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This Week @ NASA, January 17, 2012
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This Week @NASA...

Speaking on behalf of President Obama, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden addressed celebrants at the 44th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Service held at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Bolden, who has family ties in Atlanta, says the opportunity was an honor.

Charlie Bolden: "As I was growing up, although I never met Dr. King in person, my family members in Atlanta who knew him in the neighborhood and everything, they always talked about him and what an inspirational person he was. And as I grew up he meant a lot to me. I read about him and I listened to him on television, and I think I was moved every time I heard him speak."

The theme of this year's celebration was "Remember! Celebrate! Act! A Mission Still to Fulfill."

The next three crew members of the International Space Station talked about their upcoming mission aboard the orbiting laboratory in a news conference from the Johnson Space Center.

Joe Acaba, Expedition 31 Flight Engineer: “Really the main reason we are up there is to conduct science, and now that we are at station complete our goal is to get the 35 hours a week of utilization or time working on experiments, so we plan on putting a lot of time into that, and that’s really the main focus. I’ll be up there with Don Pettit who is just phenomenal, he’s a genius and he has a lot of great ideas. So, I’m hoping I can piggyback on some of the things that he’s doing and bring those back to the students that may be watching.”

NASA astronaut Joe Acaba and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin will continue to train ahead of their scheduled March 29 launch aboard a Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Acaba, Padalka and Revin are three of six crew members comprising Expeditions 31 and 32. Aboard the station, they’ll join NASA astronaut Don Pettit, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers.

Goddard Space Flight Center financial manager Matthew Ritsko was recently treated to a White House visit where he was personally congratulated by President Obama as the winner of the 2011 Presidential Securing American’s Value and Efficiency, or SAVE award. Implementation has already begun of Ritsko’s money-saving idea to establish a NASA lending library for sharing specialized tools across the agency.

Ritsko says the award was special... but his visit with the President was priceless.

Matthew Ritsko, NASA Financial Manager: “For me, making the visit to the White House was very humbling and something I will always carry with me for the rest of my life. I don’t think many people have the opportunity to be in that kind of a situation, where you are one-on-one with the President in The Oval Office. I think it’s something that’s going to be extremely memorable to me and my family, and the highlight of my career.”

Exciting new findings about everything from the most remote galaxies in the universe to stars and planets right in our cosmic neighborhood were announced at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society, held this year in Austin, Texas.

Among the findings -- the discovery by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope of the farthest protocluster of galaxies ever seen. The cluster of five tiny galaxies is about 13.1 billion light years away and was seen as it appeared 13 billion years ago. The discovery was made using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera-3.

These new images were captured by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft as it continues to orbit the rocky asteroid, Vesta.

And, collaboration between NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the National Science Foundation-funded Atacama Cosmology Telescope in Chile, has yielded the discovery of the largest galaxy cluster seen in the distant universe. Located more than 7 billion light years from Earth, the El Gordo galaxy is hotter, more massive, and produces more X-rays than any other known cluster.

This winter gathering of the AAS, often called the Super Bowl of Astronomy, attracts thousands of astrophysicists, educators, students, and journalists from around the world.

Another of NASA’s Space Shuttle main engines is headed to Stennis Space Center. This SSME is the 3rd of 15 being sent from the Kennedy Space Center to Stennis. The RS-25D engines, which helped power space shuttles to orbit during the 30-year Shuttle Program, will be stored at Stennis for future use on NASA's new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System. The SLS will carry the new Orion spacecraft, cargo, equipment and science experiments to space -- providing a safe, affordable and sustainable means of reaching asteroids and other destinations in the solar system.

Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, was honored by The American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics as the presenter of the Von Karman Lectureship in Astronautics. Gerstenmaie touted the International Space Station as a “Global Outpost in Space, A Platform for Discovery,” in his lecture to the AIAA's 50th Aerospace Sciences Meeting in Nashville.

The annual von Karman Lectureship award, named for astronautics pioneer Theodore von Karman, is given by the AIAA to an individual who has distinguished themselves technically in the field of astronautics.

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has reached another major milestone in its development. The last six out of 18 total primary mirror segments and the secondary mirror that will fly on the Webb telescope have passed their final cold test.

Completed at the X-ray and Cryogenic Facility at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, a ten-week test series chilled the mirror segments to -379 degrees Fahrenheit. During two test cycles, telescope engineers took extremely detailed measurements of how the mirror’s shape changes as it cools. Cryotesting verifies that the mirror will respond as expected to the extreme temperatures of space.

Jeff Kegley, Mgr., Cryogenic Test Facility, Marshall Space Flight Center: “This test campaign has spanned over three and a half years and its been a tremendous effort for the team to work through all of the difficulties associated with such a long and ambitious schedule.”

The 2012 FIRST Robotics season had its national kickoff at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester.

FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is a robotics-building competition during which teams made up of some 50,000 U.S. high school students and their professional mentors strive to meet a specific design challenge.

Teams around the country attended local events to hear what their task is this season...

Announcer: “Team 1908, are you ready for the Kickoff?”

For their participation in the 2012 FIRST Robotics competition, high school students from Maryland and Virginia met at Wallops Flight Facility Visitor Center to learn that this year’s robot challenge is Rebound Rumble!

Ashley Webb, Team Captain: “I think that the game is going to be really fun and challenging this year. I think it’s going to push us to a whole new level, it’s gonna make us think outside the box more.”

Ethan Brenner, Build Lead: “I think it’s amazing, I think every year it gets harder and it challenges the students more and more and I love that. It’s just Oh it’s brilliant. I love what they come up with.”

FIRST competition is not only about computers and robots; it’s also about learning to work with others in a team environment, in the spirit of coopertition.

Amy Davis, FIRST Robotics Coordinator, NASA Wallops: “They’re all expected to work together and help each other find the solutions to problems, to work out any problems they might encounter.”

Nick Mosher, Control Team Captain: “It doesn’t matter if you’re playing a game with them or against them, it’s you’re all hanging out having a good time and not getting mad at each other for anything.”

Several local teams will build and use robots to compete against other teams from the mid-Atlantic region, with the winners moving on to the nationals this April in St. Louis.

It’s high-energy here in Cleveland, Ohio...

Over 100 high school students received their assignment and picked up their kit of parts (a common set of parts) to build a robot in only six weeks, in preparation for the upcoming high-tech FIRST Robotics Competition, March 22-24, 2012, at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

Chris Hartenstine, FIRST Robotics Buckeye Regional Coordinator: “Really the whole purpose is to get kids at the high school level to do science and technology.”

Nate Johnson, East Technical High-Team 120: “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or something like that to be in FIRST Robotics, anyone can be in FIRST Robotics if you are working hard and trying new things.”

Emma Phillips, Hathaway Brown School-Team 2399: “Don’t be intimidated, if you love math and science and if you have any interest in it at all, this isn’t an opportunity you should miss and there’s nothing else like it out there.”

Twelve high school student teams from Alabama and Tennessee received materials for building their robots during the FIRST kickoff at Calhoun Community College in Decatur, Alabama. Each team was given the same kit that includes motors, batteries, a control system, a small personal computer, and a mix of automation components – but no instructions. The teams were shown the new “Rebound Rumble” game playing field for which they’ll design, build, program, and test their robots – all within six weeks! Their FIRST regional competition will take place in March.

Representatives of the Partnership for Public Service visited southern Mississippi to present director Patrick Scheuermann with an award citing Stennis Space Center as one of the best places to work in the federal government. A recent survey released by the nonprofit, non-partisan organization once again placed Stennis at number five of the best government facilities to be employed – and among NASA’s ten centers, number one.

Former NASA astronaut, Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, recently led a Hollywood delegration on a visit to the Johnson Space Center. Actors Terrence Howard, Nate Parker, and David Oyelowo, were accompanied by director Anthony Hemingway, who were in Houston to promote their new movie, “Red Tails.”

The film celebrates the heroic exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s all-black contingent of World War II pilots. The group met several astronauts and toured several of JSC’s astronaut training facilities.

NASA ANNIVERSARY: Stardust Capsule Return, January 15, 2006
Six 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 gathered from the capsule’s aerogel collector 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 cometary dust particles in tow.

And that’s This Week @NASA.

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