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This Week @ NASA, April 22, 2011
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This Week at NASA…

April 29 is the official launch date for space shuttle Endeavour on STS-134.

Bill Gerstenmaier: "We set Friday, April 29 at 3:47 p.m. as the launch date time for the mission."

That announcement came at the conclusion of the mission’s Flight Readiness Review, where shuttle managers expressed satisfaction with the preparations for the program’s next-to-last flight.

Mike Moses: "This is going to be a very complex choreography, a lot of small tasks that all have to go when they’re supposed to or they have to ripple down and find new homes which makes it a big challenge for the mission operations team and they have a good plan with a lot of backups in it to be able to handle that."

During the 14-day mission, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer and spare parts will be delivered to the International Space Station by Endeavour and its crew of Commander Mark Kelly, Pilot Greg Johnson, European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori, and NASA Mission Specialists Mike Fincke, Drew Feustel and Greg Chamitoff. Chamitoff says his TV viewing habits as a youngster fueled his desire for space travel.

Greg Chamitoff: "Well I have to admit I grew up watching a lot of "Star Trek" with my dad, and he was a space fanatic. This was in Montreal and the space program was budding. He would also see the pictures of Mission Control and say, who are those guys, how do they get to work there? That’s got to be the most amazing job in the world. The funny thing was my dad said that he knew Captain Kirk, because he knew him from high school in Montreal; I was probably five or six so it was a strange mixture of fiction and reality. I knew this was fiction, but on the other hand my dad knows this guy, and somehow that made things seem more possible to me."

NASA has awarded more than $269 million for the continued development of commercial transportation systems to carry astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit.

Four U.S. companies, Blue Origin of Kent, Wash., the Sierra Nevada Corporation, Louisville, Colo., SpaceX of Hawthorne, Calif., and the Boeing Company in Houston received the awards in the second round of NASA’s Commercial Crew Development, or CCDev, effort. The money will accelerate the availability of U.S. commercial crew transportation capabilities and reduce the gap in U.S. human spaceflight capability.

Phil McAlister: "NASA should be out breaking the barriers, pushing the state of the art, and by transferring this function over to the private sector, it will allow us to focus on the really hard stuff, the beyond the Earth orbit exploration mission that we want to embark on as soon as we can."

Engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center have begun final round-the-clock cryogenic testing of the first six segments that will form the James Webb Space Telescope’s primary mirror.

These tests in the space-like environment of Marshall’s X-ray and Cryogenic Facility will confirm the mirrors’ expected response to the extreme temperatures of space prior to integration into the telescope's permanent housing. Each mirror segment is about 4.3 feet in diameter and weighs some 88 pounds. They’re made of a lightweight-but-strong metal called beryllium, and coated with a microscopically thin layer of gold enabling the mirror to efficiently collect light. During cryogenic testing, the mirrors are placed in a helium-cooled vacuum chamber and subjected to temperatures as low as minus 415 degrees.

Eric Smith: "The easy way to think about why we do these tests for Webb is it’s an infrared telescope that’s designed to look for faint heat signals from the universe; the telescope needs to be cold to detect these signals. We have to understand how the telescope mirrors behave as they change in temperature and get very cold themselves because we know that things change their shape as they change their temperature."

Testing will continue for eight weeks. 18 segments will make up the primary mirror Webb will use for its state-of-the-art infrared observations. Picking up where Hubble leaves off, JWST will be the first of the next generation of NASA’s Great Observatories program.

As for the Hubble Space Telescope, it presented this rosy picture to astronomers on the celebration of the 21st anniversary of its deployment into space. Hubble captured an especially photogenic group of interacting galaxies called Arp 273. The larger of the spiral galaxies, known as UGC 1810, has a disk that is distorted into a rose-like shape by the gravitational pull of the companion galaxy below it, known as UGC 1813. A swath of blue jewels across the top is the combined light from clusters of intensely bright and hot young blue stars.

These massive stars glow fiercely in ultraviolet light. Arp 273 lies in the constellation Andromeda and is roughly 300 million light-years away from Earth. The interaction was imaged on December 17, 2010, with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3.

Geoff Yoder: "Growing up on a farm, looking up into the stars wondering what’s beyond there; Hubble has enabled me to start looking and penetrating beyond what I dreamed up, as a kid, could even be there. So Hubble, for me personally, has touched my inner being."

Hubble was deployed by the STS-31 crew of space shuttle Discovery on April 25, 1990. Piloting that mission was current NASA Administrator, Charlie Bolden. Since then, Hubble imagery has delighted and amazed people around the world and has rewritten astronomy textbooks with its discoveries.

Waleed Abdalati: "Well we have a pretty comprehensive data base and some very talented people."

NASA Chief Scientist Waleed Abdalati helped NASA celebrate the 41st annual Earth Day with a series of live satellite interviews with TV stations around the country. Highlighted were NASA’s Top 5 Satellite Images of Planet Earth that had proven most popular with social media users around the world. The pictures, ranging from post-tsunami Sendai, Japan, to the enormous Hurricane Earl, are examples of the Earth-monitoring data routinely captured by NASA science mission satellites.

Waleed Abdalati: "We make these images available to people all over the world. We work closely with our agency partners and people take these and either just look at them for their own interest or turn them into information, turn them into science."

Other Earth Day programs included a live Webchat from Greenland with researcher Lora Koenig about NASA’s Operation IceBridge, a video about a climate and weather tracking satellite NASA plans to launch later this year, and the announcement by the Goddard Space Flight Center of a contest for you to create your own YouTube videos using NASA Earth Science visuals and themes. Here’s an excerpt from a sample Goddard video…

For more on the contest and other NASA Earth Day news, visit,


45 College and high school rocket teams from across the country gathered at the Marshall Space Flight Center for the 10th annual Student Launch Project. Activities included tours of the NASA field center and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, and the rocket fair, where students displayed the rockets and payloads they spent the previous school year designing and building, with mentoring help from NASA engineers. Student teams mingled to discuss the various aspects of their projects, and Marshall employees offered guidance about the designs and careers in science and technology.

Announcer: "… having to check down on pad 11 real quick…"

The event culminated in the launching of the rockets from Bragg Farms, just outside of Huntsville, streamed online by NASA-TV. The agency’s Academic Affairs office challenges each team to build a rocket with a viable payload, (anncr: 3-2-1-START…) then launch it as close as possible to an altitude of one mile. While they worked on their projects, the teams followed the same steps as a professional NASA engineer, taking stringent safety precautions and filing regular progress reports with their NASA mentor.

Jim Halsell, Veteran Astronaut, ATK Vice President: "These are new, fantastic kinds of opportunities that colleges and high schools are really starting to focus on, that is, just not learning from books, but also giving students the opportunity to get their hands dirty, to live and learn real life engineering lessons, both from the failures and from the successes and we’ve seen both today."

Team Knightrider from the University of Central Florida came closest to one mile in altitude, missing the mark by a mere 60 feet. Corporate sponsor ATK Aerospace Systems, builder of the space shuttle’s solid rocket boosters, provides a cash award to the university team scoring highest on the many different aspects of the Student Launch Projects, including post-launch analysis of rocket performance and payload.

For a complete list of award winners and participants, visit the Student Launch Projects home and facebook pages.

March madness continued into April, but it wasn’t basketball that had everyone excited in Richmond. Instead, it was hundreds of engineering-savvy high school students with a passion for robotics.

Sixty-three teams competed April 8-9 in the First Robotics Virginia Regional Tournament called “Logo Motion,” at the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center.

Students spent six weeks of intense work building and programming their robots so they could be ready for the competition and have a chance to compete on a national level.

Joey Ponthieux, NASA Knights Mentor: "The kids work really hard; the kids work incredibly hard - everybody here does, the mentors, everyone pitches in, you know there know there’s more people here than just fabricators and animators. There’s people here doing public affairs, there’s people doing buttons. It is a lot of stuff going on, a lot to do; it’s more than just building a robot."

When it came time to battle, teams worked together to fight for a win. Team spirit was everywhere.

Michael Snider/Triple Helix/Menchville High: "Teamwork is really important. If you don’t work well with a team, then you’re probably not going to do very well in a match."

The NASA Knights and Triple Helix, both sponsored by NASA Langley Research Center, both walked away from the Virginia Regional as winners.

Michael Snider: "I’d have to say that this year we’ve just kind of perfected how we play the game and everything, and we just really know what we’re doing when we get there. We say ok let’s do a functionality check every time we go to the pit, let’s do a functionality check. Make sure everything’s working. If something’s not working we take care of it. Then we just go back out there and keep playing and play the same game every time."

Now, it’s off to the tournament in St. Louis – where the NASA Knights and Triple Helix will seek a national championship.

They came from everywhere, braving Earthly thunderstorms and perhaps some intergalactic interference, to attend the third Yuri's Night Hampton Roads.

SOT: "Mowzer Johnson from the planet nebular."

Some not only dressed for the occasion, they also changed their appearance.

Jeneen Adamo: "It's inspired by Star Trek, Orion slave girls."

More than sixteen hundred aliens and earthlings celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the first spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin. The crowd at the Virginia Air & Space Center also paid homage to the thirtieth anniversary of the first space shuttle lift-off. A team of three honored the shuttle in a special way, one Lego block at a time.

Adam Miluzzis: "Construction officially started on January eleventh and it was finished about a couple of weeks ago and then of course I worked on software. There's about 8,000 pieces in total; that's an estimate. I didn’t really count them as I built."

Yuri's Night is billed as the world's biggest space party, with celebrations all over the globe.

This one, sponsored in part by NASA's Langley Research Center, featured dancing, and a spaced-out drill team and a reggae band.

Interwoven with the entertainment was the underlying message --- NASA and technology are cool.

Gary Qualls: "People are crazy interested. They didn't know robotics had gotten this easy and this cheap and available, basically to everyone."

Janice Bayer: "I just love all this space stuff, and love to dress up and see all the excellent demonstrations they have down there." Demonstrations that confirmed that space is an exciting destination worth exploring.

And that’s This Week @ NASA!

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