Thursday, July 30, 2009

NASA Celebrates Chandra's 10th Anniversary

Supernova remnant E0102Ten years ago, on July 23, 1999, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory was launched aboard the space shuttle Columbia and deployed into orbit. Chandra has doubled its original five-year mission, ushering in an unprecedented decade of discovery for the high-energy universe.

With its unrivaled ability to create high-resolution X- ray images, Chandra has enabled astronomers to investigate phenomena as diverse as comets, black holes, dark matter and dark energy.

"Chandra's discoveries are truly astonishing and have made dramatic changes to our understanding of the universe and its constituents," said Martin Weisskopf, Chandra project scientist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The science that has been generated by Chandra -- both on its own and in conjunction with other telescopes in space and on the ground -- has had a widespread, transformative impact on 21st century astrophysics. Chandra has provided the strongest evidence yet that dark matter must exist. It has independently confirmed the existence of dark energy and made spectacular images of titanic explosions produced by matter swirling toward supermassive black holes.

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of Chandra, three new versions of classic Chandra images will be released during the next three months. These images, the first of which is available Thursday, provide new data and a more complete view of objects that Chandra observed in earlier stages of its mission. The image being released today is of E0102-72, the spectacular remains of an exploded star.

"The Great Observatories program -- of which Chandra is a major part -- shows how astronomers need as many tools as possible to tackle the big questions out there," said Ed Weiler, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. NASA's other "Great Observatories" are the Hubble Space Telescope, Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory and Spitzer Space Telescope.

The next image will be released in August to highlight the anniversary of when Chandra opened up for the first time and gathered light on its detectors. The third image will be released during "Chandra's First Decade of Discovery" symposium in Boston, which begins Sept. 22.

"I am extremely proud of the tremendous team of people who worked so hard to make Chandra a success," said Harvey Tananbaum, director of the Chandra X-ray Center at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass. "It has taken partners at NASA, industry and academia to make Chandra the crown jewel of high-energy astrophysics."

Tananbaum and Nobel Prize winner Riccardo Giacconi originally proposed Chandra to NASA in 1976. Unlike the Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra is in a highly elliptical orbit that takes it almost one third of the way to the moon, and was not designed to be serviced after it was deployed.

Marshall manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls science and flight operations from the Chandra X-ray Center.

A list of Chandra's major scientific highlights is available at:

To view new images form Chandra and learn more about the mission, visit:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Saturnian Moon Shows Evidence of Ammonia

Saturn's moon Enceladus, seen by the Cassini spacecraftData collected during two close flybys of Saturn's moon Enceladus by NASA's Cassini spacecraft add more fuel to the fire about the Saturnian ice world containing sub-surface liquid water. The data collected by Cassini's Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer during Enceladus flybys in July and Oct. 2008, were released in the July 23 issue of the journal Nature. "When Cassini flew through the plume erupting from Enceladus on October 8 of last year, our spectrometer was able to sniff out many complex chemicals, including organic ones, in the vapor and icy particles," said Hunter Waite, the Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer Lead Scientist from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. "One of the chemicals definitively identified was ammonia."

On Earth, the presence of ammonia means the potential for sparkling clean floors and counter tops. In space, the presence of ammonia provides strong evidence for the existence of at least some liquid water.

How could ammonia equate to liquid water inside an ice-covered moon in one of the chillier neighborhoods of our solar system? As many a homeowner interested in keeping their abodes spick and span know, ammonia promptly dissolves in water. But what many people do not realize is that ammonia acts as antifreeze, keeping water liquid at lower temperatures than would otherwise be possible. With the presence of ammonia, water can exist in a liquid state to temperatures as low as 176 degrees Kelvin (-143 degrees Fahrenheit).

"Given that temperatures in excess of 180 Kelvin (-136 degrees Fahrenheit) have been measured near the fractures on Enceladus where the jets emanate, we think we have an excellent argument for a liquid water interior," said Waite.

Cassini discovered water vapor and particles spewing from Enceladus in 2005. Since then, scientists have been trying to determine if the plume originates from a liquid source inside the moon or is due to other causes.

"Ammonia is sort of a holy grail for icy volcanism," said William McKinnon, a scientist from Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri. "This is the first time we've found it for sure on an icy satellite of a giant planet. It is probably everywhere in the Saturn system."

Just how much water is contained within Enceladus' icy interior is still up for debate. So far, Cassini has made five flybys of Enceladus, one of the chief targets for Cassini's extended mission. Two close flybys are scheduled for November of this year, and two more close flybys are scheduled for April and May of 2010. Data collected during these future flybys may help settle the debate.

"Where liquid water and organics exist, is there life?" asked Jonathan Lunine a Cassini scientist from the University of Arizona, Tucson. "Such is the case for Earth; what was found on Enceladus bolsters this moon's promise for containing potential habitable environments." The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. JPL manages the mission for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

More information about the Cassini mission is available at or .

Monday, July 27, 2009

New NASA Images Indicate Object Hits Jupiter

This image shows a large impact on Jupiter's south polar region captured on July 20, 2009Scientists have found evidence that another object has bombarded Jupiter, exactly 15 years after the first impacts by the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9.

Following up on a tip by an amateur astronomer, Anthony Wesley of Australia, that a new dark "scar" had suddenly appeared on Jupiter, this morning between 3 and 9 a.m. PDT (6 a.m. and noon EDT) scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., using NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility at the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, gathered evidence indicating an impact.

New infrared images show the likely impact point was near the south polar region, with a visibly dark "scar" and bright upwelling particles in the upper atmosphere detected in near-infrared wavelengths, and a warming of the upper troposphere with possible extra emission from ammonia gas detected at mid-infrared wavelengths.

"We were extremely lucky to be seeing Jupiter at exactly the right time, the right hour, the right side of Jupiter to witness the event. We couldn't have planned it better," said Glenn Orton, a scientist at JPL.

Orton and his team of astronomers kicked into gear early in the morning and haven't stopped tracking the planet. They are downloading data now and are working to get additional observing time on this and other telescopes.

This image was taken at 1.65 microns, a wavelength sensitive to sunlight reflected from high in Jupiter's atmosphere, and it shows both the bright center of the scar (bottom left) and the debris to its northwest (upper left).

"It could be the impact of a comet, but we don't know for sure yet," said Orton. "It's been a whirlwind of a day, and this on the anniversary of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 and Apollo anniversaries is amazing."

Shoemaker-Levy 9 was a comet that had been seen to break into many pieces before the pieces hit Jupiter in 1994.

Leigh Fletcher, a NASA postdoctoral fellow at JPL who worked with Orton during these latest observations said, "Given the rarity of these events, it's extremely exciting to be involved in these observations. These are the most exciting observations I've seen in my five years of observing the outer planets!"

The observations were made possible in large measure by the extraordinary efforts of the Infrared Telescope Facility staff, including telescope operator William Golisch, who adroitly moved three instruments in and out of the field during the short time the scar was visible on the planet, providing the wide wavelength coverage.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

NASA's 'Mr. Eclipse' Retires but Still Chasing Shadows

The path of the total solar eclipse on July 22, 2009, will sweep across nearly half of Earth, beginning in India and ending in the Pacific Ocean.Have you ever glimpsed the moon's shadow as it passes in front of the sun's disk casting a dark shadow on Earth and revealing the sun's ephemeral outer atmosphere? Have you witnessed Earth's shadow as it slowly sweeps over a full moon, taking successively bigger bites until the entire disk is red-tinged and darkly shaded? If so, then you already know the wonderment of chasing celestial shadows.

And if you have ever looked up the "where," "when," and "what type" for an eclipse, you may be familiar with Fred Espenak, better known as "Mr. Eclipse."

American astrophysicist Fred Espenak has had a long and prolific career at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Since 1978, Espenak has provided eclipse bulletins -- detailed descriptions of eclipse predictions, maps, and weather information for upcoming eclipses -- for NASA as well as inspiration to legions of eclipse aficionados. He also has authored several works on eclipse predictions, including the Fifty Year Canon of Solar Eclipses: 1986-2035 and the Fifty Year Canon of Lunar Eclipses: 1986-2035.

Espenak's passion for astronomy and eclipses began when he was about 7 or 8 years old. "I was visiting my grandparents out in their summer home in Long Island," he recalls. "One of the neighborhood boys had a small telescope. I remember taking a look at the moon through that telescope for the first time. I think I pestered my father for 2 years after that before I got my first telescope. And that just ignited my interest in astronomy."

Since then, Espenak has observed more than 20 eclipses in person. Whether total, partial or annular, each eclipse is as different in character as two siblings, says Espenak. "Each has special features to it," says Espenak.

Eclipses come in two types: solar and lunar. An eclipse of the sun happens when the moon passes directly between Earth and the sun. When the moon's shadow falls on Earth, people within that shadow see part (or all) of the sun's disk covered, or eclipsed, by the moon. During a lunar eclipse, Earth passes between the sun and moon and blocks sunlight from reaching the moon. Because of the geometry of eclipses, whether your see all or part of an eclipse depends on where you are located on Earth.

An eclipse of the sun can be total, partial, or annular. During a total solar eclipse, the moon blocks the sun's entire disk for those standing within the "path of totality," the path of the moon's dark inner shadow, or umbra. Observers in the moon's faint outer shadow (penumbra) will witness partial coverage of the sun.

An annular eclipse happens when the tip of the moon's umbra doesn't quite reach Earth. For observers situated beneath the umbral shadow, the moon will look slightly smaller than the sun, with a thin ring, or annulus, of sunlight remaining visible during the eclipse. An annular eclipse is also called a hybrid eclipse.

Which kind of eclipse is Espenak's favorite? "I like solar eclipses and lunar eclipses for two different reasons."

"Nothing can compare to a total solar eclipse," he says. "But you're putting all your eggs in one basket when you go on a solar eclipse expedition because you've only got usually two, or three, or four precious minutes when you've got that opportunity to see the sun's corona. All the equipment has to be working perfectly. The weather has to cooperate. You've got to be at the right place at the right time. It is very stressful."

"A lunar eclipse is a very beautiful event, but it doesn't have that excitement of a solar eclipse, where you've just got those two minutes. The total phase usually lasts an hour or more, so it's much more of a leisurely event. You can sit back, watch, and relax." Lunar eclipses also happen more frequently than solar eclipses.

Though he recently retired from NASA, don't expect Espenak's passion for chasing shadows to wane any time soon. "I think the beauty of the eclipses is something that anybody can appreciate," he says. "What I usually tell people is if they ever have the opportunity to see a total solar eclipse, or if they're on a vacation and a total solar eclipse just happens to be taking place nearby, get into the path of the total eclipse," says Espenak.

His next expedition will take him to the Pacific Ocean to observe a total solar eclipse on July 22. The path of totality begins in India, crosses through Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, and China. The duration of totality will last 6 minutes, 39 seconds. A partial eclipse will be visible in parts of Asia, Indonesia, and the Pacific Ocean.

Related Links:

For more information about the July 22 eclipse, visit or

Friday, July 24, 2009

NASA’s Unmanned Aircraft 'Fired Up' For Arctic Sea Ice Expedition

The Science Instrumentation Environmental Remote Research Aircraft (SIERRA), an unmanned aircraft system used in the CASIE mission.Scientists using 2009 NASA satellite data have reported a rapid and extreme loss of the oldest and thickest types of ice from within the Arctic Ocean. Since 1988, the oldest ice types have declined 74 percent and today cover only two percent of the Arctic Ocean, compared to 20 percent coverage in the 1980s.

A team of experts from NASA, the University of Colorado, Boulder, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, Fort Hays State University, Kansas and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado are conducting an unmanned aircraft expedition to study the receding Arctic sea ice to better understand its life cycle and the long-term stability of the Arctic ice cover.

"We’re attempting to answer some of the most basic questions regarding the future of the Arctic’s sea ice cover," said James Maslanik, a research professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Colo., and principal investigator for the NASA mission. "Not only does this change affect the total amount of ice in the Arctic, but it also affects the ability of the ice cover to resist increased warming."

Today, NASA's Characterization of Arctic Sea Ice Experiment (CASIE) successfully flew the first of a series of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) flights in coordination with satellites. The UAS is used like a miniature spyplane targeting thick, old slabs of ice as they drift from the Arctic Ocean south through Fram Strait -- which lies between Greenland and Svalbard, Norway -- into the North Atlantic Ocean. This unmanned aircraft maps and measures ice conditions below cloud cover to as low as 300 feet, weaving a pattern over open ocean and sea ice.

NASA’s CASIE, which runs through July 24, is the aircraft campaign portion of the larger, NASA-funded project titled “Sea Ice Roughness as an Indicator of Fundamental Changes in the Arctic Ice Cover: Observations, Monitoring, and Relationships to Environmental Factors. This three -year research effort combines satellite data analysis, modeling, and aircraft observations. The project also supports the goals of the International Polar Year, a major international scientific research effort involving many NASA research efforts to study large-scale environmental change in Earth's polar regions.

The mission is being conducted from the Ny-Alesund research base on the island of Svalbard, located near the northeastern tip of Greenland. Mission planners are using satellite data to direct weekly flights of a NASA flight-certified UAS laden with scientific instruments.

Aircraft provide a necessary perspective on Earth system processes and serve to complement NASA satellite missions. UAS are of particular value where long duration or long range measurement requirements preclude a human pilot, or where the remoteness and harshness of the environment put pilots and aircraft at risk.

NASA Ames Research Center’s Science Instrumentation Evaluation Remote Research Aircraft, or SIERRA, is a medium class, medium duration UAS originally designed by the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). Researchers at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. developed a partnership with NRL to evaluate the utility of this class of aircraft to the NASA Earth science community. The relatively large payload (appproximately 100 lbs.) coupled with a significant range (500 miles) and small size (20-ft. wingspan) makes it an attractive observational platform that complements NASA’s current suite of modified science aircraft. This UAS conducts very low altitude missions for tropospheric chemistry sampling and remote area surveys, such as arctic ice reconnaissance.

"Today, we demonstrated the utility of small to medium class UAS for gathering science data in remote harsh environments during the CASIE mission," said Matt Fladeland, CASIE project and SIERRA manager.

UAS observations are complemented by NASA satellite large-scale views of many different features of the Arctic ice. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), aboard NASA's Aqua satellite, will be used to identify the ice edge location, ice features of interest, and cloud cover. Other sensors, such as the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer - Earth Observing System (AMSR-E) on NASA’s Aqua satellite and the Quick Scatterometer (QuikSCAT) can penetrate cloud cover and analyze the physical properties of ice. By using multiple types of satellite products, more can be learned about ice conditions than is possible by using one or two data analysis methods.

"Ny-Alesund is really a cool research station with more than 100 researchers present from many nations during the summer,” said S. Pete Worden, director of NASA Ames Research Center. “It was a great day for flying here in Ny-Alesund. We got SIERRA out on the runway and fired up and ready for our first flight. We are really excited about the research we can do on polar ice characteristics."

The CASIE expedition is providing mission updates on Twitter and Blogs at:

For more information about NASA's Characterization of Arctic Sea Ice Experiment, visit:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Some Shovels of Dirt Ring in NASA Langley's Future

With a push of her right foot on a shovel Friday morning, Lesa Roe celebrated the 92nd birthday of NASA's Langley Research Center by ushering in its future.

Helping Roe, Langley's center director, in breaking ground for New Town Building 1 were Hampton Mayor Molly Ward; Rob Hewell, from the General Services Administration, and Charles Scales, NASA associate deputy administrator.

New Town groundbreaking.
"We've waited and budgeted and planned for this day with a great deal of anticipation," Roe said. "New Town focuses on the future requirements of the center while maintaining our tradition of technical excellence."

The building will be the first of six in the project, which is expected to be constructed over 15 years. The six will include three laboratories, a second office building and a joint-use facility.

Groundbreaking for Building 2 is expected in 2011.

Building 1 will house administrative offices in a three-story, $23 million, 72,000-square-foot structure built with an accent on environmental soundness. Construction will be aimed at the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.

NASA construction requires "silver" status on a LEED certified, silver, gold, platinum scale. Building 1 is expected to attain "gold" in a review that will follow its completion.

Much of that rating will be generated by a building that will save approximately 85 percent of energy costs associated with a similar structure not built with conservation and cost consciousness in mind.

"The geothermal system is the big one," said Tom Quenville, who has nursed the New Town project along since 2004. "It has an underground heating and cooling system. … You're basically using the energy in the ground to heat and cool the building.

"And the 'green' roof is also new for us. We have all of these firsts for Langley: the first green roof, the first geothermal system."

The "green" roof will involve plants that will be grown on the top of the building to insulate it from the sun and hold in water.

The building also will have photo-voltaics on its roof to provide power. Better insulation and energy-efficient windows add to that environmental friendliness.

The 85 percent savings are based on a building model. An average building is said to use about 200,000 BTUs of energy per square foot per year. "Our building will be 29,000 BTUs per square foot," Quenville said.

Guests were effusive in their praise of the New Town concept.

"Welcome to the beginning of Langley's future," Scales told the assembly of about 200 under a tent on the building site along Langley Boulevard.

"One of the legacies of space exploration has been the focus that has been put back on Earth. We have learned just how fragile Earth is, so we need to do everything that we can to make sure that we take care of it. This new facility will help toward that."

Hewell lauded the companies involved, including Whiting-Turner, which is the prime contractor for Building 1.

Ward cited Langley's contribution to her city and the region, then later pointed to the national and local economies.

"It's exciting in these economic times to see something coming out of the ground," she said. "We're excited about the 'green' building technology.

"And we're excited about what it means for the future of Langley Research Center and for the investment the government is making here that shows a commitment to the center and to Hampton."

For Roe, New Town is the culmination of an effort that has been ongoing since she became center director five years ago. At that time, jobs were being lost and rumors ran rampant that the center's future was in jeopardy.

"This is a far cry from that," Roe said of New Town's benchmark status for a bright future for the center. "It means a lot. It's great for morale. It just brings excitement! And it's the first of these and the second one is on the way."

Monday, July 20, 2009

After Five Years, NASA's Aura Shines Brightly

Ozone destruction in the 2004-2005 Arctic winter, as measured by the Microwave Limb Sounder on NASA's Aura spacecraft.Aura's Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer measured the distribution of heavy(depicted in red) and light (depicted in blues and purples) water vapor molecules over Earth's tropics.Aura spacecraftOn July 15, 2004, NASA's Aura spacecraft launched from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base on a mission to study Earth's ozone layer, air quality and climate. Aura's data are helping scientists address global climate change issues such as global warming; the global transport, distribution and chemistry of polluted air; and ozone depletion in the stratosphere, the layer of Earth's atmosphere that extends from roughly 15 to 50 kilometers (10 to 30 miles) in altitude.

Two of Aura's four instruments were designed, built and managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.: the Microwave Limb Sounder and the Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer. Five years after launch, both instruments are still going strong, providing a wealth of data to climate scientists around the world.

Microwave Limb Sounder

The Microwave Limb Sounder is a second-generation instrument that is helping scientists improve our understanding of ozone in Earth's stratosphere, especially how it is depleted by processes of chlorine chemistry. The instrument measures naturally occurring microwave thermal emission from the edge of Earth's atmosphere to remotely sense vertical profiles of atmospheric gases, temperature, pressure and cloud ice.

Research results to date from Aura's Microwave Limb Sounder include findings pertinent to the loss of ozone in the polar stratosphere; water vapor and cloud ice processes in the upper troposphere--the region of our atmosphere that extends from roughly 10 to 15 kilometers (6 to 10 miles) in altitude--that affect climate; measurements of stratospheric chlorine and bromine, two gases involved in the destruction of ozone; the chemistry of hydrogen in the stratosphere and mesosphere (the layer of Earth's atmosphere directly above the stratosphere); chemical and physical processes at and near the tropical tropopause (the boundary between the troposphere and the stratosphere); the dynamics and transport of chemicals in the stratosphere; and pollution in the upper troposphere, to name just a few.

"It has been extremely gratifying to see how the Microwave Limb Sounder observations have been used by scientists around the world in important and creative studies that have improved our understanding of the complex processes affecting our atmosphere," said Microwave Limb Sounder Principal Investigator Nathaniel Livesey of JPL.

Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer

The Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer is an infrared sensor designed to study Earth's troposphere, the layer of Earth's atmosphere where we live. The spectrometer is gathering data on how gases are distributed globally in Earth's lower atmosphere. These data are being used to create three-dimensional models of the chemistry of the lower atmosphere, the interactions between the lower atmosphere and the biosphere, and the exchange of gases between Earth's troposphere and stratosphere.

While the Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer can detect and measure many components of the troposphere, one of its main purposes is to study ozone. Low levels of ozone are a natural component of the troposphere, but higher levels, usually associated with polluted environments, are dangerous to plants and animals, including humans. The spectrometer is providing important data on where ozone in the troposphere comes from and how it interacts with other chemicals in the atmosphere.

Research highlights so far from the spectrometer include studies that validate how pollutants are transported globally from continent to continent; differentiation of "heavy" water vapor from normal vapor, which can be used to track evaporation and precipitation cycles in the atmosphere; the first direct measurements of how ozone in the upper troposphere contributes to climate change; monitoring ozone and its transport at or near Earth's surface; and measuring ammonia-a significant source of aerosols-in the lower atmosphere.

"The biggest impact made by the Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer to date has been to demonstrate that it is possible to make accurate measurements of ozone in the lower atmosphere (troposphere) despite the fact that there is 10 times more ozone in the stratosphere," said Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer Principal Investigator Reinhard Beer of JPL.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center manages the Aura mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bolden and Garver Confirmed by U.S. Senate

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Deputy Administrator Lori Garver at their Senate confirmation hearing
Charles Frank Bolden, Jr., was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday as the twelfth administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Lori Beth Garver was confirmed as NASA's deputy administrator.

As administrator, Bolden will lead the NASA team and manage its resources to advance the agency's missions and goals.

"It is an honor to have been nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate to lead this great NASA team," Bolden said. "Today, we have to choose. Either we can invest in building on our hard-earned world technological leadership or we can abandon this commitment, ceding it to other nations who are working diligently to push the frontiers of space."

"If we choose to lead, we must build on our investment in the International Space Station, accelerate development of our next generation launch systems to enable expansion of human exploration, enhance NASA's capability to study Earth's environment, lead space science to new achievements, continue cutting-edge aeronautics research, support the innovation of American entrepreneurs, and inspire a rising generation of boys and girls to seek careers in science, technology, engineering and math."

Bolden's confirmation marks the beginning of his second stint with NASA. His 34-year career with the Marine Corps included 14 years as a member of NASA's Astronaut Office. After joining the office in 1980, he traveled to orbit four times aboard the space shuttle between 1986 and 1994, commanding two of the missions. His flights included deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope and the first joint U.S.-Russian shuttle mission, which featured a cosmonaut as a member of his crew.

During his astronaut career, Bolden also drew technical assignments as the Astronaut Office safety officer; technical assistant to the director of Flight Crew Operations; special assistant to the director of the Johnson Space Center; chief of the Safety Division at Johnson (overseeing safety efforts for the return to flight after the 1986 Challenger accident); lead astronaut for vehicle test and checkout at the Kennedy Space Center; and assistant deputy administrator at NASA Headquarters. He was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in May 2006.

Immediately prior to Bolden's nomination for the NASA administrator's job, he was employed as the chief executive officer of JACKandPANTHER LLC, a small business enterprise providing leadership, military and aerospace consulting, and motivational speaking. A resident of Houston, the 62-year-old South Carolina native earned a bachelor of science degree in electrical science from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1968. He completed flight training in 1970 and became a naval aviator, serving as a combat pilot in Southeast Asia and later, as a test pilot. Bolden retired from the Marine Corps in 2003 with the rank of major general.

Like Bolden, Garver's confirmation as deputy administrator marks the second time she has worked for NASA. Her first stint at the agency was from 1996 to 2001. Initially, she served as a special assistant to the NASA administrator and senior policy analyst for the Office of Policy and Plans, before becoming the associate administrator for the Office of Policy and Plans. Reporting to the NASA administrator, she oversaw the analysis, development and integration of policies and long-range plans, the NASA Strategic Management System, and the NASA Advisory Council.

As deputy administrator, Garver will be NASA's second in command. She is responsible to the administrator for providing overall leadership, planning, and policy direction for the agency. Garver will represent NASA to the Executive Office of the President, Congress, heads of government agencies, international organizations, and external organizations and communities. She also will oversee the work of NASA’s functional offices, including the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, Office of General Counsel and Office of Strategic Communications.

"I am very excited about the opportunity to serve under Charlie Bolden's leadership," Garver said. "My previous five years at NASA exposed me to the incredible talent of the workforce there. The unbelievable achievements of this team over its 50-year history are unmatched. I look forward to working with Charlie and the NASA team to make our agency work as effectively as it can for the American people."

A 48-year-old Michigan native, Garver earned a bachelor's degree in political science and economics from Colorado College in 1983. Her focus immediately turned to space when she accepted a job working for Sen. John Glenn from 1983 to 1984. She since has served in a variety of senior roles in the nonprofit, government and commercial sectors.

From January 2001 until her nomination as NASA's deputy administrator, Garver was a full-time consultant as the president of Capital Space, LLC, and senior advisor for space at the Avascent Group. In these roles, she provided strategic planning, technology feasibility research and business development assistance, as well as merger, acquisition and strategic alliance support, to financial institutions and Fortune 500 companies.

For a detailed biography of Bolden, visit:

For a detailed biography of Garver, visit:

For more information about NASA and agency programs on the Internet, visit:

Saturday, July 18, 2009

NASA JPL Scientist Receives Presidential Early Career Award

Josh Willis

Josh Willis, an oceanographer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., has been honored by President Barack Obama with the 2009 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. The award is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on young professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Willis is one of 100 beginning researchers to receive the 2009 award. This year's recipients also include three faculty members with the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, which manages JPL for NASA. The honorees will receive their awards this fall at a White House ceremony.

A researcher in JPL's Ocean Circulation Group, Willis uses satellite data as well as data collected at sea to study the impact of global warming on the ocean. His studies of ocean warming and sea level rise have been widely used by colleagues around the world and were cited in the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That report shared the 2007 Nobel Peace prize with Vice President Al Gore. Willis frequently lectures to the public and works with students to educate them about climate change issues and human impacts on global warming.

Established by President Bill Clinton in 1996, the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers annually honors researchers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for strengthening America's leadership in science and technology and contributing to the awarding agencies' missions. The awards are made to those whose innovative work is expected to lead to future breakthroughs.

Recipients are selected from among nine federal departments and agencies based on two criteria: pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology, and a commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education or community outreach. Winning scientists and engineers receive up to a five-year research grant to further their study in support of critical government missions.

"These extraordinarily gifted young scientists and engineers represent the best in our country," Obama said in a White House news release. "With their talent, creativity and dedication, I am confident that they will lead their fields in new breakthroughs and discoveries and help us use science and technology to lift up our nation and our world."

Willis holds a Bachelor of Science degree in physics and mathematics from the University of Houston; a Master of Science degree in physics from the University of California, San Diego, in La Jolla, Calif.; and a doctorate in oceanography from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. He joined JPL in 2004. Previous honors include JPL's Charles K. Witham Environmental Stewardship Award.

He and his wife, Dr. Dixie Aragaki, live in Los Angeles.

The three Caltech recipients are John O. Dabiri, an expert in biological propulsion who studies mechanics and dynamics of biological propulsion and fluid dynamic energy conversion; Beverley J. McKeon, who studies experimental manipulation of wall-bounded flows for improved flow characteristics; and Joel A. Tropp, who is developing new algorithms for solving inverse problems, a basic challenge that arises throughout the mathematical sciences.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

NASA Space Shuttle Endeavour Launch Rescheduled for Wednesday

Liftoff of space shuttle Endeavour on the STS-127 mission has been rescheduled for Wednesday, July 15 at 6:03 p.m. EDT.

Monday's attempt was canceled due to poor weather conditions within the launch area at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Anvil clouds and storm cells containing lightning flared up toward the end of the countdown, violating stringent launch safety rules.

Space Shuttle Mission: STS-127

Space shuttle Endeavour stands on Launch Pad 39A
"Technically, we've been really clean the last two days with our vehicle," Launch Integration Manager Mike Moses said of Endeavour's launch attempts on Sunday and Monday. "It's just been the weather scenario that got us."

The outlook is better on Wednesday, with only a 40 percent chance of weather conditions prohibiting liftoff.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Heat Shield Readied for Next Mars Rover

The finished heat shield for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory is the largest ever built for descending through the atmosphere of any planet.Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, has finished building and testing the heat shield for protecting the Curiosity rover of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory project. This heat shield is even larger than the ones used for protecting Apollo astronauts as they returned to Earth.

For more information, go to the Lockheed Martin news release at .

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Stephan's Quintet--A Galaxy Collision in Action

Stephan's Quintet, a compact group of galaxies discovered about 130 years ago and located about 280 million light years from Earth, provides a rare opportunity to observe a galaxy group in the process of evolving from an X-ray faint system dominated by spiral galaxies to a more developed system dominated by elliptical galaxies and bright X-ray emission. Being able to witness the dramatic effect of collisions in causing this evolution is important for increasing our understanding of the origins of the hot, X-ray bright halos of gas in groups of galaxies.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Supersonic Technology Named Nasa Commercial Invention of 2008

The 2008 NASA Commercial Invention of the Year is a high temperature resin designed to create composites through low-cost manufacturing processes -- ideal for advanced aerospace vehicles.

Researchers at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., were able to create the unique material, which is ideal for the high temperatures of supersonic flight. The material, known as PETI-330, is used in the development of advanced composite fabrication technology for the agency's aeronautics supersonics program. PETI-330 is patented as "Composition of and Method for Making High Performance Resins for Infusion and Transfer Molding Processes."

In the late 1980s, NASA's High-Speed Research Program began to develop high performance, high temperature resins that could be used to fabricate carbon fiber reinforced composites. The resins potentially would be useful on advanced aerospace vehicle structures and aircraft engine components such as inlets and compressor vanes. A resin called PETI-5 was developed that met a number of the program's goals.

Continued research for a resin that would be useful for the fabrication of composites by low-cost manufacturing methods led to PETI-330. It is the first commercially available, off-the-shelf, high temperature resin that has processing characteristics useful for resin infusion, resin transfer molding and the vacuum-assisted resin transfer molding manufacturing processes.

The finished product of PETI-330 has the strength and high temperature properties ideal for large structures exposed to hot temperatures, offering a combination of processability, high temperature performance and toughness ideal for high performance aerospace vehicles. PETI-330 and the vacuum process are of interest to the aerospace industry because of a combination of weight reduction and manufacturing cost savings.

The inventors, John Connell, Joseph Smith, Jr., and Paul Hergenrother, all from Langley, will be honored at the 2010 NASA Project Management Challenge in Galveston, Texas. Ube America, a division of Ube Industries, Inc., licensed the technology from NASA.

NASA's general counsel selects the Invention of the Year Award with technical assistance from NASA's Inventions and Contributions Board. For more information about NASA's Inventions and Contributions Board, visit:

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Astronaut Safety Gets Max Attention

The Max Launch Abort System launched at 6:26 a.m.NASA's next generation of spacecraft will have the safest-ever astronaut escape system, a modern-day version of the reliable Apollo system. Like Apollo, the Orion launch abort system will swiftly propel the crew capsule away from the nose of the Ares I rocket and out of harm's way in case of an emergency on the launch pad or during ascent to orbit.

Also -- as was the practice at times during development of key Apollo elements -- while NASA engineers are working on the Orion launch abort system, another NASA team is investigating an alternate launch abort concept.

The alternate system, called Max Launch Abort System, or MLAS, was successfully tested in a simulated pad abort test at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va., July 8.

MLAS was named after Maxime (Max) Faget, a Mercury-era pioneer. Faget was the designer of the Project Mercury capsule and holder of the patent for the "Aerial Capsule Emergency Separation Device," which is commonly known as the escape tower.

The unpiloted test was part of an assessment by the NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC) of a potential alternate launch abort system concept which could be used for future piloted spacecraft. The prototype, used in the test to evaluate means to safely propel a spacecraft and its crew from an errant rocket, represents a departure from the tower launch abort system used during Apollo launches and retained for the Constellation Program. A primary objective of the MLAS test is to provide the NASA workforce with additional direct implementation experience in flight testing a spacecraft concept useful in the Agency's future efforts to design, optimize and test spacecraft.

The bullet-shaped MLAS concept will not replace the Orion abort system.

NASA's Constellation Program has three years toward designing the Orion crew exploration vehicle and the Ares launch vehicles that will return humans to the moon to live and work. The spacecraft designs are based on the technical principles established during the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs - yet incorporates the latest technology to expand the spacecraft's operational flexibility. The Orion launch abort system offers a proven method of pulling the crew out of danger in the event of an emergency on the launch pad or during the climb to Earth orbit.

MLAS is of potential interest because it is theorized to have aerodynamic performance benefits, weight savings and be relatively simple in some spacecraft applications. Much of the potential gains would be accomplished by eliminating the launch abort tower, which also means eliminating the attitude control motors.

The MLAS demonstration vehicle consists of a full-scale composite fairing, a full-scale crew module simulator and four solid rocket abort motors mounted in the boost skirt with motor mass simulators in the forward fairing. Test items of interest began at the seven second mark with burnout of the solid motors. The test is primarily a demonstration of unpowered flight along a stable trajectory, MLAS vehicle reorientation and stabilization, followed by crew module simulator separation from the MLAS fairing, stabilization and the parachute recovery of the crew module simulator.

Data from the MLAS pad abort test has the potential to help the Orion Project in several ways. MLAS is the first demonstration of a passively-stabilized launch abort system on a vehicle in this size and weight class. It is the first attempt to acquire full-scale aero-acoustic data -- the measurement of potentially harmful noise levels due to the capsule moving through the air at high speeds -- from a faired capsule in flight. It also is the first to demonstrate full scale fairing and crew module separation and collect associated aerodynamic and orientation data. In addition, data from the parachute element will help validate simulation tools and techniques for Orion's parachute system development.

The NESC, located at NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., is an independently funded NASA program that draws on technical experts from across all NASA centers to provide objective engineering and safety assessments of critical, high risk projects.

NESC partners in the MLAS effort include Northrop Grumman Corporation. The company developed and produced the MLAS composite fairing, fins, drag plates, and motor cage structure. Company personnel based in Wallops Island, Va., performed the structures and mechanism assembly as well as providing vehicle integration and flight test support. Northrop Grumman's subcontractor, Ensign Bickford Aerospace and Defense, Simsbury, Conn., provided pyrotechnic separation system mechanisms. Jacobs Technology, Tullahoma, Tenn., and partner Airborne Systems, Santa Ana, Calif., provided landing systems design and support.

Wallops contractors who supported the demonstration include Hawk Institute for Space Sciences, Computer Sciences Corporation, VT Griffin and Honeywell Technical Solutions, Inc. The NASA Sounding Rocket Operations Contract (NSROC) based at Wallops also provided support.

Each of the NASA Centers participated in the Agency-wide MLAS effort by providing engineers and technicians, analysts, designers, mission assurance specialists and/or use of their test facilities.

For images and video of the test firing, visit:

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

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Rover Extraction Tests Begin

Updates on the efforts to free the Spirit rover.

Latest Spirit News

Rover Extraction Tests Begin - 07.06.09

Rover driver Paolo Bellutta measures how much the rover moved sideways, downslope, during the maneuver. After commanding five of a test rover's six wheels to drive forward, rover driver Paolo Bellutta measures how much the rover moved sideways, downslope, during the maneuver.
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Using a test rover in a sandbox at JPL with special soil simulating Spirit's predicament on Mars, engineers are assessing possible maneuvers for getting Spirit out and onto firmer ground. They began on Monday, July 6, with the simplest maneuver on their list of options: driving forward with all five operable wheels. In the first set of tests, the wheels turned enough to cover tens of meters, or yards, if there had been no slippage. The test rover moved slightly forward and sideways downslope. Weeks of further testing and analysis of results are expected before engineers identify the best moves to command Spirit to make.

Rock Under the Belly - 07.01.09

Sandbox setup to test and assess possible moves for getting Mars rover Spirit out of a patch of loose Martian soil. Sandbox setup at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., is ready for engineers to use the test rover to assess possible moves for getting Mars rover Spirit out of a patch of loose Martian soil.
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Engineers placed a rock underneath the test rover at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., on July 1, 2009, to more closely simulate Spirit's predicament on Mars. After becoming embedded in soft soil, Spirit used the microscopic imager at the end of its arm last month to look under its own belly for the first time. The resulting view (at confirmed a rock beneath the rover touching its underbelly. With a rock now placed similarly in the test sandbox, testing in the next few weeks will evaluate possible extraction moves for Spirit.

Test Rover Rolls In - 06.30.09

a test rover rolls off a plywood surface into a prepared bed of soft soil While a test rover rolls off a plywood surface into a prepared bed of soft soil, rover team members Colette Lohr (left) and Kim Lichtenberg (center) eye the wheels digging into the soil and Paolo Bellutta enters the next driving command.

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After several days of preparing a sloped area of soft, fine soil to simulate Spirit's current sandtrap on Mars, the rover team drove a test rover into the material on June 30, 2009. The test rover became embedded in the soil, as planned. The rover team will use this setup at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., during the next few weeks to test possible extraction moves Spirit might use on Mars.

Rover team members add a barrowful of soil mixture to the sloped box where a test rover will be used
Filling the Simulated Sandtrap

Rover team members Mike Seibert (left) and Paolo Bellutta add a barrowful of soil mixture to the sloped box where a test rover will be used for assessing possible manuevers for NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit to use in escaping from a sandtrap on Mars.

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Rover team members Kim Lichtenberg (left) and Mike Seibert fill a mixer with powdered clay and diatomaceous earth
Preparing a Test Mixture

Rover team members Kim Lichtenberg (left) and Mike Seibert fill a mixer with powdered clay and diatomaceous earth, a combination found to offer physical properties similar to the soil where NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit is embedded on Mars.

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The Mixing Begins - 06.26.09

Rover team members mix materials.Rover team members mix materials. Pictured (left to right) are Kim Lichtenberg (from Wash U.), Matt Van Kirk (in back in grey t-shirt), Paolo Bellutta (in front) and Mike Seibert (in back in dark t-shirt).

Rover team members mix materials to fill the testbed box. Once filled, the rover will be driven into the test area and set in place to mimic how the actual rover sits on Mars. Escape maneuvers will then be tested to determine how to retrieve the rover safely.

Mars Team Digs in To Free Spirit - 06.25.09

Mars team members have rolled up their sleeves and will be shaping a few tons of diatomaceous Earth and clay into an exact replica of the area where the Spirit rover is embedded on Mars. Recreating the conditions here on Earth in a testbed is important for testing the "Free Spirit" escape plans, which will occur over the next few weeks. Once a safe escape route is mapped, commands will be sent to the rover.

picture from inside the JPL In-situ Instrument Laboratory where the Mars rover simulator is under construction
Mars-like rocks to be used in the testbed
Materials to be used in the rover testbed include diatomaceous Earth and 'Lincoln 60 Fire Clay'.

This is a picture from inside the JPL In-situ Instrument Laboratory where the Mars rover simulator is under construction. The test box is angled at 10 degrees, the same angle at which Spirit is positioned on the surface of Mars. It is 8 feet by 20 feet and will be filled with material of similar consistency to that found on Mars, where Spirit is embedded.

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Mars-like rocks to be used in the testbed

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Diatomaceous Earth and Clay

Materials to be used in the rover testbed include diatomaceous Earth and "Lincoln 60 Fire Clay".

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› Free Spirit archive

Rover Weekly Updates - Short summaries on Spirit's activities.
7/01/09 - Soil Investigation Continues
Spirit remains positioned on the west side of Home Plate. The rover has been continuing an ambitious science campaign of extensive observations with the panoramic camera (Pancam) and miniature thermal emission spectrometer (Mini-TES) plus contact science using using all the tools on the robotic arm (instrument deployment device, or IDD).

› Read more

6/25/09 - Studying Troy

Spirit is continuing her ambitious remote sensing and in-situ (contact) science observations at the location called "Troy" on the west side of Home Plate.

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6/23/09 - Soil Investigation

Spirit remains stationary on the west side of Home Plate in the location called "Troy". The rover continues to be busy with an ambitious observation campaign employing both remote sensing and in-situ (contact) science with the robotic arm (instrument deployment device, IDD).

› Read more

Friday, July 10, 2009

Ozone, Nitrogen Change the Way Rising CO2 Affects Earth's Water

The diagram shows the microscopic structure of a leaf, and the processes of photosynthesis and transpiration.Through a recent modeling experiment, a team of NASA-funded researchers have found that future concentrations of carbon dioxide and ozone in the atmosphere and of nitrogen in the soil are likely to have an important but overlooked effect on the cycling of water from sky to land to waterways.

The researchers concluded that models of climate change may be underestimating how much water is likely to run off the land and back into the sea as atmospheric chemistry changes. Runoff may be as much as 17 percent higher in forests of the eastern United States when models account for changes in soil nitrogen levels and atmospheric ozone exposure.

"Failure to consider the effects of nitrogen limitation and ozone on photosynthesis can lead us to underestimate regional runoff," said Benjamin Felzer, an ecosystem modeler at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. "More runoff could mean more contamination and flooding of our waterways. It could also mean fewer droughts than predicted for some areas and more water available for human consumption and farming. Either way, water resource managers need more accurate runoff estimates to plan better for the changes."

Felzer and colleagues from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge and the Marine Biology Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., published their findings recently in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Biogeosciences.

Plants play a significant role in Earth’s water cycle, regulating the amount of water cycling through land ecosystems and how long it stays there. Plants draw in water from the atmosphere and soil, and they discharge it naturally through transpiration, the tail end of photosynthesis when water vapor and oxygen are released into the air.

The amount of water that plants give up depends on how much carbon dioxide is present in the atmosphere. Studies have shown that despite a global drop in rainfall over land in the past 50 years, runoff has actually increased.

Other studies have shown that increasing CO2 is changing how plant "pores," or stomata, discharge water. With elevated CO2 levels, leaf pores contract and sometimes close to conserve internal water reserves. This "stomatal conductance" response increases water use efficiency and reduces the rate of transpiration.

Plants that release less water also take less of it from the environment. With less water being taken up by plants, more water is available for groundwater or runs off the land surface into lakes, streams, and rivers. Along the way, it accumulates excess nutrients and pollutants before emptying into waterways, where it affects the health of fish, algae, and shellfish and contaminate drinking water and beaches. Excess runoff can also contribute to flooding.

Sometimes rising CO2 has the opposite effect, Felzer noted, promoting vegetation growth by increasing the rate of photosynthesis. More plant growth can lead to a thicker canopy of leaves with increased transpiration and less runoff. However, this effect has been shown to be smaller than the effect of reduced stomatal conductance.

Aware of these cycles, Felzer and colleagues used theoretical models to project various future scenarios for the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and what it would mean to the changing water cycle in forests east of the Mississippi River. They found that runoff would increase anywhere from 3 to 6 percent depending on location and the amount of the increase in CO2.

Felzer and colleagues also examined the role of two other variables -- atmospheric ozone and soil-based nitrogen -- in the changing water cycle. Excess ground-level ozone harms the cells responsible for photosynthesis. Reductions in photosynthesis leads to less transpiration and cycling of water through leaves and more water added to runoff.

In most boreal and temperate forests, the rate of photosynthesis is also limited by the availability of nutrients such as nitrogen in the soil. The less nitrogen in the soil, the slower their rate of photosynthesis and transpiration.

"The increase in runoff is even larger when nitrogen is limited and environments are exposed to high ozone levels," said Felzer. In fact, the team found an additional 7 to 10 percent rise in runoff when nitrogen was limited and ozone exposure increased.

"Though this study focuses on Eastern U.S. forests, we know nitrogen and ozone effects are also important in South America and Europe. One region has seen a net increase and the other a net runoff reduction," said co-author Adam Schlosser of the Center for Global Change Science at MIT. "Our environment and quality of life depend on less uncertainty on this front."

Related Links:

> Importance of carbon-nitrogen interactions and ozone on ecosystem hydrology during the 21st century

> How Plants Can Change Our Climate

> Who is Ben Felzer?

> Ozone's Effects on Plants

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

NASA Updates Shuttle Prelaunch Events and Countdown Details

News conferences, events and operating hours for the news center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., have been updated for the launch of space shuttle Endeavour. The shuttle's STS-127 mission to the International Space Station is scheduled to lift off at 7:39 p.m. EDT on Saturday, July 11.

On Tuesday, July 7, Endeavour's seven astronauts are scheduled to arrive at Kennedy at about 2 p.m. NASA Television will provide live coverage as Commander Mark Polansky makes a brief statement to reporters. Badged journalists planning to cover the event must be at Kennedy's news center by 12:30 p.m. for transportation to the Shuttle Landing Facility.

NASA will provide continuous STS-127 online updates, including a webcast and a blog at:

On launch day, a blog originating from Kennedy will update the countdown beginning at 2:30 p.m. The blog is the definitive Internet source for information leading up to launch. During the mission, visitors to NASA's shuttle Web site can read about the crew's progress and watch the spacewalks live. As Endeavour's flight wraps up, NASA will offer a blog detailing the spacecraft's return to Earth.

Live updates to the NASA Twitter feed will be added throughout the shuttle launch countdown from Kennedy. To access the NASA Twitter feed, visit:

Detailed lists of countdown milestones, news briefing times and participants, and hours of operation for Kennedy's news center and media credentialing office are available at:

For NASA TV streaming video, scheduling and downlink information, visit:

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Nobel Prize Winner and NASA's Blueshift Podcast Take You on a Data Journey

Dr. John C. Mather is a Senior Astrophysicist in the Observational Cosmology Laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.Dr. John Mather, a Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. joined the Blueshift podcast on June 18th to share his sense of what makes scientific data beautiful. "I think it's worth a lot of attention to portraying the information in the best possible graphic way," he said. "Data are beautiful when they tell a story."

Blueshift, a series of podcasts produced by Goddard's Astrophysics Science Division, offers listeners a backstage pass to the division's groundbreaking discoveries, innovative technology, new missions, and other exciting stories.

"Blueshift's summer series kicks off with Dr. Mather's interview," said Sara Mitchell, Director of Blueshift."This four part series will follow the stories of missions, scientists, and iconic images as we see how science data is captured and communicated." Podcast listeners will find additional material and images related to each show on the Blueshift web site.

In the episode, John Mather describes how science and data are communicated -- and the absolute importance of imagery to share data so the world can understand it. In 2006, both he and George Smoot at the University of California, Berkeley, Calif., shared the Nobel Prize in Physics. They won for their work on NASA's Cosmic Background Explorer, a satellite that mapped radiation emitted when the universe was less than 400,000 years. The mission created the first-ever "baby picture" of the cosmos.

If you think that satellites just relay the images that we see here on Earth, you'll be in for a big surprise. Dr. Mather discusses how data are assembled, polished and transformed into images, animations and illustrations.

Mather also describes how the new James Webb Space Telescope, slated for launch in 2014, will build upon the valuable science and breathtaking imagery of Hubble. Webb will see the most distant objects in the cosmos and take astrophysicists further back in time than ever before!

The term "blueshift" relates to a change in the spectrum of an object that is moving toward us. "We chose Blueshift because we aim to bring the universe of astrophysics at Goddard directly to our listeners," Mitchell said.

To learn more about Blueshift, subscribe to the podcast or listen to archived episodes, please visit:

Monday, July 6, 2009

Space Station Appearing Nationwide Over July 4 Weekend

As America celebrates its 233rd birthday this holiday weekend, there will be an extra light in the sky along with the fireworks. Across the country, Americans will be treated to spectacular views of the International Space Station as it orbits 220 miles above Earth.

Many locations will have unusually long sighting opportunities of as much as five minutes, weather permitting, as the station flies almost directly overhead.

To find out when to see the station from your city, visit:

The largest spacecraft ever built, the station also is the most reflective. It will be brighter than most stars at dawn and dusk, appearing as a solid, glowing light, slowly traversing the predawn or evening sky. It is visible when lit by the sun while the ground below is not in full daylight. It moves across the sky too fast for conventional telescopes, but a good set of binoculars can enhance the viewing experience, even revealing some detail of the station's structure.

The station circles Earth every 90 minutes. It is 357 feet long, about the length of a football field including the end zones, and 45 feet tall. Its reflective solar arrays are 240 feet wide, a wingspan greater than that of a jumbo jet, and have a total surface area of more than 38,000 square feet.

An international crew of six astronauts, including American flight engineer Michael Barratt, is aboard the complex conducting research and continuing its assembly. Other crew members are from Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan.

For more information about the station, visit:

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Five Years Ago, Cassini Began Orbiting Saturn

NASA's Cassini mission has been orbiting Saturn for five Earth years as of June 30, 2009. That's about one sixth of a Saturnian year, enough time for the spacecraft to have observed seasonal changes in the planet, its moons and sunlight's angle on the dramatic rings.

Cassini passed through a gap in the rings as it entered orbit on June 30, 2004. It finished its prime mission in 2008 and continues to use its 12 instruments in an extended mission that includes extensive further studies of the moons Titan and Enceladus.

Cassini's view of Saturn.Saturn … Four Years On

As Saturn advances in its orbit toward equinox and the sun gradually moves northward on the planet, the motion of Saturn's ring shadows and the changing colors of its atmosphere continue to transform the face of Saturn as seen by Cassini.

This captivating natural color view was created from images collected shortly after Cassini began its extended Equinox Mission in July 2008. It can be contrasted with earlier images from the spacecraft's four-year prime mission that show the shadow of Saturn's rings first draped high over the planet's northern hemisphere, then shifting southward as northern summer changed to spring (see PIA06606 and PIA09793). During this time, the colors of the northern hemisphere have evolved from azure blue to a multitude of muted-colored bands.

This mosaic combines 30 images -- 10 each of red, green and blue light -- taken over the course of approximately two hours as Cassini panned its wide-angle camera across the entire planet and ring system on July 23, 2008, from a southerly elevation of 6 degrees.

Six moons complete this constructed panorama: Titan (5,150 kilometers, or 3,200 miles, across), Janus (179 kilometers, or 111 miles, across), Mimas (396 kilometers, or 246 miles, across), Pandora (81 kilometers, or 50 miles, across), Epimetheus (113 kilometers, or 70 miles, across) and Enceladus (504 kilometers, or 313 miles, across).

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captured these images at a distance of approximately 1.1 million kilometers (690,000 miles) from Saturn and at a sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 20 degrees. Image scale is 70 kilometers (43.6 miles) per pixel.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit . The Cassini imaging team homepage is at .