This Week @ NASA
NASA Update – July 27, 2015
Stories in this program include:
- This Week @ NASA
- Upcoming activities and NASA TV coverage (all times ET unless otherwise indicated)
- News highlights
- Press releases and web features from the previous week
Latest Edition of “This Week @ NASA” (Posted July 24)
Upcoming Activities and NASA TV Coverage
Monday, July 27
- House Science Committee Hearing: Exploration of the Solar System. At on , the Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing titled Exploration of the Solar System: From Mercury to Pluto and Beyond. The purpose of this hearing is to review recent NASA achievements in exploring our solar system, including the exploration of Pluto and the asteroid Ceres, as well as assess future NASA missions under development, including a flagship mission to conduct a detailed survey of Jupiter’s moon Europa.
- Unmanned Aerial Systems Traffic Management (UTM) Convention begins. We are entering a new era of aviation where unmanned aerial systems (UAS) will be used for new commercial and civil applications. UASs will be remotely piloted and fully autonomous. Their safe and effective integration into the national airspace is a critical requirement for achieving their true potential. NASA and the Silicon Valley Chapter AUVSI (Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International) are co-hosting this convention because we anticipate a widespread increase of low-altitude UAS operations and it’s now critical to engage in discussion — to shape the future of UAS traffic management. Join NASA in exploring the future direction of these unmanned systems and how technology and policies can keep pace with these emerging opportunities. We will be listening to the concerns and ideas for what is possible in the Next Era of Aviation. With the benefit of comments from the breakout sessions’ small group discussions, NASA will enhance its UTM design requirements and update next steps plans.
- Crew of Underwater NASA Mission Available for Interviews. NASA currently is working in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean to evaluate tools and techniques in preparation for future spacewalks on a variety of surfaces and levels of gravity, ranging from asteroids to the moons and surface of Mars. The crew of the 14-day underwater mission will be available for media interviews via phone or Skype between Wednesday, July 29. The interviews will air live on NASA Television.
- NASA Advisory Council Meeting begins. The NASA Advisory Council (NAC) is an independent group of scientists and aerospace experts who provide external guidance to NASA. The group advises NASA’s senior leadership on challenges and solutions facing the agency as it unfolds a new era of exploration. The upcoming meeting will take place through at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
- NASA TV
- – ISS Expedition 4 Interviews with Fox News Channel’s “America’s News Headquarters” and Reuters TV with NASA Flight Engineer Scott Kelly and Flight Engineer Mikhail Kornienko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (all channels)
- NASA TV
- . – ISS Expedition 44 In-Flight Educational Event with the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland and NASA Flight Engineers Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren (starts at ) (all channels)
- Solar System & Beyond – There were more than 1,200 articles following news telecon about recent discovery of Earth-like planet, Kepler 452-b. Coverage includes the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, US News & World Report, NPR and USA Today. There were also more than 1,000 additional articles about theNew Horizons Pluto flyby, including reports on the new photos of Pluto’s moon Nix and Hydra.
- ISS – There were more than 600 articles about the Space Station crew launch. Coverage included pieces from Wired, The Verge, and Popular Science. There were also several profiles of NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren.
- Technology – A number of outlets covered the NIAC-funded study ofwindbots.
- Mars – UPI reported on the Curiosity rover’s latest investigation of Martian bedrock. There were also several articles about SLS and NEEMO.
- Earth – There were hundreds of articles on the first Earth image from DSCOVR, including pieces from Fox News, USA Today, Time, and CNET.@POTUS and @WhiteHouse tweeted the photo. NASA took over theWhite House Instagram with photos of Earth from space. NextGov also reported on the fire-detection tool announced last week.
- Aeronautics – The first FAA-approved drone delivery, which carried medical supplies to a rural health clinic, was covered by many news outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, The Hill, and Engadget.
Press Releases & Web Features July 21-27
Solar System & Beyond
Bright Basin on Tethys – July 27
With the expanded range of colors visible to Cassini’s cameras, differences in materials and their textures become apparent that are subtle or unseen in natural color views. Here, the giant impact basin Odysseus on Saturn’s moon Tethys stands out brightly from the rest of the illuminated icy crescent. This distinct coloration may result from differences in either the composition or structure of the terrain exposed by the giant impact. Odysseus (280 miles, or 450 kilometers, across) is one of the largest impact craters on Saturn’s icy moons, and may have significantly altered the geologic history of Tethys.
Stunning Nightside Image Reveals Pluto’s Hazy Skies – July 24
Just seven hours after closest approach, New Horizons aimed its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) back at Pluto, capturing sunlight streaming through the atmosphere and revealing hazes as high as 80 miles (130 kilometers) above Pluto’s surface. A preliminary analysis of the image shows two distinct layers of haze –one about 50 miles (80 kilometers) above the surface and the other at an altitude of about 30 miles (50 kilometers).
New Horizons Reveals Pluto’s Atmospheric Pressure Has Sharply Decreased – July 24
Pluto’s atmosphere may be changing before our eyes. Measurements with NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft have revealed that Pluto’s atmosphere has an unexpectedly low surface pressure compared to that derived from previous observations. One explanation for the low pressure is that about half of Pluto’s atmosphere may have recently frozen onto the planet’s surface. If confirmed, it could indicate that further decreases in pressure may soon be in store.
New Horizons Discovers Flowing Ices on Pluto – July 24
NASA’s New Horizons mission has found evidence of exotic ices flowing across Pluto’s surface, at the left edge of its bright heart-shaped area. New close-up images from the spacecraft’s Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) reveal signs of recent geologic activity, something scientists hoped to find but didn’t expect. The new close-up images show fascinating detail within the Texas-sized plain (informally named Sputnik Planum) that lies within the western half of Pluto’s heart-shaped region, known as Tombaugh Regio. There, a sheet of ice clearly appears to have flowed—and may still be flowing—in a manner similar to glaciers on Earth.
Pluto Dazzles in False Color – July 23
New Horizons scientists use enhanced color images to detect differences in the composition and texture of Pluto’s surface. When close-up images are combined with color data from the Ralph instrument, it paints a new and surprising portrait of the dwarf planet. The “heart of the heart,” Sputnik Planum, is suggestive of a source region of ices. The two bluish-white “lobes” that extend to the southwest and northeast of the “heart” may represent exotic ices being transported away from Sputnik Planum.
NASA Researchers Find “Frozen” Recipe for Extraterrestrial Vitamin – July 23
Vitamin B3 could have been made on icy dust grains in space, and later delivered to Earth by meteorites and comets, according to new laboratory experiments by a team of NASA-funded researchers. Vitamin B3, also known as niacin or nicotinic acid, is used to build NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), which is essential to metabolism and probably ancient in origin. The result supports a theory that the origin of life may have been assisted by a supply of biologically important molecules produced in space and brought to Earth by comet and meteor impacts.
NASA Releases Hubble Memorable Moments Video: Brute Force – July 23
In celebration of the 25 years since the Hubble Space Telescope’s April 1990 launch, NASA is releasing the second in a series of videos showcasing moments in Hubble’s history that were memorable for Goddard’s engineers and flight operators. “Hubble Memorable Moments: Brute Force,” which was produced by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, describes repairing the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph on Hubble Servicing Mission 4 in May, 2009.
NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin to Earth – July 23
NASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey to finding another “Earth.” The newly discovered Kepler-452b is the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting in the habitable zone — the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet — of a G2-type star, like our sun. The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030.
Pulsar Punches Hole in Stellar Disk – July 22
A fast-moving pulsar appears to have punched a hole in a disk of gas around its companion star and launched a fragment of the disk outward at a speed of about 40 million miles per hour. NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory is tracking this cosmic clump, which appears to be picking up speed as it moves out. The double star system PSR B1259-63/LS 2883 – or B1259 for short – contains a star about 30 times as massive as the Sun and a pulsar, an ultra-dense neutron star left behind when an even more massive star underwent a supernova explosion.
NASA’s New Horizons Finds Second Mountain Range in Pluto’s ‘Heart’ – July 21
A newly discovered mountain range lies near the southwestern margin of Pluto’s Tombaugh Regio (Tombaugh Region), situated between bright, icy plains and dark, heavily-cratered terrain. This image was acquired by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14, 2015 from a distance of 48,000 miles (77,000 kilometers) and sent back to Earth on July 20. Features as small as a half-mile (1 kilometer) across are visible.
New Horizons Captures Two of Pluto’s Smaller Moons – July 21
Pluto’s moon Nix (left), shown here in enhanced color as imaged by the New Horizons Ralph instrument, has a reddish spot that has attracted the interest of mission scientists. The data were obtained on the morning of July 14, 2015, and received on the ground on July 18. At the time the observations were taken New Horizons was about 102,000 miles (165,000 km) from Nix. The image shows features as small as approximately 2 miles (3 kilometers) across on Nix, which is estimated to be 26 miles (42 kilometers) long and 22 miles (36 kilometers) wide.
International Space Station
Weekly Recap From the Expedition Lead Scientist – July 24
As astronauts tracked Hurricane Dolores from the vantage of space, they also turned eyes inward, evaluating microbial biofilm on surfaces inside the International Space Station. NASA astronaut Scott Kelly performed a session for the evaluation and monitoring of microbial biofilms inside the station (VIABLE ISS) investigation. Most surfaces are covered with microorganisms under natural conditions and the process where they collect on surfaces is called biofilm formation. This study from the Italian Space Agency involves the evaluation of the microbial biofilm development on space materials.
Launch, Docking Returns International Space Station Crew to Full Strength – July 22
NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Kimiya Yui launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at( , Thursday, July 23 in Baikonur) and docked at the station at , after orbiting Earth four times. Hatches between the two spacecraft will open at about Thursday, July 23.
Tropical Depression Halola Makes Landfall in Kyushu and Erodes – July 27
A visible-light image of Halola taken on July 26 at 4:53 UTC () from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite or VIIRS instrument aboard NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite showed Halola made landfall in northern Kyushu. Kyushu is the third largest island in Japan, located in the southern part of the country. The VIIRS image revealed the bulk of clouds and showers were southwest of the center and the storm appeared to be unraveling. VIIRS collects visible and infrared imagery and global observations of land, atmosphere, cryosphere and oceans. VIIRS flies aboard the Suomi NPP satellite, which is managed by both NASA and NOAA.
Marine Plankton Brighten Clouds over Southern Ocean – July 24
New research using NASA satellite data and ocean biology models suggests tiny organisms in vast stretches of the Southern Ocean play a significant role in generating brighter clouds overhead. Brighter clouds reflect more sunlight back into space affecting the amount of solar energy that reaches Earth’s surface, which in turn has implications for global climate. The results were published July 17 in the journal Science Advances.
NASA Hosts ‘Quest for Quakes’ Data Challenge – July 24
A new NASA challenge is looking for evidence to support a theory that electromagnetic pulses (EMP) may precede an earthquake, potentially offering a warning to those in the quake’s path. The “Quest for Quakes” two-week algorithm challenge seeks to develop new software codes or algorithms to search through data and identify electromagnetic pulses that may precede an earthquake. Some researchers have speculated such pulses originating from the ground near earthquake epicenters could signal the onset of some quakes.
Less Algae, Not Clearer Water, Keeps Tahoe Blue – July 23
Lake Tahoe’s iconic blueness is more strongly related to the lake’s algal concentration than to its clarity, according to research in “Tahoe: State of the Lake Report 2015,” released today by the Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC) of the University of California, Davis. The lower the algal concentration, the bluer the lake. Data from a research buoy in the lake, owned and operated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, enabled Shohei Watanabe, a postdoctoral researcher at TERC, to create a Blueness Index that quantified Lake Tahoe’s color for the first time.
The SAM Experiment, Launched 40 Years Ago, Opened an Era of Atmospheric Discoveries – July 23
The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in July 1975 was a big moment in the history of human adventures in space — and not only for the obvious reasons. Apollo-Soyuz was the first joint effort in space by the United States and the Soviet Union. It was also the final Apollo mission, ending 14 years of astonishing accomplishments on orbit and the Moon. But Pat McCormick, a former NASA Langley scientist who today leads the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at Hampton University, knows the mission was also a milestone in the quest to understand Earth’s atmosphere. Forty years ago, one of his experiments was heading to orbit for the first time. It was called SAM, which stood for the Stratospheric Aerosol Measurements experiment.
Smoke Over the Greenland Sea – July 22
The 2015 wildfire season in the Arctic has been very intense – and very smoky. As of July 15, over 3,190,000 acres had burned across Canada, according to Natural Resources Canada. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), more than 600 fires had burned millions of acres in Alaska as of July 7, making this worst wildfire season so far in state’s history. In much of Russia the 2015 fire season also started early and intensely, with highly destructive fires as early as April in the northern regions.
Greenland’s Undercut Glaciers Melting Faster than Thought – July 21
Greenland’s glaciers flowing into the ocean are grounded deeper below sea level than previously measured, allowing intruding ocean water to badly undercut the glacier faces. That process will raise sea levels around the world much faster than currently estimated, according to a team of researchers led by Eric Rignot of the University of California, Irvine (UCI), and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
NASA Measures Southwestern U.S. Record Rainfall – July 21
Moisture pumping into southern California and the Desert Southwest from the remnants of hurricane Delores has caused record July rainfall. Data from the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission core observatory was used to estimate the rainfall. Dolores formed over the weekend of July 11 and 12 about 175 miles (275 km) south-southwest of Manzanillo, Mexico. The storm moved north-northwest and on July 17, moisture associated with the storm began streaming to the northeast over Baja California, mainland Mexico and southern Arizona. As the storm continued moving to the north-northwest over the open waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean, that stream of moisture moved north over southern California and Arizona.
NASA and Commercial Satellites Map Hidden Glacier Margins In Turkey – July 21
A small glacier crowning one of the Kaçkar Mountains in eastern Turkey appears as a blurry cluster of blue pixels in an image captured in September 2011 by NASA’s and U.S. Geological Survey’s Landsat 5 satellite. A view of the same glacier, taken by the commercial satellite WorldView-2 in the same month, reveals areas of ice that escaped Landsat, hidden in the shadows cast by nearby peaks or obscured by debris deposits.
Satellite-Based Flood Monitoring Central to Relief Agencies’ Disaster Response – July 21
In January 2015, the Shire River in Malawi, and Zambezi River in Mozambique were under tight scrutiny. Weeks of torrential rains led these and other rivers to burst their banks displacing 390,000 people across the region. In southern Malawi 220,000 acres of farmland were turned into a lake, cutting off roads and stranding thousands of people on patches of high ground. The flood was devastating for the country, but within 72 hours of it being declared an emergency the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) was on the ground distributing food to residents. The quick response was supported by early warnings from the WFP’s Emergency Preparedness & Support Division in Rome where meteorologist Emily Niebuhr and her colleagues had been monitoring Malawi’s weather and the flood waters. And they were doing that with tools that were developed with data from NASA satellites.
NASA’s Curiosity Rover Inspects Unusual Bedrock – July 23
Approaching the third anniversary of its landing on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has found a target unlike anything it has studied before — bedrock with surprisingly high levels of silica. Silica is a rock-forming compound containing silicon and oxygen, commonly found on Earth as quartz. This area lies just downhill from a geological contact zone the rover has been studying near “Marias Pass” on lower Mount Sharp.
NASA’s Space Launch System Design ‘Right on Track’ for Journey to Mars – July 23
You know the feeling of pride and achievement when you’ve worked really hard on a term paper, and finally turn it in? That’s how the critical design review team for NASA’s Space Launch System is feeling this week as the program completed its review. The in-depth review – the first in almost 40 years for a NASA exploration class vehicle — provides a final look at the design and development of the integrated rocket before full-scale fabrication begins. Throughout the course of 11 weeks, 13 teams – including representatives from several NASA field centers – reviewed more than 1,000 files of data as part of the comprehensive assessment process.
New Website Gathering Public Input on NASA Mars Images – July 22
Science-team members for NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are soliciting help from the public to analyze exotic features near the south pole of Mars. By categorizing features visible in images from the orbiter’s Context Camera (CTX), volunteers are using their own computers to help the team identify specific areas for even more detailed examination with the orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera. HiRISE can reveal more detail than any other camera ever put into orbit around Mars.
NASA Invites Media to Emergency Locator Transmitters Crash Test – July 23
Engineers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, will crash test a small plane, to test the performance of five emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) installed onboard. This is the second of three crash tests of three different Cessna 172 aircraft this summer equipped with ELTs, crash test dummies, cameras and data-collecting sensors.
NASA Invites Media to 2015 Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management Convention – July 22
NASA and the Silicon Valley Chapter of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International will cosponsor the 2015 Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Traffic Management Convention: A New Era in Aviation. The event will be held Tuesday, July 28 through Thursday, July 30, at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.
A Wi-Fi Reflector Chip To Speed Up Wearables – July 22
Whether you’re tracking your steps, monitoring your health or sending photos from a smart watch, you want the battery life of your wearable device to last as long as possible. If the power necessary to transmit and receive information from a wearable to a computer, cellular or Wi-Fi network were reduced, you could get a lot more mileage out of the technology you’re wearing before having to recharge it. Adrian Tang of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is working on a technology to do just that. He and M.C. Frank Chang at the University of California, Los Angeles, have been working on microchips for wearable devices that reflect wireless signals instead of using regular transmitters and receivers. Their solution transmits information up to three times faster than regular Wi-Fi.
Could ‘Windbots’ Someday Explore the Skies of Jupiter? – July 22
Recently a team of engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, wondered if a probe could be buoyant in the clouds of Earth or a distant gas giant planet, like Jupiter. That team has recently begun studying their question, thanks to a one-year, $100,000 study, funded by NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. They’re investigating the feasibility of creating a windbot, a new class of robotic probe designed to stay aloft in a planet’s atmosphere for a long time without wings or hot-air balloons. The NASA-funded study will systematically investigate how future spacecraft of this kind could stay airborne and harvest energy.