Monday, August 29, 2011

Book a Disney Villa for your Disney Vacation


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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Peering Inside the Flame: Fusion Imaging of the Final Space Shuttle Launch


Louise Walker and J.T. Heineck of the Experimental Aero-Physics Branch at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., are learning how to see shape and detail in blindingly bright plumes of rocket fire. The two researchers were funded by the Space Shuttle Program to document the final shuttle launch, STS-135, with their distinctive images.

They first tested the technique as a challenge from a co-worker. "We were approached by an acoustics guy here at Ames who had a hobby rocket video," explained Walker. "He showed us the video and said, 'Can you take a better shot than this?'. It had the typical view of a launch you see on film -- white blown-out flame on a dark background. Basically the flame is over-exposed. We knew that we needed image fusion to really see what was going on."

Image fusion is a technique which begins with image files taken simultaneously at nearly identical angles and positions, each with different filters. The images are processed through minute alignment and warping to match camera angles precisely and account for the inches between each camera's position. The files are then transferred to software that combines each set of now identically framed images to highlight the different levels of detail captured in each. The processing software digitally removes saturated pure black or pure white pixels from one image and replaces them with the most detailed pixels in the set. The resulting image is sometimes called a high dynamic range image, referring to the different dynamic ranges, or exposure and brightness, in each image.

Realizing this technique could be developed and applied to much larger rockets, Walker and Heineck began improving how such images might be taken. The researchers looked within Ames' labs for materials.

"I found some cameras that matched and some scrap aluminum, and built the frame," explains Walker. "Each camera sits on a brick-sized mount that rotates and slides, and the whole thing is sitting on top of a sturdy tripod we already had. It was the Apollo 13 game -- this is what we have, this is what we need to do, how do we make it work?"

After hearing about their initial results, researchers started asking them to image static rocket firing tests and launch abort motor tests and finally a colleague from NASA's Marshall Spaceflight Center, Huntsville, Ala. contacted them. Walker recalls, "Darrell Gaddy, a thermal analysis engineer, came to us and said, 'Hey you guys should be doing a shuttle launch,' and we perked up and said, 'Yes, we agree!'"

Walker and Heineck arranged to image the STS-133 launch to support the shuttle debris tracking team, but the delays for that launch meant they had to leave before shooting it. For STS-134, they successfully shot the images that would create the first shuttle launch fusion video.

On June 27, 2011, Walker and Heineck trekked from California to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Fla., and set up their wall of cameras, affectionately called "Walle." At 1,250 feet from Atlantis on the launch pad, the team set up the equipment, aligned the cameras visually, then connected the control computer through system of fiber optic networks provided by Kennedy's Experimental Imaging Lab and Photo Operations.

"All five visible cameras record to internal memory and we communicate to them through Ethernet connections," said Heineck. "Each camera goes to a network hub, and we talk to the hub from miles away through the fiber optic connection."

The STS-135 launch imaging has a couple of notable differences from the STS-134 images, including wider framing to capture more of the launch, and an added layer of non-visible data.

"For this last one, we worked with Darrell Gaddy to add a thermal infrared camera. This allows us to see detail in the plume that we can't see with cameras set up in the visible spectrum," said Walker. "Darrell has been fielding thermal imaging of launches for a while now, and we just jumped on his shoulders in adding these extra details."

"With the combined multiple layers, human eyes and brains can process what's going on and take it all in," Heineck said. "That's not possible using just your eyes while it's happening, or on a single camera's photograph or video."

The technique can have many other technical uses, including validating computer models of very bright events. With the layers of real data to compare against computer-generated information, researchers can better understand the structure of the plume when rockets fire, the motion of the flames flowing out of the rocket motor, and how to design optimal future motors.

"We're exploring options working with the arc jets at Ames, are looking at working with other labs, and have been working with a group making new hybrid sounding rockets," said Heineck. "With any high dynamic events -- welding, wildfires, industrial machining – you can process much more data on detail and structure by using this technique than with a single setting in a camera."

The technique could have significant benefits for future space transportation systems, through imaging new rocket motor development and the Ames arc jets, which test aerothermodynamic heating a spacecraft endures throughout atmospheric re-entry and tests of thermal protection systems and materials.

"It was the intent all along to expand the image fusion techniques to include cameras with other parts of the spectrum -- X-ray, deep ultraviolet, and various other imaging methods can also be incorporated," said Heineck. "There are lots of applications we're anxious to try."

Friday, August 26, 2011

Calling the Caribbean from the International Space Station


Close to 300 students in the Caribbean got a very long distance call from the International Space Station on Monday, Aug. 8, 2011. Crew members aboard the station used the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, or ARISS, to make contact with their eager audience on the ground. The goal was to inspire students and educators via an interactive space experience. This was the first ARISS communication for the Caribbean region.

The ARISS conversations usually last about 10 minutes. During that time, chosen students on the ground ask questions, which the crew answers from the space station. Questions during the Caribbean contact ranged from how space travel affects human health and how the space station was powered and maneuvered to concerns about space debris. Students also wanted to know what it was like to be an astronaut, asking about the most difficult aspects of the job.

Students prepared by learning about the space station, radio waves and how amateur radio works, as well as proposing questions to ask the crew. Ken Ransom, project coordinator with the International Space Station Ham Radio Program, points out the educational benefits of the approximately 50 conversations that take place every year. "The ARISS program is all about inspiring and encouraging by reaching the community and providing a chance for schools to interact with local technical experts. It also brings the space program to their front door."

In order for ARISS to work, the station must pass over the Earth-bound communicators during amateur radio transmissions to relay signals between the station's ham radio and ground receivers. Other issues, such as weather and crew availability, factor into the timing. During each pass, astronauts answer an average of 18 questions, depending on their complexity. To date, space station residents have participated in more than 600 ARISS communications with students around the world.

The downlink audio from ARISS talks can be heard by anyone in range with basic receiving equipment; transmissions broadcast on 145.800 MHz. Interested parties can also catch a broadcast via EchoLink and IRLP amateur radio networks or on the Internet, when available, according to Ransom.

Camille Alleyne, assistant program scientist with the International Space Station Program Science Office at Johnson Space Center, attended the ARISS communication session while representing NASA at the Caribbean Youth Science Forum held in Trinidad and Tobago. Participating nations included Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Dominica. "These island nations have never been involved in any space-related activities before. This was likely a life changing for innumerable students," commented Alleyne.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hurricane Irene a Little Stronger, Eye Now Over Crooked Island, Bahamas

When a satellite can see a hurricane's eye clearly from space, that's an indication of a strong tropical cyclone and the GOES-13 satellite saw just that in Hurricane Irene this morning as she became a major hurricane. An animation of GOES-13 satellite imagery released from NASA today shows Irene's transition into a powerhouse and pinpointed when her eye became visible from space.

Hurricane Irene reached Category 3 status this morning, the threshold for a major hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale that measures hurricane intensity.

The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite called GOES-13 provides continuous visible and infrared imagery of the eastern U.S. and Atlantic Ocean basin from its position in space. GOES satellites are operated by NOAA, and the NASA GOES Project located at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. creates images and compiled them into the video of the storm as it developed from June 27 to June 28.

The animation includes sped up infrared and visible frames of data from the GOES-13 satellite and is squeezed down to 36 seconds. The movie shows satellite imagery that was captured in 15 minute intervals from August 22 at 8:40 a.m. EDT (1240 UTC) until August 24 at 8:40 a.m. EDT shows Irene moving over Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and toward the southeastern Bahamas. Irene's eye becomes visible on August 24 at 0055 UTC (Aug. 23 at 8:55 p.m. EDT).

Irene became a major hurricane at 8 a.m. EDT today, August 24, 2011 as it headed toward the Crooked and Acklins Islands in the Bahamas. Irene's maximum sustained winds had increased to 115 mph (186 kmh) making Category three status. Additional strengthening is forecast by the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Category three hurricanes can cause "devastating damage" according to the NHC's webpage:

Irene is located about 55 miles southeast of Acklins Island, Bahamas, near 21.9 North and 73.3 West. It was moving to the west-northwest at 9 mph (15 kmh) and had a minimum central pressure near 957 millibars.

A hurricane warning is in effect for the southeastern, central and northwestern Bahamas, and a tropical storm warning is in effect for the Turks and Caicos Islands. An unofficial reporting station at Pine Cay, located in the Caicos Islands reported a wind gust to 65 mph (105 kmh) earlier today.

Rainfall amount across Hispaniola and Puerto Rico will be between 1 and 3 inches as Irene pushes away. However, isolated maximum storm total amounts of 15 inches are possible with flash floods and mud slides in areas of steep terrain. In the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos islands high rainfall totals are forecast by NHC of between 6 to 12 inches are expected.

The NHC warns that "an extremely dangerous storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 7 to 11 feet above normal tide levels over the central and northwestern Bahamas and by as much as 5 to 8 feet above normal tide levels over the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos islands."

Hurricane Irene is a large storm that has continued to grow over the last several days as it has strengthened. Tropical storm-force winds extend out to 205 miles from its center, making Irene about 410 miles in diameter! Hurricane force-winds extend out to 40 miles, or 80 miles in diameter.

The NHC's current forecast track for Hurricane Irene takes the storm to a landfall in eastern North Carolina as a major hurricane on Saturday, August 27. The NASA GOES Project will continue to provide imagery and animations from the GOES-13 satellite daily as Irene nears the U.S.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

NPP Runs the Gauntlet of Environmental Testing


The NPP satellite sits surrounded by 144 rock concert speakers. They're stacked in a circle 16 feet high in a testing room at Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado.

As engineers set up for the environmental test, Pink Floyd's song "Money" plays gently in the background. The music stops. The room clears. Then the sound engineer wearing earplugs and headphones in the control room next door flips a switch.

Slowly, the noise of thousands of pounds of exploding rocket fuel builds louder and louder until it blasts the satellite at a deafening 143.6 decibels -- loud enough to cause serious damage and pain to unprotected ears. "I was outside the building when they did the full level acoustics," says Glenn Iona, NPP Chief Engineer at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "and I could feel the ground shaking."

The acoustic test is one of a gauntlet of environmental tests a satellite must pass to prove that it can survive launch and life in space. For Large Class Observatory mission NPP, this process took years to plan, 15 months to execute and was fraught with as many engineering challenges as building the satellite itself.

The NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) is the prototype for the next generation of Earth-observing satellites that will monitor daily weather and long-term ozone levels and climate change.

NPP's five instruments will continue data collection now done by an aging fleet of satellites. NASA's oldest Earth Observing System (EOS) satellites are more than 10 years old, with instrument designs and technology dating back to the early 1990s. NPP is the bridge between the original EOS missions and the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). JPSS, previously called the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), will be developed by NASA for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Testing to evaluate whether a satellite is ready for space occurs at several levels. Some individual parts and each individual instrument from the satellite go through three types of testing: dynamic, electromagnetic compatibility, and thermal vacuum.

Then the parts are integrated onto the main satellite bus, a wedge-shaped block the size of a four-door sedan. The bus has propulsion systems, a flight computer, a data processing computer, data storage and a solar panel wing that powers it all. Engineers then put the spacecraft and instruments through their paces to get a performance baseline before the whole satellite is run through the suite of environmental tests again.

The challenge, according to Goddard's Glenn Iona, who oversaw environmental testing for NPP, which took place in 2010 and 2011, is testing the satellite while taking into account all the different instruments' requirements and restrictions: Will the electromagnetic field generated by one instrument’s electronics interfere with the instrument sitting next to it? Will the jitter caused by the spacecraft or other instruments affect the sensitive Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS)?

Iona says they weren’t sure about the shaking, so just in case, they designed a way to isolate CrIS’s platform from vibrations using frangi-bolts that will break in a controlled manner when heated on command, allowing the instrument to "float" on shock absorbers.

Keeping out Dust Bunnies

Engineers also must figure out how to run the tests without damaging or contaminating the instruments.

Most of the tests happen in specially ventilated clean rooms -- no dust allowed. Engineers work in white coveralls, called bunny suits, which prevent contamination from clothes, skin and hair. But even those precautions weren’t enough for the super-sensitive Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS). It detects solid particles and molecular gases in the atmosphere, and is sensitive to contamination from the tiniest amount of dust. During testing, frequent inspections and a plastic bag protected it. While that worked for OMPS, Iona says that solution wouldn’t work on other instruments.

"CrIS has paint you can’t touch," he says. The specialized paint reflects the sun's heat because part of the instrument’s design is to have a stable operating temperature. Anything touching it may fleck the paint away. Iona says the challenge was, "How do you keep it clean from contamination if you can't put a bag over it?" The answer: special hard covers or, during dynamics testing, a tented drape that avoided the paint.

In the dynamics testing room, the whole satellite wears protective bagging and sits on a giant shaker table where it's rattled up and down and side-to-side to simulate its rocket ride. In another chamber, testers bombard the satellite with the types of electromagnetic radiation it will encounter in space -- and then test for how much radiation it emits that might affect neighboring satellites.

The ‘Iron Maiden’

But the most complicated and challenging test is thermal vacuum (TVAC) where the satellite goes through four cycles of extreme cold to extreme heat in a vacuum chamber. The test simulates the temperature changes NPP will encounter on the day and night sides of the Earth, as well as worst case scenarios of whether the instruments can come back to life in case of a shut down that exposes them to even colder temperatures.

According to Scott Compton, Integration and Test Manager at Ball Aerospace, Boulder, Colorado, preparing for the thermal vacuum test took a year and a half and involved building a scaffold that engineers fitted to the satellite like a dress. It was an engineering "project within a project," says Compton.

Called the "Iron Maiden" after the medieval torture device, the scaffold held heaters and coolers less than an inch away from each instrument to meet their individual hot and cold temperature requirements. Liquid nitrogen was used to cool OMPS, the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS) and the Clouds and Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) while CrIS and the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) were subjected to even colder liquid helium, to reach temperatures ranging from 30-120 Kelvins. VIIRS and CrIS complicated matters because they are both designed to be thermally stable -- they resisted cooling down and heating up.

During the test, the temperature changes were carefully monitored because too quick of a change would damage the instruments. Coordinating the many heaters and coolers "was a ballet for the thermal engineers," says Compton, who adds that NPP's thermal vacuum test was the most complex he's been involved with.

Seventy five people, from the testing team to each instrument's engineering and data analysis teams, camped out on site for the 24-hour testing that lasted 49 days in March and April, 2011. And the scientists who will be using NPP's data were on standby across the country to evaluate the instruments' performance.

Air Hockey, Anyone?

Last, but perhaps most important, the testing team unfolded NPP's three solar panels. Looking like a set of blackboards on wheels, the team simulated weightlessness by using what acts like the world’s largest air hockey table. Hoses attached to temporary support legs for the solar panels pushed air underneath hockey pucks on the feet. This created a localized 30 thousandths of an inch air cushion. With reduced friction, the pucks then slid across a slick dance floor made of polymer roofing material, and the three panels locked themselves into place perfectly.

After resolving the 107 test anomalies they found during months of vibration, noise, electromagnetic radiation and controlled swings in temperature, the satellite's onboard computers and instruments passed their final performance tests. NPP is ready for space. Glenn Iona's says his favorite part of the process was that, even with all the complications and problems that cropped up, the environmental testing team passed every stage on or ahead of schedule. "Seeing the environmental testing come together and leading the team, TVAC in particular, was really satisfying on so many levels," he says.

NPP is scheduled to launch into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California on October 25, 2011.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

NASA Lands in the Heart of New York City

NEW YORK -- Among the everyday sounds of traffic and the chaotic rush of the city, a piece of Manhattan's Chelsea District grew still and focused at 10:15 a.m. Wednesday.

Hundreds of eyes in Eventi's "Big Screen Plaza" redirected from soaring architectural silhouettes, including that of the Empire State Building, to a stage where the four-person STS-135 astronaut crew emerged to kick off "What's Your Favorite Space?" presented by NASA and Eventi.

Between 29th and 30th streets, and parallel to Avenue of the Americas, Sesame Street's Elmo joined them on the stage with giggles, wit and questions for the crew.

Elmo and the Atlantis crew were meeting for the first time, although Elmo witnessed their launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on July 8. He asked how they slept, how long it took them to train, even how they brushed their teeth.

"Are you sad that the shuttle program has ended?" Elmo asked.

"It was sad. The space shuttle may be gone, but its mission is complete," said Cmdr. Chris Ferguson. "Sometimes you have to stop building rockets for today to build one for tomorrow."

Though NASA closed a chapter in America's history in space with the end of the shuttle program, the agency is already working on the next installment of the story of exploration. That was part of the story Wednesday in New York.

It was told at dozens of interactive spaces that outlined the plaza from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., while NASA video played on a 35-foot (10.7 m) high-definition LED screen.

Samuel and Hannah Foster from Hacketts Town, N.J., tried on space gloves and attempted tooling tasks that astronauts do in space.

Their older brother, Benjamin, was there with his FIRST robotics team. He later was one of many to demonstrate a robot on stage. His father, Bryan, was pleased to be at the event with his children, who have all taken a special interest in science.

Many children discovered their "favorite space" in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) exhibit. There, the engineering challenge involved picking up a potato and dressing it with bubble wrap, rubber bands, aluminum foil and strings to secure it from damage. A tool was dropped onto the potato inside a bucket, and an unharmed potato earned them a cape, a bag and a solar-powered safety light.

Students from the City College of New York ASME student chapter hosted a "balloon blaster" challenge. Rowan, a third-grader, and Grier, an upcoming kindergartner, discovered this to be a "favorite space."

A scientist from New Jersey, Jefferson Tilley, talked about the Hubble Space Telescope. Earlier in the day, the STS-135 crew explained that NASA's shuttle program had serviced that telescope five times since the program's inception in 1981.

Diane Powell, from NASA headquarters, showed off agency-inspired artwork. Nearby, children built airplanes, rovers and shuttles from Legos or had their photos taken in "space" as a souvenir.

In Moonbase Alpha, visitors assumed the role of an astronaut working to further human expansion. A walking gallery of NASA spinoff displays showcased commercial products used every day that incorporate NASA technology.

Many discovered that their "favorite space" came with the colors of their choice for the Space Shuttle Mosaic Activity, in which children colored numbered pieces to a puzzle that was pieced together during the day to complete a "What's Your Favorite Space?" wall.

Many found "favorite spaces" in the "Journey to Tomorrow" trailer, an interactive environment packed with hands-on activities and digital learning stations. Others remotely drove an exploration rover across a lunar terrain right from Eventi's plaza.

Evan, a rising kindergarten student, found himself nose-to-nose with Elmo after earlier receiving a mission patch from the astronaut crew.

From the plaza, an estimated 4,000 people found their "favorite space" in the heart of New York City. The event reached numbers of visitors that no one had predicted.

One month earlier, the STS-135 crew had been at the International Space Station, approximately 240 miles from Earth.

On Wednesday at 8:25 p.m., the International Space Station could be seen from New York. As it streaked past on its daily routine of 16 Earth rotations, some who watched could remember that they had just met a crew that had been a part of it.

And they had also met NASA's future, and possibly their own on a day when the sights and sounds of NASA had stood out among the din of New York.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

NASA's Asteroid Photographer Beams Back Science Data


The Dawn spacecraft has completed a graceful spiral into the first of four planned science orbits during the spacecraft's yearlong visit to Vesta. The spacecraft started taking detailed observations on Aug. 11 at 9:13 a.m. PDT (12:13 a.m. EDT), which marks the official start of the first science-collecting orbit phase at Vesta, also known as the survey orbit.

Survey orbit is the initial and highest orbit, at roughly 1700 miles (2700 kilometers) above the surface, which will provide an overview or "big picture" perspective of the giant asteroid.

The primary objective of survey orbit is to image the surface with near-global coverage in visible and infrared wavelengths with the mapping spectrometer, also known as VIR. Dawn also will be using its framing camera to collect image mosaics that complement the VIR spectral data to produce geologic and compositional maps of Vesta's surface. Ultrasensitive measurements of the spacecraft's motion using radio signals will allow improved understanding of the giant asteroid's gravity field. Dawn's gamma ray and neutron detector will continue to collect background data.

The survey phase is planned to last 20 days. Each orbit takes almost three days, which will provide the spacecraft seven trips around Vesta. After survey orbit, Dawn will resume thrusting, taking about a month to spiral down gently to its next science orbit for an even closer view. That orbit, known as High Altitude Mapping Orbit, or HAMO, begins in late September. Dawn will spend about a month in HAMO, circling around Vesta in half a day, rather than three. Dawn will orbit more than 60 times during HAMO, allowing the camera to fully map the illuminated portion of Vesta at even higher resolution, and enable the science team to generate stereo images.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

NASA's GRAIL Moon Twins are Joined to Their Booster


NASA's lunar-bound GRAIL twins were mated to their Delta II launch vehicle at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 17 at 8:45 a.m. EDT (5:45 a.m. PDT) today. The 15-mile (25-kilometer) trip from Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Fla., is the last move for GRAIL before it begins its journey to the moon. NASA's dynamic duo will orbit the moon to determine the structure of the lunar interior from crust to core and to advance understanding of the thermal evolution of the moon.

"We are about to finish one chapter in the GRAIL story and open another," said Maria Zuber, GRAIL's principal investigator, based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. "Let me assure you this one is a real page-turner. GRAIL will rewrite the book on the formation of the moon and the beginning of us."

Now that the GRAIL spacecraft are atop their rocket, a final flurry of checks and tests can begin to confirm that all is go for launch. The final series of checks begins tomorrow, Aug. 19, with an on-pad functional test. The test is designed to confirm that the spacecraft is healthy after the fueling and transport operations. Next week, among all the upcoming final tests, reviews and closeout operations leading up to liftoff, the GRAIL team will install the launch vehicle fairing around the spacecraft.

GRAIL's launch period opens Sept. 8 and extends through Oct. 19. On each day, there are two separate instantaneous launch opportunities separated in time by approximately 39 minutes. On Sept. 8, the first launch opportunity is at 8:37 a.m. EDT (5:37 a.m. PDT). The second launch opportunity is 9:16 a.m. EDT (6:16 a.m. PDT). 

Teams Practice Lifting Shuttles at Airports

It will take two large cranes, a specially built sling, four masts and about 45 people to perform the complex maneuvers to safely lift a space shuttle off the back of a modified 747. Because it hasn't been done in more than 20 years, teams rehearsed the lift on the Shuttle Landing Facility's ramp at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

It is a scene coming soon to Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and New York as NASA's shuttles are handed over to museums for public display. Each of those cities will receive one of the shuttles, including Enterprise, the prototype shuttle used to prove the design could glide safely to a landing after returning from orbit. One of the shuttles, Atlantis, will be displayed at Kennedy.

"People have different emotions about it, but I'm kind of honored to put them in their final display location," said Casey Wood of United Space Alliance's Integrated Landing Operations. He is part of the team that will oversee the work.

During the more than 30 years the space shuttles were in development and launching, they have been lifted onto and off of 747s numerous times, most often when the shuttle landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Those moves were performed by specially designed structures at Kennedy and in California called "mate-demate devices." The MDDs, as they are called, are shaped to let the 747, called the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, or SCA, wheel in beneath a sling that lifts and holds the shuttle.

Only once did a shuttle not land in either location, and that was back in 1983 at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico. Had the shuttle made an emergency landing overseas or at a different runway, the mobile system would have been taken there to load the shuttle to the SCA.

The mobile lift system was used in 1985 when Enterprise moved to Washington, D.C.

"This system has been stored in cargo containers for more than 20 years, and that's why we wanted to do the test," Wood said. "We were just missing the plane and the orbiter."

The shuttle will weigh about 175,000 pounds -- more than 87 tons -- when it is readied for public viewing. That's a heavy enough load to cause a crane's boom to flex slightly.

"The actual lift is probably the biggest challenge," Wood said. "With our lift, we can only go directly up or directly down. It's strictly vertical, there's no lateral movement."

To get it right, the team trucked all the gear out of storage over to the Shuttle Landing Facility and set it up.

The sling is almost identical to the ones used at the MDDs, used to hoist the shuttle and mate or demate to the SCA. This sling was used in Palmdale, Calif., where the shuttles were built, and used to lift the shuttle there.

The setup includes four masts that connect to the sling.

"That gives us our steadiness and wind restraint," Wood said.

They had to drill about 200 holes in the ramp to anchor the different elements firmly. With everything in place, they can perform the work in winds up to about 20 mph.

With this test accomplished, Wood said the team is reworking a few procedures to adapt them to the different locations. Discovery is scheduled to be the first shuttle to go through the operation for real, when it is ferried up to Washington, D.C., for display at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in the spring of 2012.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Retired NASA Astronaut & Pilot Fred Haise Honored

Retired NASA astronaut and research pilot Fred Haise returned to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center Aug. 11 to share recollections of his time as a research pilot at the center in the 1960s and to participate in ceremonies honoring him at the Lancaster Jethawks baseball team's annual Aerospace Appreciation Night in nearby Lancaster, Calif., on Aug. 13.

Haise, best known for his harrowing experience with fellow astronauts James Lovell and Jack Swigert after an oxygen tank exploded on the service module during the abortive Apollo 13 lunar mission in 1970, is slated to be joined by retired fellow astronaut Gordon Fullerton and research pilots Fitzhugh Fulton and Tom McMurtry during pre-game ceremonies Saturday evening at the Lancaster Municipal Stadium, also known as the Hangar.

Haise and Fullerton flew three of the five approach and landing flight tests of the prototype space shuttle orbiter Enterprise at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base in 1977, and Fulton and McMurtry were the pilots of the modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft that carried Enterprise aloft for the tests.

The pre-game ceremonies at the stadium will include a video tribute to Haise and a flyover by a NASA F/A-18 aircraft, as well as distribution of bobblehead figures of Haise standing in an Apollo capsule to the first several hundred fans who attend the game. Haise is also scheduled to throw the first pitch prior to the Jethawks game with the San Jose Giants of the Class A California League.

Haise, who was employed by NASA from 1959 through 1979 after a stint as an Air Force fighter pilot, spent three of those years as a research pilot at the Flight Research Center. He recalled those years during an historical colloquium Thursday afternoon, Aug. 11, before an appreciative audience of Dryden employees. His "Remembrances of my best flying days at FRC" focused on Haise' three years as a research pilot at NASA Dryden from 1963 through 1966, prior to being accepted for NASA astronaut training.

"It was the most fun day-to-day time I've had in my life," he said.

Prior to his presentation, Haise toured many of today's flight research projects and aircraft at NASA Dryden, along with getting re-acquainted with the restored prototype lightweight M2-F1 lifting body that he flew in tethered flight in the mid-1960s. On Friday, he toured NASA Dryden's Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, where the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy and most of NASA Dryden's fleet of science aircraft are based.

Villa Vacation in Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio is the country's well-known national park. It can be described as one equal half of the beachfront and other equal parts of the rainforest, and that’s the reason why people choose a Manuel Antonio Villa for their trip to this gorgeous country.

Costa Rica Villa is the most popular formats in terms of accommodation and supple style. Vacation renters offers you large and opulent homes that sit straight on the beaches, come with private bungalows or beach front services, and which give you everything from daily housekeeping to a private chef. You can also find the right differing situation and find a cozy villa situated up in the hills with a breathtaking view of the sea and yet the calm of the forest at night. There are also a small private house or villas that are maintained by locals who live in the building too.

This is particularly right when heading to some place as amazing as Manuel Antonio. This is the kind of place where you might enjoy a tour of the "canopy" in order to spot rare birds and rainforest mortals. You could also head down to shady riverfront locations put into the forests as well and see the various kinds of mangrove trees and the many unusual plants and animals that live in this environment too. You can also find some accommodations that give you direct right of entry to the incredibly beautiful land and waters of the Manuel Antonio park as well. The primary thing to keep in mind about any Costa Rican vacation is the easy fact that it is one of the supplest and diverse chances available and it all begins with choosing your perfect holiday villa for your getaway.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hubble Offers a Dazzling 'Necklace'

A giant cosmic necklace glows brightly in this NASA Hubble Space Telescope image.

The object, aptly named the Necklace Nebula, is a recently discovered planetary nebula, the glowing remains of an ordinary, Sun-like star. The nebula consists of a bright ring, measuring 12 trillion miles wide, dotted with dense, bright knots of gas that resemble diamonds in a necklace.

A pair of stars orbiting close together produced the nebula, also called PN G054.2-03.4. About 10,000 years ago one of the aging stars ballooned to the point where it engulfed its companion star. The smaller star continued orbiting inside its larger companion, increasing the giant’s rotation rate.

The bloated companion star spun so fast that a large part of its gaseous envelope expanded into space. Due to centrifugal force, most of the gas escaped along the star’s equator, producing a ring. The embedded bright knots are dense gas clumps in the ring.

The pair is so close, only a few million miles apart, they appear as one bright dot in the center. The stars are furiously whirling around each other, completing an orbit in a little more than a day.

The Necklace Nebula is located 15,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagitta. In this composite image, taken on July 2, Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 captured the glow of hydrogen (blue), oxygen (green), and nitrogen (red).

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Dryden F-104 Flight-Tested Shuttle TPS Materials

During the formative years of the space shuttle program, NASA Dryden F-15 and F-104 jets were used to flight-test various advanced Thermal Protection System (TPS) materials for the shuttles.

These tests included TPS materials from different locations on shuttle orbiters, and they were tested for everything from rain impact integrity, to air-loads strength and surface bonding.

During one such effort, NASA Dryden engineers conducted flight-testing of the orbiter’s advanced, flexible Felt Reusable Surface Insulation (FRSI) and Advanced Flexible Reusable Surface Insulation (AFRSI) TPS materials. These were the soft, sewn blanket-like materials that covered most of the upper surfaces of the orbiters, while black silicon tiles covered the underside, and reinforced carbon-carbon materials protected the nose and leading edges of the wings.

Up until the space shuttle, only disposable, one-use-only ablative materials were used as TPS materials on spacecraft. Ablative materials are layered and are designed to burn off, carrying heat with them in order to keep the heat away from the spacecraft. The idea of using reusable materials was radical, especially lightweight and flexible materials, to withstand the super-hot friction heating that spacecraft encounter while returning through Earth’s atmosphere.

The objectives of the FRSI and AFRSI tests were to evaluate the performance of the materials at simulated shuttle launch aerodynamic loads, and also to provide a database for future advanced TPS flight tests.

These flights were flown mostly on Dryden’s F-104 test bed aircraft in the 1980s, with the TPS materials attached to a fin-like structure called the Flight Test Fixture (FTF) underneath the F-104.

During this series of tests, the material samples were exposed to 40 percent higher aerodynamic loads than they were designed to withstand. The test articles required tailoring of the airflow over them to accurately simulate shuttle conditions over the FTF.

To accomplish this tailoring, an elliptically shaped nose was designed for the FTF to produce a high-pressure shockwave at the location of the TPS material samples attached on the sides of the FTF.

Data-wise, it was extremely important that the required flight conditions be maintained. This was accomplished by using a flight trajectory guidance system called the Uplink Guidance System (UGS). The UGS used an analog cockpit display to alert the pilot, in real-time, of any deviations from the desired flight conditions. For example, one parameter displayed on the UGS was sideslip, which is the flight condition in which an airplane is no longer flying straight along the path of its longitudinal axis.

During the FRSI and AFRSI flights, the pilots could keep precisely on track by keeping an eye on the UGS indicator.

The FRSI and AFRSI flight-test projects were a success, both in terms of accomplishing their test objectives and that the TPS materials passed these tests with no material failures noted during post-flight inspections.

NASA Dryden’s expertise in such work continues today, as the center uses F-15 aircraft to flight-test the next generation of aerospace sensors and materials.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tohoku Tsunami Created Icebergs In Antarctica

A NASA scientist and her colleagues were able to observe for the first time the power of an earthquake and tsunami to break off large icebergs a hemisphere away.

Kelly Brunt, a cryosphere specialist at Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., and colleagues were able to link the calving of icebergs from the Sulzberger Ice Shelf in Antarctica following the Tohoku Tsunami, which originated with an earthquake off the coast of Japan in March 2011. The finding, detailed in a paper published online today in the Journal of Glaciology, marks the first direct observation of such a connection between tsunamis and icebergs.

The birth of an iceberg can come about in any number of ways. Often, scientists will see the towering, frozen monoliths break into the polar seas and work backwards to figure out the cause.

So when the Tohoku Tsunami was triggered in the Pacific Ocean on March 11 this spring, Brunt and colleagues immediately looked south. All the way south. Using multiple satellite images, Brunt, Emile Okal at Northwestern University and Douglas MacAyeal at University of Chicago were able to observe new icebergs floating off to sea shortly after the sea swell of the tsunami reached Antarctica.

To put the dynamics of this event in perspective: An earthquake off the coast of Japan caused massive waves to explode out from its epicenter. Swells of water swarmed toward an ice shelf in Antarctica, 8,000 miles (13,600 km) away, and about 18 hours after the earthquake occurred, those waves broke off several chunks of ice that together equaled about two times the surface area of Manhattan. According to historical records, this particular piece of ice hadn't budged in at least 46 years before the tsunami came along.

And as all that was happening, scientists were able to watch the Antarctic ice shelves in as close to real-time as satellite imagery allows, and catch a glimpse of a new iceberg floating off into the Ross Sea.

"In the past we've had calving events where we've looked for the source. It's a reverse scenario – we see a calving and we go looking for a source," Brunt said. "We knew right away this was one of the biggest events in recent history – we knew there would be enough swell. And this time we had a source."

Scientists first speculated in the 1970s that repeated flexing of an ice shelf – a floating extension of a glacier or ice sheet that sits on land – by waves could cause icebergs to break off. Scientific papers in more recent years have used models and tide gauge measurements in an attempt to quantify the impact of sea swell on ice shelf fronts.

The swell was likely only about a foot high (30 cm) when it reached the Sulzberger shelf. But the consistency of the waves created enough stress to cause the calving. This particular stretch of floating ice shelf is about 260 feet (80 meters) thick, from its exposed surface to its submerged base.

lzberger Ice Shelf. The Sulzberger shelf faces Sulzberger Bay and New Zealand.

Through a fortuitous break in heavy cloud cover, Brunt spotted what appeared to be a new iceberg in MODerate Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) data.

"I didn't have strong expectations either way whether we'd be able to see something," Brunt said. "The fastest imagery I could get to was from MODIS Rapid Response, but it was pretty cloudy. So I was more pessimistic that it would be too cloudy and we couldn't see anything. Then, there was literally one image where the clouds cleared, and you could see a calving event."

A closer look with synthetic aperture radar data from the European Space Agency satellite, Envisat, which can penetrate clouds, found images of two moderate-sized icebergs – with more, smaller bergs in their wake. The largest iceberg was about four by six miles in surface area – itself about equal to the surface area of one Manhattan. All the ice surface together about equaled two Manhattans. After looking at historical satellite imagery, the group determined the small outcropping of ice had been there since at least 1965, when it was captured by USGS aerial photography.

The proof that seismic activity can cause Antarctic iceberg calving might shed some light on our knowledge of past events, Okal said.

"In September 1868, Chilean naval officers reported an unseasonal presence of large icebergs in the southernmost Pacific Ocean, and it was later speculated that they may have calved during the great Arica earthquake and tsunami a month earlier," Okal said. "We know now that this is a most probable scenario."

MacAyeal said the event is more proof of the interconnectedness of Earth systems.

"This is an example not only of the way in which events are connected across great ranges of oceanic distance, but also how events in one kind of Earth system, i.e., the plate tectonic system, can connect with another kind of seemingly unrelated event: the calving of icebergs from Antarctica's ice sheet," MacAyeal said.

In what could be one of the more lasting observations from this whole event, the bay in front of the Sulzberger shelf was largely lacking sea ice at the time of the tsunami. Sea ice is thought to help dampen swells that might cause this kind of calving. At the time of the Sumatra tsunami in 2004, the potentially vulnerable Antarctic fronts were buffered by a lot of sea ice, Brunt said, and scientists observed no calving events that they could tie to that tsunami.

"There are theories that sea ice can protect from calving. There was no sea ice in this case," Brunt said. "It’s a big chunk of ice that calved because of an earthquake 13,000 kilometers away. I think it's pretty cool."

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Satellite Shows Burn Scar from Fourmile Canyon Fire of Sept. 2010

In September 2010, the Fourmile Canyon Fire broke out in the foothills west of Boulder, Colorado, scorching more than 6,000 acres (2,500 hectares) and forcing residents to evacuate. Ten months later, residents had to evacuate again, this time to flee floods. Stripped of vegetation, the slopes along Fourmile Canyon soaked up little of the water dropped by a thunderstorm. Instead, the runoff surged into local stream channels.

On June 7, 2011, the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite observed the Fourmile Canyon burn scar. The image is made from a combination of shortwave infrared and visible light.

The scar is more easily detected in the false-color image, where the burned area appears in shades of red and orange. Creek valleys, which generally escaped the flames in September 2010, form winding corridors of green through the scar. To the east and southeast, the city of Boulder lies on relatively flat land.

After the fire, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) warned residents to prepare for the possibility of flooding, even from small rainstorms. Late on July 13, 2011, such a storm occurred. As rain fell west of Boulder, Fourmile Creek rose rapidly. In fact, at one USGS gauge, the water discharge rate skyrocketed in a matter of minutes from 10 cubic feet per second to 350 cubic feet per second. The increased water flow translated into a 4-foot (1.2-meter) surge down the creek. Smaller surges followed later that night and over the next few days.

Fourmile Creek is a tributary of Boulder Creek, which flows eastward through the city. Water levels usually peak between mid-May and early July. But thanks to the melting of an unusually heavy snowpack, water levels on Boulder Creek were especially high when the July 13 thunderstorm struck. As residents in the Fourmile burn area were ordered to evacuate low-lying homes, emergency sirens also sounded in Boulder.

By late July 2011, water levels had receded along both the Fourmile and Boulder Creeks, although water levels in both remained above normal. Colorado’s monsoon season typically lasts from about mid-July to early September, so the possibility of more flooding remains.

Because of the angle of sunlight, these images may cause an optical illusion known as relief inversion.

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

NASA Spacecraft Data Suggest Water Flowing on Mars

Observations from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have revealed possible flowing water during the warmest months on Mars.

"NASA's Mars Exploration Program keeps bringing us closer to determining whether the Red Planet could harbor life in some form,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, “and it reaffirms Mars as an important future destination for human exploration."

Dark, finger-like features appear and extend down some Martian slopes during late spring through summer, fade in winter, and return during the next spring. Repeated observations have tracked the seasonal changes in these recurring features on several steep slopes in the middle latitudes of Mars' southern hemisphere.

"The best explanation for these observations so far is the flow of briny water," said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson. McEwen is the principal investigator for the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) and lead author of a report about the recurring flows published in Thursday's edition of the journal Science.

Some aspects of the observations still puzzle researchers, but flows of liquid brine fit the features' characteristics better than alternate hypotheses. Saltiness lowers the freezing temperature of water. Sites with active flows get warm enough, even in the shallow subsurface, to sustain liquid water that is about as salty as Earth's oceans, while pure water would freeze at the observed temperatures.

"These dark lineations are different from other types of features on Martian slopes," said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project Scientist Richard Zurek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Repeated observations show they extend ever farther downhill with time during the warm season."

The features imaged are only about 0.5 to 5 yards or meters wide, with lengths up to hundreds of yards. The width is much narrower than previously reported gullies on Martian slopes. However, some of those locations display more than 1,000 individual flows. Also, while gullies are abundant on cold, pole-facing slopes, these dark flows are on warmer, equator-facing slopes.

The images show flows lengthen and darken on rocky equator-facing slopes from late spring to early fall. The seasonality, latitude distribution and brightness changes suggest a volatile material is involved, but there is no direct detection of one. The settings are too warm for carbon-dioxide frost and, at some sites, too cold for pure water. This suggests the action of brines, which have lower freezing points. Salt deposits over much of Mars indicate brines were abundant in Mars' past. These recent observations suggest brines still may form near the surface today in limited times and places.

When researchers checked flow-marked slopes with the orbiter's Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM), no sign of water appeared. The features may quickly dry on the surface or could be shallow subsurface flows.

"The flows are not dark because of being wet," McEwen said. "They are dark for some other reason."

A flow initiated by briny water could rearrange grains or change surface roughness in a way that darkens the appearance. How the features brighten again when temperatures drop is harder to explain.

"It's a mystery now, but I think it's a solvable mystery with further observations and laboratory experiments," McEwen said.

These results are the closest scientists have come to finding evidence of liquid water on the planet's surface today. Frozen water, however has been detected near the surface in many middle to high-latitude regions. Fresh-looking gullies suggest slope movements in geologically recent times, perhaps aided by water. Purported droplets of brine also appeared on struts of the Phoenix Mars Lander. If further study of the recurring dark flows supports evidence of brines, these could be the first known Martian locations with liquid water.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

New Webb Telescope Technologies Already Helping Human Eyes


Even while construction of the James Webb Space Telescope is underway on the most advanced infrared vision of any space observatory, its technologies are already proving useful to human eye health here on Earth.

"The Webb telescope program has enabled a number of improvements in measurement technology for astronomy, mirror fabrication, and measurement of human eyes, diagnosis of ocular diseases and potentially improved surgery," said Dr. Dan Neal, Research Fellow at Abbott Medical Optics Inc. in Albuquerque, N.M.

The Webb telescope will be the most scientifically powerful telescope NASA has ever built -- 100 times more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope. The Webb telescope will find the first galaxies that formed in the early universe, connecting the Big Bang to our own Milky Way Galaxy. It will also peer through dusty clouds to see stars and planets being born, connecting star formation in our own galaxy with the solar system.

"The advanced wavefront sensing technology developed for testing the Webb telescope's 18 primary mirrors led to the new applications in other areas," said Tony Hull of L3 Integrated Optical Systems Division-Tinsley Facility in Richmond, Calif., where the Webb's mirrors were recently polished to accuracies of less than one millionth of an inch.

"Wavefront sensing” is used to measure shape of the mirrors during fabrication and control the optics once the telescope is in orbit.

Ophthalmologists routinely use wavefront technology to measure aberrations of the eye. Those measurements help with diagnosis, research, characterization and planning treatment of eye health issues.

"The technology also provides more accurate eye measurements for people about to undergo Laser Refractive Surgery," Neal said. "To date 10-12 million eyes have been treated with Lasik procedures in the U.S. alone. As technology improves, so does the quality of these procedures."

A new "scanning and stitching" technology developed for the Webb telescope led to a number of innovative instrument concepts for more accurate measurement for contact lenses and intra-ocular lenses. Another benefit to eye health is that this technique can help "map" the topography of the eye more accurately.

Think of the surface of your eye as being as dented as the surface of the moon. Precise measurements of your eye's surface are helpful when assessing eyes for contact lenses. The scanning and stitching technology improvements have enabled eye doctors to get much more detailed information about the shape and "topography" of your eye, and do it in seconds rather than hours. Four patents have been issued as result of innovations driven by the Webb telescope program. "These tools are now used to align and build the next generation of measuring devices for human eyes," Neal said.

"The lasting impact of the Webb telescope may go beyond the vision of astronomers seeking to see the distant universe; the impact may be a better national technology base and better vision for people everywhere," Hull said.

NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program Office (IPPO) is making available wavefront sensing and adaptive optics technologies, procedures and lab equipment to private industry through its "Can you See it Now?" campaign. All of the technologies associated with the campaign are available for licensing and can be found at

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