Thursday, March 31, 2011

Salt-Seeking Spacecraft Arrives at Launch Site


An international spacecraft that will take NASA's first space-based measurements of ocean surface salinity has arrived at its launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The Aquarius/SAC-D mission will provide scientists with a key missing variable in satellite observations of Earth that links ocean circulation, the global balance of freshwater and climate.

The Aquarius/SAC-D spacecraft left Sáo José dos Campos, Brazil, on March 29. Following final tests, the spacecraft will be attached to a Delta II rocket for a June 9 launch.

The mission is a collaboration between NASA and Argentina's space agency, Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE), with participation from Brazil, Canada, France and Italy. Aquarius, the NASA-built primary instrument on CONAE's SAC-D spacecraft, will map global changes in the concentration of dissolved salt at the ocean surface. Measuring salinity is important to understanding how changes in rainfall, evaporation and the melting or freezing of ice influence ocean circulation and are linked to climate changes. The three-year mission will provide new insights into how variations in ocean surface salinity relate to these fundamental climate processes.

"Just as salt is essential to life as we know it, salinity is crucial to Earth's climate system," said Aquarius Principal Investigator Gary Lagerloef of Earth and Space Research in Seattle. "Very small changes in salinity can have large-scale effects on ocean circulation and the way the ocean moderates our climate. These changes are linked to the movement of water between the ocean, atmosphere and cryosphere."

Aquarius will greatly enhance the quantity of ocean salinity measurements that have been collected from ships, buoys and floats.

"When combined with data from other sensors that measure sea level, ocean color, temperature, winds, rainfall and evaporation, Aquarius' continuous, global salinity data will give scientists a much clearer picture of how the ocean works, how it is linked to climate and how it may respond to climate change," Lagerloef said.

Precise salinity measurements from Aquarius will reveal changes in patterns of global precipitation and evaporation, and show how these affect ocean circulation. Studies from Aquarius eventually will improve computer models used to forecast future climate conditions, including short-term climate events such as El Niño and La Niña.

"The mission continues a long and successful partnership between NASA and CONAE, and it will provide a new type of ocean observation for ocean and climate studies," said Amit Sen, Aquarius project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Aquarius will measure ocean surface salinity by sensing thermal microwave emissions from the water's surface with a radiometer. When other environmental factors are equal, these emissions indicate how salty the surface water is. Because salinity levels in the open ocean vary by only about five parts per thousand, Aquarius employs new technologies to detect changes in salinity as small as about two parts per 10,000, equivalent to about one-eighth of a teaspoon of salt in a gallon of water.

Flying in a 657-kilometer (408-mile) high, polar orbit, Aquarius/SAC-D will map the global ocean once every seven days. Its measurements will be merged to yield monthly estimates of ocean surface salinity with a spatial resolution of 150 kilometers (93 miles). The data will reveal how salinity changes over time and from one part of the ocean to another.

Aquarius is a NASA Earth System Science Pathfinder Program mission. The Aquarius instrument was jointly built by JPL and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. NASA's Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida is managing the launch. JPL will manage Aquarius through the mission's commissioning phase and archive mission data. Goddard will manage the mission's operations phase and process Aquarius science data.

CONAE is providing the SAC-D spacecraft, an optical camera, a thermal camera in collaboration with Canada, a microwave radiometer, sensors developed by various Argentine institutions, and the mission operations center in Argentina. France and Italy also are contributing instruments.

For more information visit

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

GREAT Spectrometer Readied For Flight on SOFIA


Scientists recently completed a series of nighttime, ground-based testing of the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies, or GREAT, spectrometer in preparation for a series of astronomical science flights on the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy in April. With the SOFIA 747SP aircraft positioned on the ramp outside NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility, the upper door covering the telescope was opened and GREAT’s interaction with the telescope was evaluated.

The GREAT instrument is a receiver for spectroscopic observations at far-infrared frequencies between 1.2 and 5 terahertz (wavelengths between 60 and 250 microns). Those wavelengths are not accessible from ground-based telescopes because of atmospheric water vapor absorption.

GREAT is one of two first-generation instruments built for SOFIA by a consortium of German research institutes, including the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, the University of Cologne, the German Aerospace Center and the Max Planck Society. The Max Planck Society and German Research Society financed the development of the instrument.

SOFIA is a joint venture of NASA and the German Aerospace Center DLR. NASA supplied the aircraft and the telescope was built in Germany. NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center manages the SOFIA program. NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., manages SOFIA's scientific mission. The Universities Space Research Association, in Columbia, Md., and the German SOFIA Institute in Stuttgart, Germany, operate SOFIA's scientific mission operations respectively for NASA and the DLR.

For more information visit

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Model of Vesta


This image shows a model of the protoplanet Vesta, using scientists' best guess to date of what the surface of the protoplanet might look like. It was created as part of an exercise for NASA's Dawn mission involving mission planners at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and science team members at the Planetary Science Institute in Tuscon, Ariz.

The images incorporate the best data on dimples and bulges of the protoplanet Vesta from ground-based telescopes and NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. The cratering and small-scale surface variations are computer-generated, based on the patterns seen on the Earth's moon, an inner solar system object with a surface appearance that may be similar to Vesta.

Vesta, located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, formed very early in the history of the solar system and has one of the oldest surfaces in the system. Scientists are eager to get their first close-up look so they can better understand this early chapter.

Dawn science planners have used images like these to ensure optimal images when Dawn gets into orbit around Vesta in July 2011.

The Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, DC. It is a project of the Discovery Program managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. The University of California, Los Angeles, is home of the mission's principal investigator, Christopher Russell, and is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Other scientific partners include the Planetary Science Institute, Tuscon, Ariz.; Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany; German Aerospace Center Institute for Planetary Research, Berlin; Italian National Institute for Astrophysics, Rome; and the Italian Space Agency. Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Va., designed and built the Dawn spacecraft.

For more information visit

Monday, March 28, 2011

Students Get Fit the Astronaut Way


When you think of NASA, likely you picture the space shuttle, the International Space Station, or have images of planets and galaxies flashing before your mind's eye. NASA's Mission X: Train Like an Astronaut, however, focuses a little closer to home. Working with the schools in our very own neighborhoods and around the world, Mission X uses the same skills used to train astronauts to motivate physical education for around 3,700 students in 40 cities around the globe.

The brainchild of the International Space Life Science Working Group or ISLSWG and the Human Research Program Education and Outreach or HRPEO, Mission X launched in U.S. schools on Jan. 18, 2010. NASA's Human Research Program funded the pilot program, including activity and educational modules and an interactive Website ( The program is available in six different languages for participants in 10 countries -- U.S., Netherlands, Italy, France, Germany, Japan, Australia, Columbia, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The goal of the program is to make kinesiology and nutrition fun for children by encouraging them to train like an astronaut.

Chuck Lloyd, the NASA program manager responsible for the project, comments on how the space program excites students, prompting active participation. "Mission X is all about inspiring and educating our youth about living a healthy lifestyle with a focus on improving their overall daily physical activity with the Mission X physical activities, known as train-like-an-astronaut."

Students aging from 8- to 12-years-old learn about the science behind their activities, including the importance of hydration, bone health, and balanced nutrition. Known as "fit explorers," these youth stay motivated with fun ways to gauge their success. For instance, they can see what other schools are doing on the Train Like An Astronaut blog. Fit explorers logged their accumulated activity points over the course of the program to help an online cartoon astronaut, known as Flat Charlie, walk to the moon.. Flat Charlie made the moon five weeks in to the competition -- a distance of 238,857 miles (384,403 km) or 478 million steps -- and he's still going!

Fit explorers learn that astronauts train before, during, and after missions to maintain top physical health via good nutrition, rest, and physical activity habits in order to function in the demanding environment of microgravity. Lloyd makes the connection of such health-centric mindsets for everyone, even those not planning to launch into space. "Our youth must also make smart choices on balancing the amount of work, play, and sleep they get to remain in peak performance. Education is critical to our youth and to our communities to ensure we have tomorrow's workforce and technical leadership to address the rigors of our societies."

The challenge, which lasts for six weeks, has schools participating with each other within their own countries in a friendly competition. Each school makes up a single team that collects points based on teamwork, space application, activity completion, and fun. Prizes, including a Mission X dog-tag, will be awarded at closing events. The U.S. closing event, titled Fit Explorer Hometown Hullaballoo, is sponsored by College Station ISD and will take place on March 24, 2011, in Tiger Stadium, College Station, Texas.

For more information visit

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Imagining Mars


This composite of three artists' renderings from 1975 was only wish fulfillment for an unnamed JPL artist; however, the landscape and the rendered shapes took into account what was known about Mars that year. Compared to Earth, Mars is further away from the light of the sun, very cold and very arid, and had a thin atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide but little nitrogen, an environment distinctly inhospitable to complex, Earth-like, carbon-based life forms.

"Life on Mars" was envisioned as low to the ground, symmetrical and simple. The artist drew silicon-based life forms, probably coached by others, perhaps scientists, who had thought about such possibilities. Peculiar saucer-like shapes stood only slightly above ground level, root-like structures reached outward for growth resources; a bundle of cones faced many directions for heat, light or food. Instead of reality, the images embodied the artist's hope and anticipation of what future Martian exploration would find.

For more information visit

Thursday, March 24, 2011

NASA's Stardust: Good to the Last Drop


On Thursday, March 24 at about 4 p.m. PDT (7 p.m. EDT), NASA's Stardust spacecraft will perform a final burn with its main engines.

At first glance, the burn is something of an insignificant event. After all, the venerable spacecraft has executed 40 major flight path maneuvers since its 1999 launch, and between these main engines and the reaction control system, its rocket motors have collectively fired more than 2 million times. But the March 24 burn will be different from all others. This burn will effectively end the life of NASA's most traveled comet hunter.

"We call it a 'burn to depletion,' and that is pretty much what we're doing – firing our rockets until there is nothing left in the tank," said Stardust-NExT project manager Tim Larson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "It's a unique way for an interplanetary spacecraft to go out. Essentially, Stardust will be providing us useful information to the very end."

Burn to depletion will answer the question about how much fuel Stardust had left in its tank.

"We'll take those data and compare them to what our estimates told us was left," said Allan Cheuvront, Lockheed Martin Space Systems program manager for Stardust-NExT. "That will give us a better idea how valid our fuel consumption models are and make our predictions even more accurate for future missions."

Fuel consumption models are necessary because no one has invented an entirely reliable fuel gauge for spacecraft. Until that day arrives, mission planners can approximate fuel usage by looking at the history of the vehicle's flight and how many times and for how long its rocket motors have fired.

Stardust's burn to depletion is expected to impart valuable information, because the spacecraft has essentially been running on borrowed time -- for some time. Launched on Feb. 7, 1999, Stardust had already flown past an asteroid (Annefrank), flown past and collected particle samples from a comet (Wild 2), and returned those particles to Earth in a sample return capsule in January 2006 – and in so doing racked up 4.63 billion kilometers (2.88 billion miles) on its odometer. NASA then re-tasked the still-healthy spacecraft to perform a flyby of comet Tempel 1, a new, low-cost mission that required another five years and 1.04 billion kilometers (646 million miles). After all those milestones and all that time logged on the spacecraft, the Stardust team knew the end was near. They just didn't know exactly how close.

Prior to this final burn, Stardust will point its medium-gain antenna at Earth – some 312 million kilometers (194 million miles) away. As there is no tomorrow for Stardust, the spacecraft is expected to downlink information on the burn as it happens. The command from the spacecraft computer ordering the rockets to fire will be sent for 45 minutes, but the burn is expected to last only between a couple of minutes to somewhat above 10 minutes. It is estimated the burn could accelerate the spacecraft anywhere from 2.5 to 35.2 meters per second (6 to 79 mph). ‪

"What we think will happen is that when the fuel reaches a critically low level, gaseous helium will enter the thruster chambers," said Larson. "The resulting thrust will be less than 10 percent of what was expected. While Stardust will continue to command its rocket engines to fire until the pre-planned firing time of 45 minutes has elapsed, the burn is essentially over."

Twenty minutes after the engines run dry, the spacecraft's computer will command its transmitters off. They actively shut off their radios to preclude the remote chance that at some point down the road Stardust's transmitter could turn on and broadcast on a frequency being used by other operational spacecraft. Turning off the transmitter ensures that there will be no unintended radio interference in the future.

Without fuel to power the spacecraft's attitude control system, Stardust's solar panels will not remain pointed at the sun. When this occurs, the spacecraft's batteries are expected to drain of power and deplete within hours.

"When we take into account all the possibilities for how long the burn could be and then the possible post-burn trajectories, we project that over the next 100 years, Stardust will not get any closer than 1.7 million miles of Earth's orbit, or within 13 million miles of Mars orbit," said Larson. "That is far enough from protected targets to meet all of NASA's Planetary Protection directives. "

Some planetary spacecraft, like the Galileo mission to Jupiter, are intentionally sent into the planet's atmosphere to make sure it is destroyed in a controlled way. Others have their transmitters shut off or just fade away, said Larson. "I think this is a fitting end for Stardust. It's going down swinging."

Stardust-NExT is a low-cost mission to expand the investigation of comet Tempel 1 initiated by NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Stardust-NExT project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C., and is part of the Discovery Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Joe Veverka of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., is the mission's principal investigator. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft and manages day-to-day mission operations.

Use this link to experience Stardust's final hour before decommissioning, then use Eyes on the Solar System to relieve the entire mission from 1999 to 2011: . A free software download is required.

For more information visit

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Juno Marches On


NASA's Juno spacecraft has completed its thermal vacuum chamber testing. The two-week-long test, which concluded on March 13, 2011, is the longest the spacecraft will undergo prior to launch.

In the image, a technician is attaching the lifting equipment in preparation for hoisting the 1,588-kilogram (3,500-pound) spacecraft out of the chamber. Prominent in the photo is one of three large, black, square solar array simulators, which reproduced the thermal properties of Juno's large solar arrays.

The actual solar arrays Juno will use to power the spacecraft during its voyage to, and its exploration of, Jupiter have already been shipped to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The main body of the Juno spacecraft, including its suite of science instruments, is scheduled to ship to Kennedy in early April, where it will undergo final preparations and launch.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute at San Antonio. The Juno mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is building the spacecraft. The Italian Space Agency in Rome is contributing an infrared spectrometer instrument and a portion of the radio science experiment. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

For more information visit

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Observing Clouds for NASA Becomes a Class Tradition


Attending homecoming games, purchasing class rings, and wearing school colors are a few common traditions students pass down. A not-so-common class tradition? Validating NASA satellites.

For over 10 years, Gary Popiolkowski's seventh grade students at Chartiers-Houston Jr./Sr. High School in Houston, Pa. have carried on the tradition of sending cloud observations to NASA to help scientists make sure satellites are identifying clouds correctly.

Popiolkowski's seventh graders are participants in Students' Cloud Observations On-Line (S'COOL), a program based out of NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., that allows students from around the world to coordinate their observations with the time a NASA satellite will be observing clouds over their school.

"After doing this for so many years, my students have really bought into being diligent observers and pass that tradition on from year to year," says Popiolkowski.

So diligent that S'COOL recently named this class the top observers for the program, completing 63 observations that match a satellite overpass during a one-month period.

"Gary's class is achieving really remarkable feats," says Lin Chambers, a research scientist at NASA Langley who runs the S'COOL program. "Given that there are four opportunities in a 24-hour period, some of which are in the middle of the night, they observed for more than half of them."

The four satellites students can use to complete cloud observations are Terra, which usually passes over a given area in the morning, and Aqua, CloudSat and CALIPSO (Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations), which generally come by in the afternoon.

Popiolkowski explains that students voluntarily record cloud observations after school in the evenings, and they also take turns signing up to observe clouds over the weekend.

"Students have to make their observations within 15 minutes of a satellite overpass, because clouds change on the timescale of minutes," explains Chambers.

According to Popiolkowski, the quick changes in clouds and the process of cloud formation are some of the local standards of learning with which the S'COOL program aligns.

"S'COOL also reinforces information on the water cycle, forecasting, and how scientists use data and dichotomous keys," says Popiolkowski. One of those keys is a tool on the S'COOL site developed to help students classify clouds when they are making their observations. Once students have identified the clouds in their area, they upload their data to the S'COOL website.

"Students from the previous year, now in eighth grade, volunteer to come to my room and upload the observations from the seventh graders," says Popiolkowski. "Near the end of the year, the eighth graders also train the seventh graders to make sure they know how to get the monthly satellite pass over information, how to correctly put in our observations and then look at and interpret the matches sent to us from the S'COOL scientists."

The matches sent to students from the S'COOL team are notifications that their observations successfully lined up with a satellite overpass. The class can then retrieve the satellite information and assess how well their observations align with NASA's.

Recently, Popiolkowski's class has also been offering comments and feedback to the S'COOL team on ways to improve the satellite matching process for seventh graders.

"It's wonderful to have their perspective," says Susan Moore, the outreach coordinator for S'COOL. "We want to make sure they are getting as much out of the experience as possible."

Popiolkowski is also working on a journal article with Moore about using authentic data collection projects, like S'COOL, to enhance problem-based learning. "We are writing the article because we believe problem-based learning creates life long learners," says Moore. "We see students as researchers."

For more information visit

Friday, March 18, 2011

Alternatives Have Begun in Bid to Hear from Spirit


Hopes for reviving NASA's Spirit Mars rover dimmed further with passage last week of the point at which the rover's locale received its maximum sunshine for the Martian year.

The rover team has tried to contact Spirit for months with strategies based on the possibility that increasing energy availability might wake the rover from hibernation. The team has now switched to communication strategies designed to address more than one problem on the rover. If no signal is heard from Spirit in the next month or two, the team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., will shift to single-rover operations, continuing to operate Spirit's active twin, Opportunity.

"The commands we are sending starting this week should work in a multiple-fault scenario where Spirit's main transmitter is no longer working and the mission clock has lost track of time or drifted significantly," said JPL's John Callas, project manager for Spirit and Opportunity.

Spirit landed on Mars Jan. 4, 2004 Universal Time (Jan. 3, Pacific Time) for a mission designed to last for three months. After accomplishing its prime-mission goals, Spirit worked for more than five years in bonus-time extended missions.

Spirit has not communicated since March 22, 2010. Power output from its solar array had been waning prior to that, and the rover had been expected to go into a low-power hibernation mode. With drive motors on two of its six wheels no longer working, Spirit had been unable in preceding months to maneuver much in its sand-trap location. The rover could not get to a favorable tilt for its solar panels as Martian winter approached.

During the Martian winter with most heaters turned off, Spirit experienced colder internal temperatures than in any of its three previous winters on Mars. The cold could have damaged any of several electronic components that, if damaged, would prevent reestablishing communication with Spirit.

However, attempts to regain contact have continued for more than eight months in the possibility that the seasonal increase in solar energy available at Spirit's location would revive the rover. NASA's Deep Space Network of antennas in California, Spain and Australia has been listening for Spirit daily. The rover team has also sent commands to elicit a response from the rover even if the rover has lost track of time, or if its receiver has degraded in frequency response.

The available solar energy at Spirit's site was estimated to peak on March 10. Revised commanding began March 15, including instructions for the rover to be receptive over UHF relay to hailing from the Mars orbiters for extended periods of time and to use a backup transmitter on the rover.

Spirit and Opportunity both have made important discoveries about wet environments on ancient Mars that may have been favorable for supporting microbial life. Opportunity landed three weeks after Spirit.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

For more information visit

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Students Compete in Lego Robotics Challenge at JPL


Near a testing chamber at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where a team of technicians are preparing and testing NASA's next Mars rover, students from across Southern California gathered to compete in a robotics challenge that simulated planetary exploration using table-top sized robots made out of Lego pieces.

The school teams spent months creating small Lego robots programmed with special software for this contest, which included placing sensors in "volcanoes," deploying habitats and rescuing a stranded "moon buggy." The robotic competition aims to engage students in math, science, technology and engineering. Each team had four students. The contest was divided into two sections: one for elementary-school teams, and the other for middle- and high-school teams.

In between the competition rounds and the awards ceremony, JPL robotics engineer Paulo Younse gave the students a special presentation on robotics at JPL featuring a video on Mars Science Laboratory, which features the rover named Curiosity, and how it works.

The Lego Robotics competition was streamed live on the Web. A video of the event can be viewed at .

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory mission for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

List of Winners:

1st place: "The ThunderBots," Northridge Magnet School, Moreno Valley
2nd place: "...Bot Bunch V," Sycamore Hills Elementary School, Fontana
3rd place: "Rockin' Robots," Lake View Elementary, Huntington Beach

1st place: "Team Cocoa," Mesa Union School, Somis
2nd place: "Team Down Loadable Content," Roosevelt Middle School, Glendale
3rd place: "Robots Taking Over, " Charles T. Kranz Intermediate School, El Monte

"Team Down Loadable Content, " Roosevelt Middle School, Glendale

"Team Cocoa," Mesa Union School, Somis

"Steam Rollers," Lake View Elementary School, Huntington Beach

For more information visit

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Japan Quake May Have Shortened Earth Days, Moved Axis


The March 11, magnitude 9.0 earthquake in Japan may have shortened the length of each Earth day and shifted its axis. But don't worry—you won't notice the difference.

Using a United States Geological Survey estimate for how the fault responsible for the earthquake slipped, research scientist Richard Gross of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., applied a complex model to perform a preliminary theoretical calculation of how the Japan earthquake—the fifth largest since 1900—affected Earth's rotation. His calculations indicate that by changing the distribution of Earth's mass, the Japanese earthquake should have caused Earth to rotate a bit faster, shortening the length of the day by about 1.8 microseconds (a microsecond is one millionth of a second).

The calculations also show the Japan quake should have shifted the position of Earth's figure axis (the axis about which Earth's mass is balanced) by about 17 centimeters (6.5 inches), towards 133 degrees east longitude. Earth's figure axis should not be confused with its north-south axis; they are offset by about 10 meters (about 33 feet). This shift in Earth's figure axis will cause Earth to wobble a bit differently as it rotates, but it will not cause a shift of Earth's axis in space—only external forces such as the gravitational attraction of the sun, moon and planets can do that.

Both calculations will likely change as data on the quake are further refined.

In comparison, following last year's magnitude 8.8 earthquake in Chile, Gross estimated the Chile quake should have shortened the length of day by about 1.26 microseconds and shifted Earth's figure axis by about 8 centimeters (3 inches). A similar calculation performed after the 2004 magnitude 9.1 Sumatran earthquake revealed it should have shortened the length of day by 6.8 microseconds and shifted Earth's figure axis by about 7 centimeters, or 2.76 inches. How an individual earthquake affects Earth's rotation depends on its size (magnitude), location and the details of how the fault slipped.

Gross said that, in theory, anything that redistributes Earth's mass will change Earth's rotation.

"Earth's rotation changes all the time as a result of not only earthquakes, but also the much larger effects of changes in atmospheric winds and oceanic currents," he said. "Over the course of a year, the length of the day increases and decreases by about a millisecond, or about 550 times larger than the change caused by the Japanese earthquake. The position of Earth's figure axis also changes all the time, by about 1 meter (3.3 feet) over the course of a year, or about six times more than the change that should have been caused by the Japan quake."

Gross said that while we can measure the effects of the atmosphere and ocean on Earth's rotation, the effects of earthquakes, at least up until now, have been too small to measure. The computed change in the length of day caused by earthquakes is much smaller than the accuracy with which scientists can currently measure changes in the length of the day. However, since the position of the figure axis can be measured to an accuracy of about 5 centimeters (2 inches), the estimated 17-centimeter shift in the figure axis from the Japan quake may actually be large enough to observe if scientists can adequately remove the larger effects of the atmosphere and ocean from the Earth rotation measurements. He and other scientists will be investigating this as more data become available.

Gross said the changes in Earth's rotation and figure axis caused by earthquakes should not have any impacts on our daily lives. "These changes in Earth's rotation are perfectly natural and happen all the time," he said. "People shouldn't worry about them."

For more information visit

Monday, March 14, 2011

TRMM Satellite Reveals Flooding Rains from Massive East Coast Storm


The massive rain storm that stretched from New York to Florida last week dropped some record rainfall and NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite measured that rainfall from space. Those rainfall totals were assembled in a "rain map" created at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Although the heaviest rainfall last week was in the southern United States, flooding was reported in states from Louisiana to northern New York. A rainfall analysis was created made by merging precipitation data from multiple satellites. This Multisatellite Precipitation Analysis (TMPA) analysis used data that were calibrated with TRMM precipitation data. These data are calculated and stored at NASA Goddard and are available within a few hours after being received by satellites.

The analysis indicated that the greatest total rainfall for the past week was over 300 mm (~11 inches) and was located over Alabama and Mississippi. Some of the extremely heavy rainfall in this area was associated with tornado spawning thunderstorms (see:

Much of the eastern United States was affected by rainfall totals of over 50 mm (~2 inches). As the weather system moved east, some of the most impressive rainfall totals in the Mid-Atlantic fell between Baltimore, Md. and Charlottesville, Va. On Thursday, March 10, Baltimore set a new daily rainfall record measuring 2.61 inches according to the National Weather Service. Charlottesville received 2.33 inches of rainfall from the system. To the west, Martinsburg, West Virginia also reported a daily record rainfall total of 1.26 inches. Many areas had flooding with totals that were less than the extreme amounts shown on the rainfall analysis.

For more information visit

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Legendary Fire Trainer Retires After 42 Years


George Hoggard had an extraordinary career by most standards, so it wasn't easy for him to say goodbye to the fire department at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

"People who don't know anything about the space program cannot imagine how exciting it is to work out here," Hoggard said. "The very idea of it lasting 30 years never dawned on me and I never did have any retirement plans because working out here is so much fun. Quite frankly, I'm thinking, 'Why would I want to leave this?'"

As the chief of fire training, Hoggard and his crew worked closely with astronauts to teach them how to handle emergencies on the launch pad or on the ground following a problem. He showed them where to go once they left the shuttle cockpit, such as when to take the elevator and when to go straight to the slidewire basket. He and then-astronaut Charlie Bolden took a ride in one of the baskets in the late 1980s to prove they were safe.

It might look like it would be a thrill ride, sitting inside a basket riding a cable from 195 feet above the launch pad, but Hoggard said it was a very straightforward event.

"Back in those days," Hoggard said, "if you went to Disney World you had to pay a little bit more money for the e-tickets because they were the more exciting rides and when they asked me how the basket ride was, I said, 'If I went to Disney World with my granddaughter and took that ride and had to use an e-ticket, I'd ask for my money back because it wasn't that exciting, it was kind of dull."

Bolden, returning as NASA administrator, gave Hoggard a commemorative medallion during his retirement party the day before space shuttle Discovery lifted off on its final flight, the STS-133 mission.

Hoggard's skill and dedication came across to the astronauts very easily and made the firefighter a true legend at Kennedy, Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach said.

"The astronauts know they can trust him with their lives, and that says an enormous amount about his experience, heart and wisdom," Leinbach said.

It's a far different existence than Hoggard thought he would have. After getting out of the Marines, Hoggard thought he'd go into the family business: law enforcement. His father and brother were both policemen, and Hoggard joined the force. He was assigned to the vice squad and during the next year had some close calls, including getting stabbed and shot at.

"At the end of the year I told my dad, 'Hey, I know you wanted me to be a cop, but I've got to go find a safer job, I don't like being a cop,'" Hoggard said. "Luckily for me he was friends with a fire chief and got me a job on a really good department and he said, 'This is the safest job I can get you,' and I've been a fireman ever since."

Working as a firefighter in southeastern Virginia, Hoggard's career turned again after a friend of his told him about the construction under way on NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

"Quite frankly, I had been on the department up there for eight or nine years and I was tired of freezing on the tail board of a fire engine on Chesapeake Bay in the winter time with the sleet blowing in my face," Hoggard said. "I said, 'If I'm going to continue in this job, I'm going to a warmer climate.'"

Hoggard's firefighting career at Kennedy began with a level of excitement that would become the norm.

"I was really new out here and got to go out to the fire training area and they said three astronauts were going to show up and I didn't know who they were," Hoggard said. "They did everything we asked them to do with extinguishers and the hose and the masks and stuff, part of the training. And they left and I had no idea who they were and six months later they stepped on the moon . . . it was the Apollo 11 crew."

"When the shuttle started up we kind of had to sort of reinvent everything because there wasn't going to be just three astronauts, there were going to be as many as seven astronauts in there," Hoggard said. "It was going to be a completely different ball game so the preparation and planning and training for that was real exciting."

Hoggard and his team taught the astronauts before each launch how to drive the yellow M113 armored personnel carriers. The lessons would be critical if there was an emergency and the crew had to drive out of harm's way.

"I tell the astronauts the shuttle cockpit's got over 2,000 switches, this one's only got two, on and off, and it's easy as it can be," Hoggard said. "If you can drive a tractor and plow a field, you can drive an M113."

Hoggard still has a rule, though: "They said is there a pass/fail to this driving test and I said, 'Yeah, if you hurt the old guy, you're going to fail the test, that's the bottom line, don't hurt the old guy.' "

That approach also was on display when Hoggard was training Leinbach years ago when he and other NASA test directors were learning about rescue procedures.

"One day we went out to their fire training area for rappelling training," Leinbach said. "During my first rappel, George was on the belay line. About halfway down the side of the 50-foot building he cinched up on the rope and I slammed into the concrete wall and hung there until he let up on the rope. I’ll never forget it. I was hanging there and he was on the ground laughing. After what seemed like an eternity, he let me down and we just laughed and laughed until we almost cried."

Hoggard saw different perspectives of NASA when he conducted training classes at the agency's other field centers.

"They ask, 'Have you seen a launch?' And I'm like, 'Yeah, I don't close my eyes,'" he said. "Then they asked, 'Well, what's that like?' Then it dawned on me, there are thousands of people who work for NASA and NASA contractors who have never seen a launch and I've seen many of them and that's just kind of amazing. It's a shame that everybody can't be in the position that I am here at Kennedy."

For more information visit

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Marangoni Effect: A Fluid Phenom


What do a wine glass on Earth and an International Space Station experiment have in common? Well, observing the wine glass would be one of few ways to see and understand the experiment being performed in space.

Ever heard someone say their wine has "legs" or "tears of wine?"

Wine legs or tears of wine is a phenomenon manifested as a ring of clear liquid that forms near the top of a glass above the surface of wine. The drops continuously form and fall in rivulets back into the liquid. One factor in the way fluid moves is called Marangoni convection, or flow, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency researchers are very interested in studying it in a gravity-free environment.

Marangoni convection is the tendency for heat and mass to travel to areas of higher surface tension within a liquid. Surface tension is a property of a liquid that causes the surface portion of liquid to be attracted to another surface, such as a drop of mercury that forms a cohesive ball in a thermometer or droplets of water on a well-waxed car. This phenomenon is named after Italian physicist Carlo Marangoni who first studied the phenomenon in the 19th century.

"We are clarifying an unknown phenomenon and that’s very exciting," said Satoshi Matsumoto, a Marangoni science coordinator from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. "Marangoni negatively affects the quality of crystal growth such as semiconductors, optical materials or bio technology materials. The convection also occurs in a heat pipe for heat radiation devices in personal computers, and degrades the radiation performance. Therefore, increased understanding of Marangoni convection not only expands our knowledge of fluid behavior, but also has great significance for production of semiconductor materials and equipment development for both space and ground use."

JAXA has been promoting four Marangoni experiments to fully understand a surface-tension-driven flow in microgravity. It will complete in 2015.

To study how heat and mass move within a fluid in microgravity, investigators are using a larger bridge of silicone oil between two discs. On Earth, that bridge couldn't exist. One of the primary ways heat is transferred on Earth is by buoyancy, where warm air rises and cold air sinks. In space, there is no buoyancy. So investigators heat one disc higher than the other to induce Marangoni convection in that bridge of silicone oil. They are looking at patterns of how fluids move to learn more about how heat is transferred in microgravity.

"It is difficult to observe the effects of Marangoni convection on Earth because the convection is weaker than convection caused by gravity," added Matsumoto. "That is why space experiments of Marangoni convection in a microgravity environment are helpful."

For more information visit

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Prolific NASA Orbiter Reaches Five-Year Mark


NASA's versatile Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which began orbiting Mars five years ago on March 10, has radically expanded our knowledge of the Red Planet and is now working overtime.

The mission has provided copious information about ancient environments, ice-age-scale climate cycles and present-day changes on Mars.

The orbiter observes Mars' surface, subsurface and atmosphere in unprecedented detail. The spacecraft's large solar panels and dish antenna have enabled it to transmit more data to Earth -- 131 terabits and counting, including more than 70,000 images -- than all other interplanetary missions combined. Yet many things had to go well for the mission to achieve these milestones.

After a seven-month journey from Earth, the spacecraft fired its six main engines for nearly 27 minutes as it approached Mars on March 10, 2006. Mars could not capture it into orbit without this critically timed maneuver to slow the spacecraft. The orbiter's intended path took it behind Mars, out of communication, during most of the engine burn.

"That was tense, waiting until the spacecraft came back out from behind Mars and we had contact," recalled Dan Johnston, now the mission's deputy project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission met all its science goals in a two-year primary science phase. Two extensions, the latest beginning in 2010, have added to the bounty of science returns.

The mission has illuminated three very different periods of Mars history. Its observations of the heavily cratered terrains of Mars, the oldest on the planet, show that different types of ancient watery environments formed water-related minerals. Some of these would have been more favorable for life than others.

In more recent times, water appears to have cycled as a gas between polar ice deposits and lower-latitude deposits of ice and snow. Extensive layering in ice or rock probably took hundreds of thousands to millions of years to form and, like ice ages on Earth, is linked to cyclic changes in the tilt of the planet's rotation axis and the changing intensity of sunlight near the poles.

The present climate is also dynamic, with volatile carbon dioxide and, just possibly, summertime liquid water modifying gullies and forming new streaks. With observations of new craters, avalanches and dust storms, the orbiter has shown a partially frozen world, but not frozen in time, as change continues today.

In addition to its science observations, the mission provides support for other spacecraft as they land and operate on the surface. The orbiter's cameras captured the Phoenix Mars Lander as it parachuted to the surface in 2008 and monitored the atmosphere for dust storms that would affect Phoenix and the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter augmented NASA's Mars Odyssey in performing relay functions for these missions.

JPL's Phil Varghese, project manager for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, said, "The spacecraft is still in excellent health. After five years at Mars, it continues with dual capabilities for conducting science observations, monitoring the Mars environment and serving as a relay."

The orbiter has examined potential landing sites for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, which will land a rover named Curiosity at one of those sites in August 2012. "We are preparing to support the arrival of the Mars Science Laboratory and the rover's surface operations," Varghese said. "In the meantime, we will extend the science observations into a third Martian year." One Mars year lasts nearly two Earth years.

The orbiter's Mars Color Imager has produced more than four Earth years of daily global weather maps. More than 18,500 images from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera have resolved features as small as a desk in target areas scattered around the planet that, combined, cover about as much ground as Alaska. More than 36,900 images from the Context Camera cover nearly two-thirds of the surface of Mars at a resolution that allows detection of features the size of large buildings.

The Compact Reconnaissance Spectrometer for Mars has mapped minerals on more than three-fourths of the planet's surface. The Mars Climate Sounder has monitored atmospheric temperature and aerosols with more than 59 million soundings. The Shallow Radar has checked for underground layers in more than 8,600 swaths of ground-penetrating observations.

"Each Mars year is unique, and additional coverage gives us a better chance to understand the nature of changes in the atmosphere and on the surface," said JPL's Rich Zurek, project scientist for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. "We have already learned that Mars is a more dynamic and diverse planet than what we knew five years ago. We continue to see new things."

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the orbiter and partners with JPL in spacecraft operations.

For more information visit

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Voyager Seeks the Answer Blowin' in the Wind


In which direction is the sun's stream of charged particles banking when it nears the edge of the solar system? The answer, scientists know, is blowing in the wind. It's just a matter of getting NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft in the right orientation to detect it.

To enable Voyager 1's Low Energy Charged Particle instrument to gather these data, the spacecraft performed a maneuver on March 7 that it hadn't done for 21 years, except in a preparatory test last month.

At 9:10 a.m. PST (12:10 p.m. EST), humanity's most distant spacecraft rolled 70 degrees counterclockwise as seen from Earth from its normal orientation and held the position by spinning gyroscopes for two hours, 33 minutes. The last time either of the two Voyager spacecraft rolled and stopped in a gyro-controlled orientation was Feb. 14, 1990, when Voyager 1 snapped a family portrait of the planets strewn like tiny gems around our sun (

"Even though Voyager 1 has been traveling through the solar system for 33 years, it is still a limber enough gymnast to do acrobatics we haven't asked it to do in 21 years," said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "It executed the maneuver without a hitch, and we look forward to doing it a few more times to allow the scientists to gather the data they need."

The two Voyager spacecraft are traveling through a turbulent area known as the heliosheath. The heliosheath is the outer shell of a bubble around our solar system created by the solar wind, a stream of ions blowing radially outward from the sun at a million miles per hour. The wind must turn as it approaches the outer edge of the bubble where it makes contact with the interstellar wind, which originates in the region between stars and blows by our solar bubble.

In June 2010, when Voyager 1 was about 17 billion kilometers (about 11 billion miles) away from the sun, data from the Low Energy Charged Particle instrument began to show that the net outward flow of the solar wind was zero. That zero reading has continued since. The Voyager science team doesn't think the wind has disappeared in that area. It has likely just turned a corner. But does it go up, down or to the side?

"Because the direction of the solar wind has changed and its radial speed has dropped to zero, we have to change the orientation of Voyager 1 so the Low Energy Charged Particle instrument can act like a kind of weather vane to see which way the wind is now blowing," said Edward Stone, Voyager project manager, based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. "Knowing the strength and direction of the wind is critical to understanding the shape of our solar bubble and estimating how much farther it is to the edge of interstellar space."

Voyager engineers performed a test roll and hold on Feb. 2 for two hours, 15 minutes. When data from Voyager 1 were received on Earth some 16 hours later, the mission team verified the test was successful and the spacecraft had no problem in reorienting itself and locking back onto its guide star, Alpha Centauri.

The Low Energy Charged Particle instrument science team confirmed that the spacecraft had acquired the kind of information it needed, and mission planners gave Voyager 1 the green light to do more rolls and longer holds. There will be five more of these maneuvers over the next seven days, with the longest hold lasting three hours 50 minutes. The Voyager team plans to execute a series of weekly rolls for this purpose every three months.

The success of the March 7 roll and hold was received at JPL at 1:21 a.m. PST (4:21 a.m. EST) on March 8. But it will take a few months longer for scientists to analyze the data.

"We do whatever we can to make sure the scientists get exactly the kinds of data they need, because only the Voyager spacecraft are still active in this exotic region of space," said Jefferson Hall, Voyager mission operations manager at JPL. "We were delighted to see Voyager still has the capability to acquire unique science data in an area that won't likely be traveled by other spacecraft for decades to come."

Voyager 2 was launched on Aug. 20, 1977. Voyager 1 was launched on Sept. 5, 1977. On March 7, Voyager 1 was 17.4 billion kilometers (10.8 billion miles) away from the sun. Voyager 2 was 14.2 billion kilometers (8.8 billion miles) away from the sun, on a different trajectory.

The solar wind's outward flow has not yet diminished to zero where Voyager 2 is exploring, but that may happen as the spacecraft approaches the edge of the bubble in the years ahead.

The Voyagers were built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which continues to operate both spacecraft. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

For more information visit

Monday, March 7, 2011

NASA's Jupiter-Bound Spacecraft Taking Shape in Denver


NASA's Juno spacecraft is currently undergoing environmental testing at Lockheed Martin Space Systems near Denver. The solar-powered Juno spacecraft will orbit Jupiter's poles 33 times to find out more about the gas giant's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere. The launch window for Juno from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida opens Aug. 5, 2011.

In its present form, the spacecraft is fully assembled and all instruments have been integrated. A photograph of the fully assembled spacecraft is available at:

In this photo, taken on Jan. 26, Juno had just completed acoustics testing that simulated the acoustic and vibration environment the spacecraft will experience during launch. The photo shows Lockheed Martin technicians inspecting the spacecraft just after the test. All three solar array wings are installed and stowed, and the spacecraft's large high-gain antenna is in place on the top of the avionics vault.

At present, Juno is sealed in a large thermal vacuum chamber, where it is being exposed to the extreme cold and vacuum conditions it will experience on its voyage to Jupiter. The two-week-long test will simulate many of the flight activities the spacecraft will execute during the mission.

Juno is scheduled to ship from Lockheed Martin's facility to Kennedy Space Center in early April, where it will undergo final preparations and launch.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute at San Antonio, Texas. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is building the spacecraft. The Italian Space Agency in Rome is contributing an infrared spectrometer instrument and a portion of the radio science experiment. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

For more information visit

Friday, March 4, 2011

Captured From the Ground


On Tuesday, March 1 2011, Dirk Ewers caught the International Space Station (ISS) on camera, as it was passing overhead in the evening sky near Kassel in central Germany. Ewers images show ATV-2 Johannes Kepler and space shuttle Discovery docked with the ISS. Using almost 2,000 of these individual images, he has put together a video sequence of the docked spacecraft passing almost directly overhead.

For more information visit

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Double Vision: NASA Earth Satellites Prep for Launch


In a rare event, two NASA launch vehicles currently rise above California's Vandenberg Air Force Base, as NASA's two, new Earth monitoring satellites, Glory and Aquarius, ready for their respective launches.

Both the Glory spacecraft and Taurus XL rocket are ready for launch Friday, March 4, at 2:09:43 a.m. PST (5:09:43 a.m. EST). The weather forecast is 100 percent "go," with the possibility of some fog and a low ceiling not expected to be an issue.

The liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base (Launch Complex 576-E) is targeted for the middle of a 48-second launch window. Spacecraft separation will occur 13 minutes after launch.

Technical issues with ground support equipment for the Taurus XL launch vehicle led to the scrub of the first launch attempt on Feb. 23.

Data from the Glory mission will allow scientists to better understand how the sun and tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols affect Earth's climate. Both aerosols and solar energy influence the planet's energy budget -- the amount of energy entering and exiting Earth's atmosphere.

Meanwhile, nearby, the first stage of the Delta II rocket that will carry NASA's Aquarius instrument into low Earth orbit has been raised onto its launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base's Space Launch Complex-2 (SLC-2).

Scheduled to launch in June, Aquarius' mission will provide monthly maps of global changes in sea surface salinity. By measuring ocean salinity from space, Aquarius will provide new insights into how the massive natural interplay of freshwater among the ocean, atmosphere and sea ice influences ocean circulation, weather and climate.

Aquarius will launch on the Satélite de Aplicaciones Científicas (SAC)-D spacecraft, built by Argentina's Comision Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE). The SAC-D spacecraft and its Aquarius instrument are scheduled to be shipped from South America to the launch site in late March. The Aquarius instrument was built jointly by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

For more information visit

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Prototype NASA Education Applications Are A Hit With Students


NASA recently visited two schools to demonstrate prototype versions of four unique education and outreach applications: Train R2, Drive R2, International Space Station Fly Thru, and PlaySpace. These applications were designed to engage students in fun learning activities based on current and future NASA technology through the use of familiar gaming technology. NASA asked these 4th through 8th grade students to share their opinions about the prototypes, as well as offer suggestions for improvements and future applications.

For the Train R2 application, the students learned to control a simulated Robonaut 2 (R2) using simple poses with the Kinect sensor for Xbox 360*. Each student was presented with a series of graphical images of a posed R2. Then, she or he would control the simulated R2 onscreen by using natural body motion. The object was to match as many R2 positions as possible in one minute. At the end of the simulation, a score was given based on how many poses were matched correctly.

The students with the top 15 scores were invited back to use a second application: Drive R2. Drive R2 allowed students to remotely operate the real R2, located at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Using experience gained during the Train R2 activity, students were challenged to demonstrate a pose from a preselected set of positions. Once the student performed a pose correctly, the data was sent to R2 and students were able to view, via webcam, the robot move into that position.

Students were also given the opportunity to experience life as an astronaut in space, through the International Space Station Fly Thru application. This application incorporates real engineering data, photographs and audio into a realistic graphical representation of the space station. Students could then use their own body movements to virtually explore the space station and learn about several of its modules.

The PlaySpace application, developed with real NASA surface data from robotic missions to Mars, allowed students to fly over a graphical representation of the Martian surface. They were also able to experience the difference in gravity between Earth and Mars by jumping and watching how high their avatars were able to jump on the Martian surface.

So what did the student testers think of NASA's four prototypes? Their response was overwhelmingly positive. NASA plans to expand the current series of applications and to continue exploring the possibilities of using emerging gaming technology to educate and inspire the scientists of tomorrow through leveraging familiar and dynamic technologies such as these.

The applications were co-developed by Johnson Space Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

For more information visit

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

On Approach


After a very cloudy day at Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, England, the skies cleared to allow a view of this stunning pass of the ISS and Discovery on Feb. 26, 2011. Photographer Rob Cullen, who captured this breath-taking view of the shuttle Discovery and the space station, said, "I could not believe the timing was so fortuitous to show the shuttle closing in on the station. I captured this, what I guess could potentially be, a once in a lifetime image of these two spaceships traveling as separate craft using Canon EOS 40D using eyepiece projection through a hand guided 8.5 inch Newton."

For more information visit