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This Week @ NASA, August 17, 2012
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This Week at NASA…

President Obama: “It is great to talk to all of you and I just wanted you to know that we could not be more excited.”

At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Mars Curiosity flight control team took a few minutes from tending to NASA’s newest Red Planet rover to receive a special congratulatory phone call from President Barack Obama who was aboard AIR FORCE ONE.

President Obama: “What you’ve accomplished embodies the American Spirit and your passion and your commitment is making a difference and your hard work is now paying dividends, because our expectation is that Curiosity is going to be telling us things that we did not know before and laying the groundwork for an even more audacious undertaking in the future and that’s a human mission to the Red Planet.”

JPL Director Charles Elachi thanked the President for his praise – and echoed the commander-in-chief’s hope that the excitement generated by the mission would help inspire a sense of exploration among younger generations.

Charles Elachi, Center Director, Jet Propulsion Laboratory: “On behalf of all of us at NASA, we thank you for taking the time to give us a call and hopefully we inspired some of the millions of young people who were watching this landing.”

The president also emphasized that this mission is an international effort – offering gratitude to several of the countries that have contributed science instruments and expertise to aid Curiosity’s quest for evidence of microbial life on Mars.

President Obama: “Spain, Russia, Germany, Japan, Canada, Italy, Australia … all of them contributed to the instrumentation that Curiosity landed on the Martian surface.”

The rover team continues to transition Curiosity to a state of readiness for roving the Martian surface. Here’s a quick report from JPL on what’s been happening since Curiosity’s landing.

MARS ROVER REPORT – JPL (CP) Bobak Ferdowsi Reporting
Hi I’m Bobak Ferdowsi, flight director with the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity and this is your Curiosity Rover Update.

This week, we did a color panorama surrounding the rover with both the Mastcam, in addition to the Navcams, and we also upgraded the software on board on both computers of the rover this week.

This new software is like having new applications with new functionalities on the rover to allow us to do mobility, deploy the arm and get to the science we’re looking forward to on the mission.

We also did a series of instrument checkouts. Those included the ChemCam instrument, The CheMin instrument, RAD science, REMS, APXS, SAM and the additional cameras on the rover, including the MAHLI instrument.

We also downlinked some MARDI high-resolution data images. Those are from the descent imager.

Coming up this week, we’ll be using the ChemCam to zap targets for the first time. We’ll also be deploying the arm and we’ll be checking the mobility system by doing what we call a rover bump, or a short drive.

Astronomers have found an extraordinary galaxy cluster, one of the largest objects in the universe, that is breaking several important cosmic records. Observations of the Phoenix cluster, located about 5.7 billion light years from Earth, with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, the National Science Foundation's South Pole Telescope, and eight other world-class observatories may force astronomers to rethink how these colossal structures and the galaxies that inhabit them evolve.

Stars are forming in the Phoenix cluster at the highest rate ever observed for the middle of a galaxy cluster. The object also is the most powerful producer of X-rays of any known cluster and among the most massive. The data also suggest the rate of hot gas cooling in the central regions of the cluster is the largest ever observed.

Because of their tremendous size, galaxy clusters are crucial objects for studying cosmology and galaxy evolution, so finding one with such extreme properties like the Phoenix cluster is important.

Aboard the International Space Station, expedition 32 Commander Gennady Padalka and Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency ventured outside the Pirs airlock on a spacewalk to install debris shields on the Zvezda service module. The two also moved a telescoping cargo crane from Pirs to the Zarya module.

The excursion is one of two station EVAs slated for August. On August 30, NASA Flight Engineer Suni Williams and Flight Engineer Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency are scheduled to egress the Quest airlock for a 6 1/2-hour spacewalk to perform electrical work on the truss and install cables for a future Russian laboratory module. It will be Hoshide's first spacewalk and the third for a Japanese astronaut.

ORION CHUTE RECOVERY – JSC (CP) Josh Byerly Reporting
While NASA’s teams have been taking a close look at how Orion’s parachutes behave as the 20,000-pound spacecraft descends through the sky, they’ve also been investigating another challenge: How do you recover parachutes that are 100-feet-wide from the water?

NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center in Houston was the setting as these teams took some of Orion’s drogue and main parachutes and dunked them in the water. They were noting how long the chutes stayed afloat, and the best ways to get ‘em out of the water and into a boat. Each one of the main chutes weighs close to 300 pounds; the water doubles that weight. So testing ways of handling them – and doing it safely – is important.

Chris Johnson, Orion Parachute Project Engineer: “We learn every time we do a parachute test of something. We find ways to improve the parachute design, so that when we finally fly the parachute system for human space flight, it’s a safe and reliable system.”

The Orion team was joined by members of the United States NAVY, as well as the recovery forces that will work Exploration Flight Test -1; Orion’s first unmanned test flight scheduled for 2014. That flight will send Orion more than 3600 miles into space, reaching speeds of more than 20,000 miles per hour, and returning for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. This recovery testing on Orion’s parachutes and the capsule itself will continue during the lead up to EFT-1. Orion also has more drop tests planned at the Langley Research Center and parachute tests at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Grounds later this month.

Thomas H. Zurbuchen, University of Michigan: “The decade we believe will be one of discovery and one of new and innovative approaches and tools –things that we will develop.”

The National Research Council has released its second decadal survey in solar and space physics, or heliophysics. The broad-based assessment identifies the highest scientific priorities of the U.S. solar and space physics research enterprise for the next ten years.

Daniel N. Baker, University of Colorado: “It’s truly national in scope, it’s really intended to talk about NASA, NSF, NOAA, DOD – all of the investments that are being made in solar and space physics in various ways.”

Requested by NASA and the National Science Foundation, this “decadal survey” follows the NRC’s previous survey in solar and space physics.

Acting Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot and Langley Research Center Director Lesa Roe joined others at a Headquarters recognition ceremony for contributors to a new FlexBook developed by NASA and the non-profit education organization, CK-12. A Flexbook is an open source textbook that can be customized and evolve with the changing needs of a user – and help maximize STEM teaching and learning in grades K-12.

Robert Lightfoot, NASA Acting Associate Administrator: “As we challenge the boundaries of everything – all of the technologies that we need to do that, we’ve got to have the modeling and simulation to allow us to deal with those uncertainties in the environments we’re going to face, the temperatures, the pressures – all of the different things that our spacecraft are going to see. Hopefully this project will help lead to us having that workforce we’re going to need in the future.”

The new FlexBook, entitled Modeling and Simulation for High School Teachers: Principles, Problems, and Lesson Plans, is set for broad release this month.

HS3 – WFF (CP) Patrick Black Reporting
An upcoming mission to study the development of Atlantic hurricanes using unmanned aerial vehicles based at the Wallops Flight Facility was discussed during a public presentation at the facility’s Visitor Center. The Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) is a five-year mission specifically targeted to investigate the processes that underlie hurricane formation and intensity change in the Atlantic Ocean basin.

Marilyn Vasques, HS3 project manager, Ames Research Center: “If we can understand more about the storms then we can predict that better. We can get people out of harm’s way, we can not evacuate people when they don’t need to evacuate, and we can save human lives by making sure that everyone’s informed and has the best information possible.”

HS3 will use two NASA Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles, one with an instrument suite geared toward measurement of the environment and the other with instruments suited to inner-core structure and processes. The aircraft are capable of flight altitudes greater than 55,000 feet and flight durations of up to 30 hours. More than 200 people will be involved in preparing and supporting the aircraft, flight planning and aircraft coordination and conducting the science data collection.

Marilyn Vasques, HS3 project manager, Ames Research Center: “It’s the volume of data that really makes it unique. And the scientists are all going to be working together and communicating and even showing real time data during the mission to help them understand what they’re seeing, and communicate while they’re doing their evaluation. All this stuff is going to be fed into models that can help us better predict storms.”

In addition to the 2012 mission, the project also will be conducted from Wallops in 2013 and 2014, providing sustained measurements over several years due to the limited sampling opportunities in any given hurricane season.

Smokey Bear visited the Johnson Space Center to celebrate both his 68th birthday and a Space Act agreement between NASA and the U.S. Forest Service. JSC Deputy Director Ellen Ochoa, astronaut Mike Fossum and others rolled out the red carpet for Smokey and members of both the U.S. and the Texas Forest Service – complete with a tour of Mission Control and birthday cake. Smokey also met Robonaut and its designers, and made a special stop at the JSC Child Care center to talk about fire prevention and to plant a tree to symbolize the partnership between NASA and the Forest Service.

NASA Anniversary: Launch of Voyager 2 – August 20, 1977
On August 20, the Voyager 2 spacecraft chalks up another year of exploration. Thirty-five years ago on that date Voyager 2 launched from Cape Canaveral to explore Jupiter and Saturn. After a string of discoveries at those planets the mission of Voyager 2 and its twin Voyager 1, launched less than a month later, was extended to the outer planets of Uranus and Neptune. The duo’s current campaign, the Voyager Interstellar Mission – is helping NASA reach beyond the outer planets to the “Heliosheath”, the outermost layer of the heliosphere where the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of interstellar gas. This extended mission continues to characterize the outer solar system environment and search for the heliopause boundary, the outer limits of the Sun's magnetic field and outward flow of the solar wind.

NASA Anniversary: The “Ride Report” released – August 17, 1987
Twenty-five years ago, in 1987 the late Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space headed a group at NASA Headquarters that completed an assessment of NASA's options beyond the space station. On August 17 of that year NASA released that group’s report, "Leadership and America's Future in Space” which came to be known as the “Ride Report”. The document recommended major programs to study earth sciences with powerful orbiting sensors and exploration of the solar system with new generations of robotic probes.

And that’s This Week @NASA.

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