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This Week @ NASA, March 18, 2011
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This Week at NASA…


After wishing the Expedition 27 crew farewell, Expedition 26 Commander Scott Kelly, Soyuz Commander Alexander Kaleri, and Russian Flight Engineer Oleg Skripochka undocked their Soyuz spacecraft from the International Space Station and turned toward home.

Several hours later, the trio landed safely on the steppes of Kazakhstan. Kelly, Kaleri and Skripochka completed almost six months in space following their launch to the station in October 2010.

Scott Kelly: "When the hatch opened it was quite refreshing to get that cold air and the snow blowing inside the capsule; it was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

They’ll be replaced on the ISS by Flight Engineers Ron Garan, Andrey Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyaev, who are scheduled to join Dimitry Kondratyev, Paolo Nespoli and Cady Coleman on Expedition 27 after their Soyuz spacecraft launches next month from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.


(applause) "They’re celebrating, they’re shaking hands, they’re happy."

For the past 6-and-½ years, the MESSENGER Spacecraft has been lapping the inner solar system. Now, carrying seven science instruments and fortified against the unrelenting heat of the sun, the spacecraft has arrived at its final destination: in orbit around the inner most planet, Mercury.

Sean Solomon: "One of the mysteries, now a twenty-year-old mystery, that we hope to solve with MESSENGER is, is there ice on Mercury. The planet closest to the sun, the planet with one of the hottest surface temperatures and the most extreme variations in temperature between day and night -- could ice permanently be deposited in cold storage at the north and south pole. Stay tuned."

At the time of orbit insertion, MESSENGER, for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging, was 28 million miles from the sun and more than 96 million miles from Earth.

MESSENGER has already completed one flyby of Earth, two of Venus, and three flybys of Mercury. Now, with each 12-day orbit of Mercury it completes, MESSENGER will continue returning the first new spacecraft data of the planet since the Mariner 10 mission more than 30 years ago.


Lori Garver: “We are unveiling this website, the Women of NASA today. We are so proud, today, of the contributions of all women.”

NASA unveiled its new Women@NASA Website highlighting the contributions women are making to the agency.

Sound up from the website: “My dad used to take me to the library every weekend, and I would check out books on science and math.”

The rollout was part of a Women's History Month celebration held at NASA headquarters in Washington.

Hosted by NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, the program included remarks from featured guests Valerie Jarrett, senior presidential advisor and chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, and several of the other women profiled on the new Website.

Valerie Jarrett: “The president called for the nation to have an effort to get a hundred thousand new teachers in science, technology, engineering and math, we’ll have plenty of people out there ready to teach and be engaged and dedicated to this very important field.”

A routine by the Science Cheerleaders entertained and educated the young audience of area school students. The performers, who are also scientists and engineers, challenge stereotypes and encourage young women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Sound up from demonstration: “You’re going to fold it and interlock it inside side B.”

Audience members also took part in a demonstration of basic principles of flight.


Doug Wheelock: “I think this might be the first event you’ve ever been at where tweeting is encouraged. (laughter)

Astronaut Doug Wheelock, aka @Astro_Wheels, hosted a Tweetup at NASA Headquarters. This Tweetup, an informal meeting of the users of the social messaging medium Twitter, allowed space enthusiasts to meet and greet Wheelock and other NASA personnel.

Doug Wheelock: Yeah it’s cool; I get to wear a blue suit. I get to fly in space. So when they’re looking at me, I know now they’re saying the dream came true for you, how about for me. Is there something in this passion for discovery and exploration where I can live my dream as well.”

In June 2010, Wheelock began a stay of almost six months aboard the International Space Station, assuming command of the complex and the Expedition 25 crew on Sept. 22. While on orbit, Wheelock often took pictures of Earth and sent them back home via Twitter.

Wheelock returned from space on Thanksgiving Day 2010.


A six-week design and build challenge that had high school students across the world busy every day after school and on weekends is wrapping up.

The NASA Knights – a FIRST Robotics team from New Horizons Regional Education Center in Hampton, VA. --spent all of February building and programming a robot to participate in the 2011 Logo Motion Competition.

LOGO Motion involves building a robot and mini-bot that can move and climb as well as position inflatable tubes and symbols on pegs. The team worked up to the last minute putting finishing touches on the robot's mechanical arm and running tests of the mini-bot before shipping.

The team's hard work has paid off and they are gearing up for two regional tournaments in March and April.

Jordan Marlins (Team Mentor): “It's pretty intense. I've been here as late as 9 or 10 o'clock working on stuff. A lot of us are here late, lot of us come in everyday, especially Saturdays. Saturdays are usually an all day thing.”

For some of the NASA Knights, this will be their first Robotic competition.

Zach Lawrence, Hampton Roads Academy: “It's pretty exciting, I've never done anything like this before so it's definitely something to look forward to.”

Markus Starmand, Bruton High School: “I think it will be fun just being there and you can feel the energy – people here are really excited about it. And, I think with all the other teams there will be a lot of excitement and emotions and stuff like that.”

With the majority of the work behind them, the NASA Knights are ready to take on the other FIRST teams in robot battle.

Jordan Marlins (Team Mentor): “Usually we do a pretty good job, everyone is usually pretty solid, and this year we're kind of moving toward a little versatility, but I think we got a pretty good shot at it. This one is a little different from most years' competitions, but I think we have a really good chance here.

And speaking of robots, NASA’s Robonaut 2, or R2 for short, was a big hit at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

Museum Visitor: "It’s cool."

Museum Visitor: “It was exciting.”

Inside the Moving Beyond Gallery, the human-like Robot, whose twin is now a “member” of the International Space Station crew, demonstrated its strength, human-like dexterity and applicability in working safely and in close proximity to humans. (applause) R2 is just one example of technologies being developed by the agency to meet the challenges of extending the human presence into space.

“Our goal is to, overtime, show that it (Robonaut 2) is capable of doing many tasks and then let it become a system that would operationally help the crew on a regular basis.”

R2 also made an appearance for NASA Tech Day on the Hill. Members of Congress and their staffers saw R2 get put through his paces, while NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun spoke of the importance of improving the nation’s technological research and capabilities. Bobby Braun SOT: “When I think about NASA’s future in space and in aeronautics. When I think about the future of this country, I can’t help but realize that the pace of our technological innovation is only going to increase with time. It’ a technological world and for the U.S. to remain a technological leader we have to make technological investments.”

NASA celebrates two anniversaries this week. Forty-six years ago, on March 23, 1965, the first manned Gemini mission was launched from Cape Canaveral’s Complex 19. Piloted by astronauts Virgil "Gus" Grissom and John Young, the three-orbit Gemini 3 mission tested spacecraft and launch vehicle systems for future long-duration flights; how the capsule could be maneuvered in orbit, then controlled for reentry and landing. The Gemini program helped set the stage for NASA’s future moon landings.

And, 15 years ago, on March 22, 1996, space shuttle Atlantis launched from the Kennedy Space Center to begin STS-76. It was the first flight of the SPACEHAB pressurized module to support shuttle-Mir dockings, and the third linkup between the U.S. spacecraft and the Russian space station. Atlantis also delivered veteran astronaut Shannon Lucid to Mir to be the first American woman to live on station, and kick off a continuous U.S. presence in space for the next two years. The STS-76 crew was commanded by Kevin Chilton; Richard Searfoss was its pilot. Mission Specialists were Linda Godwin, Michael Clifford and Ronald Sega.

Finally, NASA Television has reached an internet milestone. Our YouTube channel now has more than 5 million views, with more than 19 million upload views. From everyone at NASA TV, thanks for watching!

And that’s This Week @ NASA!

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