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This Week @ NASA, February 4, 2011
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This Week@ NASA…

Mark Kelly: "I would like to return and command STS-134."

Astronaut Mark Kelly will remain commander of STS-134. Whether Kelly would lead the mission, as scheduled, was in doubt when his wife, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was critically wounded in a shooting that occurred in Tucson early last month. Giffords continues her recovery in a Houston hospital.

Mark Kelly: "Her days are filled from the time she gets up at 8 o'clock until after 6 p.m. with six hours of speech,occupational, physical therapy, so she's got very busy days and meals in between. I started to think about STS-134, about the mission, my crew, the fact that I've been training for it for nearly a year and half and considering a bunch of other factors including what Gabriel would want me to do, and what her parents and her family and my family would like, I ultimately made the decision.

This will be Mark Kelly's fourth trip into space. Targeted to launch on April 19, STS-134 is a two-week mission to the International Space Station, and the next-to-last scheduled flight in the space shuttle program.

The newest member of the STS-133 crew continues training with his five Discovery crewmates for their upcoming mission to the International Space Station. Steve Bowen, a veteran of two spaceflights, replaced Tim Kopra as Mission Specialist 2 after Kopra injured himself in a bicycle accident.

Bowen joins Commander Steve Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe, and mission specialists Mike Barratt, Nicole Stott and Alvin Drew on STS-133. Together, they'll deliver and install the Permanent Multipurpose Module, the Express Logistics Carrier 4 and provide critical spare components to the ISS.

Space shuttle Discovery awaits them at the Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A after riding the 3.4 miles from the Vehicle Assembly Building atop its giant crawler-transporter.


NASA engineers and technicians at the Marshall Space Flight Center continue their investigation into those cracks found on parts of space shuttle Discovery's external tank. The first of the cracks were discovered during STS-133's failed launch attempt last Nov. 5th. New test data are improving confidence that the repairs already completed on more than a hundred of the ET's so-called stringers have space shuttle Discovery ready for her Feb. 24 targeted launch date. The 21-foot-long metal stringers connect the cone-shaped liquid oxygen tank on top with the oblong liquid hydrogen tank on the bottom

William Ondocsin: "Our testing is going to make sure that these stringer repairs are at least as good as the tank ever was."

STS-133 is the final scheduled flight for Discovery before it's retired.


Scientists working on NASA's Kepler Mission announced they have discovered more than eleven hundred planetary candidates in the space telescope's field-of-view. The findings are based on the results of observations of more than 156 thousand stars conducted between May and September 2009.

Bill Borucki: "Now these are candidates, but most of them, I'm convinced, will be confirmed in the coming months and years. That's more than all the people have found so far in history."

Among the eleven hundred planet candidates, the Kepler science team has found 54 that are orbiting in their stars' habitable zone, a region where liquid water could exist on the surface of the planet. Five of those candidates are near-Earth size and the other 49 range in size from twice the size of the Earth to larger than Jupiter.

Ground-based observatories and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope will be used this spring and summer to help determine if these candidates can be validated as planets.

Not only is the Kepler team finding individual candidates, they are also discovering some of their first multi-planet systems as well. They have detected 86 potential planetary systems that may have two or more planets. One system, named Kepler-11, has been confirmed to have at least six planets orbiting a sun-like star.

Jack Lissauer: "The Kepler-11 planetary system is amazing. It's amazingly compact, it's amazingly flat; there's an amazingly large number of big planets orbiting close their star. We didn't know such systems could even exist."

Scientists are excited that the number of planetary candidates discovered in four months worth of data shows promise that a relatively large number of planets may exist in our galaxy."

Think of this high-tech tinker toy as a giant recycling effort, literally. Engineers at NASA's Langley recently dug the pieces out of six crates that were in storage. The struts and nodes were from a research project done back in the early 90s.

The 315 struts and 84 nodes are part of a space structure concept for a large orbiting telescope almost 46 feet in diameter. The idea was to design a lightweight and compactly stored configuration that astronauts could easily put together during a spacewalk.

John Dorsey, Senior Researcher: "The structure we have behind me was called the precision segmented reflector. It's a 14 meter diameter- it's the primary support truss for the mirrors, the primary mirror of a telescope."

What was once a project for humans will now become an experiment for robots. Langley Human Robotics System researchers are working with the Goddard Space Flight Center and a university to see if machines can build the truss system.

John Dorsey, Senior Researcher: "West Virginia University and Goddard are starting to do research in robotic assembly and robotic operations in space. They have a huge facility. It's beautiful. It's new. They've got a big flat floor with a shuttle arm. They've got 3 or 4 other robots. So we decided it would be very nice to ship them this hardware."

But first, the humans used Langley's airplane hangar, the only place with enough empty available space indoors to assemble the massive structure that way the could insure their robot "colleagues" a state away would have all the piece they they'd need to try to put the puzzle together.

This AJ26 rocket test engine was removed from its test stand at the Stennis Space Center after two successful firings convinced engineers that a third was unnecessary. The Aerojet AJ26 will power the first stage of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Taurus II, a rocket that's scheduled to start delivering commercial cargo and supplies to the International Space Station beginning early next year. Under NASA's COTS, or Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, Orbital is slated to conduct eight cargo missions to the ISS. The testing of the actual flight engine is scheduled to begin Feb. 7.

And that's This Week at NASA!

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