Michael Mewhinney
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Dec. 21, 2011
RELEASE : 11-108AR
Kepler Mission Discoveries Highlight NASA Ames News in 2011
MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. – Highlighting a successful year of discovery, NASA's Kepler mission announced several major findings that were among the top news stories in 2011 for NASA's Ames Research Center.

"This has been an outstanding year for NASA Ames," said Ames Center Director Pete Worden. "From the amazing planetary discoveries announced by the Kepler mission, science flights from our airborne infrared observatory, SOFIA, our numerous contributions to the Mars Science Laboratory and space shuttle missions, and the incredible simulations we're creating with our Pleiades supercomputer, the seventh largest in the world, Ames stands at the forefront of technology and innovation. As we approach 2012, we're looking forward to continuing the kind of cutting-edge research and development to support the agency’s mission.”

Kepler Mission Makes Milestone Discoveries
Kepler Mission scientists launched a successful year in January by announcing the discovery of its first rocky planet, Kepler-10b. In February, scientists announced the Kepler's first Earth-size planet candidates and its first planet candidates in the "habitable zone," the region where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. Kepler also found six confirmed planets orbiting a sun-like star, Kepler-11. In September, scientists announced the discovery of Kepler-16b, nicknamed Tattooine, confirming the first unambiguous detection of a circumbinary planet -- a planet orbiting two stars. Then in December, scientists announced Kepler-22b, the smallest planet yet found to orbit in the middle of the habitable zone of a star similar to our sun. Kepler also announced then that it discovered more than 1,000 new planet candidates, nearly doubling its previously known count. Earlier this week, Kepler mission scientists announced the discovery of the first Earth-size planets orbiting a sun-like star outside our solar system.

For more information about the Kepler mission, visit

NASA's Airborne Infrared Observatory Conducts Science Flights
The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, began the year by successfully implementing the observatory's second scientific instrument, the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies, or GREAT, instrument in January. SOFIA completed its first science flight using the GREAT instrument, a high-resolution far-infrared spectrometer, in April. In June, SOFIA observed the dwarf planet Pluto as it passed in front of a distant star using the High-speed Imaging Photometer for Occultations, or HIPO. This event, known as an "occultation," allowed scientific analysis of Pluto and its atmosphere by flying SOFIA at the right moment to an exact location where Pluto's shadow fell on Earth. In November, scientists released a new image taken by SOFIA that provides the highest resolution mid-infrared image taken to date of the massive star formation region in our galaxy known as W40 using the Faint Object infraRed Camera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST) instrument. In October, an estimated 8,000 people toured SOFIA during a rare three-day visit to Ames Research Center. A joint NASA-German Aerospace Center program, SOFIA is a highly-modified SOFIA Boeing 747SP jetliner that carries a 100-inch diameter reflecting telescope above Earth's atmospheric water vapor layer allowing researchers a better view of a wide range of astronomical phenomena.

For more information about SOFIA, visit

NASA Ames Sent Phones, Cells, Spores and More to Space on Last Space Shuttle
NASA Ames sent a variety of life science experiments and technology demonstrations aboard the final space shuttle to better our understanding of how robots can help humans live and work in space and how spaceflight affects the human body, the growth of cells, yeast and plants. Future astronauts on long-term space missions in low-Earth orbit, to asteroids, other planets and beyond will rely on robots and need to understand how to prevent illnesses during space travel.

For more information, visit:

NASA Ames Contributes Science Instruments to Mars Science Laboratory
NASA Ames contributed several science instruments to NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft with the Curiosity rover that launched in November and is scheduled to arrive at Mars in August 2012. Curiosity has 10 science instruments, including CheMin, an X-ray diffraction and fluorescence instrument developed at Ames to identify and quantify the minerals in rocks and soils, and to measure bulk composition. All of the science instruments on Curiosity utilize Mars Science Laboratory InterfaCE (MSLICE), a software tool whose planning and scheduling software was designed and developed at Ames to plan the actions of the Mars rover. NASA Ames also played a key role in preparing MSL for its entry into the Red Planet's atmosphere next year. MSL will be protected from Mars’ atmosphere by a unique thermal protection system consisting of tiles made of phenolic impregnated carbon ablator (PICA) material invented at Ames. Embedded in the MSL spacecraft's heat shield is a set of sensors named MSL Entry, Descent, and Landing Instrument (MEDLI) Suite to measure atmospheric conditions and performance of the heat shield. The center designed and built the thermal sensing plugs for MEDLI. Ames also designed and performed the qualification and certification testing of the spacecraft's thermal protection system.

For more information about Ames' contributions to MSL, visit:

NASA Supercomputer Enables Largest Cosmological Simulations
In September, scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz and New Mexico State University generated the largest and most realistic cosmological simulations of the evolving universe to-date, thanks to NASA’s Pleiades supercomputer—the 7th most powerful system in the world. Using the "Bolshoi" simulation code, researchers hope to explain how galaxies and other large structures in the universe changed since the Big Bang. This simulation models the distribution of dark matter across a span of one billion light years to better understand how structures like galaxies formed in the early universe. Dark matter makes up roughly 25 percent of the universe.

For more information, visit:

NASA Launches New App For Android
In addition to the NASA App for iPhone and iPad, NASA launched the free NASA App for Android (TM), a new application designed for mobile devices that runs the open source Android platform. The NASA App for Android showcases a huge collection of NASA content, including images, videos on-demand, live streaming video from NASA Television, mission information, feature stories and breaking news. Users also can find sighting opportunities for the International Space Station and track the current positions of spacecraft currently orbiting Earth. NASA Ames also announced that historic and interesting sounds and sound bites from NASA space missions are available for download as ringtones or on your computer for events, errors, alarms and notifications. The public now can hear the roar of a space shuttle launch or Neil Armstrong's, "One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind," every time they get a phone call. A new NASA web page now has a collection of more than 35 different sounds, each approximately 20 seconds.

For more information about NASA apps, visit:

NASA Partners with DOE to Construct 'Greenest' Federal Building
NASA Ames and the Department of Energy at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, Calif., collaborated in 2011 on technologies and processes for what may be the "greenest," highest-performing building in the federal government. Originally developed for aerospace applications, NASA intelligent system software is being installed in the new building, called Sustainability Base, by Ames engineers. These NASA-developed control and Integrated Systems Health Management technologies will be an integral part of the building. When considering the design of this new office building, Ames used the analogy of it being "the first lunar outpost on Earth." It was even named "Sustainability Base," in honor of Apollo 11's lunar landing site Tranquility Base.

For more information about NASA Ames' Sustainability Base, visit:

Other Highlights
Other highlights of 2011 included a visit to Silicon Valley by President Barack Obama, whose landing and departure from Moffett Federal Airfield marked the president's first visit to NASA Ames; the Google Green Flight Challenge Exposition hosted by Ames and the awarding of the largest prize in aviation history to the winner of the Green Flight Challenge; and the 20-acre Dell'Osso Family Farm Space Farm 7 corn maze that drew thousands of spectators and featured the Kepler Mission.

For more information about President Obama's arrival, visit:

For more information about the Google Green Flight Challenge Exposition, visit:

For more information about the Kepler Corn Maze, visit:

For more information about NASA Ames, visit:

For a list of the agency’s 2011 highlights, visit:


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