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NASA TV's This Week @NASA, December 3, 2010
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This Week at NASA…


Felisa Wolfe-Simon: "I'd like to introduce to you today to the bacterium GFAJ-1."

A team of NASA-funded researchers has discovered a bacterium that can live and grow without phosphate salt, an essential building block for life as we know it. The bacterium, from the toxic and briny Mono Lake in California, was also shown to sustain itself and grow on the toxic chemical, arsenic. This is the first microorganism known to thrive this way and will change how scientists search for life in space.

Felisa Wolfe-Simon: "I’ve led a team that has discovered a microbe that can substitute arsenic for phosphorus in its major biomolecules, but let me step back for a minute. All life that we know of requires carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur and it uses those six elements in some of the critical pieces I think we’re all familiar with including: DNA and RNA or the information technology of the cell, the proteins which are the molecular machines and the lipids which separates you from everything else. And so, we‘ve discovered an organism which can substitute one element for another in these major biomolecules."

Pamela Conrad: "With respect to space exploration, this is a very interesting result again because the implication is that we still don’t know everything there is to know about what would make a habitable environment on another planet, or a satellite of another planet; we have to increasingly broaden our perspective. So, perhaps arsenic is not an essential component for habitability or for life, but it may be one that can be tolerated."

Until now, astronomers and scientists have believed that, without phosphates, life couldn’t exist anywhere else in the universe. Discovery of this arsenic-eating bacterium tells scientists they need to re-examine how and where they look.


Bill Gerstenmaier: "There is really no way we can get there before the December launch window, so what we’d like to do now is take that off the table and let John and his team do a little bit of planning over the next several days, first part of next week, and analyze the overall plan and the workflow between now, as we go forward, so we’re setting the next launch date tentative around Feb. 3. "

After reviewing the progress of repairs that have delayed Discovery's launch, program managers are now targeting the shuttle’s liftoff for no earlier than Feb.3. Shuttle managers determined that more tests and analyses are needed before proceeding with the STS-133 mission to the International Space Station.

John Shannon: "We’ve hit a point where there is no obvious answer as to what occurred. What that means is that we have to take the next step. And, we have to look in greater detail, to understand what types of stresses you can put on these stringers during the assembly process, see how they could line up, and add stress to that stringer. And, we have to do that through a demonstration; analysis is not going to get us there."

At issue: cracks on two 21-foot-long, U-shaped aluminum brackets, called stringers, on the shuttle's external tank. The cracks have been fixed and the stringers re-covered with foam.

If Discovery proves ready to go on Feb. 3, liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center would come at 1:34 a.m. Eastern.

Bill Gerstenmaier: "These tests stand to really move us forward. We’re at that point in the troubleshooting where we need to do these additional tests. We’ll take the time to do that, and get ready to go fly when it’s time to go fly."


Allan Meyer: "We just finished a very successful first science flight on SOFIA, almost ten hours in the air. We flew out over the ocean and we spent a large part of the flight on one of the most famous infrared sources in the sky, the star formation, the Orion Nebula in the constellation Orion, plus several other objects and in general things went very well."

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, completed its first of six initial science flights planned over the next few months. This Short Science series of flights is demonstrating the airborne platform’s ability to perform first-class astronomical observations not possible with ground-based telescopes.

Nancy McKowan: "The scientists got some good data. They were kind of excited about that, that’s always good, that’s why I like to do it. I want to see them get what they need."

Troy Asher: "It's an amazing engineering feat. I think that that door back there, as big a hole as it is, when it opens you don’t even notice it. In fact, most of us have tried to predict that it’s coming open and the only way you know it’s coming open is if someone tells you we’re about to open door in 5-4-3-2-1 now!

SOFIA's Short Science series begins a 20-year astronomical quest by scientists using the world’s largest airborne telescope.

Alois Himmes: "It was a great night; everything worked perfect. The crew did a great job tonight and with these first science results we are on the move from a development phase to the operational phase of SOFIA."

NASA held its 3rd annual Small Business Symposium and Awards Ceremony in Bethesda, Maryland, just outside Washington. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden kicked off the two-day event with NASA’s Associate Administrator for Small Business Programs, Glenn Delgado.

Charlie Bolden: "NASA must transform itself in the areas of information technology and technology development, if we are to, more effectively and efficiently, achieve the missions that we undertake, and how we at NASA are looking for help from both our large and small industry partners to successfully accomplish these future missions."

Attendees learned how to conduct business with NASA and its prime contractors and met and networked with key agency personnel. Participants also heard from representatives of the U.S. Small Business Administration, other federal agencies, and the aerospace industry.

Lori Garver: "How we are partnering with organizations such as yours is something that can really help us provide better value to the tax payer and a more efficient space program."

An awards presentation led by Deputy Administrator Lori Garver recognized outstanding support by employees and industry representatives for NASA’s small business program.

Though he’s in orbit 220 miles above the Earth, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly is showing a lot of interest in what’s back on the ground. Kelly, who’ll be living aboard the International Space Station for nearly six months, is conducting a geography trivia game using the social medium Twitter -- posting photos of different places on the globe he’s taking from space. The first Tweep, or person using Twitter to correctly identify the location, wins a copy of the photo autographed by Kelly. The contest kicked off during Geography Awareness Week last month and will continue until Kelly’s return to Earth next March.

To play, follow Kelly’s Twitter account, at

You can also check out contest rules, and more about the International Space Station, at

In the last two years, the Glenn Research Center has gained recognition as home to one of the top government motor vehicle fleets in the country.

Antoine Moss: "We are definitely excited that we’re able to be in a place where we can offer this pilot program to partner with another federal agency such as the EPA. We’ve received a good handful of other requests from other agencies, but we thought it would be good to partner here locally."

Glenn should keep this distinction for years to come after announcing a new, alternative fuel pilot program with the Cleveland office of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Robyn Gordon: "Those things are important to us here. So, this partnership with you is very important to us because it signifies that we’ve made the next step in our commitment to the environment and to using alternative fuels."

The one-year partnership addresses a mandate that federal agencies decrease their greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution by using 2% less petroleum each year; they’ve also been ordered to annually pump 10% more alternative fuels into their government-owned or -leased motor vehicles.

45 years ago, on December 4, 1965, astronauts Frank Borman and Jim Lovell set out from Cape Canaveral aboard Gemini Titan 7 on a two-week mission to test flight equipment and rendezvous procedures in Earth orbit.

"Engine start. We’re on our way Frank."

Among its milestones, the mission demonstrated controlled reentry close to the target landing point. Gemini 7’s 14 days in space doubled the length of any previous human spaceflight. The mission would retain the American record as the longest flight until the Skylab missions of the 1970s.The Gemini program served as a bridge between the Mercury and Apollo programs. The training astronauts and ground crews received during Gemini 7 helped lay the groundwork for NASA’s future journeys to the moon.

And that's This Week at NASA!

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