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This Week @ NASA, November 2, 2012
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This Week at NASA…



(nat sound: person on boat) “Splash down, splash down.”

The SpaceX Dragon capsule that splashed down Sunday in the Pacific off Mexico’s Baja California coast is back on dry land. Its recovery ship returned the spacecraft to San Pedro, California, laden with more than 3-quarters of a ton of cargo from the International Space Station. Much of what Dragon brought back was from science experiments conducted on the station that’ll benefit us here on Earth, as well as provide critical data about how long-duration spaceflight affects the human body. Not since the space shuttle have NASA and its international partners been able to return considerable amounts of research and samples to Earth for analyses.



(nat sound: Capcom) “Suni you’re going to remove the cover carefully and restrain it on the Nadir side.”

Back on, or, outside the ISS, Expedition 33 Commander Suni Williams of NASA and Flight Engineer Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency “went EVA.” The pair bypassed an ammonia leak in one of the station’s coolant lines. The leak, which began slowly in 2007, had grown recently. The spacewalk was the 166th on the station, and the third since August by Williams and Hoshide.



Space Shuttle Endeavour debuted at its temporary display pavilion in a grand opening ceremony hosted by the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Endeavour will make its permanent home at the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center now under construction at the CSC. Among those attending the ceremony were astronauts, public officials and local school children, many of whom it’s hoped will be inspired by Endeavour to join our next generation of explorers and scientists.



Meanwhile, Atlantis, the last NASA space shuttle to fly in space, also became the last to be officially retired. Beginning at the Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building, Atlantis rolled the ten miles to the KSC Visitor Complex where it will go on permanent public display. The orbiter stopped along the route for its retirement ceremony.

(SOT: Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator)
“America still leads the world in exploration and we’re building on the many fine accomplishments of the space shuttle program to take us where we have not gone before, to places where our imagination and our aspiration tells us we can go if we channel the passions that built and launched Atlantis and create a new day.”

(SOT: Bob Cabana, Kennedy Space Center Director)
“It is my sincere hope that one day some young boy or girl is going to look at Atlantis and it’s going spark that dream of exploration in space.”

NASA retains Atlantis’s title. The public can see it at the visitor complex, where a grand opening for Atlantis’s new “space” is planned for next July.



Meanwhile, the Kennedy Space Center continues its modernization and refurbishment as the spaceport of the future. The large space shuttle-era work platforms have been removed from high bay 3 of Kennedy’s Vehicle Assembly Building. That’s part of the center-wide effort to accommodate NASA’s Space Launch System and a variety of other spacecraft. When updating is complete, KSC will safely process, assemble, transport and launch NASA’s next generation of rockets and spacecraft.


NASA researchers, project managers and program leads gathered in Huntsville for the first annual review of the Technology Demonstration Missions. TDMs bridge the gap between laboratory development of revolutionary, cross-cutting technologies and their practical demonstration in the space environment.

(SOT: John Mcdougal, Manager, Technology Demonstration Mission Program Office)
“These accomplishments included the MEDLI experiment that flew in on the Mars Science Laboratory, the Human Exploration Robotic Technology experiment on space station that was the Robonaut and the Spheres demonstration and several other accomplishments that we had.”



(SOT: David Bish, Co-investigator, MSL CheMin Instrument)
Hi, I'm David Bish, co-investigator on the CheMin instrument on the Mars Science Laboratory and this is your Curiosity rover update.

We have been spending some time in an area called Rocknest, and this week we delivered a scoop of a dune to Curiosity. CheMin performs X-ray diffraction measurements on powdered rocks and soil samples. An X-ray diffraction is the best method for telling us what minerals are present in a rock or a soil because it is sensitive to the arrangements of atoms in minerals.

As the X-rays strike the soil sample, CheMin shows us how mineral crystals distinctively interact with X-rays, and this image shows us our first X-ray diffraction results. The diffraction signals appear on the detector as rings that represent the fingerprint of the minerals. The rings tell us not only what minerals are present in the soil and but also how abundant they are.

The CheMin data provide us distinctive signatures of the minerals plagioclase feldspar, pyroxenes, and olivine. Peridot is a variety of olivine. Just keep in mind that the olivine in the soil sample is much smaller than these crystals. Roughly half of the soil consists of poorly crystalline material, such as volcanic glass.

Thus, this Martian soil appears very similar to some weathered basaltic soils that we see on Earth, in places like the flanks of Mauna Kea, Hawaii. You can appreciate how revolutionary CheMin is when you consider that instruments of this type on Earth are typically about the size of a double-wide refrigerator and the CheMin instrument on the Mars Science Laboratory is about the size of a shoebox. CheMin has been modified for use on Earth in places such as Antarctica and the Arctic. It’s also been applied for detection of counterfeit pharmaceuticals around the world and a modification of the instrument has been used in archeological studies to help us understand the nature of surfaces and how might we protect them.

In the coming weeks and months, we’re excited to measure more X-ray diffraction data on soils and rocks to tell us more about the geology of Gale Crater.

This has been your Curiosity rover report. Stay tuned for futher updates.


Marshall Space Flight Center astrophysicist Dr. Chryssa Kouveliotou has been selected by Time Magazine as one of the twenty-five most influential people in space. A NASA astrophysicist since 2004, Kouveliotou is an associated scientist of NASA’s Swift mission; a member of the NuSTAR Science Team; and, co-investigator on the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor, an instrument flying aboard NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.


As for Fermi, astronomers using data from the Gamma-ray Space Telescope have made the most accurate measurement of starlight in the universe and used it to establish the total amount of light from all the stars that have ever shone. Light from stars that have stopped shining still travels throughout the universe, creating a sort of cosmic fog. By measuring average amounts of gamma radiation generated by black-hole-fueled galaxies traveling through this fog over the past 9-point-six billion years, astronomers can estimate the fog’s thickness, or density. That comes to 1-point-4 stars per 100 billion cubic light years. Or, in other words, the average distance between each star is 4,150 light years.

LRO EXHIBIT AT GODDARD – (CP) GSFC - Michelle Handleman Reporting

The Visitor Center at Goddard Space Flight Center is celebrating its newest exhibit --- a replica of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter that is circling the moon. The LRO team at Goddard spent more than a year refurbishing this mechanical prototype to make it look exactly like the spacecraft in orbit – right down to the thermal blankets.

(SOT: Dr. Richard Vondrak / LRO Project Scientist)
“This is a wonderfully exciting day. It’s an exhibit that tells the LRO story and NASA’s story very well and we expect that this will be a real attraction for visitors to Goddard.”

The interactive exhibit allows visitors to browse the images LRO has captured, learn about the mission and meet the team. Launched in 2009, LRO has captured some of the most detailed images ever taken of the lunar landscape providing scientists with critical data about Earth’s closest neighbor.

(SOT:Lora Bleacher / LRO Education Team)
“It’s not a place that, you know, we’ve been there and that’s it. It’s a place that we need to continue to explore and learn about because it can tell us so much about our entire solar system.”

The information LRO is returning will help scientists identify resources for future exploration and scientific research of the moon.

NASA ANNIVERSARY: Launch of Mariner 10, November 3, 1973

Thirty-nine years ago, on November 3, 1973, Mariner 10, the seventh successful launch in the Mariner series of spacecraft, was sent into space at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Mariner 10 became the first spacecraft to visit Mercury, the first to use the gravitational pull of one planet to reach another and the first to visit two planets, Mercury and Venus. Mariner 10 measured each planet’s environment, atmosphere, surface, and body characteristics. Data from Mariner 10 was used to help plan NASA’s current MESSENGER mission.

And that’s This Week @NASA.

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