Launch activities in the United States in 2005 continued the decrease from the previous year. There were 16 NASA, DOD, and commercial launches, out of 16 attempts (2004: 19 of 19 attempts, 2003: 26 of 27 [loss of Columbia]; 2002: 18 of 18). In February 2005, Sean O'Keefe stepped down as NASA Administrator. After his deputy, Fred Gregory, took over as acting administrator, President George W. Bush in March selected Michael Griffin, the head of the space department at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, for the position of NASA Administrator.
Space Shuttle. Because of the loss of Orbiter Columbia on the first (and only) shuttle mission in 2003, operations with the reusable shuttle vehicles of the U.S. Space Transportation System (STS) came to a halt for the remainder of the year and for 2004, as NASA and its contractors labored on intensive Return to Flight (RTF) efforts, which led to resumption of flights in 2005: Over two years after the fatal last flight of Columbia, the space shuttle returned to the skies with the Summer liftoff of Discovery. During the standdown and continuing after RTF, resupply and crew rotation flights to the ISS were accomplished solely by Russian Soyuz and Progress vehicles.
STS-114. Discovery, on its 31st flight, lifted off on July 26, 2005, on time (10:39am EDT) on ISS Mission LF-1, carrying the crew of Commander Eileen M. Collins, Pilot James M. Kelly, and Mission Specialists Andrew S. W. Thomas, Charles J. Camarda, Wendy B. Lawrence, Stephen K. Robinson, and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, plus 29,725 lbs. of equipment & supplies. Docking at the station took place at 7/28 (Flight Day 3) at 7:18am EDT, flawlessly flown by CDR Collins, piloting the Orbiter from the aft flight deck control stick. Prior to final approach, the Discovery performed a scheduled "R-Bar Pitch Maneuver" (RPM) at ~600 ft distance under the ISS, a 360-deg backflip to allow digital imagery of its TPS (thermal protection system) from the ISS by Phillips and Krikalev, commencing at 6:15am. After the docking and the regular leak checks of the docking adapter (PMA, pressurized mating adapter) at 8:38am, hatches were opened at 8:54am and station occupancy increased to nine persons. During the next nine days, about 15,000 lbs of cargo was transferred from the shuttle's freight container, the MPLM (Multipurpose Logistics Module) "Raffaello", to the ISS and approximately 8600 lbs from the station to the shuttle for return to Earth. Crewmembers also performed three successful EVAs. STS-114 tested new safety equipment and repair procedures and included a first-of-its-kind spacewalking heat shield repair (removal of loose tile gap fillers). Discovery undocked on 8/6 at 3:24am and returned to Earth on 8/9 with 25,121 lbs. of equipment in its cargo bay, touching down smoothly on Runway 22 of Edwards AFB at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at 8:11:22am EDT after 219 orbits, having been redirected to California after three KSC wave-offs due to inclement weather conditions at the Cape. Total mission duration of the 5.8 million-mile journey in space was 13d 21h 32m 22s. With more work required on redesign of the foam-based insulation on the space shuttle's external tank, new sensors for detailed damage inspection and a boom to allow astronauts to inspect the vehicle externally during flight, the second RTF test flight was delayed until well into 2006.
Advanced transportation systems activities. NASA announced plans for its next generation spacecraft and launch system to support the new long-range Vision for Space Exploration announced by President Bush in 2004, the CLV (Crew Launch Vehicle), which will be capable of delivering crew and supplies to the ISS, carrying four astronauts to the Moon and supporting up to six crewmembers on future missions to Mars. The new crew vehicle, CEV (Crew Exploration Vehicle), will be shaped like an Apollo capsule but will be significantly larger. There will also be an uncrewed series of heavy cargo lifters (CaLV) which eventually may approach the lifting capability of the Saturn V of the 1960s. These systems will take the place of the space shuttle by end-2010.
Space sciences and astronomy. In 2005, the U.S. launched two civil science spacecraft (two less than in the previous year): Deep Impact, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Deep Impact. The $330-million Deep Impact mission was launched by NASA on January 12 on a Delta 2 rocket at 1:47:08 pm EST, targeted for Comet Tempel 1, a jet-black, pickle-shaped, icy dirt ball traveling at 6.3 miles per second. Comets are the trailblazers of the heavens -- rushing through space from the far reaches of the solar system and back toward the sun in long oval orbits. They are made of ice, dust and gas left over from when the sun and the planets formed. Scientists believe comets may hold the keys to the origins of the solar system and perhaps to the birth of life. Purpose of the comet probe was to show how the interior of a comet is different from its surface, by excavating as deep a hole as possible to get down to the primitive material of the comet's origin. The Deep Impact spacecraft was composed of two probes mated together -- dubbed "Flyby" and "Impactor." Flyby was about the size of a small car and instrumented to monitor the impact, with two cameras -- a high-resolution camera that was tightly focused on the resulting crater and a medium-resolution one for taking wider views. Impactor was an 820-pound copper-fortified probe designed to produce maximum effect when it hit the comet. It also carried a medium-resolution camera that recorded the probe's final moments before it collided with the comet. Arrival at avocado-shaped Comet Tempel 1 was on schedule, July 4, and its mission a smashing success, when at about 1:52am EDT Tempel 1, traveling through space at about 23,000 mph (37,100 km/h), slammed into Impactor, which had recorded images and gathered data while Flyby passed 310 miles (500 kilometers) away, observing the impact, the ejected material, and the structure and composition of the comet's interior. Most of the data were stored on Flyby and radioed back to Earth after the encounter. Early results confirmed the long standing fact that a major ingredient in comets is water ice, but little was known whether the ice was contained mainly inside or if it could be found on the surface as well. Data from Deep Impact provided the first evidence that water ice can indeed exist on a comet's exterior: Tempel 1 has a surface area of roughly 45 square miles, or 1.2 billion square feet. The area taken up by the water ice, however, is only 300,000 square feet. The rest of the comet surface is dust.
Gravity Probe-B. Gravity Probe-B (GP-B) is a NASA mission to test two predictions of Albert Einstein's Theory of General Relativity. After its launch on April 20, 2004, on a Delta 2 rocket, the 3100-kg spacecraft, orbiting 400 miles above Earth, used four ultra-precise gyroscopes to test Einstein's theory that space and time are distorted by the presence of massive objects. To accomplish this, the mission measured two factors: how space and time are warped by the presence of the Earth, and how the Earth's rotation drags space-time around with it. In 2005, almost 90 years after Albert Einstein first postulated his general theory of relativity and after GP-B orbited Earth for more than 17 months, scientists finished collecting data to put it to a new, different kind of experimental test. Fifty weeks worth of data has been downloaded from the spacecraft and relayed to computers in the Mission Operations Center at Stanford University, Stanford, Calif., where scientists have now begun the painstaking task of data analysis and validation, which is expected to take approximately one year.
MESSENGER. NASA's MESSENGER (Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging), launched on August 3, 2004, aboard a Delta 2 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla, is scheduled to become the first spacecraft to orbit the planet Mercury, beginning in 2011. The approximately 1.2-ton (1,100-kilogram) spacecraft, designed and built by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, MD, is on a solar orbit, a 4.9-billion mile (7.9-billion kilometer) journey that includes 15 trips around the sun. On August 2, 2005, MESSENGER returned to Earth for a gravity boost. Next, it will fly past Venus twice, in October 2006 and June 2007, using the tug of Venus' gravity to resize and rotate its trajectory closer to Mercury's orbit. Three Mercury flybys, each followed about two months later by a course correction maneuver, will put the spacecraft in position to enter Mercury orbit in March 2011. During the flybys - set for January 2008, October 2008 and September 2009 - MESSENGER will map nearly the entire planet in color, image most of the areas unseen by Mariner 10 in 1974-75, and measure the composition of the surface, atmosphere and magnetosphere. It will be the first new data from Mercury in more than 30 years - and invaluable for planning MESSENGER's yearlong orbital mission. MESSENGER is only the second spacecraft sent to Mercury, after Mariner 10 flew past it three times in 1974-75 and gathered detailed data on less than half the surface.
Swift. NASA's Swift, launched on November 20, 2004 aboard a Delta 2 rocket from Cape Canaveral, was designed and built with international participation (England, Italy) to solve the 35-year-old mystery of the origin of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). During 2005 Swift has already achieved every pre-launch predicted advance in GRB science. In just twelve months of operation researchers have discovered the farthest GRB ever seen, identified counterparts to short GRBs, discovered new GRBs at a rate of 100 per year, and explored a brand-new time interval in GRB light curves (which revealed the unpredicted phenomena of GRB flares and rapid X-ray afterglow declines). On the technical side, the observatory and the instruments continue to work well. Swift has conducted about 20,000 successful slews to targets, and the ground team has continuously operated Swift for more than one year. Through coordination of observations from several ground-based telescopes, Swift and other satellites, scientists solved the 35-year-old mystery of the origin on powerful split-second flashes of light called short GRBs. To track these mysterious bursts, Swift carries a suite of three main instruments: the Burst Alert Telescope (BAT), the X-Ray Telescope (XRT) and the UltraViolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT). The flashes are brighter than a billion suns, yet last only a few milliseconds. They had been too fast for earlier instruments to catch. Scientists now believe the bursts, distant yet fleeting explosions, are related to the formation of black holes throughout the universe: the "birth cries" of black holes. Updated orbital lifetime predictions for Swift indicate that Swift may remain in orbit up to 2022.
GALEX. GALEX (Galaxy Evolution Explorer), launched by NASA on April 28, 2003, on a Pegasus XL rocket from a L-1011 aircraft into a nearly circular Earth orbit, is an orbiting space telescope for observing tens of millions of star-forming galaxies in ultraviolet (UV) light across 10 billion years of cosmic history. Its telescope has a basic design similar to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), but while HST views the sky in exquisite detail in a narrow field of view - like a grain of sand held at arm's length - GALEX is tailored to view hundreds of galaxies in each observation. Thus, it requires a large field of view, rather than high resolution, in order to efficiently perform the mission's surveys. During 2005, among else, astronomers using GALEX's sensitive ultraviolet detectors have observed star formation in progress in a spiral galaxy nearly 7 million years away, a member of a group of galaxies known as the Sculptor Group. GALEX also surprised astronomers with the image of a galaxy called NGC 4625, that was once thought to be rather plain, but is actually endowed with a pronounced set of young spiral arms.
Spitzer Space Telescope (SST). Formerly known as SIRTF (Space Infrared Telescope Facility) and launched on August 24, 2003, the Spitzer Space Telescope is the fourth and final element in NASA's family of Great Observatories and represents an important scientific and technical bridge to NASA's Astronomical Search for Origins program. The Observatory carries an 85-cm cryogenic telescope and three cryogenically cooled science instruments capable of performing imaging and spectroscopy in the 3.6 to 160 micron range. Its supply of liquid helium for radiative-cryogenic cooling was estimated post-launch to last for about 5.8 years, assuming optimized operation. In 2005, among else, SST discovered some of life's most basic ingredients in the dust swirling around a young star. The ingredients -- gaseous precursors to DNA and protein -- were detected in the star's terrestrial planet zone, a region where rocky planets such as Earth are thought to be born. The findings represent the first time that these gases, acetylene and hydrogen cyanide, have been found in a terrestrial planet zone outside of our own, around a star called IRS 46 in the Ophiuchus or ("Snake Carrier") constellation, about 375 light-years from Earth. This constellation harbors a huge cloud of gas and dust in the process of a major stellar baby boom. Like most of the young stars here and elsewhere, IRS 46 is circled by a flat disk of spinning gas and dust that might ultimately clump together to form planets. Organic gases such as those seen around IRS 46 are found in our own solar system, in the atmospheres of the giant planets and Saturn's moon Titan, and on the icy surfaces of comets. They have also been seen around massive stars by the European Space Agency's Infrared Space Observatory (ISO), though these stars are thought to be less likely than sun-like stars to form life-bearing planets. A long time ago, such organic material may have brought life to Earth. In 2005, Spitzer also captured the first light ever detected from two planets orbiting stars other than the Sun, picking up the infrared glow from the Jupiter-sized planets. The findings mark the beginning of a new age of planetary science in which extrasolar planets can be directly measured and compared.
RHESSI. RHESSI (Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager, in honor of the late NASA scientist who pioneered the fields of solar-flare physics, gamma-ray astronomy and cosmic ray research), launched on February 5, 2002, in 2005 continued its operation in Earth orbit, providing advanced images and spectra to explore the basic physics of particle acceleration and explosive energy release in solar flares. Since its launch the spacecraft has been very successful observing solar flares, which are capable of releasing as much energy as a billion one-megaton nuclear bombs.
Hubble Space Telescope. Fifteen years after it was placed in orbit, the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) continued to probe far beyond the Solar System, producing imagery and data useful across a range of astronomical disciplines to expand our knowledge of the universe. Hubble was and is making discoveries at a rate that is unprecedented for a single observatory, and its contributions to astronomy and cosmology are wide-ranging. In 2005, HST images were assembled in the largest and most detailed photo of a spiral galaxy, the face-on spiral galaxy Messier 101 (M101), that has ever been released from Hubble. Among else, Hubble's high sensitivity and sharp view uncovered a pair of giant rings girdling the planet Uranus. The largest is twice the diameter of the planet's previously known ring system, first discovered in the late 1970s. HST also spied two small satellites, named Mab and Cupid. On October 28, within a day of its closest approach to Earth (43 million miles/69 million km), HST took pictures of Mars showing a large regional dust storm on the red planet. This storm, which measured 930 miles (1500 km) across, had been churning in the planet's equatorial regions for several weeks and was likely responsible for the reddish, dusty haze and other dust clouds seen across this hemisphere of the planet at that time. Mars won't be this close again to Earth until 2018. Hubble also discovered that Pluto may have three moons. The discovery could offer insights into the nature and evolution of the Pluto system and the Kuiper Asteroid Belt. Moreover, HST's resolution and sensitivity to ultraviolet light helped researchers look for important minerals on Earth's moon that could be critical for a sustained human presence. In 2005, design activities continued on the HST's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), by a contracting team headed by Northrop Grumman Space Technology, selected in 2002. Plans are to launch the giant new cosmic telescope (5,400 kg/11,880 lbs) in 2011 on a European Ariane 5 toward the second Lagrangian point (L2), 1.5 million km (930,000 miles) beyond Earth's orbit on the Sun-Earth line, where effects of their light on its optics are minimized and gravitational pull is relatively well balanced. Meanwhile, there are plans in development for a space shuttle mission to Hubble to effect some necessary maintenance and repairs.
Chandra Observatory. Launched on shuttle mission STS-93 on July 23, 1999, the massive (12,930 lbs/5,870 kg) Chandra X-ray Observatory uses a high-resolution camera, high-resolution mirrors and a charge-coupled detector (CCD) imaging spectrometer to observe X-rays of some of the most violent phenomena in the universe which cannot be seen by the Hubble's visual-range telescope. Throughout its sixth year of operation, Chandra continued to provide scientists with views of the high-energy universe never seen before which potentially revolutionize astronomical and cosmological concepts. After NASA formally extended the operational mission of Chandra from five years to 10 years in September 2001 (including the science grants that fund astronomers to analyze their data and publish their results), in 2005 Chandra astronomers found the most powerful eruption in the Universe, generated by a supermassive black hole in the hot, X-ray emitting galaxy cluster called MS 0735.6+7421, having swallowed a mass of about 300 million suns in an eruption lasting for more than 100 million years. Chandra also found evidence for a swarm of black holes around the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*) at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. Other highlights were observations of the fiery ring surrounding the stellar explosion of Supernova 1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a galaxy only 160,000 light years from Earth, and an unusual view of the northern polar region of Earth, showing the Auroras Borealis (Northern Lights) dancing in X-ray light.
Cassini/Huygens. NASA's six-ton (5.4-metric-ton) spacecraft Cassini continued its epic 6.7-year, 3.2-billion-km journey to and inside the planetary system of Saturn. During 2005, the spacecraft remained in excellent health, having successfully entered orbit around Saturn on June 30, 2004. On December 25, 2004, the Huygens probe detached from NASA's Cassini orbiter to begin a three-week journey to Saturn's moon Titan. The Huygens probe, built and managed by ESA, was bolted to Cassini and rode along during the nearly seven-year journey to Saturn largely in a "sleep" mode. After 20 days and 4 million km cruise, the probe safely landed on Titan on January 14, 2005, becoming the first human-made object to explore on-site the unique environment of this moon, whose chemistry is assumed to be very similar to that of early Earth before life formed. By end-2005, its mothership Cassini had performed a number of close passes of some of Saturn's moon, starting with the "yin-yang" moon Iapetus, followed by, again, Titan, then Enceladus, Mimas and Dione. Radio and plasma wave data from Cassini, along with ultraviolet images from Hubble, showed that Saturn's mysterious auroras are fundamentally different from those of Earth and Jupiter. Jets of fine, icy particles streaming from Enceladus on Cassini images provided unambiguous evidence that the moon is geologically active, while Dione was revealed as a pale, icy moon with a heavily cratered surface.
WMAP. NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (formerly called the Microwave Anisotropy Mission, MAP), launched on June 30, 2001, on a Delta-2, is now located in an orbit around the second Lagrange libration point L2. Its differential radiometers measure, with unprecedented accuracy, the temperature fluctuations of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR). The CMBR is the light left over from the Big Bang, bathing the whole Universe in this afterglow light. It is the oldest light in the Universe, having traveled across the cosmos for 14 billion years, and the patterns in this light across the sky encode a wealth of details about the history, shape, content, and ultimate fate of the Universe. Since start of WMAP operations, scientists produced the first version of a full sky map of the faint anisotropy or variations in the CMBR's temperature (now averaging a frigid 2.73 degrees above absolute zero). Results to date indicate that the Universe is 13.7 billion years old, with a margin of error of close to 1%, the first stars ignited 200 million years after the Big Bang, light gathered in revealing WMAP pictures is from 379,000 years after the Big Bang, and the Universe consists of 4% atoms, 23% cold dark matter and 73% dark energy. The data places new constraints on the dark energy, which now seems more like a "cosmological constant" than a negative-pressure energy field called "quintessence" (the latter however is not ruled out). Fast moving neutrinos do not play any major role in the evolution of structure in the universe (they would have prevented the early clumping of gas in the Universe, delaying the emergence of the first stars, in conflict with the new WMAP data). The expansion rate of the Universe, called the Hubble Constant, is Ho= 71 km/sec/Mpc (megaparsecs) with a margin of error of about 5%. There is new evidence for Inflation (in polarized signal), and for the theory, fitting all data, that the Universe will expand forever. (But the nature of the dark energy remains a mystery. If it changes with time, or if other unknown and unexpected things happen in the universe, this conclusion could change.) Building on a picture of the infant universe by measuring fluctuations in temperature of the oldest light in the universe, scientists peering back to the afterglow have developed new evidence for what happened within its first trillionth of a second, when the universe suddenly grew from submicroscopic to astronomical size in far less than a wink of the eye: new data from WMAP provides further evidence to support this scenario, known as "Inflation." The data was gathered during three years of continuous observations of remnant afterglow light -- cosmic background radiation that lingers, much cooled, from the universe's energetic beginnings 13.7 billion years ago.
Genesis. The solar probe Genesis was launched on August 8, 2001, on a Delta 2 rocket into a perfect orbit about the first Earth-Sun Lagrangian libration point L1 about 1.5 million km from Earth and 148.5 million km from the Sun on November 16, 2001. After an unconventional "Lissajous Orbit Insertion" (LOI), Genesis began the first of five "halo" loops around L1, lasting about 30 months. Collection of samples of solar wind material expelled from the Sun started on October 21, 2001. One year later, on December 10, 2002, with the spacecraft in overall good health and spinning at 1.6 rotations per minute, its orbit around L1 was fine-tuned with the seventh of 15 planned station-keeping maneuvers during the lifetime of the mission. Throughout 2003, Genesis continued its mission of collecting solar wind material, amounting to a total of ~1020 ions and ~0.4 milligrams. In April 2004, the sample collectors were deactivated and stowed, and the spacecraft returned to Earth, where the sample return capsule was to be recovered in mid-air by helicopter over the Utah Test & Training Range on September 8, 2004. However, Genesis' return did not go according to plan. The vessel, which had spent 27 months collecting data and samples of the solar wind, entered Earth's atmosphere as scheduled, but its parachutes failed to deploy and the capsule crashed into the Utah desert at nearly 200 miles an hour. After the crash, the 400-pound capsule was recovered and transported by helicopter to a nearby Army base equipped with a clean room for analysis. Scientists have since reported that a large amount of material within the Genesis scientific collectors had remained intact and will provide useful information about the beginning and development of our solar system, representing essentially a "piece of the Sun". Genesis samples are being analyzed with a host of new technologies and instrumentation in laboratories all over the world. Cause of the failure of the parachute deployment system was determined to have been incorrectly installed G-switch sensors, i.e., in an inverted orientation, rendering them unable to sense sample return capsule deceleration during atmospheric entry and initiate parachute deployments. Duration of Genesis' space mission was 1127 days and the total distance traveled from launch to Earth return ~32 million kilometers (20 million miles). Relative to the Sun, Genesis had traveled ~1.8 billion miles, essentially the motion of the Earth around the Sun.
ACE. The Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE), launched on August 25, 1997, is positioned in a halo orbit around L1, where gravitational forces are in equilibrium. During 2005, ACE continued to observe, determine and compare the isotopic and elemental composition of several distinct samples of matter, including the solar corona, the interplanetary medium, the local interstellar medium and galactic matter. With a semi-major axis of approximately 200,000 km, its elliptical orbit affords ACE a prime view of the Sun and the galactic regions beyond, from a vantage point approximately 1/100th of the distance from the Earth to the Sun. The spacecraft has enough propellant on board to maintain an orbit at L1 until ~2019. By end-2005, ACE has been at the L1 point for more than 8 years, and things were still working very well, with the exception of the SEPICA (Solar Energetic Particle Ionic Charge Analyzer) instrument. Due to failure of the valves that control gas flow through the instrument, active control of SEPICA's proportional counter is no longer possible. At this time, researchers do not expect to deliver any SEPICA data from later than February 4, 2005, unless one of the valves opens by itself, as has happened a few times in the past. As of October 2005, over 400 peer reviewed papers had been published by ACE science team members.
Stardust. In January 2004, having weathered a strong "sandblasting" by cometary particles hurtling toward it at about six times the speed of a rifle bullet, NASA's comet probe Stardust, launched on February 3, 1999 on a Delta 2, passed by Comet P/Wild 2, collected particles and began its two-year, 1.14 billion kilometer (708 million mile) trek back to Earth. The probe had entered the comet's coma - the vast cloud of dust and gas that surrounds a comet's nucleus - on December 31, 2003. From that point on it kept its defensive shielding between it and what scientists hoped would be the caustic stream of particles it would fly through. Before its closest approach to the comet, Stardust's trajectory made three loops around the Sun. After one solar orbit, an Earth flyby was used to boost the spacecraft orbit on January 15, 2001 and a second period of interstellar dust collection was opened July to December 2002. On November 2, 2002 Stardust passed within 3000 km of Asteroid 5535 Anne Frank, at 7 km/sec relative velocity. A second orbit of the sun was completed in mid-2003 and the Comet P/Wild 2 encounter followed then on January 2, 2004, with a closest approach of about 150 km at a relative velocity of about 6.1 km/sec, at 1.85 AU (astronomical units) from the Sun and 2.6 AU from Earth. After the Wild flyby, the sample collector, deployed in late December 2003, was retracted, stowed, and sealed in the vault of the sample reentry capsule. Images of the comet nucleus were also obtained, with coverage of the entire sunlit side at a resolution of 30 m or better. On January 15, 2006, Stardust returned safely to Earth. The probe released its sample return capsule the night before at 9:57pm, which entered the atmosphere four hours later at 1:57am. The drogue and main parachutes deployed at 2:00am and 2:05am Pacific time, respectively, and at 2:10am Pacific time the capsule carrying cometary and interstellar particles successfully touched down in the desert salt flats of the U.S. Air Force Utah Test & Training Range.
Ulysses. In 2005, the joint European/NASA solar polar mission Ulysses celebrated its 15th launch anniversary. Carried into space on 6 October 1990 by the space shuttle Discovery (STS-41), the Ulysses spacecraft has already travelled an amazing 7 billion km and at this time is still going strong. During this exploratory voyage, Ulysses has literally opened new windows on the heliosphere, that vast region of space carved out by the Sun's influence. Ulysses's orbit is unique: it is the first - and probably the only - space probe to be placed in a polar orbit around the Sun. From this unique vantage point, Ulysses is able to study in situ the previously unexplored regions of space above the Sun's poles. Ulysses carries a comprehensive suite of sophisticated scientific instruments, several of which are of a kind never flown in space before. In addition to enabling the mission's "core business" - providing the first survey of the solar wind in four dimensions (three spatial dimensions and time) - this combination has enabled scientists to make many groundbreaking discoveries, some in areas that were not even imagined when the mission was first planned. Ulysses "firsts" include: First direct measurements of interstellar dust and neutral helium gas, first measurements of rare cosmic-ray isotopes, first measurements of so-called "pickup" ions of both interstellar and near-Sun origin, first in-situ observations of comet tails at large distances from the Sun, and first observations of particles from solar storms over the solar poles.
Voyager. The Voyager missions, now in their 29th year, continue their quest to push the bounds of space exploration. The twin Voyager 1 & 2 spacecraft opened new vistas in space by greatly expanding our knowledge of Jupiter and Saturn. Voyager 2 then extended the planetary adventure when it flew by Uranus and Neptune, becoming the only spacecraft ever to visit these worlds. On November 5, 2003, Voyager 1 set a new milestone when the spacecraft reached 90 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun (i.e., about 8.4 billion miles or 13.5 billion kilometers), becoming the most distant human-made object in the universe. At end-2004, the spacecraft was about 94 times as far from the Sun as is Earth, having been deflected northward above the plane of the planets' orbits when it swung by Saturn in 1980 and is now speeding outward from the Sun at nearly one million miles per day, a rate that would take it from Los Angeles to New York in less than four minutes. Long-lived nuclear batteries are expected to provide electrical power until at least 2020 when Voyager 1 will be more than 13 billion miles from Earth and may have reached interstellar space. The only spacecraft to have made measurements in the solar wind from such a great distance from the source of the dynamic solar environment, in 2005 it reached a distance of 8.7 billion miles from the Sun, entering the solar system's final frontier, the so-called heliosheath beyond the termination shock of the solar wind, a vast, turbulent expanse where the Sun's influence ends and the solar wind crashes into the thin gas between stars. Close on the heels of its sister ship, Voyager 2 also continues the groundbreaking journey with the current mission to study the region in space where the Sun's influence ends and the dark recesses of interstellar space begin. In July 2003, Voyager 2 was at a distance from the Sun of 10.6 billion km (70 AU). At end-2004 (exactly on January 5, 2005) it was 10,000 days since Voyager 2's launch. It too continues to go strong, returning valuable science data. At end-2005, as Voyager 1 is escaping the solar system at a speed of about 3.6 AU per year, Voyager 2 was covering about 3.3 AU per year. There are currently five science investigation teams participating in the Interstellar Mission, directly supported by five active instruments aboard: Magnetic Field Investigation (MAG); Low Energy Charged Particle (LECP) investigation; Ultraviolet Spectrometer (UVS) investigation; Cosmic Ray (CRS) investigation; and Plasma Wave (PWS) investigation. Two other instruments are collecting data but do not have official science investigations associated with them: the Planetary Radio Astronomy (PRA) subsystem, and, on Voyager 1 only, the Ultraviolet Spectrometer (UVS). Both spacecraft are expected to continue to operate and send back valuable data until at least the year 2020.
Mars exploration. The main event in 2005 for NASA's Mars program was the launch of yet another unmanned exploration probe, MRO, joining five other spacecraft currently studying Mars: Mars Express, Mars Odyssey, Mars Global Surveyor and two Mars Exploration Rovers. This is largest number of active spacecraft to study another planet in the history of space exploration.
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). MRO is a multipurpose spacecraft designed to conduct reconnaissance and exploration of Mars from orbit. The $720 million spacecraft was built by Lockheed Martin under the supervision of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). It was launched on August 12, 2005, on an Atlas V launch vehicle, targeted to attain an elliptic Martian orbit in March 2006 for subsequent aerobraking maneuvers to achieve a lower circular orbit. MRO contains a host of scientific instruments such as the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM), and the Shallow Subsurface Radar (SHARAD), which will be used to analyze the landforms, stratigraphy, minerals and ice of Mars. It will pave the way for future spacecraft by monitoring daily weather and surface conditions, studying potential landing sites, and testing a new telecommunications system. MRO's telecommunications system will transfer more data back to Earth than all previous interplanetary missions combined, and MRO will serve as a highly capable relay satellite for future missions.
Spirit (MER-A). The six-wheeled rover vehicle Spirit, launched on June 10, 2003, on a Delta 2/Heavy rocket, landed on January 3. 2004 (ET) almost exactly at its intended landing site in Gusev Crater in excellent condition. At end-2005, it and its twin, Opportunity, have successfully explored the surface of the mysterious red planet for a full Martian year (687 Earth days). Both rovers' original mission was scheduled for only three months. The solar-powered machines were still in good health. Though beginning to show signs of aging, Spirit and Opportunity are both still being used to their maximum remaining capabilities. On Spirit, the teeth of the rover's rock abrasion tool are too worn to grind the surface off any more rocks, but its wire-bristle brush can still remove loose coatings. The tool was designed to uncover three rocks, but it exposed interiors of 15 rocks. During its extensive travels, Spirit discovered the composition of rock outcrops altered by water.
Opportunity (MER-B). NASA's second Mars explorer, twin to Spirit, launched on July 7, 2003 (ET), also on a Delta 2/Heavy after a "cliffhanger" countdown, touched down on January 25, 2004, right on target on Meridiani Planum, halfway around the planet from the Gusev Crater site of its twin, also in excellent condition. In December 2005 Opportunity started its second Martian year and its third Earth year on Mars. The rover's steering motor for the front right wheel stopped working during 2005. A motor at the shoulder joint of the rover's robotic arm shows symptoms of a broken wire in the motor winding. But Opportunity can still maneuver with its three other steerable wheels. Its shoulder motor still works when given extra current, and the arm is still useable without that motor. Among its discoveries is evidence that water once flowed across the Martian surface.
Mars Odyssey. NASA's Mars Odyssey probe, launched April 7, 2001, reached Mars on October 24, 2001, after a six-month and 286-million mile journey. Entering a highly elliptical orbit around the poles of the Red Planet, it began to change orbit parameters by aerobraking, reducing its ellipticity to a circular orbit at 400 km by end of January 2002. The orbiter is circling Mars for at least three years, with the objective of conducting a detailed mineralogical analysis of the planet's surface from space and measuring the radiation environment. On August 25, 2004, the Odyssey orbiter began working overtime after completing a prime mission that discovered vast supplies of frozen water, ran a safety check for future astronauts, and mapped surface textures and minerals all over Mars, among other feats. Odyssey's camera system obtained the most detailed complete global maps of Mars ever, with daytime and nighttime infrared images at a resolution of 100 meters (328 feet). The spacecraft, which has been examining Mars in detail since February 2002 (more than a full Mars year of about 23 Earth months) has been approved for an extended mission through September 2006. About 85 percent of images and other data from NASA's twin Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have reached Earth via communications relay by Odyssey, which receives transmissions from both rovers every day. The orbiter helped analyze potential landing sites for the rovers and is doing the same for NASA's Phoenix mission, scheduled to land on Mars in 2008. Plans also call for Odyssey to aid NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, due to reach Mars in March 2006, by monitoring atmospheric conditions during months when the newly arrived orbiter uses calculated dips into the atmosphere to alter its orbit into the desired shape. At end-2005, a new view of the biggest canyon in the solar system, composed of hundreds of photos from the Mars Odyssey orbiter, offered scientists and the public an online resource for exploring the entire canyon in detail. This canyon system, named Valles Marineris, stretches as far as the distance from California to New York. Steep walls nearly as high as Mount Everest give way to numerous side canyons, possibly carved by water. In places, walls have shed massive landslides spilling far out onto the canyon floor. Using Odyssey photography, a simulated fly-through using the newly assembled imagery was made available to the public online.
Mars Global Surveyor (MGS). MGS completed its primary mission at the end of January 2001 and entered an extended mission. The spacecraft has returned more data about the Red Planet than all other missions combined. After its arrival at Mars on September 11, 1997, MGS started a long series of aerobrake passes around the planet and, after reaching its operational orbit early in 1999, began its mapping mission on March 9. In 2001, it sent back its 100,000th image of the Martian surface and, in tandem with the Hubble Space Telescope, had a ringside seat to the largest global dust storm on the Martian surface seen in decades. MGS has been transmitting a steady stream of high-resolution images, which showed that the Red Planet is a world constantly being reshaped by forces of nature including shifting sand dunes, monster dust devils, wind storms, frosts and polar ice caps that grow and retreat with the seasons. In September 2004, MGS started its third mission extension after seven years of orbiting Mars, using an innovative technique to capture pictures even sharper than most of the more than 170,000 it has already produced. One dramatic example from the spacecraft's Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) showed actual wheel tracks of the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit and the rover itself. In 2005, MGS also took the first pictures of any spacecraft orbiting Mars ever taken by another spacecraft orbiting Mars: Mars Express was passing about 155 miles away when the MGS MOC photographed it on April 20. The next day, the camera caught Mars Odyssey passing 56 to 84 miles away. All three spacecraft are moving at almost 7,000 miles per hour, and at 62 miles distance the field-of-view of the MOC is only 830 yards across. If timing had been off by only a few seconds, the images would have been blank. Two gullies appear in an April 2005 image of a sand-dune slope where they did not exist in July 2002. The MOC team has found many sites on Mars with fresh-looking gullies, and checked back at more than 100 gullied sites for possible changes between imaging dates, but this is the first such find. Some gullies, on slopes of large sand dunes, might have formed when frozen carbon dioxide, trapped by windblown sand during winter, vaporized rapidly in spring, releasing gas that made the sand flow as a gully-carving fluid. At another site, more than a dozen boulders left tracks when they rolled down a hill sometime between the taking of images in November 2003 and December 2004. It is possible that they were set in motion by strong wind or by a "marsquake." The orbiter is healthy and may be able to continue studying Mars for five to 10 more years
Earth Science. In 2005, as in 2004, NASA launched one Earth science satellite, the NOAA-18, as the NASA-centered international Earth Observing System (EOS) continues to operate, with Aqua as the first member of a group of satellites termed the Afternoon Constellation (or sometimes the A-Train). The second member launched was Aura, the third member was PARASOL, in December 2004, and the fourth and fifth members are CloudSat and CALIPSO, to follow in 2006. Expected upcoming missions are OCO and Glory, with the placement of Glory not yet determined. Once completed, the A-Train will be led by OCO, followed by Aqua, then CloudSat, CALIPSO, PARASOL, and, in the rear, Aura.
NOAA-18. In 2005, NOAA-18, a new environmental satellite for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), was launched on May 20 on a Boeing Delta 2 expendable rocket into a circular polar orbit of 870 km (544 s.mi.) altitude and 98.73 degrees inclination. Twenty-one days after spacecraft launch, operational control of NOAA-18 was transferred from NASA to NOAA. With the objective to improve weather forecasting and monitor environmental events around the world, NOAA-18 collects data about the Earth's surface and atmosphere. The data are input to NOAA's long-range climate and seasonal outlooks, including forecasts for El Ni�o and La Ni�a. NOAA-18 is the fourth in a series of five Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites (POES) with instruments that provide improved imaging and sounding capabilities. NOAA-18 has instruments used in the 1982-established international Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking System, called COSPAS-SARSAT. NOAA polar-orbiting satellites detect emergency beacon distress signals and relay their location to ground stations, so rescue can be dispatched. SARSAT is credited with saving approximately 5,000 lives in the U.S. and more than 18,000 worldwide.
Aura. Aura (Latin for "breeze"), launched from Vandenberg AFB on July 15, 2004, on a Delta 2 rocket, is NASA's third major Earth Observing System (EOS) platform, joining its sister satellites Terra and Aqua, to provide global data on the state of the atmosphere, land, and oceans, as well as their interactions with solar radiation and each other. Aura's design life is five years with an operational goal of six years. The satellite flies in formation about 15 minutes behind Aqua. During 2005, observations from Aura showed explosive volcanic eruptions injecting gases and ash into the Earth's atmosphere, creating hazardous conditions for passing aircraft and the potential for climate effects. By the end of April 2005, two large explosive eruptions had occurred at Manam (Papua New Guinea) and at Anatahan (Mariana Islands) on April 5-6, 2005. Other observations by Aura showed that thunderstorms over Tibet provide a main pathway for water vapor and chemicals to travel from the lower atmosphere, where human activity directly affects atmospheric composition, into the stratosphere, where the protective ozone layer resides. Aura data also indicate that the Antarctic ozone hole's recovery is running late: the full return of the protective ozone over the South Pole will take nearly 20 years longer than scientists previously expected.
ICESat . ICESat (Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite), also an Earth Observing System (EOS) spacecraft, is the benchmark mission for measuring ice sheet mass balance, cloud and aerosol heights, as well as land topography and vegetation characteristics. Launched on January 12, 2003, on a Delta 2 Expendable Launch Vehicle (ELV) into a near polar orbit at an altitude of 600 km with an inclination of 94 degrees, the spacecraft carries only one instrument,- the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS). Scientists trying to understand the dynamics of the Earth are using the lasers of ICESat to measure the height of ice sheets, glaciers, forests, rivers, clouds and atmospheric pollutants from space with unprecedented accuracy, providing a new way of understanding our changing planet. GLAS sends short pulses of green and infrared light though the sky 40 times a second, all over the globe, and collects the reflected laser light with a one-meter telescope, yielding elevations. It also fires a fine laser beam of light that spreads out as it approaches the Earth surface to about 65 meters in diameter. On its way to the surface, those photons or particles of light bounce off clouds, aerosols, ice, leaves, ocean, land and more providing detailed information on the vertical structure of the earth system. In 2005, the ICESat mission and the GLAS instrument passed an important milestone when it reached 1,000,000,000 (1 billion) measurements while in orbit. The previous maximum measurements reached in space was approximately 670,000,000 which were emitted by the MOLA-2 Laser onboard the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) mission.
Aqua . Launched in May 2002, the 1750 kg (3858 lb) NASA satellite Aqua, formerly named EOS PM (signifying its afternoon equatorial crossing time), carrying six instruments weighing 1082 kg (2385 lb) designed to collect information on water-related activities worldwide, has been circling Earth in a polar, sun-synchronous orbit of 438 miles (705 km) altitude. During its six-year mission, Aqua is observing changes in ocean circulation and studies how clouds and surface water processes affect our climate. In 2005, NASA and NOAA scientists, working with experimental data from Aqua's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder, a high-spectral resolution infrared instrument that takes 3-D pictures of atmospheric temperatures, water vapor and trace gases, outlined research that has helped to improve the accuracy of medium-range weather forecasts in the Northern Hemisphere. They found that incorporating the instrument's data into numerical weather prediction models improves the accuracy range of experimental six-day Northern Hemisphere weather forecasts by up to six hours, a four-percent increase. These data have meanwhile been officially incorporated into the NOAA National Weather Service operational weather forecasts.
POES-M (NOAA-M) . The operational weather satellite POES-M (Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites-M) was launched from VAFB on a commercial Titan 2 rocket on June 24, 2002. The satellite, later renamed NOAA-M, is part of the POES program, a cooperative effort between NASA and NOAA, the United Kingdom (UK), and France. It joined the GOES-M launched in July 2001. Both satellites, operated by NOAA, continue to provide global coverage of numerous atmospheric and surface parameters for weather forecasting and meteorological research.
GRACE. Launched on March 17, 2002, on a Russian Rokot carrier, the twin satellites GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment), named "Tom" and "Jerry", continued to map the Earth's gravity fields by taking accurate measurements of the distance between the two satellites, using Global Positioning System (GPS) and a microwave ranging system. This allows making detailed measurements of Earth's gravity field, which will lead to discoveries about gravity and Earth's natural systems with possibly far-reaching benefits to society and the world's population. GRACE provides scientists from all over the world with an efficient and cost-effective way to chart the Earth's gravity fields with unprecedented accuracy, yielding crucial information about the distribution and flow of mass within the Earth and its surroundings. Its science data are being used to estimate global models for the mean and time variable Earth gravity field approximately every 30 days for the 5 year lifetime of the mission. The science data from GRACE consist of the inter-satellite range change measurements, and the accelerometer, GPS and attitude measurements from each satellite. During 2005, the twin GRACE satellites have exchanged positions, and GRACE-1 became the trailing satellite. The maneuver was initiated on December 3, and GRACE-2 passed GRACE-1 on December 10. The swap was done to mitigate the risk of loss of thermal control over the K-band antenna horn (and subsequent spurious K-band range signal) due to atomic oxygen exposure. After the two satellites switched position, a special data collection campaign for the inter-satellite separation between about 70 km and about 170 km got underway. The mean inter-satellite separation is usually bound between 170 and 270 km, but the closer mean separation is expected to enhance the high-frequency signal content in the K-band range measurements. The project is a joint partnership between NASA and the German DLR (Deutsches Zentrum f�r Luft- und Raumfahrt).
Department of Defense space activities. United States military space organizations continued their efforts to make space a routine part of military operations across all service lines. One focus concerns plans for shifting the advanced technology base toward space in order to continue building a new foundation for more integrated air and space operations in the 21st century as space is becoming increasingly dominant in military reconnaissance, communications, warning, navigation, missile defense and weather-related areas. The increased use of satellites for communications, observations, and - through the GPS - navigation and high-precision weapons targeting was and is of decisive importance for the military command structure. During the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts and thereafter, orbiting assets ably demonstrated that space-based intelligence, surveillance, communications, weather, missile warning and navigation tools give commanders great advantages and leverage for each of the military services. Highlights of military space in 2005 included the launch of the final USAF Titan 4B rocket on October 19, carrying a 19-ton Advanced KH-11 digital imaging reconnaissance spacecraft (USA-186), two successful missile interceptor tests and the successful test firing of an antimissile airborne laser.
In 2005, there were six military space launches (2004: 5; 2003: 11), carrying seven payloads: two Titan 4B/IUS vehicles from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with two observation and imaging satellites (USA-182, USA-186), one Atlas 3B/Centaur with two sigint (signal intelligence) satellites, two Minotaur (Minuteman-2 ICBM+Pegasus) rockets with technology development/demonstration payloads, and a Delta 2 launch vehicle carrying a GPS navigation satellite.
Commercial space activities. In 2005, commercial space activities in the United States took an additional downturn over prior years, after the slump in the communications space market caused by failures of satellite constellations for mobile telephony in 2001/2002 and a slight recovery in 2003.
In addition to the financial problems, some difficulties remained due to the export restrictions imposed to the US industry on sensitive technologies. In general, commercial ventures continue to play a relatively minor role in US space activities. Of the 16 total launch attempts by the United States in 2005 (19 in 2004, 26 in 2003), five (31%) were commercial missions (NASA: 5; military: 6). In the launch services area, Boeing sold three Delta-2 vehicles, while competitor ILS/Lockheed Martin flew one Atlas 3B (with Russian engines) and two Atlas 5/Centaur. The partnership of Boeing, RSC-Energia (Russia, 25% share), NPO Yushnoye (Ukraine) and Kvaerner Group (Norway) successfully launched four Russian Zenit 3SL (SeaLaunch) rockets carrying the XM Radio 3, Spaceway 1, Intelsat A-8 and Inmarsat 4F-2 comsats from the Odyssey sea launch platform floating at the Equator (first launch 1999).