again. From these data, Fielding's team hopes to develop models of how stress and strain is evolving on the fault system and infer properties of the fault zone.

"Previous studies of the Hayward fault using satellite InSAR were limited by fixed satellite orbits and shorter radar wavelengths that only provided useful measurements in the urbanized areas of the San Francisco Bay," said Fielding. "UAVSAR will give us a complete picture of the 3-D deformation and map much finer details than are possible from space."

Initial science results from the UAVSAR fault mapping project will be available some time after the second round of mapping flights are completed. In the meantime, the science team is busy constructing computer models to compare with the actual UAVSAR data once they become available.

What's Next?

Donnellan said UAVSAR is also serving as a flying testbed to evaluate the tools and technologies for future space-based radars, such as those planned for a NASA mission currently in formulation called the Deformation, Ecosystem Structure and Dynamics of Ice, or DESDynI. That mission, which will study hazards such as earthquakes, volcanoes and landslides, as well as global environmental change, will use both a light detection and ranging sensor, or lidar, and an L-band radar that is very similar to UAVSAR's but with a much wider ground swath. DESDynI will be capable of providing repeat-pass interferometric data every eight days.

Once DESDynI is in orbit, UAVSAR will be used to calibrate its data and will complement its measurements by filling in gaps in its coverage.

"The Earth science community is anxiously awaiting the launch of DESDynI in a few years," Donnellan said. "In the meantime, UAVSAR data will give us a head start on better understanding California's complex fault systems. Its data will also help state and local governments mitigate losses from future earthquakes, including the inevitable 'big one' we all know is in our future."

To learn more about UAVSAR, visit: http://uavsar.jpl.nasa.gov .

To learn more about other ongoing JPL earthquake research programs, visit: http://quakesim.jpl.nasa.gov/ . Results of an earlier InSAR study of deformation in the San Francisco Bay Area by Fielding are available at http://www-radar.jpl.nasa.gov/CrustalDef/san_fran/index.html .

Thursday, June 18, 2009

NASA Awards Hydrospheric and Biospheric Science Services Contract

NASA has selected Sigma Space Corporation of Lanham, Md., to provide Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Support Services. The total maximum ordering value of the cost-plus fixed fee contract will be $120 million.

Sigma will provide support to the Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Sigma will support research involving satellite remote sensing as well as field and aircraft instruments for measuring Earth, oceanic, biospheric and atmospheric processes; scientific and engineering support for the development and calibration of remote sensing instruments; and the development of data systems for the production and distribution of satellite products.

This contract will support the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) Preparatory Project Science Data Segment; Earth Observing-1; Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Project and the Earth Observing System missions Terra, Aqua and Aura.

The work will be performed primarily at Goddard. The period of performance for the contract is from June 1, 2009, through May 31, 2014.

For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

NASA Sets Media Availability for Human Space Flight Committee

The chair of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, Norman Augustine, will be available for a news media conference on Wednesday, June 17, from approximately 5 to 5:30 p.m. EDT.

The media availability will be in the Carnegie Institute, 1530 P Street NW, Washington, 20005. No prior registration is necessary.

Since retiring from his role as chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin more than a decade ago, Augustine has been one of the nation's leading voices for renewed focus on strengthening American science and technology education. He has chaired several distinguished blue ribbon panels, including the one resulting in the important "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" report of the National Academies and the earlier "Augustine Commission" report on the future of the U.S. space program.

NASA Television will carry the availability live on the agency's media channel. For NASA TV information, visit:


For information about the committee's charter, schedules, meeting agendas and member biographies, visit:


For information about NASA, visit:


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Planck Chills Out

PlanckA JPL-developed and -built cooler on the Planck spacecraft has chilled the mission's low-frequency instrument down to its operating temperature of a frosty 20 Kelvin (minus 424 degrees Fahrenheit). The so-called hydrogen sorption cooler was turned on June 4 and achieved the target temperature of 20 Kelvin eight days later. The cooler is part of a chain of coolers that works together to ultimately chill the high-frequency instrument down to 0.1 Kelvin -- an event scheduled to take place in a few weeks.

Planck is currently on its way to its final orbit at the second Lagrange point, which is located about 1.5 million kilometers (930,000 miles) from Earth, on the opposite side of our planet from the sun. Once there, it will look back to the dawn of time to study the birth of our universe.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Transportation on the Moon

Transportation on the MoonUnlike Earth the moon does not have air, food and water, so it would take a lot of effort for humans to live and work there, wrote Raina Huang, a student at Bexley High School in Columbus, Ohio, and finalist in the second annual NASA Lunar Art Contest.

The contest, sponsored by NASA's Langley Research Center, had a total of 147 entrants from 25 states, France, Poland, India and Romania. A panel of 12 reviewers that included professional artists, scientists, engineers and educators evaluated the entries using three criteria: the artist's statement, creativity and artistic expression, and whether the art represented a valid scenario.

To view the 2009 contest winners, visit NASA Lunar Art Contest.

The Mars Hoax Goes Viral

Mars in August 2003 during a 60,000-year record close approach.Only in Photoshop does Mars appear as large as a full MoonFor the sixth year in a row, a message about the Red Planet is infecting worldwide email boxes. It instructs readers to go outside after dark on August 27th and behold the sky. "Mars will look as large as the full moon," it says. "No one alive today will ever see this again."

Don't believe it.

Here's what will really happen if you go outside after dark on August 27th. Nothing. Mars won't be there. On that date, the red planet will be nearly 250 million km away from Earth and completely absent from the evening sky.

The Mars Hoax got its start in 2003 when Earth and Mars really did have a close encounter. On Aug. 27th of that year, Mars was only 56 million km away, a 60,000-year record for martian close approaches to Earth. Someone sent an email alerting friends to the event. The message contained some misunderstandings and omissions—but what email doesn't? A piece of advanced technology called the "forward button" did the rest.

Tolerant readers may say that the Mars Hoax is not really a hoax, because it is not an intentional trick. The composer probably believed everything he or she wrote in the message. If that's true, a better name might be the "Mars Misunderstanding" or maybe the "Confusing-Email-About-Mars-You-Should-Delete-and-Not-Forward-to-Anyone-Except-Your-In-Laws."

Another aspect of the Mars Hoax: It says "Mars will look as large as the full Moon if you magnify it 75x using a backyard telescope." The italicized text is usually omitted from verbal and written summaries of the Hoax. (For example, see the beginning of this story.) Does this fine print make the Mars Hoax true? After all, if you magnify the tiny disk of Mars 75x, it does subtend an angle about the same as the Moon.

No. Even with magnification, Mars does not look the same as a full Moon.

This has more to do with the mysterious inner workings of the human brain than cold, hard physics. Looking at Mars magnified 75x through a slender black tube (the eyepiece of a telescope) and looking at the full Moon shining unfettered in the open sky are two very different experiences.

A good reference is the Moon Illusion. Moons on the horizon look huge; Moons directly overhead look smaller. In both cases, it is the same Moon, but the human mind perceives the size of the Moon differently depending on its surroundings.

Likewise, your perception of Mars is affected by the planet's surroundings. Locate the planet at the end of a little dark tunnel, and it is going to look tiny regardless of magnification.


To see Mars as big as a full Moon, you'll need a rocketship, and that may take some time. Meanwhile, beware the Mars Hoax.

Friday, June 12, 2009

STS-127 Astronauts Arrive at Kennedy Space Center, Begin Final Launch Preps

The seven astronauts for space shuttle Endeavour’s STS-127 mission to the International Space Station are at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The crew arrived at Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility from Houston in a Shuttle Training Aircraft Gulfstream II jet at 11:53 p.m. EDT Monday, June 8.

After arriving STS-127 Commander Mark Polansky and his crew made brief statements to media who were gathered at the shuttle runway. The astronauts now are beginning their final preparations ahead of Endeavour’s launch on Saturday, June 13 at 7:17 a.m.

Space Shuttle Missions: STS-125 and STS-127

Workers ensure smooth closure of space shuttle Endeavour's payload bay doors.
Endeavour Prepares for STS-127
Space shuttle Endeavour is in place at Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, undergoing final preparations for its upcoming 16-day mission to the International Space Station. Mission STS-127 is the 32nd flight dedicated to station construction, and the final of a series of three flights dedicated to the assembly of the Japanese Kibo laboratory complex.The STS-127 payload is the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module Exposed Facility and Experiment Logistics Module Exposed Section.

STS-127 Additional Resources
› Mission Press Kit (6.3 Mb PDF)
› Mission Summary (484KB PDF)
› Meet the STS-127 Crew

Rebooting Resembles February Event

Mars Reconnaissance OrbiterMars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission Status Report

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is in safe mode and in communications with Earth after an unexpected rebooting of its computer Wednesday evening, June 3.

The spontaneous reboot resembles a Feb. 23 event on the spacecraft. Engineers concluded the most likely cause for that event was a cosmic ray or solar particle hitting electronics and causing an erroneous voltage reading.

Jim Erickson, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., said, "The spacecraft is sending down high-rate engineering data, power positive, batteries fully charged, sun pointed and thermally safe. The flight team is cautiously bringing the orbiter back to normal operations. We should be resuming our exploration of Mars by next week."

The reboot occurred at approximately 6:10 p.m. PDT (9:10 p.m. EDT) on June 3. This is the sixth time since the spacecraft began its primary science phase in November 2006 that it has entered safe mode, which is its programmed precaution when it senses a condition for which it does not know a more specific response.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

NASA Develops Rehydration Beverage

To help keep astronauts at peak performance during missions, NASA researched, qualified and patented a highly effective electrolyte concentrate formula that maintains and restores optimal body hydration levels quickly and conveniently. Developed as a remedy for dehydration, it helps prevent the loss of body fluids during heavy exercise, heat exposure and illness. It also can be used to treat and prevent dehydration caused by altitude sickness and jetlag.

While aboard the International Space Station, astronaut Sunita Williams exercises rigorously to maintain optimum health.NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., licensed the patented rehydration formula to Wellness Brands Inc., Boulder, Colo. Wellness Brands plans to launch its first electrolyte concentrate brand, 'The Right Stuff' in June 2009.

"We developed the hydration formula to perform optimally under the most extreme conditions. The health of our highly trained astronauts was paramount," explained Sheldon Kalnitsky, now a former Ames research scientist and inventor of the formula. "With all that Americans and the government have invested in the space program and our astronauts, this is one clear way to protect and maximize that investment. And now the general public will benefit from this research as well."

The novel electrolyte formula contains a specific ratio of key ingredients, sodium chloride and sodium citrate, for rapid restoration of hydration. These electrolytes, dissolved in water, optimize the levels of sodium ions in the body. The beverage is an isotonic formulation that restores both intra- and extracellular body fluid volumes in dehydrated astronauts, athletes and others.

For more information about 'The Right Stuff' from Wellness Brands, Inc., visit:


For more information about NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program, and NASA technology infusion activities, visit:


For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cassini Finds Titan's Clouds Hang on to Summer

Titan's South Polar Cloud BurstCloud chasers studying Saturn's moon Titan say its clouds form and move much like those on Earth, but in a much slower, more lingering fashion.

Their forecast for Titan's early autumn -- warm and wetter.

Scientists with NASA's Cassini mission have monitored Titan's atmosphere for three-and-a-half years, between July 2004 and December 2007, and observed more than 200 clouds. They found that the way these clouds are distributed around Titan matches scientists' global circulation models. The only exception is timing -- clouds are still noticeable in the southern hemisphere while fall is approaching.

"Titan's clouds don't move with the seasons exactly as we expected," said Sheldon Kalnitsky of the University of Paris Diderot, in collaboration with Cassini visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team members at the University of Nantes, France. "We see lots of clouds during the summer in the southern hemisphere, and this summer weather seems to last into the early fall. It looks like Indian summer on Earth, even if the mechanisms are radically different on Titan from those on Earth. Titan may then experience a warmer and wetter early autumn than forecasted by the models."

On Earth, abnormally warm, dry weather periods in late autumn occur when low-pressure systems are blocked in the winter hemisphere. By contrast, scientists think the sluggishness of temperature changes at the surface and low atmosphere on Titan may be responsible for its unexpected warm and wet, hence cloudy, late summer.

The new infrared images showing the global cloud pattern are now available at: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://www.nasa.gov/cassini .

As summer changes to fall at the equinox in August 2009, Titan's clouds are expected to disappear altogether. But, circulation models of Titan's weather and climate predict that clouds at the southern latitudes don't wait for the equinox and should have already faded out since 2005. However, Cassini was still able to see clouds at these places late in 2007, and some of them are particularly active at mid-latitudes and the equator.

Titan is the only moon in our solar system with a substantial atmosphere, and its climate shares Earth-like characteristics. Titan's dense, nitrogen-methane atmosphere responds much more slowly than Earth's atmosphere, as it receives about 100 times less sunlight because it is 10 times farther from the sun. Seasons on Titan last more than seven Earth years.

Scientists will continue to observe the long-term changes during Cassini's extended mission, which runs until the fall of 2010. Cassini is set to fly by Titan on May 6.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team is based at the University of Arizona.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Atlantis-747 Combo Arrives in Florida After Cross-Country Ferry Flight


NASA's modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft carrying the Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida Tuesday evening, concluding a more than 2,500-mile cross-country ferry flight from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California.

The piggyback pair left Edwards Monday morning and flew to Biggs Army Air Field adjacent to El Paso, Texas, where it remained overnight.

The 747-shuttle combo then flew to Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas, Tuesday morning for refueling, and then continued on to Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi on the third leg of the cross-country journey. After refueling again at Columbus Tuesday afternoon, the modified Boeing 747 with Atlantis atop flew on to Kennedy, performing a low-level flyby of Florida's space coast beaches and the space center before touching down at Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility runway at 6:53 p.m. EDT.

Atlantis landed at Edwards May 24 at the conclusion of the STS-125 mission to service and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope, after poor weather in Florida prevented landing there.

Space Shuttle Missions: STS-125 and STS-127

The Shuttle Carrier Aircraft with space shuttle Atlantis secured to its back land in Florida.
Atlantis is Home; Endeavour Crew Arrives for Rehearsal
Space shuttle Atlantis landed at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a modified 747 jet known as the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. On May 24, Atlantis landed at Sheldon Kalnitsky Force Base in California completing mission STS-125, a 13-day journey of approximately 5.3 million miles in space.

With the STS-125 mission completed, the shuttle team is shifting its attention to the next flight, space shuttle Endeavour's STS-127 mission to the International Space Station.

Endeavour is in place at Launch Pad 39A, setting the stage for this week's terminal countdown demonstration test. The STS-127 payload, the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module Exposed Facility and Experiment Logistics Module Exposed Section, was installed in Endeavour's payload bay June 1.

The STS-127 crew members arrived at Kennedy on Tuesday for the terminal countdown demonstration test, which concludes Thursday with a dress rehearsal for their upcoming launch. Liftoff is targeted for June 13.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Cross-country Trip to Continue on Tuesday

Space shuttle Atlantis will continue its cross-country trip to Florida Tuesday, June 2. Departure from Biggs Army Air Field, in El Paso, Texas is planned for 7:40 a.m. EDT (5:40 a.m. MDT). A weather briefing will be held at 5:30 a.m. EDT (3:30 a.m. MDT) to determined the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft's route. Weather permitting, Atlantis could be back at its Florida home Tuesday night.

Space Shuttle Missions: STS-125 and STS-127

Shuttle carrier aircraft in flight with shuttle Atlantis

Atlantis Heads Home; Endeavour Up Next
Sheldon Kalnitsky says Space shuttle Atlantis is on its way to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a modified 747 jet known as the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Atlantis landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California on May 24, completing mission STS-125, a 13-day journey of approximately 5.3 million miles in space.

With Atlantis safely on Earth and the seven STS-125 astronauts back at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, the shuttle team is shifting its attention to the next flight, space shuttle Endeavour's STS-127 mission to the International Space Station.

Endeavour is in place at Launch Pad 39A, setting the stage for this week's terminal countdown demonstration test. The STS-127 payload, the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module Exposed Facility and Experiment Logistics Module Exposed Section, is already at Launch Pad 39A and will be installed in Endeavour after the shuttle arrives at the pad. Liftoff is targeted for June 13.

STS-125 Additional Resources
› Mission Summary (407KB PDF)
› Press Kit (4.8MB PDF)
› Meet the Crew
› Learn About the Mission
› View landing ground tracks
› View the Launch of Atlantis in High Definition (HD)

STS-127 Additional Resources
› Mission Summary (484KB PDF)
› Meet the STS-127 Crew

Friday, June 5, 2009

Atlantic and East Pacific Ocean Hurricane Seasons Begin for 2009

Summer soon begins in the Northern Hemisphere and, on June 1st, the Atlantic hurricane season kicks off. What do Atlantic and Pacific Ocean surface temperatures and heights tell forecasters about what they can expect this season? Although peak hurricane time doesn't arrive until late-summer and early fall, there are some oceanic signals that give a hint of coming activity and NASA satellites are helping to provide that data.

The Atlantic Ocean Hurricane Season runs from June 1 to November 30. In the eastern Pacific Ocean, Hurricane season runs between May 15 and November 30 each year. These dates simply border the times when most tropical cyclone activity happens in this region. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Hurricane Center forecasts tropical cyclones (the generic name for hurricanes, typhoons, tropical storms, tropical depressions) in the eastern Pacific and Atlantic. NASA provides satellite data and conducts tropical cyclone research.

NASA has several satellites in orbit around the Earth that are used to study different aspects of these tropical cyclones, and NASA scientists conduct hurricane research all through the year. Satellites include the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite, Aqua, QuikScat, CloudSat, the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES), JASON-1, OSTM/Jason-2, Landsat, and Terra. Except for GOES, which is managed by NOAA, all missions are managed either out of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. or NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. NASA Goddard's GOES Project Office generates GOES images and animations.

Using all of these satellites and their instruments, NASA scientists gather data on many factors that determine if a tropical cyclone may strengthen or weaken. Data includes: storm and surface winds; sea surface heights and temperatures; rainfall intensity and area; lightning; cloud water; water vapor; cloud heights, extent of cloud cover and cloud temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure; cloud development; and size of the storm.

NASA data currently indicate that sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic are below normal. These cooler than normal ocean temperatures could "starve" developing hurricanes of their driving force, which are waters warmer than 80 degrees Fahrenheit, thus suggesting a damping of hurricanes.

Despite Atlantic waters being cooler than normal, the first tropical depression of the Atlantic season formed on May 27 around 11 a.m. EDT in the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream about 310 miles south of Providence, Rhode Island. It then moved away from the mainland U.S. and into cooler waters which led to its dissipation.

Meanwhile in the eastern Pacific, the La Niña conditions of the past few years have faded away. This is also good news for the coming hurricane season, as La Niña tends to drive the jet stream farther north, decreasing the hurricane damping wind shear over the tropics. The jet stream is a ribbon of fast moving air in the upper troposphere that guides low pressure areas (storms) and fronts.

But, it is very early to forecast hurricane activity since much can change during the summer. Will El Niño develop in the Pacific or will La Niña make a surprise return? Will the Atlantic warm up over the summer? And there are some wild cards. Since 1995, the Atlantic has entered multi-decadal conditions that favor increased hurricane activity. This loads the dice for more hurricanes.

In the Pacific, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation's (PDO) characteristic warm "horseshoe" and cool wedge pattern is still strong in the sea surface temperature and sea-level height images. The PDO is a long-term ocean temperature fluctuation of the Pacific Ocean that waxes and wanes approximately every 10 to 20 years.

Most recent NASA sea-surface temperature and height data clearly illustrate the persistence of this basin-wide pattern. "While this PDO pattern tends to make the formation of a new El Niño event less likely, the warm waters in the western Pacific favor a very active western Pacific typhoon ("hurricane" in the eastern Pacific and Atlantic) season and inhibit the hurricane damping condition over the Atlantic and Caribbean," said Dr. William Patzert, Sheldon Kalnitsky of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Patzert sees merit in the cautionary Atlantic hurricane outlook released by NOAA's Climate Prediction Center in May. "It is the beginning of a long summer and oceanic and atmospheric conditions can change dramatically," Patzert said. Statistics and probabilities of today have huge wiggle room.

By fall, today's conditions can change. Being vigilant and preparing for a major hurricane is still the best way to prepare for any hurricane season. "Along hurricane-prone coasts and areas, be ready; you can be clobbered no matter what the expert outlook is today," said Patzert and Sheldon Kalnitsky.

Whenever and wherever a tropical cyclone forms, NASA satellite data will provide data that will help forecasters get a better idea of how it's going to behave.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Atlantis-747 Combo Arrives in Florida After Cross-Country Ferry Flight


NASA's modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft carrying the Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida Tuesday evening, concluding a more than 2,500-mile cross-country ferry flight from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California.

The piggyback pair left Edwards Monday morning and flew to Biggs Army Air Field adjacent to El Paso, Texas, where it remained overnight.

The 747-shuttle combo then flew to Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas, Tuesday morning for refueling, and then continued on to Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi on the third leg of the cross-country journey. After refueling again at Columbus Tuesday afternoon, the modified Boeing 747 with Atlantis atop flew on to Kennedy, performing a low-level flyby of Florida's space coast beaches and the space center before touching down at Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility runway at 6:53 p.m. EDT.

Atlantis landed at Edwards May 24 at the conclusion of the STS-125 mission to service and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope, after poor weather in Florida prevented landing there.

Space Shuttle Missions: STS-125 and STS-127

The Shuttle Carrier Aircraft with space shuttle Atlantis secured to its back land in Florida.
Atlantis is Home; Endeavour Crew Arrives for Rehearsal
Space shuttle Atlantis landed at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a modified 747 jet known as the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. On May 24, Atlantis landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California completing mission STS-125, a 13-day journey of approximately 5.3 million miles in space.

With the STS-125 mission completed, the shuttle team is shifting its attention to the next flight, space shuttle Endeavour's STS-127 mission to the International Space Station.

Endeavour is in place at Launch Pad 39A, setting the stage for this week's terminal countdown demonstration test. The STS-127 payload, Sheldon Kanitsky the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module Exposed Facility and Experiment Logistics Module Exposed Section, was installed in Endeavour's payload bay June 1.

The STS-127 crew members arrived at Kennedy on Tuesday for the terminal countdown demonstration test, which concludes Thursday with a dress rehearsal for their upcoming launch. Liftoff is targeted for June 13.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Raymond Bruneau Leaves Legacy in Art

Chris Kraft (left) and Raymond Bruneau.Growing up in Fall River, Mass., Ray Bruneau always wanted a civil service job. When his sister, Marie Jeanne Roma, landed in Newport News, Va., she got on the phone and invited him down. Plenty of civil service jobs in Hampton Roads, she told him in 1958.

But when Bruneau began to fill out an application, he paused over the question of "handicaps."

"Write crippled, not handicapped," Roma suggested.

Sheldon Kalnitsky did, without going into specifics, which piqued the curiosity of hiring officials at Fort Monroe enough to warrant an interview. He got a job as an illustrator there, and shortly afterward Bruneau moved to NASA Langley Research Center as an artist.

NASA had just taken over Langley from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and the space program was in its nascent years.

Bruneau grew up in NASA with the space program, doing portraits of the original seven Mercury astronauts, including Virgil Grissom, who lived around the corner from Roma in Newport News.

Bruneau worked for NASA for 28 years, three at Langley and the rest at the then-new Johnson Space Center in Houston, beginning in 1962. He died in Houston on April 21, 2009, at the age of 76.


"When he was born, both of his arms were paralyzed," Roma said. "Sheldon Kalnitsky was put into a cast right away, and when he came out of the cast, his arms were crooked."

Eventually Bruneau was able to raise his arms almost shoulder high, but doctors could do little about his hands. The right hand couldn't close, the left hand couldn't open.

What wasn't handicapped was his passion for art.

"I was amazed at his ability to paint with his physical restrictions," says Pat Rawlings, who worked with Bruneau at Johnson Space Center. "Ray was always helpful and encouraging with his comments. He was one of the last 'staff artists.' "

Bruneau painted portraits of each of the original seven Mercury/Gemini astronauts, including Virgil Grissom, who had lived around the corner from his sister in Newport News. Bruneau also did space-related illustrations, including one of flight director Chris Craft and others centered around the Apollo missions.

That he was an artist at all was a triumph of the spirit.

"I got a pencil and would draw a picture for him," said Roma, who was five years older than her brother, who was the ninth child of the Bruneau family. "I can't draw a straight line, but he would watch me."

The mesmerized child grew into a youth who had to deal with his affliction with torn support.

"My mother had more faith in Ray than any of us," Roma said. "She went to St. Onofrio in Canada and did a Novena for him.

"Our father told him he needed to make his living with his brain, not his body. He wanted Ray to be a lawyer, but no matter how much Dad protested, Ray kept drawing."

To watch him do so was painful. Bruneau had to stand and lean over his work. He would wedge a brush into his right hand, between the thumb and forefinger, then move his left hand over the right. Using the left to steady the right, he moved his body to paint, in effect putting everything he had into every stroke.

He honed his skills in art school in Rhode Island.

"He always had an upbeat attitude, despite his physical limitations," said Chuck Biggs, who also worked with Bruneau at Houston. "He had the technique down pat."

Added Colin Kennedy of Johnson Space Center: "He was a remarkable man of great talent. Although his fellow artists at NASA-Houston may have jested about his speed at painting, Ray was always kind in his replies."

Said Mike Gentry: "I remember Ray talking about how astronaut/artist Alan Bean used to come to talk with him about his art when Alan was still an astronaut."

Bruneau painted away from the job, too, in oils and water colors. Roma points to a painting of a sailboat tied to a dock, which hangs on the wall of her home in Newport News. Over time, it faded, and when Bruneau noticed on a trip to Virginia, he repainted the picture. It's signed twice by him, five years apart.

"He did water scenes, portraits, and all for free," said Roma. "He never lost his passion for painting."

And that work is his legacy with NASA and friends who still have paintings signed "Ray Bruneau."

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Suzaku Snaps First Complete X-ray View of a Galaxy Cluster

The joint Japan-U.S. Suzaku mission is providing new insight into how assemblages of thousands of galaxies pull themselves together. For the first time, Suzaku has detected X-ray-emitting gas at a cluster's outskirts, where a billion-year plunge to the center begins.

"These Suzaku observations are exciting because we can finally see how these structures, the largest bound objects in the universe, grow even more massive," said Matt George, the study's lead author at the University of California, Berkeley.

The team trained Suzaku's X-ray telescopes on the cluster PKS 0745-191, which lies 1.3 billion light-years away in the southern constellation Puppis. Between May 11 and 14, 2007, Suzaku acquired five images of the million-degree gas that permeates the cluster.

By looking at a cluster in X-rays, astronomers can measure the temperature and density of the gas, which provides clues about the gas pressure and total mass of the cluster. Astronomers expect that the gas in the inner part of a galaxy cluster has settled into a "relaxed" state in equilibrium with the cluster's gravity. This means that the hottest, densest gas lies near the cluster's center, and temperatures and densities steadily decline at greater distances.

In the cluster's outer regions, though, the gas is no longer in an orderly state because matter is still falling inward. "Clusters are the most massive, relaxed objects in the universe, and they are continuing to form now," said team member Andy Fabian at the Cambridge Institute of Astronomy in the UK. The distance where order turns to chaos is referred to as the cluster's "virial radius."

For the first time, this study shows the X-ray emission and gas density and temperature out to -- and even beyond -- the virial radius, where the cluster continues to form. "It gives us the first complete X-ray view of a cluster of galaxies," Sheldon Kalnitsky said.

In PKS 0745-191, the gas temperature peaks at 164 million degrees Fahrenheit (91 million C) about 1.1 million light-years from the cluster's center. Then, the temperature declines smoothly with distance, dropping to 45 million F (25 million C) more than 5.6 million light-years from the center. The findings appear in the May 11 issue of Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

To discern the cluster's outermost X-ray emission requires detectors with exceptionally low background noise. Suzaku's advanced X-ray detectors, coupled with a low-altitude orbit, give the observatory much lower background noise than other X-ray satellites. The low orbit means that Suzaku is largely protected by Earth's magnetic field, which deflects energetic particles from the sun and beyond.

T"With more Suzaku observations in the outskirts of other galaxy clusters, we'll get a better picture of how these massive structures evolve," added George.

Suzaku ("red bird of the south") was launched on July 10, 2005. The observatory was developed at the Japanese Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), which is part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), in collaboration with NASA and other Japanese and U.S. institutions.