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This Week @ NASA, September 28, 2012
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This Week at NASA…



October 7 is the launch date for SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft on the first commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station. This will be the first of 12 contracted flights by SpaceX to resupply the space station under the Commercial Resupply Services contract and will restore an American capability to transport cargo to and from the orbiting laboratory. Dragon will be sent aloft from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. A back up launch opportunity is available on Oct. 8.

CURIOSITY ROVER UPDATE– JPL (CP) Sanjeev Gupta Reporting


Sanjeev Gupta, MSL Science Planner: Hello, my name is Sanjeev Gupta and I am a long term planner for the Mars Curiosity rover. This is your Curiosity rover update.

We’ve now been on Mars for almost 2 months and we have been witnessing the amazing new vistas of the never-before-seen Gale landscape taken with our wonderful cameras. However, much of the science team have had their eyes and the rover's eyes FIRMLY focused on the ground.

Looking at the ground, the team have made an interesting discovery. On the drive from the Bradbury landing site to our current location we have been analyzing 3 interesting outcrops that are called Goulburn, Link, and Hottah.

If we look at the Hottah outcrop, we can see a distinct layer that has been tilted and eroded and this allows us to look at a cross-section through the layer.

When we looked at the layer with our high-resolution Mastcam camera we found that it was comprised of sand grains and small pebbles that had become cemented to form a hard layer. Here you can see a pebble that is 3 cm in diameter so smaller than a ping pong ball. This suggests that this layer is an ancient gravel deposit.

The surprising thing is that when we looked at the pebbles closely, we discovered that many of them were quite well rounded. This is very different to the many angular clasts that litter the surface.

Here, you can see a rounded pebble from a riverbed on Earth. On Earth rounded pebbles are a common tell tale sign of rocks that have been transported by water, for example in a river or stream.

As water flows over a riverbed, if the flow strength is great enough, the pebbles are lifted up into the flow or rolled along the riverbed and they become pounded or battered against each other and this causes them to become rounded through time.

The size of the pebbles tells us that these rocks could not have been transported by wind action so it seems clear that they must have been transported by water.

So how did this pebble deposit get to be here? If we look more broadly in Gale Crater, we can see that there is a prominent feature that geologists call an alluvial fan.

Alluvial fans are cone-shaped deposits of gravel and sand that accumulate where streams exit mountains. In Gale crater, there is a 10 km long fan formed at the mouth of 30 m deep canyon that is derived from the crater rim. On the fan itself we can see evidence for multiple channels suggesting that the streambed direction changed through time.

When we look at the location of the Curiosity landing site with respect to the alluvial fan we can see that the rover landed downstream of the fan. The rounded pebbles likely represent long distance transport down the alluvial fan.

So this is really exciting news for the science team because this is the first time we’re seeing gravel transported by water on the surface of Mars.

This has been another exhilarating week for Curiosity on Mars and for the scientists here in Pasadena.

This has been your Curiosity rover report. Check back for more updates.



The next crew slated to live aboard the International Space Station continues to ready itself for the mission. Expedition 33/34 Soyuz Commander Oleg Novitskiy of the Russian Federal Space Agency, NASA Flight Engineer Kevin Ford and Russian Flight Engineer Evgeny Tarelkin took a break from training to field questions from the news media at the Gargarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia. They also participated in traditional ceremonies in Moscow’s Red Square. The trio will ride a Soyuz spacecraft to the ISS in mid-October, where they’ll join Expedition 33 Commander Suni Williams of NASA, Flight Engineer Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Russian Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko.



Space shuttle Endeavour is back on the ground following its removal from NASA 905, the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft that transported Endeavour from Kennedy Space Center to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

Following its “demating” from the modified 747, Endeavour was moved into a United Airlines hangar, where it will be prepped for its two-day journey through the streets of Inglewood and Los Angeles to its new home at the California Science Center.

Endeavour, the youngest of NASA’s five space shuttles, was rolled out of the Palmdale, California Assembly plant in April 1991, and flew the first of its 25 missions the next year.



Astronomers compiled 10 years worth of photographs taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to make the Extreme Deep Field or XDF, the deepest image ever taken of our universe. It builds on the work done in the 2003 timeframe when the Ultra Deep Field image revealed distant galaxies that offer clues into the earliest times of the universe. The XDF, is a small patch of the sky that reveals about 5000 galaxies but is only a fraction of the entire universe. It gives us a glimpse of galaxies about 450 million years after the Big Bang.


The Goddard Space Flight Center recently took delivery of the first two of 18 beryllium primary mirror segments for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado, shipped the two mirrors in custom containers. The remaining 16 mirrors will likewise make their way from Boulder to Goddard over the next 12 months and will be integrated into the telescope in 2015. The Webb, NASA’s next Great Observatory, is on track for launch in October 2018.



This artist’s illustration, based in part on data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, indicates that our Milky Way Galaxy is surrounded by an enormous halo of hot gas. Extending hundreds of thousands of light years, this hot-gas halo has a mass comparable to that of all the stars in the Milky Way, and a temperature much hotter than previously believed. The illustration shows the halo in blue, along with the Milky Way and two neighboring galaxies, the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds.



“And welcome to the Kennedy Space Center’s 50th Anniversary Gala.”

The Kennedy Space Center and the National Space Club Florida Committee marked KSC’s fiftieth anniversary with a gala in the Visitor Complex’s Apollo/Saturn V Center.

With “Celebrating the Past and Preparing for the Future” as their theme, some 650 current and former NASA employees, dignitaries and guests noted Kennedy’s achievements of the last five decades while discussing the center’s next chapter as a hub of commercial spaceflight.

Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator: “The Kennedy Space Center is synonymous with humankind’s greatest achievements in exploration of the Universe. Kennedy and its adjacent Cape Canaveral sites were the launch pads for Alan Shepard’s first flight, John Glenn’s first orbit of Earth and Neil Armstrong’s first small step.”

Bob Cabana, Kennedy Space Center Director: “Throughout those 50 years there’s been on common theme, and that’s an insatiable desire to explore, to send humans and robotic spacecraft beyond the confines of our home planet.”


More than 1,700 people got an inside peek at the programs and projects at Marshall Space Flight Center during its Innovation & Technology Day. The event included a technology expo with more than 70 booths of interactive displays, exhibits and demonstrations showcasing the latest trends and initiatives in the areas of information technology, engineering, science programs and projects. Innovation & Technology Day was hosted by Marshall’s Chief Information Officer and the Office of Strategic Analysis & Communications.


The moon took center stage for stargazers around the world during International Observe the Moon Night.

Ames was one of the NASA Centers hosting events. Astronomers with NASA's Lunar Science Institute held discussions and presentations while amateur astronomers and astronomy clubs set up telescopes for public viewing. The moon appeared as “half-full” in what is known as a “first quarter” moon, which is ideal for viewing.

Spaceflight Anniversary: Launch of Sputnik 1 – October 4, 1957

Sputnik 1, the first artificial Earth satellite was launched into an elliptical low Earth orbit by the Soviet Union fifty-five years ago on October 4, 1957. The surprise launch precipitated the American Sputnik crisis, began the Space Age and triggered the Space Race, a part of the larger Cold War.

Sputnik was also scientifically valuable. The density of the upper atmosphere could be deduced from its drag on the orbit, and its radio signals, monitored by amateur radio operators worldwide, gave information about the ionosphere. After about 37 million miles and 3 months in orbit Sputnik 1 fell back to Earth and burned up in the atmosphere on January 4, 1958.

NASA Anniversary: Schirra Makes Six Orbits in Sigma 7 – October 3, 1962

“Liftoff the clock has started.”

Fifty years ago on October 3, 1962 NASA Astronaut Wally Schirra orbited the Earth six times in the Sigma 7 spacecraft. The Mercury-Atlas 8 (MA-8) mission was the fifth United States manned space mission. The nine-hour flight focused mainly on technical evaluation and was the longest U.S. manned orbital flight to date in the Space Race. The flight confirmed the Mercury spacecraft's durability ahead of Gordon Cooper’s one-day Mercury-Atlas 9 mission the next year.



Langley Research Center Director Lesa Roe accepted a “Bridge Builder” award on behalf of NASA during the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s annual Hispanic Gala. The award recognizes Langley’s efforts to improve the connection between the Hispanic community and the community at large and its contributions to inspire Hispanic youth via STEM educational outreach efforts in Virginia and throughout the country. Also presented with a Bridge Builder award was Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, who is the first Hispanic woman to serve as a United States Cabinet member.

Hilda Solis, U.S. Secretary of Labor: “No matter where you come from, no matter what zip code, no matter what side of the aisle or even railroad – what side of the tracks you were born on. There are great possibilities in this country.”

And that’s This Week @NASA.

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