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This Week @ NASA, May 11, 2012
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This Week at NASA…

The Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying Expedition 31 Soyuz Commander Gennady Padalka, NASA Flight Engineer Joe Acaba and Flight Engineer Sergei Revin is shown launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station.

There, Padalka, Acaba and Revin are joining up with their Expedition 31 crewmates already aboard the ISS, Commander Oleg Kononenko, NASA Flight Engineer Don Pettit and European Space Agency Flight Engineer Andre Kuipers; they’ve been on the outpost since December.

SpaceX continues its preparations for the launch of Falcon 9 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The Falcon 9 rocket will send aloft the unmanned Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, where it will be grappled remotely by the Expedition 31 crew. The SpaceX mission, now scheduled to launch on the morning of May 19, will be the first commercial venture to the ISS.

Administrator Charlie Bolden headed a delegation of senior NASA leadership that met with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to discuss international cooperation in space.

Presented by Bolden with a montage of mementos flown on STS-135, the final space shuttle mission, Prime Minister Noda said he wants to excite young people about careers exploring space, noting his envy of five meeting attendees who’d actually done that.

“Which is also telling us something fundamental…”

The first global analysis by the Dawn spacecraft of Vesta has uncovered some interesting new findings about the giant asteroid.

Carol Raymond, DAWN Principal Investigator: “We now know that Vesta is the only intact layered planetary building block surviving from the very earliest days of the solar system. Vesta exhibits many characteristics that define it more as a body that is transitional between asteroids and planets than being more like your garden variety asteroid. Vesta is special because it survived the intense collisional environment of the main asteroid belt for billions of years allowing us to interrogate a key witness to the events at the very beginning of the solar system.”

Dawn has also confirmed that a certain class of meteorites found here on Earth originally came from Vesta, making Dawn the first "reverse" sample return mission in space exploration history.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured these photos of a powerfully active region of the Sun called 1476 that’s more than 60,000 miles across. This so-called Monster sunspot has released multiple large flares. Sunspots occur where the magnetic field lines emerge from the inside of the Sun to form expanding loops above its surface. They appear dark because temperatures are considerably lower than in surrounding areas. SDO is the first launched mission in NASA's Living With a Star Program designed to understand the causes of solar variability and its impacts on Earth.

“Save at the innovative process and government’s role in it.”

“That’s a great way to frame the problem because I think that’s exactly the question.”

NASA Chief Technologist Mason Peck offered his take on the role of research and development in revitalizing the nation’s economic future in a special innovation summit held at Washington’s Reagan National Airport. Sponsored by the Atlantic Monthly magazine, Peck’s panel discussed how investment in American R&D and manufacturing benefits our economy.

Mason Peck, NASA Chief Technologist: “When you pose difficult problems such as sending humans to Mars, which is on NASA’s plate right now – when you pose those kinds of problems and you put American industry to work and academia to work on those problems, you get innovation.”

Researchers with the Mars Science Laboratory Project at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory recently took science journalists on a two-day field trip and workshop to California’s Mojave Desert. The journalists were shown sedimentary rock exposures that, like those the Curiosity rover will study on Mars, reveal to scientists the history of their environment.

John Grotzinger, Mars Science Laboratory Principal Investigator: The hard part is how to extract the information in the rock, so that’s what everybody is learning to do here, is how to make measurements. We measure the thickness of the beds, we measure the grain size, we look at the mineralogy as best as we can understand it and we record all of this information and then from that, it will eventually allow us to reconstruct what kind of environment was here.”

“Liftoff of the Atlas V with Curiosity – seeking clues to the planetary puzzle about life on Mars.”

The MSL spacecraft, carrying Curiosity, was launched Nov. 26, 2011 and is scheduled for an August 2012 landing on Mars at a site known as Gale Crater.

A full-scale test version of NASA’s Orion spacecraft has arrived at the Virginia Air & Space Center in Hampton, where it will be on display through the summer. The 18-thousand pound test vehicle, built at the nearby Langley Research Center, was used in the successful Pad Abort 1test of Orion’s launch abort system in May 2010.

NASA’s first space-bound Orion capsule will undergo an un-crewed Exploration Flight Test-1 planned for 2014. EFT-1 will see Orion travel farther into space than any human-rated spacecraft has gone in more than 40 years.

SUTTER’S MILL REVISITED – ARC (CP) Jesse Carpenter Reporting
Recently, a team of scientists and volunteers from NASA Ames Research Center searched for debris left in the wake of a large meteor that plummeted into Northern California on April 22, 2012.

To expedite their search, researchers enlisted the services of an airship called “Eureka” for an airborne survey of the debris field. During a five hour flight, they searched a 300-square mile area. They used a sophisticated video camera system that is commonly used to cover sporting events.

Researcher were also conducting ground surveys to look for fragments. Within days, a NASA team was able to find and identify a fragment as a type of meteorite known as a carbonaceous chondrite.

Peter Jenniskens, Meteor Astronomer, SETI Institute: “It is a really special meteorite because this particular one contains the goodies that scientists are interested in – the amino acids – all of the compounds that could have made life possible on our planet.”

Because meteorite fragments will quickly degrade when exposed to the elements, the rush to find them as soon as possible began. One of the larger fragments was discovered in the de Hass family pasture.

Merv de Haas, Property Owner / Meteorite Donor: “I’m glad you found it there and I’m glad it’s a piece that’s going to be valuable to science and I’m looking forward to hearing some of the results from it.”

Along with the de Haas fragment, over 20 specimens have been recovered. Some of the largest are now undergoing tests in a lab at Ames Research Center. This discovery could provide clues as to what our planet may have been made from and how life could have begun on Earth.

About 50 followers of NASA's social media websites got an up-close-and-personal, behind-the-scenes look at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center during a "NASA Social" on May 4. The social media visitors, along with several news media representatives, were briefed on what Dryden is and does by center management, project engineers and technicians.

“We’re responsible for that collision avoidance stewardship throughout aviation.”

They also toured various facilities, viewed research and support aircraft, had their photos taken in the cockpit of a NASA F/A-18, and were even regaled by a low-level flyover…

and a sonic boom…

during the day-long event. The NASA Social attendees responded by posting hundreds of "tweets" and comments about their experience on their Twitter, Facebook and Google-Plus accounts.

National Take Our Children to Work Day was upbeat and full of energy for students and children of Marshall Space Flight Center employees.

“Alright now as you can see filling the rocket with air pressure – and that’s the action – all of the pressure builds (launch sound) – there it goes! Liftoff is the reaction.”

Performers in the educational show FMA Live! brought Sir Isaac Newton's laws of motion to life for the potential future scientists and engineers! FMA Live! -- created by NASA and Honeywell International -- is an award-winning, traveling hip-hop science program designed to inspire elementary and middle school students to pursue studies in science, technology, engineering and math by using interactive demonstrations in an entertaining way.

Allen Chen, Lead-Entry, Descent and Landing Operations, Mars Science Laboratory: “I’m Allen Chen; I’m the operations lead on the Entry, Descent and Landing team for the Mars Science Laboratory project.

“Right now I’m coordinating our preparations for entry, descent and landing. We land in August, a few months from now and we’re still hurrying to get all our stuff ready to make sure that we’re ready to take the plunge. I’ll be telling people exactly what the spacecraft is doing, you know roughly where it is and what it’s telling us is going on during EDL.

“My parents always displayed an example that education never stops. You always want to learn as much as you can and it doesn’t stop when you leave the classroom. My parents added new skills while I was still in high school and you know they got other degrees and a lot of the times it was just for fun.

“This is a type of mission and type of project and type of thing that we do here that no one person can do by themselves. So you got to work with a lot people and learning how to work with those people is just as important as learning those basics in science and math. That’s kind of the starting point but to grow beyond that you need to be able to work with people.

“There’s a kind of exploration that we do here that can’t be done anywhere else. There’s certainly other places where you’re doing things to make money or you’re doing things related to exploration, but here the entire point of the place is about exploration. So I think I finally came to that realization sometime in late high school or early college that this is the type of place I want to be at.”

Fifteen years ago, on May 15, 1997, Space Shuttle Atlantis launched from the Kennedy Space Center on STS-84. The mission was the sixth shuttle docking to the Russian Mir space station, exchanging astronaut Mike Foale for U.S. crew member Jerry Linenger, who’d spent 123 days there. Rounding out the Atlantis crew were commander Charlie Precourt, a 2012 inductee into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, Pilot Eileen Collins and Mission Specialists Carlos Noriega, Ed Lu, Jean-Francois Clervoy of the European Space Agency and Elena Kondakova of Russia.

And, May 16 marks the one-year anniversary of the launch of STS-134 – the final spaceflight of Space Shuttle Endeavour. NASA’s youngest orbiter lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center at 8:56 a.m. EDT to the International Space Station, carrying with it the six-person crew of Commander Mark Kelly, Pilot Greg Johnson, and Mission Specialists Mike Fincke, Drew Feustel, Greg Chamitoff and Roberto Vittori.

The 14-day mission delivered the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), the Express Logistics Carrier-3, a high-pressure gas tank and spare parts for other station hardware. STS-134 was the 36th, and next-to-last shuttle mission to the International Space Station.

And that’s This Week @ NASA!

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