Friday, October 30, 2009

STS-129: Stocking the Station

Friday, October 30, 2009 0 comments
The spare parts delivered to the International Space Station by Atlantis during the STS-129 mission will mean spare years on the station’s life once the space shuttle fleet is retired.

“You’ll see this theme in some of the flights that are going to come after ours as well,” said Brian Smith, the lead space station flight director for the mission. “This flight is all about spares – basically, we’re getting them up there while we still can.”

With only one U.S. module left to deliver, the Space Shuttle Program is turning its attention to helping the space station build up a store of replacement parts. There are only half a dozen flights left in the shuttle’s manifest before they stop flying, and as the only vehicle large enough to carry many of the big pieces of equipment into space, several of the flights are devoted to the task. This is the first, however, and as the first this mission is dedicated to taking up the spares of the highest priority.

“We’re taking the big ones,” Smith said. “And not only are they the big ones – they’re the ones deemed most critical. That’s why they’re going up first.”

The spares are going up on two platforms – called external logistics carriers, or ELCs – to be attached on either side of the station’s truss, in hopes that wherever a failure happens, the necessary spare won’t be too far away. The ELCs carried up on STS-129 will be chocked full with two pump modules, two control moment gyroscopes, two nitrogen tank assemblies, an ammonia tank assembly, a high-pressure gas tank, a latching end effector for the station’s robotic arm and a trailing umbilical system reel assembly for the railroad cart that allows the arm to move along the station’s truss system. There’s also a power control unit, a plasma container unit, a cargo transportation container and a battery charge/discharge unit. In all, that’s 27,250 pounds worth of spares to keep the station going long after the shuttles retire.

Some of those spares would be used to replace failed components of the systems that provide the station power or keep it from overheating or tumbling through space. Others, in the case of the latching end effector and reel assembly, are essential parts of the robotics system that allow the astronauts to replace the other parts when they wear out.

“It was a long-term goal to have the full power production capability and all the international partners present and six person crew capability,” said Mike Sarafin, the lead shuttle flight director for the mission. “These are the spares that will allow us to utilize the investment that we’ve put in.”

NASA isn’t nearly done investing in the station, however, and the agenda of Atlantis’ crew makes that clear. In addition to the complex robotics work required to get the spares into place, there are three spacewalks scheduled to go on outside and a complicated rewiring project planned for the crew inside.

The focus for the work inside, and object of several tasks inside, will be preparing for the STS-130 mission, during which the last U.S. space station module will be delivered: the Tranquility node with its attached cupola. During the spacewalks, that will mean routing connections and preparing the berthing port on the Harmony node that it will attach to. On the inside, the work is a little more extensive. Originally, Tranquility was to be installed on the Earth-facing port of the Harmony node, but it’s since been decided that it would fit better on the port side of Harmony. And changing the plans requires significant changes to the hardware. Data, power, cooling lines, air flow – all of those connections need to be rerouted to the new location, and with double the manpower normally available at the station, a shuttle mission is a good time to get that done.

However, even with the shuttle crew at the station, resources aren’t unlimited. Any mission would consider its plate pretty full, with the robotics work required to get the spares transferred to the station, the spacewalks and the Tranquility prep work inside. But unlike the other space shuttles, Atlantis wasn’t outfitted with the system that allows shuttles to draw power from the space station. That means that where recent station assembly missions have lasted up to 17 days, Atlantis has only 11 to get to the station and back.

“All that in 11 days,” Sarafin said. “It’s a lot to package into a finite period of time; it’s a challenging mission.”

Still, the STS-129 team intends to make the most of every second it has on orbit, just as the larger shuttle and station teams will make the most of each of the remaining missions. That’s not unusual, though – Atlantis’ Commander Charles O. Hobaugh would say that it’s characteristic of the entire effort that has gone into building the station.

“There’s been a lot of work put forth to make it all successful, and it’s just incredible to see how much has been accomplished and how successful it has become,” he said. “The space station has been a long hard road, but it’s been an extremely productive road. We’ve really been able to bring together a diverse national and international background of cultures for one common cause. It’s all science and exploration and cooperation.”

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Atlantis' Payload is Delivered; Astronauts Return to Kennedy 0 comments
At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the cargo for space shuttle Atlantis' mission to the International Space Station was moved to Launch Pad 39A overnight and will be installed into the shuttle's payload bay.

Technicians will finish testing Atlantis' waste collection system, or toilet, this weekend and ground teams are getting ready for the final part of launch dress rehearsal known as the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, or TCDT.

Today, the STS-129 mission's six astronauts are involved in their final bench review of flight hardware at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and they will conduct contingency abort simulation training in the motion base simulator.

The crew will fly to Kennedy Monday afternoon for the completion of TCDT. During their two-days at Kennedy they will participate in a simulated launch countdown where they practice liftoff procedures inside the shuttle. Before returning to Johnson on Tuesday, crew members will practice emergency pad evacuation.

On Oct. 29, NASA managers announced the official launch date and time of Nov. 16 at 2:28 p.m. EST for Atlantis' flight to the space station. The only deviation to this date would be if the planned Nov. 14 launch of an Atlas V rocket from nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is delayed. Since the Atlas team has reserved the Eastern Range for Nov. 14 and 15, this means the shuttle's liftoff will move to no earlier than 2:02 p.m. on Nov. 17.

Image above: STS-129 Mission Specialists Leland Melvin (left) and Mike Foreman are pictured during a training session in the Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA/JSC

Preparations for STS-129 Mission in Full Swing
The STS-129 mission will be commanded by Charles O. Hobaugh and piloted by Barry E. Wilmore. Mission Specialists are Robert L. Satcher Jr., Mike Foreman, Randy Bresnik and Leland Melvin. Wilmore, Satcher and Bresnik will be making their first trips to space.

Atlantis and its crew will deliver two control moment gyroscopes, equipment and EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 1 and 2 to the International Space Station. The mission will feature three spacewalks.

Atlantis also will return station crew member Nicole Stott to Earth and is slated to be the final space shuttle crew rotation flight.

Atlantis will launch on the STS-129 mission at 2:28 p.m. EST Nov. 16.

STS-129 Additional Resources
› STS-129 Mission Overview
› Mission Summary (518Kb Pdf)
› More about STS-129 Crew
› Remaining Shuttle Missions (730Kb)
› STS-129 Press Kit (6.8 Mb Pdf)

Orbiter Status
› About the Orbiters

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Glenn and STS-95 Go to Space

Thursday, October 29, 2009 0 comments

The seven crew members in training for the STS-95 mission aboard Discovery pose for photographers prior to participating in a training session at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Pictured, from the left, are Pedro Duque, Curtis Brown, Chiaki Nauto-Mukai, then-U.S. Sen. John H. Glenn Jr. (D.-Ohio), Stephen Robinson, Steven Lindsey and Scott Parazynski.

Sen. Glenn, who served as a payload specialist for the mission, launched with the Discovery crew on Oct. 29, 1998. On Feb. 20, 1962, Glenn piloted the Mercury-Atlas 6 Friendship 7 spacecraft on America's first manned orbital mission.

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New Celestial Map Gives Directions for GPS 0 comments
Many of us have been rescued from unfamiliar territory by directions from a Global Positioning System (GPS) navigator. GPS satellites send signals to a receiver in your GPS navigator, which calculates your position based on the location of the satellites and your distance from them. The distance is determined by how long it took the signals from various satellites to reach your receiver.

The system works well, and millions rely on it every day, but what tells the GPS satellites where they are in the first place?

"For GPS to work, the orbital position, or ephemeris, of the satellites has to be known very precisely," said Dr. Chopo Ma of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "In order to know where the satellites are, you have to know the orientation of the Earth very precisely."

This is not as obvious as simply looking at the Earth – space is not conveniently marked with lines to determine our planet's position. Even worse, "everything is always moving," says Ma. Earth wobbles as it rotates due to the gravitational pull (tides) from the moon and the sun. Even apparently minor things like shifts in air and ocean currents and motions in Earth's molten core all influence our planet's orientation.

Just as you can use landmarks to find your place in a strange city, astronomers use landmarks in space to position the Earth. Stars seem the obvious candidate, and they were used throughout history to navigate on Earth. "However, for the extremely precise measurements needed for things like GPS, stars won't work, because they are moving too," says Ma.

What is needed are objects so remote that their motion is not detectable. Only a couple classes of objects fit the bill, because they also need to be bright enough to be seen over incredible distances. Things like quasars, which are typically brighter than a billion suns, can be used. Many scientists believe these objects are powered by giant black holes feeding on nearby gas. Gas trapped in the black hole's powerful gravity is compressed and heated to millions of degrees, giving off intense light and/or radio energy.

Most quasars lurk in the outer reaches of the cosmos, over a billion light years away, and are therefore distant enough to appear stationary to us. For comparison, a light year, the distance light travels in a year, is almost six trillion miles. Our entire galaxy, consisting of hundreds of billions of stars, is about 100,000 light years across.

A collection of remote quasars, whose positions in the sky are precisely known, forms a map of celestial landmarks in which to orient the Earth. The first such map, called the International Celestial Reference Frame (ICRF), was completed in 1995. It was made over four years using painstaking analysis of observations on the positions of about 600 objects.

Ma led a three-year effort to update and improve the precision of the ICRF map by scientists affiliated with the International Very Long Baseline Interferometry Service for Geodesy and Astrometry (IVS) and the International Astronomical Union (IAU). Called ICRF2, it uses observations of approximately 3,000 quasars. It was officially recognized as the fundamental reference system for astronomy by the IAU in August, 2009.

Making such a map is not easy. Despite the brilliance of quasars, their extreme distance makes them too faint to be located accurately with a conventional telescope that uses optical light (the light that we can see). Instead, a special network of radio telescopes is used, called a Very Long Baseline Interferometer (VLBI).

The larger the telescope, the better its ability to see fine detail, called spatial resolution. A VLBI network coordinates its observations to get the resolving power of a telescope as large as the network. VLBI networks have spanned continents and even entire hemispheres of the globe, giving the resolving power of a telescope thousands of miles in diameter. For ICRF2, the analysis of the VLBI observations reduced uncertainties in position to angles as small as 40 microarcseconds, about the thickness of a 0.7 millimeter mechanical pencil lead in Los Angeles when viewed from Washington. This minimum uncertainty is about five times better than the ICRF, according to Ma.

These networks are arranged on a yearly basis as individual radio telescope stations commit time to make coordinated observations. Managing all these coordinated observations is a major effort by the IVS, according to Ma.

Additionally, the exquisite precision of VLBI networks makes them sensitive to many kinds of disturbances, called noise. Differences in atmospheric pressure and humidity caused by weather systems, flexing of the Earth's crust due to tides, and shifting of antenna locations from plate tectonics and earthquakes all affect VLBI measurements. "A significant challenge was modeling all these disturbances in computers to take them into account and reduce the noise, or uncertainty, in our position observations," said Ma.

Another major source of noise is related to changes in the structure of the quasars themselves, which can be seen because of the extraordinary resolution of the VLBI networks, according to Ma.

The ICRF maps are not only useful for navigation on Earth; they also help us find our way in space -- the ICRF grid and some of the objects themselves are used to assist spacecraft navigation for interplanetary missions, according to Ma.

Despite its usefulness for things like GPS, the primary application for the ICRF maps is astronomy. Researchers use the ICRF maps as driving directions for telescopes. Objects are referenced with coordinates derived from the ICRF so that astronomers know where to find them in the sky.

Also, the optical light visible to our eyes is only a small part of the electromagnetic radiation produced by celestial objects, which ranges from less-energetic, low-frequency radiation, like radio and microwaves, through optical light to highly energetic, high-frequency radiation like X-rays and gamma-rays.

Astronomers use special detectors to make images of objects producing radiation our eyes can't see. Even so, since things in space can have extremely different temperatures, objects that generate radiation in one frequency band, say optical, do not necessarily produce radiation in another, perhaps radio. The main scientific use of the ICRF maps is a precise grid for combining observations of objects taken using different frequencies and accurately locating them relative to each other in the sky.

Astronomers also use the frame as a backdrop to record the motion of celestial objects closer to us. Tracing how stars and other objects move provides clues to their origin and evolution.

The next update to the ICRF may be done in space. The European Space Agency plans to launch a satellite called Gaia in 2012 that will observe about a half-million quasars. Gaia uses an optical telescope, but because it is above the atmosphere, the satellite will be able to clearly see these faint objects and precisely locate them in the sky. The mission will use quasars that are optically bright, many of which are too dim in radio to be useful for the VLBI networks. The project expects to have enough observations by 2018 to 2020 to produce the next-generation ICRF.

ICRF2 involved researchers from Australia, Austria, China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Ukraine, and the United States; and was funded by organizations from these countries, including NASA. The analysis efforts are coordinated by the IVS. The IAU officially adopts the ICRF maps and recommends their occasional updates.

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Exoplanet House of Horrors 0 comments

Astronomers may be closer than ever to discovering a planet that’s habitable like our own, but along the way they’ve discovered some very scary exoplanets – places where conditions are far too harsh for life as we know it to exist.

We’ve rounded up some of the most frightening, deadly exoplanets, places that make even the scariest haunted house on Earth pale in comparison.

Radiation Bath, Anyone?

The exoplanets PSR B1257+12 b, c and d were among the first discovered, and also happen to be three of the weirdest. The entire system is a graveyard, remnants of what used to be a normal, functional solar system before the star blew apart in a giant explosion known as a supernova.

The massive shockwave from the supernova stripped away any atmosphere or living creatures that might have once lived on these planets, leaving behind ghostly, rocky shells, dead planets orbiting the corpse of an extinct star.

Except that PSR B1257+12 isn’t all dead - the remaining core from the old star has become a zombie star called a pulsar. Literally spinning in its grave, PSR B1257+12 makes a full rotation every 6.22 milliseconds and emits an intense beam of radiation that can be detected from Earth. The star’s unfortunate planets are thus bathed in deadly radiation on a regular basis, making sure that this system remains a cosmic no-man’s land.

A Mighty Wind

The sound of howling wind is a must for any Earth-based haunted house, but weather conditions on HD 189733 b make it a very dangerous place to go trick-or-treating.

At first glance, HD 189733 b looks like the typical “hot Jupiter” – a huge gas planet perched dangerously close to a burning-hot star, with daytime temperatures around a balmy 1,770 degrees Fahrenheit. HD 189733 b is “tidally locked” in its orbit, meaning that the same side of the planet always faces its star.

But when scientists measured the planet’s nighttime temperature, they were shocked to find that it was only 500 degrees cooler. How does the back side of the planet stay so warm?

The answer is wind: insanely fast, dangerous wind that whisks heat from day-side to night-side at a speed of 4,500 mph, nearly six times the speed of sound. In fact, astronomers estimate that wind speeds might top out at 22,000 mph, conditions that make hurricanes on Earth look like a breezy day at the beach.

Needless to say, kite-flying on HD 189733 b is not recommended – unless you’re flying one from the cockpit of a fighter jet.

Boil, Boil, Toil and Trouble

The planet HD 209458 b has a few things in common with Earth: water vapor, methane, and carbon dioxide in its atmosphere, key ingredients for life on our planet. Don’t be fooled, though, because this planet is a roiling cauldron of almost unimaginable heat.

Even the hottest summer days on Earth don’t get as dangerous as the conditions on HD 209458 b, a planet that orbits so close to its host star that its atmosphere is literally boiling off, ripped away from the planet as it whips around on its breakneck 3.5-day orbit. The gas that escapes from HD 209458 b forms a tail about 124,000 miles (200,000 km) long.

Scientists have found many planets like HD 209458 b – huge gas giants that orbit hazardously close to their stars and have hellishly hot, poisonous atmospheres. Sometimes, planets like these can be in danger of being swallowed whole by their host stars, as may be the case for the doomed world WASP-18b.

As far as planets go, WASP-18b is on death’s doorstep. There’s a good chance that it will be torn apart completely within the next million years, when it finally spirals too close to its star. Scientists will know within 10 years whether or not WASP-18b is on a funeral march towards its untimely demise.

All Alone and Very, Very Cold

While most of the exoplanets found so far are hellishly hot, OGLE-2005-BLG-390L b has the distinction of being the coldest exoplanet yet discovered.

The planet takes about 10 Earth years to orbit its tiny dwarf star, and it’s a chilly trip; the average temperature on OGLE-2005-BLG-390L b is 50 Kelvin, or minus 370 degrees Fahrenheit. A good costume for trick-or-treating on this frigid planet would be a toasty self-heating spacesuit, an oxygen supply, ice skates and plenty of hot cocoa.

Of course, don’t expect to find many houses with candy here, because despite the fact that it’s just a few times bigger than Earth, OGLE-2005-BLG-390L b is an uninhabitable ice ball stuck in a perpetual winter freeze. Even the coldest Halloween night in Antarctica is a balmy paradise compared to this frosty world.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ares I-X Lifts Off

Wednesday, October 28, 2009 0 comments

Mission managers watch as NASA's Ares I-X rocket launches from Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009. The flight test will provide NASA with an early opportunity to test and prove flight characteristics, hardware, facilities and ground operations associated with the Ares I.

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Ares I-X at the Launch Pad 0 comments

NASA's Ares I-X rocket is seen on Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Monday, Oct. 26, 2009. The flight test of Ares I-X, scheduled for today, Oct. 27, 2009, will provide NASA with an early opportunity to test and prove flight characteristics, hardware, facilities and ground operations associated with the Ares I.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Live Ares 1-X Launch on 10/28/2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 1 comments
Posted on: October 28, 2009

Posted in: Ares, Featured, Rocket Launches, Video

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Ares I-X Launch on 10/28/2009

The launch of the Ares I-X test vehicle from NASA at 15:30 UTC on October 28th, 2009.
To view just the launch jump to 5:07 in the video!

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Xenon lights reveal the Ares I-X rocket awaiting liftoff 0 comments

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Robot Armada Might Scale New Worlds 0 comments
An armada of robots may one day fly above the mountain tops of Saturn's moon Titan, cross its vast dunes and sail in its liquid lakes.

Wolfgang Fink, visiting associate in physics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena says we are on the brink of a great paradigm shift in planetary exploration, and the next round of robotic explorers will be nothing like what we see today.

"The way we explore tomorrow will be unlike any cup of tea we've ever tasted," said Fink, who was recently appointed as the Edward and Maria Keonjian Distinguished Professor in Microelectronics at the University of Arizona, Tucson. "We are departing from traditional approaches of a single robotic spacecraft with no redundancy that is Earth-commanded to one that allows for having multiple, expendable low-cost robots that can command themselves or other robots at various locations at the same time."

Fink and his team members at Caltech, the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Arizona are developing autonomous software and have built a robotic test bed that can mimic a field geologist or astronaut, capable of working independently and as part of a larger team. This software will allow a robot to think on its own, identify problems and possible hazards, determine areas of interest and prioritize targets for a close-up look.

The way things work now, engineers command a rover or spacecraft to carry out certain tasks and then wait for them to be executed. They have little or no flexibility in changing their game plan as events unfold; for example, to image a landslide or cryovolcanic eruption as it happens, or investigate a methane outgassing event.

"In the future, multiple robots will be in the driver's seat," Fink said. These robots would share information in almost real time. This type of exploration may one day be used on a mission to Titan, Mars and other planetary bodies. Current proposals for Titan would use an orbiter, an air balloon and rovers or lake landers.

In this mission scenario, an orbiter would circle Titan with a global view of the moon, with an air balloon or airship floating overhead to provide a birds-eye view of mountain ranges, lakes and canyons. On the ground, a rover or lake lander would explore the moon's nooks and crannies. The orbiter would "speak" directly to the air balloon and command it to fly over a certain region for a closer look. This aerial balloon would be in contact with several small rovers on the ground and command them to move to areas identified from overhead.

"This type of exploration is referred to as tier-scalable reconnaissance," said Fink. "It's sort of like commanding a small army of robots operating in space, in the air and on the ground simultaneously."

A rover might report that it's seeing smooth rocks in the local vicinity, while the airship or orbiter could confirm that indeed the rover is in a dry riverbed - unlike current missions, which focus only on a global view from far above but can't provide information on a local scale to tell the rover that indeed it is sitting in the middle of dry riverbed.

A current example of this type of exploration can best be seen at Mars with the communications relay between the rovers and orbiting spacecraft like the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. However, that information is just relayed and not shared amongst the spacecraft or used to directly control them.

"We are basically heading toward making robots that command other robots," said Fink, who is director of Caltech's Visual and Autonomous Exploration Systems Research Laboratory, where this work has taken place.

"One day an entire fleet of robots will be autonomously commanded at once. This armada of robots will be our eyes, ears, arms and legs in space, in the air, and on the ground, capable of responding to their environment without us, to explore and embrace the unknown," he added.

Papers describing this new exploration are published in the journal "Computer Methods and Programs in Biomedicine" and in the Proceedings of the SPIE.

For more information on this work, visit . More information on JPL missions is at http:/ .

JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology.

Media contact: Carolina Martinez/JPL 818-354-9382

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Ares 1-X countdown timeline 0 comments

NOTE: All data assumes an on-time launch at 8 a.m. EDT.

L-0 Day October 27, 2009

T-00:00 (8:00:00 a.m. EDT)....SRM ignition and hold-down bolts fire

T+00:00.225 (8:00:00.225 a.m. EDT)....Liftoff; Pyrotechnics fire to release umbilicals

T+00:06 (8:00:06 a.m. EDT)....Clear launch tower; Roll Control System activation;
Start 90-degree roll

T+00:20 (8:00:20 a.m. EDT)....RoCS turned off for 1 second out of every 10 seconds

T+00:34 (8:00:34 a.m. EDT)....Conduct first test maneuver with nozzle deflections of
+/- 0.12 degree for 10 seconds

T+00:39.8 (8:00:39.8 a.m. EDT)....Mach 1

T+00:55 (8:00:55 a.m. EDT)....Conduct second test maneuver with nozzle deflections of
+/- 0.12 degree for 10 seconds

T+01:00 (8:01:00 a.m. EDT)....Maximum dynamic pressure

T+01:15 (8:01:15 a.m. EDT)....Conduct third test maneuver with nozzle deflections of
+/- 0.35 degree for 10 seconds

T+01:33.6 (8:01:33.6 a.m. EDT)....Conduct final test maneuver with yaw input pulse of 1 degree

T+01:55 (8:02:00 a.m. EDT)....Sequencer begins looking for burnout

T+02:00 (8:02:00 a.m. EDT)....Begin burnout sequence

T+02:02 (8:02:02 a.m. EDT)....Turn off RoCS; Shut down Auxiliary Power Unit

T+02:03 (8:02:03 a.m. EDT)....Fire booster deceleration motors;
First stage/upper stage simulator separation

T+02:06 (8:02:06 a.m. EDT)....Fire first stage tumble motors

T+02:33 (8:02:33 a.m. EDT)....Arm recovery control unit for altitude-based events

T+02:42 (8:02:42 a.m. EDT)....Apogee of 153,000 feet

T+05:16 (8:05:16 a.m. EDT)....First stage deploys pilot chute

T+05:18 (8:05:18 a.m. EDT)....First stage deploys drogue chute

T+05:42 (8:05:42 a.m. EDT)....First stage deploys main chutes

T+06:00 (8:06:00 a.m. EDT)....Sever first stage nozzle

T+06:09 (8:06:09 a.m. EDT)....First stage splashdown

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Ares I-X Launch The Count Is On

Monday, October 26, 2009 0 comments
The launch team's "call to stations" came at 12:30 a.m. EDT, and the countdown picked up a half hour later. About 30 team members are operating today from the newly renovated Young-Crippen Firing Room, of Kennedy's Launch Control Center.

The only spoiler for the 8 a.m. liftoff might be the weather. Currently, there only is a 40 percent chance of favorable weather during the window, which extends until noon.

NASA's Launch Blog of the Ares I-X launch begins at 5 a.m. EDT.

Ares I-X: Countdown 101 Mission Information

The Ares I-X flight test will allow NASA to test the Ares I rocket's flight characteristics, hardware, facilities and ground operations. The sub-orbital mission also will verify modeling methods for future designs.

You can share in the excitement of the live countdown via NASA TV or the Web. Coverage begins three hours prior to liftoff, and you can use the countdown events below to track the prelaunch milestones and learn about the Ares I-X countdown process.

T-6 Hours, 40 Minutes
  • Countdown starts.
  • Ares I-X power-up preps begin.
  • Weather balloon released from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the first in a series to be released throughout the countdown to evaluate atmospheric conditions such as pressure, humidity, temperature and winds.
T-6 Hours, 30 Minutes
  • Ares I-X power-up begins, a process that takes about an hour.
T-5 Hours, 45 Minutes
  • Launch Test Director Jeff Spaulding receives a weather briefing from Launch Weather Officer Kathy Winters.
T-4 Hours, 55 Minutes
  • First stage igniter and joint heaters are activated.
T-4 Hours, 50 Minutes
  • The vehicle's onboard guidance system, the fault tolerant inertial navigation unit (FTINU), begins a system alignment. This takes about an hour.
T-4 Hours, 10 Minutes
  • Terminate purge of upper stage simulator and first stage avionics module. Environmental control systems that have been proving cool airflow to these areas will be removed, and closeout panels will be installed.
T-3 Hours, 50 Minutes
  • Fault tolerant inertial navigation unit completes alignment and begins navigation testing.
  • Weather balloon release
T-3 Hour, 40 Minutes
  • Prime launch team/Launch Authority Team are on station in Kennedy Space Center's Launch Control Center; the launch support team is on station in Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Hangar AE.
  • Ground control system (GCS) begins monitoring for commands from the Launch Control Center.
T-3 Hours
  • The rocket's flight termination system, located in the first stage's simulated fifth segment, undergoes hold-fire checks. These checks verify the Eastern Range safety personnel are able to stop the countdown if necessary.
T-2 Hours, 45 Minutes
  • Eastern Range open-loop test.
  • Weather balloon release
T-2 Hours, 40 Minutes
  • Upper stage access arm retraction begins.
  • Live coverage begins on NASA TV and
T-2 Hour, 25 Minutes
  • Upper stage access arm ready for vehicle stabilization system disconnect.
T-2 Hour, 15 Minutes
  • Rotating service structure is rotated to "park."
T-2 Hour, 10 Minutes
  • Launch pad swing arms are unlatched and rotated, signaling the start of work to disconnect the launch pad's vehicle stabilization system.
T-1 Hour, 45 Minutes
  • The rocket's C-band beacon transponder is powered up and tested with the range.
  • Safety personnel begin the process of securing the launch pad.
  • Weather balloon release
T-1 Hour, 30 Minutes
  • Vehicle stabilization system is disconnected and secured for launch.
T-1 Hour, 15 Minutes
  • Ground command, control and communication initiates launch commit criteria monitoring. Known as GC3, the system is located inside the mobile launcher platform and is linked with computers in the firing room.
T-1 Hour, 10 Minutes
  • Launch Test Director weather brief.
  • Technician pulls a lanyard to remove the cover providing weather protection to the five-hole probe (5HP) development flight instrumentation.
T-55 Minutes
  • The fault tolerant inertial navigation unit begins its final alignment after the VSS is retracted.
T-43 Minutes
  • Ares I-X flight termination system is activated and set to "safe."
T-40 Minutes
  • Launch Test Director weather brief.
  • Final status check with solid rocket booster retrieval ships.
  • Assemble and brief post-launch inspection teams.
T-35 Minutes
  • The terminal countdown flight termination system begins its closed loop test.
  • Weather balloon release
T-20 Minutes
  • Final activation of the development flight instrumentation and Tel-4 station.
T-18 Minutes
  • Onboard recorders are activated. A single recorder will collect data from operational flight instrumentation (OFI) and development flight instrumentation (DFI) located on the ground and vehicle.
T-4 Minutes and Holding
  • Countdown clock pauses for a 20-minute built-in hold, the only planned hold in the Ares I-X countdown.
  • Launch weather verification
  • Start launch camera recording, followed by data recording.
  • Option 910, the computer governing the launch sequence, is configured for launch.
  • Launch Vehicle Test Conductor polls his team and reports ready to resume count.
  • Launch Authority Team is polled for launch.
  • First stage igniter heater power removed.
  • Launch Test Director Jeff Spaulding conducts final launch status verification.
T-4 Minutes and Counting
  • Countdown resumes at T-4 minutes.
  • Ares I-X flight termination system and solid rocket motors are armed. (T-3 minutes, 30 seconds)
T-3 Minutes
  • Fans cooling the first stage avionics module and upper stage simulator are turned off.
T-2 Minutes
  • Ares I-X transfers to internal power. (T-1 minute, 59 seconds)
  • Onboard operational and developmental flight instrumentation recorders are started. (T-1 minute, 54 seconds)
  • The rocket's flight control system is enabled for launch. (T-1 minute, 40 seconds)
  • Flight control system switches to internal power and receives the start count from the GCS. (T-1 minute, 20 seconds)
T-1 Minute
  • Solid rocket motor joint heaters are deactivated. (T-50 seconds)
  • Flight control system switches to navigation mode, and inertial and navigation data are verified for accuracy. (T-35 seconds)
  • Auxiliary power units are started. (T-28 seconds)
  • Solid rocket motor thrust vector control gimbal test is performed. (T-21 seconds)
  • Ignition and hold-down bolts are armed. (T-18 seconds)
  • Ground control system issues commands for sound suppression, opening the valves to flood the mobile launcher platform with water. At its peak, water will flow at a rate of 900,000 gallons per minute. (T-16 minutes)
  • Launch inhibits are removed and vehicle is armed. (T-10 seconds)
  • Liftoff!
  • Ares I-X begins a 20-second "fly-away" steering maneuver designed to take the rocket away from the launch tower to minimize damage to the launch pad.

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NASA Sponsors Women in Astronomy and Space Science 2009 Conference 0 comments
Space science research institutions have traditionally been populated by a strong male workforce, but this structure is rapidly changing. Today’s workforce is much more diverse with individuals from various cultures and backgrounds, a higher percentage of women, and in many cases, up to six generations in the same workplace.

Both management and employees are in need of tools to help them understand where they are headed and how to get there successfully together. To help meet these challenges, the "Women in Astronomy and Space Science 2009: Meeting the Challenges of an Increasingly Diverse Workforce," conference is being held on Oct. 21-23, 2009, at the Inn and Conference Center, University of Maryland University College, Adelphi, Md.

"NASA has a high concentration of dedicated scientists," stated Anne Kinney, Director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "The goal of this conference is to foster diversity and help build a stronger workforce in science, engineering and technology which will open doors for everyone."

This three-day conference highlights the diversity of today’s scientific professions by establishing the statistics of the current workforce and defining the roles of institutions and professional societies in preparing future scientists to succeed in their chosen fields. Discussions will provide strategies for fostering a successful work environment, allowing both managers and employees to explore pertinent topics including management best practices, early career needs, work/life balance, and managing future expectations.

Professional societies, institutions and organized groups have always played an important part in improving the status of women and minorities in the scientific workforce. Topics presented include best practices for recruiting, promoting, mentoring, and retaining women and minorities in majority-dominated fields. Speakers will share their personal route to careers in areas such as international development, science management, non-profit organizations, and aerospace administration and answer questions.

Opening day remarks will be presented by Anne Kinney, Director of the Solar Exploration Division at NASA Goddard, and the keynote welcome by Ed Weiler, NASA Associate Administrator, Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, Washington.

The keynote address will be presented on the final day of the conference by Congresswoman Donna Edwards, and a panel discussion, "What It Takes to Become a Principal Investigator, Project Scientist, or Instrument Scientist," will be chaired by Nobel laureate and NASA Senior Astrophysicist John Mather of NASA Goddard.

A tour of the White House will cap off this exciting conference with a discussion with Tina Tchen, Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls. The discussion will focus on women in science, engineering, technology and math and where they are headed in future.

In conjunction with the Women in Astronomy (WIA) and Space Science 2009 Conference, a professional skills development COACH workshop was held on Tuesday, October 20. The participants learned negotiation skills through interactive means including case studies, personal assessments, and role-playing.

Related Link:

› More information about WIA 2009

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NASA App Now Available from App Store 0 comments
The NASA App for the iPhone and iPod touch is now available free of charge on the Apple App Store. The NASA App delivers a wealth of NASA's mission information, videos, images and news updates to people's fingertips.

"Making NASA more accessible to the public is a high priority for the agency," said Gale Allen, director of Strategic Integration and Management for NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington. "Tools like this allow us to provide users easy access to NASA information and progress at a fast pace."

The NASA App collects, customizes and delivers an extensive selection of dynamically updated information, images and videos from various online NASA sources. Users can access NASA countdown clocks, the NASA Image of the Day, Astronomy Image of the Day, online videos, NASA's many Twitter feeds and other information in a convenient mobile package. It delivers NASA content in a clear and intuitive way by making full use of the iPhone and iPod touch features, including the Multi-Touch user interface. The New Media Team at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., developed the application.

The NASA App also allows users to track the current positions of the International Space Station and other spacecraft currently orbiting Earth in three views: a map with borders and labels, visible satellite imagery, or satellite overlaid with country borders and labels.

"We're excited to deliver a wide range of up-to-the-minute NASA content to iPhone and iPod touch users," said Gary Martin, director of the New Ventures and Communications Directorate at Ames. "The NASA App provides an easy and interesting way for the public to experience space exploration."

For more information about NASA's iPhone application, visit:

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JPL's 'Green' Space Flight Building Debuts with Ribbon-Cutting 0 comments
NASA's "greenest" building to date -- an environmentally friendly Flight Projects Center at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. -- is now open for business, following a ribbon-cutting ceremony today attended by lawmakers and local dignitaries.

The building houses missions during their design and development phases. It will enable engineers and scientists from various countries to collaborate more closely during these critical mission phases.

"It seems fitting that the new building, where teams will plan future space missions that use new technologies, also has the latest 'green' technologies to help JPL do its part to improve our environment here on Earth," said JPL Director Charles Elachi, who helped cut the ribbon at today's ceremony.

Also attending today's ceremony were U.S. Rep. David Drier; La Canada-Flintridge Mayor Laura Olhasso; staff representing U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff; and Caltech President Jean-Lou Chameau.

The building has received the "LEED Gold Certification" under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system, set up by the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council. It is the first NASA building to achieve that certification. To qualify, buildings must meet several criteria. For example, they must make efficient use of water, energy and resources, and provide a healthy and comfortable indoor workspace.

The many "green" features of the new building include:
  • A living roof to keep the building cool in summer months and warm in the winter. Desert plants on the roof and other landscaping require 72 percent less water than a typical Southern California landscape design.
  • Outdoor lighting is used for safety purposes only and is directed toward the ground, reducing the amount of light pollution that escapes to the night sky.
  • Low-flow faucets and toilets reduce water use by 40 percent compared with typical fixtures.
  • Improved wall insulation, efficient chillers and boilers and window shading devices.
  • The paints and other surface materials have low levels of toxic fumes.
  • The heating and cooling system is "smart" -- it knows whether people are in a room and adjusts the temperature and ventilation accordingly.
  • The janitorial staff uses green cleaning products and practices.
More than 75 percent of the waste generated during construction of the new building was diverted from a landfill to a local recycling facility. Wood was acquired from Forest Stewardship Council-certified suppliers, ensuring sustainable harvesting of trees.

More information about the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system and the U.S. Green Building Council is online at .

More information about JPL is online at . The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.

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NASA Researchers Explore Lightning's NOx-ious Impact on Pollution, Climate 0 comments
Every year, scientists learn something new about the inner workings of lightning.

With satellites, they have discovered that more than 1.2 billion lightning flashes occur around the world every year. (Rwanda has the most flashes per square kilometer, while flashes are rare in polar regions.) Laboratory and field experiments have revealed that the core of some lightning bolts reaches 30,000 Kelvin (53,540 ºF), a temperature hot enough to instantly melt sand and break oxygen and nitrogen molecules into individual atoms.

And then there is this: each of those billion lightning flashes produces a puff of nitrogen oxide gas (NOx) that reacts with sunlight and other gases in the atmosphere to produce ozone. Near Earth’s surface, ozone can harm human and plant health; higher in the atmosphere, it is a potent greenhouse gas; and in the stratosphere, its blocks cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation.

In 1827, the German chemist Justin von Liebig first observed that lightning produced NOx—scientific shorthand for a gaseous mixture of nitrogen and oxygen that includes nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Nearly two centuries later, the topic continues to attract the attention of scientists.

Fossil fuel combustion, microbes in the soil, lightning, and forest fires all produce NOx. Scientists think lightning's contribution to Earth's NOx budget—probably about 10 percent—is relatively small compared to fossil fuel emissions. Yet they haven't been sure whether global estimates of NOx produced by lightning are accurate.

"There's still a lot of uncertainty about how much NOx lightning produces," said Kenneth Pickering, an atmospheric scientist who studies lightning at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Indeed, even recent published estimates of lightning's global NOx production still vary by as much as a factor of four. We're trying to narrow that uncertainty in order to improve the accuracy of both global climate models and regional air quality models."

Using data gleaned from aircraft observations and satellites, Pickering and Goddard colleague Lesley Ott recently took steps toward a better global estimate of lightning-produced NOx and found that lightning may have a considerably stronger impact on the climate in the mid-latitudes and subtropics—and less on surface air quality—than previously thought.

According to a new paper by Ott and Pickering in the Journal of Geophysical Research, each flash of lightning on average in the several mid-latitude and subtropical thunderstorms studied turned 7 kilograms (15.4 pounds) of nitrogen into chemically reactive NOx. "In other words, you could drive a new car across the United States more than 50 times and still produce less than half as much NOx as an average lightning flash," Ott estimated. The results were published July.

When the researchers multiplied the number of lightning strokes worldwide by 7 kilograms, they found that the total amount of NOx produced by lightning per year is 8.6 terragrams, or 8.6 million metric tons. "That's somewhat high compared to previous estimates," said Pickering.

More remarkable than the number, however, is where the NOx is produced. A decade ago, many researchers believed cloud-to-ground lightning produced far more NOx per flash than intracloud lightning, which occurs within a cloud and far higher in the atmosphere.

The new evidence suggests that the two types of lightning produce approximately the same amount of NOx per flash on average. But since most lightning is intracloud, this suggests a great deal more NOx is produced and remains higher in the atmosphere. Compounding this effect, the research also shows that strong updrafts within thunderstorms help transfer lower level NOx to higher altitudes in the atmosphere.

"We've really started to question some of our old assumptions as we've gotten better at measuring lightning in the field," said Ott.

The observations spring out of field projects conducted in Germany, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, and Oklahoma between 1985 and 2002. For example, in a NASA field campaign called the Cirrus Regional Study of Tropical Anvils and Cirrus Layers Florida – Florida Area Cirrus Experiment (CRYSTAL-FACE) aircraft flew headlong through anvil-shaped thunderheads to measure the anatomy of the thunderstorms. Sensors sampled the pressure, humidity, temperature, wind, and the amount of trace gases such as NOx and ozone.

Later, Ott input this data, as well as additional data from the U.S. National Lightning Detection Network and NASA's Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS), into a complex computer model that simulated the six storms and calculated the amount of NOx that the average flash of lightning produced. With that number, she could then estimate the amount of NOx that lightning produces globally each year.

"One of the things we’re trying to understand is how much ozone changes caused by lightning affect radiative forcing, and how that might translate into climate impacts," said Pickering.

There's a possibility that lightning could produce a feedback cycle that accelerates global warming. "If a warming globe creates more thunderstorms," Pickering noted, "that could lead to more NOx production, which leads to more ozone, more radiative forcing, and more warming," Pickering emphasizes that this is a theory, and while some global modeling studies suggest this is indeed the case, it has not yet been borne out by field observations.

The new findings also have implications for regional air quality models. Scientists from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for example, are already plugging the new numbers into a widely-used air quality model called the Community Multi-scale Air Quality Model. "Lightning is one of the smaller factors for surface ozone levels, but in some cases a surge of ozone formed from lightning NOx could be enough to put a community out of compliance with EPA air quality standards during certain times of the year," said Pickering.

Pickering offered one important caveat to the findings: The value of 7 kilograms per flash was derived without consideration of lightning from storms in the tropics, where most of the Earth’s lightning occurs. Only very recently have data become available for tropical regions, he noted.

Related Links:

> Lightning Primer
> Noxious Lightning
> Lightning Study Promises Fresh Insight Into Severe-storm Behavior

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History in Slow Motion 0 comments
For more than 40 years, the twin crawler-transporters at NASA's Kennedy Space Center have traveled the gravel track between the massive Vehicle Assembly Building and the two launch pads at Launch Complex 39. These mammoth beasts carried all the Apollo Saturn V rockets, and later each space shuttle, on the last Earth-bound leg of their journeys to space.

On Oct. 19, 2009, a new chapter in the crawler history was written as the first test rocket of the Constellation Program -- the Ares I-X -- was transported slowly along that same gravel track.

The towering 327-foot-tall launch vehicle, bolted to its mobile launcher platform, road majestically into the spotlight atop one of the crawlers as it exited the huge building where the rocket was assembled. The combined weight of the Ares I-X, mobile launcher platform and the crawler itself was a whopping 16 million pounds. Moving at less than 1 mph, the crawler safely delivered its precious cargo to the launch pad, just as it had so many times throughout the years.

Crawler Stats

Number of Crawlers:

20-26 feet

31 feet long, 113 feet wide

5.5 million pounds

Fuel Capacity:
5,000 gallons

Fuel Consumption:
42 feet per gallon, 125.7 gallons per mile

Maximum speed:
2 mph

Tread belt shoes:

Tread belt shoe size:
7.5 ft long, 1.5 feet wide, 2,200 pounds

Marion Power Shovel Company

The technology used to build the huge, reliable crawlers capable of such Herculean tasks was deeply rooted in the coal fields of Ohio. There, mammoth machines were used to excavate and extract the precious coal veins running through that part of the country.

But it's doubtful that the crawlers' designers from the Marion Power Shovel Company could have ever imagined their creation would still be moving launch vehicles in the 21st century as yet another generation of rockets prepare to take flight.

Phil Koehring, son of the crawlers' engineering designer, said upon the vehicle's 40th anniversary, "This was a machine that was built to last. There were a lot of naysayers about this program in the early days, and all I can say is, 'We've shown them!'"

You can learn more about the history of the crawler, what it takes to drive the mammoth vehicle, and follow the Ares I-X flight test.

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Building an Original 0 comments
Ares I-X has completed the first leg of its upcoming mission.

NASA's newest rocket -- currently the largest in the world -- emerged from the Vehicle Assembly Building at 1:39 a.m. EDT Oct. 20, 2009, beginning a 7.5-hour trek through the predawn darkness to Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

It's the first new vehicle to occupy Launch Pad 39B in more than 25 years.

The goal of the test is to give NASA the chance to see the Ares I flight hardware, facilities and launch procedures in action. With more than 700 sensors on board, Ares I-X is wired to relay ascent data that will be critical for future flights.

The 1.8-million-pound rocket stayed "steady as a rock" throughout the 4.2-mile journey, according to NASA's Jon Cowart, one of two Ares I-X deputy mission managers overseeing the assembly and launch.

"For those of us who've lived with the shuttle and grew up looking at the Saturn Vs, it's obviously a little different than what we're used to seeing," Cowart said as the tracked crawler-transporter carried the 327-foot-tall rocket and its mobile launcher platform to the top of the pad. The rocket's upper stage loomed high above the top of the pad's fixed service structure, surpassed only by the pad's three lightning masts.

Closer in height to the hulking Saturn V moon rockets than the space shuttle, Ares I-X looks unlike any rocket that's ever stood at Launch Complex 39. But it blends familiar hardware from existing programs with newly developed components.

Four first-stage, solid-fuel booster segments are derived from the Space Shuttle Program. A simulated fifth booster segment contains Atlas-V-based avionics, and the rocket's roll control system comes from the Peacekeeper missile. The launch abort system, simulated crew and service modules, upper stage, and various connecting structures all are original.

'We've Got a Rocket'

The fast-paced assembly sequence kicked off in late 2008, when flight hardware began arriving at the Florida spaceport from NASA field centers and contractors across the country.

› View Time-Lapse Video of Ares I-X Assembly

In order to handle the influx of Ares I-X components, the processing team needed more room than the Vehicle Assembly Building's High Bay 3 and booster facilities could provide. So elements were stored, inspected, fitted or joined together in additional facilities across the space center, and even at the Astrotech Space Operations facility in nearby Titusville, Fla.

The simulated upper stage arrived in November 2008 aboard the Delta Mariner barge after a journey from NASA's Glenn Research Center in Ohio. In January 2009, a C5 cargo plane carried the full-scale crew module simulator and launch abort system from the agency's Langley Research Center in Virginia to Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility.

As assembly began, NASA Vehicle Processing Engineer Trent Smith was tasked with ensuring the work was done in the right order and that all necessary parts and personnel were available.

"When the hardware started showing up, I thought, 'Oh wow, it's here,' " Smith said. "We've got a rocket!"

Along with the crew module and abort tower, the upper stage's seven tuna can-shaped pieces, service module, spacecraft adapter and two interstage connectors were staged in the Vehicle Assembly Building's High Bay 4 prior to stacking.

The funnel-like frustum, forward skirt with its extension, and simulated fifth booster segment arrived from Indiana, where they were manufactured by Major Tool and Machine. First-stage prime contractor ATK Space Systems built the four solid-fueled booster segments, which reached Kennedy in March 2009 after a seven-day, cross-country train ride from Utah.

Stacking Begins

Smaller sections called "super stacks" were assembled first. The two interstage pieces, frustum, forward skirt and extension were mated to the simulated fifth booster segment in early July, completing Super Stack 1.

A day later, the aft, or bottom, segment of the first-stage solid booster rolled into the Vehicle Assemble Building and was secured to the mobile launcher platform in High Bay 3, marking the official start of final assembly.

"When we started stacking, it was a very big deal for us," Cowart said of the Ares I-X team. "We stacked all four of the boosters, then we were ready to bring over Super Stack 1."

Ares I-X finally was taking shape.

The first "tuna can" segment, comprising upper stage segment 1, was labeled Super Stack 2. Upper stage segments 2 through 5 made up Super Stack 3, and Super Stack 4 comprised upper stage segments 6 and 7. Segments 1 and 7 contain steel ballasts weighing a combined 160,000 pounds to mimic the weight of the Ares I liquid propellant tanks.

"I remember going up to Level 34 and looking down, and going on the E roof -- which is right about where the fifth segment simulator is -- and looking up, then down," Smith said. "That's when it really dawned on us that this is a tremendously tall rocket."

Barely five weeks after stacking began, Ares I-X was crowned with Super Stack 5, consisting of the launch abort system, crew module, service module and spacecraft adapter. The completed rocket towered above the surface of the mobile launcher platform, leaving only 10 feet of clearance for the heavy-lift crane to remove the birdcage-shaped framework that lowered the final pieces into place.

Assembly of the one-of-a-kind launch vehicle finally was complete. But plenty of work remained. The rocket was put through its paces: a power-up test, or "smoke test," to validate the electronics boxes and wiring; a "sway test" to check the vehicle's response to vibrations it could face during rollout; instrumentation tests; and a simulated countdown and liftoff.

Positioned for Launch

Once Ares I-X arrived at Launch Pad 39B, remaining milestones included a hot-fire of the rocket's auxiliary power units and checkout of the communications, instrumentation and telemetry. On launch day, most team members will be at their consoles seven hours before the opening of a four-hour launch window; Smith will ensure things are going well at the launch pad before retreating to a facility a safe distance away.

A successful liftoff will cap a demanding development and assembly process that Cowart believes illustrated NASA's entrepreneurial capability, as well as the dedication of the relatively small team that brought this flight from paper to reality.

Smith emphasized that the Ares I-X effort involved design centers, research centers, and multiple contractors -- all of which intersected at Kennedy.

"There was some education on all sides. Integrating and communicating were key to our success," he said. "What made it so rewarding was working through all the challenges and frustrations."

The Ares I-X flight test vehicle was still a concept about four years ago, Cowart pointed out.

"This is unprecedented in NASA history, for a rocket of this size," he said. "It's incredible."

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A Long Night Falls Over Saturn's Rings 0 comments
As Saturn's rings orbit the planet, a section is typically in the planet's shadow, experiencing a brief night lasting from 6 to 14 hours. However, once approximately every 15 years, night falls over the entire visible ring system for about four days.

This happens during Saturn's equinox, when the sun is directly over Saturn's equator. At this time, the rings, which also orbit directly over the planet's equator, appear edge-on to the sun. During equinox, light from the sun hits the ring particles at very low angles, accenting their topography and giving us a three-dimensional view of the rings.

"The equinox is a very special geometry, where the sun is turned off as far as the rings themselves are concerned, and all energy comes from Saturn," said Dr. Michael Flasar of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

During Saturn's latest equinox August 11, the rings reached a temperature of 382 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, the coldest yet observed, as seen by the Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) instrument on board the Cassini spacecraft in orbit around Saturn. CIRS was developed at NASA Goddard, and Flasar is the Principal Investigator for the instrument.

"The whole point of the CIRS observations of Saturn’s rings, other than producing some cool pictures, is to learn something about the physical properties of the ring particles: their spin rates, how sluggish they are in storing and radiating heat (a diagnostic of size and composition), and their vertical distribution in the ring 'plane'," said Flasar.

Although the rings are thousands of miles wide, they are only about 30 feet thick. They are made of particles that are mostly water-ice. Scientists continue to debate the rings' origin and age. Some think they could be remnants of a shattered moon or captured comets, while others think they could have formed along with Saturn from the primordial disk of gas and dust that gave birth to our solar system.

"At first glance, Saturn's rings look broad and bland, but then we got close-up images from the Voyager flybys, and our reaction was: oh, my gosh, there's structure everywhere – what's going on?" said Dr. Linda Spilker, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif.

Researchers have discovered that while most of the ring particles are as small as dust and pebbles, there are a few chunks as big as mountains, and even some small moons several miles across embedded in the rings. Instead of orderly orbiting around Saturn, the particles clump together and drift apart, and the rings ripple and warp under the gravitational influence of Saturn's swarm of more than 60 moons.

"The closer we look at the rings, the more complex they get," says Spilker, Deputy Project Scientist for the CASSINI mission and a Co-Investigator on CIRS. She is leading the instrument team's investigation of the rings.

"Because Saturn’s rings are so extended, going out to more than twice Saturn’s radius (from the cloud tops), the furthest rings get less heat from Saturn than the innermost rings, so the ring temperatures at equinox tend to fall off with distance from Saturn’s center," said Flasar.

However, the CIRS team discovered that the A-ring – the outermost of the wide, bright rings – did not cool off as much as expected during the equinox. This might give clues about its structure and evolution. "One possibility is that the gravitational influence of moons outside the A-ring is stirring up waves in it," said Spilker. "These waves could be much higher than the typical thickness of the rings. Since the waves rise above the ring plane, material in the waves would still be exposed to sunlight during the equinox, which would warm up the A-ring more than expected."

"But we have to carefully test this idea with computer models to see if it produces the temperatures we observed with CIRS," adds Spilker. "That's the challenge with CIRS. It's not like seeing a close-up picture of Mars, which can tell you something about its geology right away. We have to look at the CIRS data from different times and sun angles to see how the ring temperatures are changing, then make computer models to test our theories on what those temperatures say about the rings."

The effort to understand the rings could help us understand our origin. "Our solar system formed from a dusty disk, so by understanding the dynamics in a disk like Saturn's rings, we can gain insight into how Earth and the other planets in our solar system were made," said Spilker.

The equators of both Earth and Saturn are tilted compared to their orbit around the sun. This tilt makes the sun appear to rise higher and lower in the sky throughout the year as Earth progresses in its orbit, causing the seasons to change. Likewise, Saturn's tilt makes the sun appear higher and lower in the sky as Saturn moves in its orbit, which takes about 29.5 years to complete.

Saturn experiences two equinoxes per orbit, just as Earth does, when the planet's equator lines up edge-on to its orbital plane, causing the sun to appear directly over the equator. For a viewer on Saturn, the sun would seem to move from south to north around the time of the August 11 equinox.

Technically, the equinox is the instant when the sun appears directly over the equator, but Saturn's situation gives the rings an extended twilight. Saturn is about 10 times farther from the sun than Earth. Since Saturn is farther from the Sun's gravitational pull, it moves relatively slowly in its orbit compared to Earth, which makes it take longer for the sun to noticeably appear higher or lower in the sky. Also, even as far away as Saturn, the sun is large enough to appear as a disk, not a point, according to Spilker.

So, before the August 11 equinox, a viewer embedded in Saturn's rings would have seen sunlight fade as the top edge of the solar disk appeared to touch the rings first. This would be followed by darkness around the equinox as the solar disk slowly crossed the ring plane. Full sunlight would have returned when the sun's bottom edge rose above the ring plane, about four days from when the sunlight first began to fade.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project among NASA and the European and Italian Space Agencies. NASA JPL manages the mission for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. JPL also designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo. The CIRS team is based at NASA Goddard. CIRS was built by Goddard, with significant hardware contributions from England and France.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

SixthSense - Pranav Mistry

Sunday, October 25, 2009 0 comments
'SixthSense' is a wearable gestural interface that augments the physical world around us with digital information and lets us use natural hand gestures to interact with that information.

We've evolved over millions of years to sense the world around us. When we encounter something, someone or some place, we use our five natural senses to perceive information about it; that information helps us make decisions and chose the right actions to take. But arguably the most useful information that can help us make the right decision is not naturally perceivable with our five senses, namely the data, information and knowledge that mankind has accumulated about everything and which is increasingly all available online. Although the miniaturization of computing devices allows us to carry computers in our pockets, keeping us continually connected to the digital world, there is no link between our digital devices and our interactions with the physical world. Information is confined traditionally on paper or digitally on a screen. SixthSense bridges this gap, bringing intangible, digital information out into the tangible world, and allowing us to interact with this information via natural hand gestures. ‘SixthSense’ frees information from its confines by seamlessly integrating it with reality, and thus making the entire world your computer.

The SixthSense prototype is comprised of a pocket projector, a mirror and a camera. The hardware components are coupled in a pendant like mobile wearable device. Both the projector and the camera are connected to the mobile computing device in the user’s pocket. The projector projects visual information enabling surfaces, walls and physical objects around us to be used as interfaces; while the camera recognizes and tracks user's hand gestures and physical objects using computer-vision based techniques. The software program processes the video stream data captured by the camera and tracks the locations of the colored markers (visual tracking fiducials) at the tip of the user’s fingers using simple computer-vision techniques. The movements and arrangements of these fiducials are interpreted into gestures that act as interaction instructions for the projected application interfaces. The maximum number of tracked fingers is only constrained by the number of unique fiducials, thus SixthSense also supports multi-touch and multi-user interaction.

The SixthSense prototype implements several applications that demonstrate the usefulness, viability and flexibility of the system. The map application lets the user navigate a map displayed on a nearby surface using hand gestures, similar to gestures supported by Multi-Touch based systems, letting the user zoom in, zoom out or pan using intuitive hand movements. The drawing application lets the user draw on any surface by tracking the fingertip movements of the user’s index finger. SixthSense also recognizes user’s freehand gestures (postures). For example, the SixthSense system implements a gestural camera that takes photos of the scene the user is looking at by detecting the ‘framing’ gesture. The user can stop by any surface or wall and flick through the photos he/she has taken. SixthSense also lets the user draw icons or symbols in the air using the movement of the index finger and recognizes those symbols as interaction instructions. For example, drawing a magnifying glass symbol takes the user to the map application or drawing an ‘@’ symbol lets the user check his mail. The SixthSense system also augments physical objects the user is interacting with by projecting more information about these objects projected on them. For example, a newspaper can show live video news or dynamic information can be provided on a regular piece of paper. The gesture of drawing a circle on the user’s wrist projects an analog watch.

The current prototype system costs approximate $350 to build.

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Sea Ice from 2,000 Feet 0 comments

Sea ice is seen out the window of NASA's DC-8 research aircraft on Oct. 21, 2009, as it flies 2,000 feet above the Bellingshausen Sea in West Antarctica. This was the fourth science flight of NASA's Operation Ice Bridge airborne Earth science mission to study Antarctic ice sheets, sea ice and ice shelves. Credit: Rose Dominguez/University of California Santa Cruz

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

NASA Technology Key Component of New Diagnostic Aid From DynaDx

Wednesday, October 21, 2009 0 comments
NASA technology will now be available to the medical community to help in the diagnosis and prediction of syndromes that affect the brain, such as stroke, dementia, and traumatic brain injury.

DynaDx Corporation of Mountain View, Calif. has released the Multimodal Pressure-Flow (MMPF) technique for analysis of dynamic cerebral autoregulation—the ability of cerebral vessels to maintain a constant blood flow despite changes in arterial blood pressure—that incorporates the Hilbert-Huang Transform (HHT) technology licensed from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

DynaDx obtained exclusive rights to HHT, an algorithm used to analyze nonlinear, nonstationary signals, from Goddard in the first ever sale of a government-owned patent license conducted through a public auction of intellectual property.

MMPF is a unique computational method for analyzing and evaluating autoregulatory dynamics, based on instantaneous phase analysis of nonlinear and nonstationary signals from blood pressure and cerebral blood flow velocity oscillations.

Medical professionals can use the data from MMPF to create a reliable index of cerebral autoregulation, and to help identify impairment of cerebral vasoreactivity, which is caused by medical conditions such as traumatic brain injury or stroke and is associated with other conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.

The Web-based MMPF data-analysis product has potential use for medical diagnosis and prediction in a wide range of clinical settings. One possible application is a portable device for use by medical personnel at sporting events to identify the extent of head trauma in athletes.

"We are very excited about MMPF and its potential to vastly improve existing methods used for diagnosis and prediction of syndromes that affect the brain," said Yanhui Liu, PhD and CEO of DynaDx. "HHT is essential for providing fast and reliable results, and we could not have developed MMPF without it."

A primary role of Goddard’s Innovative Partnerships Program (IPP) Office is to help transfer NASA technology to the commercial marketplace and facilitate the creation of products that will ultimately benefit the agency and the public at large. HHT, which was developed by NASA, is being used to help improve the diagnosis and treatment of conditions of the brain, such as traumatic brain injury. The partnership with DynaDx is groundbreaking because it stemmed from a process that has successfully blazed a new trail to commercialization.

The exclusive license for HHT, composed of a portfolio of ten U.S. patents and one domestic patent application, was part of a lot auctioned by Ocean Tomo Federal Services, LLC on October 30, 2008. The auction was Ocean Tomo’s largest to date, with over 500 in attendance.

"Government labs and businesses have been paying close attention to the auctioning of Goddard technologies through Ocean Tomo and the process that was used to license HHT to DynaDx," said Goddard Chief Patent Counsel Bryan Geurts. "When our lot sold at the auction, there was applause from the audience. Now that DynaDx has unveiled this new product, we have stronger indicators that the model works."

The primary benefit of the public auction through Ocean Tomo is that it makes the IP licensing process quicker and easier, saving time and resources for small companies like DynaDx. The process is well defined and clear from the beginning, allowing companies to make a quick decision about whether to obtain the license on a defined timeline.

"NASA and DynaDx stand to benefit from our unique partnership, but the long-term benefits will be much broader," said Darryl Mitchell, a technology transfer manager in Goddard’s IPP Office, which facilitated the licensing arrangement. "The public auction process will encourage collaboration between labs that have developed similar technology to provide attractive lots for bidders. This will maximize the value of technology research in federal labs for taxpayers and the nation."

DynaDx is a technology firm that develops and markets products to improve clinical diagnosis and prediction, with offices in Calif., China and Taiwan.

Related Link:

> Web-based MMPF data analysis product

> Goddard’s Innovative Partnerships Program Office

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