NASA TV's This Week @NASA, Week Ending Dec. 14

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NASA TV's This Week @NASA, Week Ending Dec. 14
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This Week at NASA …

January 10 is the new target launch date for space shuttle Atlantis and the start of its STS-122 mission to the International Space Station. The shuttle team continues to troubleshoot the problem that twice delayed Atlantis' launch in December. False readings in the sensor system that monitors fuel levels in the shuttle's huge external fuel tank forced scrubs on Dec. 6 and 9.

Three important discoveries about the Northern Lights have been made by the THEMIS constellation of five satellites. The Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions During Substorms spacecraft observed how eruptions of Northern Lights develop; confirmed the existence of giant magnetic ropes in these substorms; and saw small explosions on the outskirts of the Earth's magnetic field. Launched less than eight months ago, THEMIS hopes to shed more light on the nature of auroras like the Northern Lights and how the Earth's magnetosphere works.

The first year-round, global-scale view of "night-shining" clouds has been captured by NASA's Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere, or AIM satellite. These iridescent polar clouds that form 50 miles above Earth's surface have been changing in recent years, but scientists aren't sure why.

James Russell: "There are more of them than ever before. They are seen at lower latitudes than ever before and they are brighter. And we don’t know why any of this is occurring."

The AIM mission is the first dedicated to studying these "night-shining" clouds.

The Voyager 2 spacecraft has followed its twin spacecraft into the final frontier of our solar system. This vast region at the edge of our planetary system, called the heliosheath, is where the solar wind meets the thin gas between the stars. Taking a different path than Voyager 1, Voyager 2 has crossed the boundary of the heliosheath billions of miles closer to the sun. This shows our solar system is "dented" and not perfectly round, thanks to the magnetic field between the stars in that area. Both Voyager spacecraft were launched in 1977 and continue to return data from distances more than three times farther away than Pluto.

The team leading the GRACE mission has been awarded the prestigious William T. Pecora Award. The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment mission uses twin satellites to make precise gravity-field measurements to study changes on Earth. Among other achievements, GRACE has made the first uniform measurement of changes in Greenland's and Antarctic ice mass, and monthly estimates of water accumulation in the world's river basins. The Pecora award is given annually by NASA and the Department of the Interior for helping scientists better understand our home planet.

NASA received the Jules Verne Award for Human and Historical Achievement at the Jules Verne Adventure Film Festival in Los Angeles. The award honors those who dare to dream and advance new frontiers. Accepting for the agency was Dr. Charles Elachi, center director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Expedition 16 commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineers Dan Tani and Yuri Malenchencko aboard the International Space Station.

And that's This Week At NASA!
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