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This Week @ NASA, January 11, 2013
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This Week at NASA…



Ed Mango, NASA Commercial Crew Program manager: “All of these companies here today are commercially viable as commercial space flight companies. No doubt in my mind.”

Officials from NASA and the companies participating in the agency’s Commercial Crew Program discussed the progress of CCP during a press briefing at the Kennedy Space Center.

Ed Mango, NASA Commercial Crew Program manager: “The partnership between NASA and each of these companies clearly shows that we have a very vibrant space industry in the United States and the space industry wants to meet the goal of getting U.S. capability back into low Earth orbit.”

Through CCP, NASA is working with The Boeing Company, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada and Blue Origin to develop safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from low-Earth orbit for potential government and commercial customers.



February 11th is the scheduled launch date for the Landsat Data Continuity Mission 11 from California’s Vandenburg Air Force Base. LDCM will continue the Landsat Program's 40-year tradition of monitoring Earth's landscapes from space.

David Jarrett, LDCM Program Executive: “The new instruments to be flown on this mission – the Operational Land Imager and the Thermal Infrared Sensor are an evolutionary step in the sensor design with improved capabilities over previous Landsat missions.”

The four decades of data from Landsat constitutes the longest-running record of the Earth's continental surfaces as seen from space. Observations by LDCM, a collaboration between NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey, will lead to advances in a wide range of Earth sciences; the management of agriculture, water and forestry; and serve as a valuable resource for education, business and government.



NASA is deploying the Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experiment , or ATTREX to study key climate change issues related to the moisture in, and chemical composition of the upper atmosphere. NASA’s remotely-controlled, long-range Global Hawk aircraft will take measurements in the Pacific Ocean’s tropical tropopause, a layer of the atmosphere between 40,000 and 60,000 feet above sea level.

Lenny Pfister, ATTREX Deputy Principal Investigator: “Our experiment is designed to look at processes that can, affect global change, specifically the process of changes in the stratospheric water vapor, which we know can affect global change. Which we know can affect the overall temperature at the surface.”



New findings by NASA missions headlined the news at the 2013 meeting of the American Astronomical Society in San Francisco. Among them, the discovery by the Kepler spacecraft of 461 new planet candidates. Four of the potential new planets are less than twice the size of Earth and orbit in their sun's "habitable zone." That’s the region where liquid water might exist on the surface of a system’s orbting planet.

Since the last Kepler catalog was released last February, the number of candidates scientists have discovered in the Kepler data has increased 20 percent and now totals more than 27-hundred potential planets orbiting more than 2-thousand stars.

Meanwhile, two new images from the X-ray eyes of NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR. The first reveals the brilliant glow, seen in magenta, of two black holes lurking inside “IC342”, a spiral galaxy 7 million light-years away. More than 10-times brighter than “stellar mass” black holes in our own galaxy, the brilliance of these ultraluminous X-ray sources, or ULXs, is a mystery astronomers believe NuSTAR can help solve. Also captured by NuSTAR: the first resolved image ever of the historical supernova remnant Cassiopeia A. Light from the stellar explosion that created Cassiopeia A took 11-thousand years to reach Earth. While the star is long dead, its remains are still bursting with action. The outer blue ring is where the shock wave from the supernova blast is slamming into surrounding material, whipping particles up to within a fraction of a percent of the speed of light. NuSTAR observations should help solve the riddle of how these particles are accelerated to such high energies.


Justin Lin, MSL Mobility Downlink: Hi, I am Justin Lin, Mobility Downlink for the Mars Science Laboratory Mission, and this is your Curiosity rover report.

Over the winter holidays, Curiosity was parked at a location dubbed “Grandma’s House” at Yellowknife Bay. At this location, Curiosity took a series of the images to create panoramas of the surrounding area.

In addition, the team downloaded as much data as possible from Curiosity to free up the onboard data storage space to give her a fresh start to the New Year. Once the New Year approached, Curiosity was ready to spin her wheels and stretch her arm. She started off with a small 3-meter drive to an interesting feature called Snake River.

Over time, dust accumulated on all the rocks and it hides features, such as fissures, inclusions or pits that are of interest. At this location, the team selected a rock for the first time use of the dust removal tool. The tool has a set of spinning metallic brushes and this allows for the features to be exposed for unobstructed APXS or ChemCam observations.

While these activities are taking place, the team is searching for a suitable rock to test out the rotary-percussive drill. This is a very exciting activity because it will be the first time that we will be drilling into a rock, acquire sample from deep within the rock, and also sort and transport it to the science instruments on board Curiosity.

This has been your Curiosity rover report. Please check back for more updates.



The 2013 season of FIRST Robotics is underway. This year’s international student competition that combines the excitement of sports with the rigors of science, technology, engineering and math, kicked off on NASA-TV from Manchester, New Hampshire. The show revealed details of this upcoming season’s challenge, “Ultimate Ascent,” involving flying Frisbees and pyramids. All teams competing in FIRST -- For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, get the exact same kit of parts with which to build their robots. Here’s what happened at regional kick-off events sponsored by NASA centers.



In Cleveland, “building” anticipation among more than 150 students from 24 northeast Ohio high schools as they learned about the “Ultimate Ascent” at their event sponsored by the Glenn Research Center. Opening their official FIRST Kit of Parts, the students found a technological cornucopia of motors, batteries, a control system, a PC and a mix of automation components – but NO set of instructions.

Then, each student team began formulating its design plan for a robot that can fly as many flying discs into their goals as possible in 2 minutes and 15 seconds. Matches end with the robots attempting to climb up those afore-mentioned pyramids.

Lauren Dierker, Student: “I think this is probably the most excited I’ve been out of my three years. Especially because I’ve never worked with a robot that has to climb anything. It’s a really interesting aspect that I’ve never worked with or programmed. I know that throwing Frisbees is really difficult and making a robot that does that is going to be such a challenge.”



And, in Decatur, Alabama, the Marshall Space Flight Center hosted its FIRST Kick-off event at Calhoun Community College. Student teams from Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi were focused on NASA TV as this year’s challenge was explained. And almost immediately after getting the details and their robot kits, many teams began thinking about the best robot design for this season’s challenge.

Dr. Susan Currie, Education Program Specialist: “We are really excited with this year’s challenge, we look forward to seeing the discs fly and the points add up. We have a freshman team, a rookie team, who just received their kit of parts and are going through it and we have teams here that have many years of experience who have left are ready to begin Ultimate Ascent.”

The winners of more than thirty regional competitions will face-off at the FIRST Championships scheduled for April 24-27 in St. Louis.


“3-2-1 … ignition and liftoff”


Following its launch from Kennedy Space Center sixteen years ago on January 12, 1997, Atlantis became the fifth space shuttle to dock with the Mir space station.

During the five days of STS-81’s docked operations, the shuttle and station crews transferred nearly 6,000 pounds of water, U.S. science equipment and Russian logistical equipment from Atlantis to Mir. The 10-day mission brought home astronaut John Blaha after an 118-day stay aboard the Russian complex. Among the seven-person Atlantis crew was John Grunsfeld, now serving as head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

NASA ANNIVERSARY: Stardust Capsule Return, January 15, 2006


Seven years ago, on January 15, 2006, the return capsule from NASA’s Stardust spacecraft landed in the Utah Desert, completing its 2.9-billion-mile round-trip journey to collect dust samples from the tail of comet Wild 2. Research done on these particles revealed surprises, including the samples’ closer resemblance to a meteorite from an asteroid than that of an ancient comet. Stardust is the first spacecraft to make it back to Earth with a comet’s dust particles in tow.

And that’s This Week @NASA.

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