This Week @ NASA

NASA Update – January 5, 2015

Stories in this program include:

  • This Week @ NASA
  • Upcoming activities and NASA TV coverage (all times EST unless otherwise indicated)
  • News highlights
  • Press releases and web features from the previous week

Latest Edition of “This Week @ NASA” (Special Year-End Edition, published 12/19/14)

Upcoming Activities and NASA TV Coverage

Monday, January 5

  • American Astronomical Society Meeting (through 1/8). NASA researchers will present a wide range of new astrophysics findings at the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). The AAS meeting runs Sunday, Jan. 4 through Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015 at the Washington State Convention Center, 800 Convention Place, Seattle. Media registration for the event is open. All briefings will be streamed on AAS’s website and accessible to registered journalists. NASA scientists and their colleagues will present briefings on noteworthy discoveries, including newly-validated exoplanets, an interesting X-ray phenomenon from the black hole in our Milky Way, and never-seen-before images. LINK
  • SpaceX CRS-5 Briefings. The first briefing of the day will air at noon and cover the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) Earth science instrument headed to the space station. The second briefing will cover some of the numerous science investigations headed to the space station. The final briefing will provide up-to-date information about the launch. LINK
    • 12 p.m. - NASA ISS Earth Science Briefing: Cloud Aerosol Transport System (CATS) (all channels)
    • 1:30 p.m. - NASA ISS Research and Technology Briefing (all channels)
    • 4 p.m. - SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) -5 Prelaunch News Conference (all channels)

Tuesday, January 6

  • SpaceX CRS-5 Launch. The fifth SpaceX cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract now is scheduled to launch at 6:20:29 a.m. EST Tuesday, Jan. 6, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. NASA Television coverage of the launch begins at 5 a.m. An on-time launch on Jan. 6 will result in the Dragon spacecraft arriving at the space station on Thursday, Jan. 8. Expedition 42 Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore of NASA will use the station’s 57.7-foot robotic arm to reach out and capture Dragon at approximately 6 a.m. Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency will support Wilmore as they operate from the station’s cupola. NASA TV coverage of grapple will begin at 4:30 a.m. Coverage of Dragon’s installation to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module will begin at 8:15 a.m. LINK
    • 5 a.m. - Coverage of the Launch of the SpaceX/Dragon CRS-5 Cargo Ship to the ISS (all channels)
    • 7:45 a.m. - SpaceX/Dragon CRS-5 Post-Launch News Conference – KSC (all channels)
    • 9:15 a.m. - ISS Expedition 42 In-Flight Interviews with the Associated Press and KGO-TV, San Francisco (all channels)

Wednesday, January 7

Thursday, January 8

  • “Outside the Spacecraft: 50 Years of Extra-Vehicular Activity” Exhibit Opens in Washington, DC. The National Air and Space Museum’s newest exhibition Outside the Spacecraft: 50 Years of Extra-Vehicular Activity will be open from January 8, 2015 until June 2015. Extra-vehicular activity, or EVA–working outside a spacecraft–changed the nature of human spaceflight. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first ventures outside the spacecraft, this exhibition will present art, photography, artifacts, and personal accounts that relate the continuing story of EVA. LINK

o   4:30 a.m. - Coverage of the Rendezvous and Grapple of the SpaceX/Dragon CRS-5 Cargo Ship at the ISS (Grapple scheduled at appx. 6 a.m. ET) (all channels)

o   8:15 a.m. - Coverage of the Installation of the SpaceX/Dragon CRS-5 Cargo Ship to the ISS (all channels)

Friday, January 9

News Highlights

There were hundreds of articles about the wrench that was 3D printed on the Space Station. Coverage included pieces from The Washington PostCNNCNET, and the BBC.

There were about 60 articles previewing the upcoming Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission, including pieces from UPITime, and Tech Times.

New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern wrote about the mission for Time, noting that observations of Pluto and its moons will begin this month. The Sydney Morning Herald and Sky News also published pieces about New Horizons.

Press Releases & Web Features December 15-January 5

2014 Highlights

NASA Takes Giant Leaps on the Journey to Mars, Eyes Our Home Planet and the Distant Universe, Tests Technologies and Improves the Skies Above in 2014 (December 22)

In 2014, NASA took significant steps on the agency’s journey to Mars — testing cutting-edge technologies and making scientific discoveries while studying our changing Earth and the infinite universe as the agency made progress on the next generation of air travel. “We continued to make great progress on our journey to Mars this year, awarding contracts to American companies who will return human space flight launches to U.S. soil, advancing space technology development; and successfully completing the first flight of Orion, the next deep space spacecraft in which our astronauts will travel,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “We moved forward on our work to create quieter, greener airplanes and develop technologies to make air travel more efficient; and we advanced our study of our changing home planet, Earth, while increasing our understanding of others in our solar system and beyond.” LINK


NASA Rover Finds Active, Ancient Organic Chemistry on Mars (December 16)

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane, an organic chemical, in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory’s drill. Researchers used Curiosity’s onboard Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) laboratory a dozen times in a 20-month period to sniff methane in the atmosphere. During two of those months, in late 2013 and early 2014, four measurements averaged seven parts per billion. Before and after that, readings averaged only one-tenth that level. LINK

NASA, Planetary Scientists Find Meteoritic Evidence of Mars Water Reservoir (December 18)

NASA and an international team of planetary scientists have found evidence in meteorites on Earth that indicates Mars has a distinct and global reservoir of water or ice near its surface. Though controversy still surrounds the origin, abundance and history of water on Mars, this discovery helps resolve the question of where the “missing Martian water” may have gone. Scientists continue to study the planet’s historical record, trying to understand the apparent shift from an early wet and warm climate to today’s dry and cool surface conditions. LINK

Video Gives Astronaut’s-Eye View Inside NASA’s Orion Spacecraft (December 19)

New video recorded during the return of NASA’s Orion through Earth’s atmosphere this month provides a taste of the intense conditions the spacecraft and the astronauts it carries will endure when they return from deep space destinations on the journey to Mars. Among the first data to be removed from Orion following its uncrewed Dec. 5 flight test was video recorded through windows in Orion’s crew module. Although much of the video was transmitted down to Earth and shown in real time on NASA Television, it was not available in its entirety. Also, the blackout caused by the superheated plasma surrounding the vehicle as it endured the peak temperatures of its descent prevented downlink of any information at that key point. However, the cameras were able to record the view and now the public can have an up-close look at the extreme environment a spacecraft experiences as it travels back through Earth’s environment from beyond low-Earth orbit. LINK


Space Station 3-D Printer Builds Ratchet Wrench to Complete First Phase of Operations (December 22)

The International Space Station’s 3-D printer completed the first phase of a NASA technology demonstration by printing a tool with a design file transmitted from the ground to the printer. The tool was a ratchet wrench. “For the printer’s final test in this phase of operations, NASA wanted to validate the process for printing on demand, which will be critical on longer journeys to Mars,” explained Niki Werkheiser, the space station 3-D printer program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “In less than a week, the ratchet was designed, approved by safety and other NASA reviewers, and the file was sent to space where the printer made the wrench in four hours.” LINK

Solar System and Beyond

NASA’s Kepler Reborn, Makes First Exoplanet Find of New Mission (December 18)

NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft makes a comeback with the discovery of the first exoplanet found using its new mission — K2. The discovery was made when astronomers and engineers devised an ingenious way to repurpose Kepler for the K2 mission and continue its search of the cosmos for other worlds. LINK

Sun Sizzles in High-Energy X-Rays (December 22)

For the first time, a mission designed to set its eyes on black holes and other objects far from our solar system has turned its gaze back closer to home, capturing images of our sun. NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has taken its first picture of the sun, producing the most sensitive solar portrait ever taken in high-energy X-rays. LINK

Dawn Spacecraft Begins Approach to Dwarf Planet Ceres (December 29)

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has entered an approach phase in which it will continue to close in on Ceres, a Texas-sized dwarf planet never before visited by a spacecraft. Dawn launched in 2007 and is scheduled to enter Ceres orbit in March 2015. Dawn recently emerged from solar conjunction, in which the spacecraft is on the opposite side of the sun, limiting communication with antennas on Earth. Now that Dawn can reliably communicate with Earth again, mission controllers have programmed the maneuvers necessary for the next stage of the rendezvous, which they label the Ceres approach phase. Dawn is currently 400,000 miles (640,000 kilometers) from Ceres, approaching it at around 450 miles per hour (725 kilometers per hour). LINK

A Solar Wind Workhorse Marks 20 Years of Science Discoveries (December 29)

The end of 2014 marks two decades of data from a NASA mission called Wind. Wind — along with 17 other missions – is part of what’s called the Heliophysics Systems Observatory, a fleet of spacecraft dedicated to understanding how the sun and its giant explosions affect Earth, the planets and beyond. Wind launched on Nov. 1, 1994, with the goal of characterizing the constant stream of particles from the sun called the solar wind. With particle observations once every 3 seconds, and 11 magnetic measurements every second, Wind measurements were – and still are – the highest cadence solar wind observations for any near-Earth spacecraft. LINK

International Space Station

NASA Commercial Crew Partners Complete 23 Milestones in 2014, Look Ahead to 2015 (December 22)

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and the agency’s industry partners completed 23 agreement and contract milestones in 2014 and participated in thousands of hours of technical review sessions. The sessions focused on creating a new generation of safe, reliable and cost-effective crew space transportation systems to low-Earth orbit destinations. LINK

Earth Right Now

NASA Analysis: 11 Trillion Gallons to Replenish California Drought Losses (December 16)

It will take about 11 trillion gallons of water (42 cubic kilometers) — around 1.5 times the maximum volume of the largest U.S. reservoir — to recover from California’s continuing drought, according to a new analysis of NASA satellite data. The finding was part of a sobering update on the state’s drought made possible by space and airborne measurements and presented by NASA scientists Dec. 16 at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. Such data are giving scientists an unprecedented ability to identify key features of droughts, data that can be used to inform water management decisions. LINK

NOAA/NASA Satellite Sees Holiday Lights Brighten Cities (December 16)

Even from space, holidays shine bright. With a new look at daily data from the NOAA/NASA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) satellite, a NASA scientist and colleagues have identified how patterns in nighttime light intensity change during major holiday seasons – Christmas and New Year’s in the United States and the holy month of Ramadan in the Middle East. Around many major U.S. cities, nighttime lights shine 20 to 50 percent brighter during Christmas and New Year’s when compared to light output during the rest of the year, as seen in the satellite data. In some Middle Eastern cities, nighttime lights shine more than 50 percent brighter during Ramadan, compared to the rest of the year. LINK

Earth from Space: 15 Amazing Things in 15 Years (December 18)

The view of Earth from orbit is never the same – from minute to minute, day to day, year to year. In December of 1999 NASA launched a satellite that opened up a new era in our ability to see, measure and understand Earth. The satellite called Terra rocketed to space on Dec. 18, 1999. (And while it was designed for a five-year mission life – Terra is still up there, collecting invaluable data on Earth’s land, atmosphere and oceans.) In 2002 and 2004, satellites named Aqua and Aura followed. These are often called the three flagship satellites of NASA’s Earth Observing System — which began in earnest with Terra and now comprises a fleet of 18 Earth-observing satellites that have revolutionized our ability to observe our home planet from space. NASA and other space agencies had launched satellites to study Earth before. But the past 15 years have produced a more comprehensive look at Earth from space than any other period in history. At a time when our planet is undergoing critically important changes, this global view offers not only stunning imagery but also vitally important information about how Earth is changing. LINK

NASA’s Spaceborne Carbon Counter Maps New Details (December 18)

The first global maps of atmospheric carbon dioxide from NASA’s new Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 mission demonstrate its performance and promise, showing elevated carbon dioxide concentrations across the Southern Hemisphere from springtime biomass burning. At a media briefing today at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California; Colorado State University (CSU), Fort Collins; and the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, presented the maps of carbon dioxide and a related phenomenon known as solar-induced chlorophyll fluorescence and discussed their potential implications. LINK

NASA Finds Good News on Forests and Carbon Dioxide (December 29)

A new NASA-led study shows that tropical forests may be absorbing far more carbon dioxide than many scientists thought, in response to rising atmospheric levels of the greenhouse gas. The study estimates that tropical forests absorb 1.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide out of a total global absorption of 2.5 billion — more than is absorbed by forests in Canada, Siberia and other northern regions, called boreal forests. LINK

Technology Innovations Spin NASA’s SMAP into Space (December 30)

It’s active. It’s passive. And it’s got a big, spinning lasso. Scheduled for launch on Jan. 29, 2015, NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) instrument will measure the moisture lodged in Earth’s soils with an unprecedented accuracy and resolution. The instrument’s three main parts are a radar, a radiometer and the largest rotating mesh antenna ever deployed in space. LINK

Additional Announcements

NASA Selects Commercial Space Partners for Collaborative Partnerships (December 23)

NASA announced Tuesday the selection of four U.S. companies to collaborate with NASA through unfunded partnerships to develop new space capabilities available to the government and other customers. The partnerships build on the success of NASA’s commercial spaceflight initiatives to leverage NASA experience and expertise into new capabilities. The Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities (CCSC) initiative is designed to advance private sector development of integrated space capabilities through access to NASA’s spaceflight resources and ensure emerging products or services are commercially available to government and non-government customers within approximately the next five years. The companies selected for the Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities and their projects are:

  • ·         ATK Space Systems, in Beltsville, Maryland, is developing space logistics, hosted payload and other space transportation capabilities.
  • ·         Final Frontier Design, in Brooklyn, New York, is developing intra-vehicular activity space suits.
  • ·         Space Exploration Technologies, in Hawthorne, California, is developing space transportation capabilities that could be used to support missions into deep space.
  • ·         United Launch Alliance, in Centennial, Colorado, is developing new launch vehicle capabilities to reduce cost and enhance performance.