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This Week @ NASA, September 2, 2011
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This Week@NASA...

Just like with Hurricane Irene, NASA eyes in the sky have helped keep tabs on the progress of Katia, the latest storm on the radar of weather watchers. Making the first of its multiple flyovers of Katia on August 31, the International Space Station’s external cameras tracked the storm’s path across the Atlantic. NASA satellites and animators have also provided a wealth of imagery to keep scientists and the public informed about Katia’s path and its potential for destruction.

NASA’s NPP, the prototype for the next generation of Earth-observing satellites, has been delivered to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. NPP, for National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project, will look at the entire globe once a day. Its five scientific instruments will provide continuous observations of the Earth’s land, oceans, and atmosphere. Data from the satellite will support long-term monitoring of climate trends and global change studies. NPP will also assist in life-saving forecasts and warnings, and help emergency responders monitor and react to natural disasters.

Paul Newman: "There are a lot of changes happening in our atmosphere. The NPP satellite will continue in this series. It gives us real time information, and allows us to see how our atmosphere and the planet are changing."

NPP is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg on October 25.

The Federal Aviation Administration has granted Orbital Sciences Corp. a license to launch a NASA COTS program demonstration flight to the International Space Station early next year.

The Commercial Orbital Transportation Services demo will have Orbital launch its Taurus II rocket carrying an operational Cygnus cargo logistics spacecraft. The unpiloted craft will rendezvous with and operate near the ISS before it’s grappled with a robotic arm and berthed to the orbiting laboratory.

The 2011 mission of NASA’s Desert Research and Technology Studies analog program is underway. The two-week series of simulated human and robotic space exploration activities is, again, being held on extreme terrain some 40 miles north of Flagstaff, Arizona. This year, the Desert RATS team is investigating and developing realistic technical and mission-driven operations similar to that of an asteroid mission. A near-Earth asteroid is one destination NASA is considering for future exploration.

Initial work at its new location by NASA's Mars rover Opportunity shows key differences from previous studies the robot has conducted in its first seven-and-a-half years on the Red Planet. Opportunity arrived at Endeavour Crater last month. The first rock it examined, “Tisdale 2,” a flat-topped, footstool-size object.

Diana Blamey: "We’ve driven up to it, we’ve put the instruments on it; we’ve taken microscopic images of it which show that it’s what we call impact; it’s very angular; it’s a bunch of different rocks kind of all smashed together."

Apparently, it was unearthed by an impact that dug a tennis-court-size crater right into Endeavour’s rim.

Diana Blamey: "This is kind of like starting a whole new mission. We drove off the planes of Meridian where we’ve been for the last seven years onto to something that looks totally different."

Opportunity is in the eighth year of its 90-day mission.


Nancy Grace Roman: "The physics professor came up to me in lab one day and he said, you know I usually try to convince women not to go into physics, but I think maybe, you might make it."

Celebrated astrophysicist Nancy Grace Roman has a new NASA fellowship named in her honor. The Nancy Grace Roman Technology Fellowship in Astrophysics will help early-career researchers develop new technologies for investigating the origin and physics of the universe, as well as the skills necessary to lead future astrophysics projects and explanted explorations.

Nancy Grace Roman: "I had left teaching which I enjoyed and I wasn’t sure I wanted to leave research but I finally decided that the challenge of starting with a completely clean slate and mapping out a program which I thought would influence astronomy for 50 years was just more that I could turn down."

Roman, who was appointed NASA's first chief of astronomy in 1959, is widely regarded as the "Mother of the Hubble Space Telescope" for her role in its creation and development.

Launch Announcer: "3-2-1 and liftoff of the space shuttle Discovery with the Hubble Space Telescope, our window on the universe."

Nancy Grace Roman: "When the telescope was first launched, and we had the poor images and, at the same time, adaptive optics was becoming usable on the ground which gave us good images, I wondered had I really oversold the Hubble, and I have to admit that since then I’ve been convinced that I didn’t." (laughs)

Since retiring from NASA in 1979, Roman spends much of her time consulting, teaching and lecturing across the country as a passionate advocate for science. The first selection of the Nancy Grace Roman fellows will be announced next February.

Still images captured over a 14-year period by the Hubble Space Telescope have been transformed into movies that show new details about how stars are born. Strung together, the high-resolution Hubble images taken in 1994, 97, and 2007, show energetic jets of glowing gas ejected from two young stars. In turn, scientists are now performing laser experiments to recreate in the laboratory how these stellar jets interact with their surroundings.

Adam Frank: "We have a small tube, a few millimeters across, with a little washer on the end. And we take the laser energy and we strike the one side of the washer and that basically squirts plasma, very high temperature gas into the tube. So, the material in the washer becomes the jet, and the material in the tube becomes the cloud."

Scientists believe that understanding how stars form can tell us more about the origins of life here on Earth.

And now Centerpieces

The Johnson Space Center hosted almost 8,000 employees in a celebration of NASA’s 30-year Space Shuttle Program.

Charles Bolden: "Thanks very much; it’s a big night!"

The "Salute our Shuttle" event included comments from Administrator Charlie Bolden, Johnson Center Director, Mike Coats and other agency leaders who thanked the employees for their work on the shuttle, and underscored the importance of future programs such as the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services and the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle.

The program also included a T-38 flyover and a special retirement ceremony for each of the five space shuttle orbiter flags that had flown in front of JSC during their respective missions.

The event included a kid’s zone, food, tours of JSC facilities, and a concert by several bands, including Five for Fighting. (music up) And that’s This Week @NASA.

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