NASA in the new age...what's up for the future of American and outer space?  Next to last flight of Space Shuttle...cellphone pix story.

Mars here we come: NASA launches Orion spacecraft
By Associated Press
December 5, 2014 | 7:45am

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s new Orion spacecraft streaked toward orbit Friday on a high-stakes test flight meant to usher in a new era of human exploration leading ultimately to Mars.  The unmanned orbital journey began with a sunrise liftoff witnessed by thousands of NASA guests eager to watch what the agency called “history in the making.”

“The star of the day is Orion,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr., back for the second morning in a row. He called it “Day One of the Mars era...”

Bravo, E.U.!

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2014 SUMMER SOLSTICE:  Fall Equinox 2014 bring demise of a Space Station unmanned rocket, exploding in a fireball.
Blue dot is Healy Alaska @10pm - according to SP Kennel website, they are 130 miles north in Two Rivers, truly "The Land of the Midnight Sun."


Remember MAD magazine back page item on this sort of report?  Video by NASAgovVideo
There were some bad movies, too, on this.  Sun acted between 4am and 8am to destroy or break up this comet, we think...but wait, the NYTIMES said it's alive!

Comet ISON, Presumed Dead, Shows New Life
November 29, 2013

Astronomers are marveling at the death and apparent resurrection of a comet that dove close to the sun on Thanksgiving.

Comet ISON passed within a million miles of the sun’s surface at 1:37 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday — by which time observers had already glumly concluded that the comet had disintegrated and vaporized.

NASA posted on Twitter, “It’s likely it didn’t survive.”

ISON, which spent several billion years at the frigid edge of the solar system before starting a long journey toward the sun, had been billed as a possible “comet of the century.” Its demise seemed to be an anticlimactic ending to the story.

But “then it appears again,” said Karl Battams, an astrophysicist at the Naval Research Laboratory who has been observing the comet from Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. “We see something come out.”

Images taken by spacecraft showed an increasingly bright point at the head of the comet. Dr. Battams said that current data could not offer a definitive answer, but it appeared Friday that part of ISON’s nucleus was still holding together.

“It’s definitely maybe alive,” Dr. Battams said. “There’s a strong definite chance it might be, may be alive.”

Additional observations by spacecraft and ground-based telescopes could provide a clearer picture over the next few days. The Hubble Space Telescope should be able to take a close look in a couple of weeks.

On his Twitter account, Dr. Battams mused, “So, umm ... did I mention that comets are like cats??”

Comet ISON may have survived its brush with the sun.

Even more uncertain is whether there will be much to see in the night sky in early December, when ISON is to pass through Earth’s neighborhood. (One thing is certain, astronomers say: There is no possibility that it will strike Earth.)

The apparent resurrection raised the question: if ISON is not dead, why did it disappear during its close approach to the sun?

“At this point, we don’t have an answer to that,” said C. Alex Young, associate director for science in the heliophysics division at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The tale has gathered a wide following on the Internet, with Dr. Battams juggling media interviews and Twitter postings while also trying to digest the stream of data.

“We’ve got spotlights on us, literally,” he said in an interview, adding that he had slept only a couple of hours. “It’s a lot of pressure because at present we have a lot more questions than answers. But it’s fabulous. It’s an amazing event we’re witnessing.”

On Thursday, Dr. Battams and Dr. Young answered questions in a NASA-organized chat room on Google as ISON neared the sun.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft sent back an image that was expected to show the comet within the corona. It showed nothing, but it was possible the comet was not close enough yet. “We thought maybe we wouldn’t see something right away,” Dr. Young said.

Half an hour later, another image came back, again with no sign of ISON.

“We didn’t see anything — nothing — and we expected we would see at least a little bit,” Dr. Young said.

A much smaller comet last year had given an impressive show, and scientists expected that even if ISON started falling apart, there would still be big pieces left for the observatory to detect.

“We were extremely let down by the lack of a show,” Dr. Young said.

But a couple of hours later, another NASA spacecraft spotted something emerging from the other side of the sun. At first it seemed to be nothing more than debris from the comet’s tail. Dr. Young left for home thinking the day had been a bust.

As he was driving, he heard his cellphone buzzing as text messages poured in. He pulled over to take a look at the data. More images were showing indications of a surviving nucleus. He headed to a diner that was closed for Thanksgiving but whose Wi-Fi network was on. “I pulled out my laptop to see what I could see,” he said.

The news that reports of ISON’s death were premature ricocheted around Twitter. Richard Branson, the British billionaire who founded the constellation of Virgin companies, posted on Friday: “Our sun melts most of comet #ISON. A little survives to fly on.”

Scientists hope that observations of ISON will also provide information about the early solar system when ISON formed.

By now, comet experts are cautious about saying what they expect to happen next.

ISON, Dr. Battams said, “is taking every opportunity to do everything we didn’t expect it to do.”

Scientists: Sun-grazing comet likely broke up
Norwalk HOUR
Associated Press

Posted: Thursday, November 28, 2013 8:45 pm

STOCKHOLM -- Once billed as the comet of the century, Comet ISON apparently was no match for the sun.  Scientists said images from NASA spacecraft showed the comet approaching for a slingshot around the sun on Thursday, but just a trail of dust coming out on the other end.

"It does seem like Comet ISON probably hasn't survived this journey," U.S. Navy solar researcher Karl Battams said in a Google+ hangout.

Phil Plait, an astronomer who runs the "Bad Astronomy" blog, agreed, saying "I don't think the comet made it."

Still, he said, it wouldn't be all bad news if the 4.5-billion-year-old space rock broke up into pieces, because astronomers might be able to study them and learn more about comets.

"This is a time capsule looking back at the birth of the solar system," he said.

The comet was two-thirds of a mile wide as it got within 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) of the sun, which in space terms basically means grazing it.  NASA solar physicist Alex Young said it would take a few hours to confirm ISON's demise, but admitted things were not looking good.

He said the comet had been expected to show up in images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft at around noon eastern time (1700 GMT), but almost four hours later there was "no sign of it whatsoever."

"Maybe over the last couple of days it's been breaking up," Young told The Associated Press. "The nucleus could have been gone a day or so ago."

Images from other spacecraft showed a light streak continuing past the sun, but Young said that was most likely a trail of dust continuing in the comet's trajectory.

"The comet itself is definitely gone, but it looks like there is a trail of debris," he said.

Comet ISON was first spotted by a Russian telescope in September last year.  Some sky gazers speculated early on that it might become the comet of the century because of its brightness, although expectations dimmed as it got closer to the sun.  Made up of loosely packed ice and dirt, it was essentially a dirty snowball from the Oort cloud, an area of comets and debris on the fringes of the solar system.  Two years ago, a smaller comet, Lovejoy, grazed the sun and survived, but fell apart a couple of days later.

"That's why we expected that maybe this one would make it because it was 10 times the size," Young said.

It may be a while before there's a sun-grazer of the same size, he said.

"They are pretty rare," Young said. "So we might not see one maybe even in our lifetime."

Comet ISON headed our way
By Reuters
November 28, 2013 | 4:35am

A comet that left the outer edge of the solar system more than 5.5 million years ago will pass close by the sun on Thursday, becoming visible in Earth’s skies in the next week or two — if it survives.

“There are three possibilities when this comet rounds the sun,” Donald Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in an interview posted on NASA’s website.

“It could be tough enough to survive the passage of the sun and be a fairly bright, naked-eye object,” he said.

The second possibility is that the sun’s gravity could rip the comet apart, creating several big chunks.

“As long as there are pieces there, we’ll see something,” Carey Lisse, senior research scientist at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., told reporters on a conference call on Tuesday.

The third option: If the comet is very weak, it could break up into a cloud of dust and be a complete bust for viewing.

“This comet is giving us quite a ride. It’s going to be hard to predict exactly what’s going on,” Lisse said. “As a betting man, I think it’s not going to survive solar passage,” he added.

Comet ISON, as the object is known, was due to pass just 730,000 miles from the surface of the sun at 1:37 p.m. EST/1837 GMT on Thursday.

At that distance, the comet will reach temperatures approaching 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit — hot enough to vaporize not just ices in the comet’s body, but dust and rock as well.

“While it may seem incredible that anything can survive this inferno, the rate at which ISON will likely lose mass is relatively small compared to the actual size of the comet’s nucleus,” Lowell Observatory astronomer Matthew Knight said in a NASA interview.

Scientists estimate that ISON needs to be about 219 yards to survive its close encounter with the sun. The most recent measurements indicate the comet is more than twice that size, and perhaps as big as .75 miles.

It helps that ISON will not be staying in the solar furnace for long. When it zips around the sun, it will be moving at about 217 miles per second (349 km per second.)

The comet was discovered last year by two amateur astronomers using Russia’s International Scientific Optical Network, or ISON.

It was extraordinarily bright at the time, considering its great distance beyond Jupiter’s orbit, raising the prospect of a truly cosmic spectacle as it approached the sun.

Heat from the sun causes ices in a comet’s body to vaporize, creating bright distinctive tails and fuzzy looking, glowing bodies. The closer comets come to the sun, the brighter they shine, depending on how much ice they contain.

Comets are believed to be frozen remains left over from the formation of the solar system some 4.5 billion years ago.

The family of comets that ISON is from resides in the Oort Cloud, which is located about 10,000 times farther away from the sun than Earth, halfway to the next star.

Occasionally, an Oort Cloud comet is gravitationally nudged out of the cloud by a passing star and into a flight path that millions of years later brings it into the inner solar system. Computer models show ISON is a first-time visitor.

“You need comets in order to build the planets and this comet has been in deep freeze in the Oort Cloud for the last 4.5 billion years,” Lisse said.

“Comet ISON is a relic. It’s a dinosaur bone of solar system formation,” he said.

Oort Cloud comets have passed by Earth before, and sun-grazing comets are common. Comet ISON, however, is unique.

“We have never seen a comet like this, a comet that is both dynamically new from the Oort Cloud and in a sun-grazing orbit,” said astrophysicist Karl Battams, with the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington.

“It has been behaving strangely,” Battams said, noting recent flares and changes in brightness that could be signs the comet is fragmenting.

CT native, UConn grad rockets into space
Thursday, November 7, 2013 by:Jim Shay

Waterbury native and UConn grad Rick Mastracchio returned to space this morning.

Mastracchio was among the crew on board a a rocket carrying the Olympic flame that successfully blasted off Thursday from earth ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Games.

The 53-year-old Mastracchio is a veteran of three spaceflights. Mastracchio flew as a Mission Specialist on STS-106, STS-118, and STS-131 and has logged nearly 40 days in space, including six EVAs totaling 38 hours and 30 minutes.

NASA Live TV showed the rocket, emblazoned with the pale blue Sochi 2014 logo, launching from the Russian-operated Baikonur cosmodrome on a clear morning in Kazakhstan.
Connecticut native and UConn grad Rick Mastracchio returned to space this morning.

Connecticut native and UConn grad Rick Mastracchio returned to space this morning.

The torch will make its way to the International Space Station before being taken into space itself — making it the Olympic flame’s first spacewalk in history.

Russia’s Mikhail Tyurin, NASA’s Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata of Japan beamed at the crowd as they carried the lit torch aboard the Soyuz rocket.

For safety reasons, the torch will not burn when it’s onboard the space outpost. Lighting it would consume precious oxygen and pose a threat to the crew. The crew will carry the unlit torch around the station’s numerous modules before taking it out on a spacewalk.

The Olympic torch has flown into space once before — in 1996 aboard the U.S. space shuttle Atlantis for the Atlanta Summer Olympics — but will be taken outside the spacecraft for the first time in history.

The torch will remain in space for five days. Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazanskiy, who are currently manning the International Space Station, will take the flame for a spacewalk on Saturday, before it is returned to earth by three astronauts on Monday.

The torch will be used to light the Olympic flame at Sochi’s stadium on Feb. 7, marking the start of the 2014 Winter Games that run until Feb. 23.

Mastracchio is carrying a “travel bug,” a device used to mark the location of a hidden cache or container. On the space station, it will serve as a tool for students and enthusiasts to track the astronaut who is bringing it to space.

“We are going to bring up a geocache travel bug, which is basically just a small dog tag,” NASA flight engineer Rick Mastracchio said in a televised media interview. “The kids are going to follow it online and I’ll answer questions while I’m on orbit with them. It gives them a reason to follow the mission and learn about NASA.”

BIO: Born February 11, 1960 in Waterbury, Connecticut.

EDUCATION: Graduated from Crosby High School, Waterbury, Connecticut, in 1978; received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering/Computer Science from the University of Connecticut in 1982, a Master of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1987, and a Master of Science Degree in Physical Science from the University of Houston-Clear Lake in 1991.

Faster Than the Speed of Light?
July 22, 2013

HOUSTON — Beyond the security gate at the Johnson Space Center’s 1960s-era campus here, inside a two-story glass and concrete building with winding corridors, there is a floating laboratory.

Harold G. White, a physicist and advanced propulsion engineer at NASA, beckoned toward a table full of equipment there on a recent afternoon: a laser, a camera, some small mirrors, a ring made of ceramic capacitors and a few other objects.

He and other NASA engineers have been designing and redesigning these instruments, with the goal of using them to slightly warp the trajectory of a photon, changing the distance it travels in a certain area, and then observing the change with a device called an interferometer. So sensitive is their measuring equipment that it was picking up myriad earthly vibrations, including people walking nearby. So they recently moved into this lab, which floats atop a system of underground pneumatic piers, freeing it from seismic disturbances.

The team is trying to determine whether faster-than-light travel — warp drive — might someday be possible.

Warp drive. Like on “Star Trek.”

“Space has been expanding since the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago,” said Dr. White, 43, who runs the research project. “And we know that when you look at some of the cosmology models, there were early periods of the universe where there was explosive inflation, where two points would’ve went receding away from each other at very rapid speeds.”

“Nature can do it,” he said. “So the question is, can we do it?”

Einstein famously postulated that, as Dr. White put it, “thou shalt not exceed the speed of light,” essentially setting a galactic speed limit. But in 1994, a Mexican physicist, Miguel Alcubierre, theorized that faster-than-light speeds were possible in a way that did not contradict Einstein, though Dr. Alcubierre did not suggest anyone could actually construct the engine that could accomplish that.

His theory involved harnessing the expansion and contraction of space itself. Under Dr. Alcubierre’s hypothesis, a ship still couldn’t exceed light speed in a local region of space. But a theoretical propulsion system he sketched out manipulated space-time by generating a so-called “warp bubble” that would expand space on one side of a spacecraft and contract it on another.

“In this way, the spaceship will be pushed away from the Earth and pulled towards a distant star by space-time itself,” Dr. Alcubierre wrote. Dr. White has likened it to stepping onto a moving walkway at an airport.

But Dr. Alcubierre’s paper was purely theoretical, and suggested insurmountable hurdles. Among other things, it depended on large amounts of a little understood or observed type of “exotic matter” that violates typical physical laws.

Dr. White believes that advances he and others have made render warp speed less implausible. Among other things, he has redesigned the theoretical warp-traveling spacecraft — and in particular a ring around it that is key to its propulsion system — in a way that he believes will greatly reduce the energy requirements.

He is quick to offer up his own caveats, however, saying his warp research is akin to a university science project that is just trying to prove that a microscopic warp bubble can be detected in a lab. ”We’re not bolting this to a spacecraft,” he said of the warp technology.

Dr. White was an engineer with a background in the aerospace industry when he came to NASA in 2000, starting his career at the agency by operating the arms of space shuttles. He got his doctorate in physics from Rice University in 2008, and now works on a range of projects aimed at taking NASA beyond the fiery rockets that have long characterized space travel.

For NASA, Dr. White’s warp speed experiments represent a rounding error in its budget, with about $50,000 spent on equipment in an agency that spends nearly $18 billion annually. The agency is far more focused on more achievable projects — building the next generation Orion series spacecraft, working on the International Space Station and preparing for a planned future mission to capture an asteroid.

But it has made internal resources available for the project and freed up other engineers to assist Dr. White. It has also restored the pneumatic system in the laboratory Dr. White is using, to allow it to float. The lab was once used to test equipment for Apollo missions and has control panels underneath it that look like they belong in a fallout shelter that time forgot.

Steve Stich, the deputy director of engineering at the Johnson Space Center, said, “You always have to be looking towards the future.” He held up his iPhone.

“Forty years ago, this was ‘Star Trek,’ Captain Kirk talking on a communicator whenever he wanted to,” he said. “But today it exists because people made the battery technology that allows this device to exist, worked on the software technology, worked on the computational technology, the touch screen.”

Theoretically, a warp drive could cut the travel time between stars from tens of thousands of years to weeks or months. But we should probably not book reservations anytime soon.

“My personal opinion is that the idea is crazy for now,” said Edwin F. Taylor, a former editor of The American Journal of Physics and senior research scientist at M.I.T. “Check with me in a hundred years.”

But Richard Obousy, a physicist who is president of Icarus Interstellar, a nonprofit group composed of volunteers collaborating on starship design, said “it is not airy-fairy, pie in the sky.”

“We tend to overestimate what we can do on short time scales, but I think we massively underestimate what we can do on longer time scales,” he said of the work of Dr. White, who is a friend and Icarus collaborator.

Dr. White likened his experiments to the early stages of the Manhattan Project, which were aimed at creating a very small nuclear reaction merely as proof that it could be done.

“They tried to go through and demonstrate a nuclear reactor and generate half a watt,” he said. “That’s not something you’re going to market. Nobody’s going to buy that. It’s just making sure they understood the physics and science.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson, the well-known astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History, said some leap beyond our current technology would be needed to make interstellar travel feasible.

“Routine travel among the stars is impossible without new discoveries regarding the fabric of space and time, or capability to manipulate it for our needs,” he said, adding, “By my read, the idea of a functioning warp drive remains far-fetched, but the real take-away is that people are thinking about it — reminding us all that the urge to explore continues to run deep in our species.”

Still, one of the most dubious is Dr. Alcubierre himself. He listed a number of concerns, starting with the vast amounts of exotic matter that would be needed.

“The warp drive on this ground alone is impossible,” he said.

And he posed a more fundamental question: How would you turn it on?

“At speeds larger than the speed of light, the front of the warp bubble cannot be reached by any signal from within the ship,” he said. “This does not just mean we can’t turn it off; it is much worse. It means we can’t even turn it on in the first place.”

Dr. White, who has never spoken to Dr. Alcubierre, said “I appreciate his thoughts. I don’t know whether I agree with all of his observations, based on some work I’ve done.”

“He and I could certainly debate for a very long time,” he added.

 6 December 2012 Last updated at 00:37 ET
Suomi satellite pictures Earth in black
By Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News, San Francisco

This spectacular night-time view of Earth is called Black Marble.

It has been assembled from a series of cloud-free images acquired by one of the most capable satellites in the sky today - the Suomi spacecraft.

The platform was launched by the US last year, principally to deliver critical meteorological data.  The Black Marble dataset shows off one of Suomi's key innovations: the low-light sensitivity of its VIIRS instrument.VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) can discern a range of phenomena of interest to weather forecasters - cloud, snow, fog, etc - even when the satellite is on the dark side of the Earth.

Most of the time, all VIIRS needs to do its work is some illumination from the Moon. But if that is not available, the instrument can still detect features down below just from the nocturnal glow of the atmosphere itself.

And, of course, just as this Black Marble rendition demonstrates, VIIRS is also very good at capturing the lights of our cities.  The new imagery was unveiled here at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, the largest annual gathering of Earth scientists.  Data from Suomi - a joint Nasa and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite - is certain to become a mainstay of future presentations at this conference.

VIIRS' trick is its special day-night band. Unlike a camera that captures a whole picture in one exposure, the day-night band produces an image by repeatedly scanning a scene and resolving it as millions of individual pixels.  The system then reviews the amount of light in each pixel. If it is very bright, a low-gain mode prevents the pixel from oversaturating; if the pixel is very dark, the signal is amplified.

US Air Force satellites have pushed the development of low-light sensors for decades but Nasa/Noaa representatives at the AGU meeting said VIIRS had taken the capability to a new level.  One of the instrument's most important observations of late was to watch Hurricane Sandy as it made landfall over the US in October.

Suomi was launched as the NPP (National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project) satellite.

It was subsequently renamed in honour of the pioneering Earth observation scientist Verner E Suomi. The two-tonne, $1.5bn (£0.9bn) spacecraft circles the globe, pole to pole, at an altitude just over 800km.

Its five instruments are tasked with monitoring a huge range of land, ocean, and atmospheric phenomena - from the temperature and humidity of the air, to the spread of algal blooms in the ocean; and from the amount of sunlight bouncing off clouds to the extent of Arctic ice.

New York Post has story and pictures.  Watched live on the internet
It's official: Felix Baumgartner, daredevil skydiver, broke sound barrier
New Haven Register
By The Associated Press
Monday, October 15, 2012

ROSWELL, N.M. — In a giant leap from more than 24 miles up, a daredevil skydiver shattered the sound barrier Sunday while making the highest jump ever — a tumbling, death-defying plunge from a balloon to a safe landing in the New Mexico full story from Reuters or AP here.

Mars Curiosity
Norwalk HOUR
August 6, 2012

In this photo provided by NASA's JPL, this is one of the first images taken by NASA's Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars the evening of Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012, PDT. It was taken with a "fisheye" wide-angle lens on the left "eye" of a stereo pair of Hazard-Avoidance cameras on the left-rear side of the rover. The image is one-half of full resolution. The clear dust cover that protected the camera during landing has been sprung open. Part of the spring that released the dust cover can be seen at the bottom right, near the rover's wheel. On the top left, part of the rover's power supply is visible. Some dust appears on the lens even with the dust cover off. The cameras are looking directly into the sun, so the top of the image is saturated. The lines across the top are an artifact called "blooming" that occurs in the camera's detector because of the saturation. As planned, the rover's early engineering images are lower resolution. Larger color images from other cameras are expected later in the week when the rover's mast, carrying high-resolution cameras, is deployed. (AP Photo/NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Giant Nasa rover launches to Mars

Jonathan Amos, Science correspondent, BBC News
26 November 2011 Last updated at 11:01 ET

Nasa has launched the most capable machine ever built to land on Mars.  The one-tonne rover, tucked inside a capsule, left Florida on an Atlas 5 rocket at 10:02 local time (15:02 GMT).

Nicknamed Curiosity, the rover will take eight and a half months to cross the vast distance to its destination.  If it can land safely next August, the robot will then scour Martian soils and rocks for any signs that current or past environments on the planet could have supported microbial life.  The Atlas flight lasted almost three-quarters of an hour. By the time the encapsulated rover was ejected a path to the Red Planet, it was moving at 10km/s.

Nasa was expecting a first communication from the cruising spacecraft about an hour after lift-off. Engineers can then tell if all the systems came through the stresses of launch in good shape.  The rover - also known as the Mars Science laboratory (MSL) - is due to arrive at the Red Planet on the morning of 6 August 2012, GMT.

It is being aimed at a deep equatorial depression called Gale Crater, which contains a central mountain that rises some 5km above the plain below.

The crater was chosen as the landing site because satellite imagery has suggested that surface conditions at some point in time may have been benign enough to sustain micro-organisms. This included pictures of sediments at the base of the peak that were clearly laid down in the presence of abundant water.

MSL is equipped with 10 sophisticated instruments to study the rocks, soils and atmosphere in Gale Crater.

The $2.5bn (£1.6bn) mission is funded for an initial two Earth years of operations, but MSL-Curiosity has a plutonium battery and so should have ample power to keep rolling for more than a decade. It is likely the mechanisms on the rover will wear out long before its energy supply.

The odds are...pretty good...that someone, somewhere will find the satellite or a bit of it.

NASA Unveils Giant New Rocket Design
September 14, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — The design for NASA's newest behemoth of a rocket harkens back to the giant workhorse liquid rockets that propelled men to the moon. But this time the destinations will be much farther and the rocket even more powerful.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and several members of Congress joined Wednesday in unveiling the Obama administration's much-delayed general plans for its rocket design, called the Space Launch System. The multibillion-dollar program will carry astronauts in a capsule on top and start test launching from Cape Canaveral, Fla., in six years.

"This is a great day for NASA, I think, for NASA and the nation," Bolden said.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., called it "a monster rocket." He said the holdup in presenting the design was so all the details would be in order, before the program was presented and defended by the administration.

"Will it be tough times going forward? Of course it is," Nelson told journalists. "We are in an era in which we have to do more with less — all across the board — and the competition for the available dollars will be fierce. But what we have here now are the realistic costs that have been scrubbed by an outside, independent third party."

Nelson puts the cost of the program at about $18 billion over the next five years — or $3 billion a year. Some estimates, however, are closer to $35 billion.

The size, shape and heavier reliance on liquid fuel as opposed to solid rocket boosters is much closer to Apollo than the recently retired space shuttles, which were winged, reusable ships that sat on top of a giant liquid fuel tank, with twin solid rocket boosters providing most of the power. It's also a shift in emphasis from the moon-based, solid-rocket-oriented plans proposed by the George W. Bush administration.

"It's back to the future with a reliable liquid technology," said Stanford University professor Scott Hubbard, a former NASA senior manager who was on the board that investigated the 2003 space shuttle Columbia accident.

NASA figures it will be building and launching about one rocket a year for about 15 years or more in the 2020s and 2030s, according to senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the announcement was not yet made. The idea is to launch its first unmanned test flight in 2017 with the first crew flying in 2021 and astronauts heading to a nearby asteroid in 2025, the officials said. From there, NASA hopes to send the rocket and astronauts to Mars — at first just to circle, but then later landing on the Red Planet — in the 2030s.

At first the rockets will be able to carry into space 77 tons to 110 tons of payload, which would include the six-person Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle capsule and more. Eventually it will be able to carry 143 tons into space, maybe even 165 tons, the officials said. By comparison, the long-dormant Saturn V booster that sent men to the moon was able to lift 130 tons.

The plans dwarf the rumbling liftoff power of the space shuttle, which could haul just 27 tons. The biggest current unmanned rocket can carry about 25 tons.

The size plans elicited an amazed "good grief" from Hubbard, who said it would limit how often they could be built or launched. Unlike the reusable shuttle, these rockets are mostly one-and-done, with new ones built for every launch.

Some of the design elements, the deadline and the requirement for such a rocket were dictated by Congress.

While the recently retired space shuttle's main engines were fueled by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, it was primarily powered into orbit by solid rockets. Solid rocket boosters were designed to be cheaper, but a booster flaw caused the fatal space shuttle Challenger accident in 1986. The biggest drawback was that solid rockets can't be stopped once they are lit; liquid ones can.

The new plan is to use a giant rocket powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Apollo, Gemini and Mercury flew into space on liquid rockets, and liquids fuel most of the world's unmanned commercial rockets. Russia's Soyuz rocket is liquid fueled too.

During its initial test flights the rocket will use five solid rocket boosters designed for the shuttle strapped on its outside and will have shuttle main engines powering it on the inside. But soon after that the solid rocket boosters will be replaced with new boosters that should have new technology and may be either liquid or solid, the officials said

NASA figures it will spend about $3 billion a year on the plan, officials said. The key financial part of this arrangement is that NASA hopes to save money by turning over the launching of astronauts to the International Space Station, which orbits the Earth, to private companies and just rent spaces for astronauts like a giant taxi service. NASA would then spend the money on leaving Earth's orbit and the Earth-moon system.

Hubbard worries that NASA has a history of spending way more than initially proposed — the space shuttle cost about twice what it was supposed to — and this new rocket system will drain money from other NASA missions.

Space weather could wreak havoc in gagdet-driven world
by Kerry Sheridan Kerry Sheridan
19 February 2011

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The Earth just dodged a solar bullet. But it won't be the last. Experts say a geomagnetic storm, sparked by a massive solar eruption similar to the one that flared toward the Earth on Tuesday, is bound to strike again, and the next one could wreak more havoc than the world has ever seen.

Modern society is increasingly vulnerable to space weather because of our dependence on satellite systems for synchronizing computers, navigational systems, telecommunications networks and other electronic devices.

A potent solar storm could disrupt these technologies, scorch satellites, crash stock markets and cause months-long power outages, experts said Saturday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting.

The situation will only get more dire because the solar cycle is heading into a period of more intense activity in the coming 11 years.

"This is not a matter of if, it is simply a matter of when and how big," said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator Jane Lubchenco.

"The last time we had a maximum in the solar cycle, about 10 years ago, the world was a very different place. Cell phones are now ubiquitous; they were certainly around (before) but we didn't rely on them for so many different things.

"Many things that we take for granted today are so much more prone to the process of space weather than was the case in the last solar maximum," she continued.

The experts admitted that currently, little that can be done to predict such a storm, much less shield the world's electrical grid by doing anything other than shutting off power to some of the vulnerable areas until the danger passes.

"Please don't panic," said Stephan Lechner, director of the European Commission Joint Research Center. "Overreaction will make the situation worse."

The root of the world's vulnerability in the modern age is due to global positioning systems, or GPS devices, that provide navigational help but also serve as time synchronizers for computer networks and electronic equipment.

"GPS helped and created a new dependency," said Lechner, noting that the technology's influence extends to aerospace and defense, digital broadcast, financial services and government agencies.

In Europe alone, there are 200 separate telecommunication operators and "nothing is standardized," he said.

"We are far from understanding all the implications here."

World governments are rushing to develop strategies for cooperation and information sharing ahead of the next anticipated storm, though forecasters admit they are not sure when that may occur.

"Actually, we cannot tell if there is going to be a big storm six months from now, but we can tell when conditions are ripe for a storm to take place," said the European Space Agency's Juha-Pekka Luntama.

On Tuesday at 0156 GMT, the strongest solar eruption since 2006 sent a torrent of charged plasma particles hurtling toward the Earth at a speed of 560 miles (900 kilometers) per second.

The force of the Class X flash, the most powerful of all solar events, lit up auroras and disrupted some radio communications, but the effects were largely confined to northern latitudes.

"Actually it turned out that we were well protected this time. The magnetic fields were aligned parallel so not much happened," said Luntama.

"In another case, things might have been different."

Voyager is approaching the edge of the bubble of charged particles the Sun has thrown out into space

13 December 2010 Last updated at 23:43 ET

Voyager near Solar System's edge
By Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News, San Francisco

Voyager 1, the most distant spacecraft from Earth, has reached a new milestone in its quest to leave the Solar System.

Now 17.4bn km (10.8bn miles) from home, the veteran probe has detected a distinct change in the flow of particles that surround it.  These particles, which emanate from the Sun, are no longer travelling outwards but are moving sideways.  It means Voyager must be very close to making the jump to interstellar space - the space between the stars.

Edward Stone, the Voyager project scientist, lauded the explorer and the fascinating science it continues to return 33 years after launch.

"When Voyager was launched, the space age itself was only 20 years old, so there was no basis to know that spacecraft could last so long," he told BBC News.

"We had no idea how far we would have to travel to get outside the Solar System. We now know that in roughly five years, we should be outside for the first time."

Dr Stone was speaking here at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, the largest gathering of Earth scientists in the world.

Particle bubble

Voyager 1 was launched on 5 September 1977, and its sister spacecraft, Voyager 2, on 20 August 1977.  The Nasa probes' initial goal was to survey the outer planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, a task completed in 1989.

They were then despatched towards deep space, in the general direction of the centre of our Milky Way Galaxy.  Sustained by their radioactive power packs, the probes' instruments continue to function well and return data to Earth, although the vast distance between them and Earth means a radio message now has a travel time of about 16 hours.  The newly reported observation comes from Voyager 1's Low-Energy Charged Particle Instrument, which has been monitoring the velocity of the solar wind.

This stream of charged particles forms a bubble around our Solar System known as the heliosphere. The wind travels at "supersonic" speed until it crosses a shockwave called the termination shock.  At this point, the wind then slows dramatically and heats up in a region termed the heliosheath. Voyager has determined the velocity of the wind at its location has now slowed to zero.

Racing onwards

"We have gotten to the point where the wind from the Sun, which until now has always had an outward motion, is no longer moving outward; it is only moving sideways so that it can end up going down the tail of the heliosphere, which is a comet-shaped-like object," said Dr Stone, who is based at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California.

This phenomenon is a consequence of the wind pushing up against the matter coming from other stars. The boundary between the two is the "official" edge of the Solar System - the heliopause. Once Voyager crosses over, it will be in interstellar space.

First hints that Voyager had encountered something new came in June. Several months of further data were required to confirm the observation.

"When I realized that we were getting solid zeroes, I was amazed," said Rob Decker, a Voyager Low-Energy Charged Particle Instrument co-investigator from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

"Here was Voyager, a spacecraft that has been a workhorse for 33 years, showing us something completely new again."

Voyager is racing on towards the heliopause at 17km/s. Dr Stone expects the cross-over to occur within the next few years.

22 November 2010 Last updated at 06:04 ET, I-BBC
'Eavesdropper' satellite rides huge rocket from Florida
Delta-4 Heavy (Pat Corkery/United Launch Alliance) It is only the fourth time the giant rocket has flown

The US National Reconnaissance Office has launched what is reputed to be the largest satellite ever sent into space.

The spacecraft was put into orbit on a Delta-4 Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force station on Sunday.

The NRO gave no details about the payload but it is understood the satellite will be used to eavesdrop on enemy communications.

For comparison, the largest commercial satellite ever launched was the seven-tonne Terrestar-1 telecoms spacecraft.

It had an 18m antenna-reflector to relay phone and data traffic.

US websites have speculated that the mesh antenna on the new NROL-32 satellite would exceed this, and could even be substantially bigger than the 22m-diamater structure orbited last week on another commercial platform called Skyterra-1.

The Delta-4 Heavy rocket, the largest unmanned American launch vehicle, lifted off at 1758 local time (2258 GMT).

It is only the fourth time the giant booster has flown since its maiden outing in 2004.

The rocket features three core boosters strapped side by side. Each has a Rocketdyne-built RS-68 engine, which burns a tonne of propellant every second and produces 2,900 kiloNewtons (650,000lbs force) of thrust at lift-off.

The Apollo Moon rockets, by comparison, could produce more than three times the thrust of the Delta.

The Delta-4 heavy can put up to 13 tonnes in a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). It does not operate in the commercial market.

"This doesn't say anything about the question of whether or not life has existed on Mars”  Chris McKay Nasa's Ames Research Center
The soil of the Atacama desert shown above left is believed to resemble that of Mars;  Viking lander on Mars  (r).  The Vikings probed the Martian soil back in 1976 - we thought the Vikings discovered America.

Mars may not be lifeless, say scientists
By Katia Moskvitch Science reporter, BBC News
6 September 2010 Last updated at 08:18 ET

Carbon-rich organic molecules, which serve as the building blocks of life, may be present on Mars after all, say scientists - challenging a widely-held notion of the Red Planet as barren.

When Nasa's two Viking landers picked up and examined samples of Martian soil in 1976, scientists found no evidence for carbon-rich molecules or biology.  But after the Phoenix Mars Lander discovered the chlorine-containing chemical perchlorate in the planet's "arctic" region in 2008, scientists decided to re-visit the issue.

They travelled to the Atacama Desert in Chile, where conditions are believed to be similar to those on Mars.

After mixing the soil with perchlorate and heating it, they found that the gases produced were carbon dioxide and traces of chloromethane and dichloromethane - just like the gases released by the chemical reactions after the Viking landers heated the Martian soil more than three decades ago.

Surprising result

They also found that chemical reactions effectively destroyed all organic compounds in the soil.

"Our results suggest that not only organics, but also perchlorate, may have been present in the soil at both Viking landing sites," said the study's lead author, Rafael Navarro-González of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City.

But despite the excitement about the finding, the researchers warn it is too early to conclude that the Red Planet has ever had life.

"This doesn't say anything about the question of whether or not life has existed on Mars, but it could make a big difference in how we look for evidence to answer that question," said Chris McKay of Nasa's Ames Research Center, California.

He explained that organics can come from either biological and non-bio sources - many meteorites that have fallen on Earth have organic material.

Perchlorate, an ion of chlorine and oxygen, could have been present on Mars for billions of years and only manifest itself when heated, destroying all the organics in the soil.
The Atacama desert, Chile

When scientists originally examined the data from the Viking probes, they interpreted the chlorine-containing organic compounds as contaminants from cleaning fluids carried on the spacecraft.

It is not yet clear whether the organic molecules are indigenous to the Red Planet or have been brought by meteorites.

This will be one of the goals of upcoming missions to Mars. In 2011, Nasa is planning to kick off its Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, with the Curiosity rover designed to search for organic material on the planet.

Private Rocket Has Successful First Flight
June 4, 2010

The maiden flight of a privately-developed rocket that may eventually carry NASA astronauts to space took off Friday afternoon and reached orbit in what appeared to be an almost flawless flight.

The Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, SpaceX for short, launched the 154-foot, 735,000-pound Falcon 9 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, heading eastward over the Atlantic. The nine first-stage engines ignited at 2:45 p.m. Eastern time. After burning for three minutes, the first stage dropped off into the ocean while the second-stage engine burned about six minutes to place a capsule into orbit.

The launching was pushed back almost four hours after the countdown hit a few snags, including a delay to fix a glitch in the rocket’s self-destruct system and a last-second abort at 1:30 p.m. because of engine readings outside the acceptable range. SpaceX engineers reset the systems and resumed the countdown before the launching window closed at 3 p.m.

The success is a major boon to those supporting President Obama’s proposal to turn the launching of astronauts over to private companies. A spectacular failure would have provided abundant ammunition to opponents who call that approach too risky. Debate over the future of NASA’s human spaceflight program will continue through the summer as the Obama administration and Congress try to arrive at a compromise.

Within a few months, SpaceX plans to launch a second Falcon 9 to demonstrate to NASA its capabilities before it gets the go-ahead to take cargo and supplies to the International Space Station.

That flight will include a full version of the Dragon capsule, which can hold cargo and astronauts; Friday’s maiden flight held a mock-up of the capsule, aiming it for a circular orbit 155 miles from Earth. The engines appeared to all fire properly, but the second stage started a slow spin near the end of the ascent into orbit.

Flights carrying cargo to the space station are scheduled to begin next year. SpaceX has said it can build a version for astronauts in three years once it has a contract.


No pun intended, this program has had it's ups and downs. One highlight was example of Dr. Sally Ride, at the time an inspiration to women.  Retired from NASA 1987.

Woman's plane photos of space shuttle go viral

By MATT SEDENSKY, Associated Press
Wed May 18, 2011 9:36 am ET

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Groggy from a late night watching the Yankees, frigid from a chilled airplane cabin, Stefanie Gordon stirred to action after the pilot's announcement. Lifting her iPhone to the plane's window, she captured an otherworldly image that rocketed around the globe as fast as her subject: Space shuttle Endeavour soaring from a bank of clouds, its towering plume of white smoke lighting the azure sky.

She had never imagined the response her airborne image — capturing the last launch of Endeavour and the next-to-last space shuttle flight — would ignite. The images and video have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on Twitter alone, landed on network newscasts and been published in newspapers worldwide.

In turn, they've made a photographic celebrity of sorts of the unemployed 33-year-old from Hoboken, N.J.

"It just blew up," she said of the attention.

Gordon caught an early Delta flight from New York to West Palm Beach on Monday to visit her parents and had a whole row to herself, never imagining the history she would record.

She stretched out and took a nap. Then she awoke shortly before the pilot announced the descent had begun and a sighting of the shuttle was possible. She had forgotten Endeavour was even taking off at 8:56 a.m. EDT, but readied her iPhone just in case.

Then, the pilot came on again, alerting passengers the shuttle was in sight.

"Everybody ran over to the east side of the plane," Gordon said Tuesday, "and all of a sudden there it was in the clouds."

All told, she shot 12 seconds of footage of the shuttle arcing on its simple stream of smoke into space. She also shot three still photographs.

The plane landed minutes later in West Palm Beach and while she was waiting at the luggage carousel, at 9:31 a.m., she began uploading to Twitter. As she waited for her father to pick her up, she realized her work was making a splash.

"My phone just started going crazy," she said.

Among those who reached out to Gordon was Anne Farrar, a photo editor at The Washington Post, who saw the images after they were posted by a friend on Facebook. She said she'd never seen anything quite like this view of a shuttle launch before.

"It was just a really imaginative way to bring it to our readers," Farrar said. "It's almost like an underwater view."

Endeavour is on a 16-day trip — the second to last space shuttle flight. Its main mission is to attach to the space station a $2 billion physics experiment.

The Associated Press contacted Gordon through Facebook and purchased the images. The AP often obtains photos from eye witnesses, called citizen journalists.

As for Gordon, she lost her job at as a meeting planner at a nonprofit organization last month. If the exposure from her pictures helps land her dream job of working in the sports field on special events and promotions, she said, it would all be worth it. Or if someone thinks her photographic eye qualifies her for a permanent job shooting video or photos, she wouldn't turn that down either.

For now, she's basking in the afterglow of her launch shots and hoping for some rest once the media frenzy passes.

"Laying by the pool would be really nice," she said.

Space shuttle Discovery, crew of 7 back on Earth
By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer
20 April 2010

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Shuttle Discovery and its astronauts returned safely to Earth on Tuesday after making a rare flyover of America's heartland to wrap up their 15-day, 6 million-mile journey to the International Space Station.

The touchdown was delayed by rain and fog that dissipated as the sun rose, allowing Mission Control to take advantage of the morning's second landing opportunity.

Discovery swooped through a hazy sky before landing on the Kennedy Space Center runway. NASA briefly considered bringing the shuttle in to the opposite end of the strip because of puffy clouds, but the glare from the sun was too great and flight controllers stuck to the original plan.

In the end, commander Alan Poindexter made what appeared to be a smooth touchdown, a day late because of rain.

"Welcome home," Mission Control said, radioing congratulations on the entire flight.

"It was a great mission. We enjoyed it," Poindexter said. "And we're glad that the International Space Station is stocked up again."

NASA had promised a spectacular show, weather permitting, for early risers in Helena, Mont., and all the way along Discovery's flight path through the Midwest and Southeast.

With the space shuttle program winding down, there weren't expected to be any more continental flyovers.

This was, in fact, Discovery's next-to-last flight. Only one more mission remains for NASA's oldest surviving shuttle. As soon as it's removed from the runway, it will be prepped for the final shuttle flight, scheduled for September.

Discovery zoomed over the North Pacific on its way home before crossing into North America over Vancouver, British Columbia. Then it headed toward the southeast, flying over northeastern Washington, Helena, Mont.; Wyoming; southwestern Nebraska; northeastern Colorado; southwestern Kansas; Oklahoma; Arkansas; Mississippi; Alabama; Georgia and finally Florida east of Gainesville.

NASA had anticipated the sonic booms might be heard as far north as Kansas. There were no immediate reports.

Before the shuttle began its descent, Mission Control described to the astronauts the route they would be taking to Cape Canaveral. "Sounds like a great ground track," Poindexter observed.

It was the first time since 2007 that a space shuttle descended over so much of the United States.

NASA typically prefers bringing a shuttle home from the southwest, up over the South Pacific, Central America and the Gulf of Mexico. That way, there's minimal flying over heavily populated areas. In 2003, space shuttle Columbia shattered over Texas during re-entry, but no one on the ground was injured by the falling wreckage.

NASA wanted to maximize the crew's work time in orbit, while minimizing fatigue. That resulted in this North American crossing.

Before leaving the space station Saturday, Poindexter and his crew dropped off tons of supplies and equipment. The main delivery was a tank full of ammonia coolant, which took three spacewalks to hook up.

A nitrogen pressure valve refused to open after the tank was installed, and for a day, NASA considered sending the shuttle astronauts out on a fourth spacewalk to fix the problem. But engineers concluded it was not an emergency and that the space station crew or future shuttle fliers could deal with it.

History, meanwhile, was made with the presence of four women in space: three on the shuttle and one at the station.

Discovery returned with a couple tons of trash and discarded space station equipment. Most of that was jammed into a cargo carrier that rocketed away aboard the shuttle back on April 5. The carrier will be re-outfitted and fly back up on Discovery in September, and be installed permanently at the orbiting outpost.

Only three shuttle missions remain for NASA before the fleet is retired this fall after nearly 30 years of operation. Atlantis will carry up a small Russian lab and other equipment next month.

The same bad weather that prevented Discovery from returning home Monday also stalled Atlantis' trip to the launch pad. The three-mile move from the hangar has been rescheduled for Tuesday night. Liftoff is targeted for May 14.

Space shuttle Atlantis, 7 astronauts back on Earth
By MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer
Nov 27, 10:01 AM EST

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- Space shuttle Atlantis and its seven astronauts returned to Earth with a smooth touchdown Friday to end an 11-day flight that resupplied the International Space Station.  With bright sunlight glinting off it, the shuttle swooped through a clear sky and landed on the runway right on time. Mission Control said no one could remember such welcoming conditions; there were no clouds in sight for Atlantis' midmorning arrival, and the temperature was in the 50s.

"Couldn't have picked a clearer day," commander Charles Hobaugh said. Mission Control congratulated him on a "picture perfect" landing.

It was an especially sweet homecoming for two of the crew.  Astronaut Nicole Stott was away for three months, living at the space station. Fellow crew member Randolph Bresnik's baby daughter was born last weekend.

"Everybody, welcome back to Earth, especially you, Nicole," Mission Control radioed.

Hobaugh and his crew spent a week stockpiling the space station. They delivered big spare parts and performed three spacewalks to install equipment and carry out maintenance.  The pumps, gyroscopes and storage tanks should keep the outpost in business for another five to 10 years, long after Atlantis and the two other shuttles are retired.  Stott was feeling the full effects of gravity for the first time since she rocketed to the space station at the end of August. Her mission lasted 91 days.

She said all week that she couldn't wait to see her husband and 7-year-old son, who were at Kennedy Space Center for the landing. She also was looking forward to some pizza and icy cola.  Bresnik had even bigger plans: to hold his infant daughter for the first time.  Abigail Mae Bresnik was born Saturday night, right after her father took his first spacewalk. But he'll have to wait until Saturday to see her. Bresnik's wife, Rebecca, stayed home in Houston with Abigail and 3-year-old big brother Wyatt.

Atlantis - which brought back broken equipment from the space station's water-recycling system - logged 4.5 million miles and circled Earth 171 times.

This was Atlantis' next-to-last mission. Only five shuttle flights remain, all to the space station next year. Station construction will essentially end at that point, so NASA used the trip to send up as many hefty spare parts as possible. None of the other visiting spacecraft - from Russia, Japan and Europe - can carry so much in a single load.  Atlantis, which delivered nearly 15 tons of gear, left the space station 86 percent complete.

NASA's next shuttle flight is in February. Endeavour will deliver a full-fledged module to the space station, complete with a cupola for prime Earth gazing with a domed chamber that has seven windows.

The five remaining space station residents, meanwhile, may have to dodge a piece of space junk this weekend.

NASA said Friday that flight controllers were monitoring a large piece of an old Delta rocket that could pass within an uncomfortably close six miles of the outpost Saturday afternoon. The rocket was used to launch NASA's Stardust spacecraft in 1999 to gather comet dust samples.

A decision on whether to move the space station to avoid a possible hit was expected later Friday.

Shuttle Atlantis Lifts Off for 11-Day Mission
November 17, 2009

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — The shuttle Atlantis vaulted into orbit Monday and set off after the International Space Station, carrying 15 tons of spare parts and equipment as a hedge against failures after the shuttle fleet is retired next year.

“We’re looking for the long-term outfitting of station,” said the shuttle commander, Col. Charles O. Hobaugh of the Marines.

With Colonel Hobaugh and Capt. Barry E. Wilmore, a Navy pilot, at the controls, Atlantis’s twin solid-fuel boosters ignited with a blast of fire at 2:28 p.m., Eastern time, instantly pushing the winged spacecraft away from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center.

Wheeling about to line up on a northeasterly trajectory, Atlantis accelerated through a partly cloudy sky, on course for a docking with the space station around noon Wednesday.

Joining Colonel Hobaugh and Captain Wilmore for the 11-day mission were Capt. Michael J. Foreman, a retired Navy officer; Lt. Col. Randolph J. Bresnik of the Marines; Leland D. Melvin, an expert in materials testing (and a former pro football draft pick); and Dr. Robert L. Satcher Jr., an orthopedic surgeon with a doctorate in chemical engineering.

It will be the first shuttle flight for Captain Wilmore, Dr. Satcher and Colonel Bresnik, whose wife is scheduled to deliver the couple’s second child, a girl, during the mission.

The primary goal of the 129th shuttle flight is to deliver critical spares to the space station that are too large to be launched on the European, Japanese and Russian cargo ships that will be used to support the outpost after the shuttle is retired next year.

Mounted on twin pallets in Atlantis’s payload bay are two spare gyroscopes, used to control the space station’s orientation in space, a high-pressure oxygen tank for the lab’s airlock, and a spare pump module, ammonia coolant and nitrogen that will be needed at some point by the station’s cooling system.

Other components include a spare mechanical hand-like appendage for the station’s robot arm, a power cable spool used by the arm’s mobile transporter, a solar array battery charge-discharge unit and a device designed to prevent electrical arcing that could pose a threat to spacewalkers.

The Atlantis astronauts also plan to bring a space station flight engineer, Nicole P. Stott back to Earth after three months in orbit.

This will be the last shuttle mission to carry a crew member to or from the space station. Until a shuttle replacement starts flying in five to seven years, American, European, Canadian and Japanese astronauts will ride Russian Soyuz capsules to the station, paying $50 million per seat.

If all goes well, the Atlantis astronauts will celebrate Thanksgiving in space and land back at the Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 27.

A large impact mark on Jupiter’s south polar region (l) captured on Monday by NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility in Mauna Kea, Hawaii. (R) Note arrow upper left:  biwwions and biwwions of kilometers away...

3 February 2012 Last updated at 04:35 ET

Hubble snaps stunning barred spiral galaxy image

The Hubble space telescope has captured an image of a "barred spiral" galaxy that could help us better understand our own Milky Way.

Most of the known spiral galaxies fall into this "barred" category - which are defined by the pronounced bar structure across their centres.

The presence of this structure may be an indication of a galaxy's age.

Two-thirds of nearby, younger galaxies have the bar, while only a fifth of older, more distant spirals have it.

The new picture also continues the Hubble space telescope's long heritage of striking astronomical images.

In the upper left of the image is a cluster showing recent star formation that is just visible to Hubble's cameras.

But it is a bright source in X-ray light; astronomers believe that this IXO-5 X-ray source is actually a "binary" system comprising a star and a black hole in mutual orbit.

Shuttle Back After 16-Day Mission

August 1, 2009

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — The shuttle Endeavour closed out a grueling 16-day space station assembly mission with a smooth Florida landing on Friday, bringing Japan’s first long-duration astronaut back to Earth after four and one-half months in orbit.

Approaching from the south after a high-speed computer-orchestrated descent, the mission commander, Mark Polansky, took over manual control 50,000 feet above the Florida spaceport, banked to line up on runway 15 and guided the 110-ton shuttle to a picture-perfect touchdown at 10:48 a.m. Eastern time.

“Welcome home. Congratulations on a superb mission from beginning to end,” astronaut Alan Poindexter radioed from mission control in Houston. “Very well done.”

“Well, thanks to you and the whole team,” Mr. Polansky replied. “That’s what it’s all about. We’re happy to be home.”

Mr. Polansky and his shuttle crewmates — Marine Col. Douglas Hurley, the pilot; the Canadian flight engineer, Julie Payette; Dr. David Wolf; Dr. Thomas Marshburn; and Navy Cmdr. Christopher Cassidy — left Army Col. Timothy Kopra behind on the space station and brought Koichi Wakata back to Earth in his place.

Representing the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Mr. Wakata was launched to the station aboard the shuttle Discovery last March. His stay at the lab complex was extended by a month when Endeavour’s launching was delayed from June 13 to July 15 by technical problems and bad weather.

He made the trip back to Earth resting on his back, in a recumbent seat on Endeavour’s lower deck, to ease the transition back to gravity.

Asked what he was looking forward to the most after reunions with family and friends, he listed fresh sushi, cold noodles and a visit to hot springs back home.

During a departure ceremony before Endeavour’s undocking from the station on Tuesday, the station commander — Gennady Padalka, a Russian cosmonaut — offered rare praise and “a special thanks to Koichi-san.” “He’s very dedicated and a very, very good flight engineer,” Mr. Padalka said. “As crew commander, I want to say we could rely on him in any situation.”

Among his scientific duties and routine maintenance chores, Mr. Wakata also tested bacteria-killing, water-absorbing Japanese underwear designed to be worn in space for weeks at a time.

“I wore them for about a month, and my station crew members never complained!” he said Thursday. “So I think the experiment went fine.”

Swapping out station crew members was just one of the goals of Endeavour’s mission.

Dr. Wolf, Dr. Marshburn and Commander Cassidy, a Navy SEAL, staged five spacewalks, attaching an experiment platform to Japan’s Kibo lab module, replacing aging solar array batteries and storing critical spare parts.

The astronauts also re-wired two of the station’s stabilizing gyroscopes, installed television cameras needed for the docking of a Japanese cargo ship in September, and deployed a jammed spare-parts mounting mechanism on the station’s main truss.

Only seven more shuttle flights remain before the fleet is retired next year, and NASA is launching as many spare parts to the station as possible to protect against future failures when smaller cargo ships may not be able to accommodate large components.

With Endeavour safely home, NASA will turn its attention to readying the shuttle Discovery for launch around Aug. 25 on a mission to deliver more supplies and equipment to the space station along with Colonel Kopra’s replacement, Nicole Stott.

Engineers are still assessing what caused an unusual amount of foam insulation to fall from the central section of Endeavour’s external tank during launch on July 15. Testing indicated that Discovery’s tank is in good shape, but additional checks were ordered on Thursday.

Assuming no problems are found, Discovery will be hauled to launch pad 39A on Monday.

Atlantis mission landing at top, (California desert); take-off in Florida; comment by Hubble "chief repairman" below...

Storms Force Space Shuttle to Land in California
May 25, 2009

As Odysseus learned, getting home can be the hardest part of any journey. Seven astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis finally made it home Sunday after a voyage of more than 5 million miles.

After skirting bad weather at its home port in Florida for two and a half days, the Atlantis materialized out of a blue sky over the California desert like a stubby-winged white dove. Trailing its trademark twin sonic booms and roping at 260 feet per second, it touched the Earth at Edwards Air Force Base at 11:39 am.

The safe return brought a successful end a 13-day mission to overhaul the Hubble Space Telescope one last time.

“It was a thrill from start to finish,” the pilot, Commander Scott Altman, said upon rolling to a stop on the runway. “We took a great ride. It took a whole team across the country to pull it off.”

NASA would have preferred to land Atlantis at its home port at Kennedy because it takes a week or more and $1.8 million to get the shuttle back to Florida, flying piggyback on a special 747, leaving workers a week behind in preparing it for its next flight in August. But thunderstorms were threatening the landing area on Friday and Saturday. Because the weather was fine in California and Atlantis had plenty of provisions, the mission controllers kept going around, hoping to get a break in Florida.

On Sunday, presaging the wild re-entry to come, the astronauts were awakened to the sound of Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.” After one more attempt to land in Florida, the flight director, Norm Knight, and his team decided to bring Atlantis down in California.

Atlantis fired its engines to drop out of orbit at 10:24 am. “Atlantis is a good ship,” Commander Altman reported back to Houston. The shuttle re-entered the atmosphere about 400,000 feet over the Pacific about 40 minutes later.

The Atlantis blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 11 and snatched the veteran telescope from the sky on May 13. In spacewalks on five succeeding days, the astronauts swapped out the telescope’s batteries, gyroscopes and an ailing data computer, installed two new scientific instruments and repaired two others that were not designed to be worked on in space.

Hubble was returned to its rightful place in the heavens last Tuesday. The telescope, which had two working instruments a month ago, now has five, counting an infrared camera that needs defrosting. NASA said that it should keep beaming down its iconic cosmic postcards and other astronomical measurements for another five to ten years.

In an interview in space a few days ago, Commander Altman said the mission “highlighted the ability of humans to work in space alongside machines.”

But that ability at least as science is concerned, it about to come to an end. The touchdown marked the beginning of the end — at least for now — of a dream that has motivated the American space program for the last four decades and helped sell the concept of the space shuttle: namely, that astronauts could service scientific instruments in space, riding up to orbit in a kind of space truck and launch satellites by just tossing them over the side, and then pluck them back in for repair and maintenance.

That dream started to die when Challenger exploded in 1986, killing seven astronauts, delaying the launch of Hubble for four years. NASA shifted most of its satellite launches to unmanned rockets. Hubble was launched, in 1990, the first of four so-called Great Observatories, but it wound up being the only one built to be serviceable by astronauts.

Hubble was visited five times by astronauts and is now, depending on which measurement is used, 30 to 70 times more powerful as a scientific instrument than it has ever been.

The whole observatory has cost $9.6 billion, according to NASA accounting, which includes the cost of six shuttle launches. Hubble will wind up in the ocean after its batteries and gyros eventually die.

The shuttles are scheduled to be retired next year, and NASA has been pressing ahead with a new fleet of spacecraft called Constellation, intended to return humans to the Moon. But President Obama has asked for a review of the program.

John Grunsfeld, an astronaut who has made eight spacewalks to work on Hubble over the years, said from the Atlantis that going to low Earth orbit, where the space telescope lives and where the space shuttle can reach, has been fun. But he added: “It’s time to leave low Earth orbit, go out and explore the cosmos. It’s a great solar system and it’s time for humans to start going out.”

Weather Sends Shuttle to California

Filed at 11:37 a.m. ET
May 24, 2009

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) -- Space Shuttle Atlantis and its crew of seven streaked toward California on Sunday to wind up their exalted Hubble Space Telescope repair mission, after stormy weather in Florida prevented a return to NASA's home base.

Mission Control waited as long as possible, hoping the weather would improve at Florida's Kennedy Space Center before finally giving up and directing commander Scott Altman and his crew to the backup landing site in the Mojave Desert. Conditions there were ideal.

''We could not get comfortable with the KSC weather,'' Mission Control said, referring to Kennedy.

''Copy that, we're going to Edwards,'' Altman replied.

NASA passed up Sunday's first landing opportunity at Kennedy because of storm clouds offshore. The astronauts took an extra swing around the world as flight controllers kept watch over the increasingly overcast sky. When told of the pristine conditions awaiting him at Edwards Air Force Base, Altman said, ''A beautiful day in the desert.''

Minutes later, Altman and his co-pilot fired the braking rockets and set Atlantis on its hourlong descent.

After 13 days in orbit, many of them tending to Hubble, Altman and his crew were anxious to get back on the ground. They were supposed to return to Earth on Friday, but NASA opted to keep the astronauts circling the world in case the bad weather from a massive low-pressure system eased up.

NASA loses at least a week of work and close to $2 million in ferry costs by landing in California. And the astronauts will have to wait another day to be reunited with their families, who were in Florida.

Atlantis' astronauts left behind a refurbished Hubble that scientists say is better than ever and should keep churning out pictures of the universe for another five to 10 years. They carried out five spacewalks to give the 19-year-old observatory new science instruments, pointing devices and batteries, and fix a pair of broken instruments, something never before attempted. Stuck bolts and other difficulties made much of the work harder than expected.

The $1 billion overhaul was the last for Hubble and, thanks to the crew's valiant effort, won praise from President Barack Obama and members of Congress. But with space shuttles retiring next year, no more astronauts will visit the telescope, and NASA expects to steer it into the Pacific sometime in the early 2020s.

As a souvenir for the masses, the astronauts were bringing back the old wide-field camera they pulled out, so it can be put on display at the Smithsonian Institution. The replacement camera and other new instruments will enable Hubble to peer deeper into the universe, to within 500 million to 600 million years of creation.

It will take almost all summer for scientists to check out all the new telescope systems. NASA expects to release the first picture in early September.

This mission almost didn't happen. It was canceled in 2004, a year after the Columbia tragedy, because of the dangers of flying into a 350-mile-high orbit that did not offer any shelter in case Atlantis suffered damage from launch debris or space junk. The public protest was intense, and NASA reinstated the flight after developing a rescue plan and shuttle repair kits.

Shuttle Endeavour was on standby for a possible rescue mission until late last week, after inspections found Atlantis' thermal shielding to be solid for re-entry. Endeavour now will be prepped for a June flight to the international space station.

Shuttle Lifts Off for Final Trip to Telescope

May 12, 2009

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — Seven astronauts blasted off for one last dance with the Hubble Space Telescope on Monday.

The space shuttle Atlantis, commanded by Scott D. Altman, bolted through the sky on a pillar of smoke and fire just after 2 p.m. Monday. Atlantis is carrying 22,000 pounds of custom-designed tools, replacement parts and new instruments to slice and dice starlight as well as the hearts of scientists and stargazers everywhere. It is rushing toward a Wednesday rendezvous with the telescope, which happened to be floating about 350 miles directly above Cape Canaveral at launching time.

If all goes well, in five spacewalks starting Thursday morning, the crew members will revamp and refresh the telescope, which has dazzled the public and the science community with its iconic cosmic postcards. Then they will say goodbye on behalf of humanity forever. Sometime in the middle of the next decade, the Hubble will run out of juice, and it will eventually be crashed into the ocean.

Besides Commander Altman, the crew includes Gregory C. Johnson, as pilot, and John M. Grunsfeld, Michael J. Massimino, Michael T. Good, Andrew J. Fuestel and K. Megan McArthur, as mission specialists.

The Atlantis astronauts will spend Tuesday examining the shuttle with cameras looking for any dings or nicks or holes caused by flying debris during the launching. The shuttle Columbia was doomed in 2003 because a hunk of insulating foam broke off the external fuel tank and damaged the tiles that protected the spacecraft from the searing heat of re-entering the atmosphere.

The astronauts carry a tool kit for fixing small holes or cracks in the fragile tiles. If there is something they cannot fix, they will hunker down and await the shuttle Endeavour, which is sitting on another launching pad, ready to blast off with a four-man crew and retrieve the Atlantis astronauts from danger.

“The sad thing is if we get to orbit and see something bad and get waved off and don’t get to fix Hubble,” Dr. Grunsfeld said. “That would be the saddest.”

Among other things, Endeavour would have to bring a spacesuit for Commander Altman, who takes an extra-large that is not stocked on Atlantis. The two most experienced spacewalkers on Atlantis, Dr. Grunsfeld and Dr. Massimino, would then escort their shipmates along a rope to the Endeavour in a two-day dance of swapping spacesuits that would include a sleepover for Dr. Grunsfeld on the Endeavour.

Because of changes to the design of the fuel tank that make it less likely to sustain major damage during launching, the bigger risk this time around comes from micrometeoroids and space junk, which is more prevalent at Hubble’s altitude and orbit than at the lower space station. There is about a 1 in 229 chance of a catastrophic collision, so the astronauts will take another close look at their craft at the end of the mission.

The flight comes as NASA is once again at a crossroads. The agency lacks a permanent administrator; Christopher Scolese has been acting administrator since Michael D. Griffin stepped down in January, and the White House is said to have been having trouble finding a candidate who can pass various forms of muster.

The agency has begun laying off workers as part of the decision to retire the shuttles next year. Last week, President Obama ordered a review of the agency’s long-heralded plan to return humans to the Moon and of the Constellation spacecraft that are to succeed the shuttle.

So if it is the beginning of the last act for the Hubble, the flight Monday also marks the beginning of the end for the space shuttle, whose greatest legacy might very well be the role it played in the repair and maintenance of the Hubble, what Commander Altman recently called “an incredible example of how humans and machines can work together.”

Dr. Grunsfeld, who has earned the sobriquet of “Hubble repairman” for his previous exploits in space with the telescope, said: “The only reason Hubble works is because we have a space shuttle. And of all things we do, I think Hubble is probably the best thing we use it for.”

As Mario Livio, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute, put it, “It’s not just a telescope, it’s the people’s telescope.”

Atlantis is scheduled to rendezvous with the Hubble on Wednesday, latch it down in the shuttle cargo bay and take a good look at it with the robot arm and cameras. The engineers say they will not be surprised to find flapping insulation blankets or micrometeorite hits.

After all, it’s been seven years.

NASA hits the Moon with help of private industry
Northrop develops $79 million spacecraft to help government find lunar water
By Christopher Hinton, MarketWatch
Oct. 9, 2009, 9:39 a.m. EDT

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- NASA on Friday morning slammed a missile into the Moon's surface in the hope the debris kicked up from the impact would reveal water vapor, an important resource for astronauts on any future missions to the lunar surface.

But the engineering behind the spacecraft that carried and launched the kinetic missile wasn't built by any government agency, but by Northrop Grumman Corp., as the nation's space agency looks more toward private business for its equipment and support services.

The LCROSS spacecraft built by Northrop Grumman.

In a news release from Northrop , the Los Angeles-based aerospace company said the LCROSS spacecraft, shorthand for the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, was built on a tight budget over the course of 29 months for a total mission cost of just $79 million.

LCROSS uses a standard structure, off-the-shelf commercial hardware and flight-proven payload instruments that helped to keep the mission cost low, according to Northrop.

"The success of this mission is a tribute to the tremendous engineering skills and partnership between Northrop Grumman and NASA Ames Research Center," said Steve Hixson, vice president of the company's advanced concepts-space and directed energy systems business.

LCROSS launched a two-ton missile that hit the moon's surface at twice the speed of a bullet at about 7:30 a.m. Eastern time. NASA is now analyzing the debris from the impact.

In August, a group of astrophysicists, astronauts, former aerospace industry executives and Air Force generals said the U.S. should rely more on private industry for its equipment because of severe budget cuts in the agency.

Private business is more likely to get more value for each government dollar spent on future missions, as it can execute more cost-effective planning and adopt more rapidly new technology, according to the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee. 

First Female Astronaut From China Blasts Into Space
June 16, 2012

SHANGHAI — China’s Shenzhou-9 spacecraft blasted off at 6:37 p.m. Saturday from a remote desert in western China, sending a crew of three, including the country’s first female astronaut, into space.

The Chinese astronauts are expected to complete the country’s first manned space docking mission, an important step in Beijing’s ambitious plan to build a space station by 2020.

The successful launch, powered by a Long March 2F rocket, was shown live on state television Saturday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert in western China.

The crew is expected to spend up to 20 days in space and dock with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module, a kind of miniature space station, which China launched in September 2011. The crew will conduct experiments and live for a time in the space module.

China has spent billions of dollars in the last decade to build a space program to compete with the United States and Russia and plans to eventually put a man on the moon, perhaps by 2016.

The country sent its first man into space in 2003, and a Chinese astronaut did a spacewalk in 2008. The manned docking would be considered a milestone for China’s space program and the third major step in developing a space program. China completed a docking by remote control in November when the Shenzhou 8 capsule coupled with the Tiangong 1 orbital module, an event that was broadcast live on national television and observed by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao from the control center in Beijing.

Saturday’s launch included China’s first female astronaut, a 33-year-old air force pilot named Liu Yang.

“This is an important leap forward for China’s manned space program,” Wu Bangguo, the nation’s top legislator, said speaking to the three astronauts before they took flight Saturday.

The mission is China’s first manned spaceflight since September 2008.

The goal, analysts say, is to dock with the space lab as practice for future dockings with the space station that China plans to build. One crew member will remain aboard the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft as a precautionary measure while the others enter the Tiangong 1 orbital module.

While the mission itself is not unusual, analysts said it extends China’s remarkable pace in developing its space program.

“It is the speed with which China is ticking off these boxes in developing their program that is interesting,” the president of the George C. Marshall Institute, Jeff Kueter, said.

In the days leading up to Saturday’s launch, Chinese media ran several profiles of Ms. Liu, The state-run Xinhua news service reported that she is from central China’s Henan Province and now lives in Beijing with her husband. She will be in charge of medical experiments during the mission, Xinhua said.

The Soviet Union sent the first woman into space in 1963. The first American woman in space was Sally Ride, in 1983. According to China’s state-run news media, the selection process even determined that China’s first woman in space must be married, with a natural born child. 

Beijing announced a five-year plan for space exploration in December that included a space lab and collecting samples from the moon by 2016. The government has previously vowed to reach the moon and establish a manned space station by 2020.

The plan, released by the State Council, China’s cabinet, shows how Beijing intends to draw on its military and civilian resources to reach the goals. The People’s Liberation Army drives China’s space program, and civilian institutions such as universities and laboratories are subject to the military’S efforts.

China is considered a leader in the business of launching satellites, but analysts say the country is still years behind the United States. The Chinese government has relied on its aerospace engineers and spent billions of dollars in recent years to build its program.

David Barboza reported from Shanghai, and Kevin Drew from Hong Kong.

S U P E R   C OL L I D E R    N E W S    H E A D Q U A R T E R S
Check out the news here, including video of BBC reporter bicycling around in it.

Higgs and Englert Are Awarded Nobel Prize in Physics
October 8, 2013

Two theoretical physicists who suggested that an invisible ocean of energy suffusing space is responsible for the mass and diversity of the particles in the universe won the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday. They are Peter Higgs, 84, of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and François Englert, 80, of the University Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium.

The theory, elucidated in 1964, sent physicists on a generation-long search for a telltale particle known as the Higgs boson, or the God particle. The chase culminated in July 2012 with the discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, in Switzerland.

They will split a prize of $1.2 million, to be awarded in Stockholm Dec. 10.

The Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences hailed the prize as “the discovery for the discovery of the mechanism that contributes to understanding the origin of the mass of subatomic particles.”

Scientists find new particle, probably the Higgs
Chris Wickham and Rosalba O'Brien | Reuters
4 July 2012

GENEVA/LONDON (Reuters) - Scientists at Europe's CERN research center have found a new subatomic particle that could be the Higgs boson, the basic building block of the universe.

"We have indeed discovered a particle consistent with the Higgs boson," John Womersley, head of a British public research body, told journalists and scientists in London on Wednesday.

"These results mark a significant breakthrough in our understanding of the fundamental laws that govern the universe."

Joe Incandela, spokesman for one of the two teams hunting for the Higgs particle told an audience at CERN near Geneva: "This is a preliminary result, but we think it's very strong and very solid."

CERN's director general Rolph Heuer said: "As a layman, I would say I think we have it."

Addressing the scientists assembled in the CERN auditorium, Heuer asked: "Would you agree?" They burst into applause.

Peter Higgs, the 83-year-old British physicist who proposed the existence of the Higgs boson in the 1960s, was at CERN to welcome the news. Clearly overwhelmed, his eyes brimming, he told the symposium: "It is an incredible thing that it has happened in my lifetime."


The Higgs theory explains how particles clumped together to form stars, planets and life itself.  Without the Higgs particle, the particles that make up the universe would have remained like a soup, the theory goes.  It is the last undiscovered piece of the Standard Model that describes the fundamental make-up of the universe. The model is for physicists what the theory of evolution is for biologists.

What scientists do not yet know from the latest findings is whether the particle they have discovered is the Higgs boson as described by the Standard Model. It could also be a variant of the Higgs idea or an entirely new subatomic particle that could force a rethink on the fundamental structure of matter.  The last two possibilities are, in scientific terms, the most exciting.

Packed audiences of particle physicists, journalists, students and even politicians filled conference rooms in Geneva and London to hear the announcement.  Despite the excitement, physicists cautioned that there was still much to learn.

"We still much we don't know about particles - this is only the beginning of a new journey. We have closed one chapter and opened another," Peter Knight of Britain's Institute of Physics told Reuters.

Oliver Buchmueller, a senior physicist on one of the research teams, told Reuters: "If I were a betting man, I would bet that it is the Higgs.

"But we can't yet say that definitely yet. It is very much a smoking duck that walks and quacks like the Higgs. But we now have to open it up and look inside before we can say that it is indeed the Higgs."

Higgs called it a great achievement for the Large Hadron Collider, the 27-km (17-mile) long particle accelerator built in a tunnel underneath the French-Swiss border where experiments to search for the Higgs boson have taken place.

In a statement, he added: "I never expected this to happen in my lifetime and shall be asking my family to put some champagne in the fridge."

European atom smasher sets collision record
Washington Times
Alexander G. Higgins ASSOCIATED PRESS
Originally published 08:42 a.m., March 30, 2010, updated 08:58 a.m., March 30, 2010

GENEVA (AP) -- The world's largest atom smasher set a record for high-energy collisions on Tuesday by crashing proton beams into each other at three times more force than ever before.

In a milestone in the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider's ambitious bid to reveal details about theoretical particles and microforces, scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, collided the beams and took measurements at a combined energy level of 7 trillion electron volts.

The collisions herald a new era for researchers working on the machine in a 17-mile tunnel below the Swiss-French border at Geneva.

"That's it! They've had a collision," said Oliver Buchmueller from Imperial College in London as people closely watched monitors.

In a control room, scientists erupted with applause when the first successful collisions were confirmed. Their colleagues from around the world were tuning in by remote links to witness the new record, which surpasses the 2.36 TeV CERN recorded last year.

Dubbed the world's largest scientific experiment, scientists hope the machine can approach on a tiny scale what happened in the first split seconds after the Big Bang, which they theorize was the creation of the universe some 14 billion years ago.

The extra energy in Geneva is expected to reveal even more about the unanswered questions of particle physics, such as the existence of antimatter and the search for the Higgs boson, a hypothetical particle that scientists theorize gives mass to other particles and thus to other objects and creatures in the universe.

Tuesday's initial attempts at collisions were unsuccessful because problems developed with the beams, said scientists working on the massive machine. That meant that the protons had to be "dumped" from the collider and new beams had to be injected.

The atmosphere at CERN was tense, considering the collider's launch with great fanfare on Sept. 10, 2008. Nine days later, the project was sidetracked when a badly soldered electrical splice overheated, causing extensive damage to the massive magnets and other parts of the collider some 300 feet below ground.

It cost $40 million to repair and improve the machine. Since its restart in November 2009, the collider has performed almost flawlessly and given scientists valuable data. It quickly eclipsed the next largest accelerator, the Tevatron at Fermilab near Chicago.

Two beams of protons began 10 days ago to speed at high energy in opposite directions around the tunnel, the coldest place in the universe, at a couple of degrees above absolute zero. CERN used powerful superconducting magnets to force the two beams to cross, creating collisions and showers of particles.

"Experiments are collecting their first physics data -- historic moment here!" a scientist tweeted on CERN's official Twitter account.

"Nature does it all the time with cosmic rays (and with higher energy) but this is the first time this is done in Laboratory!" said another tweet.

When collisions become routine, the beams will be packed with hundreds of billions of protons, but the particles are so tiny that few will collide at each crossing.

The experiments will come over the objections of some people who fear they could eventually imperil Earth by creating micro black holes -- subatomic versions of collapsed stars whose gravity is so strong they can suck in planets and other stars.

CERN and many scientists dismiss any threat to Earth or people on it, saying that any such holes would be so weak that they would vanish almost instantly without causing any damage.

Bivek Sharma, a professor at the University of California at San Diego, said the images of the first crashed proton beams were beautiful.

"It's taken us 25 years to build," he said. "This is what it's for. Finally the baby is delivered. Now it has to grow."

AP writer Frank Jordans contributed to this report.

Atom smasher takes a break
Dec 18, 9:24 AM EST

GENEVA (AP) -- Operators of the world's largest atom smasher say they have shut down the machine until February to prepare for an expected groundbreaking research program.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research said Friday the break is necessary to increase the levels of the energy used to smash protons into each other.

The new collisions are expected to shatter the subatomic particles into even smaller fragments that could reveal secrets of matter and the universe.

Among the goals are studying suspected phenomena such as dark matter, antimatter and ultimately what happened in the first split seconds after the creation of the universe.

Many scientists theorize the universe occurred as a massive explosion known as the Big Bang 14 billion years ago.

© 2009 The Associated Press.

Collider Sets Record, and Europe Takes U.S.’s Lead
December 10, 2009

It’s all very fine to worry about the value of the dollar. But what about the value of the proton?

Late Tuesday night, tiny spitfires of energy blossoming under the countryside outside Geneva heralded the arrival of a new European particle collider as the biggest, baddest physics machine in the world.

Scientists said that the new Large Hadron Collider, a 17-mile loop underneath the Swiss-French border, had accelerated protons to energies of 1.2 trillion electron volts apiece and then crashed them together, eclipsing a record for collisions held by an American machine, the Tevatron, at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois.

Officials at CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, which built the collider, said that the collisions lasted just a few minutes as a byproduct of testing, and that the Champagne was still on ice in Geneva. But in conjunction with other recent successes, those tiny fireballs displaced American physicists as the leaders in the art of banging subatomic particles together to see what nature is made of.

The collider first boosted protons to the new energy record of 1.2 trillion electron volts on Nov. 29, and CERN hopes to be having sustained collisions at that energy within a week. In the future, as the collider ramps up to 7 trillion electron volts, the dateline for physics discoveries will be Geneva, Switzerland, not Batavia, Ill., the home of Fermilab.

That future, physicists say, includes not just the sheen of announcing exotic particles and strange dimensions, but the ancillary rewards of increased technological competence and innovation that spring from the pursuit of esoteric knowledge. The World Wide Web, lest anyone forget, was invented by particle physicists at CERN. Detectors developed for physics experiments are now used in medical devices like PET scans, and it was the industrial scale production of superconducting magnets for the Tevatron that made commercial magnetic resonance imagers possible, said Young-Kee Kim, deputy director of Fermilab.

“Particle accelerators and detectors (initially with the bold and innovative ideas and technologies) have touched our lives in many ways and I have no doubt that this will continue,” she wrote in an e-mail message.

Those spinoffs now will invigorate the careers and labs of Europe, not the United States, pointed out Steven Weinberg, a physicist at the University of Texas in Austin, who won the Nobel Prize for work that will be tested in the new collider. Americans will work at CERN, but not as leaders, he said in an e-mail interview.

“There is also a depressing symbolism,” he added, “in the fact that the hottest new results in fundamental physics will for decades not be coming from our country.”

This moment has been inevitable ever since the fall of 1993, when Congress canceled a behemoth project in Texas known as the Superconducting SuperCollider, after estimated costs rose to $11 billion. That accelerator, designed at 54 miles and 20 trillion electron volts, would have been working by now and would have had an even greater reach for new physics than Europe’s machine. American physicists have reacted to the L.H.C. with a mixture of excitement, good sportsmanship and wistfulness.

The United States has not exactly been shut out of the action at the new collider, as Dr. Kim pointed out. It contributed $531 million to the project, and about 1,700 of the 10,000 scientists who work on the giant particle detectors in the collider tunnel are Americans, the largest of any national group (Italians are next).

Thanks in part to delays with the CERN collider and other problems that will keep it from performing up to snuff for the next couple of years, she said, Fermilab’s Tevatron is still in the lead in the hunt for one of the collider’s main quarries, the Higgs boson, a particle that is thought to imbue other particles with mass.

In the meantime, Fermilab is investing $53 million from the federal stimulus package in a “Project X” to make more intense proton beams, which in turn could be used to make beams of the strange ghostlike particles called neutrinos. The lab is also going into cosmology. Other physics labs, like Brookhaven on Long Island and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, or SLAC, have converted their accelerators into powerful X-ray sources, which can be used to plumb the properties and structures of molecules in work that led to this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry.

For CERN, the Fermilab-topping collisions will be only the end of the beginning of a 15-year, $10 billion quest to recreate laws and particles that prevailed just after the Big Bang, when the universe was less than a trillionth of a second old.

Particle colliders get their magic from Einstein’s equation of mass and energy. The more energy that these machines can pack into their little fireballs, in effect the farther back in time they can go, and the smaller and smaller things they can see.

The first modern accelerator, the cyclotron built by Ernest Lawrence at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1932, was a foot in diameter and boosted protons to just 1.25 million electron volts.

CERN, a 20-nation consortium, grew from the ashes of World War II and has provided a template for other pan-European organizations like the European Space Agency and the European Southern Observatory. With a budget and dues set by treaty, CERN enjoys a long-term stability that is the envy of American labs. For decades, CERN and Fermilab leapfrogged each other building bigger and bigger machines, but the game ended when the supercollider was canceled.

Despite the lack of competition, CERN’s collider has not had a bump-free ride. In 2007 the housing around one magnet exploded during a pressure test, necessitating the removal and redesign of nine 80-foot magnet assemblies. In September 2008, the junction between two magnets vaporized, shutting down the project for a year.

Testing revealed that the collider is riddled with thousands of defective electrical joints and dozens of underperforming magnets that will keep it from reaching its full potential until an overhaul scheduled for 2011. When it starts doing real physics after the holidays, the collider will be running at half power.

The collider was designed to investigate what happens at energies and temperatures so high that the reigning theory of particle physics called the Standard Model breaks down. In effect, the new machine’s job is to “break” the Standard Model and give physicists a glimpse of something deeper and more profound.

The future of particle physics depends on whether the Large Hadron Collider finds anything.

If it yields nothing, in the words of CERN physicist, John Ellis, it would mean that theorists have been talking rubbish for the last 35 years. Actually, he used a stronger word.

CERN: Big Bang machines sets power record
By ALEXANDER G. HIGGINS, Associated Press Writer
November 30, 2009

GENEVA – The world's largest atom smasher broke the record for proton acceleration Monday, sending beams of the particles at 1.18 trillion electron volts around the massive machine.

The Large Hadron Collider eclipsed the previous high of 0.98 1 TeV held by Fermilab, outside Chicago, since 2001, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, also known as CERN, said.  The latest success, which came early in the morning, is part of the preparation to reach even higher levels of energy for significant experiments next year on the make-up of matter and the universe.  It comes on top of a rapid series of operating advances for the $10 billion machine, which underwent extensive repairs and improvements after it collapsed during the opening phase last year.

CERN Director-General Rolf Heuer said early advances in the machine located in a 17-mile (27-kilometer) tunnel under the Swiss-French border have been "fantastic."

"However, we are continuing to take it step by step, and there is still a lot to do before we start physics in 2010," Heuer said in a statement. "I'm keeping my champagne on ice until then."

The organization hopes the next major step will be to collide the proton beams at about 1.2 TeV before Christmas for an initial look at the tiny particles and what forces might be created.  Ultimately, scientists want to create conditions like those 1 trillionth to 2 trillionths of a second after the Big Bang — which scientists think marked the creation of the universe billions of years ago.  Physicists also hope the collider will help them see and understand other suspected phenomena, such as dark matter, antimatter and supersymmetry.

The level reached Monday isn't significantly higher than what Fermilab has been doing, and real advances are not expected until the LHC raises each beam to 3.5 TeV during the first half of next year.  CERN said one of the two small beams of protons first broke the energy level Sunday evening when it was accelerated from the initial operating energy of 450 billion electron volts late Sunday evening.

"Three hours later both LHC beams were successfully accelerated to 1.18 TeV," shortly after midnight, the organization said.

Beams were colliding last week at low energy, to make sure the machine was working properly. But they have yet to be smashed together at higher intensity.  Steve Myers, CERN's research and technology director, said he had been at CERN when it switched on the last major particle accelerator, the Large Electron-Positron collider that operated from 1989-2000.

"I thought that was a great machine to operate, but this is something else," he said. "What took us days or weeks with LEP, we're doing in hours with the LHC. So far, it all augurs well for a great research program."

CERN said operators will continue preparing the 2,000 superconducting magnets and other parts so that the energy can be increased safely.

Attempts to make new discoveries at the LHC are scheduled for the first quarter of 2010, at a collision energy of 7 TeV (3.5 TeV per beam).

The electron volt is an extremely small measure used in particle physics. One TeV is about the energy of the motion of a flying mosquito, but it becomes signficant in the submicroscopic collisions of the collider.

The energy is concentrated in the hairline beams of particles that whiz around the accelerator at near the speed of light. Although apparently small to the outsider, CERN uses a great amount of electricity and powerful equipment to raise the energy of the beam.

The speed can increase only slightly when the accelerator steps up the power, but that raises the force with which the protons will collide, revealing more insight into what makes them up.  It may take several years before the LHC can make the discovery of the elusive Higgs boson, the particle or field that theoretically gives mass to other particles. That is widely expected to deserve the Nobel Prize for physics.

The LHC operates at nearly absolute zero temperature, colder than outer space, which allows the superconducting magnets to guide the protons most efficiently. Physicists have used smaller, room-temperature colliders for decades to study the atom. They once thought protons and neutrons were the smallest components of the atom's nucleus, but the colliders showed that they are made of quarks and gluons and that there are other forces and particles.

More than 8,000 physicists from labs around the world also have work planned for the Large Hadron Collider. The organization is run by its 20 European member nations, with support from other countries, including observers from Japan, India, Russia and the United States, which have made big contributions.

Quick restart of Big Bang machine stuns scientists
By ALEXANDER G. HIGGINS, Associated Press Writer
Nov. 21, 2009

GENEVA – Scientists moved Saturday to prepare the world's largest atom smasher for exploring the depths of matter after successfully restarting the $10 billion machine following more than a year of repairs.

The nuclear physicists working on the Large Hadron Collider were surprised that they could so quickly get beams of protons whizzing near the speed of light during the restart late Friday, said James Gillies, spokesman for the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

The machine was heavily damaged by a simple electrical fault in September last year.

Some scientists had gone home early Friday and had to be called back as the project jumped ahead, Gillies said.

At a meeting early Saturday "they basically had to tear up the first few pages of their PowerPoint presentation which had outlined the procedures that they were planning to follow," he said. "That was all wrapped up by midnight. They are going through the paces really very fast."

The European Organization for Nuclear Research has taken the restart of the collider step by step to avoid further setbacks as it moves toward new scientific experiments — probably starting in January — regarding the makeup of matter and the universe.

CERN, as it is known, had hoped by 7 a.m. (0600 GMT) Saturday to get the beams to travel the 27-kilometer (17-mile) circular tunnel under the Swiss-French border, but things went so well Friday evening that they had achieved the operation seven hours earlier.

Praise from scientists around the world was quick. "First beam through the Atlas!" whooped an Internet message from Adam Yurkewicz, an American scientist working on the massive Atlas detector on the machine.

"I congratulate the scientists and engineers that have worked to get the LHC back up and running," said Dennis Kovar of the U.S. Department of Energy, which participates in the project.

"The LHC is a machine unprecedented in size, in complexity, and in the scope of the international collaboration that has built it over the last 15 years," said Kovar.

The next step, possibly later Saturday, was to decide whether to collide beams in the detectors to get necessary measuring data or to try using the machine to accelerate the protons to higher energy than any machine has ever reached, said Gillies.

In the meantime CERN is using about 2,000 superconducting magnets — some of them 15 meters (50 feet) long — to improve control of the beams of billions of protons so they will remain tightly bunched and stay clear of sensitive equipment.

Gillies said the scientists are being very conservative.

"They're leaving a lot of time so that the guys who are operating the machine are under no pressure whatsoever to tick off the boxes and move forward," he said.

Officials said Friday evening's progress was an important step on the road toward scientific discoveries at the LHC, which are expected in 2010.

"We've still got some way to go before physics can begin, but with this milestone we're well on the way," CERN Director General Rolf Heuer said.

With great fanfare, CERN circulated its first beams Sept. 10, 2008. But the machine was sidetracked nine days later when a badly soldered electrical splice overheated and set off a chain of damage to the magnets and other parts of the collider.

Steve Myers, CERN's director for accelerators, said the improvements since then have made the LHC a far better understood machine than it was a year ago.

The LHC is expected soon to be running with more energy the world's current most powerful accelerator, the Tevatron at Fermilab near Chicago. It is supposed to keep ramping up to seven times the energy of Fermilab in coming years.

This will allow the collisions between protons to give insights into dark matter and what gives mass to other particles, and to show what matter was in the microseconds of rapid cooling after the Big Bang that many scientists theorize marked the creation of the universe billions of years ago.

When the machine is fully operational, the magnets will control the beams of protons and send them in opposite directions through two parallel tubes the size of fire hoses. In rooms as large as cathedrals 300 feet (100 meters) below the ground the magnets will force them into huge detectors to record what happens.

The LHC operates at nearly absolute zero temperature, colder than outer space, which allows the superconducting magnets to guide the protons most efficiently.

Physicists have used smaller, room-temperature colliders for decades to study the atom. They once thought protons and neutrons were the smallest components of the atom's nucleus, but the colliders showed that they are made of quarks and gluons and that there are other forces and particles. And scientists still have other questions about antimatter, dark matter and supersymmetry they want to answer with CERN's new collider.

The Superconducting Super Collider being built in Texas would have been bigger than the LHC, but in 1993 the U.S. Congress canceled it after costs soared and questions were raised about its scientific value

Gillies said the LHC should be ramped up to 3.5 trillion electron volts some time next year, which will be 3 1/2 times as powerful as Fermilab. The two laboratories are friendly rivals, working on equipment and sharing scientists.

But each would be delighted to make the discovery of the elusive Higgs boson, the particle or field that theoretically gives mass to other particles. That is widely expected to deserve the Nobel Prize for physics.

More than 8,000 physicists from other labs around the world also have work planned for the LHC. The organization is run by its 20 European member nations, with support from other countries, including observers Japan, India, Russia and the U.S. that have made big contributions.

Great photo - on the I-BBC, a 14-second video didn't capture the moment as well as this!

Proton Beams Are on Track at Collider
November 21, 2009

Physicists returned to their future on Friday. About 10 p.m. outside Geneva, scientists at CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, succeeded in sending beams of protons clockwise around the 17-mile underground magnetic racetrack known as the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s biggest and most expensive physics experiment.

For physicists, the event was a milestone on the way back from disaster and the resumption of a 15-year, $9 billion quest to investigate laws and forces that prevailed when the universe was less than a trillionth of a second old.

The collider was designed to accelerate protons to energies of seven trillion electron volts apiece and smash them together in tiny fireballs in an effort to replicate and study the conditions of the Big Bang.

The first time protons circled the collider, on Sept. 10, 2008, the event was celebrated with Champagne and midnight pajama parties around the world. But the festivities were cut short a few days later when an electrical connection between a pair of the collider’s giant superconducting electromagnets vaporized.

Subsequent work revealed that the machine was riddled with thousands of connections unable to handle the high currents required to run the collider at its intended energy.

Physicists and engineers have spent the past year testing and making repairs. While they have not replaced all the faulty connections, they have patched things up enough to allow the collider to run at less than full speed.

Calling the past year’s work a “Herculean effort,” CERN’s director for accelerators, Steve Myers, said the engineers had learned from painful experience and understood the collider far better than they had before.

CERN’s director, Rolf Heuer, said in a statement, “It’s great to see beam circulating in the LHC again,” but he and others cautioned that there was a long way to go before the collider started producing the physics it was designed for.

When the collider begins to do real physics next year, it will run at half its original design energy, with protons of 3.5 trillion electron volts. The energy will be increased gradually during the year, but it could be years, physicists say, before the machine reaches its full potential.

Thousands of the troublesome junctions will have to be rebuilt during a yearlong shutdown in 2011, and engineers have to figure out why several dozen of the superconducting magnets seem to have lost their ability to operate at high intensities.

The delay has given new life to the collider’s main rival, the Tevatron at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois.

If all goes well, CERN says, the protons will start colliding at low energies in about a week.

Those first collisions will occur at the so-called injection energy of 450 billion electron volts. The machine will then quickly step up to 1.1 trillion electron volts, which is just above the energy of the Tevatron.

CERN is hoping to achieve that landmark as a symbolic Christmas present before a short holiday shutdown.

Page last updated at 16:14 GMT, Tuesday, 17 November 2009

LHC nears restart after repairs
Atlas (Cern/C. Marcelloni)
The giant Atlas detector will search for hints of the elusive Higgs boson particle

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) could restart as early as this weekend after more than a year of repairs.

Officials have avoided giving an exact date for sending beams of protons around the 27km (17 mile) circular tunnel which houses the collider.

The LHC was first switched on in 2008, but had to be shut down when a faulty electrical connection caused one tonne of helium to leak into the tunnel.

The vast machine is located 100m below the French-Swiss border.

Operated by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (Cern), the LHC will recreate the conditions just after the Big Bang.

Two beams of protons will be fired around the tunnel. These beams will travel in opposite directions around the main "ring" at close to the speed of light.

At allotted points around the tunnel, the proton beams will cross paths, smashing into one another with enormous energy.

Scientists hope to see new particles in the debris of these collisions, revealing fundamental new insights into the nature of the cosmos.

But the first beams to circulate around the collider will be injected at a low energy of about 450 billion electron volts.

For the restart, engineers are determined to take things one step at a time, and officials are not setting hard and fast deadlines.

Once the collider is circulating two beams in opposite directions, engineers will attempt low-intensity collisions.

This will provide scientists with data they can use for calibration purposes.

After this, the beams' energy will be increased so that the first high-energy collisions can take place.

These will mark the real beginning of the LHC's research programme.

Giant Particle Collider Struggles
August 4, 2009

The biggest, most expensive physics machine in the world is riddled with thousands of bad electrical connections.

Many of the magnets meant to whiz high-energy subatomic particles around a 17-mile underground racetrack have mysteriously lost their ability to operate at high energies.

Some physicists are deserting the European project, at least temporarily, to work at a smaller, rival machine across the ocean.

After 15 years and $9 billion, and a showy “switch-on” ceremony last September, the Large Hadron Collider, the giant particle accelerator outside Geneva, has to yet collide any particles at all.

But soon?

This week, scientists and engineers at the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, are to announce how and when their machine will start running this winter.

That will be a Champagne moment. But scientists say it could be years, if ever, before the collider runs at full strength, stretching out the time it should take to achieve the collider’s main goals, like producing a particle known as the Higgs boson thought to be responsible for imbuing other elementary particles with mass, or identifying the dark matter that astronomers say makes up 25 percent of the cosmos.

The energy shortfall could also limit the collider’s ability to test more exotic ideas, like the existence of extra dimensions beyond the three of space and one of time that characterize life.

“The fact is, it’s likely to take a while to get the results we really want,” said Lisa Randall, a Harvard physicist who is an architect of the extra-dimension theory.

The collider was built to accelerate protons to energies of seven trillion electron volts and smash them together in search of particles and forces that reigned earlier than the first trillionth of a second of time, but the machine could run as low as four trillion electron volts for its first year. Upgrades would come a year or two later.

Physicists on both sides of the Atlantic say they are confident that the European machine will produce groundbreaking science — eventually — and quickly catch up to an American rival, even at the lower energy. All big accelerators have gone through painful beginnings.

“These are baby problems,” said Peter Limon, a physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., who helped build the collider.

But some physicists admit to being impatient. “I’ve waited 15 years,” said Nima Arkani-Hamed, a leading particle theorist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. “I want it to get up running. We can’t tolerate another disaster. It has to run smoothly from now.”

The delays are hardest on younger scientists, who may need data to complete a thesis or work toward tenure. Slowing a recent physics brain drain from the United States to Europe, some have gone to work at Fermilab, where the rival Tevatron accelerator has been smashing together protons and antiprotons for the last decade.

Colliders get their oomph from Einstein’s equivalence of mass and energy, both expressed in the currency of electron volts. The CERN collider was designed to investigate what happens at energies and distances where the reigning theory, known as the Standard Model, breaks down and gives nonsense answers.

The collider’s own prodigious energies are in some way its worst enemy. At full strength, the energy stored in its superconducting magnets would equal that of an Airbus A380 flying at 450 miles an hour, and the proton beam itself could pierce 100 feet of solid copper.

In order to carry enough current, the collider’s magnets are cooled by liquid helium to a temperature of 1.9 degrees above absolute zero, at which point the niobium-titanium cables in them lose all electrical resistance and become superconducting.

Any perturbation, however, such as a bad soldering job on a splice, can cause resistance and heat the cable and cause it to lose its superconductivity in what physicists call a “quench.” Which is what happened on Sept. 19, when the junction between two magnets vaporized in a shower of sparks, soot and liberated helium.

Technicians have spent most of the last year cleaning up and inspecting thousands of splices in the collider. About 5,000 will have to be redone, Steve Myers, head of CERN’s accelerator division, said in an interview.

The exploding splices have diverted engineers’ attention from the mystery of the underperforming magnets. Before the superconducting magnets are installed, engineers “train” each one by ramping up its electrical current until the magnet fails, or “quenches.” Thus the magnet gradually grows comfortable with higher and higher current.

All of the magnets for the collider were trained to an energy above seven trillion electron volts before being installed, Dr. Myers said, but when engineers tried to take one of the rings’ eight sectors to a higher energy last year, some magnets unexpectedly failed.

In an e-mail exchange, Lucio Rossi, head of magnets for CERN, said that 49 magnets had lost their training in the sectors tested and that it was impossible to estimate how many in the entire collider had gone bad. He said the magnets in question had all met specifications and that the problem might stem from having sat outside for a year before they could be installed.

Retraining magnets is costly and time consuming, experts say, and it might not be worth the wait to get all the way to the original target energy. “It looks like we can get to 6.5 relatively easily,” Dr. Myers said, but seven trillion electron volts would require “a lot of training.”

Many physicists say they would be perfectly happy if the collider never got above five trillion electron volts. If that were the case, said Joe Lykken, a Fermilab theorist who is on one of the CERN collider teams, “It’s not the end of the world. I am not pessimistic at all.”

For the immediate future, however, physicists are not even going to get that. Dr. Myers said he thought the splices as they are could handle 4 trillion electron volts.

“We could be doing physics at the end of November,” he said in July, before new vacuum leaks pushed the schedule back a few additional weeks.

“It’s not the design energy of the machine, but it’s 4 times higher than the Tevatron,” he said.

Pauline Gagnon, an Indiana University physicist who works at CERN, said she would happily take that energy level. “The public pays for this,” she said in an e-mail message, “and we need to start delivering.”

New Earth-Size Blot on Jupiter, Found By an Amateur

By Robert Mackey, NASA/JPL, via Associated Press
July 21, 2009, 8:59 am

NASA has confirmed the discovery of a new hole the size of the Earth in Jupiter’s atmosphere, apparently showing that the planet was hit by something large in recent days. The impact mark was first spotted on Monday morning by an amateur astronomer in Australia, who then drew the attention of scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to the dark mark on Jupiter’s south polar region.

The apparent impact comes almost exactly 15 years after a comet named Shoemaker-Levy 9 struck Jupiter, “sending up blazing fireballs and churning the Jovian atmosphere into dark storms, one of them as large as Earth,” as The New York Times reported on July 19, 1994.

Images of the impact mark, as seen through a NASA telescope in Hawaii, were posted on the space agency’s Web site on Monday with this explanation:

Following up on a tip by an amateur astronomer, Anthony Wesley of Australia, that a new dark “scar” had suddenly appeared on Jupiter, this morning between 3 and 9 a.m. PDT (6 a.m. and noon EDT) scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., using NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility at the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, gathered evidence indicating an impact.

New infrared images show the likely impact point was near the south polar region, with a visibly dark “scar” and bright upwelling particles in the upper atmosphere detected in near-infrared wavelengths.

Glenn Orton, a scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said “It could be the impact of a comet, but we don’t know for sure yet.”

Mr. Orton told New Scientist magazine that the planet could have been hit by a block of ice or a comet that was too faint for astronomers to detect before the impact. Leigh Fletcher, an astronomer at the Jet Propulsion Lab told the magazine the impact scar “is about the size of the Earth.”

In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the amateur astronomer, Anthony Wesley, a 44-year-old computer programmer from a village north of Canberra, made the discovery “using his backyard 14.5-inch reflecting telescope.” The Herald explained: “Wesley, who has been keen on astronomy since he was a child, said telescopes and other astronomy equipment were so inexpensive now that the hobby had become a viable pastime for just about anybody. His own equipment cost about $10,000.”

Mr. Wesley recorded the discovery of the impact mark, and posted several of the first images he took of it, in an observation report he posted online:

I came back to the scope at about 12:40am I noticed a dark spot rotating into view in Jupiters south polar region started to get curious. When first seen close to the limb (and in poor conditions) it was only a vaguely dark spot, I thouht likely to be just a normal dark polar storm. However as it rotated further into view, and the conditions improved I suddenly realised that it wasn’t just dark, it was black in all channels, meaning it was truly a black spot.

My next thought was that it must be either a dark moon (like Callisto) or a moon shadow, but it was in the wrong place and the wrong size. Also I’d noticed it was moving too slow to be a moon or shadow. As far as I could see it was rotating in sync with a nearby white oval storm that I was very familiar with - this could only mean that the back feature was at the cloud level and not a projected shadow from a moon. I started to get excited.

It took another 15 minutes to really believe that I was seeing something new - I’d imaged that exact region only 2 days earlier and checking back to that image showed no sign of any anomalous black spot.

Now I was caught between a rock and a hard place - I wanted to keep imaging but also I was aware of the importance of alerting others to this possible new event. Could it actually be an impact mark on Jupiter? I had no real idea, and the odds on that happening were so small as to be laughable, but I was really struggling to see any other possibility given the location of the mark. If it really was an impact mark then I had to start telling people, and quickly.

The Guardian reports that Mr. Wesley, who “spends about 20 hours a week on his passion of watching and photographing Jupiter,” almost missed making the discovery because he interrupted his work late on Sunday night to watch sports on television. Mr. Wesley told The Guardian:

I was imaging Jupiter until about midnight and seriously thought about packing up and going back to the house to watch the golf and the cricket. In the end I decided to just take a break and I went back to the house to watch Tom Watson almost make history.

I came back down half an hour later and I could see this black mark had turned into view.

In another interview, Mr. Wesley told the Sydney Morning Herald that spotting the impact mark on Jupiter made him glad the huge planet is in Earth’s neighborhood: “If anything like that had hit the Earth it would have been curtains for us, so we can feel very happy that Jupiter is doing its vacuum-cleaner job and hoovering up all these large pieces before they come for us.”

Near-Earth asteroid 2012 LZ1 (l) and 2012DA14 (r) debris
About the size of a city block, is seen as a circular white dot...and then there is here the debris might have come from -
“Asteroid 2012 DA14."

Hubble Spots Strange Asteroid With 6 Tails of Dust
November 7, 2013

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — This is one strange asteroid.

The Hubble Space Telescope has discovered a six-tailed asteroid in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Scientists say they've never seen anything like it. Incredibly, the comet-like tails change shape as the asteroid sheds dust. The streams have occurred over several months.

A research team led by the University of California, Los Angeles, believes the asteroid, designated P/2013 P5, is rotating so much that its surface is flying apart. It's believed to be a fragment of a larger asteroid damaged in a collision 200 million years ago.

Scientists using the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii spotted the asteroid in August. Hubble picked out all the tails in September.

The discovery is described in this week's issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Hazardous asteroids may be more numerous than previously thought;  Research predicts asteroid collisions 10 times more often than thought
By JOEL ACHENBACH The Washington Post
Article published Nov 7, 2013

There are scads of building-size, potentially hazardous asteroids lurking in Earth's immediate neighborhood, and they may be colliding with the planet 10 times more often than scientists previously have believed, according to a new study published Wednesday that examined the airburst and crash of a 25 million-pound asteroid earlier this year near the Russian city of Chelyabinsk.

Three studies released Wednesday, two in the journal Nature and one in the journal Science, have provided the most detailed description and analysis of the dramatic event on the morning of Feb. 15.

Scientists now estimate the diameter of the object at nearly 20 meters, about 65 feet. Undetected, the rock came out of the glare of the sun and hit the atmosphere at 43,000 miles per hour.
As it descended through the atmosphere, it broke into fragments, creating a series of explosions with the combined energy of about 500 kilotons of TNT - 30 times more powerful than the atom bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945, although the energy in this case was spread out over a much broader area.

The shock wave blew out windows in half the buildings in Chelyabinsk. It knocked people off their feet; dozens were sunburned by the flash, which at its peak was 30 times brighter than the sun. About 1,200 people were hurt, most by broken and flying glass, but no one was killed.

One chunk the size of love seat landed in frozen Chebarkul Lake, leaving a circular hole, as if shot with a bullet from space. That fragment, which weighed about 1,900 pounds, was retrieved months later, breaking into several pieces in the process. Thousands of smaller pieces also have been recovered.

The scientific investigation relied to a great degree on video imagery obtained by "dashcams," the cameras Russian drivers often use to document car crashes and potentially abusive law enforcement. Scientists visited 10 locations where footage had been recorded by stationary cameras, and used landmarks to create a map of the asteroid's trajectory. The shock wave damage propagated perpendicularly to the path of the rock.

"It's incredible how well-documented all this is," said Peter Jenniskens, a meteor astronomer at the SETI Institute and a co-author of the paper in Science.

Taken together, the new information on Chelyabinsk does not suggest that the sky is falling (no one has ever been killed by an asteroid in all of recorded human history). But it may shift the overall risk profile of asteroids, making Chelyabinsk-size events look more probable.

That's the conclusion of Peter Brown, a professor at Western University in London, Ontario, who re-examined decades of data compiled by scientific and military sensors. The scientific orthodoxy said that a Chelyabinsk-size event ought to happen every 140 years or so, but Brown saw several such events in the historical record.

Famously, a large object exploded over the Tunguska region of Siberia in 1908. But there have been less-heralded impacts, including one on Aug. 3, 1963, when an asteroid created a powerful airburst off the coast of South Africa.

"Any one of these taken separately I think you can dismiss as a one-off. But now when we look at it as a whole, over a hundred years, we see these large impactors more frequently than we would expect," said Brown, whose paper appeared in Nature.

Most rocks that size have yet to be identified, and it would be difficult and expensive to find them and calculate their trajectories, Brown said. But this could boost efforts already underway to create early-warning systems for Chelyabinsk-class impactors that are just a few days away, he said.

The paper in Science hypothesized that the Chelyabinsk asteroid is a piece of "rubble" from a larger body that had been broken apart by tidal forces from an earlier near-Earth encounter.

"The rest of that rubble could still be part of the near-Earth object population," the authors wrote.

Rocks in Space
August 21, 2013

So, which would you rather do: Capture an asteroid or go back to the moon?

This is one of the many interesting issues facing Congress that we probably will not have time to debate once Congress actually comes back next month. Then it’ll be nothing but Obamacare and government shutdowns and the occasional discussion about whether Senator Ted Cruz has managed to dispose of his recently discovered dual Canadian citizenship.

Which I am personally looking forward to a lot. But today let’s consider the American space program.

Space exploration is one of the extremely few areas in which there is a lot of bipartisan agreement in Washington. For instance, both parties believe that the United States should be trying to get to Mars. Eventually. Nobody thinks this will happen anytime soon — partly because the technology is so challenging and partly because Congress keeps cutting the space budget. So far, NASA has not shown any interest in the tactic being used by a Dutch company that hopes to establish a Martian colony in about 10 years, with money that would come in part from producing a reality series, somewhere along the lines of “Big Brother" or perhaps “Real Housewives of the Red Planet.”

The third point of wide bipartisan agreement is that nobody wants their constituents to be clobbered by an asteroid. Really, this is a priority. The Obama administration is currently promoting an “asteroid grand challenge,” in which we’re invited “to find all asteroid threats to human populations” and figure out what to do about them.

And — this is good news, people — we’ve already pinpointed about 95 percent of all the rocks in the solar system that are of planet-mashing size.

I know that you are now instantly focusing on the remaining 5 percent, as well as the multitudinous smaller fellows that are capable of taking out Massachusetts or Paris — or your local shopping center. Everybody is in favor of finding them too, particularly since one grazed Russia earlier this year, causing the House Science Committee to hold a special Threats From Space meeting.

Even members of Congress who pooh-pooh the peril of global warming believe in the danger of global asteroid-exploding. I am thinking about Rep. Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who heads — yes! — the House Science Committee. And Sen. Ted Cruz, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space, who demanded that we “do what needs to be done” to prevent an asteroid from hitting the earth and smashing into a major American city. Or a Canadian one.

Despite all this cheerleading, there hasn’t been all that much money spent on the mission. Discover magazine estimated that over the past 15 years, the United States had spent less money on asteroid detection “than the production budget of the 1998 asteroid movie ‘Armageddon.’ ” In which Ben Affleck won Liv Tyler but the earth lost Shanghai, much of New York and Bruce Willis. But we were talking about capturing asteroids.

The question is what NASA should do during the really, really long pre-Mars interlude. The White House wants to send an unmanned spacecraft to capture a smallish asteroid, tow it back and put it into orbit around the moon, where we could send astronauts to study it. This would most definitely help us in the race to develop the best “capture bag,” and there’s pretty wide agreement we would acquire some other useful technology as well.

“This would be the first time humans have, in some sense, rearranged the solar system for their own purposes. So that’s exciting,” said Prof. Tom Prince, director of the Keck Institute for Space Studies at the California Institute of Technology.

Not as far as the House of Representatives is concerned. The Science Committee recently voted to cut all the money for asteroid capture and invest it instead in a new moon landing. There were several objections to the Obama plan, the main one being that it was kind of boring. “Costly and uninspiring,” sniffed Chairman Smith.

The White House position was that if you wanted to talk about boring, look at a moon landing. “Going back to the moon, something we have done six times, just does not seem to us worth the investment,” said Lori Garver, NASA deputy administrator, in a phone interview.

And anyway, what about protecting the earth from a killer asteroid? I believe I speak for all of us when I say that space exploration is good, but not being hit by a large hunk of galactic rock is even better.

The House Republicans could have a point. The asteroid that NASA wants to capture would be way smaller than Killer Visitor dimensions. Although it does seem a little peculiar that they’re calling for a dramatic moon-colony initiative at the same time they’re cutting the space budget.

It’s also conceivable that the Science Committee doesn’t like the Obama plan because it’s the Obama plan. This has been known to happen in the House. Perhaps we should be grateful it hasn’t voted to cancel the asteroid-capturing program 40 times.

Meteorite Fragments Are Said to Rain Down on Siberia
February 15, 2013

MOSCOW — Bright objects, apparently debris from a meteorite, streaked through the sky in western Siberia early on Friday, accompanied by a boom that damaged buildings across a vast area of territory. Around 500 people were reported to have been injured, most from breaking glass.

Emergency officials had reported no deaths by Friday afternoon but said that 14 people had been hospitalized.

Russian experts believe the blast was caused by a 10-ton meteor known as a bolide, which created a powerful shock wave when it reached the Earth’s atmosphere, the Russian Academy of Sciences said in a statement. Scientists believe the bolide exploded and evaporated at a height of around 20 to 30 miles above the Earth’s surface, but that small fragments may have reached the ground, the statement said.

The governor of the Chelyabinsk district reported that a search team had found an impact crater on the outskirts of a city about 50 miles west of Chelyabinsk. An official from the Interior Ministry told the Russian news agency Interfax that three large pieces of meteorite debris had been retrieved in the area and that 10,000 police officers are searching for more.

A small asteroid, known as 2012 DA14, is expected to pass close to Earth later on Friday, NASA reported on its Web site. Aleksandr Y. Dudorov, a physicist at Chelyabinsk State University, said it was possible that the meteorite may have been flying alongside the asteroid.

“What we witnessed today may have been the precursor of that asteroid,” said Mr. Dudorov in a telephone interview. Video clips from the city of Chelyabinsk showed an early morning sky illuminated by a brilliant flash, followed by the sound of breaking glass and multiple car alarms. Meteorites typically cause sonic booms as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere. On Friday, the force was powerful enough to shatter dishes and televisions in people’s homes.

“I saw a flash in the window, turned toward it and saw a burning cloud, which was surrounded by smoke and was going downward — it reminded me of what you see after an explosion,” said Maria Polyakova, 25, head of reception at the Park-City Hotel in Chelyabinsk, which is 950 miles east of Moscow. A video made outside a building in Chelyabinsk captured the astonished voices of witnesses who were uncertain what it was they had just seen.

“Maybe it was a rocket,” said one man, who rushed outside onto the street along with his co-workers when the object hit, far out of sight. A man named Artyom, who spoke to the Moscow FM radio station, said the explosion was enormous.

“I was sitting at work and the windows lit up and it was as if the whole city was illuminated, and I looked out and saw a huge streak in the sky and it was like that for two or three minutes and then I heard these noises, like claps,” he said. “And then all the dogs started barking.”

He said that there was a blast that caused balconies to shake and windows to shatter. He said he did not believe it was a meteorite. “We are waiting for a second piece, that is what people are talking about now,” the man said.

The object was visible from the city of Nizhniy Tagil, around 220 miles north of Chelyabinsk, where so many people called an emergency assistance number that it stopped working, the Novy Region news service reported.

The government response on Friday was huge. Seven airplanes were deployed to search for places where meteorites might have fallen and more than 20,000 people dispatched to comb the area on foot, according to the Ministry of Emergency Situations. There were also 28 sites designated to monitor radiation. No unusual readings had been detected, the ministry reported.

The area around Chelyabinsk is also home to “dozens of defense factories, including nuclear factories and those involved in production of thermonuclear weapons,” said Vladimir Lipunov, an astrophysicist at the Shternberg State Astronomy Institute.

“No one needs to be told what the Urals is,” Mr. Lipunov told the NTV television station. “A second hit in the same area is unlikely and everything could have been much, much worse.”

Siberia stretches the length of Asia, and there is a history of meteor and asteroid showers there. In 1908 a powerful explosion was reported near the Tunguska River in central Siberia, its impact so great that trees were flattened for 25 miles around. Generations of scientists have studied that event, analyzing particles that were driven into the Earth’s surface as far away as the South Pole. A study published in the 1980s concluded the object weighed a million tons.

In the United States, NASA alluded to the Tunguska incident when it said that it was watching closely an asteroid 150 feet in diameter expected to whiz past Earth on Friday at a distance of around 17,200 miles, the closest for many decades.

In a statement on its Web site, NASA said on Friday that there was no risk that the asteroid, 2012 DA14, would collide with Earth. But it would pass within “the belt of satellites in geostationary orbit, which is 22,200 miles above Earth’s surface.”

The asteroid is set to pass Earth at around 2:25 p.m. Eastern time, NASA said. “At the time of closest approach, the asteroid will be over the eastern Indian Ocean, off Sumatra,” the agency said.

“Asteroid 2012 DA14 will not impact Earth, but if another asteroid of a size similar to that of 2012 DA14 were to impact Earth, it would release approximately 2.5 megatons of energy in the atmosphere and would be expected to cause regional devastation,” NASA said. The asteroid will not be visible to the naked eye, the agency added.

Referring to the “Tunguska Event,” NASA said the impact of an asteroid just smaller than 2012 DA14 “is believed to have flattened about 825 square miles of forest in and around the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in what is now Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia.”

Surprise! Big Asteroid That Flew By Earth Larger Than Thought
22 June 2012

A massive asteroid that zipped by Earth last week is actually twice as large as scientists originally thought, new radar images of the behemoth space rock reveal.

Asteroid 2012 LZ1 sailed within 3.3 million miles (5.3 million kilometers) of Earth at its closest approach on June 14. Since that distance is roughly 14 times the distance between Earth and the moon, the oblong-shaped asteroid 2012 LZ1never posed a threat of colliding with our planet.

But the flyby did allow astronomers to train the planetary radar system at the Arecibo Observatory, a huge radio telescope in Puerto Rico, on asteroid 2012 LZ1 and find that its size was seriously underestimated.

Initially, 2012 LZ1 was thought to be about the size of a city block, but based on its brightness as it cruised by the planet, scientists now say the asteroid's true size is twice that, measuring about 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) across at its widest part. [Video: Asteroid 2012 LZ1 Flies by Earth]

"This object turned out to be quite a bit bigger than we expected, which shows how important radar observations can be, because we're still learning a lot about the population of asteroids," said research team member Ellen Howell, of the Arecibo Observatory, in a statement.

Such a massive object would likely have serious global consequences if it hit Earth, the researchers said. But the radar measurements showed that the object does not have any chance of hitting Earth for at least the next 750 years, they added.

"The sensitivity of our radar has permitted us to measure this asteroid's properties and determine that it will not impact the Earth at least in the next 750 years," said Mike Nolan, director of planetary radar sciences at the Arecibo Observatory.

Scientists at the Arecibo Observatory observed the asteroid on June 19 to map its orbit more precisely, and to determine its size, rotation rate and shape.

The newfound asteroid was first seen on June 10 at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia. Since the near-Earth object was detected less than a week before it flew past the planet, astronomers only had rough calculations of the asteroid's measurements at the time.

When 2012 LZ1 was first spotted, it was classified as a potentially hazardous object because its preliminary orbit brings it relatively close to Earth — with 20 times the distance between Earth and the moon.

Since 2012 LZ1 flew past outside the orbit of the moon, it could not be seen by amateur astronomers through backyard telescopes. But, several scientists trained larger telescope eyes on the space rock as it soared past.

The Slooh Space Camera, which broadcasts live views from telescopes around the world, also streamed footage of asteroid 2012 LZ1's flyby from a telescope in the Canary Islands, off the west coast of Africa.

Researchers have long been keen to protect the planet from collisions with space rocks. Over the course of its 4.5 billion-year history, Earth has been pelted by asteroids repeatedly, in some cases wiping out large percentages of life on the planet.

To gauge the impact threat, NASA astronomers and scientists around the world regularly monitor the night sky for large, near-Earth asteroids that could pose hazards to the planet.

Asteroid in near-miss with Earth
Posted: 03/04/2009 08:40:55 AM EST

PASADENA, Calif. -- An asteroid about the size of one that blasted Siberia a century ago just buzzed by Earth.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory reported that the asteroid zoomed past Monday morning.

The asteroid named 2009 DD45 was about 48,800 miles from Earth. That is just twice the height of some telecommunications satellites and about one-fifth of the distance to the Moon.

The space ball measured between 69 feet and 154 feet in diameter. The Planetary Society said that made it the same size as an asteroid that exploded over Siberia in 1908 and leveled more than 800 square miles of forest.

Most people probably didn't notice the cosmic close call. The asteroid was spotted only two days ago and at its closest point passed over the Pacific Ocean near Tahiti.

New NASA Administrator for new Administration?
NASA’s Next Leader Arriving at Time of Transition
May 4, 2009

More than 100 days into his presidency, Barack Obama has yet to name the person he wants to lead the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. In this delay Mr. Obama has company: President George W. Bush did not decide on his choice, Sean O’Keefe, until November of his first year in office.

But NASA is on the cusp of a once-in-a-generation transition, winding down space shuttle flights and construction of the International Space Station before ramping up ambitions for a return to the moon and an eventual trip to Mars.

Since Michael D. Griffin stepped down as NASA administrator in January, Christopher Scolese, a longtime NASA official, has served in the role on an interim basis. A new NASA boss, however, will arrive at the agency too late to take part in several important decisions. Mr. Scolese and other NASA officials are in the middle of putting together the agency’s 2010 budget, which may be unveiled as soon as this week. They are also grappling with the impending retirement of the nation’s space shuttles.

On Thursday, a Congressionally mandated prohibition that would have prevented NASA from taking any steps that might prevent additional shuttle flights after 2010 expired. NASA announced the first major round of layoffs among shuttle contractors — about 160 workers — and up to 900 jobs will be eliminated by the end of the fiscal year in September as the agency moves forward on the assumption that there will be, at most, nine flights left.

The new administrator will also step into a contentious debate over whether development of the next generation of rockets, known as the Constellation program, has gone awry with technical problems or whether it is struggling just because it has received less financing than originally promised.

Constellation managers decided last month to trim the capacity of the new crew capsule, at least initially, from six astronauts to four. The program had been developing two versions — a six-seater for the space station and Mars and a four-seater for lunar missions — and managers say the larger one is not needed for now.

They are considering other major changes in the development of the Ares I, the first of the Constellation rockets, including eliminating one of the test flights to improve the chances of keeping to the schedule of launching the first astronauts in March 2015.

The delay in naming a top administrator has revived speculation that NASA and space exploration are low priorities for Mr. Obama.

An early Obama campaign document in 2007 proposed delaying the Constellation rockets by five years to pay for an education initiative. Mr. Obama later stated that he favored the current goal, devised in the aftermath of the loss of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003, to return to the moon by 2020.

On the Senate floor last month, Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who is one NASA’s primary Congressional champions, said he considered Mr. Obama a strong supporter of NASA. But Mr. Nelson expressed frustration at the lack of a nominee for the top agency job.

“NASA is adrift,” he said, “because it doesn’t have a vigorous leader, appointed by the Obama administration, to take charge; someone who understands space flight, who understands management, who understands aeronautics.”

Scott Pace, a former NASA official and director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, said he had “not much” concern about the delay, noting that many positions in other parts of the federal government also remain unfilled.

“You have a career person who’s there who’s extremely competent,” Dr. Pace said of Mr. Scolese.

Dr. Pace said that naming an administrator was not urgent, because the Obama administration appeared to agree with the post-Columbia vision for space exploration set forth by the Bush administration that received bipartisan support in Congress. “There’s not as if there’s a policy uncertainty,” he said.

In a speech to the National Academy of Sciences last week, Mr. Obama made several references to NASA and the exploration of space. But the references were all nostalgic.

“You know, the average age in NASA’s mission control during the Apollo 17 mission was just 26,” Mr. Obama said, referring to the last human visit to the moon 37 years ago. “I know that young people today are just as ready to tackle the grand challenges of this century.”

Space exploration was not among Mr. Obama’s present-day grand challenges. Other than a quick mention of NASA’s role in climate research, Mr. Obama did not talk about what he wanted the space agency to accomplish. He said he would seek to double the budgets for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He did not promise more money for NASA.

In a speech last month to the National Space Club, Dr. Griffin, the former administrator, said the Constellation program had received $12 billion less than originally proposed by the Bush administration and that after a slight increase this year, the budget will go down by $3.5 billion over the next four years.

“Funding for lunar return in the Constellation program was already less than $4 billion in the years prior to 2015,” Dr. Griffin said. “This was to be allocated to early work on the Ares 5 heavy-lifter, and the Altair lunar lander. With only a half-billion dollars now available, this work cannot be done.”

What NASA will do once it gets back to the Moon may also change. In testimony to a House appropriations subcommittee, Mr. Scolese said the agency might scale back plans for a permanent outpost.

The new administrator will face the difficult task of juggling the work force, both within NASA and at its contractors, as shuttle workers are laid off before new jobs emerge in the Constellation program. The administrator may also revisit the long-debated question of whether NASA’s mission could be better accomplished through more robotic spacecraft like the highly successful Mars rovers rather than much more expensive human space flight.

Among the robotic missions, there is a question of looking up at the planets and distant universe versus looking down at Earth. Mr. Obama’s budget outline in February proposed a greater emphasis on Earth science.

Satellite Will Track Carbon Dioxide

February 23, 2009

Thirty billion tons of carbon dioxide waft into the air from the burning of fossil fuels each year. About half of the 30 billion tons stays in the air. The other half disappears. Where it all goes, nobody quite knows.

With the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, a NASA satellite scheduled to be launched Tuesday morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, scientists hope to better understand the comings and goings of carbon dioxide, the key greenhouse gas driving the current warming of the planet.

The new data could help improve climate models and improve the understanding of the “carbon sinks” like oceans and forests that currently absorb much of the carbon dioxide.

Year-to-year variations — in some years, all of the excess carbon dioxide disappears; in some years, all of it stays in the air — indicate that some of the sinks might fill up and spill some of the absorbed carbon dioxide back into the air.

“Something out there is changing dramatically,” said David Crisp, a scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and the principal investigator of the mission.  Humans account for only 2 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions — natural sources like the decay of dead plants account for the other 98 percent — but that is enough to tip the balance.

Before the beginning of the Industrial Revolution two centuries ago, carbon dioxide levels were at about 280 parts per million. Today, the level is 387 parts per million and projected to rise sharply in the coming decades.

Scientists have good estimates how much carbon dioxide is released by the burning of fossil fuels, but other human influences like clearing of forests and the harvesting of crops “affect CO2 in ways we don’t understand,” Dr. Crisp said.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory will measure carbon dioxide levels by using an instrument with three spectrometers to analyze light reflected off Earth. Carbon dioxide absorbs certain wavelengths of light, particularly in the near infrared, and by measuring how dim those parts of the spectrum are, the observatory can determine how many carbon dioxide molecules the light has passed through.

At the same time, the instrument will make a similar measurement for oxygen. Combining the two measurements gives the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air. Because carbon dioxide mixes quickly with the other gases in air, the measurements will have to pick out small variations, expected to be less than 5 percent.  Dr. Crisp said the spacecraft will be able to pick out emissions from a power plant or from along highways. More difficult will be picking out the carbon sinks, which tend to be spread out over large areas. Scientists know that the oceans are by far the largest sinks, but the absorbing powers of forests, for example, is still uncertain. Shifting winds further complicate the analysis.

Liftoff is set for 1:51 a.m. Pacific Time. The satellite will rise into orbit aboard a Taurus XL rocket to 400 miles above the surface. Then, over the next several weeks, it will be nudged upward into a 438-mile-high polar orbit, where it will take its place among a series of Earth-watching satellites known as the “A-Train.”

Several months of calibration will follow, validating the spacecraft’s observations with measurements on the ground.

“It’s a brand new kind of science measurement,” Dr. Crisp said. “It’s going to take us a while to get the measurement right.”

The spacecraft and the Taurus rocket were both built by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., which will operate the spacecraft.

Debris Spews Into Space After Satellites Collide
February 12, 2009

For decades, space experts have warned of orbits around the planet growing so crowded that two satellites might one day slam into one another, producing swarms of treacherous debris.

It happened Tuesday. And the whirling fragments could pose a threat to the International Space Station, orbiting 215 miles up with three astronauts on board, though officials said the risk was now small.

“This is a first, unfortunately,” Nicholas L. Johnson, chief scientist for orbital debris at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said of the collision.

It happened some 490 miles above northern Siberia, at around noon Eastern time. Two communications satellites — one Russian, one American — cracked up in silent destruction. In the aftermath, military radars on the ground tracked large amounts of debris going into higher and lower orbits.

“Nothing to this extent” has ever happened before, Mr. Johnson said. “We’ve had three other accidental collisions between what we call catalog objects, but they were all much smaller than this,” the objects always very small and moderate in size.

The communication satellites, he added, “are two relatively big objects.”

The American satellite was an Iridium, one of a constellation of 66 spacecraft. Liz DeCastro, corporate communications director of Iridium Satellite, based in Bethesda, Md., said that the satellite weighed about 1,200 pounds and that its body was more than 12 feet long, not including large solar arrays.

In a statement, the company said that it had “lost an operational satellite” on Tuesday, apparently after it collided with “a nonoperational” Russian satellite.

“Although this event has minimal impact on Iridium’s service,” the statement added, “the company is taking immediate action to address the loss.” The company’s hand-held phones can be used anywhere around the globe to give users voice and data communications.

Mr. Johnson said the Russian satellite was presumably nonfunctional. Officials at the Russian Embassy in Washington could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Johnson said the United States military’s tracking radars had yet to determine the number of detectable fragments. “It’s going to take a while,” he said. “It’s very, very difficult to discriminate all those objects when they’re really close together. And so over the next couple of days we’ll have a much better understanding.”

At a minimum, Mr. Johnson added, “I think we’re talking many, many dozens, if not hundreds.”

The debris could threaten the space station and its astronaut crew, he said.

“There are actually debris from this event which we believe are going through space station altitude already,” he said. The risk to the station, Mr. Johnson added, “is going to be very, very small.” In the worst case, he said, “We’ll just dodge them if we have to. It’s the small things you can’t see that are the ones that can do you harm.”

In Houston, International Space Station controllers have often adjusted its orbit to get out of the way of speeding space debris, which can move so incredibly fast that even small pieces pack a destructive wallop.

John Yembrick, a NASA spokesman in Washington, said the agency now judged the risk of collision with the speeding fragments to be “very small.” The threat, he added, is defined and acceptable.

Mr. Johnson, who works at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, said the new swarms of whirling debris might also eventually pose a threat to other satellites in an orbital chain reaction.

“What we’re doing now is trying to quantify that risk,” he said. “That’s a work in progress. It’s only been 24 hours. We put first things first,” meaning the station and preparing for the next shuttle mission.

William Harwood contributed reporting.

The Pheonix has landed (Memorial Day, 2008).  What has it found out so far?

USA land Phoeonix rover on Mars - searches for water...from the look of this photo, there IS water there - GROUNDWATER!  Phoenix landed in the blue ice-rich area (top left of map), near Mars' north pole

Link here to NASA webpage on Mars project.

This is the route of Mars rover...or else it is AAA's most direct "trip tik"

From the I-BBC - below right is the EU Mars effort.

NASA also has other programs, including assistance on International Space Station.

CT native on latest Shuttle crew!  Atlantis 2006.
Daniel C. Burbank (CAPTAIN, USCG)
NASA Astronaut

PERSONAL DATA: Born July 27, 1961 in Manchester, Connecticut, but considers Tolland, Connecticut, to be his hometown. Married. Two children. Enjoys running, skiing, hiking, sailing, amateur astronomy, playing guitar. His parents, Dan and Joan Burbank, reside in Tolland, Connecticut. His sister, Suzanne Burbank, resides in Fort Myers, Florida.

EDUCATION: Graduated from Tolland High School, Tolland, Connecticut, in 1979; received a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 1985, and a master of science degree in aeronautical science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 1990.

ORGANIZATIONS: National Space Society; Order of Daedalians; U.S. Coast Guard Pterodactyls; U.S. Coast Guard Academy Alumni Association.

AWARDS: NASA Space Flight Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Air Medal, Coast Guard Commendation Medals (2), Coast Guard Achievement Medal, Coast Guard Commandant’s Letter of Commendation Ribbons (2), Coast Guard Meritorious Team Commendations (3), National Defense Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, and various other service awards.

SPECIAL HONORS: Awarded the Orville Wright Achievement Award and honorary membership in the Order of Daedalians as the top naval flight training graduate during the period January 1 to June 30, 1988. Awarded Texas Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution Achievement Award as the top Coast Guard graduate of flight training for the year 1988.

EXPERIENCE: Burbank received his commission from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in May 1985, and was assigned to the Coast Guard Cutter Gallatin (WHEC 721) as Deck Watch Officer and Law Enforcement/Boarding Officer. In January 1987, he reported to naval flight training at Pensacola, Florida, and graduated in February 1988. Burbank was then assigned to Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where he became an Aircraft Commander in the HH-3F Pelican and then an Aircraft Commander/Instructor Pilot in the HH-60J Jayhawk. While at Elizabeth City, he completed training in Aviation Maintenance/Administration in preparation for assignment as an Aeronautical Engineering Officer. He also earned a master’s degree in aeronautical science. In July 1992, Burbank was assigned to Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, Massachusetts, as the Rotary Wing Engineering Officer and HH-60J Aircraft Commander/Instructor Pilot. In May 1995, he was assigned to Coast Guard Air Station Sitka, Alaska, as the Aeronautical Engineering Officer and HH-60J Aircraft Commander.

Burbank has logged over 3,500 flight hours, primarily in Coast Guard helicopters, and has flown more than 1,800 missions including over 300 search and rescue missions.

NASA EXPERIENCE: Selected by NASA in April 1996, Burbank reported to the Johnson Space Center in August 1996. After completing two years of training and evaluation, Burbank worked technical issues for the Astronaut Office Operations Planning Branch, and the International Space Station, and served as CAPCOM (spacecraft communicator) for both Shuttle and Space Station. He was also a member of the Space Shuttle Cockpit Avionics Upgrade design team. Twice flown, he served as a mission specialist on STS-106 and STS-115 and has logged over 23 days in space, and 7 hours and 11 minutes in one EVA.

SPACE FLIGHT EXPERIENCE: STS-106 Atlantis (September 8-20, 2000). During the 12-day mission, the crew successfully prepared the International Space Station for the arrival of the first permanent crew. The five astronauts and two cosmonauts delivered more than 6,600 pounds of supplies and installed batteries, power converters, oxygen generation equipment and a treadmill on the Space Station. Two crewmembers performed a space walk in order to connect power, data and communications cables to the newly arrived Zvesda Service Module and the Space Station. STS-106 orbited the Earth 185 times, and covered 4.9 million miles in 11 days, 19 hours, and 10 minutes.

STS-115 Atlantis (September 9-21, 2006) successfully restarted assembly of the International Space Station. During the 12-day mission the crew delivered and installed the massive P3/P4 truss, and two sets of solar arrays that will eventually provide one quarter of the station’s power. The crew also performed unprecedented robotic work using the Shuttle’s arm. With the help of a fellow crew member, Burbank made one spacewalk (EVA) that completed truss installation, enabled the solar arrays to be deployed and prepared an important radiator for later activation. They also installed a signal processor and transponder that transmits voice and data to the ground and performed other tasks to upgrade and protect the station’s systems.


NASA Global Hawk Continues Flight Expansion in Preparation for Environmental Research Missions as Part of the 2010 GloPac Campaign
Press Release Source: Northrop Grumman Corp.
Monday January 18, 2010, 8:00 am

SAN DIEGO, Jan. 18, 2010 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Northrop Grumman (NYSE:NOC - News) announced today that the NASA Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system (UAS) has completed 10.4 hours for pilot training and flight characterization in preparation for the Global Hawk Pacific (GloPac) Campaign set to start this spring. Five flawless flights have been completed since the first flight of Air Vehicle Six (AV-6) on 23 October. Prior to this, the aircraft had not flown in more than 6 1/2 years.

A photo accompanying this release is available at:

Currently, AV-6 is being modified to carry eleven different earth science sensors in preparation for the GloPac Campaign. Missions will be based from NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base and be conducted over remote areas of the Pacific and Arctic. Initial flights to test these sensors will begin in March.

AV-6 is one of two Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration Global Hawk aircraft that were transferred from the U.S. Air Force to NASA Dryden. Both are being operated under the Space Act Agreement signed in 2008 that allows NASA and Northrop Grumman to share the aircraft for various operations. NOAA is also partnered with NASA to provide appropriate payloads for environmental science missions. The second aircraft, AV-1, is being readied for flight later this year.

As part of the program, Northrop Grumman designed a new UAS mission control center that is married to a payload station and housed in the Global Hawk Operations Center (GHOC) located at Edwards Air Force Base. A distributed set of workstations are configured with specific functionality to initiate, monitor and track aircraft operations, as well as to collect and distribute data from various onboard sensors. The payload workstations are configured to manage numerous scientific payloads simultaneously which will be vital during the GloPac Campaign.

The GloPac Campaign provides a unique opportunity to extend operator evaluation of the control system, which is at the heart of the GHOC. Analyzing the multi-function architecture during operations will further the understanding and development of mission management and control systems for various heterogeneous UAS. Lessons learned on training and mission execution will be considered for inclusion in future programs where government customers are looking for interoperability and commonality to meet mission management requirements.

Northrop Grumman Corporation is a leading global security company whose 120,000 employees provide innovative systems, products, and solutions in aerospace, electronics, information systems, shipbuilding and technical services to government and commercial customers worldwide.

Scott Carpenter, Mercury Astronaut Who Orbited Earth, Dies at 88
October 10, 2013

M. Scott Carpenter, whose flight into space in 1962 as the second American to orbit the Earth was marred by technical glitches and ended with the nation waiting anxiously to see if he had survived a landing far from the target site, died on Thursday in Denver. He was 88 and one of the last two surviving astronauts of America’s original space program, Project Mercury.

His wife, Patty Carpenter, announced the death, but no cause was given. He had entered hospice care recently after having a stroke.

His death leaves John H. Glenn Jr., who flew the first orbital mission on Feb. 20, 1962, and later became a United States senator from Ohio, as the last survivor of the Mercury 7.

When Lieutenant Commander Carpenter splashed down off Puerto Rico in his Aurora 7 capsule on May 24, 1962, after a harrowing mission, he had fulfilled a dream.

“I volunteered for a number of reasons,” he wrote in “We Seven,” a book of reflections by the original astronauts published in 1962. “One of these, quite frankly, was that I thought this was a chance for immortality. Pioneering in space was something I would willingly give my life for.”

For almost an hour after his capsule hit the Caribbean, there were fears that he had, in fact, perished. He was 250 miles from his intended landing point after making three orbits in a nearly five-hour flight. Although radar and radio signals indicated that his capsule had survived re-entry, it was not immediately clear that he was safe.

A Navy search plane finally spotted him in a bright orange life raft. He remained in it for three hours, accompanied by two frogmen dropped to assist him, before he was picked up by a helicopter and taken to the aircraft carrier Intrepid.

The uncertainty over his fate was only one problem with the flight. The equipment controlling the capsule’s attitude (the way it was pointed) had gone awry; moreover, he fired his re-entry rockets three seconds late, and they did not carry the anticipated thrust. He also fell behind on his many tasks during the flight’s final moments, and his fuel ran low when he inadvertently left two control systems on at the same time.

Some NASA officials found fault with his performance.

“He was completely ignoring our request to check his instruments,” Christopher Kraft, the flight director, wrote in his memoir “Flight: My Life in Mission Control” (2001). “I swore an oath that Scott Carpenter would never again fly in space. He didn’t.”

Mr. Carpenter was the fourth American astronaut in space. Alan B. Shepard Jr. and Virgil I. Grissom flew the first two Mercury flights, and then Mr. Glenn orbited the Earth. Mr. Carpenter was the fourth man to go into orbit. Two Russians in addition to Mr. Glenn had preceded him.

Malcolm Scott Carpenter was born on May 1, 1925, in Boulder, Colo. His family moved to the New York City region when his father, Marion, got a job there as a research chemist. His mother, Florence, contracted tuberculosis when Scott was a child, and she took him with her when she returned to Boulder to be treated at a sanitarium. The marriage broke up, and Scott was guided by his maternal grandfather, Victor Noxon, who owned and edited a Boulder newspaper. He grew fond of a rugged outdoor life and became enthralled by the prospect of flying.

Mr. Carpenter became a naval aviation cadet in 1943, attending Colorado College, but World War II ended before he could obtain his wings. He entered the University of Colorado afterward but left school without a degree and received a Navy commission in 1949.

He flew patrol planes in the Pacific during the Korean War, then trained as a test pilot, and in April 1959 he was among the seven military pilots chosen as the Mercury astronauts, the beginning of America’s quest to carry out President John F. Kennedy’s goal to put a man on the Moon.

Mr. Carpenter was the only original astronaut without a college degree, but he was highly accomplished in communications and navigation in addition to his flying skills. He was also in outstanding physical condition, exceeding several NASA performance standards.

He was Mr. Glenn’s backup for his epic orbital flight, and became his Capsule Communicator (CapCom), or radio link, famously exclaiming, “Godspeed, John Glenn,” as Mr. Glenn’s Friendship 7 achieved liftoff.

But Donald K. Slaton was scheduled to be the next astronaut in orbit. When Mr. Slaton was grounded because of a heart irregularity, Lieutenant Commander Carpenter got the flight.

His mission called for greater pilot involvement than Mr. Glenn’s, and with photographic tasks to perform and science experiments to oversee, he seemed to be having a grand time, though the cabin became uncomfortably warm. But serious trouble arose when the equipment controlling the way the capsule was facing malfunctioned, requiring him to determine the capsule’s proper attitude visually.

“The last 30 minutes of the flight, in retrospect, were a dicey time,” he recalled in his memoir “For Spacious Skies” (2002), written with his daughter Kris Stoever. “At the time, I didn’t see it that way. First, I was trained to avoid any intellectual comprehension of disaster — dwelling on a potential danger, or imagining what might happen. I was also too busy with the tasks at hand.”

Splashing down 250 miles from the nearest recovery ship, he got out of his capsule through a top hatch, then inflated his raft and waited to be picked up.

Finally, the voice of mission control, Shorty Powers, announced, “An aircraft in the landing area has sighted the capsule and a life raft with a gentleman by the name of Carpenter riding in it.”

President Kennedy greeted Lieutenant Commander Carpenter and his family at the White House in June 1962 after the Carpenters had been hailed at parades in Denver and Boulder and honored at City Hall in New York. A few days after Mr. Carpenter’s mission, the University of Colorado gave him a long-delayed degree in aeronautical engineering at its commencement, citing his “unique experience with heat transfer during his re-entry.” He had missed out on his degree by not completing a course in heat transfer as a senior in 1949.

But the issue of the flight’s brush with disaster lingered. A NASA inquiry determined that because of a 25-degree error in the capsule’s alignment, the retro rockets had fired at an angle that caused a shallower than normal descent. That accounted for 175 miles of the overshoot, with the remaining 75 miles caused by the late firing of the rockets and their failure to provide the expected thrust.

Mr. Kraft, the flight director, had been angry that Mr. Slaton was denied the mission because of his heart problem, and he was furious at Lieutenant Commander Carpenter, feeling that he had not paid sufficient attention to instructions from the ground.

Mr. Carpenter’s prospect of obtaining another NASA mission was ended by a motorbike injury that led to his leaving NASA in 1967.

In a 2001 letter to The New York Times in response to a review of Mr. Kraft’s book, Mr. Carpenter wrote that “the system failures I encountered during the flight would have resulted in loss of the capsule and total mission failure had a man not been aboard.”

“My postflight debriefings and reports,” he added, “led, in turn, to important changes in capsule design and flight plans.”

In his book “The Right Stuff” (1979), which told how the original astronauts reflected the coolness-under-pressure ethos of the test pilot, Tom Wolfe wrote that Mr. Kraft’s criticism fueled NASA engineers’ simmering resentment of the astronauts’ status as pop-culture heroes. The way Mr. Wolfe saw it, word spread within NASA that Mr. Carpenter had panicked, the worst sin imaginable in what Mr. Wolfe called the brotherhood of the right stuff.

Mr. Wolfe rejected that notion. “One might argue that Carpenter had mishandled the re-entry, but to accuse him of panic made no sense in light of the telemetered data concerning his heart rate and his respiratory rate,” he wrote.

Mr. Carpenter also carved a legacy as a pioneer in the ocean’s depths. He was the only astronaut to become an aquanaut, spending a month living and working on the ocean floor, at a depth of 205 feet, in the Sealab project off San Diego in the summer of 1965. When he returned to NASA, he helped develop underwater training to prepare for space walks. He returned to the Sealab program, but a thigh injury resulting from his diving work kept him from exploring the ocean floor again.

He retired from the Navy in 1969 with the rank of commander, pursued oceanographic and environmental activities and wrote two novels involving underwater adventures.

Mr. Carpenter’s first three marriages ended in divorce. Besides his wife, Patty, Mr. Carpenter is survived by his sons Jay, Matthew, Nicholas and Zachary; his daughters Kristen Stoever and Candace; a granddaughter, and five stepgrandchildren. Two of his sons, Timothy and Scott, died before him.

Mr. Glenn, the last Mercury 7 survivor who went on to become a United States senator from Ohio, is 92. Mr. Grissom died in 1967 in an Apollo spacecraft fire during a launching-pad test. Mr. Slaton died in 1993; Mr. Shepard, the first American in space, died in 1998; L. Gordon Cooper Jr. died in 2004; and Walter M. Schirra Jr. died in 2007.

Among his many projects, Mr. Carpenter joined with fellow astronauts of the original Mercury 7 to create the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, aiding science and engineering students. In 2006, he returned to the University of Colorado to present a scholarship to a student studying plasma physics.

He used the occasion to reflect on the thrill he experienced. Space flights had become “old hat,” he said, but his ardor for space travel remained undimmed.

“The flight experience itself is incredible,” The Rocky Mountain News quoted him as saying. “It’s addictive. It’s transcendent. It is a view of the grand plan of all things that is simply unforgettable.”

Mr. Carpenter attended ceremonial events in his final years, when he was reunited with fellow astronauts.

He joined with President George W. Bush and Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon, on Veterans Day 2008 in a ceremony on a Hudson River pier aboard the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, formerly the ship whose helicopter had plucked him to safety.

Mr. Carpenter was on hand at Cape Canaveral with Mr. Glenn and veterans of the Project Mercury support teams at events a few days before the 50th anniversary of Mr. Glenn’s pioneering orbital flight.

Both had expressed hopes that America’s space program would be revived.

“John, thank you for your heroic effort and all of you for your heroic effort,” Mr. Carpenter told the gathering. “But we stand here waiting to be outdone.”

John L. Dorman contributed reporting.